At long last – welcome to buying season.
Nobody apart from the most dedicated grinders is playing Core Set 2020 Standard right now, which is a big part of why prices have been tumbling since early July. With kids out of school and adults spending many of their weekends outdoors, local game stores and tournament halls always experience flagging attendance during the hottest months of the year. More importantly, many players simply don’t want to invest in a new Standard deck before rotation. Spending $200+ on a deck that’s going to be obsolete in a couple of months is very hard to justify, even if you have deep pockets.
The result? Standard prices tend to hit their yearly lows every August. The metagame’s ebbs and flows aren’t reflected in the market the way they are during the rest of the year, and even the format’s hottest staples tend to be super cheap. Here’s a great example of this: Legion’s End is the eighth-most-played card in all of Standard right now according to MTG Goldfish. It’s a staple from a core set that almost nobody opened that has more than outperformed its potential. So why is it available on Star City Games for just $0.50 right now?
But relief is right around the corner. The Standard economy peaks in early October every year, right after the release of the fall expansion, and prices are going to start to perk up as soon as Throne of Eldraine previews begin. That’s only a few weeks away, which means that we’re smack-dab in the middle of the best buying window of the entire year. That’s right – if you’re going to buy into Standard at any point over the next twelve months, I’d recommend taking the plunge right now.
Even though the hottest cards from Throne of Eldraine will be on the tips of everyone’s tongues this fall, it’ll be the older cards – cards from Guilds of Ravnica, War of the Spark, and Core Set 2020 – that’ll hold their value best. This happens every year, too. The available supply of Throne cards is going to increase from late September through the start of 2020 as we all keep opening packs and drafting, but nobody is opening any more boosters of Core Set 2020. If a card like Legion’s End ends up being a four-of in the format’s top two decks this fall, it’s going to increase in price and remain expensive for quite a while.
Of course, the problem with buying in now is that we have no idea what the fall metagame is going to look like.
In years past, I spent a large portion of my August buying season article analyzing each of the best decks in the summer Standard format. My thought was that any deck that didn’t lose a critical mass of key cards was more likely to survive rotation, and its staples would be the safest late-August buys.
This didn’t really work. The new metagame tended to be so different from the old one that the surviving decks are often radically different. Plus, the cards that end up gaining the most value tend to be clustered in the hottest new decks. Think about it this way: are you more excited to buy into a sweet new deck that highlights one of the coolest new cards in Throne, or a deck that feels like one of last year’s leftovers?
Think of investing in August Standard like buying into an index fund. Whenever you think that the stock market is going to go up for a while, it makes more sense to invest in a portfolio of different stocks than putting all your money into any single stock. Every individual stock is subject to a million different whims – a bad CEO, a failed product launch, etc. Even if the market as a whole is booming, there are always going to be a few hundred companies that tank for unrelated reasons. But if you invest your money in a fund that spreads out the risk over, say, twenty different companies, you’re almost guaranteed to make money as long as the market as a whole is doing well.
Since we know that the Standard index is almost certainly going to rise in price over the next two months, it makes sense to assemble a diverse portfolio of future staples. Even if some of your buys don’t end up panning out, the cards that hit should be good enough to carry the day.
With that in mind, let’s go set-by-set and see if we can identify the best pre-rotation pick-ups.
Guilds of Ravnica
Arclight Phoenix – $23
It’s hard to believe that Arclight Phoenix will still be in Standard for another year, but here we are. This card’s $23 price tag is almost entirely due to Modern demand at this point, but there’s no reason to think that Arclight Phoenix can’t headline a key Standard deck again this fall.
This is one of the most expensive cards I’ll be discussing this week, and I’d certainly rather trade for these at current retail than buy them, but the fact that this card sees so much play in Modern means that your investment is unlikely to go poorly. Just be sure to check today’s Banned and Restricted announcement before you act. There’s an outside chance that WotC bans something from Izzet Phoenix in conjunction with Hogaak today, in an announcement that goes live at the same time that this article is published. If so, Arclight Phoenix will tank in price and you should stay away. If not…well, that just makes this card an even better spec target.
