Even though the 2014 Modern season is still several months away, cards have begun to spike in anticipation. Splinter Twin was the first.
A couple weeks ago there was a report that someone had completely bought Europe out of the card. You couldn’t find a copy for under $10 anywhere. The US markets soon followed, and a card that had been readily available for $3-$4 the day before was soon selling for double digits. While the price has come down a bit since then, the card is still sold out at $10 on SCG and is trading well.
After that came Phyrexian Obliterator. People want to put together Mono-Black Devotion decks in Modern, and Obliterator seems like it’s going to be the marquee creature in the archetype. Last week you could find these easily for $12-$15. Today they’re sold out at $20 on SCG, and my guess is that they’ll be relisted closer to $30. Finding a copy anywhere under $25 today is close to impossible.
Modern season is still two full seasons away, so what gives? Why are people throwing piles of money at random Modern cards months before they’ll actually be relevant? Is interest in Modern increasing at the FNM/local level, or is this simply another “buyout brigade” tactic similar to the random spikes on casual staples that happened last year?
I think it’s a little of both. More people are playing Modern than ever before, and Modern Masters is a big part of why. The set was a huge hit, and the format continues to gain traction as an affordable alternative to Legacy that lacks the constant turnover of Standard. Now that Modern has existed for a couple of years and there haven’t been any recent bannings that have killed the value of major decks, confidence in the format is fairly high right now too. Cards are spiking, and the prices aren’t coming back down.
This groundswell of support is amplified by an increased number of Magic financiers and speculators. While some people get angry about this and accuse people like me of manipulating prices, the truth is actually much more interesting. Here’s what usually happens when a card like Obliterator jumps in price:
1) Someone wins a Daily Event or finishes fairly high in a tournament with an underplayed deck or card.
2) One of the regular #MTGFinance guys on Twitter correctly identifies it as a solid speculation target.
3) Other speculators do the math and realize there’s some money to be made because the card’s underlying peripherals look good. Perhaps the card is from an under-opened set, there’s a low spread between buylist price and sales price, or it’s simply been undervalued for years relative to how much it’s being played. They start talking up the card as well. Suddenly, it’s on everyone’s radar.
4) Cheap copies of the card start disappearing from online retailers. Astute players take note and buy their sets before the card doubles in price.
5) Some large group of speculators or dealers swings through and buys every single copy left.
6) Someone relists a copy of the card for some stupid amount, usually at least three times the original sales price.
7) Other sellers and speculators begin undercutting each other until the card drops to whatever the market can actually bear. This price is usually at least 30-40% higher than the card’s initial value. Sometimes it doesn’t drop at all.
I wish Modern were affordable for everyone and that budget decks would stay cheap forever, but as long as people and stores can make real money buying and selling Magic cards, the prices are going to go up no matter what. The best thing you can do is to try to get ahead of the wave by buying the cards you think you’ll need in the spring before the next series of price increases occurs.
Study the decklists now and identify the cards that you think are undervalued. That way when you see someone talking about a price spike on Twitter, you’ll have a better idea of how important to the format that card actually is.
Not all of the cards I’m going to mention below will go up in value. Many of them will likely be worth less in six months than they are now. As always, I suggest using your own judgment when purchasing cards. These articles are just one man’s opinion.
At any rate, these are the criteria that I’ll be using to try to identify cards that may be next to spike:
No cards from Modern Masters. I still love Modern Masters spells and boxes over the long run, but they aren’t the best play right now. The player base needs to catch up to the supply, and that’s going to take another year or two. These will be among the best spec targets of December 2014.
No cards from Return to Ravnica or Theros block. Standard is the engine that drives these cards right now, not Modern. Besides, the market is saturated with cards from both of these sets. Stay away.
No sideboard/hate cards. These vary wildly depending on how the metagame evolves, and they rarely have major price jumps.
Focus on engine cards, crossover hits, mythic rares, and lands. These cards all tend to be worth more than the average card regardless.
Focus on cards from large spring sets. Avacyn Restored and Rise of the Eldrazi cards have always been worth a little more than cards from other recent expansions.
A note on the fetch lands before we begin. It’s possible that these are still undervalued relative to how much play they see, but they already went from $10ish to $40-50ish over the past couple of years. They’re not jumping to $100 this season, especially with the constant threat of reprint. Buy and trade for them with confidence if you need them for decks, but don’t speculate on these right now.
Okay, let’s take a look at some decks and identify the cards most likely to spike next!
