Buying Standard for the Spring
Standard values always start to drop following the fall Pro Tour, culminating in a bottom-scraping bear market in December. Everyone is drafting the fall set, so those prices start to free-fall. Because of the holidays and university finals, fewer people are building decks and playing Magic. The metagame is more or less settled. Tournament trends are mostly ignored. Once January rolls around, everyone's focus will return to Magic and prices will start to rise. For now, though, it's a great time to buy.
Every December, I write some version of a “these are the Standard cards you should pick up for the following year” article. It attempts to identify the staples that are likely to rise in value (the fetchlands were at the top of my list last year) and separate them from the cards that are unlikely to see much competitive play (Clever Impersonator was my poster child in 2014). My hit rate is generally pretty good, but it's far from perfect—I liked Butcher of the Horde last year, for example, but Anafenza, the Foremost didn't even warrant a mention in the article.
Before I get to my Battle For Zendikar picks, I wanted to take a look at my calls from last year. Is it really worth buying cards on spec in December, or are you better off saving your money? Let's find out.
Last Year's Khans of Tarkir Picks That Are Worth More in Dec. 2015 than Dec. 2014
Bloodstained Mire - $9.62 then, $24.99 now
Flooded Strand - $17 then, $22 now
Polluted Delta - $14.61 then, $29.99 now
Rattleclaw Mystic - $1.35 then, $1.79 now.
Windswept Heath - $13 then, $15.99 now
Wooded Foothills - $11.13 then, $24.99 now
I called the Khans of Tarkir fetchlands 'the most obvious buys in the set' last December, and I was right. If you bought a playset of fetchlands a year ago, you would have paid $261.36 for the pleasure. Now, that same set would cost you $471.84—even more than the pre-order price. So yeah, clearly some cards are worth buying in December.
Rattleclaw Mystic made this list as well, but I won't give myself credit for a win there. Unless you actually played this card in Standard over the past twelve months, you can't feel great about a gain of less than fifty cents.
Khans Cards That Kept Dropping
Butcher of the Horde - $1.49 then, $0.49 now.
Savage Knuckleblade - $1.52 then, $0.25 now.
Wingmate Roc - $9.73 then, $5.79 now
I was right about Wingmate Roc making a comeback—it's a crucial part of Standard, even now—but not even #PTBFZ could get the price back over $10 for long. If you bought these at $9.73 last December, you can't be very happy with your purchase. Ditto the other two cards on this list, which were longshot gambles that never really paid off.
Khans Cards that Rebounded, Then Dropped Again
Jeskai Ascendancy - $2 then, $4 high, $0.38 now.
Mantis Rider - $2.03 then, $4 high, $1.29 now
See the Unwritten - $2.17 then, $10 high, $1.95 now
Siege Rhino - $3.73 then, $10 high, $2.95 now
Sidisi, Brood Tyrant - $3.03 then, $7 high, $1.49 now
Selling at the right time is an important skill for any speculator, and it's the biggest difference between viewing this list as a win instead of a loss. See the Unwritten, Siege Rhino, and Sidisi, Brood Tyrant all saw huge spikes last year that turned you a tidy profit if you had bought at the bottom of the market and sold at the height of demand. If you missed the window and still have your copies, however, you can't feel very good about how that went.
Khans Winners I Missed
Anafenza was the big miss here. I chalk it up to the fact that I probably rushed to get the article out so that I could enjoy my own holiday revelry—considering I mentioned all the other 'overpowered creatures for wedge casting cost' creatures, Anafenza really shouldn't have been in my blind spot, and I feel bad about missing out. I'll try to do better this time around.
Overall, my Khans predictions worked out pretty well. What about the rotating cards, though? Is it worth trying to pick any of these up in hopes of flipping them before they leave Standard? I attempted to identity some buys in Theros block and M15 as well. Let's see how I did:
Last Year's Rotating Picks That Are Worth More in Dec. 2015 than Dec. 2014
Chord of Calling - $3.22 then, $7.09 now
Eidolon of the Great Revel - $6.11 then, $11.59 now
Sliver Hivelord - $4.63 then, $9.15 now
Thoughtseize - $18.10 then, $19.29 now
Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth - $4.67 then, $7.05 now
Waste Not - $1.95 then, $2.95 now.
Not bad. All of these cards have seen reasonable gains, and you could have gotten about eight months of Standard play out of your Thoughtseizes before they rotated into Modern. Eidolon of the Great Revel was another gimme—it had spiked to $10 before December based on Legacy and Modern play, but it fell off despite continuing to show up in Eternal decklists. The others on this list were core set favorites with good long-term profiles.
