When Mark Rosewater promised that announcement week would be unlike anything in Magic history, he sure wasn't kidding. Between the new block structure, the product announcements, the Magic Duels discontinuation, the Pro Tour changes, and the Standard banning, we've got a lot to talk about this week. Instead of taking a deep dive into any one announcement, I'm going to write a little bit about everything that happened last week. It's a lot to cover, but it's incredibly important stuff. Let's get started!
Block Structure Changes
The second set in Ixalan block will be the last small set ever printed. Well, except for supplemental sets. And potential future changes. So…yeah, we'll see. For now, though, Magic will enjoy three large sets each year plus a large core set every summer.
As a player, I'm stoked about this change. Large sets are more fun to draft, and throwing a greater number cards at Standard each quarter is a great way to keep the format from getting stagnant. I also think this change is good news from a player acquisition perspective. Core sets are a great way to get new players into the game, and many on again/off again players are intimidated by re-starting during the middle of a block that they didn't play from the beginning. By removing this barrier to entry, it's possible that we'll start to see the player base start to creep up again. This would be good news for the value of your collection.
From a financial perspective, this change could lead to slightly higher Standard prices going forward. The math to back this up is pretty simple: the number of cards in Standard is going up, but the number of cards that will be good in Standard probably won't change. This means that the average person will either have to open more packs in order to get what they want, or (more likely) a similar number of packs will be opened and the prices for chase cards will rise a bit.
Right now, there are 190 rares and 54 mythics added to Standard each year. After the changes, and assuming that future big sets are the same size of current big sets, that number will increase to 216 and 60—an increase of 14% more rares and 11% more mythics. Granted, some of these additional mythics are going to be core set reprints, but a 10% price increase across the board based on this change alone seems like a reasonable prediction.
But we can't stop there. Distribution for the Masterpiece Series was also significantly modified this week, and only one set each year will have Masterpieces now instead of all four. While some people think that this change was a WotC overreaction to the community's dislike of the Amonkhet Invocations, I'm pretty sure that the company line is actually closer to the truth.
Quite simply, there just aren't that many Modern and Legacy staples that are worth reprinting over and over and over again, especially since WotC is doubling down on releasing ever more Masters sets. The more of this kind of stuff you do, the more your returns will diminish. By keeping Masterpieces to once a year, they can make them feel exciting for a lot longer.
One result of this change is that current Masterpieces are likely to increase in value. Since there won't be an overwhelming number of these going forward, all of the current ones are likely to feel more special to the sorts of players who enjoy collecting expensive shiny things. Masterpieces also a much safer hold now, since the chance of any given Masterpiece being reprinted in a slightly different form has just gone down considerably. If you've been on the fence about buying in on these for a while, I'd make plans to do it before the end of the summer.
More importantly, the lack of Masterpieces in three out of four sets is likely to increase Standard prices by quite a bit. Standard's terrible, horrible, no good, very bad year has been a drag on prices, sure, but so has the fact that 20-30% of a booster box's expected value lies in whatever Masterpieces may or may not lurk inside. As we go forward, we have to be very conscious of the fact that the Standard staples in Masterpiece sets are going to be noticeably cheaper than the staples from Masterpiece-free sets. Combine this with (hopefully) renewed interest in the format, and we could be looking at some significantly pricier Standard formats over the next year or two.
September 20, 2017 – Ixalan is released, complete with Pirates and Dinosaurs! Normally I'd tell you to load up on existing Pirates and Dinosaurs, but there really aren't many worth thinking about. Ramirez DePietro? Sky Pirates? You might as well.
There are a lot of hints that this will be a somewhat tribal-centric block, not the least of which were the fairly convincing-looking leaks that hit the internet last week. I hate leaks, and I won't be talking much about these cards unless WotC confirms their authenticity, but I will say that the set seems sweet based on everything I know about it so far.
November 7, 2017 – We now have a release date for Iconic Masters. We also know that its focus will be more on iconic creature types—Angels, Dragons, etc.—than iconic spells like Force of Will or Mana Drain. If you've got a ton of casual creatures from Magic's most iconic tribes kicking around, you might want to move them pretty soon. This is shaping up to be a pretty casual set, and I suspect it'll be disappointing to a lot of entrenched and competitive players. Just remember: not every expansion in Magic (especially supplemental ones) is aimed at every player. If you don't like this one, you don't have to buy it.
