The Modern Series: Dissension

Chas takes us for a step into the Wayback Machine this week as he returns to the land of Ravnica for an in-depth look at the value to be found in that much-beloved block’s third expansion, Dissension.

Welcome back to The Modern Series!

If you’re joining us for the first time, The Modern Series is my set-by-set analysis of every Modern-legal expansion in Magic. We started out with Mirrodin back in March of 2014, and we’ve finally reached the end of the first Ravnica block. If you missed Ravnica: City of Guilds or Guildpact, you can check them out here and here.

Dissension at a Glance

Dissension was released in May of 2006. It was the last set in the original Ravnica Block, and it introduced us to the final three guilds of that plane: the Azorius Senate, the Simic Combine, and the Cult of Rakdos.

The Azorius keyword was Forecast. While it wasn’t the most memorable ability, Pride of the Clouds was a serious Standard player in its day. Proclamation of Rebirth and Sky Hussar have also been relevant at different points in time. I doubt that we’ll see Forecast again in a competitive set, though — it’s the sort of grindy, non-intuitive mechanic that WotC doesn’t really like to promote anymore.

The Simic had Graft, a cool ability that anyone who has played Modern Masters 2015 Limited is now familiar with. While Graft is moderately powerful in draft and sealed, Plaxcaster Frogling is the closest the ability has come to making an impact in Constructed. While I wouldn’t be surprised if we see new Graft cards at some point, I’d expect Return to Ravnica’s Evolve to make a comeback first.

Hellbent, the Rakdos ability, was the most powerful of the three Dissension keywords. Anthem of Rakdos was a fringe player in Constructed, Gathan Raiders was a house in Limited, and Demonfire was a pricey Standard staple once upon a time. Rakdos Pit Dragon was played in both Standard and Legacy for many years as well, and Infernal Tutor still sees play in Legacy Storm. That’s a pretty good hit rate for a small-set mechanic. I bet we’ll see Hellbent again soon, too. It’s a clear and aggressive ability that meshes well with the current design ethos.

The other major mechanic in Dissension was the return of split cards. For the first time since Invasion Block, players could open a card that looked like two tiny cards stuck together. While many of these new split cards were Limited bombs, none of them were big hits for either casual or competitive play, and their return was mostly viewed as a failure. It is probably the biggest black mark on an otherwise-great set. (Ironically, the Fuse mechanic was one of the only bright spots in the dismal Dragon’s Maze expansion.)

Infernal Tutor, Voidslime, and the three shocklands were the most valuable cards in the set on release day. All five of those cards ended up seeing extensive play during the time they were legal in Standard, so the hit rate was pretty good. Windreaver and Lyzolda, the Blood Witch were the two biggest financial disappointments. They debuted around $5 and never did much in either Standard or on kitchen tables.

Dissension booster boxes retail for $399.99, which is quite high for a set with only four $10+ rares. Having Spell Snare at uncommon helps, but the real prize (like every set in Ravnica Block) is access to the draft format. At this point, an RGD draft set bought one booster a time would set you back $40 — $320 altogether for the full eight-person experience. You’d never make even a fraction of your money back if you bought them, of course, but you’d get to draft my favorite format of all time. Something to consider if you ever win the lottery.

At any rate, let’s get onto the cards!

Breeding Pool, Hallowed Fountain, & Blood Crypt – $15.39 – $13.65

There’s not much more I can say about these cards. At some point, Modern demand for the shocklands will begin to outpace supply and the prices will start to creep up. Until then, they’ll kick around in the $10-$15 range and tease us with their potential. It’s possible that Modern Masters 2015 and the upcoming Modern PPTQ season will help drive demand, but I wouldn’t look for serious growth until next March at the earliest. These are decent buys and fine holds for now, but feel free to trade yours away if the deal is right.

Infernal Tutor – $13.79

Infernal Tutor is a four-of staple in Legacy Storm. Thanks to Lion’s Eye Diamond, Hellbent isn’t that hard to reach. In that deck, this is a Demonic Tutor a good deal of the time.

Could Infernal Tutor catch on in Modern? It’s possible, but the works better in an ‘unfair’ environment, which is something that WotC doesn’t want Modern to be. That said, I’m not sure Infernal Tutor needs to see much play in Modern for its price to rise. I doubt WotC wants this card in Standard, and the fact that it has a set-specific keyword is also a hedge against an imminent reprinting. If Legacy Storm sees a bump in popularity, this card could add another $10-$15 in value without too much trouble.

