I had not expected Khans of Tarkir to shake up a format as deep and unyielding as Modern. I was wrong.
Most fall sets contains two or three cards that will see play in tier one Modern decks. A very good set could have four or five format staples. Khans of Tarkir has nine at least: the five fetchlands, Dig Through Time, Treasure Cruise, Monastery Swiftspear, and Jeskai Ascendancy. And that doesn't include Anafenza, the Foremost, Abzan Charm, Murderous Cut, Rattleclaw Mystic, Seeker of the Way, or any other card that might break out in the future. We may only be a week into the new Modern metagame, but it's clear that Khans has done more than assist a few decks that were already good. More than any set since the format's inception, Khans has changed the game entirely.
While it's still too early to say how the new Modern metagame will congeal, results have begun to trickle in, making now the perfect time to think about the future of Modern finance. Irrespective of what Khans brought to the table, this is the right time of year to think about buying in Modern. Other than Glittering Wish and Standard legal playables, the Modern price index has been stable since the beginning of the summer. The Modern Pro Tour isn't until February 6th, and even though there is no true Modern PTQ season anymore, that time of year has historically brought big price increases for Eternal staples. Everyone's focus is on Standard right now, so if you're interested in making the Modern plunge at any point over the next year, now is the time to start. At the very least, it's worth knowing what cards are trending up and down so that you can avoid trading today's staples for yesterday's failed tech.
While a lot of Modern discussion is still speculative, I like to base as much of my analysis as possible on actual results. Let's start with a few successful decks that caught my eye in Modern Daily Events from last week. It's worth noting that these results were recorded in that awkward period where Khans is Modern legal yet the only available copies out there on MTGO were acquired during expensive Pre-release events. Many players are unwilling to spend big for the new tech a week early, which means that the queues are still dominated by existing archetypes without updates. That said, each of these decks I've highlighted here uses at least one new card from Khans of Tarkir:
- 1 Spellskite
- 1 Archangel of Thune
- 4 Birds of Paradise
- 1 Eternal Witness
- 2 Kitchen Finks
- 1 Murderous Redcap
- 2 Noble Hierarch
- 1 Orzhov Pontiff
- 1 Qasali Pridemage
- 1 Restoration Angel
- 1 Reveillark
- 1 Scavenging Ooze
- 1 Shriekmaw
- 1 Sin Collector
- 1 Spike Feeder
- 2 Voice of Resurgence
- 1 Wall of Roots
- 1 Anafenza, the Foremost
- 1 Linvala, Keeper of Silence
I doubt this is the optimal Birthing Pod list - it does have 61 cards, after all - but it makes interesting use of Anafenza, the Foremost and Abzan Charm in the main deck. Birthing Pod has been tier one for some time now, and I doubt that the new Khans cards will change that. Thanks to the versatility of the Pod itself, new singleton creatures like Eidolon of Rhetoric can be added to the chain in order to hate on specific archetypes like Jeskai Combo. There isn't much financial action to take here, but I wouldn't mind having a couple of foil Abzan Charms in my long-term spec box. I'm also a bit floored that Birthing Pod itself is still just $9 - I get that people were worried about a ban at one point, but that's very unlikely to happen now. I've long said that this card is one random buyout away from $25-$30, and I still believe it.
I am far less bullish on the other green decks, especially Jund and Abzan control or midrange strategies. Decks that can't fight well against or take advantage of the new delve cards are going to be in a pretty awkward place going forward. Could a Deathrite Shaman unbanning at some point help restore Golgari-based control? I wouldn't bet against it.
Of the three decks to 4-0 in this Daily Event, two of them were burn decks. The other Dailies since the release of Khans have also had many burn decks finish high - some with the black splash for Bump In the Night, some straight mono-red. Burn is always more popular online thanks to the players who use MTGO sparingly and only own budget decks, but at this point all signs are pointing toward burn being a tier one strategy in the new Modern. The deck has been teetering on the edge for a while now, especially since Eidolon of the Great Revel was printed, but Monastery Swiftspear may have just pushed it over the top. Anyone who has played this deck more than a couple of times can tell you how big a difference there is between a draw with Goblin Guide and a draw without Goblin Guide, so having access to a functionally similar card is a major deal.
