I was expecting a Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis ban, and I had some suspicions that Faithless Looting might be getting sent home, but both of those cards getting the axe combined with a Stoneforge Mystic unbanning? In late August!? I wasn’t prepared. I don’t think anyone was. Not only did Wizards of the Coast just slay Modern’s two best decks, but they just unleashed one of the best control finishers of all time. That’s a heck of a mic drop.
Faithless Looting needed to go, but I’m still a little disappointed that so many casual Modern players woke up on Monday to the news that their only deck will no longer be playable. This sort of shake-up is exciting for folks with large collections and multiple decks, but it’s rough for people who had to save up for months in order to build something like Izzet Phoenix and now no longer have a way to play Modern. Since I suspect most of my readers are in the “large collections with multiple decks” camp, I’d like to remind you to be kind to the players down at your LGS who are feeling frustrated and helpless after the ban. They are still essential members of the community, and it’s worth lending them a hand at the trade tables if you can.
Of course, all of us are going to have to adjust to our new Modern reality, regardless of how invested we were in Hogaak or Arclight Phoenix. Things are going to change in some pretty major and unexpected ways, and it’s important to be out in front as much as possible.
The biggest logical fallacy I’ll be watching out for over the coming weeks is recency bias. The Hogaak and Faithless Looting decks have been so good in recent months that it’s hard to imagine Modern without them. “Faithless Looting is just an enabler,” you might tell yourself. “These decks can just find a replacement and keep on trucking.” Or: “Dredge was excellent before Hogaak, and it survived a Bridge from Below banning, so I’m sure it’ll just take a new form and remain at the top of the metagame.”
Even if you have a clear intellectual understanding that Izzet Phoenix, Mono-Red Phoenix, and Hogaak are probably done for, it’s still easy to overvalue their staple cards because…well, they’re good cards, right? So aren’t they just going to find a new home again soon? Maybe so. Maybe not. But due to price memory and that aforementioned recency bias, these cards are likely to be overvalued for the next few weeks regardless. People are going to have a hard time believing that Manamorphose and Vengevine just aren’t going to see that much play anymore, and you don’t want to be the one holding the bag as their value continues to erode.
Does that really mean you should be selling out of Arclight Phoenix now, even into a market where nobody really wants them? And on the flip side, should you really be snapping up your set of Stoneforge Mystics now, or is it better to hold off until we see how it performs over the next couple of weeks? Let’s go through the changes to Modern deck-by-deck, card-by-card, and see if we can figure out what they heck to do after what might be the most impactful Modern B&R announcement of all time.
Rising: The Stoneforge Mystic Package
Right now, it looks like the best Stoneforge Mystic package is something like: Four copies of Stoneforge Mystic, one Batterskull, one Sword of Fire and Ice, and one to two others from the Sword of X and Y cycle, with Sword of Feast and Famine as the clear frontrunner.
Unsurprisingly, most of these cards have gained quite a bit of value over the past two days. Stoneforge Mystic jumped from $40 to $60, Batterskull rose from $20 to $50, Sword of Fire and Ice climbed from $70 to $90, and Sword of Feast and Famine spiked from $40 to $60.
Normally, I’m all about selling everything like this into the post-unban hype. When I went to write this article before checking on Stoneforge Mystic’s price tag, I figured that I’d be telling you to sell your copies ASAP and look to re-buy them in a month or two. Remember how Jace, The Mind Sculptor spiked from $60 to $150 before dropping back down to $100 or so in the summer of 2018? That’s the normal trajectory for a card that comes off the Modern Banned List. People tend to overrate and overprice exciting new cards that come off the ban list. Heck, even Bitterblossom broke $100 the night it was unbanned, and that card is barely a blip on the radar these days.
That said, it’s important to consider the context of each individual card, and $60 seems like a totally reasonable price for Stoneforge Mystic. The decks that want to run Stoneforge Mystic want to run four of them, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see it all over Modern in the coming weeks, finding success in all manner of decks. I’m utterly shocked that the unbanning didn’t even seem to double the card’s price tag, and in no way did I suspect that Star City Games would have twenty copies of Mystic in stock at $60 today. If this announcement had been made in January instead of August, I suspect we’d have been looking at $100+ before eventually settling back toward the $60 range.
I’m certainly not going to speculate on Stoneforge Mystic at $60 – there’s not much room for growth beyond that point – but this is a totally reasonable retail price for a card that’s going to make a serious splash in Modern. If you need these for your deck, it’s totally fine to buy in at current retail.
