Amonkhet is right around the corner, and I can't wait to talk about it. Standard really needs a shot in the arm, and I'm really hoping that Amonkhet gives us, like, a big giant pyramid that's too tall for Heart of Kiran to fly over and too strong for Walking Ballista to touch. That's not asking for too much, right?
Preview season won't begin in earnest until after this article will be published, but it still feels wrong to write about Legacy or Modern when all I can think about is cycling and brick counters and weird card frames and holy crap is that Aven Mindcensor?? So consider this my set review preview. We'll talk about the Amonkhet cards we know so far, the mechanics, the Invocations, the full art basics, and more. It's the first week of my Amonkhet analysis, so grab your cat, put on your favorite Bangles tune, and let's get started!
The Rares So Far
The Cycling Duals - $4.99
Much like every card with cycling, the cycling duals are better than you think they are. Control decks are going to be all over these, but they're good enough for aggro players to consider, too. These lands are going to see a ton of play in Standard over the next two years, so there's no excuse not to buy a set of these now. The best cards in this cycle will end up at $6-$7 and the worst will drop to $3, so it's not like you're paying some exorbitant price to buy in early.
Here's the next question: how good are the cycling duals in Modern? The fact that they can be fetched helps a lot. The Temples actually see a decent amount of Modern play, and the cycling duals are going to be better most of the time. This shouldn't affect the price much in the short term, but it does mean that these cards might stay valuable for years to come.
What other decks might these cards help? Well, The Gitrog Monster and Splendid Reclamation are both climbing in anticipation of some kind of crazy Standard brew. I've got to say, I'm a fan of The Gitrog Monster spec at just $1.49 per copy. I've been meaning to sock a few of these away for the long haul anyway, and the casual Standard community loves that Frog Horror more than anything. If it's even remotely viable, people are going to be all over it.
Over in Modern, Life from the Loam surged in price last week thanks to its interaction with these lands. I'm not sure that deck has enough finishing power yet, but it's an intriguing idea. I'm selling Life from the Loam into the hype, but keep your eyes on the top tables of the next few Modern events just in case.
Aven Mindcensor - $3.99
Aven Mindcensor would have been format-defining last season, but I'm not convinced it'll do all that much in the current version of Standard. It's good against Attune with Aether and Traverse the Ulvenwald, but only on or after turn 3, and it's not exactly game-breaking regardless. The 2/1 flying body for three mana is far below the curve these days, too. Aven Mindcensor is worth it if you're Stone Raining people off fetchland activations, but it's a fringy sideboard card at best without them in the format.
Aven Mindcensor sees play in Modern, but so do a bunch of $2-$3 cards that are also currently in print. Modern just does not provide enough demand to affect the price of large-set rares all that much. I'm in on these if they drop down to a buck, but there's no way I'm buying at current retail.
Prowling Serpopard - $3.99
Prowling Serpopard is probably not going to be a major player in Standard. For starters, counterspells just aren't that big a deal right now. There aren't very many control decks, and the ones that do exist tend to avoid using more than a small handful of situational counters.
Beyond that, Prowling Serpopard is outclassed at the three-drop slot by Tireless Tracker; Rishkar, Peema Renegade; and Nissa, Voice of Zendikar. It might find a home once all of those things rotate, but it's a sideboard card at best right now.
Could Prowling Serpopard find a home in Modern? Yeah, maybe, but if I'm not recommending Aven Mindcensor, a card that we know is good in Modern, how can I recommend buying a rare that has a much lower chance of paying off? Sadly, I'm selling this awesome little Cat Snake at current retail.
Glorybringer - $2.49
Well, it's not quite Thundermaw Hellkite (that thing was much better at winning out of nowhere), but the fact that Glorybringer has haste gives me pause. It's a little Flametongue Kavu-esque, right? Drop your Dragon, swing at a planeswalker, exert it to kill a creature...yeah, that's got some play to it, all right. I'm not sure if it'll find a home, but the $2.50 buy-in isn't bad if you want to take a flier (pun intended) on this.
Oh—and if you don't have a playset of Always Watching, buy one ASAP. If there are any top-tier exert cards, they'll be absolutely broken with that enchantment and the card will spike pretty hard. If not, you'll still be able to find someone at your local game store who will want to make the interaction work in their casual deck. It's the kind of low-floor spec I love.
Archfiend of Ifnir - $1.99
Archfiend of Ifnir is the buy-a-box promo for Amonkhet, so I want to make sure I give it it's due. It looks like a big dumb do-nothing at first glance, but the fact that it has cycling makes me think that it might actually be a playable card in Standard. Cycling means that in the roughly 60% of cases where Archfiend of Infnir won't do anything, you can just toss it for something else. And since its best-case scenario is so good, that kind of flexibility becomes powerful.
