The Modern Finance Series: Time Spiral

The Modern Series returns! This week, Chas Andres takes on one of the most polarizing sets of all time: Time Spiral! Whether you love this love letter to Magic’s history or not, you can’t deny its impact on Modern and beyond! Check out all the financial details, plus this week’s movers!

It’s finally back!

A couple of years ago, I began writing a set of articles that I called The Modern Series. The idea is simple: we’re going to explore every Modern-legal Magic expansion one card at a time in order in search of underrated gems and in order to think about which cards might currently be overpriced.

Why is The Modern Series important? Well, because Magic finance is so reactionary, I spend most of my time talking about cards that are in the process of being bought out, or are anchoring the format’s top decks, or which have fallen quickly out of favor for one reason or another. By going through old expansions one card at a time, I can avoid those biases and give you a few interesting spec targets that may have slipped through the cracks.

The Modern Series is also a great way to educate yourself about old cards that you might not know all that much about. How often are you looking through someone’s binder in search of an interesting card to trade for, only you’re not quite sure why one card sells for $10 while another is only worth $3? Yeah, you might have a vague sense that the former card sees some Modern play, but does it show up in any current decks? Is it on its way up, or has the price been slowly dropping for the past three years? By reading The Modern Series, you’ll be exposed to information about a bunch of cards that would have escaped your attention otherwise.

I only stopped writing the Modern Series because there was a three-month period last year when there was an important breaking story almost every week. My backlog of article ideas began to fill up, and it wasn’t until a few weeks ago that I remembered I had left things unfinished. I’m not sure I’ll take The Modern Series all the way up to present day, but I have to at least get through Time Spiral, Lorwyn, and Alara blocks, right? Right.

Time Spiral at a Glance

Released in October of 2006—just a hair over ten years ago—Time Spiral is one of the most polarizing expansions of all time. The set was crafted as a love song to Magic’s rich history, and most established players loved the deep complexity of the mechanics and the fact that nearly every card references a previously printed spell. Time Spiral sold quite poorly, however, and it failure had a lot to do with how impenetrable the set felt for newer players. Time Spiral had a whopping eleven keywords as well as Slivers, Rebels, Thallids, Spellshapers, and a bunch of other cards that weren’t even close to intuitive unless you were already a Magic aficionado.

While most of Time Spiral’s mechanics were returning from previous expansions, the set did mark the first appearance of suspend, split second, and the now-evergreen flash. It also gave us that infamous six-card cycle of suspend cards without a mana cost, storage lands, and Storm staple Empty the Warrens.

Time Spiral’s biggest selling point, however, was its 121-card subset of Timeshifted cards—a stack of Standard-legal (at the time) reprints. Each Time Spiral booster pack had a Timeshifted card in addition to its rare, adding to the set’s bloated and idiosyncratic nature. And since Time Spiral was also the first set where the foil slot replaced a generic common instead of whatever slot the foil came from, Time Spiral lives on as one of the few expansions where it is possible to open three rares in a single booster pack.

Time Spiral is one of the most value-dense sets of all time, and current booster prices reflect this detail. A full box sets you back $449.99 (out of stock), and single packs are worth $16 each. Part of the reason I’ve avoided writing this article for so long, I think, is that there are so many financially-relevant cards to get through. I’d rather not split it up into multiple parts, though, so I’ll try to go quickly. Let’s get started, shall we?

The Most Expensive Cards in Time Spiral

Ancestral Vision – $47.99

Control junkies held out hope that Ancestral Vision would completely redefine Modern after being unbanned, but that didn’t really happen. Instead, we ended up with a solid support spell that sees play in Grixis Control, Jeskai Control, U/W Control, and a few other fringe decks.

While it’s possible that Aether Revolt‘s Yahenni’s Expertise will give Ancestral Vision a new top-tier home in Modern, that’s not the sort of bet I like to make. It’s also very likely that Ancestral Vision will be reprinted in Modern Masters 2017 and will drop into the $20-$25 range because of that. It’s a very powerful card, though, and I’d be surprised if it isn’t a Modern staple for the duration of the format’s popularity. I think $50 is pretty close to the top of the market here—it’s a fine buy if you need it, but don’t expect a surge toward $100 unless it dodges reprints for years to come.

