Ixalan has been fully revealed, and I'm shocked at how much I ended up liking the set. The allegedly stolen rare sheets didn't have any of the flip cards or most of the cool Dinosaurs, and those ended up being the most interesting rares and mythics. If you dismissed Ixalan as a low-power set early on, it's worth reconsidering that opinion in light of the full gallery.
I've got a bunch of financial thoughts on Ixalan as a whole, but let's save them for the end. First off, let's blitz through all of the rares and mythics that I haven't reviewed so far:
Dire Fleet Ravager - $7.99
I admire the design work that went into Dire Fleet Ravager, but I have no idea what kind of deck actually wants to play this. Control decks aren't going to run clunky ground-pounders that hurt their own life totals, and this loses efficacy the more you've already beaten up your opponent. That makes it a tough play for aggro mages, especially since it would have to top their curve at five mana. I suppose that a Pirate Midrange deck might want Dire Fleet Ravager, but its power level is so context-dependent that I'm just not sold. This would be a reasonable gamble at $3, but I'm staying far away at $8.
Axis of Mortality - $2.99
Cards like Axis of Mortality are almost never good in competitive formats. I'm pretty sure I don't even want this in my sideboard against Burn decks, since it costs six mana to cast and it doesn't even do anything the turn you cast it. This is an awesome political tool in Commander, though, and foils should hold a premium because of that. Otherwise, bulk mythic.
Dowsing Dagger - $5.99
Flipping your Dowsing Dagger seems fairly easy in multiplayer, where someone is almost always open to a free attack. Otherwise, I'm not sold. Giving a couple of tokens to your opponent will prevent this from getting out of hand early, and it's only going to pay off if you've got a cheap evasive threat in the early-game as well as a solid mana sink for your Lost Vale. I know that I'm underrating a Lotus card at my own peril, but I just don't see it. I think this card ends up settling in around $1.50 and is overshadowed by several of the other flip-lands…
Legion's Landing - $3.99
...like Legion's Landing. A one-mana card doesn't have to do a lot to be good, but Legion's Landing packs a pretty big punch in any sort of white aggressive deck. Worst case, a 1/1 with lifelink isn't embarrassing. Best case, it's cheap mana ramp in a color that doesn't usually get it and a source of repeatable token generation. I wouldn't be surprised if Legion's Landing ends up being a Standard staple, a Commander staple, and a role-player in Modern B/W Tokens. $4 is a totally reasonable buy-in for a card that should remain in high demand for years.
Vance's Blasting Cannons - $3.99
Vance's Blasting Cannons would be unbelievable if you could play your lands off it like Outpost Siege, but I still think it'll find a home somewhere. It's certainly not a maindeck four-of, but repeatable card advantage combined with late-game reach is a really solid package. I expect this one to stay in the $2-$4 range, though it might spike a little higher if two or three top-tier red decks decide to take advantage of its versatility. Now that we've seen all of these, I like the white and blue flip-lands best.
Deathgorge Scavenger - $1.99
Stompy angry smash-em-up decks rarely get cards that allow the beats to keep coming while subtly interacting with the graveyard, but Deathgorge Scavenger manages to thread that particular needle. I can't imagine this is a maindeck card in most metagames, but the lifegain and graveyard removal seem relevant enough against Ramunap Red. Worst case, I bet Deathgorge Scavenger sees some sideboard play. $2 is a fair price, but there's not much upside here. Grab a few if you want to play with them.
Repeating Barrage - $1.99
Hammer of Bogardan is too slow and clunky for competitive play, and Repeating Barrage is a strictly worse Hammer of Bogardan 99% of the time. Those late-game stalls where Repeating Barrage is at its best are the hardest times to activate Raid, too. Future bulk rare.
Sword-Point Diplomacy - $1.49
Sword-Point Diplomacy is a punisher card. Punisher cards are universally awful unless you're in a position where you don't really care which mode your opponent chooses because both are equally bad for them. Is it possible that Sword-Point Diplomacy can buck that trend?
Let's think about this. In an average situation, you're going to be flipping two spells and a land off this. The land is probably going to be low-impact, but a nice bonus. Otherwise, your opponent will probably pay three life and give you the worse of your two spells. If their life total doesn't really matter at this point, they'll just take six and your spell won't do much. Ergo, this card is only good if you've really got them on the back foot already.
Is that enough? In some decks, it might be. There will be times when you just flip three lands to this and it does nothing. It's not even very good at two lands, which will happen about a quarter of the time. Sword-Point Diplomacy is just a three-mana card, though, and treating it as a pseudo-burn spell in a very fast B/R deck might work pretty well. Financially, it's unlikely to make much of an impact either way. Best case, this is a $5 card. Grab a set if you're building black aggro, but there are better cards to speculate on otherwise.