Rotating Cards That Kept Dropping
Eidolon of Blossoms - $1.23 then, $0.49 now.
Mana Confluence - $12.91 then, $4.89 now
Eidolon was a head-scratcher for me all though the spring. It kept seeing play, but it never broke through. I still stand by Mana Confluence as a long-term hold, but based on the lack of Standard play it was seeing, it had a long way to fall before it could start to creep up again. One of my biggest misses for sure.
Rotating Cards that Rebounded, Then Dropped Again
Doomwake Giant - $1.23 then, $3 high, $0.49 now.
Goblin Rabblemaster - $12.91 then, $16 high, $2.69 now.
Hero of Iroas - $3.39 then, $6 high, $1.69 now.
Hornet Queen - $3.61 then, $6 high, $0.43 now.
Whip of Erebos - $2.54 then, $6 high, $1.19 now.
None of these cards had very long peaks, and most of them spiked in late January/early February. If you had your finger on the mouse button, you could have easily made money on these cards. Holding on too long—especially to an expensive card like Goblin Rabblemaster—would have been very bad for your bottom line.
Rotating Winners I Missed
I missed a few obvious calls, unfortunately—Sliver Hive and Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx should have been clear casual gainers. A few of these cards rose in price thanks to good Standard decks that dominated the spring (Ashiok, Perilous Vault) while others rose thanks to weird Standard brews that had just a few weeks in the spotlight (Chromanticore). These cards were very hard to predict. Thassa, God of the Sea spiked for a few days when Mono-Blue Devotion won a major event soon after the holiday season. Master of Waves jumped when Shorecrasher Elemental was spoiled in Dragons of Tarkir.
What have we learned? Well, I think it's safe to say that December is a pretty decent time to buy into Standard-legal cards. Remember: I'm only looking at last year's data for this column, but this is an article I've written some variation on for a few years now. This is not a new trend. Prices will rise once the holidays are over.
Second, rotating cards shouldn't be ignored if they have chops in casual or Modern. Most of the good long-term buys in M15 doubled in price from December 2014 to December 2015. Standard rotation wasn't even a blip on their radar.
Standard risers are much harder to predict than the casual or Modern staples. The fetchlands were easy calls, but there was a lot of luck involved beyond that. I deliberately focused on cards that had already seen Standard play (Mantis Rider, Wingmate Roc) or were very low and looked like they had combo potential (See the Unwritten), avoiding cards that were hyped up during the preview season but had yet to find a home (Clever Impersonator, most planeswalkers).
This worked fairly well in 2014, but if you're going to be buying cards on this list, you'd better be prepared to sell quickly when the card spikes. For the most part, these cards tended to have one major price surge over the following year before dropping off again. If you don't sell into that spike, you're in trouble.
It's also worth noting that set rotation is changing this year. Khans of Tarkir and Fate Reforged both rotate in the spring, while Dragons of Tarkir and Magic Origins rotate in the fall. That makes me less likely to want to buy Khans/Fate cards right now. It also makes me more likely to want to buy Dragons/Origins cards because they'll have another chance to shine in a new Standard environment. Battle for Zendikar cards have two new Standard formats to encourage spikes between now and next December, making it much more likely they will see a random spike during a new set hype period. BFZ may be a weak set overall, but the new rotation policy should help many of its cards find a home in 2016.
With that in mind, what value can we find in the sets that are Standard legal right now? Let's take a look, starting with the sets that have the least upside right now:
Khans of Tarkir
Jeskai Ascendancy - $0.38
Siege Rhino - $2.95
That's my entire list. The fetchlands have already spiked, so they're not likely to be worth more a year from now. Clever Impersonator might rebound a bit due to casual play, but it still has a retail price of $3.99, and I doubt we'll see it rise higher than that anytime soon. Monastery Swiftspear is another good long-term hold, but it will probably be released as a promo at some point and it's already at $3.09. See the Unwritten might see another small spike if the new Kozilek is very good, but the current Eldrazi Ramp decks seem to be bypassing that strategy altogether.
What about the cards I did select? Well, Jeskai Ascendancy has Modern bona-fides and a ton of raw power. This sort of 'combulk' is always good to horde over the long term. If it hasn't risen by this time next year, it'll happen at some point soon after that. Ditto Siege Rhino—the price has been hurt by multiple supplemental releases, but it's too powerful to be under $3 long term. It's not a high ceiling spec over the next year, but it'll probably be around $4-$5 with room to grow in 2017 thanks to Modern play.
