Welcome To Overreaction Week!

Chas Andres looks at the price terrain for Standard in the wake of the first week of tournament results. Which cards are rising stars, and which ones have lost ground?

To say that a format isn’t solved by the end of Week One is an understatement.

A year ago, Todd Anderson won the first Star City Games Open after Return to Ravnica became legal with the following list:

Clearly, that deck was fairly well positioned in the format – it did win, after all – but it looks rather primitive compared to the U/W, Esper, and U/W/R decks that came to dominate Standard over the past year. While Jace, Architect of Thought has become a major player now, he had mostly been MIA in Standard before this summer. It’s been a good long while since we’ve last seen Tamiyo and Entreat the Angels, too. Four copies of Terminus to only one Supreme Verdict feels like a mistake, as does a glaring lack of Augur of Bolas and Sphinx’s Revelation.

I’m not using this list to pick on Todd, I just want to show you that not even the best pros and deckbuilders have had time to properly evaluate all of the cards yet after one week of legality. If you look at many of the other decks that did well at the Open and Invitational Qualifiers that weekend, you’ll find a pile of Armada Wurms, Tamiyos, attempts at a G/B Zombies deck, and remnants of the R/B Zombies deck that dominated the season before. Some of the pieces were in place – U/W/R has performed well, and the second place deck at that Open was a proto-Frites Reanimator thing – but Sphinx’s Revelation and Restoration Angel were almost entirely absent from the top tables, as were Thundermaw Hellkite and Deathrite Shaman. Week one is always – always – an aberration.

Card availability is also an underrated Week One issue. Got a great idea for some kind of Ashiok-based control deck? That’s great, but unless you can trade for a playset locally at the prerelease – highly unlikely – you’re buying them online at full price and hoping they make it to you in time for release weekend events. Considering that authorized retailers aren’t allowed to sell Theros singles until the date they go on sale, this can be both difficult and expensive for all but the most dedicated grinders.

That isn’t to say that Week One results are worthless, however. The decks that win week one still have to do well in a competitive Magic tournament, so it’s still worth seeing which new cards are starting to rise to the top early on. The other thing that happens in week one is a chance to start making a move on future staples that have dipped since the pre-order period without finding traction in Standard yet. Sphinx’s Revelation and Deathrite Shaman were both week one no-shows last year. Master of Waves, Underworld Cerberus, Steam Augury, or any number of other cards might still be just as good as you think in Theros Standard, only now you can pick them up several dollars cheaper than they were last week. I still don’t like blindly buying cards early on, but I guarantee you that there are some Theros singles available right now that will seem like awesome deals four weeks from now. If you can identify which ones are going to hit, there’s a lot of money to be made.

Let’s start by taking a quick look at what rose to the top in week one, shall we?

Mono-Red Aggro

This is the deck that took down the SCG Open: Worcester last week, and the archetype was quite popular in Worcester as well as at other, smaller events. Mono-red and Boros decks tend to make up the majority of the metagame early on because they are easy to build and punish people trying out new combo and control strategies. Until the best decks in the format are perfected, builds like this will see a lot of play.

Nearly every keystone card in this deck has made a move financially thanks to its prominence. Ash Zealot is up from $3.50 to $4. Boros Reckoner is up from $15 to $18. Chandra’s Phoenix is up from $2 to $3. Mizzium Mortars is up from $4 to $5. Chandra, Pyromaster is up from $20 to…$40!?

Chandra, Pyromaster

It’s true. Chandra was the big financial winner last the weekend, continuing a slow rise in price that has been happening for weeks. It wasn’t only her positioning in the sideboard of this deck that caused the move, however – as you’ll soon see, Chandra was quite popular at the tournament and is seeing maindeck play in the winning midrange builds as well.

Chandra’s price jump has legs, too. Marquee core set mythics that have only been printed once – think Thundermaw Hellkite – can maintain a year-round value of $30-$50 as long as they see a reasonable amount of Tier One Standard play. Right now, Chandra sees play in three distinct winning decks that all made the Top 8 of the last Open. As long as even one deck plays 2-3 of her in the main, she’ll stay above $30. I predict a few $50 peaks over the next 6-8 months, and I don’t think she’ll drop back to $20 retail until next July.

If you want to play Mono-Red Aggro going forward, you should probably check out Owen Turtenwald 8th place build as well:

Owen’s deck doesn’t have Ash Zealots, Boros Reckoners, Fanatics of Mogis, or Magma Jets. It features Firedrinker Satyr, Foundry Street Denizen, Goblin Shortcutter, Mutavault, and more copies of Shock instead. It’s less powerful in the late game, but with eight more one-drops it’s a faster kill and even better at exploiting a virgin format. Firedrinker Satyr hasn’t moved much – it spent a day or two at $2.50 before dropping back to $2 – and if Mono-Red Aggro does well again next week this card might be part of the reason why. Firedrinker isn’t great in a vacuum, but one drops with upside are always going to see play. As for Mutavault, the card hasn’t jumped from $18 yet. I expect that we will see $25 or even $30 at some point this year. Get your set now if you plan on playing them in Standard at all.