Academy Ruins – $19.99

Academy Ruins would be worth twice as much if it ever saw play as a four-of, but it tends to show up as a singleton in decks like Lantern Control, Mono-Blue Tron, Tezzerator, and Thopter Sword. It is an incredibly powerful Commander card that doesn’t require too many artifacts before it becomes a must-play, though. Much like Ancestral Vision (and most of the expensive cards on this list, honestly), Academy Ruins would have to dodge a reprint for another cycle or two before it broke $30. I just don’t think you can bet on that. It’s a decent hold with a very high floor, but a mediocre spec.

Vesuva – $17.99

Vesuva was absurdly powerful back in the TwelvePost days, but it doesn’t show up much in Modern these days. Some of the post-ban Amulet decks run the card, but that’s about it. Vesuva is mostly a Casual/Commander card at the moment, which means that it’s a Masters reprint away from the price taking a major hit. I’m not sure it will remain Time Spiral’s third most expensive card for long.

Flagstones of Trokair – $16.99

Here’s a card I’d trade my Vesuvas for straight-up, even though Flagstones of Trokair is technically worth a dollar less. While Flagstones of Trokair is equally likely to see a Masters reprint, it’s so confusing for newer players that I can’t imagine it’ll ever show up again in a Standard-legal set. It also sees more play in Modern than Vesuva does—some variants of Soul Sisters and W/R Prison use a full playset of Flagstones, and it’s always on the cusp of breaking out. If that latter deck starts adopting Flagstones of Trokair with more regularity, I could see the card hitting $30.

Gauntlet of Power – $15.99

Gauntlet of Power is good in exactly one place: mono-colored Commander decks. The card is too slow for any sort of competitive play, but it’s dynamite in the hundred-card arena. Does that make Gauntlet of Power a decent spec? Not really. The Kaladesh Invention reprint has hurt its price chart a bit, and the existence of that version saps a lot of the card’s potential upside. Gauntlet of Power is also the sort of card that is begging for a reprint in a Masters or Conspiracy set. I can’t see this ever really getting past $20, but it could fall off toward $5 if it starts showing up in boosters again.

Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir – $14.99

Teferi saw a lot more Modern play before the Splinter Twin ban, but its price hasn’t really moved to reflect its current lack of impact. These days, it tends to be a sideboard one-of in decks like Ad Nauseam, Scapeshift, Blue Moon, and U/W Control. Teferi is quite a good casual card, but you’d better be running a lot of blue in your Commander deck if you want to actually cast him with any regularity. $15 is within the realm of what Teferi feels like it should be worth, but I could see it dropping down to $9 or $10 if the market softens a bit.

Pendelhaven – $14.99

I don’t think I’ve ever once mentioned Pendelhaven’s climb from $2 to $15 in this column, and that’s because it happened too organically and gradually to really grab my attention. There was no big buyout—Pendelhaven just kept going up a few dollars every couple of months until it became one of the most expensive cards in Time Spiral.

If you don’t play Modern, Pendelhaven is so sought-after because of Infect (and, to a lesser extent, Elves). It’s not one of the deck’s flashier cards, but it’s quite an important part of Infect’s ability to kill out of nowhere. Pendelhaven should keep rising as long as Infect remains popular and the card isn’t reprinted, but I don’t like betting on cards that are known quantities in one of the format’s best decks. The best-case scenario for Pendelhaven already happened! Yeah, Pendelhaven will be $30 if it isn’t reprinted in the next two to three years and Infect continues to dominate, but either an Infect ban or a reprint could cause a major crash. Keep these if you’re using them, but the buy-in risk is too great if you’re a pure speculator.