Tasigur, the Golden Fang - $3.79
Temporal Trespass - $1.49
Again, I don't want to go too deep on sets that will be rotating in a few months. Ugin, the Spirit Dragon, Monastery Mentor, and Soulfire Grand Master all have game in Eternal formats, but all three are still expensive due to Standard and will fall before they rise again. I expect all of those cards to be worth less than they are now in December of 2016.
There are a few cards worth looking at though. Tasigur is a fantastic card in Modern, and its price has been lowered by the BFZ Event Deck. I'm not sure how much lower it can get, and I doubt set rotation will hurt the value much. Temporal Trespass's upside has more to do with casual play. Time Warp effects always do well eventually, and picking them up at bulk mythic prices tends to work out at some point.
Dragons of Tarkir
Atarka's Command - $13.99
Collected Company - $8.55
Dragonlord Ojutai - $21.99
Dragonlord Silumgar - $4.95
Kolaghan's Command - $14.99
Risen Executioner - $1.75
I'm willing to go a little deeper on Dragons of Tarkir since it will survive the spring set rotation. Collected Company is the obvious call here—much like Eidolon of the Great Revel, Collected Company has proven itself to be a Modern stalwart that should be $12-$15 a year from now. The two expensive commands are a little more speculative—both are great in Modern, but they also see plenty of play in Standard, which has caused their prices to stay fairly high during the winter doldrums. I'm betting they'll see at last least one more spike before they rotate out, and they should hold most of their value after that.
Dragonlord Ojutai feels like a decent Standard gamble. The card has put up a series of strong performances lately, and I could see it spiking again once the holiday season ends and people realize just how strong Esper Dragons is right now. As for the rest of the list, Risen Executioner a long shot bulk mythic that just might interact well with the Zombies that are certain to arrive in Shadows Over Innistrad. Dragonlord Silumgar is a great card in Cube and Commander, so it could end up at $7-$8 by this time next year.
Abbot of Keral Keep - $7.99
Alhammarret's Archive - $2.95
Day's Undoing - $2.79
Evolutionary Leap - $1.15
Exquisite Firecraft - $3.35
Goblin Piledriver - $2.19
Harbinger of the Tides - $1.99
Infinite Obliteration - $1.59
Languish - $3.15
Pia and Kiran Nalaar - $1.99
There are a lot of cards in Magic Origins that should do well over the next several years. All five flipwalkers—yes, even Kytheon—will be in demand long after Magic Origins goes out of print. They're still relatively expensive, though, and I suspect the four non-Jace flipwalkers will drop off a bit during set rotation. Jace is a bit trickier, but predicting he'll be more than $75 after rotation seems dubious, even if I think it's the real deal in Modern (and I do).
That leaves us with a group of underrated Standard/Modern cards and a handful of casual staples. Abbot of Keral Keep, Evolutionary Leap, Exquisite Firecraft, Harbinger of the Tides, Infinite Obliteration, Pia and Kiran Nalaar, and Languish have all proven themselves tournament playable. Abbot, Leap, Firecraft, Harbinger, and the Nalaars show up in Modern more than Standard, so their prices shouldn't be affected by set rotation. Infinite Obliteration doesn't have as much upside, but it's a reasonable Standard sideboard card that's been seeing more play lately. Languish just needs the right environment to spike—it will probably be a bulk rare in December of 2016, but there's a very real shot it could hit $8-$10 at some point before then. Day's Undoing, Alhammarret's Archive, and Goblin Piledriver all have lots of long-term casual value.
Battle for Zendikar
Bring to Light - $1.05
Gideon, Ally of Zendikar - $28.69
Kiora, Master of the Depths - $4.89
Lumbering Falls - $1.69
Oblivion Sower - $4.89
Ob Nixilis Reignited - $8.99
Painful Truths - $0.85
Part the Waterveil - $1.69
Quarantine Field - $1.99
Radiant Flames - $1.29
Ruinous Path - $1.99
Scatter to the Winds - $1.99
Sire of Stagnation - $1.55
Stasis Snare - $0.75
Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger - $16.99
Void Winnower - $2.39
Finally, the main course! There's a lot to choose from here, so let's start at the top.
Gideon, Ally of Zendikar and Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger are the two most expensive cards in Battle for Zendikar. They've seen enough play (especially Gideon) to justify that, and I don't see it changing anytime soon. As soon as people stop opening as many packs of BFZ and more people start playing Standard again, their prices should rise. These two are easy buys for avid Standard players.