Eidolon of the Great Revel is also one of the best ways to beat Jeskai Ascendancy, a deck that burns through loads of cheap spells in the process of going off. If that deck is going to be everywhere, this might just be the best way to fight it. The card is also incredibly strong against Delver tempo strategies, which is a deck that feels ready to take over the format. Based not only on where the metagame is now but where I think it's going in the near future, Burn feels perfectly positioned to me.
Is Eidolon of the Great Revel a buy at $10? With Goblin Rabblemaster up to $20, I'm tempted to say yes. It has game in Standard as well as Modern, and I doubt it will stop seeing play anytime soon. The problem is that I can see the card getting reprinted - possibly even as a two-of - in a duel deck or event deck in the next couple of months. With the buy-in already so high, I'm on the fence. I'd like to at least recommend that anyone interested in playing Modern grabs a playset for themselves.
If you're on the burn plan, I'd also recommend grabbing a few sets of Gut Shot. Sam Black wrote favorably about this card last week, as it allows you to pump Monastery Swiftspear with no mana open while also killing the tiny creatures that make Jeskai Ascendancy, Birthing Pod, and Affinity decks work. At $0.75 per copy, it's a penny stock that could pay off big. And while Grim Lavamancer doesn't show up in all iterations of this deck, it's an intriguing target as well. It hasn't seen print since 2011, and even the Fire and Lightning copies of this that used to be everywhere seem to be disappearing from binders and stores.
Prowess and delve feel like they're from different worlds, but they're great friends already in Modern. Delver decks already love lots of cheap tempo spells that allow you to do a bunch of stuff after flipping your early Delver, and Young Pyromancer was already a premium way to get additional value off these spells in formats as degenerate as Legacy and Vintage. Now we can add Monastery Swiftspear to the pile, where she'll be attacking for three alongside Delver of Secrets a good deal of time. Oh - and now, all of those cantrips can then be fed to Ancestral Recall, er, Treasure Cruise, allowing the brokenness to begin anew. This makes Snapcaster Mage a little worse, but it's a small price to pay to give Delver decks a few more gallons of high octane gas. This is a very effective deck in both Legacy and Vintage, and I think that the scales have finally tipped toward Delver dominating in Modern as well.
The best part of this deck? It's affordable! Outside of the sideboard and manabase, you only need two rares. And while Scalding Tarn is still the most expensive land in Modern, you can still make this work with Mires, Deltas, Steam Vents, and Shivan Reefs. Now that we've all got full playsets of shocklands from last year's standard, you can cobble together a halfway decent Izzet or Simic manabase without owning a single Zendikar fetchland. It's not ideal, and if you're serious about Modern you'll want to pony up and get the right lands - especially if you need them as delve enablers too - but for FNM or local tournaments? It's a fine way to shortcut the format's biggest expense.
Young Pyromancer is still just $2, by the way, and I doubt we're seeing it in Standard again anytime soon. For a card that sees extensive play in every format it's legal in, I'm trading for these at retail all day long. Twisted Image is another one that I'd pull out of my bulk - it's sold out here at $0.75, and it could easily hit $3-$4. And even though these common cantrips like Sleight of Hand, Serum Visions, and Gitaxian Probe are already expensive for what they are, I could see each of them continue to trend upwards until they're reprinted in a Modern Masters set. I'm also high on any rare that stands alone in a budget deck - if Snapcaster Mage isn't reprinted in Modern Masters II, I wouldn't be surprised if it jumps from $30 to $50 as people flock toward this deck.
