Return To Ravnica Block & Rotating Staples

Chas covers all the most valuable cards in Return to Ravnica, Gatecrash, and Dragon’s Maze and tells you whether you should be buying, holding, or selling before rotation.

Set rotation seems to happen earlier and earlier each year, doesn’t it? Even though Return to Ravnica block’s rotation out of Standard doesn’t officially happen until late September, I’m already being bombarded with questions about which cards should be sold and which should be kept.

The answer used to be simple: sell everything. Even casual, Extended, and Legacy cards would drop significantly after rotation, giving you a chance to buy back in during the autumn months. These days however the popularity of Modern and the increased attention people pay to Magic finance has changed the game. Many Eternal cards won’t drop in price at all this summer. For example, Liliana of the Veil actually went up in value as it approached rotation last year!

This is great news for Standard players. If your current deck uses a bunch of cards that are also good in Modern or Legacy, you don’t have to worry about the value crash that usually happens in July and August. More than ever before it is a financially sound decision to play Standard for the full twelve months each year. Hopefully that will lead to less of a lame duck format than we usually get during the dog days of summer.

That isn’t to say that rotation won’t cause some of your cards to lose value though. Demand for most Return to Ravnica block cards will drop, and supply will increase as people take apart their decks. Many staples will crash.

The trick is to balance your own desire to keep playing Standard with your ability to cash out before the prices drop too much. This year’s Standard peak has probably come and gone, and I suspect we’ll head into the first major downswing as soon as Journey into Nyx is "solved." If you have Standard cards that you want to cash out, now is the time.

Don’t dump everything right away though. I recommend holding on to your favorite deck regardless of rotation. Having your $25 staples drop to $12 is rough, but it’s not nearly as bad as having to play subpar brews at Friday Night Magic. Set rotation’s true damage is done to your trade binder, where cards that you aren’t even using drop in value by the hour.

Worried about rotation? I suggest making a page or two at the beginning of your binder and placing all the cards that you want to trade away before rotation there where you can’t forget about them. If you have a lot of them, you might want to even make a new binder filled with rotating cards and lead with that for a while. Regardless, your goal should be to swap all of those cards for Theros rares or Eternal staples before the doldrums really set in. By mid-June you may have to commit to sticking with your rotating Ravnica cards for the long haul.

Which cards do you need to trade away now and which should you keep? For the most part rotating rares and mythics can be placed in the following three categories:

  • Casual/Commander cards. These usually hit their lows five to eight months after release and steadily rise after that. They will not drop through rotation.
  • Modern/Legacy cards. These cards might drop a little through rotation, but many of them won’t. They’ll start rising again next winter, likely hitting previously unreached highs.
  • Current Standard staples. These cards are seeing a lot of play right now, and the value should drop steadily this summer before bottoming out in the fall. These are the cards you have to worry about ditching over the next few weeks.

Of course, cataloguing cards is rarely that simple. How do you evaluate a card that sees a lot of play in both Modern and Standard, like Sphinx’s Revelation? What about a card that is banned in Modern but a Legacy powerhouse, such as Deathrite Shaman? What about a card that has both casual and Standard demand, like Aetherling?

In this article, I will briefly cover all of the most valuable cards in Return to Ravnica, Gatecrash, and Dragon’s Maze. I will cover Magic 2014 in a later article when we get a little closer to Magic 2015’s release—so much about that set depends on what is reprinted.

Before you make any moves, though, don’t forget that there is always a cost for selling a card and buying back in. It’s a cost that you’ll have to pay in time and money alike. There are shipping fees, listing fees, and days spent managing sales and packing orders along with any possible difference in price between what you can sell a card for and what you think you can rebuy it for later. If you own a card that is currently worth $12 and you think it will drop to $8 during rotation, selling now and buying later simply isn’t worth your time. If however you can sell a card now for $25 and buy it for $12 in a few months, it makes sense to cash out now.

What should you do with your rotating cards that have smaller rotational margins? Trade them! Trading has no additional cost other than time spent between rounds, so if you can get out of a $12 card now and trade back in at $8 in a few months, you’ll be able to use that additional value to increase your overall collection.  

