Welcome back to The Modern Series.
In this collection of articles, I've been covering each Modern-legal set in the history of Magic. (If you missed Mirrodin, you can check it out here.) Some of these sets are almost a decade old, so it's worth re-examining them based on current market trends. Remember: the two most important formats for all of these cards, Modern and Commander, didn't even exist when Darksteel was printed.
I also like the freedom of looking at a Magic set that isn't being swallowed up by hype. When all the cards in a set or format are spiking or in free fall, it's easy to get the wrong impression about Magic prices as a whole. But Darksteel? There's no reason to look at these cards right now other than my decision to highlight each set in Modern one at a time. This framework frees us from the day-to-day echo chamber of the Magic finance community.
But is Darksteel as powerful as you remember? Is it as broken as you've heard? Are there good trading or buying opportunities lurking on the plane of Mirrodin? Let's find out.
Darksteel at a Glance
Darksteel, released in February of 2004, is the second set in the original Mirrodin block. It continues the artifact theme that was set up in Mirrodin, and the marketing was all about a new and exciting keyword: Indestructible. Back then, all indestructible things were artifacts made from a metallic material called darksteel, and that's what gave the set its name.
There are actually only ten artifacts in Darksteel that are indestructible: three at common (Darksteel Ingot, Darksteel Citadel, and Darksteel Pendant), two at uncommon (Darksteel Brute and Darksteel Gargoyle), and five at rare (Darksteel Colossus, Darksteel Forge, Darksteel Reactor, Myr Matrix, and Shield of Kaldra.) It's pretty clear that Wizards of the Coast R&D was worried about the ability warping both Limited and Standard play, though they probably should have been testing Arcbound Ravager and Skullclamp a bit more instead.
Without access to WotC's internal data, I cannot say which expansion was the most detrimental to the health of the game. That said, Darksteel is near the top of that list. It isn't shocking that both Skullclamp and Arcbound Ravager were banned in Standard, but in retrospect it's kind of crazy how long they lasted: Skullclamp made it all the way to June 2004, and Arcbound Ravager (and his Affinity friends) survived until March of 2005 - more than one full year after the set's release. During that time, Standard was a choking mess of Affinity vs. anti-Affinity matches. FNM attendance dwindled considerably. If you blame Darksteel for the powered-down and unpopular Kamigawa block that came next-and I do, at least in part-you can argue that Skullclamp and Arcbound Ravager set the game of Magic back several years all by themselves.
Darksteel was a fine set for Limited play, though it did not elevate or change the Mirrodin draft format much. Darksteel was the first 'big' small set, containing eleven rares and eleven uncommons more than Legions and Scourge. This helped boost the variance a little in Limited play.
Darksteel booster boxes currently sell for $300 here on StarCityGames.com, fat packs go for $100, and individual booster packs book for $9 each. Because this set doesn't draft well by itself, buying sealed Darksteel product only makes sense if you want to pick up the entire block for a very pricey MD5 draft or you are a gambling degenerate hoping to get really lucky with your pulls. This set isn't beloved enough by drafters to make me think there is any upside here in terms of selling sealed boxes to Limited players, like you can with Innistrad or Ravnica: City of Guilds. The set does contain four cards that book for over $20 each, including one uncommon, though, which has helped buoy the value.
Sword of Fire and Ice - $50
This card has been reprinted twice in the past year: once in Modern Masters, and once as a judge foil. For a brief period of time, the judge foil was available at a price similar to the other two copies, but in recent weeks the price of that version has spiked to $100. Even still, the Modern Masters foil is considered the 'definitive' version by the sorts of people who keep track of rare foil snobbery.
Sword of Fire and Ice is played quite a bit in both Modern and Legacy, though usually as a one-of or two-of. The decks with Stoneforge Mystic can usually get away with only running one copy most of the time, and even the Modern decks like to diversify their swords. Fire and Ice is considered the most objectively powerful sword by most people, though, so it tends to make the cut in most decks that seek to use or abuse equipment. True-Name Nemesis also helped this card see more play over the past few months, and that is likely to continue.
