Standard is in a really exciting place at the moment.
One week ago, Kaladesh used the SCG Tour® to prove that it is going to be one of the most impactful Standard sets in a long time. One week from now, Pro Tour Kaladesh will unleash a flurry of new top tier brews and cement the nascent metagame. At the risk of using a metaphor that's been on my mind a lot this weekend (fingers crossed that my coastal Carolina town is still standing by the time you read this!), we're in the eye of Standard's rotational hurricane right now. So much is still in flux—great news for those of us who seek opportunities in the marketplace.
Are there any bargains still lurking in the depths of Kaladesh? Should you be selling the cards that did well last weekend, or are they still on the rise? And will Chandra, Torch of Defiance ever be worth her price tag? Let's find out.
The Helicopter in the Room
If we want to talk about Kaladesh's impact on Standard, our discussion can only start in one place: Smuggler's Copter.
After several weeks of hype, Kaladesh's most exciting Vehicle lived up to its lofty expectations. It's not often you see a Standard card go from $2 (pre-order price) to $18 (current retail), but the Copter proved itself the frontrunner in the race to become the format's newest lynchpin.
Powerful rares often emerge early in a format—think Siege Rhino in Khans of Tarkir and Boros Reckoner in Gatecrash —but going a perfect 32 for 32 in the SCG Tour® Top 8 last weekend is absolutely bonkers. Literally every deck at those top tables was running a full complement of Copters in their maindeck. That's unheard-of.
Should you sell your extra Copters now, or can a fall set rare actually maintain an $18 price tag if it continues to see this much play? Well, if every deck in the format actually has to play four Smuggler's Copters for the next eighteen months, I don't think the price will drop all that much. A lot of Kaladesh will be opened, but it won't be enough to cover all that demand.
I can't imagine that's what actually happens, though. Smuggler's Copter is quite good, and it will continue to see a lot of play, but the format will adjust to fight it. Ultimately I suspect that Smuggler's Copter will probably see play in two or three top decks, but it won't be in every single brew for the next year and a half. Between that and the fact that the supply of Kaladesh will continue to grow as people crack packs and draft over the next six months, I expect Smuggler's Copter's price to end up closer to the $7-$10 mark. If you aren't playing with your Copters right now and you're not planning to, sell them into the unrelenting hype. The odds of that card being $18 one month from now are very, very low.
Keeping a set of Copters for yourself isn't the worst plan, though—I can't imagine the format will reach a point where Smuggler's Copter isn't very good, and it will likely enter a period of equilibrium based on anti-Copter tech. In other words, if people stop running anti-Copter cards because Copter shows up less, the opportunity will arise for Copter to make a comeback.
And unlike previous first-week all-stars, Smuggler's Copter is a two-drop artifact that is effective in almost every style of deck. Despite all the financial trends working to lower the price of Smuggler's Copter, its sheer power should keep it in demand for a long time to come.
What cards work best with Smuggler's Copter? Veteran Motorist and Depala, Pilot Exemplar are obvious choices, and there's a reason why W/R Aggro and W/R Vehicles decks were so successful in the first-week metagame. Selfless Spirit, Pia Nalaar, and Toolcraft Exemplar also showed their worth.
Fairgrounds Warden has been overlooked a bit since it's an uncommon, but it's effectively a removal spell that powers up a Smuggler's Copter. Fish them out of your bulk and stick 'em in your binder—someone will want to trade for a set.
The cat is out of the bag on all of those cards, though—W/R Vehicles has been all over the internet since it took down the Open last weekend. The real question is how the format will adjust to the dominance of Smuggler's Copter going forward. How the heck can we fight that thing, and which cards might see major gains thanks to their abilities to blast a bunch of Copters out of the sky?
According to Gerry Thompson, the best two indirect options right now are Ishkanah, Grafwidow and Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet. This would naturally seem to lead us toward a G/B Delirium-type strategy, which seems pretty strong right now. Neither Kalitas nor Ishkanah has spiked recently, so they're both relatively cheap at the moment. Not only might these be nice personal Standard pick-ups right now, but they could pay huge dividends as spec purchases if either card breaks out at the Pro Tour.
In terms of more direct solutions, red seems to have it best with cards like Harnessed Lightning and Weaver of Lightning (kills Pilots). Both are likely worth pulling out of your bulk going forward. Ditto Essence Extraction, which could give black a solid answer to opposing Copters. Archangel Avacyn is also a pretty decent way to deal with Smuggler's Copter, and she has the benefit of being incredibly powerful in plenty of other situations as well.