Spell Swindle - $0.99
Spell Swindle is the closest we've come to Mana Drain in at least ten years, but five mana is incredibly steep for any sort of counterspell. There's no way this is a four-of in anything because it's just too weak to any deck with a reasonable amount of speed. There's a shot that Spell Swindle is a two-of in some control deck, though, and it may fluctuate between maindeck and sideboard depending on the current metagame. It's great with Torrential Gearhulk and Marionette Master, so maybe there's some sort of weird Treasure deck that can be reasonably competitive?
Either way, Spell Swindle isn't more than a $1-$2 card. Grab a few if you think you're going to need them, but don't worry about it otherwise.
Fell Flagship - $0.99
I'm not sure that the Pirates deck wants Fell Flagship unless the format is incredibly slow. Gerry Thompson left it out of his initial Pirates build, a fact that didn't surprise me one bit. The Anthem basically means that this has Crew 2, but the lack of evasion sinks this ship for me.
Captivating Crew - $0.99
Captivating Crew is going to be ruining nights on Draft tables all over the world, but I don't think it's cheap enough to do much in Constructed. It might be a techy sideboard play in the Ramunap Red mirror or something, but it's a four-mana creature that needs four more mana to activate and it dies to every removal spell there is. Future bulk rare with situational upside.
Shadowed Caravel - $0.99
Yuck. During the early part of the game, Shadowed Caravel is basically just a Grizzly Bear you have to crew. But if you draw the card too late, you run the risk of not being able to explore anymore, which means—you guessed it—that it's a Grizzly Bear you have to crew.
I might change my tune if the next few sets give us a deck that naturally wants to explore twenty times a game, but consider this a bulk rare until then.
Fleet Swallower - $0.99
In competitive Magic, a seven-mana creature without evasion, protection, or an enters-the-battlefield ability is a non-starter. Fleet Swallower might make for a fun reanimation target if it emptied the entire library in one hit, but you'd have to pair this with a couple of other mill cards to make any progress. It's not gonna happen. That said, casual mill cards always end up being worth more than you think, and this is a $4-$5 card a few years from now if it isn't reprinted. I'll wait for the price to hit bulk and then buy a few dozen copies for my long-term spec box.
Final Thoughts on Ixalan
In many ways, Ixalan is a bit of a throwback to older expansions like Shards of Alara. Unlike Kaladesh or Amonkhet, where most of the broadly powerful cards were found at mythic, Ixalan's mythic rares are incredibly narrow and thus likely to remain fairly cheap. Consider:
- Of the set's fifteen mythic rares, five of them cost at least seven (!) mana to cast. Gishath, Sun's Avatar and Wakening Sun's Avatar might see some Constructed play, but such high-mana cards are generally not multi-deck staples.
- Two of the set's three planeswalkers are multicolored, somewhat limiting their potential price.
- The average price of an Ixalan mythic is $6.60 right now. You can pre-order all fifteen for under a hundred bucks. This isn't unusual for a set that has been in print for a while, but it's low for a set on the eve of release.
I can't imagine any of Admiral Beckett Brass, Axis of Mortality, Boneyard Parley, Overflowing Insight, Star of Extinction, Wakening Sun's Avatar, or Tishana, Voice of Thunder being worth more than $3 by this time next month. That means that the only possible breakout mythics are:
- Carnage Tyrant
- Dire Fleet Ravager
- Gishath, Sun's Avatar
- Huatli, Warrior Poet
- Jace, Cunning Castaway
- Rowdy Crew
- Vona, Butcher of Magan
- Vraska, Relic Seeker
Keep your eyes on these eight cards. Since the overall value of the mythics in Ixalan is so low already, the mythics that do make it are likely going to gain value and remain expensive for quite some time. One of these planeswalkers (my money is on Vraska, Relic Seeker) will probably end up as the set's marquee mythic and spike to $40. If Carnage Tyrant sees the kind of play I'm expecting, I doubt it'll drop below $10 any time soon. I'm wary of Rowdy Crew, but at just $5 it's one of the only cards in the set with the potential to make some speculator a boatload of money if we're undervaluing it.
It's also quite likely that Ixalan will have some of the most expensive non-mythic rares in quite some time. Consider that the following factors are all working toward making the best cards in Ixalan remain expensive:
- As mentioned above, there aren't likely to be too many multi-deck or multi-format staples at mythic. This value has to go somewhere.
- There aren't any Masterpieces in Ixalan. This doesn't matter much during the pre-order period, but once we hit market saturation it will keep the prices 20-30% higher than they would be otherwise.
- The amount of time between the release of the fall set and the release of the winter set is much shorter than average. It also has to compete with Iconic Masters and Unstable. This should mean that fewer overall packs of Ixalan will be opened than the past few fall sets.