Sword of Fire and Ice is also an iconic and powerful casual card and it is near the top of the list for anyone looking to play with equipment in Commander. I can't see a world where this card is outclassed or made obsolete anytime soon, nor will they bring these back in Standard for a while - Scars of Mirrodin is still quite recent, after all. The fact that it has been reprinted twice recently means that its price floor was almost certainly last summer, and it won't be going down again soon. There is room for this card to grow even at $50, and I like it as a long term trade target.
AEther Vial - $25
The second-most valuable card in Darksteel is an uncommon, undoubtedly helping keep those sealed box prices high. Vial was available for less than $10 last summer, but Modern Masters is long out of print now and both versions of this card sell for $25. (The FTV: Relics copy is $35)
AEther Vial has been a bit of a bust in Modern, though. It sees play in Merfolk and some versions of BW aggro, neither of which are tier one decks. It's a little better in Legacy, a format where counterspells are more plentiful, which means that Aether Vial helps with disruption as well as tempo. In Legacy, it shows up in Death and Taxes, Merfolk, Goblins, Slivers, and even some Affinity builds.
Even though Aether Vial is usually a 4-of when it shows up, I cannot see more immediate growth in store for this card unless Modern changes radically. It was an uncommon, it has very limited casual value, and it doesn't show up all that much at the top tables. Vial feels a tad overpriced to me at $25, honestly, though I doubt it will go down unless the entire Modern or Legacy index drops.
Unlike Sword of Fire and Ice, Sword of Light and Shadow is primarily a casual card. Based on a quick search of Star City's decklist database, SoLS sees about 10% as much play in both Modern and Legacy as SoFI does.
Even still, this card is a good buy right now. The judge foil Sword of Fire and Ice is $100, but the judge foil Sword of Light and Shadow is just $30. That price will increase, and it will probably happen soon, and I can't think of too many better bets to double in value over the next year. While Sword of Light and Shadow doesn't see as much play in Modern and Legacy as Sword of Fire and Ice does, it still sees enough play to count as a staple of both formats. It is also a Commander and kitchen table all-star. Over the long term, I expect the swords will remain the class of Darksteel.
Arcbound Ravager - $25
Notice a trend here? The top four cards in Darksteel by value were all reprinted in Modern Masters. Despite that...well, they're still the top four cards in Darksteel by value. Modern staples, you are crazy.
You can't discount the importance of that Modern Masters printing entirely, though. Arcbound Ravager would likely be a $60 card by now if it wasn't for that set; just take a look at Mox Opal. At any rate, the future price of this card is based on how good Affinity continues to be in Modern. Ravager sees Legacy play too, but if Affinity were banned or relegated to the dustbin of the Modern format, Ravager's value would drop back into the $15-$20 range.
Right now, though, Affinity is Modern's best aggro deck, and this price keeps creeping up to reflect that. If that continues to be true, demand will keep increasing and Ravager could be $35 or more this time next year. If Affinity is lost to a ban or outclassed, the card will drop fairly quickly. I loved Ravager as a spec last summer, when Modern Masters had the price down below $20, but at this point it's too risky. Will Affinity really be the best aggro deck in Modern forever? The upside is almost all gone at this point. I'd only buy in if I were building Affinity myself.
Mycosynth Lattice - $20
For years, Mycosynth Lattice was a $7-$8 card solely based on casual demand. About a month ago, though, it was featured in a Travis Woo/March of the Machines deck. Speculation from that drove it to $20, and the new price stuck. This happens with older Commander cards sometimes: competitive speculation drives the price up, and suddenly everyone realizes that the casual demand alone was great enough to sustain the higher value.
At any rate, the March of the Machines deck is pretty bad, making this card a zero for competitive play. It's still an awesome casual combo card, though, and I'm surprised it has never been re-printed in a supplemental product. Look for it to come back at some point, possibly in the next Commander set, causing the price to tumble back toward $7-$10 as the supply increases. It's a fairly stable hold until then, but very little further upside here.
