[This piece was completed late last week. Prices for certain Amonkhet singles may have changed between submission and publication. --Ed.]
I'm excited for Amonkhet, though there are times when it seems like I'm the only one. I get it: Standard has been top-heavy and oppressive for a while now, and all we want from Amonkhet are clear and direct answers to Heart of Kiran; Gideon, Ally of Zendikar; and Saheeli Rai.
Amonkhet will bring change regardless, though, and I expect most of that change to be good. It's too early in the preview season to say exactly how the format will evolve, but it's not just going to be Gideon and friends vs. Saheeli vs. black and green decks forever. Amonkhet has a lot of powerful cards, and Wizards of the Coast has shown a willingness to ban problematic spells if necessary. We just have to trust that things will get better.
That being said, let's analyze Amonkhet with an open mind. Don't forget: when other people are fearful, it's time to get greedy.
Gideon of the Trials - $49.99
You're hiking up a mountain, some trail you've never taken before, and it's rough going. Lots of loose rocks, punishing switchbacks, blistering heat. But look—just ahead, it's the peak! It has to be—all you can see beyond that point is bright blue sky. You guzzle the last of your water, ignore your aching legs, and give those last few hundred yards everything you've got.
But just as you reach that crest…the creeping realization that you aren't even close to the top. It was a trick of geometry, you see, an outcropping that blocked the rest of the mountain. The true peak is still many miles uphill, hundreds of feet above you.
This is the feeling that many experienced upon seeing Gideon of the Trials, imagining another two years of dealing with an overpowered white planeswalker. Gideon of the Trials is not as game-breaking as Gideon, Ally of Zendikar, but it feels like it might as well be. Recency bias and immediate comparisons always factor into card prices, and all anyone can see right now is yet another powerful Gideon, ready to wreak havoc on Standard.
But that's lazy thinking. If Gideon of the Trials had been, say, Ajani of the Trials, I doubt it would be a $50 card right now. In Standard, at least, Gideon's ultimate ability is not likely to make a major difference. If you have Gideon on the battlefield, you're probably going to win the game anyway. His first two abilities are powerful, but neither is exceptional.
That isn't to say that Gideon of the Trials won't see plenty of play, because it will. It's a three-mana planeswalker with three relevant abilities. It's in the right color. It's good in both aggro and control decks. It works well alongside Heart of Kiran, and it's a powerful finisher surrounded by removal and countermagic. I expect Gideon of the Trials to be a format staple…just not the most powerful card in the whole format, like his Zendikari incarnation.
What about in Modern, though? Some people are talking about using Gideon in Ad Nauseam and/or Death's Shadow solely to take advantage of his ultimate ability. This is cute, but I doubt it'll make much of a difference in the top builds. Gideon is harder to cast and arguably worse than Phyrexian Unlife in Ad Nauseam brews, and Death's Shadow is already a pretty tight deck. Ad Nauseam spiked a little after Gideon was spoiled, but I doubt it'll see significantly more play than does already.
Regardless, all this analysis is a tad moot when it comes to the financial part of my review. Gideon of the Trials is a $50 card, and you should never pre-order $50 cards from large Standard sets. Gideon, Ally of Zendikar spent most of its time bouncing back and forth between $20 and $30, and that's the best-case scenario here. You should be looking to sell unless you need a copy ASAP.
As Foretold - $24.99
Before we begin this discussion in earnest, let's remember one of the cardinal rules of Magic finance: neither Legacy nor Modern play has much of an effect on prices during a card's run in Standard. Even if As Foretold ends up as a Tier 1 Modern staple, it'll end up below $10 if it doesn't make a similar impact in Magic's most popular format.
Unless the format ends up in a very weird place, I can't see As Foretold doing anything in Standard. We're many years removed from the sort of format where you can take a turn off to cast this enchantment and then wait around for it to do something. It's a horrible topdeck that doesn't have an immediate impact on the game while requiring you to jump through several hoops in order to reclaim your lost card advantage. By the time you can start casting spells for free, you probably have enough mana to dump your hand anyway. If Standard was the only format in Magic, I'd declare this a future bulk mythic (save the inevitable, temporary SaffronOlive bump).
In Modern, though…wow. As Foretold allows you to cheat out all the suspend cards, and the format is full of other ways to enable this strategy and potentially break the game wide open. Hypergenesis is banned and Living End already has its own deck, but As Foretold is especially good with Ancestral Vision and may even be good enough to enable Restore Balance, Lotus Bloom, and Wheel of Fate. All of these cards have seen some movement this week, with Restore Balance leading the charge.