What isn't good against Smuggler's Copter? Sorcery-speed removal and planeswalkers. Not only can't planeswalkers remove Copters, but Copters are great at taking planeswalkers out and preventing them from taking over the game. Chandra, Torch of Defiance might have been worth her $45 price tag in another Standard format, but barring some crazy tech at the Pro Tour, I cannot see her making an impact until the Copter scourge is a little more under control.
Obviously, “sell Chandra” is easy advice—everyone can look at the results from last week and know that she is unlikely to maintain her current value, and it will likely prove difficult to find a buyer. This doesn't mean you should just throw your Chandras into a drawer for the next year and a half, though. If you truly believe that Chandra will have no place in the metagame, though, you know that she isn't just overpriced at $45—she's probably overpriced at anything above $15. Can you find someone to take a Chandra off your hands at $20 right now? What about $30? Absolutely, right?
Too many finance-conscious players are a slave to current retail prices. They're too slow to cut bait on dropping cards, and too eager to trade into something with a weak future just because they're presented with a “deal.” If you're a smart trader, you should be thinking one, two, three months into the future and be as aggressive as you can be in making deals. It's possible that Chandra, Torch of Defiance will be the breakout star of the Pro Tour and trading her away at fifty cents on the dollar is a terrible mistake, but if you're confident that a card isn't going to be good, you shouldn't be afraid to make a “bad” deal and take advantage of the current lag in awareness.
Does this mean that all planeswalkers are worth a panic-sell? Not necessarily. Liliana, the Last Hope can come down quicker than Chandra and take down any one-toughness creatures that might help Crew the Smuggler's Copter. I also like Nissa, Vital Force, which Brad Nelson says continues to over-perform for him in testing despite the oppression of Smuggler's Copter. Gideon, Ally of Zendikar also seems strong alongside Copters and aggressive white cards.
Planning for the Pro Tour: Other Plans of Attack
Financially, the best way to prepare for the Pro Tour is to try to figure out how the best innovators in the game might attack the format in a whole new way. Traditionally, the aggro decks are found early on in testing (R/W Vehicles, say) and we leave it to the professionals to find the right lines for combo and control. If aggro continues to dominate next week, prices aren't likely to go much higher—how many more dollar signs can you realistically tack onto the price of a Smuggler's Copter, after all? But if control or combo has a great day, there's some potential to make serious bank.
True Tier 1 combo is rare these days, but Kaladesh might prove an exception. Aetherworks Marvel and Aetherflux Reservoir are the two engine cards with the biggest potential, and both showed glimmers of incredible potential on the SCG Tour® last week. Aetherworks Marvel is a touch expensive for a shot-in-the-dark spec buy, but it should double in price if it breaks out at the Pro Tour—look out for it early on Day 1. If Aetherflux Reservoir shows up in force, look out for supporting mythics—Crush of Tentacles could be the card that benefits the most financially. I also like Glint-Nest Crane, an uncommon that could be the key to a bunch of different combo or control decks.
Be aware of Torrential Gearhulk as well. Current wisdom is that blue is underpowered in Kaladesh Standard, partially because it doesn't have that many ways to favorably interact with an opposing Smuggler's Copter. If blue control does make an impact, Torrential Gearhulk is my pick for the likely culprit. I'm not going anywhere near it at current retail ($10) unless I see it doing some serious work on the livestream, though. If you're going to buy one of these, I like Noxious Gearhulk the best—it's $3 cheaper than its blue brethren, and it actually looks like it has a home in the current metagame.
Another control card to watch out for: Emrakul, the Promised End. It goes over the top of everything, and Emrakul could end up as the finisher of choice in B/G Delirium, U/x Control, and in Aetherworks Marvel brews. Eldritch Moon was under-opened compared with Kaladesh, and Emrakul has a shot at maintaining its value a lot longer than most of the newer cards. At just $18, I don't hate picking them up now, either...
It's worth remembering that Standard speculation is far different now than it was even a year or two ago. Things happen so quickly now, especially close to a Pro Tour. Prices tend to peak on the Sunday/Monday after a PT and continue to drop steadily after that. It used to be smart to wait until late in Day 2 before speculating in order to make sure that the cards you're buying have actually performed up to par. If you wait that long now, though, you're basically buying at the top of the market.
These days, the right play is often to buy in early on Day 1—but only if you can identify a new strategy being utilized by one or more of the major teams. You can't afford to wait until the deck truly proves itself, but you also don't want to end up with some rogue deck that only one or two players are going to pilot to a losing record.