- 4 Arcbound Ravager
- 4 Ornithopter
- 3 Steel Overseer
- 2 Memnite
- 3 Etched Champion
- 4 Signal Pest
- 4 Vault Skirge
Mox Opal is Affinity’s flagship card, but it doubled in price last May from $20 to $40 when Wizards of the Coast changed the legend rule. That change certainly helped Affinity, which was already one of the toughest and most resilient builds in the format. While this card may continue to climb, it’s already made its major leap.
Steel Overseer is a more likely hit. It was only printed in M11 and Elspeth vs. Tezzeret, so there aren’t that many out there. It’s a casual card, so it has crossover appeal. It has been at $6 for months now and could be due for an upward correction.
There are many more copies of Etched Champion, so at $5 it’s not quite as good a buy as the Overseer. It also comes from the same set as Mox Opal and is only played in the same deck as the mythic rare, which will keep the price down. It could rise a little, but I don’t love it as a spec target.
Inkmoth Nexus is on the rise for sure. It’s a land that kept having its price depressed by appearing in Event Decks, but it has done nothing but steadily rise every single month over the past year. I would not be shocked if this card makes a price-doubling spike at some point.
Normally, Liliana of the Veil would be exactly the kind of card we’d look to target in an exercise like this. She’s a rotating Standard staple that will see Modern play for years to come, and she’s got nowhere to go but up. Everyone else seemed to realize this, though, and Liliana didn’t drop much on rotation. She still retails for a whopping $50, and her price has been very stable for months. The time to buy her was last November when she was selling for $20-$25.
Liliana could double in price again and shoot into Tarmogoyf and Dark Confidant range, but she is already the sixth-most expensive Modern-legal card. To me, that makes her much too risky as anything but a buy for need alone.
Phyrexian Arena is a great card with a hard floor of $4-$5 due to casual demand. If it jumps in price, it won’t be because of this deck where it’s a one-of—it’ll be thanks to Mono-Black Devotion. $8 is already steep, though, so I can’t recommend buying in unless the price drops a bit or that deck takes off.
Inquisition of Kozilek was a nice pickup last autumn when it was just a couple bucks. Now that Thoughtseize is reasonably priced, this isn’t going to work as a budget replacement anymore—it’ll have to stand on its own merits in decks that want access to both. Having already gone from $2 to $8, I just don’t know if it’s going to make that last leap toward $12-$15.
Lingering Souls has now been printed three times in three years. That’s going to keep the price down for sure. At just $1, there’s a little room to grow—probably more over the long haul, but I wouldn’t focus on it.
- 4 Dark Confidant
- 4 Tarmogoyf
- 2 Scavenging Ooze
- 2 Huntmaster of the Fells
- 1 Thundermaw Hellkite
- 4 Deathrite Shaman
Innistrad block staples haven’t started to make their Modern jump yet, as evidenced by Huntmaster of the Fells. The card has been steadily falling since early last March and has shown no sign of stopping or even slowing down. I do think this card will rebound a little, but I would wait and try to get them at or around $5—the $7.99 they’re retailing for is still too high. It should eventually pop back up a bit though.
Ditto for Thundermaw Hellkite, which has been on an even steeper dive. The time for these is coming up soon, but it isn’t here yet.
The two lands—Blackcleave Cliffs and Raging Ravine—are much better buys. I was all over Raging Ravine in my spec portfolio this summer, and that was at $4. The price has since been dropped to $3, which is absurd. Both of these cards are seeing increased price volatility and are primed for a jump. If you can get Raging Ravines anywhere near $3, it’s a slam dunk. Cliffs has less upside since it’s already twice the price, but there’s room to grow there as well.
- 4 Birds of Paradise
- 2 Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker
- 1 Eternal Witness
- 2 Wall of Roots
- 2 Kitchen Finks
- 1 Glen Elendra Archmage
- 2 Noble Hierarch
- 1 Qasali Pridemage
- 1 Linvala, Keeper of Silence
- 1 Thrun, the Last Troll
- 1 Spellskite
- 2 Deceiver Exarch
- 1 Scavenging Ooze
- 1 Phantasmal Image
- 1 Fiend Hunter
- 3 Restoration Angel
- 1 Zealous Conscripts
- 1 Izzet Staticaster
- 2 Voice of Resurgence
Phantasmal Image is on its way to $10 or even higher. With applications in Legacy, Modern Birthing Pod decks, and Modern Merfolk, this card is oozing with potential. It has been $10-$15 before and can certainly sustain a high price tag.