Might of Old Krosa – $11.99

It’s fitting that Pendelhaven and Might of Old Krosa are back-to-back, because my comments on them are roughly identical. Both cards are Infect staples, both badly need a reprint, and both will keep trending up until that happens.

Sedge Sliver – $9.99

Sedge Sliver isn’t really beloved in casual circles, but the competitive Modern version of the Slivers deck runs four of these. That’s why it jumped to $10 last year. Sedge Sliver is such a weird card (even in the world of Slivers) that I doubt it will be reprinted unless WotC is really worried about the price tag at some point. Modern Slivers will probably see a comeback the next time we get a new batch of the little critters, too. At $10, Sedge Sliver is a decent long-term hold with some real upside.

Lotus Bloom – $8.99

Modern Ad Nauseam runs four Lotus Blooms, which should keep the price pretty steady regardless of whatever else happens. The fact that it’s a Storm card with “Lotus” in the name helps buoy the card’s price, too—certain kinds of casual mages love trading for stuff like this.

Lotus Bloom was already reprinted in one Modern Masters set, and I can’t really see it falling below $5-$6 even if it shows up again in Modern Masters 2017 (which I doubt will happen). That makes Lotus Bloom one of the safer holds on this list.

Swarmyard – $8.99

Swamyard is the sort of rare I’d caution you against holding on spec for too long. It was a bulk rare for many years, it doesn’t see any competitive play, and it’s only expensive because of Commander players building weird, off-brand tribal decks. All it will take is one reprint in a Commander deck with a couple of Rats or Spiders for this to become a dollar rare again. Avoid Swarmyard unless you’re planning to flip it before Commander 2017.

Gemstone Mine – $8.99

Gemstone Mine has the potential to become a $15-$20 card. It was worth $6-$7 before the Modern Dredge explosion (mostly on the back of its Ad Nauseam play) and it only gained a few dollars this year despite showing up in some of the more interesting Dredge variants. Gemstone Mine isn’t in the default build (which is why it isn’t a $20+ card already), but that doesn’t mean it won’t start seeing more Dredge play in the future. A Modern Masters reprint at uncommon seems unlikely, and a reprint at rare wouldn’t hurt the card’s value at all. This is one of the safest, most interesting buys in the set.

Lord of Atlantis – $8.99

It’s still unconfirmed, but a survey sent out last week seemed to indicate that the block after Amonkhet will be called Atlazan. Not only is the name of the plane similar to the lost city of Atlantis, but there’s a Merfolk on one of the booster packs. If Atlazan is indeed a new plane, I doubt we’ll be seeing the more generic Lord of Atlantis showing up again any time soon—the branding is just too weird. And since Lord of Atlantis is an important four-of in Modern Merfolk, the time might be right to grab your set of these. After all, even a bunch of new mediocre Merfolk in Standard will re-kindle people’s interest in the Modern deck.

Greater Gargadon – $7.99

Much like with Gemstone Mine, Greater Gargadon isn’t in the default Dredge build, but it does show up in variants from time to time. Unlike Gemstone Mine, I feel like the Gargadon versions of Dredge have fallen out of favor recently. That could change at any time, though, giving Greater Gargadon some real upside.

Gargadon already saw a Modern Masters reprint, which would normally be a good thing, but I am a little worried about it coming back in MM17. Red is the shallowest color for Modern-playable cards, so this has a better chance of being reprinted than, say, a black card that is equally fringy in Modern.

Living End – $7.99

Living End only sees play in one deck: Modern Living End. I haven’t been seeing nearly as much Living End in the metagame recently, but it’s still a part of the format and it could make a comeback at any point. The oddness of this card makes Living End difficult to print, and the low price tag means that a Masters reprint wouldn’t tank the value. This is a low-upside, high-floor buy.

Darkness – $7.99

Modern Ad Nauseam runs two of these out of the sideboard, and some Commander players love Darkness because of how delightfully out of color identity it is. While Darkness lack serious upside—it’s just a Fog after all, albeit a weird one—I don’t know if WotC will ever reprint the card, even in a Masters set. That makes Darkness a pretty safe hold.