You are unlikely to make money speculating on non-mythic rares. Smuggler's Copter is an exception—it's a colorless two-drop that can go in any deck, which is part of why I singled it out in my set review. If you're going to speculate, look for mythics, especially splashy ones that look great on camera. One or two of these $10 mythics could hit $25-$30 if everything breaks right.
This is a high-risk strategy, though, and I don't recommend it for anyone who doesn't do a lot of quick flipping already. Most of us normal players should probably refrain from major speculation during the Pro Tour altogether.
What should we do instead? Be smart about what you want to build, and use the PT as a way to see how the pros attack those specific strategies. If you know you want to play combo, or delirium, or control, figure out what cards are essential for the deck now and buy them before the PT bump. Focus on cards from older sets—they're cheaper right now, and they've got more potential ground to gain. If your deck makes it onto the livestream, try to get a list as soon as you can and see if you can beat the speculators to the punch.
This Week's Trends
We've talked extensively about Standard already, so here's a quick look at some of what's happening in the other formats and the community at large:
Whether or not you believe in Platinum Emperion, the market sure does. For the third week in a row, the card continues to climb. The current floor is probably somewhere in the $18-$20 range, and the demand isn't speculator-driven—people want to build and play with the deck in Modern. I'm a seller at $20—it can't go much higher unless it enters the top tier of Modern-playable decks—but I wouldn't expect the sort of burst price bubble that can happen during a purely speculation-related buyout. Sell, but don't panic-sell.
The Reserved List card Mana Web roughly doubled in price last week, likely due to a buyout. I've never actually seen this card in play, and StarCityGames.com® still has a bunch of SP and MP copies available for less than “current retail,” so you can grab a set or two of these if you think it's the future of Legacy or something. Personally, I'm incredibly skeptical. Sell into any hype that materializes.
After last week's MTGO panic, WotC decided to make treasure chests tradeable and released more detailed information about their expected value. Based on the research done by a couple of precocious Redditors, the current “sell price” EV of a chest is 2.52 tix and the “buy price” EV is 1.9 tix. If these numbers hold, you can make a strong argument that the prize payout in almost all of the Constructed leagues has actually improved due to the WotC changes. It's likely that these numbers will drop a bit once the chests put older cards into circulation and the supply increases, and the redemption stuff is still concerning, but I still believe that the panic in the market last week was an overreaction. I still think that buying into MTGO right now is fine.
Comments from Last Week
Does the Duel Commander format drive the price of singles?
If you haven't checked it out yet, Duel Commander is a homebrew format designed to tweak the rules/ban list of Commander so that it makes for effective 1v1 games. Duel Commander, for example, has twenty-point life totals (down from 30 in the latest update) and a ban list that focuses more on fast mana and oppressive, cheap Commanders like Edric, Spymaster of Trest and Derevi, Empyrial Tactician.
Right now, I don't think Duel Commander has any effect on card prices. I play a decent amount of 1v1 Commander, but I don't do it competitively, so the normal ban list works fine—I just shuffle up one of my multiplayer decks and battle. This is what most people do, I think, because keeping track of an entirely separate ban list and rules structure doesn't really make sense unless you're playing in a tournament with something on the line or you have a regular enough Duel Commander playgroup that the decks start to get tweaked around 1v1 action.
It might be worth speculating on cards that are better in Duel Commander if your LGS starts to run Duel Commander events or it starts being adopted more as, say, a Grand Prix-level side event, but the fact that people can just battle their existing Commander decks and fight without worrying about new rules is likely keeping the format from breaking through.
Between “Standard is too expensive!” and “My Standard cards don't hold enough value!” will players ever be satisfied?
- Andrew Weisel
There's an old joke about how WotC could put $20 bills in every booster pack and the community would complain about how they were folded. This isn't to say that the player base doesn't have valid complaints from time to time, but it can be hard to separate them from the anger and hurt feelings that seem to bubble up every time something changes. On that level, I don't think the players will ever be satisfied. Things will keep changing—sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse—and we will all keep adapting.
Personally, I think that Magic is better when Standard is on the cheaper side. There are fewer spec opportunities, but it allows more people to actually play the game. Cheaper Standard formats tend to be more diverse as well—cards get expensive when every good deck runs half of the same spells.
All I ask is that the vast majority of rares I open be useful somewhere, even if it's in a casual format. Even if Standard is awesome, opening packs from a severely underpowered set like Dragon's Maze just feels awful. I personally preferred the pre-mythic world where there were more mid-priced cards and fewer ultra-expensive staples, but I think most players prefer their booster packs to be a little bit closer to a lottery ticket. I think the Masterpieces could prove to be the best of both worlds, but it's too early to tell yet. Ask me again in a year or so!