This deck isn't much different from the pre-Khans builds, but I did want to note the two copies of Dig Through Time that show up here. Most of the Modern experts I've talked to believe that Dig Through Time and Treasure Cruise are on the cusp of shaking up the format considerably, and that it's only a matter of time until the optimal builds are discovered. While Dig Through Time is too expensive to recommend as a buy, (I talked it up at $3 last week - it's $6 now) I wouldn't be shocked if the card ends up as one of the most expensive rares in the set long term. It might fall a bit as Khans saturates the market, but it has the ability to make a splash across all formats in the long run.
For now though, what about Anger of the Gods as a spec target? If Modern is pivoting toward Delver/Treasure Cruise vs. Eidolon of the Great Revel battles, having a sweeper that kills both on turn 3 without enabling your opponent's next big delve spill is a big game. Anger is already up to $4, and it is a rare from a large fall set, but I could see it hitting $8 pretty easily at some point with even higher long term upside.
If you don't know how this deck works yet, here's a very brief primer: get some mana dorks in play, drop Jeskai Ascendancy, cycle a bunch of cards while looting and untapping and pumping your mana guys, cast a bunch of Treasure Cruises for a single blue mana, and then cast Glittering Wish for Blood. At least one of your guys will be a 20/20 by that point, and boom, good game.
It's impossible to talk about this deck without discussing whether or not it will be banned. First of all, save an (unlikely) emergency banning, it won't be banned until the next announcement on January 19th, 2015. That gives us more than three months of Modern legality to see how things shake out.
Ultimately, I can't see WotC allowing Jeskai Ascendancy to exist in the format. It can goldfish on turn 3 very consistently, which is something that they've been very clear about not wanting in Modern. Seething Song, Bloodbraid Elf, Rite of Flame, and Green Sun's Zenith were banned for less. It's fair to argue that the deck can be effectively hated to the point where it will merely be on par with the other good decks in the format, but unless WotC has changed their anti-combo philosophy on Modern without telling us, we'll be waving goodbye to this one in the new year. (And no, they can't just ban Glittering Wish. You could rebuild Ascendancy with Idyllic Tutor and it'd be less than a turn slower.)
In the meantime, Jeskai Ascendancy will be a big part of Modern. The two big pieces - Jeskai Ascendancy itself and Glittering Wish - have already spiked, and both are fine to sell or trade away. Selling into hype is rarely incorrect, and you can still get about $20 for Glittering Wish and $7 for the Ascendancy.
Interestingly enough, most of the other pieces for Jeskai Ascendancy haven't spiked. Gemstone Mine isn't in every build (Mana Confluence works too), but it's an intriguing buy at $8 that has plenty of other homes. I also like Manamorphose, especially the beautiful Modern Masters version. Swan Song is also a four-of in every sideboard I've seen, and I already thought it was a great buy at $1.50 thanks to how much Legacy play it's seeing these days. Cerulean Wisps is probably too common to make much of a move, but don't forget to pull them out of your bulk. I can't find a copy right now for under about $1.50 shipped, though I expect that price to come down.
While poring over MTGO results can be useful, it's just the tip of the iceberg. Here are a few proposed decks that are worth watching:
Patrick Chapin wrote an entire article last week on using Treasure Cruise in Modern. While this deck runs Dig Through Time instead, it showcases just how popular these cards are likely to be in existing strategies. Twin is already one of the most powerful strategies in the format, and Dig Through Time gives it an incredible efficiency boost. I wouldn't be surprised if all the staples from this deck rise in value as the decks that can abuse Dig Through Time and/or Treasure Cruise improve while those that can't fall a little more out of favor.
There's also a very real chance that either or both of these cards will get hit with the ban hammer in January along with Jeskai Ascendancy. Both cards do a fine Ancestral Recall impression, and both are more powerful in Modern than the already-banned Ancestral Vision. While I welcome blue's return to dominance in Modern, many people won't. It's far too early to say whether these cards are too powerful or not right now, but I strongly suspect that we'll be seeing A LOT more of both cards in the coming months. Gerry Thompson also wrote an entire article on Treasure Cruise in Modern last week, and here are a few of the more intriguing brews that he's highlighted as possible places where Treasure Cruise could slot in and push a deck over the top:
Gerry considers Goryo's Vengeance to be the most powerful card in Modern. That's right - the entire format. And as I highlighted in my Modern Series look at Betrayers of Kamigawa, this card is one good showing away from $30 or higher. Self-mill isn't a strategy that has produced a great deal of tournament caliber Constructed decks, but the fact that it helps dig for Griselbrands while also enabling delve might put it over the top. I will trade for these at retail all day long and twice on Sundays. Soul Spike and Glimpse the Unthinkable are also intriguing spec targets.