You may also want to consider trading for cards from Return to Ravnica block now while the supply is fairly high. You’ll likely be able to get a slightly better deal in a month or two when stores are looking to dump their supply in order to prepare for next year’s Standard, so I don’t recommend paying cash for most of this stuff yet. Take advantage of Journey into Nyx’s newness as long as you can—the week or two after the Prerelease is always the best time to trade for older less exciting cards.

RTR Block Cards I’m Selling Or Trading Away

Domri Rade – $25

Domri Rade is not Liliana of the Veil. He does show up in Modern, but it’s usually as a two-of in a Zoo deck. In Standard he’s constantly in the running for the title of best planeswalker in the format.

I believe that Domri Rade will lose at least $10 in value over the next few months as people look toward the next Standard format. If you want a set of these for Modern, I’d look to buy in closer to $12-$15 later this summer.

Voice of Resurgence – $25

This is a tricky one. Voice of Resurgence sees most of its play in Standard, but it’s still very good in Modern, mostly in Melira Pod variants. It should drop a little more prior to rotation—probably to the $15-$20 range—but I expect it to bounce right back up again just in time for next year’s Modern season as long as Birthing Pod isn’t banned. Current Pod players should certainly keep their copies around, but everyone else should probably sell now and look to buy in later. If that sounds like too much work, keeping these through rotation is perfectly fine, and you won’t lose much value.

Sphinx’s Revelation – $18

Sphinx’s Revelation is certainly Modern playable, but outside of one U/W/R Control deck it hasn’t showed up all that much. In Standard it’s a powerhouse. I’d like to grab a set of these before next spring, but I think there will be a chance to buy in closer to $10 than $20, similar to what happened with Geist of Saint Traft last year. I’m a seller now while demand is still high and a buyer in September.

Blood Baron of Vizkopa – $15

Blood Baron is currently a non-factor in both Modern and Legacy. It’s mildly popular in casual decks, but the bulk of its value comes from being featured in all manner of Standard Esper and Orzhov builds. Casual demand should keep the card from dropping below the $5-$7 threshold, but this card should lose 50-70% of its current value this summer.    

Boros Reckoner – $10

Boros Reckoner will probably never be a factor in Legacy, and right now it’s not good enough for Modern either. While Iroas, God of Victory might cause this card’s price to spike over the next few weeks, Reckoner’s long term future feels doomed no matter what. There’s some causal value here but not too much. I’d expect this guy to be readily available around $3 this fall, which means that I’m a seller right now.

Obzedat, Ghost Council – $10

If an Athreos, God of Passage based archetype makes the transition to Modern (a massive if—we don’t even know if Athreos is good enough for Standard yet), Obzedat will hold its value and then some. Based on how the Modern format looks right now, though, Obzedat will tank this summer. I expect a rotational retail price around $4-$5 almost entirely driven by casual demand.

Jace, Architect of Thought -$8

This is another card where my opinion differs depending on whether you’re trading or selling. If you can get $8 (the price of the promo) to $10 (the price of the set version) for this in trade, I recommend it. This Jace is only played in very small numbers in Modern, and both versions should end up settling in the $5-$6 range short term. Selling your copies now makes no sense though—the promo has already tanked the price too much, and the margins are just too small. Even if this doesn’t see any Modern play going forward, casual players will always want Jaces of all stripes. This won’t drop much lower, and the price will eventually rebound. If you have a few of these lying around, don’t worry about it too much.

Nightveil Specter -$8

We already know what the value of this card is based solely on causal play—the $1-$2 it sold for before Thassa, God of the Sea and Master of Waves were spoiled. While some variant of that deck might find its way into Modern, I doubt Nightveil Specter will be among the cards to make the leap. Expect this to be a $2 rare again before long.

Cyclonic Rift – $5

Standard play has kept the price of Cyclonic Rift in the $5-$6 range for months. I don’t think it’ll make an impact in Legacy or Modern anytime soon, so the price should come down to the $2-$3 range at rotation. Cyclonic Rift is an absurdly good casual card though—one of the best blue spells in the entire Commander format. Long term this is a great causal pickup, so there’s no great urgency to get rid of these now. But I do think it’ll drop a few bucks and will recommend a buy then.