The Shocklands – $8-$15
Whatever rare land cycle we get in Throne of Eldraine will not be as good as the Guilds of Ravnica shocklands. There are only two (arguably three) land cycles in all of Magic that are better, and WotC rarely gives us top-tier mana fixing two years in a row. I don’t think there’s a ton of upside here – these cards are already pretty expensive, and they’ve been reprinted several times already – it’s likely that whatever color pair proves most dominant in the new Standard metagame will see its shockland end up at $20. Make sure you have a playset of these ASAP if you’re a dedicated Standard player.
Risk Factor – $3, Experimental Frenzy – $1.25, and Runaway Steam-Kin – $1.25
I know I said that I wasn’t going to look at pre-rotation decks, but Mono-Red Aggro is an exception. There have only been a few months over the past several years where Mono-Red Aggro was totally unplayable, and it seems as though WotC really likes having it as a perennial tournament option. I can’t imagine that anything in Throne of Eldraine will push these three cards out of the optimal Mono-Red build, which means that demand for them will go up in the fall. At just over a dollar each, Experimental Frenzy and Runaway Steam-Kin look like especially attractive buys, especially since both cards were $5+ last autumn. I don’t know if they’ll get that high again, but $3-$5 seems more likely than not.
Thief of Sanity – $3
Thief of Sanity was one of my favorite cards in Guilds of Ravnica when the set debuted, and it rewarded everyone who was patient with it by spiking as high as $10 last spring. It still sees a decent amount of play in Core Set 2020 Standard, both in Grixis and Esper decks, and I have to believe it stands a chance at being one of the most impactful cards in the metagame come September, too. If it ends up in multiple top-tier decks, you’re looking at a future $15 card.
Hydroid Krasis – $26
Much like with Arclight Phoenix, it’s hard to justify spending $100 on a playset of a card that might not actually do anything in the new Standard environment. That said, Hydroid Krasis has proven itself to be a standout in multiple Standard metagames at this point, and we know that it can sustain a $40 price tag during a bull market. Is it that hard to believe that some sort of Simic or Bant deck will be Tier 1 after Throne is released? If that happens, then Hydroid Krasis might hit $50 or $60. That’s what happened to The Scarab God in the summer of 2017, when it surged from $25 to $60 between late August and early September.
As a risk-averse speculator, I’m unlikely to actually buy these for $26. I’m trading for them at retail, though, and if you’re an avid Standard player without a personal playset, I’d rectify that ASAP.
Deputy of Detention – $4
Deputy of Detention is already starting to climb in price a little. As long as fellow Azorius staple Teferi, Time Raveler is legal in Standard, Deputy of Detention is likely to show up in all sorts of tempo and control decks, and I can’t see that changing in the fall. Even better, Deputy of Detention has found a home in several Modern decks, making this one of the safest $4 buys on this list.
This is one of the longest shots on this list, but Prime Speaker Vannifar pre-sold for $20 and I can easily imagine it ending up back in the $12-$15 range again if the right cards show up in Throne and the buzz starts building again. Worst case, Prime Speaker Vannifar sees a little Modern play and is a popular commander. For $3, you can snap these up, throw them in your long-term spec box, and cash out early if you get lucky.
Bedevil – $3
The only problem with Bedevil? There aren’t too many viable Rakdos or Grixis decks in Core Set 2020 Standard right now. Let’s not forget that this card debuted at $15, though, and it’ll head back in that direction again if Throne gives us a Tier 1 deck that’s based in red and black. The card is more than good enough—it just needs the right home.
Judith, the Scourge Diva – $1.25
Judith is similar to Bedevil – it’s just narrower and cheaper. If there’s a good Rakdos Aggro deck to be played at any point over the next year, Judith will be a part of it, and it’ll end up in the $5-$7 range. If not, it’ll continue languishing at $1-$2. I’d grab a set or two just in case.
War of the Spark
Teferi, Time Raveler – $15
Teferi is one of the safest pick-ups in all of Standard right now. It’s true that War of the Spark was a heavily opened set, and Teferi was just a rare and not a mythic, but we’re talking about a card that found an immediate home in multiple top-tier decks in both Standard and Modern. I don’t know what the odds are that Teferi won’t be good in post-Throne Standard, but they have to be incredibly low. Plus, even if Teferi does flop in the new Standard metagame, this card is going to be a long-term gainer due to Modern. I just can’t imagine you’re ever going to be particularly sad about dropping $15 on this card.