Blinkmoth Nexus - $12
Hey, we're back to the Modern Masters reprints! Blinkmoth Nexus was creeping up on $20 before Modern Masters crashed the price below $8. Even still, this card has been on the upswing again since March or so.
Much like Arcbound Ravager, this card should keep creeping up in value as long as Affinity remains popular. Unlike Ravager, I wouldn't expect Blinkmoth Nexus to drop much if Affinity loses its status in the metagame. Even though both cards are primarily limited to a single archetype right now, lands tend to hold their value more when they're not seeing as much play due to their inherent flexibility. To that point, Blinkmoth Nexus feels like a fairly safe trade target that could easily hit $15-$20 soon.
Memnarch - $8
Want to have some fun with your Mycosynth Lattice? Memnarch says hello. This casual all-star used to be more popular in Commander than he is now, though I suspect that is mostly because he has been largely forgotten over the past few years. With enough mana, this guy can take down an entire Commander table by himself, and his power in that format shouldn't be taken lightly.
Memnarch has been in the $5-$8 range roughly forever, and the Archenemy printing has kept him from spiking. He is certainly susceptible to the same sort of spike that caused Mycosynth Lattice to shoot up, and I wouldn't be shocked if he ends up in the $20 range at some point due to a buyout or simply a lack of supply. His merits as a casual card certainly warrant that kind of price. If you're a Commander player and you don't have a copy of this, pick one up now.
Darksteel Colossus - $8
People love Darksteel Colossus. As a playable Magic card, though, this guy has been completely outclassed by his younger brother, Blightsteel Colossus. In fact, one of the reasons that Blightsteel Colossus was hated upon release was due to the fact that it made the beloved Darksteel Colossus almost completely obsolete.
Darksteel Colossus still has its uses, especially in singleton formats like Commander, but I can't see any more price increases. It has already been reprinted a few times since Darksteel, and it will likely be reprinted again in the future. I would invest in Blightsteel Colossus instead, even though those are already up to $15 each.
Skullclamp - $6
Unlike some banned cards that WotC has tried to sweep under the rug, Skullclamp has been reprinted and was featured in several of the Commander 2011 decks. This card will never be fair enough to be unbanned in the major Eternal formats, but it should live on as a casual staple, enabling fast decks to catch up with more powerful control builds. $6 feels pretty high for a reprinted uncommon that is banned everywhere, though it could still hit $8-$10 due to Commander alone if it isn't reprinted in another casual set. I expect that we'll see this again, though, and the future price will depend on whenever that reprinting occurs. I'm willing to bet that it will happen within the next year or so, making this a poor spec target.
Trinisphere - $6
Trinisphere feels like Skullclamp's spiritual opposite: it's unplayable in casual formats, and its value comes from trying to make unfair decks play a little more fairly in Legacy and Vintage. Trinisphere doesn't shut down Brainstorms and Ponders as well as a Chalice on one, but decks like Lands, Tezzerator, Painted Stone, and MUD can land Trinisphere very quickly and ride that disruption to a win.
Modern doesn't have as much fast artifact mana as Legacy does, though, nor does it rely as much on one-drops. In that format, this card simply isn't good enough. There have always seemed to be enough Trinispheres out there to meet demand, especially with the From the Vault printing, and I've never had great luck trading these away. It might spike at some point down the line, but for now I can't recommend it as a buy.
Sundering Titan - $5
Sundering Titan would be an easy $20 if it wasn't banned in Commander, and it will hit that price overnight if it is ever unbanned in that format. I wouldn't hold my breath, though-Sundering Titan is spectacularly un-fun unless your kitchen table group is really into land destruction sadism.
In competitive play, Sundering Titan shows up as an occasional one-of in Modern Tron. It is also a staple in Legacy MUD. I'd like it as a spec if it hadn't been re-printed twice, but between that and the Commander ban, there isn't more than a dollar or two lurking in upside here.
Panoptic Mirror - $5
The Commander banned list isn't all that long, which makes it even odder that we're talking about the second card in a row that's on it - neither of which were the two cards that caused so much havoc in Standard ten years ago. Why is Panoptic Mirror banned in Commander? Mostly because dropping a Time Warp on it while everyone else is tapped out ends the game in short order.