Rakdos’s Return – $4

This card shows up a lot in Standard, but it’s not good enough for Eternal play and isn’t a very popular casual choice either. I expect it to drop to bulk mythic status in a couple of months, so if you can get value for it now you should.

Desecration Demon – $4

Desecration Demon has already dropped off a high of $10-$12, so your chance to really cash out is long gone. Even still, I doubt the Demon will be worth more than a buck or two before long. It’s not that great in casual play (though huge drawback Demons have their share of fans), and I can’t see it showing up in Modern.

Ash Zealot – $3.50

Sometimes (like in the case of Vexing Devil) these little burn creatures hold their value thanks to 60-card casual Burn decks. Ash Zealot is not good enough for these decks, and it’ll be close to bulk after rotation.

Mizzium Mortars – $3.50

This card may maintain some value thanks to casual demand, but most kitchen table players like removal spells that can kill big things too. This should drop to the $1-$2 range after rotation.

Dreadbore – $3

There is a chance this will see some future play in Modern, but it would take the perfect deck to run it and the perfect metagame to have it be good against. Right now it is simply outclassed by a lot of better removal spells. I don’t expect it to hold much of its value through rotation.

Pack Rat – $2.50

Pack Rat will likely hold some value over the long haul due to Rat collectors, curiosity value, and Cube play, but it should bottom out at near bulk prices before the casual demand starts up. This is a powerful engine to be sure, but it doesn’t seem quite fast enough for Modern.

Lotleth Troll – $2.50

This card has finally started to see a tiny bit of play, which is nice for those of us who thought it would be good from the beginning. It isn’t going to make the leap to Modern without a good deal of help though. This will settle in above bulk thanks to casual demand, but it’ll be under $2 most likely.

Legion Loyalist – $2.50

Legion Loyalist filled an important niche in Standard, but in Modern it has to fight with cards like Goblin Guide that are much better. I can’t see this guy having a successful transition.

Cards I’m Not Selling Due to Modern/Legacy Playability

Hallowed Fountain, Steam Vents, Overgrown Tomb, Watery Grave, Godless Shrine, Breeding Pool, Stomping Ground, Temple Garden, Blood Crypt – $12 & Sacred Foundry – $15

How many times have you sold lands—any lands—and not regretted it?

There are a few corner cases when it makes sense to sell rotating lands, but those tend to arise only when the fixing in Standard gets incredibly poor. When the best Standard deck was U/B Control and Darkslick Shores was the only game in town, for example, selling that card at $25 made sense. Nowadays though even second and third tier lands can hold a good chunk of their value after rotation. The Innistrad cycle of check lands didn’t drop all that much last fall thanks to casual demand.

The shock lands are far better than that though. Along with the fetch lands, these cards make up the bulk of mana bases in Modern. Even though there are tons of shock lands out there right now, they will start shooting up as soon as they start disappearing from trade binders and people start to panic about not being able to get them easily anymore. I doubt these cards will drop at all at rotation, and we will probably see a few of them hit $20-$30 as soon as next spring.

Skeptical that these will rise based on the current huge supply? Don’t forget that value is complex and often goes beyond strict supply and demand. A big part of why the shock lands will rise is expectation—people know that lands are expensive, especially in Modern, and once the supply dries up beyond a certain point (which happens when every set is a year or so out of Standard) the secondary market will begin trying to see how much people are willing to pay for out of print Modern staple lands. Spoiler Alert: It’ll be a lot.

That said, the value of each specific shock land will be different in Modern than it is in Standard. Steam Vents is far and away the most played shock land in Eternal formats, so if you can trade other shock lands for those at a 1:1 ratio I’d do it.

Abrupt Decay – $12

Abrupt Decay is a proven staple in multiple Modern and Legacy archetypes. I cannot see any reason for this card to start seeing less play in those formats either. Decay could drop as low as $8-$10 again before rotation, but it’s more likely that $12 is as low as it’s ever going to be again. Expect $20 at some point within the next eighteen months.

Deathrite Shaman – $12

The retail price on this card remained unchanged at $12 after the Modern banning even though it doesn’t see much play in Standard. That speaks to just how powerful this card is in Legacy.