Liliana, Dreadhorde General – $15
Liliana is a little risker than Teferi – I can absolutely see a world where it doesn’t end up seeing much Standard play, and it’s a non-entity in Modern – but the upside is salivating. Remember, this was the marquee mythic in War of the Spark at release, and it does actually see play (at least a little) across multiple decks right now. Based on Liliana’s current price chart, I have to believe that $15 is pretty close to its floor thanks to casual demand, and the sky is the limit if everything breaks right here. I don’t have a personal set of these yet, and I’m going to buy a couple just in case.
Nicol Bolas, Dragon-God – $10
I’m not a huge fan of Nicol Bolas, Dragon-God at $10, but its upside is undeniable. If Grixis Control becomes the hot deck of the fall, and if Nicol Bolas is a big part of that deck, we could be looking at a $40+ card. I just wish the track record were a little better here, and I feel like both Teferi and Liliana are better options.
Dreadhorde Arcanist – $10
The best time to buy Dreadhorde Arcanist was back in May, when it was readily available for less than $5, but that doesn’t mean we should ignore the card now. I’d be surprised if Feather, the Redeemed isn’t somewhere in the post-Throne metagame, and Dreadhorde Arcanist will show up in that deck if nowhere else.
That said, I don’t think Dreadhorde Arcanist will be one of the biggest gainers of the fall. This card is better in older formats than it is in Standard, and I wouldn’t be shocked if it ends up being overlooked for a while as the eyes of the community turn to Throne of Eldraine. There’s $20 upside here if it does end up being a key player in the new Standard environment, and I like its long-term value profile a lot, but I don’t think it’s quite as good a buy as some of the other cards on this list.
Gideon Blackblade – $9
Gideon Blackblade has been on the cusp of the format for months now, showing up here and there without totally breaking out. Don’t forget that this card pre-sold for $20, and it still possesses that kind of potential value. The right sort of aggressive white deck will have to emerge, of course, but I’m never going to write off a three-mana planeswalker. I’ve seen enough of Gideon doing work to feel encouraged, and the fact that this card’s price chart seems to have bottomed out at $9 is good enough for me to feel like can call Gideon a buy.
God-Eternal Kefnet – $7
You may not remember this, but God-Eternal Kefnet was one of the biggest winners from War of the Spark‘s early tournament play. During those first couple of weeks, this card looked like it would cash in on all its early promise. That didn’t really end up happening, of course, but Kefnet still shows up in Grixis and Dimir Control decks every now and then.
As with most of the other cards in War of the Spark, the price chart for God-Eternal Kefnet has started to flatten out. I can’t imagine it getting that much lower until next summer, when it approaches its own rotation. $7 seems like a decent price to pay for the shot that this card breaks out and ends up back in the $20 range.
Nissa, Who Shakes the World – $6
Nissa has found a pretty solid home in Bant Ramp, a deck that may or may not survive rotation, but I’m heartened by the fact that so many lower-tier and rogue decks rely so heavily on the powerful green planeswalker. A card that shows up in multiple different Standard decks always has a good shot at breaking out after rotation, and Nissa’s raw power seems too good to ignore. This card has never been a big gainer – even back in the spring, it was a $5 card – so I’d look elsewhere for investments first. Nissa could see even more play in the fall, though, and it’s a very solid trade target at current retail.
Chandra, Fire Artisan – $1.50
We talked about the other Mono-Red Aggro cards back in our Guilds of Ravnica section, but I wanted to make sure that Chandra, Fire Artisan was on the list as well. Remember, this card broke out in a pretty big way back in June and ended up in the $5-$7 range for a while. That could absolutely happen again, and you can’t really go wrong at just $1.50.
Core Set 2020
Chandra, Awakened Inferno – $20
Think of Chandra, Awakened Inferno like a version of Liliana, Dreadhorde General from a set that didn’t sell as well. Both six-mana planeswalkers ended up being somewhat disappointing relative to initial expectations, but both still show up in a variety of different Standard decks, albeit rarely as a four-of. Both are undeniably powerful, but there’s only so much room for six-drops – even in Standard.