Is Panoptic Mirror a target for unbanning? Well, is it really any more unfair than Deadeye Navigator, Felidar Sovereign, or Consecrated Sphinx? Not on its own, certainly, but with the right toolbox it can be all of the above. Its flexibility and ubiquity would be disgusting, even in a flexible format, and that's only when it wouldn't be just straight up winning the game. A future version of Commander might be able to handle this card, but right now it would become the biggest source of casual ire overnight.
While I don't like investing in casual cards that aren't playable in Commander, there's something to be said for the fact that this thing can't really go any lower - it already isn't played in anything, and WotC is probably not going to re-print a casual only card that can't go in Commander decks. It's a safe hold with the tiny chance of immense upside should it ever be given the green light in Commander.
Darksteel Reactor - $5
Darksteel Reactor is one of those cards that everyone thinks is only worth about a quarter until they look it up online. Much like Helix Pinnacle, Reactor only really appeals to one set of players-alternate win/counter loving Johnnies. Of course, there's always the chance that this will be broken someday in competitive play, a la Dark Depths.
The downside? Any reprint would likely drop this to the sub-$1 range, as the actual demand for this card has always been pretty low. I don't even think I've ever seen it in play in a Commander game. Most of the people paying $5 for this don't go to tournaments, either, so it's pretty hard to trade away. I doubt that Darksteel Reactor is going down in price anytime soon, but that doesn't make it a good buy unless you're fishing it out of bulk boxes. Most of the time, this card will sit in your binder until you finally decide to buylist it away.
Darksteel Forge - $5
This was one of those easy $10-$11 cards for years thanks to casual play. It was reprinted in Planechase 2009, but that didn't hurt the price much - it dropped down to about $6 before jumping right back up into the $10-$11 range.
Why is this card so cheap now? Magic 2014. This card saw a reprint just last summer, and that version of the card is currently just $2.50 - close to an all-time low. Much like Akroma's Memorial, Darksteel Forge will likely start trending upwards again once M15 comes out and the supply begins to dwindle. This is one of the safest long-term specs out there right now, and the price is almost guaranteed to double. It may take several years, though.
Shield of Kaldra - $4
By itself, Shield of Kaldra is bad. It's basically just Darksteel Plate except way more expensive. Some Commander decks might want to run both, but with so much good equipment out there, this one is going to stay on the sidelines more often than not.
Alongside the other two Kaldra pieces, of course, Shield of Kaldra is pretty good. The avatar isn't as overpowered as he used to be - when he first appeared, the Eldrazi titans didn't exist, for example - but equipment-based Commander decks are still going to run all three of these a good amount of the time. That should keep the price of the shield stable in the $5 range, but I don't see any more upside here. Don't forget: all three Kaldra pieces were prerelease cards, so the supply is much greater than the other Mirrodin block rares.
Pristine Angel - $4
Pristine Angel was a great casual card ten years ago, but creatures have gotten a whole lot better since then. Today, Pristine Angel is still worth $4 mostly because it's a rare angel that has never been re-printed. Like Darksteel Reactor fans, though, casual angel collectors are a unique group of players that rarely show up for tournaments. I have great memories of playing with Pristine Angel back in high school, but today she's buylist fodder.
Leonin Shikari - $4
For whatever reason, I always look at Leonin Shikari and assume that the equip costs are free, too, but that's not how he works. This guy is just over the unplayable line in Modern - I'm sure the ability would be welcomed by deck builders, but the generic 2/2 for 1W body isn't quite good enough to justify running this over something more disruptive. It's possible that WotC will print a piece of equipment that REALLY benefits by being moved around at instant speed, but that equipment would have to be good enough by itself to justify running this as support. I'm not sure that's in the cards.
Leonin Shikari is a solid casual card, though, and it has a little bit of upside at $4. It has only been printed once and deserves a spot in every white-based equipment deck in Commander. It also feels like a possible target for a reprint, and it could be quite good in the right Standard environment. Much like Memnarch, if you want a copy of this, you should pick it up soon.