The smart money is on selling all of this nonsense into hype, though. Even if As Foretold does break Modern, it'll still probably end up in the $10-$15 range. If it doesn't, it's dropping to $5. The suspend cards would end up being the bottleneck in that deck, with Ancestral Visions ending up close to the $100 range. If you think the deck is real, put your money there. I'd like to at least see a decklist first, and in the meantime I'll be trying to trade my copies of Restore Balance and Lotus Bloom for cards that are safer long-term holds. I'm especially bullish on the Khans fetchlands at current retail.
Liliana, Death's Majesty - $24.99
Five-mana planeswalkers give me pause, but I like Liliana, Death's Majesty a great deal. All three abilities are good, and she has potential in current Delirium-style B/G midrange decks as well as (potentially) a more dedicated reanimation strategy. Liliana is also going to be in the mix if an Embalm deck ends up making the leap into Standard.
Again, though, that price tag is hard to pass over. $25 already values Liliana like one of the three to four most impactful cards in the entire format, and that's just so unlikely. She has the upside to end up there, but she also might end up more like Ob Nixilis Reignited, who is currently selling for $3.99 despite seeing occasional play. Stay away if you're risk-averse, but feel free to grab a personal copy or four if you're a fervent believer. Liliana certainly possesses the ability to maintain her current value—we'll just have to wait and see if the metagame develops that way.
Combat Celebrant - $5.99
Mythic rares in the $4-$8 range are always the most interesting from a financial perspective. These cards tend to have a lot of potential while being flawed enough to make us pause for one reason or another. Most of them end up as bulk, but a few will become Tier 1 staples while making a lot of money for speculators in the process.
The upside for Combat Celebrant is clear. Curve some one-drops and maybe a Heart of Kiran into this and you've won the game on the spot. Make them have a blocker or an answer. If they don't, they're dead.
The downside is equally clear, though. Finding a deck that doesn't run Walking Ballista is almost impossible right now, and the existence of that powerful card makes this one feel a little bit silly. I'd probably be on Team Celebrant in a different Standard format, and I suspect it'll be kind of a sexy sleeper toward the end of its run. For now, though, I just can't imagine playing such a borderline card in such a hostile environment. Future bulk rare.
Hazoret the Fervent - $4.99
I'm not feeling Hazoret, either. You must have a crazy-low curve in order to actually attack with this on turn four, and a 5/4 without evasion isn't much of a payoff in the current Standard format. An aggressive mono-red deck might want a few of these on the top of their curve, but there won't be much demand beyond that. I suspect it'll end up in the bulk range before long, and even if I'm wrong, I can't see this card ending up in the double digits. High risk, low upside.
Channeler Initiate - $2.99
Finally—a card I want to buy! A mana creature that turns into a late-game threat? I'm in. Even if you aren't running any other cards that synergize with Channeler Initiate, it's likely to be powerful enough to see significant play for as long as it's legal in Standard. I worry that it'll die to a Walking Ballista now and again, but the fact that you can redirect a counter to another creature if you want should help you navigate those complex battlefield states pretty well.
Bottom line, it's hard for me to imagine that Channeler Initiate won't see play in one or more very good decks. Worst case, it ends up bouncing between $1 and $2. Best case, it's a $6 staple for a long time. I'm happy buying a personal set at current retail.
Curator of Mysteries - $2.99
Cycling is always underrated, and so Curator of Mysteries gives me pause. Even outside of a deck with dedicated payoffs, the cheap cycling cost might make this playable as a flexible midrange or control card. If there is a Tier 1 cycling deck, this Sphinx is almost certainly going to be part of it. As such, the $3 preorder price feels right on the money to me.
I've heard some rumblings about adding Curator of Mysteries to Modern Living End, though, and I just don't see it. It's not enough of an upgrade over what already exists to warrant adding a fourth color to the deck. Feel free to buy this card at retail if you want to screw around with it in Standard, but don't expect it to end up pushing Living End into a higher tier of Modern playability.
Soul-Scar Mage - $2.99
That doesn't mean that Soul-Scar Mage isn't good enough for Standard, though. Aggressive red decks need their one-drops, and this is one of the better ones we've seen in a while. Prowess allows it to be relevant much later in the game than it would be otherwise, and the second ability will help it deal with the Gods and other indestructible roadblocks.