As for the Equipment, I’m a lot more bearish on Batterskull at $50 than Stoneforge at $60. Batterskull is somewhat scarcer than Stoneforge Mystic, but not by enough to justify a similar price tag considering you only need one copy in your deck instead of four. I’d expect it to end up closer to $35-$40.
On the other hand, I feel like Sword of Fire and Ice might have a little further to climb. The card was already $70 thanks to casual and Legacy play, and almost everyone who needs a Batterskull is going to need one of these, too. If Batterskull is going to more than double in price, $100+ doesn’t seem out of the question for Sword of Fire and Ice.
I’m also a little surprised that there hasn’t been any movement for Sword of Sinew and Steel, Sword of Truth and Justice, or Sword of War and Peace yet. All three of these cards are worth considering in your Stoneforge package depending on which decks are doing well in the metagame, and all dedicated Stoneforge players are going to want at least one copy of each for their collection. I’m not saying there’s a ton of value to be gained here, but these three Swords are fairly cheap and they’re going to gain at least some ground going forward. I’d grab at least one copy of each ASAP.
At long last, it’s finally safe to say that Hogaak is dead in Modern. Not only did this deck lose its namesake card, it also lost its best enabler in Faithless Looting. Those two cards aren’t replaceable, and I can’t imagine that this deck shambles back out of its grave for a third time. No, this is the end of the zombie movie, at long last. The sun is rising in the east, the long night is over, roll credits.
Hogaak itself hasn’t been a particularly expensive card for several weeks now, mostly because we all knew that this banning was coming. Hogaak was $3 last week pre-ban, and it’s $2.50 now. Hogaak actually sees a little bit of play in Legacy, so it’s probably a decent long-term hold at that price, but there’s no chance that WotC ever lets it back in Modern and it’s not that enticing from a casual perspective, either. I’d focus your spec attention elsewhere.
The Hogaak deck also had a couple of other expensive cards, though. Bloodghast, Gravecrawler, and Vengevine are the three biggest financial casualties, and their price tags have actually come down a bit over the past couple of days. Vengevine is currently $35, Bloodghast is $22, and Gravecrawler is $13. These prices have been eroding for weeks, especially once the Hogaak ban started to look more and more like an inevitability.
If Faithless Looting hadn’t also gotten the axe, I’d probably be telling you to buy – or at least begin trading for – all three of these cards. Graveyard decks have been one of the pillars of Modern for years now, and some sort of Dredge deck would have likely remained in the format’s top tier, even without Hogaak.
Now? I’m telling you to sell. Even though these prices are down a bit from last week, the true reality of Modern’s new-look metagame hasn’t set in yet. Bloodghast and friends won’t be totally unplayable going forward, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they end up in a top-tier deck again someday, but right now, you can benefit from several years of price memory when you sell out. You won’t have that option for long.
Remember: Vengevine was a $10 card for years. Gravecrawler was $3-$5. Unless you think that Dredge can recover from the loss of its best enabler, that’s where these prices are going to end up again. Sometimes, the hardest thing to do in Magic finance is to sell cards at a loss to prevent an even bigger loss. That’s where I’m at with this crew.
Rising: Grixis Urza Staples
It’s far too early to establish a tier list for the new Modern metagame, but it seems pretty obvious that Grixis Urza will be one of the best decks in the format. Magic players on Magic Online had already begun gravitating toward this deck late last week, well before the B&R announcement dropped, and cards like Urza, Lord High Artificer and Mishra’s Bauble have been spiking on there for the past several days.
Grixis Urza is an expensive deck already, but it still has room to grow. For example, Urza, Lord High Artificer is just $45 right now compared to $100 for Wrenn and Six. If Grixis Urza becomes the best deck in Modern over the next two to three weeks – a very realistic possibility – then why can’t the best blue mythic from Modern Horizons meet or overtake the Jund staple’s price tag? That might be asking too much of Urza, but $45 feels too low to me regardless. I’ll be a little surprised if Urza doesn’t hit $70 at some point this fall.
Other Grixis Urza cards are poised for potential gains as well. Mox Opal, Goblin Engineer, Mishra’s Bauble, Sword of the Meek, and Ensnaring Bridge are all on my watch list for now. They’re all a bit high for cash speculation, but I’m absolutely trading for them at current retail if I can get a decent deal.
I also wouldn’t be surprised if this deck shifts away from Grixis and toward the four-color builds. Why not play Stoneforge Mystic here, too, where you can use it to fetch Sword of the Meek in addition to a singleton Batterskull? Yes, really. I know Jace, the Mind Sculptor didn’t warp Modern the way some people (including myself) were worried it would, but I still think that Stoneforge Mystic is going to be everywhere before long.