Reshape - $3
Reshape is a 'fixed' version of Transmute Artifact. It's not as good as most of the other cards that tutor for artifacts, many of which are banned in various formats, but it's still solid in the right Commander deck. I suppose it could be part of some future degenerate combo in Modern, but the killer artifact that would make this shine doesn't exist right now. I could certainly see this coming back in an artifact-heavy set, which would probably drop it to bulk levels, making me wary of buying in. If you don't fear a reprint, though, this is a pretty solid casual spec target.
Myr Matrix - $3
If this was ever going to spike in price, it would have already happened. The myr came back in Scars of Mirrodin block and were as popular as ever, but I've never met anyone who has wanted to make a myr-based tribal deck. There are better ways to make tokens, even in the colors that don't usually have access to them. Pass.
Darksteel Citadel - $3
$3 for a common that has been re-printed in a duel deck? Well, not only is this a very popular casual card, especially in groups where land destruction is popular, but it's an Affinity staple in Modern, where having an artifact land of any kind is very good. Tournaments have been the primary driver of value here, though this was still a solid $1 card even before Modern was a thing.
How high can Darksteel Citadel go? Well, the price bottleneck in Affinity is still Mox Opal, which has kept everything else from experiencing massive price jumps. Much like Ravager and Blinkmoth Nexus, the price of this card will keep creeping up as long as the deck continues to be tier one. It'll fall off a little -but not much - if the deck stops doing well.
I never like to invest in commons if I can help it, though. What if WotC decides to slip this in M15? It'll be a $0.25 card again overnight. It's fine to buy copies if you need them for decks, but as a speculator you should stay away.
Savage Beating - $2.50
Red is the weakest and least popular color in multiplayer Commander. The things it does well-early damage, fast creatures, impulsivity-don't play well in grindy-five player matches. That said, it does have a number of cards that win the game by themselves in the right situation, and Savage Beating is certainly among them. If you get this card entwined with any sort of reasonable board presence, you will win the game.
Savage Beating has a higher ceiling that most of the cards on this value tier. As red gets more options and increased flexibility in Commander, the casual staples of the color should rise. Savage Beating is sold out at $2.50 right now, and I wouldn't be surprised if it ends up in the $5-$6 range at some point.
Quick Thoughts on Cards Selling for $1-$2
For the most part, if a card can't break $2 in ten years, it probably isn't going to do anything in the future, either. Even still, it's worth taking a brief look at Darksteel's fringe players in search of possible upside.
Genesis Chamber - $2 - This card enables a couple of nifty casual combos and is a blast to play with. Make sure to pluck it out of your bulk. There's a little upside here, but trade floor demand is fairly low.
Well of Lost Dreams - $2 - This card is awesome in life gain decks, and I'd love it as a spec…except that it was just reprinted in Commander 2013. Pick up that version for just $1 if you want it, and expect the price to stay low as the supply is more than high enough right now.
Viridian Zealot - $2 - This was good in Standard. It's not good enough in Modern. Commander players want bigger or more repeatable effects, which leaves this guy stuck in the middle with nowhere to go.
Serum Powder - $2 - I always expected that this would be a little more popular in combo decks, but it never took off. Most people would rather just use the four slots on more combo help. This card might climb in value simply because it's a curiosity, but I doubt it. Also, does anyone else think we might see this one in Conspiracy?
Arcbound Overseer - $2 - Once upon a time, I went into a store that confused this and Arcbound Ravager on their buylist, meaning that they were willing to pay $10 each for these. I scrambled for a few copies before deciding to do the right thing and tell them about their mistake instead. At any rate, the current demand for a modular lord is pretty close to zero.
Furnace Dragon - $1.50 - This guy is a terrible anti-combo. His value is based solely on his creature type. There's no real demand here.
Flamebreak - $1.50 - Not good enough for Modern, but flag this for a potential reprinting in Standard, where it would do very well.
Eater of Days - $1.50 - This card is good in alternate universe Magic where turns are bad for you. It's also good if you can somehow force your opponent to play it somehow, like some sort of magical Manchurian Candidate.
