Can it really be preview season already?
won’t actually be released until January 25th, more than a month from now,
but Wizards of the Coast decided to give us a taste of the upcoming set to
tide us over during the holiday season. I didn’t expect to write an entire
article about the handful of mythics and rares that have been revealed so
far, but…well, have you seen these cards yet? Even the ones I
don’t like as much as the rest of the community are fascinating, and it’s
never too early to think about the shape of the next Standard season.
Spoiler alert: things might look really, really different.
Let’s begin, shall we?
Lavinia, Azorius Renegade – $9.99
Lavinia was clearly designed with Eternal play in mind, where she’s likely
to become one of the most impactful cards from this set. I don’t think
Lavinia will do much in Standard, though, and that matters a lot from a
financial perspective. Pre-ordering Eternal-only cards is usually a trap;
we associate “Eternal” with “expensive,” but that’s only true because most
Eternal cards are old and/or very scarce. Neither quality applies to cards
from brand new Standard-legal sets, especially when Standard-only players
aren’t going to be competing for any of the available copies.
That isn’t to say that Lavinia will be a total bust. The card is a weird
cross between Meddling Mage and Gaddock Teeg, and I suspect it’ll see some
play in Modern Humans. Humans is already one of the most expensive tier 1
decks in Modern, though, and that deck’s financial choke points are still
going to be cards like Noble Hierarch and Cavern of Souls. Mantis Rider is
a four-of in Humans, for example, and that card is still just $1.25.
Lavinia is going to be easier to get than Mantis Rider. It’ll have to see
play in more than just Humans if it’s going to live up to its current $10
This is where I become somewhat skeptical about Lavinia’s short-term price
future. I’m sure foil copies of Lavinia will be expensive, and the card
will show up in Legacy and Vintage, but I don’t see how there will be
enough demand to keep it over the $5 mark once we hit maximum supply.
This’ll be a nice long-term spec target at some point, but I’m not
interested anywhere near current retail.
Emergency Powers – $9.99
Emergency Powers is cool, but it doesn’t have a lot going for it when it
comes to competitive play. For starters, it’s a seven-mana card, which
means that it should pretty convincingly win the game once you cast it. The
only playable seven-mana cards in Standard right now are Star of
Extinction, Nexus of Fate, and I guess…Chromium the Mutable? None of those
cards draw your opponent back up to seven cards like Emergency Powers does,
though. Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t running your opponent out of
cards a big part of what control decks are all about? I don’t see why
Azorius, Jeskai, or Esper Control would even consider casting this spell.
Okay, so maybe Emergency Powers is a combo card and not a control card.
This plan seems better to me in a vacuum, though I don’t really see an easy
path toward building that deck in the current Standard environment.
Thousand-Year Storm, maybe? Omniscience? Maybe Saffron Olive will pull it
off, but I doubt it.
At any rate, Emergency Powers is the exact sort of card that I’ll never,
ever pre-order for $10. It’s far too much of a longshot, and I’ll be
shocked if it’s over $2.50 by the end of January.
If you’re going to pre-order Emergency Powers, might I suggest snagging
Omniscience instead? It’s a far more powerful card, and at $6 it’s pretty
close to his historic price floor. It’s a proven player in Legacy and
Commander already, and it’ll be the more expensive piece if a janky
Emergency Powers combo deck does end up working out.
Bedevil – $7.99
By contrast, Bedevil is exactly the sort of card that I love to
Seriously, the odds that Bedevil ends up being a bust are pretty close to
zero. Hero’s Downfall was a three-mana instant that couldn’t also take out
artifacts (Bedevil can) and it was one of the most powerful and expensive
rares for its entire run in Standard. Ditto Vraska’s Contempt, which costs
an additional mana and gains you two life in exchange for being a
BBR is a difficult mana cost to pay, but we’re about to get five more
shocklands to help us out. And despite how restrictive this casting cost
is, I can absolutely see Bedevil finding success in multiple decks
regardless – say Rakdos Aggro, Jund Midrange, and Grixis Control. Worst
case, Bedevil should be fairly stable around $5. Best case, this is a
$15-$20 multi-format staple. If you play a lot of Standard, just grab your
set now so that you don’t have to worry about it at any point over the next
couple of years.