Archfiend if Ifnir looks like a build-around, but it's good with generically powerful cards like Collective Brutality and other cards with cycling. It becomes very good if we get Street Wraith or Edge of Autumn or any other card with an alternative cycling cost. I can easily imagine Archfiend of Ifnir ending up as a bulk rare, but it has a fairly high ceiling as well. I'm holding off buying for now, but I'll probably grab a set if other good cycling cards are printed.
Amonkhet's Masterpieces are here, and they've caused quite a stir. Wizards of the Coast has made some bold decisions before—the 8th Edition card frame, split cards, flip cards, double-sided cards—but the Invocation frames feel especially distinctive. For one, they're going to be the first tournament-legal cards that don't have either a black or white border.
They're also nearly impossible to read unless you squint really, really hard.
Community reaction to the Invocations hasn't been uniformly negative, though. The people who don't like them really don't like them, which makes it seem like everyone agrees that they are ugly and bad. Not so. I've talked to plenty of regular players who are excited to collect the Invocations. I also suspect that the Invocations are going to look a lot better in person than they do online. Oh – and nobody hates change more than Magic players, so the more we get used to the Invocation frame, the more we'll probably like them.
That being said, I can't imagine a world where the Invocations are as popular as the Masterpieces from either Battle for Zendikar or Kaladesh. A certain number of people are never going to like the Invocations at all, and that number might end up being a pretty large portion of the foil-loving player base. The Masterpiece Series works best when collectors are willing to pay a premium in order to get something special, and I suspect that multiplier will be a lot lower for these than it was back in Kaladesh. After all, the sorts of people who tend to shell out for premium cards like these are the same people panning them right now.
What does this tell me? Well, not only are we going to see some pretty cheap Invocations, but I suspect they'll have a lower-than-normal ability to suppress the value of the set's Standard-legal cards. And if the Invocations lose enough value, then Amonkhet's chase rares will have an average price higher than comparable cards from both Kaladesh and Battle for Zendikar.
But there's no need to work in a vacuum. Here are the 25 reprinted Invocations and their current retail prices:
- Force of Will - $300
- Cryptic Command - $100
- Mind Twist - $80
- Containment Priest - $80
- Wrath of God - $60
- Daze - $60
- Dark Ritual - $60
- Pact of Negation - $60
- Spell Pierce - $60
- Counterbalance - $60
- Counterspell - $60
- Stifle - $50
- Diabolic Intent - $50
- Entomb - $50
- Consecrated Sphinx - $50
- Austere Command - $50
- Aven Mindcensor - $50
- Loyal Retainers - $50
- Maelstrom Pulse - $50
- Worship - $45
- Chain Lightning - $45
- Vindicate - $45
- Divert - $40
- Attrition - $30
- Aggravated Assault - $30
This gives us a current average Invocation value of $64.60. I wanted to see how this compared to Kaladesh, so I added up that set's 25 reprint Inventions (ignoring the Gearhulk cycle) and averaged them together. I came out with an average Invention value of $67.52, which is only a little bit higher than where we are with Amonkhet right now. This tells me that the Invocations are likely to keep dropping unless they pick up a lot of new fans over the next few weeks.
But we can't stop our analysis there. Kaladesh's Inventions include a number of cards that are expensive in any form, like Mox Opal and Crucible of Worlds. How do the Invocations match up on this level?
Not especially well, it turns out. If you were to buy the cheapest available NM version of every card reprinted as an Invocation (again, we're talking about the standard printing, not the Invocation version), it would cost you $351, an average of $14 per card. Do the same for the non-Invention versions of the 25 reprints from Kaladesh, and it would run you $547—an average of almost $22 per card.
So to recap, here's what we know:
1) Averaged out, the current Invention premium is about 300%.
2) Averaged out, the current Invocation premium is about 460%.
3) Everyone seems to really love the look of the Inventions.
4) A much smaller number of players really love the look of the Invocations.
This analysis isn't perfect. Spell Pierce is a $0.50 card, for example, but it's played in enough competitive decks that the Invocation price is likely to stay fairly high. By and large, though, I expect that we'll see the Invocation prices drop by at least 50% across the board. I'm especially bearish on Force of Will: the Judge version and the Eternal Masters foil are both significantly cooler, and I suspect that most people willing to lay out several hundred bucks for a premium version of this card agree. I also doubt that Aggravated Assault, Worship, and Divert will find enough fans to keep them above the $20 mark for long.