I wouldn’t buy Infernal Tutor on spec, but I’m glad I have a set hidden away. I’d be happy trading for these at current retail if needed.

Voidslime – $7.89

Why is Voidslime worth almost eight dollars? It sees Modern play, but only in oddball Scapeshift and Temur brews on the fringes of playability. Other than that, its only use is in Commander and casual decks that can cast a GUU spell without too much trouble.

My suspicion? The high price is due to how unique the card is. There’s no other spell in Magic that can counter a spell, activated ability, or a triggered ability. That makes Voidslime an appealing card for casual control mages.

I doubt that we’re going to see a three-mana counterspell start to wreak havoc in Modern at any point soon, but I could see casual and Commander demand continue to rise the price by a buck or two every year until it shows up in a random pre-con and the value drops to $2. That’s always the risk of holding casual cards that aren’t set-specific or on the reserve list.

Momir Vig, Simic Visionary – $7.35

Momir Vig, Simic Visionary’s high price tag makes a little more sense to me. He has long been one of the most-feared Commanders in the format, especially in grindy multiplayer games where he can casually chain powerful Simic creatures for as long as you can keep him in play.

You’re never going to see Momir Vig make an impact in competitive Magic, but I doubt his price tag is going to drop unless Wizards of the Coast decides to reprint him. To that end, I’d suggest investing in a foil copy of the card instead of the normal version if you’ve got the extra cash. I could see Momir show up easily in a future Commander product, which would drop the card to a buck or less. $35 is pretty reasonable for a foil copy, though, and that version will never drop in price.

Tidespout Tyrant – $6.69

I had initially believed that Tidespout Tyrant’s price tag was mostly due to casual interest, but that simply isn’t true. Tidespout Tyrant is a one-of in many current builds of Legacy Food Chain as well as Legacy Reanimator. While the creature suites in decks like this tend to change fairly often, Tidespout Tyrant is a pretty potent threat in a deck that runs 22 one-drop spells, Lotus Petals, and Dazes. You can bounce half your opponent’s board right away if you plan things correctly.

I could see WotC putting Tidespout Tyrant in a casual product, but giving players access to bounce engines like this — even attached to eight-drop creatures — isn’t really in line with the kinds of cards that they’re pushing these days. If Tidespout Tyrant isn’t reprinted, the price should continue to climb. If you’re a Legacy mage, grab a copy or two when it’s convenient.

Spell Snare – $5.89

This isn’t the bottom of the Spell Snare market — that happened about a year and a half ago — but I doubt we’re anywhere close to this card’s ceiling yet. The soonest that we’re going to see Spell Snare reprinted again is in Modern Masters 2017, and there’s a lot of Magic to be played before that set hits shelves. The card is still crucial in Modern, and it sees play in some builds of Twin, Delver, U/W Tron, U/W Control, Scapeshift, and Infect. Get your set this summer.

Rain of Gore – $4.49

Rain of Gore doesn’t see much competitive play, but it is the sort of effect that casual players love. You’ll get the most value out of this in a multiplayer game where there is always a lifelinker or two kicking around, and I’ve mostly seen this used in decks with Commanders like Mogis, God of Slaughter that want to end the game in a hurry.

Rain of Gore could show up in Modern, but it’s unlikely. Red decks do want an answer to Batterskull, but they can rarely afford to break away from their curve in order to play something that can’t attack on turn two. Artifact removal is a better sideboard answer most of the time.

Value-wise, Rain of Gore has been trending up for the past two years, doubling up since June of 2013. I wouldn’t run out and stock up on these, but the price should keep slowly rising as more people build aggressive decks in Commander.

Grand Arbiter Augustin IV – $4.39

Grand Arbiter Augustin IV is a powerful card in both Commander and Cube. Despite being reprinted in the first Modern Masters set, though, it has never seen much Eternal play. Because of its status as a narrow casual card, the price of Grand Arbiter Augustin IV dropped from a high of $12 to a low of about $4 and has never really recovered. Trading for these at current retail is fine — the price isn’t going to fall off any further — but finding a trade partner is difficult, and I can’t see increased demand buoying the price anytime soon. I’m staying away unless I need one for a personal deck.

