The hardest part of writing set reviews is that the Standard metagame is a constantly moving target. It's not hard to nail down obvious staples like Thoughtseize and Languish, but the playability of most cards depends entirely on context. Remember when Dragonlord Ojutai was the hottest card on the planet? Anyone who called Ojutai a single-deck role-player in their set review probably felt like a chump for the next few months as the price kept surging. Except here we are, less than six months later, and Sphinx's Tutelage just won a Grand Prix while Ojutai's price has fallen by almost fifty percent. Who could have seen that coming?
We're only a month away from the start of Battle for Zendikar spoiler season and another major shift in the Standard metagame. Before people begin their fervent look forward, I want to take a few minutes to look back at the past four sets – Khans of Tarkir, Fate Reforged, Dragons of Tarkir, and Magic Origins – in an attempt to look for the underplayed cards with the greatest chance at becoming staples in the new Standard. The task will become easier once spoilers start to flow in, but that's when the prices will begin to spike as everyone else searches for the hottest new interactions. As long as we find the right cards to target, the best time to buy is now.
Speculation on Standard-legal cards is risky, of course. Most Khans Block and Origins cards will lose value over the next year, so a blanket buy like we discussed with rotating cards last week is a poor idea. Instead, you should use this article as a jumping-off point for a little bit of well-reasoned speculation. Focus on a few specific cards you believe in and look to pick up a set or two over the next two or three weeks. StarCityGames is having some pretty good summer sales, and most of these cards should be easy to trade for at your LGS if you're willing to give up staples in return.
I'd also suggest getting whatever Khans Block staples you think you'll need before the release of Battle For Zendikar. I'm not going to discuss cards like Flooded Strand and Abbot of Keral Keep this week, but that doesn't mean I don't think they're decent buys right now. While I wouldn't touch narrow or situational cards until after rotation, obvious staples like Den Protector and the Khans fetchlands will remain good buys until the late September price spikes begin.
That said, here's my list of the twenty most powerful card that aren't seeing Standard play right now:
#20 – Silumgar's Command – $0.49
Now that Ojutai's Command has begun to see some play in Jeskai Aggro, Silumgar's Command is the only member of the neo-Command cycle left at bulk rare prices. While its exorbitant mana cost may prevent this card from ever being an all-star, it still has the highest raw power by a fairly wide margin. It's possible that Silumgar's Command has been held back to some degree by the efficiency of Hero's Downfall, so once that card rotates, Silumgar's Command's day may come. The creation of a strong U/B Control deck in the format would help, too.
#19 – Ojutai Exemplars – $2.09
Ojutai Exemplars is the first of several cards on this list that would be good if the right spell-based control deck were made viable. Granted, it's hard for four-drop creatures to compete these days, but an on-curve creature that can protect itself, has pseudo-removal built in, and is capable of providing you with an eight-point life swing shouldn't be completely ignored. Ojutai Exemplars is one of the bigger long shots on this list, but at just $2.09 a copy for a mythic rare your risk is pretty low and the upside is still quite large. It'll need a very specific home, though.
#18 – Myth Realized – $0.59
It's possible that Myth Realized simply doesn't scale well in a world where Hangarback Walkers are growing giant armies of fliers, but I'm still holding out hope. Myth Realized falls into the same category as Ojutai Exemplars – it needs a lot of spell support, and the right kinds of cantrips or card draw will need to be printed, which is fairly unlikely. At less than three dollars for a playset, though, the risk is pretty low and the upside is high. This card still has an outside shot at Modern or Legacy play, too, which makes it a decent long-term hold.
#17 – Savage Knuckleblade – $0.49
In order for Savage Knuckleblade to start seeing play, it would probably require the innovation of a Temur-based Collected Company deck. While I doubt that the best version of Collected Company will abandon white anytime soon, Savage Knuckleblade is one of the best cards you can hit at three mana or less. Rattleclaw Mystic is still a thing, too, which could help enable the strategy as well. As a hard-to-cast fall set rare, the ceiling on Savage Knuckleblade is pretty low even in the best case scenario. At bulk rare prices, though? It's worth grabbing a set just in case.
#16 – Shaman of the Great Hunt – $1.55
G/R Midrange and Dragon decks have a lot of options for the four-drop slot, but Shaman of the Great Hunt shouldn't be ignored to the point where it's available at bulk mythic prices. Ferocious should be easier to hit once we're able to ramp into giant Eldrazi, and Shaman of the Great Hunt may also find a home as the curve-topper in a Goblin or token deck. With a few potential chances for this card to break through and such a low price tag, it deserves a second look.
#15 – Brutal Hordechief – $2.45
B/W Warriors never really materialized, and there hasn't really been another black-based aggro deck that could take advantage of Brutal Hordechief as a curve-topper. It's still an undercosted creature with a pair of devastating abilities, though, so it could thrive in the right metagame. At its current price, it's a pretty good spec filler.