Linvala and Chord of Calling are both pricey already, but they’ve been trending in opposite directions. Linvala rose from $15 to $30 this summer and has been stable ever since, while Chord of Calling peaked above $40(!) and has been dropping all fall. They’re both sold out at $30 on SCG right now, and I can’t see either making another major move in the near term.
Spellskite is just a one-of here, but it shows up in a bunch of decks and is in the sideboard of half the format. Many finance experts pegged this as the next Splinter Twin right after that card shot up, and so far they’ve been proven right. It’s sold out at $12 here and trending upward everywhere—and fast. It’s probably a $15 card during Modern season.
Noble Hierarch is one of the flagship Modern cards of her era that wasn’t included in Modern Masters. If she starts to become more important between now and a reprint, I wouldn’t be shocked if she doubles in price and ends up in the $60 range—she has that kind of pedigree. The numbers haven’t been there recently though—there are enough to go around because she isn’t in that many decks. After peaking last February, she’s slowly been trending down. Expect a major market correction if the metagame shifts, but this deck alone won’t make that happen. Stay away for now.
One card I told people to buy back in August was Restoration Angel. At that point, SCG was selling them for just $3.99. She’s up to $5.99 now and has finally started to bounce back a little. She sees play in several very good decks and will certainly be $10 again.
I’d like to see some movement from Thrun, the Last Troll, but his price chart looks like a dying patient that got zapped with 1.21 gigawatts of electricity. He spiked from $5 to $25 back in February before falling back down toward a lifeless $8. This guy shows up a decent amount, though, and the legend-rule changes have helped him. This is a card that has spiked past $20 twice now, so there’s a shot he’ll do it again. Keep an eye on him, but don’t move in yet.
I’ll finish up with the deck’s centerpiece, Birthing Pod itself. I’ve been predicting this card to spike for over a year now, and if I were truly a master market manipulator, this would be a $20 card by now. It’s the flagship of the deck, it’s from a spring set, it has casual value, and it’s really darn cool. It’s also still just six bucks. I have a dozen of these squirreled away, and I think it will double in price at some point this year. You’re all on notice.
How high will Wurmcoil Engine go? The fact that it was a Prerelease card diminishes its ceiling, which would otherwise be in the $30-$40 range. As is, I think $20-$25 is a realistic possibility. This deck’s other big finisher, Karn Liberated, has started to rise in price again too. It was $40 last Modern season and is no less integral to the Tron decks. Expect it to hit that mark again soon.
Grove of the Burnwillows is an underrated piece of Modern’s mana base right now, appearing as a three-of and four-of in a bunch of decks. You can pick the FTV foils up for just $25 right now, which is a great deal. I wouldn’t be shocked if this hits high-end fetch prices—$40-$50—at some point.
Sylvan Scrying is a complementary piece of the deck that peaked at a strong $5 last Modern season and might go even higher this year. Oblivion Stone already peaked, and I don’t see it making another major run.
Is it time to rebuy into Snapcaster Mage? I think so. Snappy has never been easier to acquire in trade, and this is a card that everyone can understand the value of. One day another run on this card will occur, and when it does it’ll jump to $30-$35 and stay there for as long as Magic remains popular.
How much higher can Remand get? Unless they reprint it, we could be looking at a $20-$25 uncommon before long. It’s trading at a very strong $15 right now and might even be a little underpriced at that rate. I hope Wizards puts this in a set again soon.
This is a neat little deck—I’m glad combo is fighting to survive in Modern. I just wish control had a few options as well. Ad Nauseam is an interesting card—it never saw play in Standard, but it has long been a heavy hitter in Legacy that has never gone higher than a dollar. This is a card I could see the “buyout brigade” targeting, causing it to permanently spike into the $4-$5 dollar range, especially if it actually starts seeing real play in Modern. I’d get my set now. Phyrexian Unlife doesn’t have as far to go, but it can’t go any lower than the $0.50 it’s at right now.
I like Gemstone Mine as well, especially because you can play it in Legacy combo decks too. It’s a nice versatile card that should continue to see play in all legal formats.
If Splinter Twin decks start going more in this direction, look for Blade Splicer to pick up a little. I always give some leeway to cards that make my Cube because they are theoretically among the 720 most powerful cards in Magic. Blade Splicer has been an MVP since the day I put it in there, and I’m happy to see it show up in Modern as well. It’s just a buck, so there’s room to grow.
The reason Scapeshift hasn’t gone past $10 is mostly due to price memory, not availability. It’s one of the most potent combo cards in the format, and it’s going to be a force in Modern for the foreseeable future. If this deck again ends up as one of the pillars of the format in 2014, expect its namesake card to start rising in value.