- Standard is coming off one of its worst years ever. Assuming Ixalan brings players back into the fold—and it looks like that will happen—demand for these cards should increase pretty rapidly over the next couple of weeks.
All this leads me to the conclusion that pre-ordering cards is a better deal now than it usually is. You still have to hit on the right cards, of course—I'm not touching Growing Rites of Itlimoc at its current $20 retail cost—but most non-fetchland years, there isn't a single rare in the fall set that can maintain a price tag above $10. I bet that changes with Ixalan.
By the same token, I recommend getting the uncommons you think you'll need ASAP. These cards tend to be underpriced at launch—both Aether Hub and Fatal Push more than doubled in price, even though we knew from the start that they were going to be format staples. Ixalan has some incredibly strong uncommons, and they're all selling here on SCG for a buck or less other than Unclaimed Territory. I know you think you'll get all the uncommons you need while drafting, but that never ends up happening, right?
That said, there are some cards I caution you against buying until December or so. The problem with tribal blocks like this one is that Wizards of the Coast can't give us a set where every tribe is competitive in Standard right away. Otherwise, the next set in Ixalan block would either have to be irrelevant (who needs more good Merfolk when the deck is already winning?) or so powerful that Standard would just be a four-way battle between Dinosaurs, Merfolk, Vampires, and Pirates by the end of the block.
But Wizards of the Coast can't just stick half of each deck in each set and call it a day, either. If they did that, then none of the tribes would really be playable in Standard until after the final set is released. And by that point, what reason would anyone have had to buy packs of the first expansion?
The answer, at least to me, is that you front-load some of the tribes and back-load others. That way, people can build a really good Dinosaur deck straight off that bat, with the trade-off being that there might not be too many other Tier 1 Dinosaurs in the next set. But if the second set elevates Merfolk and Vampires, then every tribe gets a turn in the spotlight.
This tells me that Ixalan will be a better-than-average set for buying post-hype tribal cards right before the spoiler seasons for the next two expansions. There's no way all four tribes are going to be competitive straight off, and some interesting cards will end up falling toward bulk—Vona, Butcher of Magan, maybe, or Kopala, Warden of Waves. You'll be able to do incredibly well picking up these cards in November and flipping them into the hype once some absurd new Merfolk or Vampire is previewed.
This Week's Trends
First, I want to mention that StarCityGames.com® is changing the way that they're going to be grading cards going forward. I anticipate that you have some questions about this, but I can't do as good a job explaining things as Ben Bleiweiss did in his Reddit post.
Honestly, I hope this move ends up changing the industry standard, because right now about 90% of the "near-mint" cards I order from non-SCG sources aren't even close to how SCG tends to grade NM. If we can move to a simpler three-tiered system, players might be less tempted to push their dinged and damaged cards as near-mint.
No real movement in Standard this week. The best Dinosaurs in Ixalan keep going up in price, but all of the currently-in-print Standard cards have remained fairly stable. If you want to buy any of these for a future deck, now is your last chance before Ixalan hits shelves.
In Modern, Psionic Blast was the biggest gainer of the week. The card spiked five to six days earlier on Magic Online thanks to Saffron Olive's Favorable Winds, a mono-blue Modern deck. I'd normally expect a Saffron Olive spike to hold for a couple of weeks, but this one happened suddenly about a week after the videos went live. That tells me that this was probably a coordinated buyout and not the result of natural demand. It'll probably drop off again soon enough, but if you're a believer in the deck's long-term future, the card you want is Grand Architect. It's probably time to snag four copies of Smuggler's Copter just in case, too.
A few other Casual cards spiked last week: Dragon Arch, Maelstrom Nexus, and Rainbow Vale. I like Dragon Arch a lot—it plays really well with a lot of the key cards in Commander 2017, as well as some of Ixalan's sweet new Dinosaurs. This spike feels relatively demand-driven to me, and I don't think we're going to see much (if any) drop-off from current retail. Ditto for Maelstrom Nexus, which has been underpriced for a while and plays really well with the Dragon deck from Commander 2017.
I'm less sure about Rainbow Vale. It's a Reserved List card, but there are still loads of Fallen Empires cards kicking around and Rainbow Vale is unplayable in any format that isn't some weird political multiplayer rigmarole where you have allies that are still considered opponents. It might stick around the $5 mark, but I can't imagine it remains above $10.
It has been a few weeks since the big run of Reserved List buy-outs, and it's interesting to see where some of the cards have ended up. A bunch of these cards—Adun Okenshield, Pyramids, Tawnos's Coffin, Power Artifact, Spinal Villain—have remained at or near their post-spike highs. Others, like Urza's Miter and Elder Spawn, have lost 20-30% of their value over the past seven to ten days. In all cases, these cards are on track to be worth quite a bit more than their pre-spike prices.