Falling: Blanket Anti-Graveyard Tech
Modern sideboards have been hyper-focused on blanket graveyard hate over the past couple of months, but that’s not going to be as big an issue going forward. Leyline of the Void, Grafdigger’s Cage, Rest in Peace, and Tormod’s Crypt are going to see less play, which is going to make them less attractive buys in the future. Leyline of the Void is still the gold standard for mass graveyard removal, so it still probably won’t end up below $12-$15, but it was looking like it was going to end up back in the $30+ range before long despite having just been reprinted at rare in Core Set 2020. I’m not even sure it’ll remain at $20 now.
By the same token, Rest in Peace looked poised for another rally once Signature Spellbook: Gideon had fully disappeared from shelves, but I don’t see that happening in a post-Looting world. Modern players will still want to have these cards on hand, of course, but the pressure is way, way off now.
Rising: Targeted Anti-Graveyard Tech
I’m mostly differentiating between these two types of anti-graveyard tech because I wanted to point out that Surgical Extraction is going to see an uptick in play going forward. It was one of the most important sideboard cards in Modern before Dredge went wild, and it’s been fading in recent months as Leyline of the Void took over many of its sideboard slots. Expect a Surgical Extraction resurgence, which should come with an accompanying price spike. Extraction is at $55 now, but it was flirting with $100 back in the spring. Barring a reprint, I wouldn’t be shocked if it hits triple digits at some point over the next year.
Falling: Mono-Red Phoenix and Izzet Phoenix
- 4 Lightning Bolt
- 4 Lava Spike
- 4 Lava Dart
- 4 Manamorphose
- 2 Burst Lightning
- 4 Faithless Looting
- 4 Crash Through
- 4 Light Up the Stage
Like I said in the intro, don’t get hung up on recency bias here. Modern’s Arclight Phoenix decks seem like they should be powerful enough to survive a Faithless Looting ban, but these decks are going to tumble way down the tier ladder if they do. Hogaak surviving the Bridge from Below banning and emerging stronger than ever is the exception, not the rule. There just isn’t that much separating the good decks in Modern from the okay ones, and the banning of a key enabler should be more than enough to strip these formerly powerful decks of much of their viability.
Does that make Arclight Phoenix itself a sell? I’m not so sure. The card is $15 right now, which still seems a tad high to me, but there’s a shot that it breaks out in Standard again this fall depending on what new enablers we get in Throne of Eldraine. I also suspect that some future Modern deck will find a way to make use of Arclight Phoenix again; I just don’t think it’ll happen immediately. Heck, I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s some sort of crazy Saffron Olive brew already in the works with Dream Twist and Desperate Ravings or something.
My gut feeling is that you’ll probably have a chance to snag Arclight Phoenix in the $5-$7 range during a Star City Games holiday sale this December, and I’ll be telling you to buy them for that price as a long-term stash if I’m right. This prediction will look silly if Arclight Phoenix ends up in a top-tier Standard deck or finds a new Modern enabler before then, but that’s a chance I’m willing to take. I’m not going to sell my personal playset right now because the potential risk isn’t worth the hassle, but I’m definitely not going to buy these right now, either.
The other key cards in Mono-Red Phoenix and Izzet Phoenix are Manamorphose, Thing in the Ice, and Finale of Promise. As with Hogaak’s graveyard pals, I think people are underestimating just how low these things are going to go. Manamorphose does see play in other Modern decks, like Gifts Storm and Neobrand, but it was an $8-$10 card prior to Arclight Phoenix’s run of dominance. Thing in the Ice was $5. All of these cards are likely to see their value cut in half over the coming weeks, so you should sell your copies unless you’re okay with that.
Rising: Azorius-Based Control Decks and White-Based Aether Vial Decks
- 4 Mana Leak
- 1 Sword of Fire and Ice
- 4 Opt
- 3 Spell Snare
- 1 Cryptic Command
- 4 Path to Exile
- 1 Sword of Feast and Famine
- 1 Batterskull
- 2 Hieroglyphic Illumination
- 2 Force of Negation
It’s unclear how many good Modern decks can support the Stoneforge Mystic package, but I’d wager it’ll be at least two or three unique brews. One of the biggest questions right now is whether the current versions of Azorius Control will simply find a way to add six to seven slots for Mystic and friends, or if we’ll end up with some sort of Azorius, Esper, or Jeskai Stoneblade variant instead. Either way, I expect a lot of folks will be working on these decks over the coming weeks.
Regardless, we’re about to see a surge in demand for cards like Snapcaster Mage; Teferi, Time Raveler; and Force of Negation. Depending on how the deck shakes out, anything from Jace, the Mind Sculptor to Celestial Colonnade to Mantis Rider might also end up being a major part of the new metagame. I’d definitely make sure that I had my Snapcaster Mages and Force of Negations now, and it’s worth paying close attention to the evolution of these decks to see what other cards are going to be spiking in popularity soon.