November 10, 2017 – Duel Decks: Merfolk vs. Goblins is released. Hmm…tribal duel decks, tribal Commander decks, a tribal focus in the fall Masters set…at this point, can we really doubt that Ixalan will be tribe-centric? More importantly, there are a lot of financially relevant Merfolk cards as well as an expensive enabler (Aether Vial) that could easily show up here as well. Keep this in mind as you buy and sell Merfolk cards leading up to the decklist reveal this fall.
November 24, 2017 – I had hoped we'd seen the last of the From the Vault series, but From the Vault: Transform will be here later this year, complete (I assume) with its frustrating foiling process. There aren't many double-sided cards worth reprinting, so expect to see all of the Magic Origins flip-walkers, the key cards from Innistrad block (Huntmaster of the Fells, Delver of Secrets) and, possibly, some of the better cards from Shadows over Innistrad. Avacyn, Angel of Hope, maybe?
Expect the foil and non-foil prices for these cards to all drop. It's worth noting that WotC confirmed that this set won't have any of the proto-flip cards from Kamigawa block, so your ill-advised Erayo, Soratami Ascendant specs are all safe.
December 8, 2017 – Unstable, the third Un-set, will drop just in time for the holidays. My guess is that supply for this one will be pretty low, and boxes should remain a pretty good hold for a while—just as they were with Unglued and Unhinged. Those earlier boxes are expensive these days, but the price is going to surge even higher as we approach Unstable's release date because some wealthy players are going to want to do a full block draft. If you want to get your packs, get them now.
I also wouldn't be surprised if we see small spikes for earlier Un-set staples and full-art lands as the community spotlight heads in that direction and newer players are introduced to cards like B.F.M. and Infernal Spawn of Infernal Spawn of Evil for the first time. Want some good trade fodder for the end of the year? Grab these cards now.
March 16, 2018 – Masters 25 releases, giving us our third Masters set in about twelve months. This set is probably going to be a heck of a lot closer to what most of you are imagining Iconic Masters to be, and I'm sure I'll do a long prediction article for it at some point. I suspect it'll end up being pretty close to Eternal Masters in form and content, though hopefully without that surprising second print run. Expect a flurry of "Will WotC reprint Reserved List cards???" speculation, as well as the inevitable surge of disappointment when Aaron Forsythe confirms that they will not be doing that.
April 28, 2018 – Dominaria brings us back to the plane that started it all. If the marketing is done right, this set will bring back a lot of lapsed players. At some point between now and then, it might be worth picking up some of the odd casual favorites that will certainly be referenced in this set: Mishra, Artificer Prodigy; Skyship Weatherlight; etc. For the most part, though, it's still too early to say.
Magic Digital Changes
We still don't have a lot of information about what Magic Digital Next will look like, but I was surprised to see Magic Duels get such an abrupt axe. It's worth remembering that Duels of the Planeswalkers—the precursor to Magic Duels—was one of the driving forces behind the player base explosion that happened back at the start of the decade.
Based on this. I'm even more convinced that the next product isn't intended to replace Magic Online but is instead a Duels-esque push toward capturing new and lapsed console and PC gamers and bringing them to something that is similar to (but distinct from) the paper game. If this happens, I expect a lot of people will panic about "the death of the real game," but a strong digital product is the best way to bring people into the TCG. And with the MMO scheduled as well, it sure does look like WotC is moving in a direction where the card game is just one way to explore the worlds and characters they design. Moving from a game-only mentality to a unified world of Magic products would be a major change, but it's one that has me pretty excited for the game's long-term prospects.
Banned in Standard
Aetherworks Marvel is gone, and everyone who didn't own a copy of Temur Aetherworks is breathing a sigh of relief. I'm glad that the ban happened, but I'm also hoping that this is the last Standard banning in a long, long time.
Initially, the new metagame looks like it will include some combination of Mardu Vehicles, B/G Constrictor (Energy and Delirium), Mono-Black Zombies, U/R Control, and Temur Energy. Gerry Thompson, who won the last Pro Tour with Zombies, believes that it's the best deck in post-Marvel Standard. Tom Ross backs him up. Brad Nelson gives the edge to Mardu and is convinced that U/R Control is a trap.
Financially, the lack of movement so far has surprised me. Chandra, Torch of Defiance is up a bit, but the rest of the non-Marvel staples in the format have stayed flat as most people wait to see how the new format will shake out. Or, perhaps, they're just tired of buying into a post-ban format that just ends up being ruled by yet another degenerate strategy.
