Never pre-order a card before the set release. That has been a Magic finance truism and a cornerstone of my conservative approach to trading and speculation for years. I'm fine missing out on a single card's jump to $15 if it means I don't have to endure ten of my other specs dropping from $5 to bulk. I'll take the slow, sure bet every time.
Khans of Tarkir made this strategy look foolish. It's usually impossible for a fall set to maintain its average value once the pre-order hype period ends, but Khans managed to clear that hurdle and keep on running. Check out the following list, which details every rare and mythic that has moved in either direction since my set review:
Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker - up $25 from $25 to $50
Sorin, Solemn Visitor - up $20 from $15 to $35
Wingmate Roc - up $12 from $8 to $20
Dig Through Time - up $10.50 from $2.50 to $13
Siege Rhino - up $7 from $5 to $12
Jeskai Ascendancy - up $6.50 from $0.50 to $7
Ashcloud Phoenix - up $5 from $3 to $8
Sidisi, Brood Tyrant - up $5 from $4 to $9
Mantis Rider - up $5 from $3 to $8
Rakshasa Deathdealer - up $3 from $2 to $5
Pearl Lake Ancient - up $2.50 from $1.50 to $4
Crackling Doom - up $2.50 from $1.50 to $4
Rattleclaw Mystic - up $2 from $5 to $7
Anafenza, the Foremost - up $2 from $8 to $10
Deflecting Palm - up $1.50 from $1.50 to $3
See the Unwritten - up $1 from $5 to $6
Empty the Pits - up $1 from $5 to $6
Hooded Hydra - up $1 from $3 to $4
Bloodsoaked Champion - up $1 from $5 to $6
End Hostilities - up $1 from $3 to $4
Sagu Mauler - up $0.75 from $1.25 to $2
Necropolis Fiend - up $0.50 from $0.50 to $1
High Sentinels of Arashin - up $0.25 from $0.50 to $0.75
Total Gain: $111
Surrak Dragonclaw - down $9 from $15 to $6
Clever Impersonator - down $6 from $15 to $9
Polluted Delta - down $5 from $30 to $25
Flooded Strand - down $5 from $25 to $20
Bloodstained Mire - down $4 from $20 to $16
Ugin's Nexus - down $2.50 from $4 to $1.50
Villainous Wealth - down $1.25 from $2 to $0.75
Zurgo Helmsmasher - down $1 from $3 to $2
Utter End - down $1 from $6 to $5
Savage Knuckleblade - down $1 from $6 to $5
Mardu Ascendancy - down $1 from $2 to $1
Ghostfire Blade - down $1 from $2 to $1
Mindswipe - Down $0.50 from $2 to $1.50
Sultai Ascendancy - down $0.50 from $1 to $0.50
Jeering Instigator - down $0.50 from $1 to $0.50
Herald of Anafenza - down $0.25 from $1 to $0.75
Temur Ascendancy - down $0.25 from $1 to $0.75
Howl of the Horde - down $0.25 from $1 to $0.75
Total Loss: $40
Yup - if you pre-ordered a set of Khans a month ago, the retail value of your investment has increased by $71. That kind of return is outstanding. It is also unsustainable.
So what happened? Why did Khans buck the trend? There are few factors at play:
Gold Cards Define Decks . Theros staples like Brimaz, King of Oreskos, Thoughtseize, the Temples, Stormbreath Dragon, Elspeth, Sun's Champion, Sylvan Caryatid, and Courser of Kruphix are just as powerful as the best cards in Khans of Tarkir, but their power level was obvious at first glance because they're multi-deck role players. It's the undercosted gold cards in sets like Ravnica and Khans - your Sphinx's Revelations and Siege Rhinos - that people tend to build around. This leads to a lot of murkiness in pre-order season, where no one really knows which gold cards will end up defining the format and which will end up in the Armada Wurm Memorial Dustbin.
Standard was in a Nine Month Slump. When was the last time you were excited to play Standard before Khans was released? Probably sometime last December or January, right? There was precious little innovation after that point, and Standard prices dipped across the board to reflect that lack of demand. This happens every summer to some degree, but the dip was more pronounced this year. As a result, the initial pre-order prices were too low across the board this time around.
We No Longer Live Under the Specter of Jace, the Mind Sculptor. A lot of the pre-order price mania of the past five years can be traced back to Jace, the Mind Sculptor. Jace was briefly available at $20 during the pre-order window before surging past $80 during his period of Standard dominance. In the years directly following his climb, many players were willing to shell out big bucks for each set's new marquee cards in order to keep from missing "the next Jace." Elspeth Tirel, Koth of the Hammer, and even Chandra, the Firebrand debuted and sold well at $50 each. Had Khans of Tarkir been released immediately following Rise of the Eldrazi or New Phyrexia, I have no doubt that Sarkhan and Sorin would have been $50 from the start. With Jace's low pre-order price mostly forgotten now, initial prices on today's best cards tend to start out at much more reasonable levels.
