You know what was great? The new Star Wars trailer. Hearing that classic John Williams score swell up over new-but-familiar landscapes populated by new-but-familiar characters gave me chills. There's an X-Wing, a Star Destroyer, a Han Solo, and a Chewbacca in it. How can you not be excited about the film?
Anticipation is a fantastic and underrated emotion. It's the reason we watch trailers for a movie that won't be released for almost a year, the feeling that has us refreshing the Wizards website at 9 AM each morning during spoiler season, the electric sizzle that used to keep us awake the night before a childhood birthday party.
The ideal object of anticipation involves a healthy dose of both novelty and familiarity. Too much novelty and you won't care enough to get excited. (There's a brand new holiday coming up, but I can't tell you what it's about!) Too much familiarity and the excitement will have dissipated long ago. (Tomorrow is Tuesday! It will be dark again soon! It's 2015!) Hollywood knows this, and it's part of why we're in a cycle of infinite sequels and remakes. Even though I can already say with a high degree of certainty that the new Star Wars will be better than the prequels but not as good as the original trilogy, that blend of novelty and familiarity makes the anticipation center of my brain giddy. Even though I expect the anticipation to be significantly more pleasurable than the actual movie, I still can't wait to see it.
Anticipation is a great tool for analyzing which spoiled cards are likely to be major pre-order price gainers. New cards that are novel plays on current or well-remembered powerhouses (Monastery Mentor, Warden of the First Tree, Time Reversal) tend to gain a bunch of value during the first few hours after being spoiled because of how excited people are to try them out. Sometimes you can take advantage by buying a few sets of these cards in the first few minutes they're available in hopes of flipping them the moment the expansion comes out. As long as you sell your stock through before the first round of tournaments, it doesn't matter how good the card actually ends up being.
When it comes to set design, Guildpact is my favorite example of anticipation driving consumer interest. Once Ravnica: City of Guilds was released, the internet was awash with speculation about what the other six guilds would be like. This was the first time these two-color pairs ever had a strong identity, and people were very excited to learn the backstory of their favorite combination. We knew that the rest of the block would follow the structure of Ravnica (familiarity), but we didn't know what the Izzet, Gruul, and Orzhov would actually be like (novelty). Thus, it was no surprise to anyone that Guildpact proved to be an incredibly popular set from the moment it was spoiled. In fact, I can't think of a single second set since Guildpact that has been nearly as beloved.
Guildpact at a Glance
Guildpact was released in early February of 2006. While Ravnica: City of Guilds introduced the world to Selesnya, Boros, Golgari, and Dimir, Guildpact gave us the Izzet, Gruul, and Orzhov. The Izzet League became a quick fan favorite, as many Magic players identified with their mad creativity. The fact that the Izzet leader is a know-it-all Dragon and a ton of their spells are two-for-ones didn't hurt, either.
The Izzet keyword was replicate, which has mostly been forgotten outside of Shattering Spree. It was a solid ability in Limited, though, with cards like Pyromatics and Thunderheads acting as decent role-players in RGD Draft.
The Gruul had bloodthirst, which saw a small amount of Constructed play both in 2006 and again several years later when the keyword was re-used in Magic 2012. Bloodthirst was often the backbone of RGD Draft's best aggro deck, with Scab-Clan Mauler and friends doing a great job taking down the three- and four-color decks before they could get online.
The Orzhov ability was haunt, which has to go down as the most unintuitive first-glance keyword of all time. I remember the Prerelease as a pile of players misplaying Haunt. We did get Constructed staple Orzhov Pontiff and Limited superstar Blind Hunter out of the deal, though, so it wasn't all bad.
Guildpact spoiler season was full of optimism, though it was marred by disappointment to some thanks to a misread of the card Giant Solifuge. Back in 2006, Wizards was very stingy about spoiling cards. You'd get 1-3 a day on the main site, but they didn't give out any to writers on other sites or podcasts. Because of this, we'd only know about a quarter of the rares ahead of time via official channels. WotC was also very susceptible to leaks back then, so the unofficial spoiler would start building up from cards spoiled by foreign dealers, employees, and who knows who else. People bought and sold pre-ordered thousands of dollars' worth of cards based on blurry images and rumors. Occasionally, this would prove to be a problem.