I do think that the Deathrite supply will increase in the coming months, giving you the chance to buy in closer to $8, but you still shouldn’t trade away the copies you have now. Not only will Legacy players want these, but Modern banned list speculators should drive up the price every three months in the hope it will be allowed back in the format.

Supreme Verdict – $6

Supreme Verdict sees more play in Modern and Legacy than you probably realize. In fact, it’s starting to feel out of place whenever Wrath of God or Day of Judgment is cast in lieu of this. The mana cost may be prohibitive, but U/W is clearly the color combination that wants this spell the most. It’s odd to me that this is just $6 while Abrupt Decay is $12, and I wouldn’t be shocked if this doubles in price over the next year. Do not sell your copies of Supreme Verdict—get more if you can.

Detention Sphere – $3.50

Yes, most of the play this card sees is in Standard. Yes, it will settle lower than $3.50, and you’ll be able to get more for it now. But the price is already so low, why deal with trying to reacquire these for Modern in a couple of months? Detention Sphere is played in Modern, and I don’t expect that to change. If you only have a personal playset of these, hold on to them for now. If you have extras, you can trade them away if you want, but there’s no urgency required.

Burning-Tree Emissary – $3.00

With Zoo back in the format, the power of this card can’t be ignored in Modern. This card is good, flexible, and does the kind of thing that can be broken even more in the future. I see no reason to sell these now—Modern players will continue to want them.

Pithing Needle – $2.50

This card has been a multi-format staple for years. The price is low because it has been reprinted a half dozen times or so, but people are always going to need these for both Legacy and Modern. There’s no need to sell your copies now.

Cards I’m Not Selling Due To Casual Interest

I see no need to write "this card derives most of its value from kitchen table or Commander play" 27 times over, so I’ll simply list all of the casual cards and their current prices here. The list is limited to all cards currently selling for $2 or more here on StarCityGames.com—anything under that price shouldn’t be a consideration for you to sell or trade before rotation.

This list has many of the safest long-term specs in the entire block. My favorite trade targets here are Aurelia, the Warleader; Trostani, Selesnya’s Voice; Chromatic Lantern; Progenitor Mimic; Savageborn Hydra; Consuming Aberration;  Mind Grind; and Thespian’s Stage. I don’t expect any of those cards (or any on this list really) to drop at all upon rotation, so if you want any of these for Commander decks or as long-term speculative holds feel free to buy in now.

This Week’s Trends

  • Rumors are flying about Journey into Nyx "God packs" that contain one of each God in the entire block. This certainly sounds like something WotC would do in extremely limited numbers, doesn’t it? I believe the rumor, but I wouldn’t plan on ever actually seeing one of these, nor do I expect this to hurt the price of the Gods. If these packs are real, it’ll be like Zendikar’s priceless treasures—one every dozen cases or so.
  • On the latest Brainstorm Brewery podcast, Aaron Forsythe mentioned that WotC was blindsided by how quickly the Zendikar fetch lands spiked in price. He said that they would not be able to adjust and reprint these fetches prior to 2015, so don’t expect Misty Rainforest to show up in your M15 or fall 2014 block pack. This doesn’t rule out the Onslaught fetch lands showing up in either set of course.
  • Nearly everything in Standard is pointing down right now as we approach rotation. That trend will reverse itself briefly as Journey into Nyx enters the format but only for the cards that are buoyed by the new strategies. In a couple of weeks the rotational economy will set in for good.
  • If you need fetch lands for Modern season, now is a good time to buy in. They’ve dropped 10-15% since their peak last month, and they might tick up again once Modern Pro Tour Qualifiers begin in earnest. It’s hard to believe that the last Modern PTQ season was prior to Modern Masters, isn’t it?
  • On the other hand, the dual lands have not stopped rising yet.
  • Sneak Attack peaked last week and is back on the downswing. If you need one of these, wait another few weeks for it to hit its new price point.
  • Birthing Pod has gone down a bit over the past month. Did it spike too high or are people getting worried about a ban?
  • The filter lands continue to rise as the five from Shadowmoor start catching up to the five from Eventide. Remember, kids, selling lands is silly.