U/W and Esper

I’m lumping both of these archetypes in together because they’re both essentially Sphinx’s Revelation/Supreme Verdict/Jace/Detention Sphere/Syncopate decks. Let’s start with Max Tietze second-place build:

‘Never bet against U/W’ is a rule I’ve lived by for the past three years, and it looks like this season is not going to be any different. Max came very close to winning the whole tournament, and I expect some sort of U/W shell will find a way to thrive in Theros Standard. Looking at the cards in this deck, Aetherling jumped from $4 to $6, Hallowed Fountain from $12 to $15, Jace from $25 to $30, Detention Sphere from $4 to $5 and Supreme Verdict from $7 to $8. Mutavault stood pat at $18 (but is sold out), Sphinx’s Revelation didn’t move off $25 (also sold out), and Elspeth actually dropped from $40 to $35. Of course, considering the price drops in some of the other Theros cards, that drop could be considered a vote of confidence for the white planeswalker.

How different is this list from the Esper decks? Let’s take a look at the three Esper builds that also finished in the Top 8:

Christian Calcano’s list has no Elspeths, Mutavaults, Ratchet Bombs, Quicken, Celestial Flares, or Divinations along with smaller amounts of some of the U/W staples. Instead, you get far more non-basic lands (but six total scrylands to smooth draws), Doom Blade, Far // Away, Hero’s Downfall, and a Merciless Eviction. The big change is in the sideboard, where Thoughtseize, Blood Baron of Vizkopa, Sin Collector, and Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver lie in wait for tougher matchups.

Andrew Davis’ Esper brew brings Blood Barons and Obzedats into the main deck in lieu of an Essence Scatter and Aetherling, plus two copies of Far // Away. Otherwise, it’s very similar to Christian’s list.

Jared Boettcher deck brings the creature count down to zero, instead opting for all four Jaces, two Espeths, and three Ashioks in the main.

Both U/W and Esper have their advantages and disadvantages. U/W’s main advantage is smooth mana, and it’s a big one. The buddy lands are gone, remember, and Burning Earth is still in the format. As long as Mono-Red Aggro continues to be a force, greedy three-color decks are going to have their issues.

Esper is, however, far more versatile. Ashiok is great against midrange decks, Thoughtseize is a powerful weapon against control, and Blood Baron can wreak havoc against everyone. If an Esper deck has a smooth draw against no hate, it will find a way to put the game away in short order.

Financially, the Esper cards are moving up in the world nearly as fast as the Azorius ones. Blood Baron of Vizkopa is up from $12 to $15. Obzedat, Ghost Council made a move to $15 last week. Ashiok is one of two Theros cards that actually gained value, going from $25 to $30. Hero’s Downfall is stable at $6. Thoughtseize dropped from $30 to $25, but that’s still excellent for a reprinted rare, and I expect $25 to be a stable price going forward.

I think the Azorius cards are a better bet to gain or maintain value than the Esper ones. If straight U/W becomes the preferred deck, the Azorius cards will stay fairly high in price while the Esper cards drop. If Esper becomes the best deck, the Azorius cards will still stay fairly high because both versions need them to function.

The biggest question is how high Jace, Sphinx’s Revelation, Detention Sphere, and Supreme Verdict will go. Should you sell now because of hype, or hold because they appear to be pillars of a brand new format?

I think the right decision is to wait and see how things develop in the next three weeks. If U/W or U/W-based Esper decks continue to regularly place in the Top 8, these cards will continue to go up. Return to Ravnica is out of print now, so we could potentially see $15 rares and $50 mythics if something breaks right. It’s not particularly likely, but it’s not out of the question either. U/W cards are popular enough that you should have a reasonable selling window if something new comes along. Pay close attention to what does well, and if you start to see these cards slipping out of contention you should sell immediately. That’s what I’m going to be doing with my spec portfolio.

As for the black cards, I am still lukewarm on Ashiok even after his breakout performance this week. He’s strong against certain mid-range decks, sure, but he’s still a total blank against many of the dominant strategies. What is Ashiok going to do against mono-red? What good is he against a U/W or Esper deck that runs between zero and three creatures? This is a card I am absolutely selling into hype.

Not so with Elspeth. She will likely drop from $35 simply based on more copies of the card entering the marketplace, but nothing I’ve seen or read as convinced me she’s anything less than the most powerful card in Theros. She will be a chase mythic for the duration of her time in Standard.

R/G and Naya

So we’ve got a brand new aggro deck (Mono-Red) and control deck (U/W and Esper). How about midrange?

Let’s take a look at two similar decks: Christopher Posporelis’ 3rd place G/R build and David Napolitano’s Naya deck.

Both decks run four copies of Elvish Mystic, three Scavenging Oozes, four Stormbreath Dragons, four Sylvan Caryatids, three Polukranoses (Polukranosi? Polukranosii?), four Domri Rades, at least two Chandras and at least two Mizzium Mortars.