Like all these potential flagship mythics, there’s a shot that Chandra will break out and end up in the $40+ range at some point this fall. I’d just feel better if this card had proven itself at some point in the past, like Arclight Phoenix or Hydroid Krasis. I’m going to focus more of my attention on those cards for now, but you’d better believe that I’m going to be all over Chandra if I start to see signs of movement here.
Chandra, Acolyte of Flame – $7
Speaking of Chandras, this was the version that really caught my eye during preview season. It looked like a flop early on, but Chandra, Acolyte of Flame has since proven itself to be one of the key cards in Core Set 2020. It has shown up in all sorts of decks, from Mono-Red Aggro to Grixis Control. That’s the sign of an incredibly powerful Magic card.
$7 is a little steep for a non-mythic rare that’s not as absurd as Teferi, but Chandra, Acolyte of Flame might actually be one of the most important cards in the entire format. I wouldn’t bat an eye if you told me that this card would be $20 by November 1st, and I’m going to make sure that I have a playset by the end of August.
Shifting Ceratops – $6
Much like Chandra, Acolyte of Flames, Shifting Ceratops is all over the place in Core Set 2020 Standard right now. Jund Dinosaurs almost certainly won’t survive rotation, but this particular Dino is likely to remain a key sideboard card for the rest of 2019 and most of 2020. Protection from blue isn’t getting any worse, and it’s not like folks will be opening much more Core Set 2020. A $10-$12 price tag wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest.
Legion’s End – $0.50
Let’s end this article with the card I highlighted in my intro. Legion’s End sees a massive amount of play right now, showing up in all sorts of decks, and there’s literally no way it should be priced like a bulk rare. Unless it’s outclassed in Throne, this is a $5 rare with room for more. I’m going to grab a stack at half a dollar apiece.
This Week’s Trends
The big news of the week, of course, is that the latest Banned and Restricted announcement is going live this morning, and we’ll finally get to wave goodbye to Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis in Modern. I can’t fathom WotC not banning Hogaak, and it seems that the community agrees. The card is just $3 as of this writing, which means that literally everybody is certain that Hogaak will be banned. If I’m wrong…well, let’s just say I’ll be turning off my social media for several days, because the outcry will be eardrum-rattling.
It’s also possible that WotC will ban something else in Modern in conjunction with Hogaak. Perhaps they want to pre-emptively nuke a deck like Four-Color Urza, Mono-Green Tron, or one of the Phoenix variants – all decks that should benefit from Hogaak’s disappearance. I believe that Faithless Looting is still pretty high on WotC’s watch list, and Sword of the Meek will probably be on there again as well thanks to Urza.
If Hogaak is the only card banned, I’d flip on over to Ross Merriam’s article from last week. He discusses the decks that stand to gain the most in a post-Hogaak world, and I tend to agree with him. Cards from those decks like Urza, Lord High Artificer; Goblin Engineer; and Arclight Phoenix are likely to start ticking up in value, and I’d buy in if you’re looking for a new Modern deck. Just be careful – Modern Horizons really warped the Modern metagame, and it’s possible that we’ll all be clamoring for another ban in a month or two.
Also in Modern, several cards from Saffron Olive’s Twiddle Storm Combo Deck have been spiking lately, including Ideas Unbound, Dream’s Grip, Past in Flames, and the previously bulk common Psychic Puppetry. Saffron Olive’s budget Magic spikes never last long, and this deck is a few weeks old at this point, so don’t expect these prices to hold. Go ahead and sell these cards into the current spike if you have them kicking around in your closet.
There were also a couple of Commander 2019 secondary spikes this week, including Aphetto Runecaster and Mischievous Quanar (morph deck) and Balthor the Defiled (Chainer, Nightmare Adept). These cards should be a tad stickier than the Twiddle Storm staples, but selling these cards into the spike is almost always the right call regardless. I’d expect to see more Commander 2019 risers over the coming weeks, so be sure to check out Part 1 and Part 2 of my Commander 2019 Financial Set Review if you haven’t yet.