Angel’s Grace – $6.99

Hey, it’s another Ad Nauseam card! Angel’s Grace is a four-of in that deck, and since it was already brought back in Modern Masters 2013, I bet it’ll avoid being reprinted again for at least another year or two. I can’t see another deck where Angel’s Grace might shine, which limits its upside considerably, but it’s a very safe hold at current retail.

Gemstone Caverns – $6.99

Gemstone Caverns is another card that shows up as a one-of in lots of different decks—W/R Prison, Mono-Blue Tron, U/W Eldrazi, R/W Land Destruction, Ironworks Combo, and even some Ad Nauseam builds. It’s unlikely to be reprinted, too—like so many other cards in Time Spiral block, it is just too confusing the first (and second, and third) time you read it. It’s a safe buy at $7 with a decent amount of upside, but the fact that this will never be a four-of should keep it from ever breaking $20.

Reiterate – $6.99

So many of these old Fork variants have been reprinted over the years, and I was surprised to find that Reiterate continues to be forgotten. Reiterate isn’t a tournament-playable card, but it’s incredibly solid in Commander decks that run red and can generate a lot of mana. The card should keep marching toward $10-$12 until it gets reprinted, but this is only over $2 right now because of scarcity. Keep that in mind before you go too deep on these—like Swarmyard, it could tank at any point.

Norin the Wary – $6.49

Norin has seen competitive play before—some W/R variants of Soul Sisters run this scared little creature—but the price tag has more to do with Norin’s combo potential in Commander. I actually think Norin is a solid buy right now—not only is he unlikely to be reprinted because of how bizarre and unique he is, but decks that run Panharmonicon generally want Norin as well. I could see him ending up over $10 at some point soon.

Scion of the Ur-Dragon – $5.99

Scion of the Ur-Dragon peaked at $20 right around the time that Dragons of Tarkir was released, but it’s back down to $6 because people are kind of burnt out on Dragons in Commander these days. Five-color cards are difficult to reprint, though, and I’m sure there will be another Dragon-related set at some point. Keep this card in mind—it might take a while to pay off, but considering its price history, Scion is not a bad long-term gamble at $6.

Quick Thoughts on $2-$5 Cards

Conflagrate – $5 Conflagrate is another Modern Dredge staple, and I bet the deck became popular too recently for its signature cards to have been put in the Modern Masters 2017 design file. I wouldn’t mind having an extra set of these going into the spring because of that—Modern always experiences a surge in popularity when a Masters set comes out, and this is one of the harder cards to find on the day of a big tournament.

Nether Traitor – $5 Nether Traitor isn’t good enough for competitive play, but top-tier Commanders like Teysa, Orzhov Scion; Sek’Kuar, Deathkeeper; and Savra, Queen of the Golgari love this card. It’s a solid casual role-player, and the fact that it has shadow makes it more reprint-resilient than most. That makes Nether Traitor a better hold than, say, Gauntlet of Power.

Restore Balance – $5 Restore Balance has shown up in Modern before, and this is one of the more exciting possible combos with Yahenni’s Expertise. The upside is immense if it pays off, and the risk at current retail is very low—Restore Balance isn’t going to be reprinted any time soon. I’m in for a playset on spec, though it’s a longshot to actually hit.

Trickbind – $5 Trickbind is mostly just a sideboard card in Legacy Omni-Tell and Sneak and Show decks. It might find another use at some point, and its raw power level is pretty high, but it just isn’t likely to return a card’s worth of value unless you’re essentially using it to end the game. I don’t feel the need to pick up any more of these right now.

Walk the Aeons – $5 – Mono-Blue Turns isn’t a Modern deck that shows up very often, but it does exist and it does actually play one to two copies of Walk the Aeons. All Time Warp variants end up in the $5 range regardless, so this is a pretty safe hold at $5 with a tiny bit of competitive upside.