I hope you've already started cashing out though, because the peak value for Khans of Tarkir has likely come and gone. While the Pro Tour didn't completely solve the format, we do have a clear picture of the metagame now, which should lead us toward slow and steady price drops as more and more people draft Khans of Tarkir. Let's take a look at some of the best decks from last weekend and see if we can make sense of what Standard could look like for the next few months, shall we?
Abzan Three Different Ways
- 4 Fleecemane Lion
- 4 Siege Rhino
- 4 Sylvan Caryatid
- 4 Wingmate Roc
- 4 Courser of Kruphix
- 1 Anafenza, the Foremost
- 4 Fleecemane Lion
- 2 Heir of the Wilds
- 4 Rakshasa Deathdealer
- 4 Siege Rhino
- 4 Herald of Torment
- 3 Anafenza, the Foremost
These are the three Abzan decks that finished in the Top 8 of Pro Tour Khans of Tarkir. Not only did Ari Lax win the event, but all three of these lists have good game against Jeskai Aggro, the Pro Tour's other breakout archetype. Because of that, I expect these Abzan cards to be on the top of your local FNM grinders' wish lists for the next few months at least.
While these three builds seem similar at first glance, there are some major differences worth spending some time talking about. Ari has the control suite of five maindeck planeswalkers, Thoughtseize, a bunch of removal, and the Courser + Caryatid package. Thiago's deck is pure midrange, with Fleecemane Lions and more Wingmate Rocs instead of Elspeths and Thoughtseizes. Mike's deck is fairly aggressive, with Fleecemane Lion, Herald of Torment, and Rakshasa Deathdealer on the low end. Courser and Caryatid are nowhere to be seen in his build.
While the land balance is different in each Abzan deck, there's only one fetchland worth running - Windswept Heath--and each build runs four of them. All five fetchlands still feel overpriced to me, but that doesn't mean there aren't solid opportunities to trade with them. For example, while Polluted Delta has come down in price since release, it's still worth the same as Windswept Heath - something I doubt will be true for long unless U/B Control is way better than I think it is. Delta also has the higher residual price memory of the two cards, even though Heath is likely to see a lot more play in Standard going forward. If you can trade your Deltas for Heaths this week, I'd recommend it.
These three decks also run Temple of Malady and Temple of Silence. Both of these Theros
Block lands have already spiked, but they could jump even further as demand keeps growing and supply dwindles. StarCity still has SP copies of Temple of Malady for $13.50, and the card has $18-$20 upside.
As for the creature suite, the one constant across all three decks is a full four copies of Siege Rhino. While Rhino has already jumped to $12, I wouldn't be surprised if it ends up in the $15-$20 range at some point over the next year. If multiple Siege Rhino decks are in the top tier of the format going forward, the card isn't going to drop below $10 until summer at the earliest. If things diversify a bit more - which I suspect will happen--the card should drop back toward $7-$8.
It's going to take a few more weeks worth of results before we learn what the best Siege Rhino deck actually ends up being, but I wouldn't be shocked if Mike Sigrist's list ends up being the winner. It has the luxury of two aggressive two-drops, Fleecemane Lion and Rakshasa Deathdealer, that can either trade early or win a top-deck fight late. To offer a dissenting view courtesy of Ari Lax in his must-read tournament report , there may just too many things that render Lion's size and indestructibility irrelevant in this format. Rakshasa Deathdealer is also hard to justify activating when you're curving out on turns 3 through 6.
If you're a believer in Abzan Aggro, you should consider snagging a few sets of Herald of Torment. The card was in the Born of the Gods event deck, but at just $2 there is still a ton of potential value here. If you favor Lax's control style instead, Ajani, Mentor of Heroes still has a little upside left at $20. I am also bullish on Sorin, Solemn Visitor maintaining most of his value. He was one of my sleepers during the pre-order period, and the fact that he was present and very successful in all three Abzan decks proves his legitimacy. $35 might be a little much to hope for long term, but I doubt he'll drop past $25 or $30 anytime soon.
It's also time to start pulling Abzan Charms out of binders and bins at your local store. The price is up to $1.50 here on StarCity, but I know they're out there en masse in the $0.50 range. Long term, Abzan Charm could easily be a $3 uncommon like Boros Charm is.
Three Jeskai Aggro decks made the Top 8, and there are a lot of interesting differences between them. Shaun's deck only has seven creatures total - a crazy-low count for an 'aggro' deck - while Strasky's build runs a whopping seventeen creatures. Needless to say, there are quite a few ways to build this deck.