Thanks to a bad scan, Giant Solifuge was spoiled as a 4/3 with trample, shroud, and haste for 2 (R/G)(R/G). People lost their minds over how powerful it was, and the card quickly shot past the $20 mark on eBay. Turns out, the card was actually a 4/1 that didn't end up being more than a role-player in Standard. As you can imagine, many of the people who found themselves out $80 over a misunderstanding weren't too happy about this.
Beyond the three shocklands, the most expensive cards in Guildpact on the day the set was released were Rumbling Slum, Burning-Tree Shaman, Niv-Mizzet, the Firemind, and Ghost Council of Orzhova. Standard was very diverse during the Ravnica era, but it's hard to call the two Gruul cards anything but a disappointment. Neither card revolutionized G/R Aggro the way people expected, and the prices dropped fairly quickly. Niv-Mizzet and Ghost Council both found homes in both casual and competitive decks, though neither card is all that relevant these days.
Even though Guildpact has very few valuable rares today, booster boxes still retail for $350. This is because of how popular the full block Draft format is, and you really do need a box of each to get the full experience. While you'll never come close to recouping your investment on a purchase like this, I'd certainly buy a case or two if I was a millionaire with money to burn. The Draft format is seriously that good.
Let's get to the cards, shall we?
What's going on with the shocklands? Shouldn't they have started to rise in price by now thanks to Modern demand? Well, Steam Vents certainly hasn't disappointed. Its price chart is pretty choppy, but it's worth a few bucks more than it was during the lull of set rotation, and it's still trending upward. Stomping Ground and Godless Shrine have lost value since rotation, though, and their Modern bump has yet to kick in.
To me, the true test for these cards will come in June and July. If Modern Masters 2015 and the Modern PPTQ season bring enough new Eternal players into the fold, the shocklands should see a nice 20-25% bump. If not, it might be a very long time before they actually rise in price. I don't see them dropping in value much more regardless, so I'm still holding onto all of mine. I've waited this long, after all-what's another couple of weeks?
Ghostway - $10.55
It is because of cards like Ghostway that I write articles like The Modern Series. Thanks to how underprinted cards from this era were compared to today's expansions, Ghostway is an order of magnitude more scarce than Dragonlord Ojutai or Atarka. Because of that, it doesn't take much actual demand in a card like this to drive the price through the roof.
Ghostway had been slowly gaining value for years, going from $2 at the start of 2013 to $5 at the end of 2014. This price increase was mostly due to people trying to break it without much success, though it still held some value simply as an anti-Wrath card in casual formats. In late January of this year, however, rumors began to swirl about a Modern deck that successfully abused Ghostway. Whenthis list went 3-1 in a Modern daily, followed by this Sam Black video a few days later, the price jumped to almost $20 overnight.
And then…nothing. No more big online finishes, it didn't show up at the Pro Tour, and I can't find a single recent decklist using the card in the SCG database. Even still, the price leveled off at a healthy $10.55. It isn't all that hard to sell or trade at that price, either. Even though Ghostway was a bit of a busted spec, anyone who had the chance to buy in at the start could have doubled their money at worst. Ignore combo pieces from this era at your own risk. While reprints can be murder on specs like this, the upside remains massive.
Debtor's Knell - $9.09
I actually had to check and make sure that Debtor's Knell hadn't been reprinted in some sort of obscure duel deck or Commander set. It seems like that should have happened by now, right? In fact, I wouldn't be shocked if we see Debtor's Knell as one of the casual reprints in Modern Masters 2015.
To me, Debtor's Knell is one of the bigger value traps in Magic finance. It used to be a Cube staple, but it's not good enough for that anymore. It's certainly a bomby card in Commander, but it has a lot to compete with at the seven mana mark. Considering it has zero value in competitive play, there's virtually no upside here. It's the kind of card that WotC loves to reprint, and its value is almost entirely tied up in how scarce it is. I like Debtor's Knell from a play perspective, but that doesn't change the fact that it's a Commander reprint away from being a $2 rare.
