After months of anticipation, Battle for Zendikar spoilers have finally started to roll in. We'll get to the new cards soon enough, but first I'd like to spend a few moments talking about the set's most exciting addition. I'm talking, of course, about…
The Zendikar Expeditions
Battle for Zendikar will contain 25 unique expedition cards: all ten fetchlands, all ten shocklands, and the first five BFZ new cycle of conditional duals. The fact that one of these cycles is incomplete tells me that there will probably be expeditions in Oath of the Gatewatch (Neo-Zendikar's second expansion) as well. My guess? All ten fetches, all ten shocks, and the other five new conditional duals will show up there.
The expeditions will be foil and will have extended art, similar to the full art basic lands but with a semi-transparent text box containing each card's rules text. Each card will also feature brand new artwork. While some players might not like the look of these cards, the vast majority (myself included!) seem really eager to get their hands on them. It remains to be seen whether or not the serious foil community will prefer them to original Ravnica block or Zendikar set foils, but my guess is that most people with a lot of cash to throw around will opt for the expeditions.
According to Mark Rosewater, the expeditions will appear in packs at a rate that's slightly more frequent than a foil mythic rare. Foil mythics show up about one in every 216 packs, so we can estimate that expeditions will show up roughly once for every 200 packs opened - a rate of about one per case. For those of you who play Limited, then, it will take you (on average) 67 drafts to crack one of these. If your FNM fires two pods of eight drafters every week, someone in your store will open an expedition every month or so.
Put another way, if you open packs at a fairly normal rate for a serious player (one Prerelease entry, one booster box, one Limited Grand Prix or Open event, twelve drafts) you will end up with about a 40% chance at opening one of these cards. Unless you go out and buy a case or you are in the top 0.5% of pack crackers in the community, you will probably not ever open a Zendikar expedition.
Even still, the expeditions are a step up from original Zendikar's priceless treasures. While those packs technically gave you a shot at opening a Black Lotus, the odds of getting a treasure were about 1 in 720, and they only showed up in the first print run. I didn't open any treasures. None of my friends opened any treasures. A few people in my store opened treasures, but it was 2-3 in total. You and I both have a much better shot at opening an expedition.
How much will the expeditions sell for? Too much. The fact that there are 25 of them means that the odds of opening any one expedition is vanishingly small. You'd have to open 444 boxes on average to complete a playset of Scalding Tarns. At $80/box, that's $35,555. These cards will be scarcer than most judge foils, which is a big part of why basically no one is offering pre-sales.
Most community estimates I've seen peg Scalding Tarn at $300, the other blue fetches in the $200-$250 range, the rest of the fetches between $100-$150, the blue shocks around $150, the other shocks between $80-$100, and the new BFZ duals around $50. This would give the average expedition a value of about $125.
These estimates feel reasonable to me as long as the distribution estimates hold true. If 'slightly more common than mythic rare' ends up being closer to 2-3 expeditions per case (I've heard more than one person argue this), we'd be looking at prices about half this high. If the BFZ duals end up being good in Modern or a few of the fetches end up trending toward $400, we could see an average closer to $150. Most likely, though, $125/expedition will remain a solid average for the first few months of BFZ's print run.
If that's true, though, then the value of every other card in the set will be affected. Consider that I can buy a case of Battle of Zendikar right now for about $600. Dragons of Tarkir will only set me back about $540, so that price will probably come down over time, too. Remember how every other rare and mythic in Khans of Tarkir was cheaper than average because the fetchlands couldn't ever really drop below $10 each? Well, we've now got about $21/box in expected value tied up in the BFZ expeditions. That's quite a lot, and their impact will be felt.
Early on, there may be ways to take advantage of this impact. Most people don't consider context when pricing cards early on in the life of a set, so the expected value of a pack may far outstrip the price of a booster for the first few weeks of BFZ's life. I expect a larger than average number of players will buy at least one case of Battle of Zendikar and attempt to flip the contents before the prices are adjusted to reflect the presence of the expeditions. The problem with this, of course, is that our $125 figure is just an average. A case might contain multiple Scalding Tarns or it might have no expeditions at all. While a few people will get lucky with just a box or two, I'd want to have the capital to buy at least four or five cases before I tried buying cases just to flip the singles.
This pack-cracking frenzy will happen, though, and it should lead to values dropping much sooner than normal. It usually takes three weeks to a month before most cards in a given set hit a price I'd be comfortable playing. With Battle for Zendikar, though, it might happen in half that time.
This would be a great thing for Standard players, incidentally. If you ignore the expeditions entirely and draft for a couple of weeks, you might be able to pick up the singles you need to finish your deck at a pretty big discount.