Beyond that, this list is mostly projected staples that haven't made the impact we all hoped they would. Quarantine Field, Radiant Flames, Ruinous Path, Stasis Snare, Scatter to the Winds, and Lumbering Falls are all objectively powerful cards. If they don't find a home in January or after spring rotation (goodbye, Silkwrap!), they'll have another chance to strut their stuff in the fall. At some point over the next year, I expect all six of these cards to make good on their early promise.
Ob Nixilis Reignited, Oblivion Sower, Void Winnower, and Sire of Stagnation are less likely to make a huge Constructed impact, but they've all had some degree of hype, are at the bottom of their market, and have a reasonably high degree of casual interest attached to them. These cards have more upside and less risk, but also smaller odds of actually breaking out.
Kiora, Master of the Depths and Part the Waterveil were both featured in the U/G Ramp deck I talked about last week. Even if that deck doesn't end up being very good, both cards have a strong casual profile and are at the bottom of the market. There's no real downside to buying in now.
Lastly, Bring to Light and Painful Truths are very good cards that have already proven to be Modern playable. They might end up following the Jeskai Ascendancy curve rather than the Eidolon of the Great Revel path, but at some point they will fulfill their potential and you'll wish you had a couple of playsets tucked away.
What about Shambling Vent and the five Battle lands? All of them are retailing between $5 and $7 right now, which is still too high for me to call them a buy. Quite frankly, they aren't seeing enough play to justify that retail price tag right now. I do think that they'll rise once the fetches rotate, especially if there isn't a new set of duals to replace them, but some of that upside is already baked into their current value—most decks only run a few of these, which would normally lead to a retail value in the $2-$3 range instead of $5-$6. Because people understand how important these lands will end up being in a few months, though, prices have stayed relatively high.
That said, I am much less confident about leaving these off my list than I am about most of my calls in this article. Trading for these at current retail prices might end up being the correct move. I'm certainly not selling my playsets of these.
This Week's Trends
- The 2016 Grand Prix promo card is…Stoneforge Mystic!?
I have no idea what to make of this. The fact that WotC is printing a banned-in-Modern card as a GP Promo doesn't make sense to me, but there haven't been enough GP promos for me to feel as though this is any kind of definitive proof that Stoneforge Mystic will be unbanned in Modern. WotC has to like how interactive Modern is right now, and giving people the option to play Stoneforge + Batterskull defense against aggro doesn't seem like a move they'd make. I guess they could try banning Batterskull and seeing if Stoneforge Mystic plus the swords is broken on its surface, but that seems unduly risky to me.
Regardless, Stoneforge Mystic's price should start to climb due to unbanning speculation. If it is unbanned, Batterskull will be the first card to climb unless it is simultaneously banned. After that, look toward the five protection swords as well as Manriki-Gusari—the ultimate sideboard trump card in Stoneforge fights.
- We've had another unconfirmed Oath of the Gatewatch spoiler: Ayli, Eternal Pilgrim. It's a 2/3 legendary creature with deathtouch and the following abilities:
(1): sacrifice another creature: you gain life equal to the sacrificed creature's toughness.
Ayli, if real, is probably not good enough for Modern Soul Sisters. In Standard, she could be good with Liliana, Heretical Healer or perhaps in the Rally the Ancestors combo deck. Either way, I don't see any need to buy anything right now, whether this card is real or not. It's worth noting that foil copies of Edgewalker have disappeared in anticipation, but I don't see that combo doing anything outside of a dedicated Commander deck.
- Foil copies of Painful Truths are nearly gone from the internet, likely a result of Patrick Chapin's latest nugget of analysis. I've been a big Painful Truths fan since the day it was spoiled, so I love the foil as a long-term hold. Even non-foil copies are undervalued at $0.85, as I stated earlier.
- Foil intro pack copies of Pia and Kiran Nalaar also spiked last week. I like the card as a long-term buy, but there's no need to rush out and buy these foils—it's likely that this was a single source buyout, so the price should stabilize a bit in the coming weeks.
- In Standard, Jeskai Black continues to lag behind the field's top tier. Atarka Red and Esper Dragons are still doing well, and other aggro decks are finding a footing as well. R/G Landfall and R/B Dragons put up Top 8 finishes at the SCG Premier IQ in Somerset. Abzan continues to get faster as well. None of these changes have done much to affect the format's prices, though—the entire Standard index continues to trend downward.