The Next Eternal Format Will Be Announced This Month. Here’s What You Need to Know.

Wizards of the Coast will introduce a new non-rotating format with Core Set 2020. Chas Andres has the finance moves to take advantage of the opportunity, plus This Week’s Trends.

A couple of days ago, the Weekly MTG stream had an interview with Jay Parker, the new game director for Magic: The Gathering Arena. During the interview, he stated that a new format will be coming to Arena this fall and that it will be announced “during the release of Core Set 2020.” Lest you worry that this new format is going to be some wacky casual variant like Brawl or Tiny Leaders, he made sure to clarify that the purpose of this format is to allow players to continue playing with the parts of their Arena collection that rotate out of Standard.

This is not the first time we’ve heard talk about this format from Wizards of the Coast’s top brass. Elaine Chase said as much back in December of 2018, which means that the Arena team has been working on this for a while. The difference is that we have a far better idea of how this launch is going to look now that we’re so much closer to it. Whatever this new format is, it’ll be announced within the next month (Core Set 2020 releases on July 12th) and it’ll be coming to Arena when Ixalan block, Dominaria, and Core Set 2019 rotate of Standard in late September.

From a Magic Finance perspective, this begs a few really interesting questions. Let’s handle them one at a time:

What Is This New Format Designed to Accomplish?

Anytime a new format is created, it’s worth looking at its intended goal in order to see whether it will end up serving an actual need. For example, I prefer Oathbreaker to Tiny Leaders because a format based on allowing people to play with planeswalkers as their commanders has a much more appealing mission statement than a format that’s based on forcing people to only play with cards that cost three or less mana.

In the case of Arena Eternal (the name I’m giving this new format for the sake of making this article more legible and slightly shorter), the goal is simple: allow people to play with all the cards they own on Arena, regardless of Standard legality. And this is actually really important.

A lot of the people who currently play Arena aren’t used to the ebbs and flows of competitive Magic, which means that fall is going to come around and they’re going to ask themselves why they can no longer play a deck that they spent half the year building. WotC wants to avoid this impending frustration as much as they can, because it’s a great way to alienate the more casual side of Arena’s burgeoning player base. Since Modern doesn’t seem to be coming to Arena in the near future (if ever), they needed a solution to this problem. Arena Eternal is a pretty good one.

Will This New Eternal Format Be Arena-Exclusive, Or Will It Make the Leap to Tabletop Magic?

I can pretty safely say that the format will be made available to both tabletop and Arena players. How do I know this? Because there’s literally no reason for WotC to explicitly deny stores the option to run Arena Eternal events. We’re living in an era where any LGS can run any format as their FNM event, not just Standard or Draft, so Arena Eternal will soon be an option as well.

It might be better, then, to ask a slightly different question: will Arena Eternal ever become a Grand Prix or Mythic Championship format? My guess is that WotC hasn’t made a decision about this yet, and it depends on how popular Arena Eternal becomes. If we all decide that we love it, WotC will give the format more and more support. If not, it’ll probably remain a casual format for the foreseeable future.

Which Sets Will Arena Eternal Encompass?

There are three likely options here:

1. Arena Eternal will begin with Ixalan, the earliest set with packs available for purchase on Arena right now.

2. Arena Eternal will begin with Kaladesh, the earliest set that had packs available for purchase on Arena during its beta period.

3. Arena Eternal will begin with either Ixalan or Kaladesh before slowly working backwards, encompassing more and more sets, until we have a format that’s closer to Modern or Frontier.

I suspect that Arena Eternal will begin as an Ixalan-forward format, since that won’t create the confusion that would occur if Hour of Devastation or Aether Revolt packs hit the digital shelves before Arena’s player base has figured out that some sets aren’t going to be playable in Standard. This is also the solution that would lead to the least angst as people attempt to keep their pet decks around after Arena’s very first rotation. If you add a bunch of other sets to Arena Eternal right away, it’ll create a highly distinct new metagame right off the bat. Maybe WotC wants that, but I doubt it.

That said, I would be a little surprised if Kaladesh block and Amonkhet block aren’t eventually added to the Arena Eternal card pool. It just makes too much sense. All these cards have already been programmed into Arena, complete with fun animations. The only reason they’re not available right now, I’m guessing, is because there are literally no cards on the client that are not legal in Standard. Since Jay Parker was clear in his statement that your rotating cards will not be purged from your collection this fall, I can only imagine that they’ll make Kaladesh and Amonkhet available at some point in the future.

