The Financial Fallout Of Pro Tour Ixalan

The first nuclear test took place in New Mexico, and Chas Andres is here to monitor the fallout from Albuquerque! What “budget” deck in the Pro Tour Top 8 won’t stay that way for long, and which no-shows should be treated as if they’re radioactive?

Pro Tour Ixalan was the first Pro Tour to occur a full five weeks after the release of its namesake set instead of just two. When Wizards of the Coast made this switch, their goal was to reduce the amount of time where the format was “solved.” In theory, each new Standard format would get an additional three weeks of testing, confusion, and wacky brews before the best players in the world showed what we should have been playing all along.

The problem with this hypothesis, of course, is the assumption that the best 300 or so Magic players in the world can find the best ways to attack a format while the rest of us cannot. It assumes that that past Standard formats were solved in two weeks because that was when the pros revealed their tech, not because that’s roughly the amount of time that it takes the community to figure out what works.

There’s probably some truth to this—if Wizards of the Coast keeps scheduling their Pro Tours five weeks out, there will still be some fantastically innovative decks debuting on the game’s biggest stage—but Pro Tour Ixalan was a point in favor of the masses. In fact, the metagame in Albuquerque was not terribly different from the metagame on Magic Online leading up to the Pro Tour. Most of the innovation was on the micro level—a few shifts here, some better sideboard tech there, a new twist on an old favorite. The upshot is that if you bought into Standard at any point over the last couple of weeks, you won’t have to do much fiddling to get your deck into Pro Tour shape.

If this trends holds true for the next couple of Standard Pro Tours (remember: we’re dealing with a sample size of one right now), I expect it’ll lead to a cycle of higher, more stable prices in the days leading up to the Pro Tour and fewer major spikes during and immediately following the event. This might diminish the importance of the Pro Tour in terms of financial speculation while elevating the SCG Tour results and Grand Prix finishes in that Week 2-3 sweet spot. We’ll have to see how this trend develops over the next year or so, but it’s worth keeping in mind.

For now, let’s talk a bit more about what actually went down at Pro Tour Ixalan. The financial impact might not have been major, but the trends that emerged were still significant. Let’s start with the most popular deck in the room, Temur Energy:

Temur Energy was the most popular deck in the format leading up to the Pro Tour. It was the most popular deck in the room on Day 1. It had the most copies on the floor during Day 2. In fact, if you combine the numbers for Temur and Four-Color Energy, you’d end up with about 45% of the Day 1 metagame—higher numbers than the top deck at any of the four most recent Pro Tours.

Does this mean that we’re going to see Aether Hub or Longtusk Cub banned? It’s possible. There were four Energy decks in the Top 8, but they were significantly different, and the deck diversity beyond that was very encouraging. Energy also doesn’t feel like a broken deck—it’s possible to beat, and it leads to some fun and interactive games of Magic.

That said, Wizards of the Coast has been more aggressive with the Standard ban-hammer lately, and it wasn’t great that Pro Tour Ixalan was won by, essentially, a Kaladesh block deck. If Energy isn’t banned, I can’t imagine the deck disappears from the metagame at any point between now and September of 2018(!) when the block finally rotates. That’s a long, long, long time from now.

At any rate, there aren’t any must-buys in the current Pro Tour iteration of Temur Energy. Confiscation Coup emerged at the World Magic Cup, but it’s still just a two-of in some builds. Vizier of Many Faces is a sideboard one-of. We’ve known how good Glorybringer and Chandra, Torch of Defiance are for quite a while now. If anything, these cards are going to start dropping as the community switches focus to Iconic Masters and Modern.

Four-Color Energy is, essentially, Temur Energy with a couple of additional cards. The Scarab God finally makes an appearance here, and it’s a crucial part of the deck, but it’s worth pointing out that this was a relatively quiet event for the powerful God. U/B Control had a bad weekend, and The Scarab God is showing up less frequently than it was even a couple of weeks ago. I bet we’ll start to see the price drop a little over the next few months.

I’m a little more interested in Vraska, Relic Seeker, which is the closest thing that Pro Tour: Ixalan had to a breakout card. I loved Vraska in my Ixalan set review, and I wouldn’t be surprised if she ends up continuing to see more and more play going forward. Many of the Four-Color Energy decks ran Vraska alongside The Scarab God, and she looked good when she hit the battlefield. The card’s price tag has already jumped from $15 to about $30, and it might go as high as $40 later this week. I’m not buying at that price, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s more sustainable than you think. Since Ixalan is such a low-impact set, all that value has to go somewhere. If Vraska becomes a Tier 1 Standard staple, a lot of that value could flow right into its most powerful planeswalker.

If you’re looking for a more under-the-radar pick, Nissa, Steward of Elements intrigues me. Nissa looks to be a new sideboard staple in Four-Color, Temur, and Sultai Energy, which should increase demand by a significant amount. In fact, there were seven copies of the planeswalker in the Top 8, compared to just four copies of Vraska. I haven’t seen any price movement here yet, but there are still plenty of Nissas available in the $8 range and it wouldn’t take much for her to end up closer to $15 or $20.