Christopher kept his deck R/G with Ember Swallowers, Ghor-Clan Rampagers, Lightning Strike, and extra Mizzium Mortars. David splashed white and went with four Boros Reckoners, four Loxodon Smiters, and three Selesnya Charms.

Both these decks lack the punch and resilience of the pre-rotation R/G and Naya decks. Strangleroot Geist isn’t a replaceable card, and even though Stormbreath Dragon is excellent, it isn’t quite Thundermaw Hellkite. Hellrider is another creature they’d like to have back.

Much like the Azorius vs. Esper debate, both of these decks play out in similar ways and have the same strengths and weaknesses. R/G is quicker and less likely to stumble, but the Naya list has a slightly better sideboard and access to more raw power.

Financially, the big mover from this set of decks was Chandra as we discussed earlier. Ooze hasn’t moved off $18 in a couple of weeks and there are still quite a few copies available for sale. Sylvan Caryatid is stable at $8. Stormbreath Dragon went up $5 from $30 to $35. Polukranos dropped from $8 to $6, likely a result of increased availability thanks to Heroes vs. Monsters. Domri Rade went from $25 to $30. Loxodon Smiter is up from $4 to $5. Ember Swallower is up from $0.50 to $0.75.

There isn’t much action to take financially because of this deck. Ember Swallower is something I’d look to pick up as a trade throw-in, but because it was a prerelease foil and it’s only a 2-of I doubt it’ll go much higher than $2. Polukranos’s ceiling is equally constrained by being included in the duel deck. Stormbreath Dragon and Sylvan Caryatid will keep seeing play – I was wrong about the dragon in my preview article – but at $8 and $35 respectively they have no room to grow. If you have either of these cards and you aren’t planning on playing this deck, feel free to trade them for shocklands, Return to Ravnica staples, or other things you need.

Domri Rade is a little more interesting. He’s a four-of in both versions of this deck and will likely be a four-of in whatever midrange deck ends up emerging in Theros Standard no matter what. I can’t advise buying in at $30, but tier-one planeswalkers can spike as high as $50 so Domri Rade could potentially grow a bit more. Feel free to trade for these at current values if you think you’re going to need them. Ditto for Scavenging Ooze – it could be a stable $20-$25 going forward thanks to Standard, Modern, and Legacy demand.

Interesting Decks Outside The Top 8

The ninth-place Boros deck is certainly worth a look:

Because this deck fell just outside the Top 8, it was immune to any sort of price increases. Imposing Sovereign is still down to $4, Soldier of the Pantheon and Spear of Heliod are unchanged. You can even still pick up Precinct Captains for $1.50 – it would be a good spec if the event deck didn’t have two of them. Again, Mutavault is a key card here that is being mostly overlooked by speculators.

This mono-white deck that finished 12th is kind of neat as well:

Heliod is the only god to get anywhere near the Top 8, but I still don’t love him as a spec call. What really stands out to me here is that Mutavault, Imposing Sovereign, Soldier of the Pantheon, and Spear of Heliod are likely going to be the rare foundation of any white weenie deck going forward.

Down in 27th place is kind of a cool brew:

These are the first Desecration Demons we’ve seen, and they’re here alongside an interesting and punishing package of red and black spells. Anger of the Gods seems like it will be one of the defining spells in Standard, but it’s still mostly a sideboard card. If a deck like this can work, perhaps that spell will end the reign of mono-red and Boros decks that were flooding the top tables.

Theros – Gainers and Losers – Week #2

Now that the pre-order period is over and Theros has hit the shelves, the cream has started to rise to the top while the cards that haven’t made a splash yet have begun to crater. Take a look:

Rising Stock

Falling Stock

I am still a believer in Underworld Cerberus, Master of Waves, Thassa, God of the Sea, Chained to the Rocks, Steam Augury, Daxos, and many other cards that haven’t made a peep yet. It’s still too early to know which cards are dead on arrival and which are slumbering giants, so keep apprised of how the next few tournaments go. Weeks two and three of a new Standard environment offer some of the most crucial spec opportunities of the year.

Spec Portfolio – Week #7

With U/W and Esper dominating last weekend, my Azorius specs have continued to pay major dividends. Supreme Verdict and Detention Sphere jumped a dollar each and are still sold out. Jace, Architect of Thought made it all the way to $30 and is sold out as well. I’m being greedy and hoping for a re-stock at $35 or even $40, as unlikely as that seemed even a week or two ago. I expect to be selling all three cards within the next two weeks if U/W doesn’t keep crushing all comers.

Week 7 Spec Portfolio

With the September sale in our rearview mirror, I did finally make my first flip: Desecration Demon. We bought in at $3, and even then I was reluctant because the card had just doubled in price. Taking a small risk, I went in for twelve copies. With the card now up to a ludicrous $10 in retail value despite seeing almost no play so far in the new Standard, I cannot foresee a better time to sell existing. Taking my 25% hit, I ‘sold’ my Demons for a total of $90. The buy-in was $36, so we’ve locked in $54 in profit on this one card alone.

Until next time –

– Chas Andres