The only other option I can think of for leaving Kaladesh and Amonkhet out of Arena Eternal is that these sets were kind of a mess when they were legal in Standard. It’s very possible that WotC doesn’t want to mess with energy decks and deciding whether to re-ban Smuggler’s Copter and Aetherworks Marvel. In fact, the phrase “Aetherworks Marvel” probably causes several WotC folks to break out in hives. While I don’t think this supposition is enough for me to declare that all these cards that WotC programmed into Arena are never coming back, I didn’t want to ignore that possibility, either.

If Kaladesh and Amonkhet do end up in Arena Eternal, I wouldn’t be shocked if other sets come to the client eventually, too. We still have no idea what their plan is for Modern on Arena, but it’s quite possible that Arena Eternal will get another couple of backdated sets every year just to keep things interesting. Or maybe not. Again, I don’t think that WotC is likely to start out doing this, but there’s nothing preventing them from changing their mind in the coming months as a way to sell more packs.

Will the Announcement of Arena Eternal Affect Any Other Formats?

When I first saw the Arena Eternal announcement on Twitter, the very first tweet in response was some variant of “RIP Legacy.” There seem to be plenty of people who believe that WotC is only allowed to support a very limited number of formats, and that each new format added to their roster means the death of an existing variant.

This simply isn’t true. WotC has literally nothing to gain by announcing the end of an existing format. If they did, Vintage would have been “killed” many years ago, right? At this point, Vintage and Legacy haven’t really been a part of WotC’s Organized Play plans for at least half a decade.

Major Legacy events still pop up from time to time, and the addition of a new format isn’t going to change that. For the most part, though, Vintage and Legacy are supported by local communities and events that are run outside the Mythic Championship ecosystem. Any new format looking to supplant Vintage or Legacy would have to be trying to fill the same niche, and Arena Eternal has no designs on that. The existing Legacy players are still going to keep playing Legacy, regardless of whatever else happens. You don’t have to panic-sell your Legacy collection when WotC announces Arena Eternal later this month. In fact, I’d recommend not doing that.

I haven’t seen anyone predicting that Arena Eternal is out to replace Modern, but I can put that potential myth to rest as well. Modern is still a major cash cow for WotC – see Modern Horizons – and they have no reason to cut back on Modern support right now. I suppose over a large enough timescale, Modern will become too unwieldy and a format like Arena Eternal will end up supplanting it in popularity, but we’re several years away from that even starting to become the ghost of a possibility.

What Will the Financial Impact of Arena Eternal Be?

Now we’re talking. The way I see it, there are three distinct timeframes that we must think about as we analyze the financial future of Arena Eternal:

1. The next six weeks, right before and right after the announcement of Arena Eternal.

2. October through December, when Arena Eternal goes live and the format either flourishes or flops.

3. The far future (2020 and beyond) when older, rotated sets begin to stack up on Magic Online.

I’m pretty bullish on Arena Eternal over the next six weeks. That’s why I’m writing this article now instead of waiting for the official announcement – if you can buy into the format before the vast majority of people have even begun to start thinking about it, you’re going to be able to quick-flip potential Arena Eternal staples into the initial hype cycle.

The thing I like best about this plan is that it doesn’t require Arena Eternal to actually be good in order to pay off – it just requires a bunch of Magic players to worry about missing out on future staples, which is a thing that happens literally all the time for far worse reasons than the announcement of a new eternal format. I mean, One with Nothing spiked this week. One with Nothing! That’s…well, that sure is something.

Or consider the fact that Frontier, a format that went nowhere, was incredibly profitable if you bought in before the hype and sold into those initial spikes. Dig Through Time jumped from bulk up to $5 due to a made-up format that barely made a blip on anyone’s radar. Cards like that are going to spike due to Arena Eternal, too, and there will be money to be made when it happens.

I’m a lot less certain about Arena Eternal’s financial status in October and November, once the format actually shows up on a computer screen near you. Modern was an initial success because its initial card pool was made up of 30 different sets, but Arena Eternal will only have between eight and twelve sets. Historically, this has led to some pretty mediocre formats – think Frontier again, or the waning days of Extended. It’s quite likely that Arena Eternal will seem like a bit of a bust…at least at first.

The further we get into the future, the more excited I become about the potential of Arena Eternal, both as a player and an investor. The Modern card pool is more than twice as big now as it was when the format was created, and it was only a matter of time before WotC introduced a new eternal format. At some point, Arena Eternal will have a large enough card pool to develop a metagame’s that both diverse and distinct from both Modern and Standard. And at that point, the format will explode in popularity.