I expect Soul-Scar Mage to end up near $5-$6 for a while as people dream on their aggressive red decks. It'll stay there if the deck is Tier 1, but it'll end up dropping back toward $2-$3 if it isn't. Regardless, grab your playset at current retail if you're a red mage.
Glory-Bound Initiate - $2.49
The raw power is undeniable here, and this is yet another reason why I want to own several playsets of Always Watching going into this coming Standard season. The fact that Glory-Bound Initiate crews Heart of Kiran is also terrific.
As with Combat Celebrant, though, I just can't imagine playing X/1 creatures in a world where Walking Ballista is in every single deck. Heck, even Soul-Scar Mage has a second point of toughness. I'm passing on this one for now, though I'm still hoping that R/W Always Watching ends up being a real strategy.
Hapatra, Vizier of Poisons - $2.49
It's impossible to fully evaluate Hapatra until we see how many Constructed-playable cards force us to place -1/-1 counters on our creatures. If it's something that's naturally happening a lot in whatever the new breed of B/G decks is, Hapatra might end up seeing a decent amount of play. If not, than this is a future bulk rare—the effect simply isn't good enough to build around.
There's plenty of good news for Hapatra fans, though. B/G is (obviously) a very powerful color combination right now, and Channeler Initiate is an easy enabler that is likely to see play regardless. Financially, though, this card is unlikely to break $5 even if it sees a decent amount of play and it has bulk rare downside. I'm staying away.
Throne of the God-Pharaoh - $2.49
I really like Throne of the God-Pharaoh. I suspect it'll see sideboard play in Modern Elves, it'll be considered for a sideboard slot in Affinity, and it'll be beloved in casual and Commander token strategies—attack the open player with all your 1/1 creatures and deal a whole bunch of damage to everybody at the end of your turn.
Is the card good enough for Standard? It'll certainly be considered for the sideboard of Saheeli decks in order to fight against Thalia and Damping Pulse, but its future beyond that is a bit more unclear. It's very bad with Always Watching (a card that all the Standard swarm decks look like they might start building around), and with only one opponent, it's a bit of a win-more most of the time. Throne of the God-Pharaoh is at its best with a ton of mana creatures and/or improvise, but I'm not convinced a deck like that actually wants to spend mana and a card slot on this.
$2.50 is a bit high for casual speculation, and I'm personally going look to buy in closer to $1 a few months from now. The card does have a pretty high floor and a solid long-term future, though, so if you think it'll make an impact in Standard, you should think about buying in now. It's a very low-risk spec as long as you have patience.
Oracle's Vault - $2.49
First you have to cast Oracle's Vault. Then you have to sit there putting bricks on it. Then you have to figure out a way to get something big on top of your library. Oracle's Vault is harder to build around than Aetherworks Marvel, and it's less powerful, too. Casual players will like it, and I could certainly imagine it ending up seeing some fringe/rogue play, but I don't think either contingent will keep it from being a future bulk rare.
Cut//Ribbons - $1.99
I don't understand why more people aren't talking about Cut//Ribbons. Even at sorcery speed (boo!), dealing four damage for two mana is a totally fine deal. It doesn't hit Heart of Kiran or planeswalkers, but it comes attached to what is effectively a free way to end the game out of nowhere. A solid early-game spell that allows me to cut back on my dead-card win conditions? Sign me up every single time.
I don't know how many decks are able to handle a card that requires early access to red mana and late access to black, but at just $2, I'm willing to bet that it finds more than one home. Sign me up for a set at current retail.
Drake Haven - $1.99
Is this our cycling payoff? I'm not sure it'll be good enough, but I sure hope it will be. Regardless, I can't imagine multiple Standard decks wanting Drake Haven, nor will it end up in too many Eternal or Commander brews. It'll be a $4-$5 card if it's in a Tier 1 deck and a bulk rare if it isn't, which doesn't excite me from a financial perspective. I don't love speculating on low-floor, low-ceiling cards, so I'm staying away. You can buy in if you want to build the dedicated Standard cycling deck—just understand that it may not end up being all that competitive.
Failure//Comply - $1.49
There are some corner cases where Failure//Comply might see play—Esper control with Collective Brutality?—but at first glance it seems like a very narrow card that isn't powerful enough for any of the older formats. Remand variants always give me pause, though, and Failure//Comply is able to stop a finisher from landing for two full turns. This is very likely to end up as a bulk rare, but there's an outside shot it ends up as a $2-$3 single-deck staple for a while.
