I don't know about you, but I expected something to be banned in Standard last week. According to MTGGoldfish, Mardu Vehicles, Saheeli Combo, and the G/B decks currently make up a full 78% of the metagame. Based on the Smuggler's Copter / Emrakul / Reflector Mage ban and the fact that the Pro Tour didn't shake up the metagame as expected, many players felt that WotC would act. Heart of Kiran was expected to be on the chopping block, as was Saheeli Rai.
It didn't happen. Wizards of the Coast chose to ban nothing, which was probably the correct move in retrospect. First of all, I'm not sure you could have banned one card (or even two) and actually fixed the metagame. If you banned Heart of Kiran, for example, than you certainly had to ban Saheeli Rai as well. And if you actually did ban both, over half of all Standard players are suddenly dealing with the fact that their deck has been neutered for the second time in three months.
And to what end? G/B and Aetherworks Marvel would likely take control of the metagame and we'd end up in exactly the same place. There might be a few weeks of fun as players struggled to figure out the newest optimal builds, but a really large portion of the constructed player base would be even further alienated in the process.
WotC seems to understand that the right course of action isn't through heavy use of the banhammer, but by printing more catch-all answers. Magic has become too threat-based over the past couple of years, and games that are all questions and no answers get old very fast. I expect we'll see this development tweak play out over the next few sets as Standard continues to get healthier. I hope so, at least.
In the meantime, we're stuck with the Standard format we have. From a financial point of view, there isn't much to say about the staples in the top three decks. Some players will continue to buy in as the metagame shifts, but it isn't like any of these cards are currently undervalued or underpriced. We all know that Walking Ballista and Heart of Kiran are good, and they're priced as such.
But that doesn't mean that there isn't money to be made in Standard. The best part about a stagnant format is that everyone is waiting for something new to come along and provide them with a fresh way to attack the metagame. It doesn't always happen, but when it does, prices tend to move pretty quickly. There are a lot of people out there who don't really want to build Mardu Vehicles but would immediately buy into, say, a Paradox Engine deck as long as they felt it was good enough to compete.
Unfortunately, I am not a good enough deckbuilder to build a brand new deck that can immediately compete with Standard's top tier. Heck, not even the top pros can do that right now—most of them are playing some variant of the decks that are already winning.
What I can do is analyze Standard's lower rungs in search of some decks that have promise: up-and-coming brews, powerful strategies that have been left for dead, underrated rogue builds, etc.
Here's the thing: all of these decks have warts. If they were good enough to be in Standard's top tier, that would have happened by now. But things can change quickly. One missing piece of innovation, one underrated sideboard card, one subtle shift in the metagame, and bam—Standard becomes a four-headed monster.
So today, we're going to look beyond Standard's best and brightest and see if we can figure out some alternative ways to attack the format. I'm not advising you to go out and buy all of these cards unless you're really feeling lucky, but if we can find some commonalities in Standard's lower tiers, we should be able to identify some under-the-radar spec opportunities. After all, something should eventually break through the format's three-headed logjam. It's up to us to stay ahead of the curve.
U/R and Temur Dynavolt Tower
These decks have been kicking around Standard since Pro Tour Kaladesh in one form or another. Most recently, Mac Blanchard got second place in a StarCityGames.com® Classic with this build:
This is a relatively cheap deck to build, all things considered. Torrential Gearhulk is the only expensive piece, and that's because it's also used in some of the Saheeli builds. Beyond that, Spirebluff Canal is the only card above $6.
Dynavolt Tower is probably too well-known to provide many spec opportunities, but the Tower itself could end up in the $4-$5 range if the deck ends up forging a larger space in the metagame. I also don't hate buying Spirebluff Canal at current retail if you need it. It sees enough play in Modern to justify the current price tag. The commons and uncommons in this deck are also dirt cheap, so you can probably grab them for nickels and dimes if you really want to go deep.
If you're interested in learning more about the different permutations of this list, be sure to check out Adrian Sullivan's column from last week. Some of his brews take advantage of Lumbering Falls (dirt cheap right now) and his current build runs three copies of Thing in the Ice out of the sideboard. Thing in the Ice is a casual favorite, it has an extensive competitive pedigree, and it even shows up in Modern now and then. It's got a glimmer of potential at $5.