Creature-wise, all three decks run four copies of Mantis Rider. With no Lightning Bolt in the format, Rider comes down on turn 3 and threatens to do quite a bit of damage if left unchecked. Courser and Caryatid don't stop it, though it is weak to removal, Wingmate Roc, and Arbor Colossus. I would be a lot lower on the card had it appeared for the first time at the Pro Tour, but everyone knew Mantis Rider was a thing going into the event and it still put up fantastic results. Unless we get a better bolt in the next set, Mantis Rider is going to be a big part of the metagame going forward. I doubt it'll jump in value much--$8 is already quite high - but we're at the point where I can't see Mantis Rider going below $5 or $6 this year unless something changes drastically.
Goblin Rabblemaster is another major cornerstone of this deck, though Ondrej Strasky didn't run a single copy in his build. Even though we didn't have Pro Tour Rabblemaster or anything, I'm pretty satisfied with how the card did at the event. I can't remember the last Pro Tour that was quite so unfriendly to true aggro decks, and we still ended up with eight copies of Rabblemaster in the Top 8 and four more sitting in 12th place. At some point I suspect an even faster deck will emerge (perhaps this one?) and Rabblemaster will likely be a part of it. It's not a buy at $20, of course, but if the card drops due to a surge of midrange players, I'll be looking to buy in around $10.
Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker also did a lot of work in Jeskai as well as other red-based decks. $50 is unsustainable over the long term, but that doesn't mean Sarkhan will be a bust. I can see him hanging out in the $30-$35 range alongside Sorin, Solemn Visitor, and I expect both cards to see many more Top 8s before they rotate out.
All three Jeskai decks also ran a full four copies of Stoke the Flames. You probably knew that Stoke was a marquee uncommon, but did you know it was up to $5 retail? M15 is still oozing with upside thanks to how under-drafted it was, and every card in the set is a Top 8 or two away from tripling in price. I'm a big fan of Hushwing Gryff especially, an M15 four-of in Strasky's Jeskai build that is still somehow just $2. If the Gryff ends up in the definitive Jeskai build going forward, its upside is $8-$10 easy.
It's impossible to talk about Jeskai Aggro without also mentioning Dig Through Time. While Shaun McLaren's build was the only one of these three Jeskai decks to run it, one could argue that Dig Through Time was the breakout card of the entire tournament. Pros spent the entire weekend doing absurd things on camera with the card, and I expect we'll see a lot more of it across all formats in the future. I doubt it can sustain a $13 price tag long term, though Eternal demand could keep it at or around $10 for quite a while. Dig Through Time is the card I am the most excited about going forward, and I can't wait to see where it shows up next.
U/B & Esper Control
Ivan Floch and Owen Turtenwald both showed up with unique and interesting takes on U/B Control. Both are classic, throwback control decks - removal, counterspells, card draw, and a couple of hard-to-kill finishers. Dig Through Time is the key card here as well, allowing you to dig for the perfect answer at any given time. (It's like they named it correctly or something!) There isn't much else that's interesting here financially though - Perilous Vault was a nice buy last Friday night, but it was already up to $8 by the time the third round of Standard had started. I doubt it'll go any higher unless this deck gets another piece or two in the next set. Pearl Lake Ancient is a two-of in one of these builds, but I expect that it'll drop back off toward bulk even if it continues to see play. The other cards that make U/B sing are either uncommons or rares with stable long-term prices.
Greg Orange's Esper Control list is worth mentioning here as well. It's more of a planeswalker control deck than the draw-go variant Floch and Turtenwald put together, and I love the fact that it can make use of End Hostilities and Fated Retribution alongside Dig Through Time and Hero's Downfall to really punish those midrange strategies. The mana is tougher, of course, but I can see something like this gaining traction as the format develops. I doubt End Hostilities is going much lower than $3-$4, and I'm bullish on the card overall.
It's crucial to include Paulo's list here, even though Channel Fireball's team didn't finish as high as Lee Shi Tian. Paulo himself does a great job of outlining the differences between the two builds , and after reading his thoughts I'm convinced that the Astral Cornucopia/Altar of the Brood version is stronger than the Nissa/Twinflame version. It's also significantly cheaper to build.
I suspect that we'll see this deck's popularity wax and wane as the Standard format develops. It's strong against the Ari Lax style Abzan decks that lack disruption outside of Thoughtseize, but it's weak to Rabblemaster and Jeskai Aggro. If Abzan succeeds at hating down the popularity of Jeskai Aggro, expect Ascendancy to start showing up in greater numbers to keep Siege Rhino decks in check.