Akroma, Angel of Wrath – $5 – Competitive Commander players have mostly moved on from Akroma, but the kitchen table mages who love things like keyword salad are still somewhat interested from time to time. This card is on the way down, though, and Akroma does not trade well at current retail. I’d avoid snagging these in trade unless you’re nostalgic for the days when Akroma ruled the skies.

The Rack – $5 – Modern 8-Rack and Legacy Pox both need four of these, which is why The Rack spiked to $5 back in late 2014. Its current price pretty stable, but I worry about a potential reprint at uncommon in Modern Masters 2017.

Undead Warchief – $5 – This is a staple in any casual or Commander Zombie deck worth its salt. Even a reprint should keep this card in the $2-$3 range, so you don’t risk much by holding these. Undead Warchief tends to trade well, too, so it’s not a bad snag at retail.

Pulmonic Sliver – $4 – Competitive Sliver decks have no interest in a creature that costs five and doesn’t do all that much in a tournament setting. This card is nuts in a slow kitchen table game, though, and casual fans love Pulmonic Sliver. This is another hard-to-reprint card with a high floor but not much chance of breaking out.

Saffi Eriksdotter – $4 –A reasonably popular Commander in Birthing Pod-style decks. Saffi is reasonably difficult to reprint since she’s a particular character who also has a very specific way of interacting with the game, but if she were going to break out in either Modern or as a more important part of Commander it would have happened by now.

Mangara of Corondor – $4 – Mangara has actually seen a bunch of Eternal play, showing up in Modern W/B Flicker, Modern Abzan Flicker, Mono-White Hatebears, and Legacy Death and Taxes. The fact that Mangara is legendary stops it from becoming more than a two-of anywhere, but it’s still got some breakout potential. At just $4, it’s one of the more interesting specs left in Time Spiral.

Conspiracy – $3.50 – I doubt Conspiracy will be reprinted again. It’s too confusing now that Conspiracy is a card type as well as a series of expansions. That gives the card some strong casual upside, especially because its effect is so unique. As of now, this mostly shows up in tribal Commander decks as a way to buff up their off-tribe support creatures—not a big niche, but a respectable one.

Draining Whelk – $3 – A beloved casual card, but a lot of competition for the blue six-drop slot in Commander. Will likely be a Commander deck reprint at some point and drop back to bulk.

Serra Avenger – $3 – Sees significant play in Legacy Death and Taxes, albeit usually as a two-of. Some breakout potential because of this.

Stuffy Doll – $3 – Really unique casual card and potential Commander combo piece. Keep an eye on this – it’s a little too odd to reprint willy-nilly, and I could imagine WotC printing an easy two-card kill with Stuffy Doll in the future.

Vesuvan Shapeshifter – $3 – Clever and exciting, but lacking in raw power compared to most of the current clone variants. Unlikely to break out at any point.

Essence Sliver – $3 – Firmly in the second tier of casual Slivers. Could end up at $6-$7 if Slivers come back and this isn’t reprinted, but it’ll never find its way into a competitive Sliver brew.

Chromatic Star – $2.50 – This is a four-of in Modern G/R Tron, and it would have more upside if that deck were a bigger part of the metagame. Reasonably easy card to reprint in the vein of Prophetic Prism, so I wouldn’t go too deep here.

Harmonic Sliver – $2.50 – This is a sideboard card in Modern Slivers and a great Commander spell even in decks without any other Slivers. It’s hard to reprint, too. Some decent upside here.

Funeral Charm – $2.50 – Up from bulk thanks to Modern 8-Rack. You can pick up Visions copies for a buck, though, so I don’t see much to dream on here.

Hypergenesis – $2 – This is banned in Modern for being way too good. The $2 price tag is mostly because this would leap to $50 if it were unbanned. That’s quite unlikely to ever happen, though.

Kaervek the Merciless – $2 – Phenomenal card in Commander, albeit incredibly pricy at seven mana. Unlikely to get very expensive since it doesn’t combo with anything and costs a ton, but it could hit $4-$5 if it isn’t reprinted in the next couple of years.