Oh - and let's not forget that Battle for Zendikar also has full art basic lands. While these cards will eventually be worth $0.25-$0.50 each, fair trade price while the set is still in print is probably going to end up closer to a nickel per land. There's only so much value to go around, and this is the first place where prices are going to drop. Don't pre-order any of these, no matter how beautiful they are.
Fall sets always have the lowest prices, remember. There isn't a single non-fetchland chase card in Khans of Tarkir that sells for over $10 right now (the recently spiked See the Unwritten is closest), and most of the other good cards in that set are in the $2-$3 range. Even without the expeditions, Battle for Zendikar was going to be a cheap set. If my set review seems especially bearish, this is why.
If you open an expedition at the Prerelease, you should consider trading it or selling it right away. If the expeditions end up being a lot more common than we think, you might only have a small window to get out before the prices start to tank. The higher end expeditions (blue fetches, mostly) are the only ones that really have a shot at seeing their prices settle at amounts significantly higher than my estimates. If you open a Scalding Tarn or a Misty Rainforest, you might want to consider holding onto it. Otherwise, I'd move it ASAP.
If you want to buy a set of expeditions, you should probably hold off until at least November or December. While you might be able to snag a few under-market pre-orders before the price settles, their values will probably continue to drop as long as people are opening cases of the set each day. Think of them like judge foils that are still being distributed - you want to buy after the novelty has worn off but before the supply runs out.
Last, I want to just state for the record that I don't buy that these expeditions are some kind of harbinger of Magical doom. This isn't the future of Magic finance, and WotC isn't going to be introducing a super-duper mega ultra Yu-Gi-Oh! rarity level of reprints to normal sets anytime soon. This is the priceless treasures promotion from the first Zendikar expansion, except it's handled better.
So relax, have fun, and be happy that one of the booster packs you open this month might have a $100 bill stuffed inside.
Spoilers So Far
Gideon, Ally of Zendikar - $22.49
My favorite thing about Gideon, Ally of Zendikar is his flexibility. You have two solid options available to you the turn you play him and three good options the turn after that. The fact that Gideon can either protect himself with a 2/2 or simply pop away after giving you an indestructible Glorious Anthem is excellent, making him a decent draw whether you're ahead on the board or behind.
Most of the time, though, Gideon will hit play, make a 2/2, and then swing in for a total of seven power the following turn. That's some serious value.
The only problem with Gideon, Ally of Zendikar is that he's a four-drop. Standard has dozens of powerful four-drops, and competition is fiercest at that slot. I don't think this will be an issue here, though. Gideon reminds me of Hero of Bladehold in that both are white four-drops that attack for seven on turn 5 while providing some long-term benefits beyond that. Gideon is far more versatile, though, and I wouldn't be surprised if the Ally of Zendikar ends up being the best iteration of Gideon so far.
As we discussed earlier, Gideon, Ally of Zendikar might end up in the $15-$20 range because of the full art lands, the expeditions, and all the other good stuff in Battle for Zendikar. I can't recommend pre-ordering any $22.49 card in the set because of those reasons. Gideon, Ally of Zendikar has an excellent chance of becoming a Standard staple of note, though, so there might be a nice little spike between now and when the price ends up settling down.
Ulamog, The Ceaseless Hunger - $22.49
Ulamog, The Ceaseless Hunger (Newlamog?) is powerful, but I'm not sure how much of an impact it will make on Standard. Best case, it ends up as a finisher in both a green-based ramp deck and some sort of U/X Control. You do have to actually cast it to get the exile benefit, though, so the only decks that will want to run this will need to have a plan for getting to ten mana with some sort of regularity - See the Unwritten need not apply.
More realistically, then, there will only be one deck in Standard that actually wants to run Ulamog. If it's tier one, Ulamog could stay in the $15-$20 range for a while. If not, casual and rogue demand probably won't be enough to keep the price over $10-$12. Remember: the ramp deck would need to play Ulamog over or alongside Dragonlord Atarka, which we already know is a fantastic curve topper. I'm not a buyer at $22.49.
Canopy Vista, Prairie Stream, Sunken Hollow - $9.99, Cinder Glade, Smoldering Marsh - $7.99
These new dual lands are quite good - not quite at the level of the fetchlands or shocklands, but a big step above most block-specific fixing. The fact that this cycle of lands is fetchable is huge, and I wouldn't be surprised if they end up seeing play in Modern because of that.
Building with these lands is going to be interesting. Most aggro decks should be able to run four without much of a problem - similar to the Temples from Theros- but control decks should be able to handle six or eight of them at a time. One of the big decisions early on in games this fall will involve the decision to fetch for a second basic or one of these.