Additionally, Bedevil seems like the sort of card that might help shift the
face of Standard control. At the very least, I expect Treasure Map to see
less play now that there’s yet another good piece of maindeck artifact
removal to take it out. With Treasure Map up to $12, this is a potentially
significant development. I’m selling my extra copies of the Map now, before
the metagame shifts to compensate.
It might also be time for Nicol Bolas, the Ravager and Rekindling Phoenix
to shine again. If control moves away from Jeskai and Esper and into
Grixis, we could see both former Standard stalwarts enjoying significant
price increases. This is far from a sure thing, especially since we don’t
know the full suite of Azorius cards that we’re getting yet, but I’m at
least going to start targeting these two mythics in trade.
Gruul Spellbreaker – $4.99
If you’re an aggro player, what’s not to love about Gruul Spellbreaker?
Getting to choose between a big boy or a rowdy boy is the sort of
meaningful decision that aggro decks rarely get, and haste has always been
one of the most underrated abilities in the game. If there’s any sort of
Gruul-colored aggro or midrange deck in the new format – and I expect there
will be at least one – it’s going to start with four copies of Gruul
The prevalence of Gruul Spellbreaker in the metagame is also going to
determine whether Settle the Wreckage continues to see play. At $7, Settle
the Wreckage is both the most expensive and most prevalent sweeper in
Standard right now. But if it doesn’t do anything against one of the best
creature-based decks in the format, people are going to have to stop
playing it so much. Just like Treasure Map, this is a card that I’m
ditching my extra copies of ASAP while demand is still high.
If Gruul Spellbreaker is really good, it might help shift control
away from white entirely. Think about it – if you’re not playing Settle the
Wreckage and Rakdos colors are offering you Bedevil as a reason to base
yourself in back, why are you running Esper or Jeskai Control over Grixis?
Again, we haven’t seen enough Azorius cards for me to say for sure that
this is the direction we’re moving in, but it’s at least worth monitoring.
Lastly, the presence of Gruul Spellbreaker makes me feel even better about
my Nullhide Ferox call
. People, the card is still just $4 and it’s a four-drop mythic rare that
can be played in multiples. It’s going to see play in Gruul, and I’ll be
absolutely shocked if it doesn’t break $10 at some point over the next two
months. Get your set ASAP.
Rix Maadi Reveler – $2.99
Three bucks seems about right for a card that seems like it’ll see a fair
amount of Standard play, albeit with limited upside. I like cards that are
solid plays in all phases of the game, and I doubt that spectacle will be
too hard to trigger for any deck that wants to run Rix Maadi Reveler in the
first place. Also, don’t sleep on the interaction between Rix Maadi Reveler
and Arclight Phoenix, which might allow the powerful recursive threat to
find yet another top tier home in Standard.
Financially, there’s not much to say here. $3 is fine if you’re going to
build Rakdos Aggro, but I’ll be shocked if Rix Maadi Reveler turns into a
mutli-deck staple. Feel free to snag these if you want to use them. Feel
free to ignore otherwise.
Tithe Taker – $2.99
Wait, why is Tithe Taker $3 while Lavinia is $10? That doesn’t make any
sense to me. I’m pretty sure that Tithe Taker is the better card, full
The thing I like most about Tithe Taker is that it’s good in almost every
situation against almost every deck. Against control, forcing your opponent
to either pay a tax or use all their instants as sorceries is awesome.
Against aggro, getting two blockers for the price of a single two-drop is
exactly where you want to be. It’s perhaps not the best attacker, but a 2/1
for two mana will do in a pinch. At the very least, you can get it out
early and swing in often if you’ve got a jackrabbit start to your mana
Tom Ross seems pretty high on this card
, for what it’s worth, and I tend to agree with him when it comes to stuff
like this. There’s a shot that Tithe Taker will slot into Boros Aggro,
Selesnya Tokens, and Mono-White Aggro – and that’s not even counting
whatever Orzhov or Azorius decks we might get in the new format. Or any
Eternal applications that the card might have, where it’s a potentially
backbreaking threat in any deck running Aether Vial.