Lim-Dul the Necromancer – $2 – Similar to Kaervek, Lim-Dul is expensive to cast, fragile, and absurdly powerful if he goes unchecked. Similar upside, similar risk.

Paradox Haze – $2 – One of the most interesting specs on this list, WotC hasn’t yet printed anything that combos absurdly well with Paradox Haze, but it’s a difficult card to reprint and it’s probably just a matter of time before something gives. I can certainly see a world where this ends up at $20, though you’re basically banking on some future card that may or may not ever come to fruition.

Rift Bolt – $2 – An elite staple in both Modern and Legacy Burn. This is down to $2 because it was reprinted in Modern Masters 2013, and it’s unlikely to ever get too expensive because it’s easy to bring back in a future Masters set.

Sudden Shock – $2Sudden Shock has seen a recent surge in price, mostly because it keeps showing up in Modern and Legacy sideboards. Like Rift Bolt, it was reprinted in Modern Masters 2013 and is likely to show up in a reprint set again soon. In the meantime, it could end up at $3-$4.

Avalanche Riders – $2 – A solid sideboard card in both Modern Living End and Modern Kiki Chord. I doubt it ends up as a maindeck staple anywhere, so its upside is probably limited to the $2-$3 range.

Bad Moon – $2 – A purely casual card that doesn’t even see much Commander play these days.

Psionic Blast – $2 – Some Mono-Blue Delver variants in Modern run Psionic Blast, but that’s a heck of a corner case to build a spec around.

Wall of Roots – $2Wall of Roots sees a decent amount of Modern play, showing up in Abzan Company, Kiki Chord, and even a few Infect and G/W Eldrazi Builds. It’s still pretty easy to get since it was a Mirage common, but at some point it might start to climb…especially if WotC deems it too confusing for a reprint.

This Week’s Trends

Just when it looked like Standard had been solved, Seth Manfield made the Top 8 at Grand Prix Denver with a cool as heck Panharmonicon deck. Panharmonicon was one of the week’s biggest gainers, and I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the deck’s secondary rares—Eldrazi Displacer, Drowner of Hope, Skysovereign, Consul Flagship—see some upward movement in the weeks to come.

The casual Standard players down at your LGS are going to want to build this one for sure.

Aetherworks Marvel was the other big Standard winner of the week as both G/R Aetherworks and Temur Aetherworks made Top 8 in Denver. This strategy should remain popular in whatever Standard awaits us in 2017, so buying in now is totally fine. Emrakul, the Promised End and Ishkanah, Grafwidow are up slightly thanks to their performance in Steve Rubin’s second-place Temur Aetherworks deck, and I expect them to keep ticking up slightly as more people flock to that brew.

The Chain Veil spiked this week, going from just under $2 to about $6. While there is some legitimate casual heat on this card, the abrupt rise in price has more to do with a buyout. Because of that, I doubt the $6 price sticks—expect it to end up closer to $3-$4 with some solid long-term upside if it isn’t reprinted soon.

A few other casual cards saw some movement this week as well. Master Transmuter, Time Sieve, and Thieves’ Auction work well with the 2016 four-color commanders, so it’s no surprise they’re on the move. Thieves’ Auction was most likely buyout-related and should drop a bit, but the other two could keep their new price tag. Spike Weaver was also bought out last week, though I’m not sure if it was based on casual play or some Legacy brew that I can’t find any record of. Regardless, I doubt it’ll remain a $15+ card for long. Chromatic Lantern is also up to almost $10 in some places, even after a Commander 2016 reprint. There are still a bunch of non-English copies left for about $6 on StarCityGames.com, though, so I’m guessing this has more to do with a buyout attempt than a real shift in the market.

A foil promo copy of Inkmoth Nexus was pulled out of a Kaladesh pack. Based on the markings, it is likely to be the WMCQ promo in 2017. While it’s hard to base much on a single copy of a promo found in a booster pack, it’s safe to say that Inkmoth Nexus is slightly less likely to be reprinted in Modern Masters 2017 now. It’s also less likely that Infect sees a major ban in January.