Orzhov Pontiff - $5.45
Just a few short months ago, Orzhov Pontiff was one of the hottest cards in Modern. With all of the Delver/Pyromancer decks wreaking havoc, it was one of the best cards in the format to Birthing Pod into.
Birthing Pod is gone now, and Orzhov Pontiff's utility has been reduced considerably. It still shows up from time to time as a sideboard one-of in brews like Abzan Company, but I'm still not convinced that's a real deck in Modern. And even if it is, it's hard for a one-of sideboard card like the Pontiff to be worth more than $4-$5 over the long haul.
In addition, Orzhov Pontiff could be ticketed for a reprint in Modern Masters. While we certainly won't see Birthing Pod in that set, I wouldn't be surprised if many of the deck's staples show up in in MM 2015 regardless. While any Modern playable card in this price range is worth considering, I think it's okay to give the Orzhov Pontiff a pass for now.
Shattering Spree - $5.29
There are only so many exciting Modern legal commons and uncommons that can be reprinted in Modern Masters sets, so I expect we'll see all of them before long. Shattering Spree doesn't see a ton of play in Modern and Legacy, but it is a relevant card in both formats while also being a Commander staple. I'd consider grabbing a few of these if they aren't reprinted next month, but the card will drop to $0.99 at least if it is. I'm selling my copies now just in case.
Leyline of the Void - $5.29
Once upon a time, Leyline of the Void was the ultimate graveyard hate in Legacy. Many decks would run three or four of these, sometimes opting to side them in even if they didn't have access to black mana. It was a great time to be playing Reanimator because there just wasn't that much tier one hate to dodge.
Graveyard hate is better now, and Leyline of the Void is now generally used as a one-of or two-of in a scattering of Legacy decks. The price has rebounded somewhat since it was reprinted in M11, but I doubt it'll ever return to its historical high of $12-$15. It's okay to keep a few of these around if you're an Eternal player, but there's no reason to speculate on a card like this.
Niv-Mizzet, The Firemind - $4.79
How many more times will Niv-Mizzet, The Firemind be reprinted? The From the Vault: Dragons and Extended Art Foil were rare enough to keep the card in the $15+ range, but the Izzet vs. Golgari copy tanked the price for good. In fact, you can still get copies of that version for under $3.
In addition, Niv-Mizzet, The Firemind is a little underpowered in the context of modern Magic. Infinite combos aside, Niv-Mizzet is often either an underpowered draw engine or an underpowered flier, but it's rarely both at the same time. Consecrated Sphinx is quite a lot better. The flavor (and flavor text!) on Niv-Mizzet is awesome, and it's easily the most iconic card in Guildpact, but I can't really see a world in which this guy is ever worth more than five or six bucks again. Like the great Rivers Cuomo once said, the world has turned and left him here.
Angel of Despair - $3.89
Angel of Despair had a nice little run in Eternal play a few years back, showing up as a tutor-able nuke in reanimation decks. These days, however, it has taken a backseat to the more powerful and versatile Ashen Rider. That card is in the sideboard of many Sneak and Show, Dredge, and Reanimator decks, while Angel of Despair is left to sulk on the sidelines.
All hope is not lost, though. Angel of Despair has the power of an iconic creature type going for it, and many Orzhov Commander decks are going to want to run both cards for the sake of redundancy. If this summer wasn't going to give us From the Vault: Angels, I'd peg Angel of Despair an intriguing little buy-low target. As is, I'm staying away. The risk of the price falling even further is too great, and there isn't much upside here regardless.
Electrolyze - $3.45
It took people a while to catch on to Electrolyze in Modern, but it's a top tier format staple now. Splinter Twin decks, Delver decks, Jeskai decks, Scapeshift decks…they all take advantage of Electrolyze's easy to use card advantage.