Financially, the short-term trajectory for these lands will probably be similar to most block-specific fixing that aren't fetches or shocks: $3-$5 for the lesser played ones, and $6-$7 for the color combinations that show up in tier one decks. The price is higher than that right now, so I'm staying away. Don't forget to pre-order the five enemy-colored duals from the winter set, though - the supply is always lower, the price is always higher.
Omnath, Locus of Rage - $5.99
Much like with Ulamog, I'm reminded that Dragonlord Atarka is still Standard legal. That card actually has the same converted mana cost as Omnath, and I'd rather buy those for $11.99 each than go anywhere near this guy.
Omnath, Locus of Rage is a pretty fantastic card for Commander, but I don't think it'll show up in any competitive formats. If I'm spending seven mana, four of which is very specific, I want more than just a 5/5 that bolts something when it dies and needs you to play another land before it does anything. Future bulk mythic.
Oblivion Sower - $4.99
Oblivion Sower is a duel deck card, so the price should stay pretty low regardless of how much play it sees. Polukranos stayed in the $5 range for a while despite being a tier one playable, remember.
I wouldn't dismiss Oblivion Sower out of hand otherwise, though. It might see Standard play if the 'big ramp' deck is a thing. If you're trying to get to ten mana in order to cast Ulamog, jumping from six mana to seven or eight while also getting a powerful body on the board is quite good. Oblivion Sower is a $7-$8 card if it's a four-of in a tier one deck, a $5 card if the deck is a little more marginal, and a $2 card if neither of those things happens. The $2 outcome is far more likely than the $8 one, so I'd pass on pre-ordering. If this falls toward bulk, though, I'll certainly be re-investigating.
Ruinous Path - $4.99
Like it or not, Ruinous Path is the new Hero's Downfall. It isn't as powerful as the Theros rare, but Awaken is being underrated at the moment, and Ruinous Path going to see a lot of play in a lot of different decks regardless. Downfall spiked as high at $15, and Ruinous Path could have some moments in the double digits over the next few months. You're going to need these over the next year, and buying them now is fine if you play U/B, Abzan, R/B, Jund…really any deck that runs black mana.
Blight Herder - $1.99
If Blight Herder could hit its trigger with any sort of reliability, it would be a top tier Standard playable. I can't imagine a card WotC could realistically print that would make this happen, though, and in the world we actually live in you'll be running this out there as a five mana 4/5 a lot of the time. I just don't see it. Future bulk rare.
Radiant Flames - $1.49
I doubt that anyone will play Radiant Flames in a two-color deck as a lousy sort of Pyroclasm, so you'll need to be running at least three colors in your control deck to want this. It's pretty good when you can cast it for its full effect, of course, so I suspect that this card will find a home somewhere. $1.49 is about right for a tier two role-player like this.
Lantern Scout - $0.99
A 3/2 for three isn't the worst, and giving your whole team lifelink for a turn is enough to turn a race in your favor for good. This is a playable sideboard card in an aggro vs. aggro matchup regardless of how many other Allies you run, which makes me somewhat intrigued. There isn't too much financial upside here, but I'll always pick up a Standard playable rare for a buck during the pre-order period.
This Week's Trends
- As expected, the best ramp cards in Standard have spiked now that we know we've got some impressive Eldrazi Titans coming. Both See the Unwritten and Shaman of the Forgotten Ways saw their price tags approach $10 last week before dipping back down a little as speculators' copies have started hitting the open market. Animist's Awakening is starting to trend upward, too. If you have either of the cards that have already spiked, selling/trading now is totally fine. I might hold a set of See the Unwritten because I do think it has a shot at being a top tier playable, but selling now is the safe path to take.
- Another card on the move, albeit a tad slower: Jace, Vryn's Prodigy. It's hard to imagine that this guy won't see play in the new Standard, but I can't recommend any Standard-legal card at $40+ unless you absolutely have to have it for a deck.
- A few of Zendikar's Allies have spiked, and Harabaz Druid is up to $3. It's possible that someone will throw together a Modern Allies deck that isn't the worst, but I don't have high hopes for a tribe that wasn't even that Standard-playable last time around. These older Allies should hold some value thanks to casual interest; $3 is perfectly reasonable for Harabaz Druid on this basis, but Modern playability is a very remote long shot.
- The next wave of Judge Exemplar rewards has arrived, so prices should begin to fall a little. It's worth noting that only judges with several recommendations received Ravages of War and Wasteland, so these two should continue to significantly outpace the others in price regardless of demand. This is the first I've heard about some judge foils actually being rarer than others, and that's certainly worth monitoring going forward.