I’m not saying that we’re looking at the next slam-dunk $15 breakout card,
but cards with the potential power level and flexibility of Tithe Taker
rarely pre-order for less than $5-$6. If you like making these sorts of
gambles, $3 is a deal.
We also need to talk about Divine Visitation, which looks like it’ll play
absurdly well with the afterlife mechanic. Divine Visitation was a little
too slow for most Selesnya Tokens decks, but slamming this and swinging in
with a bunch of afterlife creatures seems like it might be the exact sort
of grindy win condition that Orzhov mages love. The card’s price has
already started to tick up, so make sure you grab a few copies ASAP.
$10-$15 seems likely to me, and the potential is there for more if
afterlife ends up being pushed in Ravnica Allegiance.
Simic Ascendancy – $1.99
Cards like Simic Ascendancy are almost always too slow to be good in
competitive Magic. It is worth pointing out that this is a way to win the
game once you have access to infinite blue and green mana, though, which
isn’t nothing. At the very least, this is the sort of “combulk” that I love
to snag once it hits the bulk rare bin and sell for $4-$5 somewhere down
Seeing this card did remind me to check in on Hadana’s Climb, a card that
I’m kicking myself for missing in
last week’s article
Now that we know what the Simic are up to in Ravnica Allegiance,
Hadana’s Climb seems like it’ll be a key feature in any sort of Simic deck
that shows up to play. The price has already jumped from $3 to $6 over the
past few days, though, so your window to buy in cheap has already closed.
If you’ve got the sort of LGS were cards are priced by hand, though, you
might want to look for these. Most people haven’t noticed the spike yet.
Zegana, Utopian Speaker – $1.49
Much like with Simic Ascendancy, I’m not sure that Zegana, Utopian Speaker
has enough power to get there in Standard. It’s possible that I’m
particularly bearish on both cards because the Simic are my favorite guild,
but they’ve never been viable in Constructed. They weren’t good in Dissension, they weren’t good in Gatecrash, and Simic
Merfolk was one of the biggest busts in Ixalan block. This bias is
probably also why I didn’t single out Kumena, Tyrant of Orazca as a good
last week’s article
, either, despite the fact that I remember staring at her price chart for a
good three or four minutes while I wrote it. I’ve just been burned too many
times by my favorite fishy friends.
I hope I’m wrong. Simic Merfolk did seem like it was only a couple of
pieces away from viability last year, and Kumena is actually on the rise
now that we know that Ravnica Allegiance is going to have blue and
green Merfolk in it. Will it be enough this time? I don’t know. But if it
is, expect Kumena to be the most expensive card in the deck. Grab your
copies now if you want to take that gamble. Personally, I’m staying away.
+1/+1 counters is not a theme that tends to be all that great in
Regardless, seeing Zegana makes me even more bullish on the future of Pelt
Collector. Any deck that wants to draw cards off Zegana is going to start
with four copies of Pelt Collector, and I can certainly envision a world in
which the powerful one-drop ends up being a core part of Gruul Aggro and
Simic Midrange. Even though Pelt Collector has already jumped from $2 to $4
over the past week, there’s $15+ upside here. If you’re considering playing
green in Standard, get your playset ASAP.
This Week’s Trends
Let’s talk Ultimate Masters for a bit.
I wrote about the set
and determined that the expected retail value of the singles you opened in
a given box was going to be about twice as expensive as just buying a box –
and that was after the prices had already dropped a bunch? At the
time, I wondered if boxes would get more expensive, if singles prices would
continue to drop, or if opening boxes of Ultimate Masters would
basically be like printing cash.
So far, it’s been a little from columns A, B, and C. Box prices climbed
$20-$30 since I wrote that article, retail singles prices came down a bit,
and the expected value of an opened box is still higher than the sealed
value of that box.