Are there any Invocations that might be worth buying at current retail? Pact of Negation is my favorite spec by a wide margin. The normal version of this card is currently sold out at $50, so you're just paying an extra $10 for the Invocation. How can you lose? I also suspect that Daze is going to look gorgeous in person, borders notwithstanding.
The Full-Art Basic Lands
Also returning in Amonkhet: full-art basic lands! But instead of getting one in every booster like in Battle for Zendikar, you've only got a 25% shot at opening one in a given pack.
There will be four different versions of each basic, only one of which is full-art. How much are these lands going to be worth? Well, let's see if we can extrapolate a price based on the full-art basics in Battle for Zendikar.
Luckily for us, this is pretty easy. In Battle for Zendikar, the best full-art basics are worth $0.39 and the worst are $0.25. So the Amonkhet versions are going to be worth four times as much because they're four times as rare, right?
Not so fast. If Amonkhet distributes the lands as we suspect (a cycle of four with only one being full art), then they'll be exactly as rare as a given Plains or Island or whatever from BfZ. It's true that there won't be as many of them, but it's not like the demand is going to be four times greater—the BfZ full-art lands are still readily available and equally legal in all formats. There may be an initial period where demand outstrips supply, but that's likely to fade pretty quickly. I also suspect that there might be full-art lands in every set from now on, which could make the whole endeavor feel less special.
If you want these, I'd hold out and try to acquire them for about a quarter each. That's probably going to be the floor on full-art lands. I suspect it's probably close to their ceiling as well.
This Week's Trends
It was another quiet week in Standard. Traverse the Ulvenwald keeps rising in price, and there were small gains for The Gitrog Monster and Splendid Reclamation like we talked about earlier. Dark Intimations is also trending up a bit now that people are prepping for the release of a Bolas planeswalker card.
On the other side of the coin, the format's big staples — Verdurous Gearhulk; Gideon, Ally of Zendikar; Torrential Gearhulk; Heart of Kiran; Saheeli Rai — have lost between five and ten percent of their value since the end of last week.
Expect that drip-drip-drip to end very soon. WotC is going to announce a bunch of sweet new cards, and people will be excited for Standard again. If you want to buy any of the Tier 1 staples this spring, this is a pretty good day to do it.
On the other side of the spectrum, Modern is absolutely booming right now. If you were skeptical about Modern Masters driving interest in the format, just take a look at these numbers. People are opening packs and then hopping online to buy cards in order to finish their decks.
Thanks to the cycling duals, Life from the Loam was actually the week's biggest Modern gainer. As I said earlier, I'm very skeptical about this deck actually being good and I'm selling into the hype.
I feel similarly about the major spikes that Living End and Fulminator Mage saw last week. Cycling may be back, but I'm not sure that the Living End deck will actually get better than it is right now. Sell these cards into the current price spike.
Interestingly enough, some of the biggest risers are from Modern Masters 2017 itself. Liliana of the Veil, Scalding Tarn, Snapcaster Mage, Verdant Catacombs, Tarmogoyf, Marsh Flats, Misty Rainforest, and Arid Mesa are all up from last week. This makes sense—nobody wanted to miss the price floor, so once the price started to go up, everyone who didn't end up opening these cards in their box all decided to buy in at once.
Last week, my advice was to buy these cards ASAP. This week, my advice is to hold off if you missed that initial price floor. It looks like there will be another wave of MM17 distribution, and these prices will tail off a little bit once everyone gets distracted by Amonkhet. These cards might not be as cheap as they were the week after MM17's initial release, but I doubt they'll keep climbing over the short term.
At this point, I expect the community to shift its focus back toward Standard, which should mean that these Modern prices will level off before long. This might be the last great opportunity for a few months to sell your extra Modern cards at a premium. If you're a buyer, wait until later this summer if you can. Once people get excited about Amonkhet, prices will start to drop.
Over in the world of Eternal and Casual play, both Fluctuator and Preacher spiked last week. Fluctuator is obviously fantastic in a casual cycling deck, though I'm not sure it'll stay at $15—it seems more like an $8-$10 card to me. If you're into this sort of speculation, why not grab Lightning Rift and Astral Slide? They're both easy enough to find at $0.25, and they could end up at $2-$3 thanks to increased casual demand.
As for Preacher, well, it's a Reserved List card that's actually fun to play with, so the real surprise is that it hadn't happened already. SCG still has a couple of Italian copies in stock at $6.75, though, so the demand seems limited to a single buyout of the English stock. It'll probably settle in at $15 when all is said and done, as the real-world demand probably hasn't changed all that much.