#14 – Dragon Whisperer – $2.19
Mono-Red Aggro might be one of the hottest decks on the block right now, but Dragon Whisperer has been absent from most of the winning lists. Dragon Whisperer is a reasonable early-game card that has a tremendous amount of late-game value, though, so it might be forced into action as the metagame adjusts after rotation - the deck could be hurting for two-drops once Eidolon of the Great Revel rotates. At $2 for a two-drop mythic rare, there's a ton of room for growth here.
#13 – Icefall Regent – $1.39
Icefall Regent saw a brief heyday in Esper Dragons, and it still shows up in the sideboard of blue-based control decks from time to time. If we continue to live in a world where midrange is the most viable and universal strategy, I doubt that Icefall Regent will see much more play than it does now. If ramp or 'battlecruiser Magic' decks end up as a pillar of the metagame like they did during Rise of the Eldrazi, though, Icefall Regent could quickly become a much more important part of the metagame.
#12 – Shaman of Forgotten Ways – $2.39
Once the first giant Eldrazi Titan is spoiled, people are going to start building ramp decks. Shaman of Forgotten Ways has seen enough play in G/R Devotion right now to make me think that it has a shot of making the cut in whatever Eldrazi Ramp deck might be coming. And because it's a mythic rare, there's some tantalizing upside here. This is the sort of card that should trade well at future FNMs, even if it doesn't end up in a top tier build.
#11 - Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker – $4.85
Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker still shows up in winning decks from time to time, usually in G/R Dragons or some sort of B/R or B/R/X Midrange shell. Like most of the other Khans of Tarkir cards on this list, Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker had a brief window of Standard domination before falling out of favor as the metagame evolved last spring. Even if Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker never dominates the format again, getting any single-printing non-duel deck Planeswalker for less than $5 is a steal. You'll be able to trade Sarkhan to causal players for $5 at the very worst, so it's a very low-risk spec target.
#10 – Goblin Piledriver – $9.15
While the price tag on Goblin Piledriver is still a bit high for my taste, I don't think everyone has realized that this card is probably a plant for Battle for Zendikar. After all, the last time we took a visit to Zendikar we got Warren Instigator and Goblin Guide. It wouldn't take much for Piledriver Red to become a very competitive Standard deck, which would cause the price tag to double up in short order. I'm a buyer if the price drops to $6-$7 before fall set spoilers begin.
#9 – Utter End – $0.89
Utter End does see play right now, but it's usually as a one-of out of the sideboard in Abzan. That's mostly because Hero's Downfall is still Standard legal, and Utter End falls just short in most cases. If Battle for Zendikar doesn't give us a reasonable replacement, though, Utter End will be bumped up to the top tier of removal spells in Abzan decks. For less than a dollar a card, I'd grab a set now. It could hit the $4-$5 mark very easily.
#8 – Outpost Siege – $0.95
Much like Utter End, Outpost Siege already sees sideboard play in a bunch of good decks. Outpost Siege isn't as dominant as it was when Fate Reforged was first released, but the card is a sideboard lynchpin in many red-based, Jund, and Jeskai midrange and control decks. Even if nothing changes, Outpost Siege should rise in price simply due to increased scarcity. If the metagame slows down after Battle for Zendikar, though, this could become a $5+ maindeck card. That's not a bad gamble at ninety-five cents a copy.
#7 – Evolutionary Leap – $3.19
Evolutionary Leap continues to drop in price even though it sees play in G/B Megamorph, G/B Elves, G/R Devotion, and several flavors of Abzan and Collected Company. It's mostly being used as a sideboard card right now, but it's powerful enough and has seen enough fringe play to make me think that it could have a very bright future. This is a $10+ card if it has a breakout tournament, and it has enough casual appeal to keep the price from ever dropping much below the $2 range.
#6 – Sidisi, Undead Vizier – $1.35
Sidisi is probably not going to be more than a two-of or three-of in any competitive deck, but it has enough raw power to make an appearance in multiple Tier One brews. In fact, Sidisi has shown up in different flavors of Jund Midrange, Five-Color Dragons, Sultai Reanimator, G/B Midrange, B/R Midrange, W/B Midrange, Abzan Tokens, Abzan Megamorph, Sultai Megamorph, Chromantiflayer, and Abzan Reanimator over the past two months. None of those builds have broken out, which is why Sidisi is still so cheap, but it's no stretch to imagine a deck wanting a midrange blocker that's also a Demonic Tutor at some point over the next year. If we get Eldrazi Spawn tokens again, paying the Exploit cost should be easier than ever too. Worst case, Sidisi is a great casual card, making this spec one of the lowest risks on this list.