Cytoplast Manipulator – $4.09

Cytoplast Manipulator is a fun support card in any casual deck that runs a critical mass of cards with Graft. It’s also pretty good in a large multiplayer game where there will always be a creature or two that can be randomly stolen for value. Cytoplast Manipulator is much too slow and vulnerable for competitive play, though, so its financial upside is fairly limited. There’s some growth possible at $4, especially because I doubt we’ll see any other Graft cards reprinted soon, but its ceiling isn’t particularly high.

Pride of the Clouds – $3.75

Forecast is an awkward ability because you have to use it before you draw for the turn. It feels bad when you hold off making the 1/1 flier only to draw a land, but as bad as that feels it feels even worse when you do make the flier and draw an awesome answer that you desperately wish you could play.

Even still, this card provides you with lots of options for just two mana. Pride of the Clouds isn’t as good as Selesnya Guildmage in most cases, but the fact that it counts all other creatures with flying in play when adding up its power and toughness (not just your side of the board) means that it’s pretty massive in multiplayer.

Much like Cytoplast Manipulator, Pride of the Clouds is a high floor/low ceiling casual card that I don’t expect to see reprinted anytime soon. Trading for it at current retail is fine, but it’s not worth speculating on. Modern would have to change quite a bit for something like this to see play, so the upside isn’t there.

Rakdos the Defiler – $3.39

Kaalia of the Vast is the biggest reason why Rakdos the Defiler’s price tag is above two dollars. Because Kaalia allows you to put Rakdos in play already tapped and attacking, you get to skip the painful trigger and move straight to the beneficial one. Neat, eh?

Rakdos continues to slowly gain value, and I don’t see that trend stopping any time soon. WotC has already printed another Rakdos, so I doubt we’ll be seeing this one again outside of some hypothetical future box set like From the Vault: Demons. Rakdos the Defiler is still a one-trick pony, though, so this is a low end hold at best.

Proclamation of Rebirth – $3.39

Proclamation of Rebirth was a $6-$8 card a couple of years ago thanks to the Modern Martyr Proc deck. You can check out an example of that brew here if you aren’t familiar with how it plays out.

While the price of Proclamation of Rebirth has done nothing but tumble since the start of 2013, I wouldn’t take it off your speculation radar entirely. Modern staples from this era have astounding upside, and Proclamation of Rebirth is one of the few cards that could hit $20-$30 if conditions are right. I’d want to see a new twist on the deck before I bought in, but I’m going to put that on my radar of things in Modern to watch out for over the next couple of months.

Ratcatcher – $3.35

Ratcatcher rose from $0.50 to $3.35 over the span of a few years, mostly because of how good Pack Rat is in casual play. I could see Ratcatcher hit $5-$6 if we get a couple more good Rats and more people decide to build Rat tribal deck, but the price seems to have peaked and leveled off for now. There’s no rush to buy in at this point.

Experiment Kraj – $3.29

Experiment Kraj doesn’t have Graft itself, but it was the de-facto Graft lord in Dissension. While I haven’t seen an Experiment Kraj deck in my Commander playgroup recently, it was a pretty popular choice during the early days of the format. There are tons of combos available to you, and it isn’t that hard to make your Kraj deck do some really silly and powerful stuff.

The biggest problem with Experiment Kraj? Six mana is a lot to play for a mid-sized creature, especially one that doesn’t have haste. You have to build your board state around Kraj before dropping it into play, which can be difficult to pull off.

Financially, the upside to Experiment Kraj is something like Momir Vig and the $7-$8 range. That’s a few years away at least, though. He’s another fine casual card with a low floor and moderate ceiling, so you can trade in a retail if you want, but I wouldn’t go nuts.

Pillar of the Paruns – $2.95

Pillar of the Paruns is a weird card. It’s close to being great, but it’s nearly unplayable instead. The fact that it doesn’t tap for colorless means that almost every spell in your deck has to be multicolored for it to be worth running at all. It’s worth consideration in a really unusual 60-card casual brew, but it should almost never see play in even the most casual Commander deck. Why skew your build around one land in a hundred?

I hate to sleep on a land with this much raw power, though. Check out this five-color humans deck from last December. Combine this with Ancient Ziggurat, Cavern of Soul, and Mana Confluence and your mana problems are gone forever… as long as nearly every card in your deck is a multicolored Human creature. That seems kind of bad at the moment, but it does get better with every Human that’s printed.

Unlike most of the cards on this list, Pillar of the Paruns has amazing upside. I don’t think we’ll ever see it, but if you want to take a flier on a $3 card that could jump to $30 overnight, this is the land for you.