Speaking of Sultai Energy, let’s take a look at Seth Manfield’s Top 8 build. This deck is quite different from the Temur and Four-Color builds, but it’s still well within the realm of the known. I can’t imagine we’ll be seeing major spikes from cards like Hostage Taker and Rishkar, Peema Renegade, though it’s worth pointing out that this deck’s performance should keep them from dropping off too much.

Longtusk Cub is probably underpriced at $1.50 relative to the amount of play it sees, and I’m still sort of shocked that Aether Hub is less than $5. I’m not sure how many people are going to start building Energy decks now, though, so this observation is likely more academic than practical.

This version of God-Pharaoh’s Gift is an all-in combo deck that I expect to become a lot more popular over the next couple of weeks. Maynard’s brew is effectively a budget deck, with only one mythic rare (Angel of Invention) in the maindeck. I love it when an affordable deck ends up in a Pro Tour Top 8 because it gives newer and budget players something to build that is immediately competitive. It also tends to make for some solid spec opportunities, because those two to three key cards invariably end up spiking after a couple of days of people talking about how affordable the deck is.

Angel of Invention retails for $7 right now, but I bet we’ll see that price tag increase significantly. It’s already up to fourteen tickets on Magic Online, and that $15+ range seems about right for where this card will end up. The deck is probably too fragile for Angel of Invention to sustain a $20+ price tag unless Mono-White Vampires catches on as well (more on that later), but it should easily be worth more than $10.

The most expensive card in God-Pharaoh’s Gift right now is Search for Azcanta, which doesn’t see enough play to justify its current $16 price tag. This is part of why I think Vraska, Relic Seeker might end up stable in the $30-$40 range—Ixalan is such a weak set right now that the cards that do see play end up being worth more than they otherwise would be. Search for Azcanta is helped by the fact that it sees a little bit of Modern play, but I can’t imagine there’s any more growth here unless the metagame shifts significantly.

Last, Angel of Sanctions is a sweet piece of relatively new sideboard tech. There isn’t a ton of upside here, but it’s a three-of mythic rare that you can buy for just $3 right now. I bet it’ll end up in the $5-6 range at least.

Even though the overall metagame stats were a bit disheartening, the Top 8 is full of exciting decks. Search for Azcanta appears here as well, and Torrential Gearhulk continues to do just enough to justify its high price tag. It’s also nice to see Settle the Wreckage continue to do work—the card’s raw power level is considerable, and it’s one of the Ixalan cards with the highest long-term upside.

Approach of the Second Sun decks had fallen off a bit in recent weeks, but this new Jeskai version (the red is for Harnessed Lightning, which can then be played again off Torrential Gearhulk) should help breathe new life into the archetype. I expect we’ll see Approach of the Second Sun itself gain a couple of bucks, though most of the rest of these cards are at or near their historic highs already. This is a cool new tweak on a known archetype, but there still isn’t a ton of financial upside, unfortunately.

Heading into the Pro Tour, Ramunap Red was second only to the Energy decks in terms of known strategies that were expected to perform well. It had an above-average conversion percentage, which means that I don’t see the Pro Tour changing the metagame hierarchy at all. It was the second most popular deck before Albuquerque, and it’ll probably be the second most popular deck going forward.

Unfortunately, I don’t see much new financial information here. Hazoret the Fervent and friends are likely to remain expensive as this deck continues to be a solid metagame choice. The best buy in this deck right now is probably Harsh Mentor, which is finally starting to see some real play in the metagame. It should be worth a bit more than its current retail price of $1.25 because of how good it is against so many of the cards in Tokens and Energy.

The Top 8 wraps up with a new take on an old archetype, Mardu Vehicles. This deck was making a bit of a comeback in the days leading up to the Pro Tour, but its 45% Day 2 conversion percentage was horrible, and the deck still has some serious weaknesses to Energy. It’s worth noting that Hazoret the Fervent is awesome in this deck, too, so if there is a Mardu resurgence, we might see that card climb even higher. Based on the overall numbers, though, I’m staying away.

As the format continues to evolve, pay close attention to the underdog decks as well as anything new or weird that looks like it might have game against these established archetypes. The long a format remains stagnant, the more desperate people get to try something—anything—new or different. That’s why I expect the biggest gains to come from decks like God-Pharaoh’s Gift. It might not be a totally fresh archetype, but the fact that it found success on the biggest stage speaks volumes.

Speaking of underdogs, there’s another deck I want to take a look at:

Mono-White Vampires didn’t make Top 8, but it was far and away the most successful rogue deck at Pro Tour Ixalan. It had a 100% Day 2 conversion percentage and looked good on camera against both Ramunap Red and Temur Energy. It’s also a very cheap deck, with only Angel of Invention, Metallic Mimic, and Legion’s Landing requiring a significant investment.

I love buying into Mono-White Vampires right now. Metallic Mimic is a safe bet to keep gaining value regardless—the more tribal decks show up as Ixalan block continues, the more play the card will see. I already liked Angel of Invention as a gainer thanks to God-Pharaoh’s Gift, and the card could end up stabilizing at $20+ if Mono-White Vampires sticks around as a powerful metagame choice. Legion’s Landing is also a key card in both Standard Tokens decks, so your bets are hedged here as well. Beyond that, you’re buying into near-bulk rares with upside like Mavren Fein, Dusk Apostle.