#5 – Monastery Mentor – $16.59
Monastery Mentor is the most expensive card on this list, but that's mostly because of Eternal play. In Standard, Monastery Mentor has been limited to the sideboard of Bant and W/U Heroic decks. Pretty crazy that a creature good enough to redefine Vintage Magic can't crack a starting sixty in Standard, no?
The kinds of cards that make Monastery Mentor work – cheap filtering/cantrip effects – are the sort of thing that WotC has tried to avoid printing recently. It wouldn't take much for this engine to make a splash in Standard, though, and Mentor's raw power is both tantalizing and undeniable. If you're an Eternal player and you don't have a set of these already, now is a fine time to pick them up. If it goes off in Standard, the price could get crazy.
#4 – Narset Transcendent – $7.99
After being one of the most-hyped planeswalkers of the year, Narset Transcendent has seen almost no play over the past two months. I was always lower than most on Narset Transcendent, but it saw enough play last spring in both aggro and control decks that I'm surprised by just how much it has fallen off the map. $8 is pretty close to the bottom of the market for a Standard-legal planeswalker with no duel deck (or forthcoming duel deck) printing. Heck, Narset has only been printed once, it was in a large spring set, and it has a history of competitive success in multiple archetypes. If Narset starts to see play again, it has a higher short-term ceiling than any other card on this list.
#3 – Kytheon, Hero of Akros – $12.15
Kytheon is like that kid from your high school who was voted 'most likely to succeed' and then went on to a career in middle management at the local semiconductor plant. He does just fine and probably has a pretty decent life, but everyone thought he'd end up doing more, you know?
Kytheon, Hero of Akros has shown up in a W/G Aggro shell, Abzan Aggro, Mono-White, and even a few Collected Company builds. It's not that Kytheon has been bad, it's just that we haven't seen a Tier One white-based aggro deck emerge. Kytheon is fine in midrange, but it's clear that he's playing a little out of position there. If BFZ brings us the right tools, though, Kytheon could begin to fulfill his promise. There's $30-$40 upside here.
#2 – Sarkhan Unbroken – $7.39
It's been a while since Temur Dragons or Temur Monsters has been a part of the Standard metagame, so Sarkhan Unbroken has done nothing but tank in price for the past few months. If the metagame changes enough, though, Sarkhan could be primed for a major breakout. Not only is Sarkhan's mana ramp likely to be useful in a world populated by Eldrazi Titans, but it's one of the midgame cards that interacts best with Rattleclaw Mystic. If manabases move in that direction (a cycle of good enemy fixing would also help) Sarkhan Unbroken could see a lot more play. At its current price, there's a lot of upside here.
#1 – Wingmate Roc – $2.99
Wingmate Roc was the scourge of the skies right after Khans of Tarkir was released, but it's been relegated to sideboard detail recently. As the G/W and Abzan decks evolved – mostly thanks to Deathmist Raptor and Collected Company – Magic's latest Broodmate Dragon has fallen somewhat out of favor. It still sees enough play to give me hope, though, and it wouldn't take much for Wingmate Roc to become a maindeck card in a Tier One deck again. If that happens, look for the price to quadruple at least.
This Week's Trends
- Foil copies of Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx spiked last week. The non-foil will take longer, but I doubt it'll take long for the Theros rare to start trending upward. Get your copies soon.
- The full list for From the Vault: Angels was announced, and it includes some pretty juicy cards. Avacyn, Angel of Hope is the most expensive card, but the new Therese Nielsen Akromas, Baneslayer, and Entreat the Angels are nice as well. It's odd that Iona, Shield of Emeria made the cut, and that'll take a chunk out of her Modern Masters 2015 price. If you want any of these cards, I'd suggest waiting until mid-September at the earliest when the hype has died down and the price bottoms out. If you have any of these cards already and you're thinking of selling, it's already too late.
Unlike From the Vault: Annihilation, I think From the Vault: Angels is a good buy at retail if you can get your hands on a copy. I doubt the cards will drop enough to make that look like a bad long term buy.
Linvala, Keeper of Silence is the biggest omission from this list, but that card hasn't really seen Modern play since Birthing Pod was banned. Her price is still too high considering how little play she sees, so I'm not a fan of buying copies unless you really need them for some reason.
- I have no idea how good the U/R Sphinx's Tutelage deck will prove to be over the next few months, but you should pick up any copies of the deck's namesake card that you see in the dollar range. Stoke the Flames showed us that a Core Set uncommon can be an easy $5, so Sphinx's Tutelage should be at least $2-$3 if the deck has staying power.
- Other than that, Standard prices appear to have leveled off in the normal post-GP pre-rotation funk that generally happens in August. The exceptions are Polluted Delta and Flooded Strand, which continue to rise. At some point, they'll get to the point where boxes of Khans of Tarkir will start to become enticing long-term holds. I'm socking a few of them away myself, and the fact that it was a very good stand-alone draft set helps too.