Protean Hulk – $2.39

Protean Hulk is another card with high upside. Flash was banned in Legacy due to its interaction with Protean Hulk, which was a very oppressive deck in its day. If someone can figure out how to bring even a fraction of that power to Modern, we might have a new tier-one deck on our hands.

The best build I’ve seen so far is something like this. You get Protean Hulk in the graveyard and cast Footsteps of the Goryo on it. Once Hulk dies, you go fetch Body Double and Viscera Seer. Body Double copies Protean Hulk and you sacrifice it to the Viscera Seer. Repeat to get a second Viscera Seer and Body Double. After that, you get Reveillark and Mogg Fanatic. Sacrifice Mogg Fanatic to ping your opponent, then sacrifice Reveillark to bring back Mogg Fanatic and Body Double copying Reveillark. You can repeat this loop as many times as you want, taking out your opponent as well as their entire board.

Is this deck actually good? I doubt that it’ll ever make tier one or tier two in its current form, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it wins a random tournament and we end up with Protean Hulk and Footsteps of the Goryo price spikes as a result. All it takes is a good performance on camera (or in a Travis Woo video) to whip up demand, and I’d rather have a set of Protean Hulks before that happens.

Sprouting Phytohydra – $2.15

Having Sprouting Phytohydra around as a forever blocker isn’t the worst, even if you’re just getting a 0/2 each turn. The card really shines when you start building combos that get you infinite Hydras, though, especially if you’ve got Hissing Iguanar, Bitter Ordeal, or Vicious Shadows to kill your opponents once you go off. I doubt that Sprouting Phytohydra will ever get too valuable, but random combo cards are always in some demand. This card has gone from $0.50 to $2 over the past two years, too. I expect that sort of slow growth to continue until it’s reprinted, which makes it a decent short-term hold.

Dovescape – $2.09

Dovescape is one of the greatest cards of all time. I love the trippy art. I love the bizarre game states it generates. I love the preview article that was written for it when the card was spoiled. I love the look on players’ faces when they see it for the first time.

Is Dovescape good? Some Modern Enduring Ideal decks play it, but Enduring Ideal itself is a much better spec target if that deck ever breaks through into the mainstream. Otherwise, you have to be running a very specific (and flavorful) casual brew that’s capable of casting a white/blue hybrid enchantment. It’s still a nice long-term hold, though. It’s kind of a weird card for a reprint, and it’s doubled in price over the past year and a half just on the back of how cool it is. This is the sort of card I love picking out of bulk and holding until it hits $5, but I don’t see any major price spikes in this card’s future.

Quick Thoughts on $1-$2 Cards

Loaming Shaman – $1.65 Loaming Shaman has been a steady riser, doubling in price over the past year and a half. It’s an underrated card in Commander, either allowing you to buy back a card or three your graveyard or (more often) shutting down your opponent’s reanimation schemes. It should continue to rise in price, but it’s a very casual card so I don’t expect it to spike.

Simic Sky Swallower – $1.59Simic Sky Swallower was a Standard powerhouse in its time, but it rarely shows up outside of Commander and Cube these days. Even in those formats, Ol’ Chompy seems to have lost some of his bite. Sadly, the fact that Simic Sky Swallower was reprinted in Duel Decks: Elspeth vs. Kiora (the one with the expansion symbol that looks like a teddy bear) seals its fate as a future bulk rare.

Simic Growth Chamber – $1.59Simic Growth Chamber was just reprinted in Modern Masters 2015, so I doubt that you’ll find any takers at or near this retail price. Feel free to fish those out of people’s bulk draft leavings, though—all of the bounce lands should trade well at $1 or higher again at some point.

Utopia Sprawl – $1.59Gerry Thompson is a fan of Utopia Sprawl, and I don’t blame him. With the right board state, which isn’t hard to achieve, Utopia Sprawl is both fixing and acceleration for just one mana. It can’t get too dominant in the format without Ghost Quarter showing up to ruin the fun, but there’s certainly room for this powerful common to double or triple in value before that point. Modern players should grab a set now. Worst case, casual demand should continue to keep the price above bulk.

Avatar of Discord – $1.39Avatar of Discord is an undercosted flier, but the drawback is too steep these days unless you’re using it as a discard outlet for some kind of reanimation deck. That’s fine for those of you building niche casual brews, but I doubt it’ll lead to a value above $2 anytime soon.