Here's another list from the StarCityGames.com® Classic last week. In fact, it took down the whole dang tournament. Feast your eyes on G/R Energy:
- 4 Electrostatic Pummeler
- 4 Bristling Hydra
- 4 Longtusk Cub
- 4 Servant of the Conduit
- 2 Tireless Tracker
- 4 Voltaic Brawler
This deck is incredibly affordable, with only Tireless Tracker and Aether Hub setting you back more than a few dollars. Four-of Electrostatic Pummeler is worth just $0.79, and four-of Bristling Hydra costs a buck. The only other maindeck rare is Game Trail, which is one of the cheapest Shadows lands. I doubt this deck will ever become Tier 1 (there aren't many other energy cards that could push this over the top, nor are more likely to be printed), but if it gains a little more popularity, we could see Pummeler and Hydra spike into the $3-$5 range.
Temur and Four-Color Aetherworks
Here's a Four-Color build from an SCG IQ on March 12th:
- 4 Rogue Refiner
- 4 Servant of the Conduit
- 4 Whirler Virtuoso
- 2 World Breaker
- 4 Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger
And here's a Temur one from an SCG IQ about a month earlier:
- 3 Elder Deep-Fiend
- 4 Rogue Refiner
- 4 Servant of the Conduit
- 3 Tireless Tracker
- 4 Whirler Virtuoso
- 4 Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger
Both decks run four copies of Aetherworks Marvel and Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger, but they diverge in significant ways beyond that. Thrash uses Elder Deep-Fiend, for example, while Houle runs three copies of Chandra, Torch of Defiance while splashing white for Tamiyo, Field Researcher.
Houle's build is newer, but it's pretty clear that all the current versions of Aetherworks are just too inconsistent to break through right now. They'll need another piece, and I'm not quite sure which version will end up being the preferred model if that extra piece is found.
At $16.50, Ulamog is pretty expensive for a card that doesn't see a ton of competitive play anywhere. It's a casual darling, though, so its floor is probably close to $10, even if it never sees another Top 8 at any point.
Aetherworks Marvel is the best spec target regardless. It's just a $6 card right now, it's mythic, and any future Aetherworks deck is going to need four copies even if a better threat than Ulamog shows up. If you're betting on this deck to make a comeback when Amonkhet is released, focus on the namesake card and don't get too cute.
Much like the G/R deck we discussed a few sections ago, I'm not sure how this version ever steals the aggro share of the metagame from the superior Mardu Vehicles deck. Because of that, R/B Aggro will probably continue to exist solely as a budget alternative. I want to exhaust every avenue of inquiry available to us, though, so here we are. Check out this version from an SCG IQ on February 25th:
- 3 Bomat Courier
- 4 Scrapheap Scrounger
- 4 Forerunner of Slaughter
- 3 Inventor's Apprentice
- 4 Weldfast Engineer
- 2 Pia Nalaar
The two most expensive cards in this deck—Chandra, Torch of Defiance and Heart of Kiran—are currently seeing a lot of play in the format's top tier. Ditto Scrapheap Scrounger, which has stayed cheap even though it sees a ton of action already. That doesn't help us out much on our quest to find the undervalued cards.
That's the cheapest that either of these land cycles gets, and all we need is for an R/B (or Grixis, or Jund, etc.) deck of any kind to catch on. Bomat Courier is also interesting, but that's more because it sees play in some Mardu Vehicles and Modern Affinity lists. It's a very interesting buy at just $1.
Want another take on black and red? Check out this sweet Vampires brew that Festus Resendez took to a fifth-place finish at an SCG IQ on March 12th:
- 4 Metallic Mimic
- 4 Scrapheap Scrounger
- 4 Bloodhall Priest
- 4 Falkenrath Gorger
- 2 Gifted Aetherborn
- 3 Hanweir Garrison
- 3 Heir of Falkenrath
- 2 Drana, Liberator of Malakir
- 3 Olivia, Mobilized for War
Again, the lands are your best bet here, and this looks a little too much like that quixotic B/R Vampires deck that was always just a piece or two away back when Shadows over Innistrad came out for my taste. But former pre-sale darlings Drana, Liberator of Malakir and Olivia, Mobilized for War are dirt cheap these days, and most of the other key rares are a buck or less. I can't make a case that the cards in this deck are likely to pay off, but who knows? Maybe Amonkhet will finally let these Vampires take flight.