Here's an even scarier idea: if we're getting Ancestral Recall in Modern, why not slam four copies into a burn deck and go nuts that way? This more than anything makes me feel like we're cruising (pun intended) for a ban on this card.
Could Treasure Cruise finally enable one of my worst-ever specs, Nivmagus Elemental, to pay off? I doubt it. Even if this deck does come back into favor, Erayo is the card you want. Interestingly enough, here's another place where Gut Shot really shines. With Treasure Cruise, Delver of Secrets, Young Pyromancer, and Monastery Swiftspear all around, I really do think that this card is well-positioned.
Gerry also covers updated versions of Blue Moon and Scapeshift, two other decks that are considerably improved by Dig Through Time and potentially Treasure Cruise as well. Splinter Twin also feels to me as though its consistency will be greatly improved by firing off Dig Through Time for two and snagging combo pieces and/or disruption at instant speed.
It's very possible that Khans' impact on Modern will burn bright for a short period of time before a massive banning. It is also possible that new strategies will be devised to fight through all of this new Ascendancy and card draw nonsense. For now though, Modern has just been made a little more unfair. And when unfair cards are added to a format, it helps all the other unfair decks while hurting all the fair ones. If I were looking to get into Modern, I'd be looking toward playing Burn or the unfair blue-based strategies that are dominant in Legacy - tempo, combo, control - and away from the green-based standard-lite strategies that can't deal with an Ancestral Recall or two. In actionable terms, I'm trading away Dark Confidant and Liliana of the Veil and trading for Snapcaster Mage, Scapeshift, and Goryo's Vengeance.
This Week's Trends
-As of this writing, Pro Tour: Khans of Tarkir has yet to begin. The first three rounds of the PT were Draft, which meant that Standard didn't even get started until 9 PM on Friday on the east coast. I will be covering the PT results in great depth next week, but for now, here's what you need to remember: sell into hype! If you were able to snag a breakout card from Khans of Tarkir before the PT-based price spike on Saturday, good for you. That said, the absolute apex of that card's price likely came and went over the weekend. Sell now. Yes, even that card.
-The possible exception for this rule is if a Theros Block card saw a lot of play without going into full-on hype mode. A card like Nightveil Specter from last year's fall Pro Tour was still fine to hold and trade for weeks after the event. Even then, selling right away was a fine move. Don't get greedy like so many did with Thassa, God of the Sea and Master of the Waves last year. Sell, sell, sell!
-I'm not writing much about Standard risers and fallers this week because that data will be laughably out of date by the time you read this. As of this writing, Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker, Wingmate Roc, and Dig Through Time are the biggest gainers in Khans of Tarkir, while Sorin, Solemn Visitor and Surrak Dragonclaw are both trending downward. Hornet Queen has also jumped up this week, and it's hard to find them under $6 right now. The card could double again with a good showing over the weekend.
-It is worth remembering that the Pro Tour also means the beginning of the end of amateur Standard innovation. While many rogue Johnnies and Open Series all-stars will continue to push the format, most FNM players will simply build one of the decks that put up numbers over the weekend and move on with their lives. This means that the value for everything in Khans that did not do well over the weekend is about to take a high dive off a cliff. Did a hot mythic or rare put up a no-show at the PT? Get out from under that card as fast as you can. Buylist it, trade it, I don't care. After this weekend, the only Khans cards I want to own are those I plan on using in decks during the near future. Everything else I'm either selling into hype or selling before it goes to zero. I love the set, but its current valuations cannot hold.