As for Aether Vial, I have to imagine that card gets quite a bit better in a world where you can play Stoneforge Mystic. Bant Spirits seems like the obvious choice here, though it’s possible that something like Orzhov Death and Taxes ends up being better. Regardless, Geist of Saint Traft feels like a no-brainer buy at just $7, and Aether Vial itself is likely to see an increase in price as well.
Falling: Rakdos Elementals, Mardu Pyromancer, and Hollow One
Rakdos Elementals barely had time to shine, Mardu Pyromancer isn’t a top-tier Modern deck anymore, and Hollow One is barely on the map at all. That said, all three of these decks are still going to suffer from the Faithless Looting ban – unintended casualties of the B&R wars.
That doesn’t mean that all the staples from these wounded decks are going down in price, though. Mardu Pyromancer plays Kolaghan’s Command, for example, and we’ll be getting to that card a little bit later. Seasoned Pyromancer also sees play in Jund, and Jund will be fine.
I also wouldn’t be surprised if Rakdos Elementals finds a way to power through. The deck has other graveyard enablers, and it doesn’t need Faithless Looting to reach velocity quite to the same degree that the Phoenix decks do. I’m mostly bringing it up here because I haven’t seen too many other people talking about it in the wake of the Looting ban, and it’s the sort of fringe deck that might fall off the map entirely now.
Overall, I’m just sort of afraid of investing in any cards from any Faithless Looting decks right now because the upside just isn’t there. For example, Dreadhorde Arcanist was looking like a really sold long-term hold due to the amount of play it was starting to see in Modern. Unfortunately, a lot of that play was in Looting decks. Is the card still good? Yes. But with Faithless Looting gone, I don’t really know how good it’ll end up being. It’s safer just to stay away for now and see how the post-ban metagame develops.
Rising: Ways to Deal with Stoneforge Mystic
It’s too early to really say how the metagame will adjust to fight Stoneforge Mystic – or even if it will have to – but people are already snapping up the best anti-Stoneforge tech in the format.
Kolaghan’s Command seems like the best place to start. It’s already sold out at $18, and I’d expect a restock closer to $20 or $25. I’m not sure which decks in the new Modern are going to be able to play it, but it’s certainly going to be clutch in Jund if nothing else. There’s not really any more profit left in this one, but I’d be surprised if it ends up back below $20 again anytime soon.
Collective Brutality isn’t quite as good against Stoneforge Mystic, but it’s still likely to see an uptick in play as well due to its versatility. This card is currently sold out at $10, and I expect it’ll end up back above $15 again soon. You should make sure that you have a personal set of these at the very least.
Knight of Autumn is just $3 since it’s in a Standard-legal set, but don’t sleep on its power level. This one’s not going much cheaper, and I’d at least make sure that I had a playset of these for the long haul.
Lastly, Manriki-Gusari is sold out at $1.50. If Stoneforge Mystic gets really good, you can run this out of your sideboard as a mirror breaker. I don’t expect this to see much play, but it’s a Modern-relevant card from Saviors of Kamigawa that’s never been printed anywhere else. Even a hint of playability could spike this one to $8-$10.
In general, bans and unbans tend to be overrated – we read and write countless articles about the new metagame, and very little ends up actually changing. Not so this time. Faithless Looting and Hogaak were two of the most important and influential cards in Modern, and I’ll be shocked if Stoneforge Mystic doesn’t end up becoming one of the metagame’s new cornerstones.
It’s totally fine to keep all your Hogaak and Phoenix pieces in your collection if you don’t buy and sell much and you just want to have them around for the far future. If you do a lot of trading or you’re worried about your ability to afford another Modern deck, I’d sell most of these cards ASAP, even knowing that they’re worth a lot less than they were last week. Take advantage of price memory while you can.
On the flip side, it’s okay to pick up your Stoneforge Mystic package pieces now. Batterskull seems a touch overpriced, but the other cards are actually fairly reasonable considering how impactful they’re going to me. They aren’t good spec targets or anything, but I’m surprised they haven’t spiked higher.
As for speculation, there are still a few interesting cards out there. The second tier Sword of X and Y cards haven’t spiked yet, nor have a few hate cards like Manriki-Gusari. Most of these cards are likely to dry up over the next couple of days, but there will be other chances to speculate over the coming weeks as the metagame comes into focus. Pay close attention to what does well, because we’re likely to see some pretty major spikes as Modern goes through a series of massive changes.