Here's another interesting deck that's been around for a while. Check out this version from an IQ on March 4th:
Elder Deep-Fiend is a very powerful card. So is Kozilek's Return. Heck, even Prized Amalgam sees play in Modern. This deck hasn't put up many great results recently, but I think it's closer than most on this list to making a comeback.
All three of those cards are potentially solid specs. Prized Amalgam is the best, though. The fact that it's got game in Modern means that it's undervalued at $2.50 regardless. Want to look beyond it? Well, Kozilek's Return has the most versatility, and it could end up at $10-$12 again. The good news here is that any deck with even a red splash can potentially run the powerful sweeper. Oh, and Elder Deep-Fiend shows up in enough rogue brews to make me like it at $2.50 as well.
Dig deep enough and you'll find some pretty interesting brews! Check out the B/W Planeswalkers deck that finished seventh at an IQ on February 26:
B/W was very good last season in Standard, but it hasn't done much lately. I've started to see Gonti, Lord of Luxury cropping up more and more, so it's an interesting buy at just $1.25.
Ob Nixilis Reignited and Sorin, Grim Nemesis are both under $5, and they have some casual demand propping up their floors. Anguished Unmaking and Fumigate are both cheap and powerful role-players that should find a home in Standard at some point. I like Shambling Vent the most, though. $3.50 for a land that sees a good amount of Modern play? Sign me up.
We've more or less run out of decks that have placed in recent tournaments, so I've broadened the field to a few more experimental ideas. Gerry Thompson wrote an interesting article last week with a few new takes on Standard, but most of them are variants on existing decks or permutations of cards that are already in the format's best brews. Not a lot of financial upside there, sadly.
I did want to mention this Jeskai Flash list, however:
Again, most of these cards are known quantities. Gideon, Ally of Zendikar and Heart of Kiran are in Mardu Vehicles, and Walking Ballista is in pretty much everything. But Archangel Avacyn doesn't really have a home right now, and a deck like this could make it a really exciting spec at just $10.99. I wouldn't buy in yet, but it's worth monitoring the tournament results going forward to see if W/U or Jeskai Flash is able to make something of a comeback.
This Week's Trends
There still isn't much movement in Standard right now. Botanical Sanctum is up a bit, but most of the big staples are either stagnant or slowly falling as the community is focused on Modern.
If you're a Standard player planning to do a couple of Modern Masters 2017 drafts over the next few weeks, you should be able to get a good rate trading your winnings in for Standard staples. I don't generally advise trading Eternal cards for Standard spells, but if you don't play Modern, there's no sense in holding onto that singleton Liliana of the Veil or whatever. Find someone willing to give you 120% of retail in trade (you should get a premium when moving an expensive Modern card) and swing a deal.
A few of the cards I wrote about last week spiked in the days after my article ran. Street Wraith and Tarfire were the big ones, which makes sense. You can't play Death's Shadow without them, after all. Both of these cards are common, so dig them out of your bulk if you haven't yet. I'm selling into hype—it's not like Death's Shadow has much more room to grow.
Also up a bit this week: Leyline of Sanctity, Pact of Negation, Eldrazi Temple, All Is Dust, Dark Confidant, Mox Opal, Chalice of the Void, and Ancient Stirrings. It's a great time to sell any extra Modern staples you might have that weren't reprinted in Modern Masters 2017 because demand is so strong right now.
As more and more Modern Masters 2017 cards reach players, the prices will continue to drop. This should continue for the next couple of weeks, but it should level off soon after that. We won't know much about the prices beyond that point until we get a sense of how quickly these packs sell through and how easy they are to re-stock. Trading for Modern Masters 2017 cards at current retail is fine, but I'd hold off another couple of weeks if you're looking to buy.
I've been hearing reports that MM17 boxes are extremely high-variance—some have almost no expensive cards, while others have all five fetchlands, Liliana, Snapcaster Mage, etc. I don't know how true this is, though, because the reporting is all anecdotal and MM17 is a pretty high-variance set to begin with. It's something to watch out for, though, and this reported variance is just another reason why I recommend just buying the staples you need whenever possible instead of relying on opening them in packs.
Reddit had a spicy spoiler a few days ago: a potential Amonkhet card that seems to have a new, flashback-style mechanic. I'd normally tell you to go and buy whatever graveyard hate is currently in Standard, but there really isn't any right now. It might help Delirium, I suppose, so you might want to pick up some of those staples if you've been on the fence and putting it off, but I don't really have any hot spec tips for you at this point. We'll have to see if the leak ends up being real, first!