I don’t know when it will happen, of course. It might be October 2019, or it might not be until 2023. But since Arena is going to be here for the long haul, Arena Eternal is going to get every chance to succeed. It might take a while, but this format should eventually pay off.

This is a good thing for us because it mitigates our risk on the back end. If we buy into Arena Eternal now, we can either try to sell our specs into the initial wave of hype or we can hold onto potential future format staples for the long haul. The best part? Neither of these plays requires the format to actually be good upon release. If it is, that’s just a bonus.

Which Cards Are the Best Arena Eternal Specs Right Now?

Speculating on Arena Eternal right now is slightly awkward because we don’t actually know if Kaladesh, Aether Revolt, Amonkhet, or Hour of Devastation will be included in the format. If they are, then these sets are easily the best places to draw from since they’ve already rotated out of Standard. If not, then we’re looking at cards from sets like Ixalan, Dominaria, and Core Set 2019, which are still expensive since they’re still Standard legal.

My case for buying into Kaladesh and Amonkhet block right now is pretty close to my case for buying into this format at large: you’re backstopped pretty well by the fact that prices are pretty low right now and long-term casual or Modern demand will bail you out if these sets don’t end up being part of Arena Eternal. All of the cards I’m going to recommend today would be solid specs even if Arena Eternal wasn’t going to be a thing. I just feel like they’re even better specs now that there’s a chance that these cards will end up anchoring a brand-new eternal format.

Chandra, Torch of Defiance – $17

Chandra, Torch of Defiance has been on the rise for weeks, a result of her popularity in Oathbreaker as well as the increasing frequency in which she’s starting to pop up in Modern lists like Izzet Phoenix, Mono-Red Prison, and TitanShift. This is a solid card to pick up for several reasons right now, and it’ll be one of the first to spike if Kaladesh ends up being a part of Arena Eternal. Get your set ASAP.

The Scarab God – $13

Believe it or not, The Scarab God bottomed out around $10 back in January and has been on a slow and steady rise since then. In fact, this card is sold out at $13 at the moment and I wouldn’t be shocked if it’s restocked in the $15-$16 range. These gains have mostly been due to Commander demand, and it means that the available supply of The Scarab Gods is quite low right now – perhaps more so than any other card on this list. If Hour of Devastation ends up in Arena Eternal, expect this card to sell out fast and spike hard.

The Kaladesh Rare Land Cycle – $3 – $9

I’ve been high on these lands for a long time due to the amount of play they see in Modern, though the existence of the Horizon lands complicates matters somewhat in that format. They’ll quickly become the best land cycle in Arena Eternal, though, and the fact that they’re still quite good in Modern means that you probably aren’t taking much of a risk by stocking up on these.

Torrential Gearhulk – $5

Torrential Gearhulk has more or less bottomed out at $5 after spending the second half of 2018 slowly dropping down to its post-rotation low. This card doesn’t really see any Modern play, but there’s enough casual demand to keep it from ever dropping below $5. It’ll instantly become a control staple if it’s part of Arena Eternal, though, so you should seriously consider snapping up a set soon.

Baral, Chief of Compliance – $4

Baral hasn’t developed into the Modern staple that I thought it would, but it still sees some play in that format as well as plenty of action in Commander. More importantly, Baral is definitely the kind of card that you can dream on in an eternal format since it gets better the cheaper instants and sorceries you can jam in a deck. Considering how good Faithless Looting is in Modern right now, I have to believe that Baral would find a home in Arena Eternal.

Hazoret the Fervent – $4

Mono-Red Aggro is going to be the obvious deck to beat in Arena Eternal regardless of which sets are legal, and it’ll have at least three copies of Hazoret if Amonkhet is in the format. The upside is lower here than with many other mythic rares since Hazoret was a three-of in one of the 2018 Challenger Decks, but a spike into the $8-$10 range isn’t out of the question.

Heart of Kiran – $1.50

Heart of Kiran is one of the better Vehicles out there, it’s a solid casual card, and it’ll definitely see play in some sort of Arena Eternal environment. I’d be a little bit careful here since it has the same problem that Hazoret does – there was a Challenger Deck featuring three copies, so it’s more accessible than most other mythic rares. Even still, you can’t really lose at bulk mythic rates.

Aetherworks Marvel – $1.50

Aetherworks Marvel might have been banned in Standard, but will it be banned in Arena Eternal? Without Emrakul, the Promised End in the format and with a significantly larger card pool, it might not be. You could do far worse as a bulk mythic flier.