- 3 Demigod of Revenge
- 4 Bloodghast
- 2 Gatekeeper of Malakir
- 3 Phyrexian Obliterator
- 3 Geralf's Messenger
- 4 Deathrite Shaman
- 2 Gray Merchant of Asphodel
Here we go—the new tech in Modern that has everyone’s hearts aflutter. Obliterator and Liliana have both been covered, and it’s quite possible that the availability of these two cards is going to create an availability bottleneck that will prevent all the other pieces from gaining much value.
One piece that could be primed for a jump though is Bloodghast. This was a Legacy creature for a short time alongside Undiscovered Paradise, and it was a Standard powerhouse for a couple of years as well. It rose steadily all last Modern season before plateauing in May, and that was before Mono-Black Devotion was an important part of the metagame. If this deck is the real deal, Bloodghast is almost certainly going to be part of it.
The other card being ignored right now is Geralf’s Messenger. This guy is just three bucks and is pretty powerful, especially in devotion builds. I expect Bloodghast to spike before he does thanks to availability issues—Bloodghast is the better and more versatile card as well—but Messenger’s low price gives it an attractive amount of upside.
- 2 Kira, Great Glass-Spinner
- 4 Lord of Atlantis
- 4 Silvergill Adept
- 1 Cursecatcher
- 2 Cosi's Trickster
- 2 Coralhelm Commander
- 1 Phantasmal Image
- 4 Master of the Pearl Trident
- 2 Thassa, God of the Sea
- 3 Master of Waves
This deck is being billed as Merfolk, but it could just as easily be called Mono-Blue Devotion. It combines pieces of both decks to create a powerful and explosive hybrid. Coralhelm Commander, Lord of Atlantis, and Master of the Pearl Trident are all sold out on SCG and are expected to experience a price adjustment as Merfolk decks make something of a comeback in both Legacy and Modern.
The difference between the three? Coralhelm Commander and Lord of Atlantis are $5 cards, while the Master is just $2. It’s a more recent card, but it’s from a core set, which means that availability issues are quite real. I expect this card to settle in closer to $5 before long.
Silvergill Adept and Cursecatcher are also worth mentioning as power uncommons that were not in Modern Masters. Cursecatcher has tripled in price this year already though. Perhaps Silvergill is next to jump?
It’s also worth keeping in mind that the U/B version of this deck runs four copies of Darkslick Shores. If that’s the version most people try to build, expect that card to rise significantly from the $4 it’s currently selling for.
- 3 Avalanche Riders
- 2 Simian Spirit Guide
- 4 Street Wraith
- 2 Faerie Macabre
- 3 Fulminator Mage
- 2 Jungle Weaver
- 3 Pale Recluse
- 4 Monstrous Carabid
- 4 Deadshot Minotaur
This is a good example of what happens when a price spike is legitimate. Living End was a great budget deck that anyone could throw together for a couple of bucks and win a tournament with. Then people bought out every copy of Living End and Fulminator Mage on the Internet. Because the demand for these cards was real, the prices never went back down. Fulminator Mage went from a $4 rare to a $30 staple. Living End went from $1 to $10 before dropping back down a bit.
If you’re looking for another breakout card from this deck, why not Copperline Gorge? The control lands from this cycle have yet to do much in Modern, but the aggro/combo colors have started to rebound a bit. I could easily see both this and Blackcleave Cliffs hitting $10-$12 very soon.
- 4 Soul Warden
- 4 Dark Confidant
- 4 Martyr of Sands
- 4 Soul's Attendant
- 4 Serra Ascendant
- 4 Ajani's Pridemate
Any deck featuring Dark Confidant can’t have too many more major gainers in it because the barrier to entry is already so high. Serra Ascendant could be one of them, but it would take a lot of high finishes for that to happen.
Sorin, Lord of Innistrad would be on my list for sure if the Duel Deck didn’t happen, but that is likely to keep the price quite low for the next couple of years no matter what.
Storm cards never jump as much as I think they will. I’ve been calling Past in Flames a strong buy for years, but it stubbornly refuses to rise above $2 or $3. Pyromancer Ascension has long behaved the same way, and unless there’s a major run on either card, I don’t think they’ll go up in price all that much.
The real play here might be Gitaxian Probe. It’s a common, but it’s probably the best enabler in the history of both Modern and Legacy Storm. It’s also not completely broken, so I don’t expect it will be banned. I don’t think it’ll be reprinted either—at least not until Modern Masters II. I wouldn’t go deep into these, but if you go to a lot of major events, you should keep a bunch on hand. You’ll be able to get a couple of bucks each on the floor.