War’s Toll – $1.39 – War’s Toll is a neat little tool that aggressive Commander decks can use to punish people who hold up half their mana and all of their utility creatures for counterspells and other instant-speed reactions. It’s only worth a card if you’re generating card advantage yourself, but multiplayer Commander is a format where that isn’t quite as relevant. War’s Toll is never going to be a superstar, but a $3 card? I could see that. Snag a copy now if you think it’s neat and might want to use it at some point in the future.

Rakdos Pit Dragon – $1.09Rakdos Pit Dragon used to see play in a Legacy deck called Dragon Stompy. I haven’t seen this guy anywhere near a competitive tournament for several years, though, and the Jace vs. Chandra printing is still keeping the price at or under a buck. If Dragons of Tarkir didn’t cause Rakdos Pit Dragon to spike like most of the other casual Dragons, I can’t imagine what will. I’m staying away.

This Week’s Trends

  • The biggest news last week was Pascal Maynard’s decision to take a foil Tarmogoyf instead of a Burst Lightning as the first pick in pack two of his Top 8 draft at Grand Prix Las Vegas. While many pros were quick to criticize Pascal, the community response to the incident quickly vaulted the foil Tarmogoyf to a level of fame that very few specific Magic cards have ever achieved. When he posted the card on eBay later that week (with half the profits going to the Gamers Helping Gamers charity), the price quickly eclipsed $10,000 and kept rising.

    Is this sort of sale completely nutty and unreasonable? Not completely. The card is a part of Magic history now, after all. The higher the price goes, the more famous it is. The more famous it is, the more it’s worth. There are very few truly unique cards in Magic, but this is now one of them. I can see a rich collector wanting it as the capper for their collection or a major retailer wanting it as a display piece. The charity donation helps justify the purchase as well. How high will the card go? Will the top bid be legit? We’ll find out soon. I do think that when the dust has settled, someone will actually pay Pascal Maynard (and Gamers Helping Gamers) more than $10,000 for the pleasure of owning a small piece of Magic history, and that’s awesome.

    People expecting Modern Masters 2015 prices to completely crater during the Grand Prix weekend ended up being disappointed. The vendors were aggressively buying staples, and the top tier cards in the set stayed fairly high all weekend. At some point, the buying window will close and these cards will start to rise again. Plan accordingly, and figure out what cards you want to buy now while the prices are low.

  • Kolaghan’s Command continues to rise thanks to Modern demand. With many Modern Delver decks now running black for Kolaghan’s Command and Inquisition of Kozilek, the card has reached an all-time high. If you’re a Modern player, grab a set soon. While the overall Standard index will drop during the summer doldrums, we’re pretty much done opening Dragons of Tarkir. There’s a shot that this card is just going to rise from here.
  • The Modern cards that weren’t reprinted continue to rise in price as well. Both Damnation and Snapcaster Mage are trending steadily upward, and I don’t see an end point in sight for either one. Neither is likely to be reprinted soon, and demand for these cards is player-based, not speculator-driven. Get your copies soon.
  • Blood Moon, Cunning Wish, and Omniscience saw much bigger spikes last week. While I doubt their new highs are a hundred percent sustainable, all three cards are so important in their archetypes and so underprinted compared to demand that I’d wager 70-80% of the leap will be baked into the new value. Blood Moon is a crucial card in Modern right now, and Omni-Tell is performing very well in Legacy. I’d wait a few weeks to buy any of these cards — buying into hype is almost never right — but there’s no reason to sell these cards quickly if you have them, either.
  • Standard is more of the same, but the market is taking on a bit of a bearish tint. The green cards (Deathmist Raptor, Collected Company, and Den Protector) have finally stabilized and are slowly starting to dip in price. The rest of Standard is falling off a bit as well as people sell their decks into set rotation. At this point, the best thing you can do is trade Standard cards into Eternal or casual staples at current market value.
  • Lastly, I have some pretty big news to share with all of you. Starting tomorrow, (Tuesday, June 9) I will be writing a weekly column for Wizards of the Coast on DailyMTG.com! It’s a casual deckbuilding column focused on Vorthos-esque flavor-based brews. If you like the stories I tell here on StarCityGames, I’d urge you to check it out. I’m really proud of the articles that will be going up there over the next few weeks.

For fans of this column, don’t worry — I’m not going anywhere! I will be taking the month of July off (I’m getting married on the 4th, going on my honeymoon, and then moving across the country), but I’ll be writing top-notch finance columns through the end of June before starting up again in August. You can’t get rid of me that easily!