Glorybringer – $1

It’s possible that Arena Eternal will quickly speed past the point where Glorybringer is good – that’s always the risk with midrange creatures – but this card was very good (and pretty pricey) for the majority of its run in Standard. I can certainly see it getting caught up in the Arena Eternal hype.

This Week’s Trends

What a difference a week makes. After nearly a month of Mono-Red Aggro dominating Standard, the metagame has blossomed into a sea of diversity. Take a look at the results from the Summer Championship last week, where Simic Mass Manipulation, Bant Mass Manipulation, Izzet Phoenix, Esper Control, Simic Nexus, Sultai Dreadhorde, Gruul Aggro, and Mono-Red Aggro made eight of the top twelve decks unique archetypes. Mono-Red Aggro has even ceded the top spot to Esper Midrange on the MTGO popularity rankings, with Gruul Aggro a surprising #3 finisher. The reign of Nullhide Ferox might finally be upon us!

Interestingly enough, this robust new Standard metagame hasn’t translated into any major price spikes. Perhaps it’s the summer lull settling in, or nobody wants to commit to a deck with Core Set 2020 right around the corner, or we’ve all been fixated on Modern thanks to Modern Horizons. Regardless, I’d expect prices to start moving once Core Set 2020 previews begin and the community spotlight moves back over to Standard.

Over in Modern, it’s all about Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis. Hogaak itself is all the way up to $18, and most of its pals had themselves a week as well. Gravecrawler jumped about $10, and Vengevine is up a whopping $17. Altar of Dementia, Bridge from Below, Bloodghast…all these cards are going to remain expensive as long as Hogaak continues to dominate the format.

Unfortunately for fans of this deck, it might not be around for long. Todd Anderson believes that it will get multiple cards banned in Modern, and Patrick Chapin is on the same page. These are not the sorts of people who make these claims idly, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Bridge from Below is on its way out soon.

As always, you should sell this stuff into the current hype. Cards like Vengevine and Gravecrawler are absurdly hot right now, but those numbers will drop as soon as the ban chat really starts to heat up. And if the deck isn’t banned? Well, that just means that it was kept in check somehow, which would also lead to lower prices. Regardless, the time to sell is now.

Speaking of Modern, I feel like I have to remind you for the tenth time this month that you should be actively buying Modern Horizons cards. With pack prices at a premium and the set sandwiched in between War of the Spark and Core Set 2020, I’m seeing lots of reports of folks giving this one a skip. That’s a mistake, because there are loads of key Modern staples in Modern Horizons that won’t be printed anywhere else for a long time. If Modern Horizons continues to slip through the cracks, you’re going to see some pretty wild price spikes starting next year. Buy in before that happens.

While those price spikes are months away, this week saw some price spikes that should raise some eyebrows right now. Teferi’s Puzzle Box, Reshape, Academy Ruins, Arcum Dagsson, and One with Nothing (!!) all gained at least $10 this week, with those first two cards more than quadrupling in price as they were bought out everywhere.

Reshape is the simplest buyout to wrap your head around. Not only is the card amazing in Commander alongside Urza, Lord High Artificer, but Matt Nass has been showing it off in a Modern Bolas’s Citadel deck. Reshape is incredibly good, but there was a time over the weekend when the only copy anyone could find anywhere online was a single copy listed for $160. Yeah, that price isn’t going to stick. My guess is that the new retail cost will be something like $35, and it’ll eventually settle in around $20-$25.

Teferi’s Puzzle Box spiked because of its combo with Narset, Parter of Veils, and some people are adding a couple of Puzzle Boxes to their Azorius Control decks in Modern. The card is also amazing in Commander. This is another card that appeared to spike up to $50 due to literally every copy but one selling out, but I’d expect it to settle in closer to $25, or maybe a tad lower. It’s good, but its actual growth potential is slightly more limited.

Arcum Dagsson and Academy Ruins spiked because of Urza in Commander. No surprises there. Both cards appear to be fairly stable near their new price points, and these increases don’t seem to have been driven by buyouts like Reshape and Teferi’s Puzzle Box. This is just how much these cards cost now, for better or for worse.

One with Nothing, on the other hand, probably should not be rising in value. I guess people think it’s good with Hogaak? They might be right, but none of the format-breaking Hogaak lists I’ve seen use this card, so this seems like buyout nonsense to me. If you can sell this card for its current retail price of $15+, do it.

Lastly, WotC announced this week that foils will be about 50% more common in booster packs starting with Core Set 2020. I still think that every pack should have a foil like in the Masters sets, but that’s just me. Regardless, I don’t think this will have too much of an effect on the market. Some newer foils will have lower modifiers, but it’ll probably take a while before folks even really start to notice.