The fact that Jeskai Ascendancy is viable in both Standard and Modern should keep its namesake card at $4-$5 at least. Dig Through Time makes another strong showing here, as does Windswept Heath. Astral Cornucopia also has some minor upside at $2 - if combo puts up a strong showing a couple of weeks in a row, it could hit $4-$5. I also expect this deck to keep the value of Rattleclaw Mystic from tanking, which is a bummer from a speculation point of view - I expect that card to find another powerful home or two at some point soon, and I was hoping it would bottom out before that happened.
Both of these decks are very aggressive, but even though they're both Boros, they share no maindeck cards outside of their respective manabases. Ikawa's deck is all about triggering heroic, and I absolutely love it as a budget brew. Outside of the lands, there are only two rares in the main deck: the $1.50 Obelisk of Urd and the $2.50 Launch the Fleet. I expect this to be a popular FNM favorite for aggro players who don't want to invest in the much pricier Jeskai deck, and I wouldn't be shocked if Launch the Fleet and Obelisk of Urd both double in value. I already loved Obelisk of Urd as a long-term casual pickup, so I'd now suggest buying in sooner rather than later.
Dennis Rachid's deck is basically Jeskai Aggro without the blue component. Rabblemaster and Seeker of the Way are both here, alongside Stoke the Flames and a bunch of burn. You've got Chained to the Rocks and Monastery Swiftspear instead of Dig Through Time and Mantis Rider, which I'm not sure is an upgrade. There's not much more to say about this one financially, though I've long felt Chained to the Rocks should see more play. At just $1 each, it's a nice spec flier.
- 4 Elvish Mystic
- 4 Hornet Queen
- 4 Sylvan Caryatid
- 4 Voyaging Satyr
- 4 Courser of Kruphix
- 4 Doomwake Giant
- 3 Eidolon of Blossoms
- 4 Polukranos, World Eater
It's hard to get a true sense of a specific Pro Tour format when looking at overall results alone. After all, six rounds of Limited are factored in as well. Why ignore decks built by players who do well in Standard while having a bad day at the Draft tables? In fact, if you look at all of the players with 24 or 25 points in the Standard portion of the event alone, you'll find two copies of G/B Devotion out of the eleven qualifying lists. (If you want to see the other ten, check them out here.)
It is clear to me that G/B Devotion is one of the best decks in the format even if it was a little overlooked coming out of the Pro Tour. Outside of the Hornet Queen jump that happened a few days before the event, there has been almost no movement on any of these cards. See the Unwritten - a mythic rare and a 4-of - is still just $6 retail. Doomwake Giant is $1.50. Eidolon of Blossoms is $2. If you're still looking for Standard spec targets, here they are.
What Didn't Show Up
What isn't played at the Pro Tour is just as important as what does. Here are the most intriguing Khans of Tarkir cards that didn't show up in a single deck that scored at least 21 points in the Constructed rounds of the Pro Tour:
- Narset, Enlightened Master (though it was used as a sideboard one-of)
- Sidisi, Brood Tyrant
- Zurgo Helmsmasher
- Surrak Dragonclaw (was a suboptimal sideboard 2-of in Jeskai)
- Empty the Pits
- High Sentinels of Arashin
- Necropolis Fiend
- Hooded Hydra
- Clever Impersonator (was a sideboard 1-of or 2-of in several decks)
- Sagu Mauler
- Bloodsoaked Champion
First off, isn't it crazy how small a list this is? While cards like Butcher of the Horde and Savage Knuckleblade might have disappointed last weekend relative to some people's expectations, they showed up in very successful decks. The depth of Khans of Tarkir at this point is staggering. Here's hoping that keeps up!
As for the cards on this list, I think we can throw in the towel on some of them, at least for now. There's no need to sell your penny stocks like Sagu Mauler and High Sentinels of Arashin - you probably didn't pay more than $0.50 for either of them anyhow - but it's time to move on from the higher priced cards like Bloodsoaked Champion and Sidisi, Brood Tyrant. Yes, they're powerful. Yes, they might find a home later on. But with so many cards in Khans seeing play already, there's a very good chance that everything not currently in a high finishing deck is cruising for a massive price decline. I'd be happy taking a loss on any card on this list if it meant getting out ahead of the coming fall.
Things should be interesting going forward. Standard is both fantastic and fantastically popular right now, which usually means high prices. The Khans of Tarkir Draft format is equally great though, which should lead to a surge in supply. Even though many Khans cards made bigger gains than I expected over the past few weeks, I still expect even the most popular and successful Khans singles will begin trending downward soon. If you can trade the ones you aren't using for Theros Block and M15 staples, you should. If Standard remains vibrant all year long, those are still the cards that have the most room for growth.