The No-Shows

A few fairly expensive Standard cards didn’t really do much at the Pro Tour:

A few interesting archetypes stumbled before reaching the finish line. There wasn’t much of a B/R Aggro presence, U/B didn’t do much, Grixis Control didn’t have a good weekend, and Carnage Tyrant didn’t even show up in too many sideboards. Dinosaurs, Pirates, and Merfolk were all absent, and Marionette Master must have missed its flight. Patrick Chapin had a cool Gideon of the Trials deck, but I didn’t see too much of the card beyond that. Tokens did okay on Day 1, but most of the Treasure Map decks I was excited about fell a bit short.

I expect all of these cards to drop in price, especially the ones from Ixalan. Some people were still holding out hope that we’d get a Growing Rites of Itlimoc deck or whatever at the Pro Tour, but now that the metagame is fairly stable, I expect these prices to start falling a bit faster. We’ll have a chance to buy back in to some of these tribal cards in a few weeks, when Rivals of Ixalan preview season begins and we can get excited about Pirates being Tier 1 all over again.

This Week’s Trends

It feels a bit early to be talking about Rivals of Ixalan, but there were actually a couple of card reveals this week that might help a couple of underplayed archetypes break through. First, the prize for participating in your Store Championship is a full-art copy of Ghalta, Primal Hunger. Mana reduction is a powerful ability, but you need to have at least six or seven power on the battlefield before Ghalta becomes even remotely affordable. This could see play at the top of a curve if Standard becomes a midrange slog-fest at some point, but I don’t expect it to do much in the current metagame. Future $1 rare.

I’m much more excited about Silvergill Adept. We’re not even close to Merfolk being Standard-playable, but Silvergill Adept has already proven itself to be a Standard staple and I don’t think it’s gotten any worse since last time it was legal. Strong tribal two-drops are always good, and I don’t think this card will drop below $1 even if Merfolk don’t see much play. Here’s hoping we get a strong lord and a couple of support spells alongside it in Rivals.

Over in Modern, the big winners of the week are the key cards from the Five-Color Humans deck that took down the Modern Open in Cincinnati a few weeks back. We talked about this deck last week, but it’s worth pointing out that Meddling Mage, Ancient Ziggurat, Aether Vial, Champion of the Parish, and Cavern of Souls have all continued to shoot up in value since then, mostly because the deck has continued to perform well on Magic Online. The price does seem to have leveled off now, though, so you’re safe to sell your copies of these cards if you’ve been speculating on them. I still think that the deck is legit, but the hype will never be as high as it is right now.

By the way, I still think that Mantis Rider, Mayor of Avabruck, Thalia’s Lieutenant, and Thalia, Heretic Cathar are solid low-risk specs right now. If Humans continues to put up top results, even these lesser rares will develop a “Modern Staple” sheen to them and you should be able to double or triple your money. You won’t get rich off these cards, but the buy-in is low enough that you won’t lose your shirt, either.

Speaking of Modern specs, Bloodbraid Elf has continued to slowly rise in price as well. I doubt the card will be under $5 by the time the Banned and Restricted Announcement hits us in February, so make sure you grab your playset now. Even though I sort of suspect that Wizards of the Coast will keep Modern the way it is if the Pro Tour is good, you won’t want to miss out on this future staple.

At this point, it might also be worth looking at next-level specs in case Bloodbraid Elf is unbanned. It would probably lead to a major resurgence in Jund, which would bolster that deck’s key staples. Dark Confidant and Liliana of the Veil are already expensive, but it might be worth looking at Goblin Rabblemaster, which is very cheap and has started seeing more and more play in that deck. I also wouldn’t be shocked if this were the decision that finally caused Tarmogoyf to jump back over the $100 mark. The card has basically never been cheaper than it is right now, but a massive uptick in demand could change that trend in a hurry.

The other spec I like? Ancestral Vision. The price is going to drop significantly once Iconic Masters hits shelves in a couple of days, and you might want to grab a set. Cascading into Ancestral Vision is going to be The Dream if Bloodbraid Elf is unleashed, and everyone will try to make that combo work in some sort of Temur shell. The hype alone would probably be enough to cause the price to double from wherever it was on the eve of the unbanning.

Last, we’ll be getting the entire list of From the Vault: Transform a little bit later today. As of now, we know that Huntmaster of the Fells; Liliana, Heretical Healer; and Delver of Secrets (with new art!) will be in the set. This is probably going to be a fairly low-value From the Vault, and it’s not necessarily a snap-buy at MSRP. I’ll evaluate it in full next week. For now, make sure you check the list when it’s revealed. If Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy isn’t in the set, you might want to snag a few copies. I bet it’ll spike a bit just because everyone is expecting it to be the marquee card in the set. It wasn’t one of the three “face cards” in the image that Wizards of the Coast accidentally revealed, though, so we’ll have to wait and see for now.