If we use MTGO prices as a guide, the changes were a lot clearer. Most of the key non-Marvel cards in Standard were up between 20-50% last week, including the following:
Paper Magic usually moves in a similar direction—it just takes longer. If you want to buy into Standard this summer, do it now.
Want a deck recommendation that's financially prudent? Zombies seems like a great place to be. Thompson probably knows the deck better than anyone, and I trust him when he says that it will be at the top of the heap going forward. Even if he's wrong, it's likely to pick up quite a bit of market share—in Aetherworks Standard, it was down to just eight percent of the MTGO metagame. Thompson also recommends Westvale Abbey as a card that will gain utility with Marvel gone, which is a buy that I really like. Worst case, the card is a top-tier casual favorite.
The best card against Zombies is Chandra, Flamecaller, but it's unclear if there's a deck that can take advantage of it with Marvel out of the format. Keep your eye on it, though, because it'll probably gain value if Zombies does make a major comeback and people find a way to make it work somewhere. In the meantime, it'll probably drop in price, as its natural home was just banned. There might be a good quick-flip opportunity here in a week or two.
Pro Tour Shifts
Starting in 2018, some of the Pro Tours will be uncoupled from the release of new Standard sets. This seems like an odd move, and I wonder if it's yet another step that WotC is taking to prevent Magic's marquee format from being quickly solved.
Considering one of the reasons that WotC gave for eliminating the Modern Pro Tour was a desire to show off the latest set, I have to wonder if this will eventually lead back toward Modern becoming a PT format. There are other reasons not to do this, of course, but with Modern surging in popularity this year, I have to feel like it's a move that will at least be discussed internally. Of all the announcements made last week, however, this is the one that I feel has the greatest potential to be quickly rolled back. Using the PT to sell new cards just makes too much sense, and I have to believe that WotC's other, bigger steps toward re-balancing Standard will be effective enough.
Until then, it'll be interesting to see what happens to prices now that people have to wait even longer before buying "the best deck" once it's revealed at the end of a Standard Pro Tour. Will Pro Tour speculation end up being less lucrative, or will players be willing to buy multiple decks in the same format? We'll have to wait and see.
This Week's Trends
Since this entire article could have technically been called "This Week's Trends," I don't have a lot of additional information to cover here.
In Modern, Living End's staples continue to dominate the top of the charts. Living End itself saw a $5-$8 increase, Street Wraith continues to gain value, Leyline of the Void has been rising for weeks, and even Fulminator Mage has started ticking up again. Eldrazi Tron cards have also been rising, with All Is Dust, Karn Liberated, and Cavern of Souls leading the way. These might not be the two very best decks in Modern, but they're certainly the hottest right now.
There were a couple casual and Old School spikes last week as well. Crystalline Crawler tripled in price, as cards from Commander 2016 continue to do very well. I'll try to have an article about these cards soon, but in the meantime you should buy whatever you need from this set ASAP. These spikes are partially buyout-driven, but the prices aren't dropping all that much in the aftermath. Because of this, sealed copies of the 2016 decks are also likely to be a good hold for quite a while.
Juzam Djinn saw another crazy spike last week as well. It's hard to believe that a functionally equivalent Plague Sliver is worth more than $600, but the nostalgia is strong with this bad boy and it is one of the premier finishers in Old School. I guess you can sell your copies into the spike, but there can't be more than a few thousand of these out there, so tread carefully—you probably won't have an easy time buying back in.
Based on the potential leaks, it's possible that the M10 check lands—Sunpetal Grove and friends—will be back in Ixalan. You can still get most of these for $2-$3, so it's worth snagging them if you play a lot of Standard. The supply will increase, sure, but so will demand—at least for the first few weeks of their legality in Standard. If the leaks end up being wrong, you can still probably cash out for close to what you paid. It's not a great spec opportunity, but it might put you a little bit ahead of the curve in your deckbuilding.
There are also some rumors flying around out there that planeswalkers are going to get "Legendary" added to their type line, allowing you to have, say, two different Jaces or Gideons on the battlefield at the same time. In anticipation of this, some people have started to buy out Mirror Gallery since it'll allow you to have multiple copies of the same planeswalker on the battlefield at once if this rules change does come to pass. It's a silly buyout without a strong market, but there are so few copies of Mirror Gallery out there that I expect it'll be pretty effective. If the card isn't bought out by the time you're reading this, you could do worse than picking up a couple of copies just in case.