Much like Shattering Spree, though, I have Electrolyze penciled in for a Modern Masters 2015 reprint. Pay close attention to the spoiler when it comes out. On the day the full list is released, we're going to see massive buyouts on the best format staples that aren't included in the new set. Commons and uncommons will likely be the best targets to buy, and Electrolyze is right at the top of that list. We could be looking at a $6 card easily if it isn't reprinted, so stay vigilant.
Stitch in Time - $2.89
Cards that grant extra turns are always worth something, even nearly unplayable rares like this one. Unless you've got a Krark's Thumb deck lying around, you probably aren't going to actually want to run this in anything. It's not even a replacement-level card in Commander because of how often it will fail to do anything at all. The upside is immense if WotC ever prints a tournament-quality coin flip enabler, of course, but I doubt they'll ever want to turn Magic into a Pokemon card tournament circa 1997.
Teysa, Orzhov Scion - $2.29
Teysa, Orzhov Scion is a fantastic commander. In fact, her foil multiplier is well over 10x, with NM copies selling for a whopping $35 each. I understand why the foil is worth that much, and it tells me that the normal printing is being underrated at the moment. She's a solid role-player in any Orzhov Commander deck, and I'd expect an adjustment into the $4-$5 range at some point. Considering the fact that you don't need to combine Teysa with anything other than other black and white cards to make her work, I can't see much of a downside to buying a couple of copies on spec.
Quick Thoughts on $1-$2 Cards
Ulasht, The Hate Seed - $1.89 - Ulasht, The Hate Seed was a reasonable tier two general in the first years of Commander, but there are better Gruul (and better token/counter) leaders available today. It has some utility in the sort of deck that likes to do fun things with Forgotten Ancient, but not enough to affect the price all that much.
Souls of the Faultless - $1.75 - Souls of the Faultless is a fantastic turtle card for Orzhov-based Commander decks. If you drop it on turn 2 or 3, you can stave off quite a few ground attacks before someone Wraths the board. I'm sure it'll end up in a Commander set at some point soon, but until then it's a nice card to dig out of bulk.
Ghost Council of Orzhova - $1.75 - If only Ghost Council of the Orzhova read 'each opponent' instead of 'target opponent,' right? Even still, the original Ghost Council has never been good enough for competitive Eternal play even though it's a perfectly reasonable Commander. You aren't going to drain someone to death like you could back when it was a legit Standard card, but it's very good at dodging both removal spells and board wipes. It might hit $2-$3, but there's not much upside here.
Leyline of Lifeforce - $1.65 - All the Leylines are worth keeping in mind thanks to their unique ability to dodge counterspells and come into play for free, but Leyline of Lifeforce has never been good enough. Creatures have been steadily getting better, though, and they've crept into all corners of Eternal play. At some point, this might be an interesting sideboard card in Legacy. It's a long shot though.
Leyline of the Meek - $1.59 - Unless your name is Chris Wolfmeyer, you're probably not going to use this card in a game of tournament Magic. While token enablers have long been a sneaky source of value, this one has never quite gotten there, and I suspect that it never will.
Burning-Tree Shaman - $1.09 - Burning-Tree Shaman still sees play in some Cubes, but it doesn't have much utility beyond that. Unless you're playing shaman tribal in Modern, of course. There isn't much to see here.
Quicken - $0.99 - Quicken showed up in U/W Control decks last year thanks to the reprint it got in M14. It isn't much of an Eternal card, though some Legacy Omni-Tell brews do run a copy or two. Regardless, the reprint should keep the value of Quicken low for the next few years. It's fine to buy a copy or two if you need them, but it's a low reward spec target.
This Week's Trends
- Vendilion Clique will be reprinted yet again in Modern Masters 2015. It has dropped in price a little since the news hit, but most people remember that the first Modern Masters set didn't do much to the price of the mythic rares. The new set will be printed in greater quantities, though, so I wouldn't be surprised if there's at least a temporary drop of 20-25% for some of these mythics. If you have any Vendilion Cliques around that you're not using, selling them now and trading back in later is fine. If that sounds like too much of a hassle for you, though, you should hold onto them.