Death Cloud - $1.50 - People tried to make this work in Modern and Legacy, but it never really took. I'm still holding out hope that this gets a Standard reprint at some point, which would likely cause the value to spike to $5, at least in the short term.
Mirrodin's Core - $1 - Almost all the other five-color lands are better than this, but if you're playing five colors in Commander, this makes the cut more often than not.
Geth's Grimoire - $1 - This isn't good enough for 8-Rack, which means it's probably never going to be a Modern playable. Casual discard decks love this thing, though, and it always trades well.
Coretapper - $1 - This guy is one random charge counter artifact away from being super broken, so whenever you see the phrase 'charge counter' on a spoiler, take note.
Arcbound Crusher - $1 - This card is worth a dollar? I honestly don't get it. You have to play a ton of artifacts before it's even just okay. Yuck.
Spellbinder - $1 - You had better be imprinting a super huge instant if you're running this! For the most part, this is going to be too hard to make work, and it's better to just run a piece of equipment that does something by itself.
Pulse of the Forge - $1 - I could see this cycle come back in a core set at some point. If so, this card would be pretty awesome. Imagine it alongside Eidolon of the Great Revel, too. It's probably too slow for Modern, unfortunately.
Pulse of the Fields - $1 - This is actually pretty decent in Commander, though most decks don't have enough room to run it unless they're dedicated to life gain. And if they are, well, this isn't actually going to do all that much because your life total will already be the highest at the table, right?
Last Word - $1 - I'm pretty sure that the last word is 'Counterflux.'
Arcbound Reclaimer - $1 -This is a neat little casual recursion card, though it's a tad expensive and needs to be built around for it to do anything. Ultimately, it's just too far on the fringes of Commander.
Ageless Entity - $1 - Even the most life-gain centric casual decks will give this monster a pass most of the time. If it was printed today, it would probably cost 2GG. Power creep hates creatures, doesn't it?
AEther Snap - $1 - I've always been surprised that this isn't a $2-$3 card. It kills all the planeswalkers on the table AND all the token decks at the same time. Commander players need to learn to embrace the hate a little more.
This Week's Trends
- The Journey into Nyx event decklist has been released. Financially relevant cards: AEtherling, Battlefield Thaumaturge, Chandra's Phoenix, Anger of the Gods, Fated Conflagration, Harness by Force, Mizzium Mortars, two copies of Searing Blood, and three copies of Young Pyromancer. I was already alone on an island predicting that Battlefield Thaumaturge would be a major player in Standard, and this hurts its upside even more. Most importantly, this is a cheap source of Pyromancers long term, especially if they aren't reprinted in M15. This might give us all a good opportunity to buy in on those in a couple of months.
- Prophetic Flamespeaker and Master of the Feast are the two early risers from Journey into Nyx. Considering we haven't even had one weekend of play yet (this was written a few days before you're reading it unless you have some sort of time machine), I wouldn't read too much into it yet. Next week, we'll take a look at the first week of Journey into Nyx in Standard.
- The Jace coin is out! You can pick one up right here on StarCityGames.com if you want one. Personally, I don't think the demand is ever going to be all that significant for it, and I'm going to pass.
- There has been a From the Vault: Annihilation leak circulating the internet, and I've heard arguments from both sides on its veracity. The biggest mark against it is that the card names don't look quite right - only the capital letters use the new Beleren font. Those who believe that it is real claim that it's hard to make font judgments before we've even seen cards with the new font in person, and also WotC might have used the old font for what is clearly the paper insert that comes inside the box set. I'm not willing to call it real, but I'm not willing to call it a proven fake yet, either - the new art looks very convincing.
- If the set is real, it contains the following cards: Armageddon, Upheaval, Firespout, Child of Alara, Virtue's Ruin, Rolling Earthquake, Wrath of God, Smokestack, Burning of Xinye, Cataclysm, Living Death, Decree of Annihilation, Fracturing Gust, Terminus, and Martial Coup. If you are a believer or if this is proven, you may want to sell the Burning and/or Rolling Earthquake in your cube - the price is about to come way, way down.