Daybreak Coronet is another great example of a Modern price surge that was totally legitimate. People made money speculating on Keen Sense thanks to this deck as well, though I don’t think either card can grow any more.
Razorverge Thicket has long been the cheapest land in this cycle, and I expect that to continue despite seeing play here. If this cycle at large starts to jump, though, this one will follow along.
Did you know that Kor Spiritdancer is a $10 card now? It started the year under $2. Again, there’s no further action to take, but it’s worth noting that once a card in a reasonable Modern deck jumps it’s not likely to be available for nothing again unless the format radically changes or the card is reprinted.
- 2 Aven Riftwatcher
- 2 Aven Mindcensor
- 3 Flickerwisp
- 1 Linvala, Keeper of Silence
- 4 Wall of Omens
- 4 Leonin Arbiter
- 4 Blade Splicer
- 4 Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
- 4 Restoration Angel
Here’s another reason that Blade Splicer and Restoration Angel are excellent targets. Leonin Arbiter might be a nice play as well, especially because it’s still just fifty cents. I also like Thalia, Guardian of Thraben at $4—it’s a staple in both Modern and Legacy. I liken it to Gaddock Teeg, which is currently an $8 card.
You also shouldn’t sleep on the lands. Windbrisk Heights has a long history of tournament success, and it hasn’t made a price jump in years. It might be due. Tectonic Edge is an even bigger target of mine—it sees play as a four-of in a bunch of winning lists and is my pick for the uncommon most likely to make the run from $2.50 up to $8-$10 this season.
Tezzeret the Seeker fits the profile of a card that could jump from $8 to $30 overnight. It’s a mythic from the first set where those were printed, and even the Duel Deck was underprinted and is impossible to find today. He’s a planeswalker so there’s casual value, and he’s the flagship card of this U/W/R Control brew. If this deck continues to put up numbers, expect Tezzeret to make a huge leap.
The other card I like in this deck is Isochron Scepter. Casual players go nuts for this card, so if it’s Modern viable at all I’d expect this deck to become fairly popular. It’s been reprinted a few times, which hurts the value, but it could still end up at or near $10 very soon without anyone batting an eyelash.
Hooray, Owling Mine is back! Kami of the Crescent Moon is the obvious pickup here, and all the sub-$1 copies disappeared when this list first hit the Internet. As of this writing, SCG still has about fifty SP and MP copies available for under $2, so I’d start there if you want to go deep.
You may want to focus on Howling Mine instead. A much more controlling mill deck without the Kami finished eighth at the SCG IQ in Winnipeg on 11/3. If that’s the direction that this archetype is going to take, the original is still probably the best. Howling Mine is a popular casual card, but it has also been printed roughly one billion times. The ceiling is probably somewhere in the $5-$6 range. Temple Bell may end up being a better target because it’s only been printed once and is still retailing for just $1.
- 2 Mogg Fanatic
- 4 Mogg War Marshal
- 4 Goblin Chieftain
- 4 Goblin Bushwhacker
- 2 Spikeshot Elder
- 4 Legion Loyalist
- 4 Foundry Street Denizen
Here’s another deck no one’s talking much about. Blackcleave Cliffs shows up again here—it’s seriously one of the most played lands in Modern. This deck also features Shared Animosity, a card that jumped from bulk to $10 over the summer thanks to decks like this one. It’s been falling off ever since, but if Goblins becomes a legitimate budget deck that can take down events, expect it to be the Fulminator Mage of the archetype. There’s still room for it to grow.
Goblin Chieftain is also worth mentioning—but only briefly. It was printed in three consecutive core sets, so I don’t expect it can rise too much from the $2 it currently sells for. If it does, the spike is likely to be brief.
Here’s a deck that took down a Daily Event back in mid-September. I’m not sure why we haven’t seen it much since then, but if it does catch on, there are a few cards that will jump. Azusa, Lost but Seeking is a $12 card thanks to Commander, so if people start wanting these for Modern the card could hit $25 or $30 pretty easily.
Amulet of Vigor is another crucial part of this deck, and that could jump from $2 to $5. It probably will at some point regardless. That card has been 85% of the way there since it was printed, and it just needs the right shell to become totally degenerate.
Modern is a fairly diverse format, and these decks only scratch the surface of what we’ll see at the top tables this spring. Dozens of cards will double and triple in price between now and then, most of which aren’t even being considered playable right now. The best thing you can do is to stay on top of innovations in the format and act quickly when a new deck you want to build is introduced.
Did I miss any of your favorite Modern sleeper picks?