- This news plus the confirmation of Tarmogoyf also leads me to believe that there will be a 'reprint cycle' of mythics from the first Modern Masters set. Expect to see Elspeth, Knight-Errant, Dark Confidant, and Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker in the final spoiler as well. This probably means that Linvala, Keeper of Silence will not be in the set, and it's not looking good for any of the other mono-colored mythics you want, either. It also appears that the price for Dark Confidant is finally starting to catch up with its (lack of) play. If Bob is actually in the set, I think we'll finally see it take a major tumble.
- Also of note on the Vendilion Clique front: The folks running Grand Prix Las Vegas will allow you to switch out your main event (Etched Champion) playmat for a side event (Vendilion Clique) playmat as long as supplies last. Considering how unpopular the Etched Champion playmat seems to be, I wouldn't be surprised if more than half of the event's attendees take advantage of this offer. This will make the main event mat rarer, but it won't make it that much more valuable. Demand, not scarcity, is the main driver of price on artistic accessories like playmats. Even if 90% of the Etched Champion playmats end up buried in a hole in the New Mexico desert next to a pile of Atari E.T. cartridges, you're still better off making the switch if you can. The Clique playmat should hold its value for longer. If you want to pick up a truly rare playmat, try to find one from the ill-fated Cardmageddon tournament. There can't be too many of those in circulation!
- The FNM promo for the month of July is going to be Path to Exile. After months of Abzan Beastmasters (May) and Frost Walkers (June), we're finally going to get a chance to win a truly awesome card on Friday night again. I'm not sure if this makes Path to Exile more or less likely to appear in Modern Masters 2015. I do expect the promo to trade fairly well and be worth at least $6-$8, so you shouldn't sell your set on this news alone.
- There was a fake Mark Rosewater article going around toward the end of last week stating that there would be a few new rules changes starting with Magic: Origins. One of the changes had to do with mana persisting through phases, and it caused a small run on Braid of Fire. Needless to say, this card is still just tantalizingly close to being broken without actually being good in anything. Ah well.
- Last week's article was all about Standard after the Pro Tour. Unfortunately, the following weekend's surprising tournament results nullified a chunk of what I had written about, especially when it came to midrange and control decks. Standard formats usually stabilize immediately after a Pro Tour, but this one is proving both dynamic and elusive. That's a great thing for Standard players, but it's a problem for writers like me who have a weekend's worth of Magic events in between the writing and publication of his articles. Needless to say, this is an issue that I've been well aware of for some time and I'm working with my editor on ways to make sure that the information you read here is as current and useful as it can be. At any rate, most of the advice I gave and predictions I made in that article still hold true. I love Ugin, the Spirit Dragon over the next forever, I think that Dragonlord Atarka still has some room to grow (and indeed, it did go up a little last week), and I believe that the demise of Abzan Midrange has been greatly overstated. What I missed-and missed big-was that the U/B Control deck would take a backseat to Esper Dragons featuring Dragonlord Ojutai as its star player. Ojutai is out of stock at $21.19 at the moment, but the real-world price is closer to $30 or even $35. Many of the pros are calling Esper Dragons the deck to beat, and it's now looking like Ojutai will be the control finisher of choice for the next few months at least. I doubt that Dragonlord Ojutai will command such a hefty price tag for long. Even if it's a four-of in the best deck for the foreseeable future, we're talking about a $20-$25 mythic. Everyone is building this deck right now, so hype is through the roof. Selling into hype is great, and if you want a copy you should try to wait a week or two if possible. At that point, the price should find a manageable floor. That said, Ojutai is the real deal. I don't think you'll see the card too far below $20 for quite a while.
- Also on their way up: Zurgo Bellstriker and Haven of the Spirit Dragon. Both cards are in the $4-$5 range now as demand solidifies for their respective decks. Other than the breakout cards from Dragons of Tarkir, though, the entire Standard index is either flat or dropping. Summer rotation should be forcing the Theros block prices down, but some of the Khans and Fate Reforged cards are close to being nice spec buys again. I traded for a few more copies of Tasigur, the Golden Fang this week, for example. I don't see how much lower it can go.