Insult//Injury - $1.49
If Gideon of the Trials ends up dominating Standard, Insult is a pretty good way to fight its +1 ability without losing any card advantage. It's a powerful effect, too, though it's only good if you're ahead on the battlefield and looking to attack. An aggressive red deck might want two or three of these, but it's unlikely to make an impact beyond that. I expect it'll settle in close to $1.
Hazoret's Favor - $0.99
A three-mana enchantment that doesn't do anything by itself? I'm already worried. I suppose Hazoret's Favor helps make some of your early-game threats relevant again while giving you a little bit of potential reach, but I'd rather just play another threat in almost every case. Why couldn't this have given your creatures trample, too? Future bulk rare.
Mouth//Feed - $0.99
I always fall for these “green spell that draws you a bunch of cards if you have a lot of monsters!” traps, and they never work. I'm tempted by Mouth//Feed as well, but a vanilla 3/3 for three is just so far below the curve in Standard that I can't imagine the upside is worth it here. Future bulk rare.
Regal Caracal - $0.99
Regal Caracal reminds me of Angel of Invention, but that card only provides six power and five toughness for 3WW. This one gives you seven power and seven toughness, albeit with fewer additional perks. And hey, Geist-Honored Monk saw some play back in its day, right?
I can't see a white-based midrange or control deck wanting Regal Caracal until Archangel Avacyn has rotated, but it might find a home in some sort of swarm or blink deck. It plays well with Felidar Guardian, Panharmonicon, Eldrazi Displacer, and more.
That's not to say that Regal Caracal is likely to be a format staple, but I can imagine it acting as a fringe player with upside. It's also a Cat lord, so the casual crowd will want their copies. If the foils end up pre-ordering in the $2-$3 range, I'll probably grab a few playsets. Best case, it makes a few surprising appearances in Standard and I can make a quick flip. Worst case, I hold them for a few years and trade them away to Commander players.
Prepare//Fight - $0.99
Good combat tricks can show up in Standard from time to time, and Prepare//Fight seems like it has some potential. Yeah, it looks sort of like an uncommon, but lifelink is really good and it's very, very easy to get a two-for-one out of this. I suspect it'll end up seeing play in a deck or two during its time in Standard. Grab a set if you think you'll use it.
Rags//Riches - $0.99
-2/-2 doesn't do much in the current Standard, so Rags//Riches is going to be very metagame-dependent. If Red Deck Wins does make a comeback, Rags//Riches might end up being a pretty decent control card. It's just not a very good matchup against B/G or Mardu Vehicles. I'll probably try to grab a set at $0.50 just in case it ends up paying off somewhere down the line.
Temmet, Vizier of Naktamun - $0.99
I don't expect U/W Embalm do be a Tier 1 Constructed deck, but the full set isn't out yet, so it's impossible to say for sure. Temmet has all the look of a bulk rare, but pay attention as preview season rolls on. There's an outside shot that this ends up being part of something entirely new.
This Week's Trends
There hasn't been a lot of upward movement in Standard yet, though that should change soon. Splendid Reclamation continues to gain traction thanks to the cycling duals, as has The Gitrog Monster. I still think everybody's favorite Frog Horror has some room left to grow, and I'm a buyer at current retail.
Also up a bit this week: Traverse the Ulvenwald, Always Watching, Dark Intimations, and Collective Brutality. Meanwhile, most of the format's main staples continue to slowly bleed value—Verdurous Gearhulk, Heart of Kiran, and Saheeli Rai are all down about 5%.
As I said earlier, I'm selling both into hype. Ancestral Vision was pretty stable last week, and that's the card most likely to actually pay off with As Foretold. If you want to play the deck, grab those instead of chasing smaller fish.
Also up in Modern: Melira, Sylvok Outcast. I'm not convinced it's enough of a combo with Channeler Initiate to create a whole new Modern deck, but Melira's certainly been good enough for the format before. I'm holding my copies through the end of preview season just in case—Melira shouldn't drop in price anytime soon, and there's an outside shot it'll really pay off in some sort of Jund or Abzan shell.
- 4 Baleful Strix
- 4 Walking Ballista
- 4 Deathrite Shaman
- 1 Eternal Scourge
- 3 Misthollow Griffin
- 2 Leovold, Emissary of Trest
Last, Food Chain is up big in Legacy. The card has been putting up really good results recently thanks to its interaction with Walking Ballista. Bob Huang posted a solid guide to the deck last week, and I suspect a lot of the demand was because of people reading the article and deciding to buy in. Because the demand was natural, I don't expect the price to drop anytime soon.