And now that we’re a couple of weeks removed from Ultimate Masters
‘ release date, prices have actually begun to rise. According to
this nifty piece of research on r/mtgfinance
, the average Ultimate Masters box topper has gone up in price by
about $12 since its release-week low. And the same appears to be true for
the set’s big-hitting rares and mythics: cards like Cavern of Souls and
Snapcaster Mage are both more expensive now than they were two weeks ago.
Does that mean that it’s time to buy? It certainly appears that way, though
it’s less of a slam-dunk than you might think. There are still two massive Ultimate Masters events to come – Grand Prix Vancouver and
MagicFest Prague – as well as an undefined number of boxes and big box
blister packs still out there. I haven’t heard any information about
massive second or third waves of sealed product hitting shelves, but Eternal Masters also seemed like a great buy a couple of weeks
after release, and then we were all blindsided by two more gigantic waves
of available boxes flooding the market.
Put me in the “cautious buyer” camp. If you can get Ultimate Masters cards you need near their historic lows, you’re
probably not going to ever regret that purchase. But if you’re looking for
a quick flip, it’s probably best to look elsewhere. Prices probably won’t
drop too much more (if at all) with the addition of more boxes, but it
would prevent prices from rebounding anytime soon. And as all good
speculators know, being stuck with expensive cards that just sit there
refusing to go up in price month after month is incredibly infuriating.
Moving onto Standard, we’ve already talked at length about the week’s three
biggest gainers: Hadana’s Climb, Pelt Collector, and Divine Visitation. All
three cards have gone up in price due to the latest previews, and it looks
like several other cards are on a slightly slower path toward financial
All six cards should continue to rise in price as the new year approaches
and we all have more time to think about building around the hot new cards
from Ravnica Allegiance.
Over in Modern, things continue to slowly chug along. Worldspine Wurm has
finally broken the $10 mark, probably because Goryo’s Vengeance is a cheap
card now and Grishoalbrand has become a much more accessible deck. Surgical
Extraction is still gaining value, and Ultimate Masters staples
like Cavern of Souls, Snapcaster Mage, and Liliana of the Veil have
rebounded a bit. Meanwhile, older printings of Ultimate Masters
cards like the Champions of Kamigawa version of Through the Breach
and the Lorwyn version of Gaddock Teeg are continuing to drop in
price as their price tags slowly begin to converge with their Ultimate Masters reprinted versions.
Lastly, it’s worth noting that the US economy could be heading toward a
recession. The stock market just had its worst week since the 2008
financial crisis, and other macroeconomic factors have been pointing toward
recession for a while. This might not be anything–Did your daily life
change at all when the stock market was rallying for no apparent reason
last year? Mine sure didn’t–but it might be the start of a financial panic
in the greater marketplace regardless.
What does this mean for your Magic collection? Probably not much. Magic
finance chugged along more or less as normal during the 2008 recession, and
I don’t see why that would be terribly different this time around unless
things were way worse. Weirdly enough, tangible collectibles like Magic
cards actually start to seem like “safe” commodities during a stock market
panic, where people can have trouble trusting things that are more vague
One possible wrinkle this time around: reserved list cards are worth a lot
more in 2018 than they were in 2008. It’s possible that some people will
sell their collections in order to get by in a crisis, which could cause a
glut/crash in the high-end market. The reserved list market has already
lost value during the second half of 2018, possibly due (at least in part)
to the crash of the cryptocurrency market during that same window of time.
I’m still not selling my own reserved list collection – after all, they’re
still not making more of these cards, and I suspect they’ll hit new highs
at some point over the next couple of years one way or another. But I also
wouldn’t suggest buying into $100+ “collectible” Magic cards right now,
either. Your Standard and Modern collections shouldn’t be affected at all
by a recession, but buying into a bunch of super expensive Vintage and
Legacy staples right before a possible market crash isn’t the sort of risk
I’m comfortable taking. I’d rather wait and see what the new year brings
before I make a call on reserved list staples one way or the other.