Magic's financial marketplace used to ebb and flow based on seasonal trends. Cards were always higher in the winter and cheaper in the summer, following the natural progression of set releases as well as when people tended to play the most Magic. It was possible—easy, even—to turn a profit based on following this one general principle.
These days, Magic's financial marketplace is a lot more dynamic. The seasonal trends are still there, but our current era feels driven by one or two indexes rising while the others are out of the spotlight. Prices are tied to community interest, which tends to bounce around based on set releases, rotations, Grands Prix, Pro Tours, and format health. Think of the player base like a dog running around a backyard, bolting from a tree to a fence to a puddle and back to the tree again. If you can predict where the dog is going to go next, you can use that information to your financial advantage.
Magic is currently in the middle of a uniquely busy period, full of special events and set releases, but there's reason to believe that Modern is going to spend a large portion of the next few months hogging the spotlight. Check it out:
First, we're getting two Masters sets in less than six months. Iconic Masters includes many more Modern staples than I had predicted, and I see no reason why Masters 25 would buck that trend. Modern interest (and prices) always spikes when Masters sets are released.
Second, we're getting our first Modern Pro Tour in years on February 2nd. Not only is this event going to be incredibly exciting, but it's well-positioned right between both of the different Masters set releases. Even though Rivals of Ixalan will have just come out, the community isn't going to be able to ignore Modern during the first month of 2018.
Third, I fully expect a major Modern ban or unban in the weeks leading up to the Pro Tour. This happens almost every year, like clockwork, and the existence of a Modern PT only makes it more likely. Consider this timeline, working backward:
- January 2017: Gitaxian Probe and Golgari Grave-Troll are banned in Modern.
- January 2016: Splinter Twin and Summer Bloom are banned in Modern.
- January 2015: Dig Through Time, Treasure Cruise, and Birthing Pot are banned in Modern. Golgari Grave-Troll is unbanned.
- February 2014: Deathrite Shaman is banned in Modern. Bitterblossom and Wild Nacatl are unbanned.
- January 2013: Bloodbraid Elf and Seething Song are banned in Modern.
That's right—you have to go all the way back to 2012 before you find a year where there isn't a major Modern Banned List shake-up at some point in late January or early February. This inevitably leads to two weeks of speculation and random buy-outs of banned cards followed by a week of fallout and random buy-outs of cards that may or may not actually be good in the "new" Modern format. Again, it will keep the community laser-focused on Magic's most popular Eternal format.
There are other effects that may or may not end up driving Modern interest, too. Modern Opens in Charlotte (this past weekend) and Cincinnati (next weekend). Modern Grand Prix in Oklahoma City, Toronto, and Lyon over the next couple of months. The fact that Modern is currently a healthy, thriving format while Standard is still struggling to overcome the stink of a really bad twelve months. And, simply, the fact that Eternal prices have historically tended to peak between late January and mid-March. People will be sick of Ixalan block by then and will start looking toward something else. They'll also be getting their tax refunds in the USA.
Meanwhile, it has been a while since Modern has dominated the spotlight. There was some price movement early in 2017, when Modern Masters 2017 was released and Death's Shadow took its turn as the format's dominant archetype, but prices have been pretty stagnant for the past six months. Modern still isn't cheap, of course, but it's experiencing a period of relative quiet. I expect we'll see a lot of staples increase in value as the fall turns into winter, and especially once 2017 makes way into 2018.
When trying to anticipate future growth in a format like Modern, I like to ask myself a couple of key questions. Let's tackle them one at a time:
What is the most popular deck in the format? Are its staples being properly valued, or is there room for further growth?
Modern is pretty wide-open, but the most popular deck is probably Eldrazi Tron. According to MTG Goldfish, it makes up a little over six percent of the metagame, putting it about a point ahead of Gifts Storm. MTG Goldfish data isn't quite as reliable now that WotC has throttled back on the amount of data they give us, but it's still the best overall resource for stuff like this.
- 4 Walking Ballista
- 1 Wurmcoil Engine
- 2 Endbringer
- 4 Matter Reshaper
- 4 Reality Smasher
- 4 Thought-Knot Seer
- 1 Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger
Financially, Eldrazi Tron already has a lot of cards that are incredibly expensive. First and foremost, you need four copies of Chalice of the Void. Beyond that, there's Karn Liberated, All Is Dust, Crucible of Worlds, Cavern of Souls, Eldrazi Temple, Surgical Extraction, and some more recent staples like Walking Ballista, Thought-Knot Seer, and Reality Smasher. None of these cards have fallen below the Magic Finance radar, and most have experienced multiple spikes over the past year or two.
Can Eldrazi Tron keep growing in price and popularity? I guess. Chalice of the Void has almost doubled in price this year, and that chart still keeps creeping up. For the most part, though, these cards have been Tier 1 staples for quite some time and the prices haven't experienced any of that summer erosion that makes buying into Modern such an attractive proposition right now. I see no reason to buy any of the $20+ cards at the moment, though it might be worth grabbing Thought-Knot Seers, Reality Smashers, and Matter Reshapers now. Unless Eldrazi Temple is banned (unlikely), these cards might all be worth twice as much in a year or so.
What's the cheapest "good" deck in Modern? Is it worth stocking up on its key cards?
As always, the cheapest deck in Modern that can still perform like a top-tier brew is Burn. Eidolon of the Great Revel and Goblin Guide are both relatively cheap right now, but they're still the most expensive (non-fetchland) cards in the deck.
I can't imagine Burn experiences a major resurgence or anything, but when the community's eye turns toward a format, decks like these always see an uptick in popularity. I bet we'll see both cards experience at least a small spike this January or February, and I'm glad I own a few sets of each.
Are there any decks about to see more demand due to upcoming reprints?
Since we know all the cards in Iconic Masters but the set hasn't been released yet, this question is worth taking a look at. Remember: some people are going to open multiple copies of some spicy Modern staple and decide to use that as an excuse to build a new deck. I did it myself with Affinity in 2013 and Infect in 2015.
Horizon Canopy is one of the marquee reprints in Iconic Masters, which could help make Modern Elves and Counters Company the new flavors of the week. Interestingly enough, both of those decks have a few other major staples in common. Chord of Calling and Collected Company are four-ofs in both lists, and I wouldn't be surprised to see both cards start to tick up in value once Iconic Masters hits store shelves. Bant Company also gets the Archangel of Thune reprint, which is another reason why you may want to look toward getting your Collected Companies while they're still under $20.
Aether Vial is another Iconic Masters staple, and Death & Taxes and Eldrazi & Taxes are the two places where it shows up most. Both decks use Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, a card that has been threatening to spike for a couple of months now. I bet it'll end up in the $20-$25 range by the end of February.
Of course, Soul Sisters is the deck that benefits most from Iconic Masters. Auriok Champion and Archangel of Thune are both coming back, and neither sees a ton of play in Modern right now. Their prices are going to drop significantly, and it's going to make Soul Sisters a fairly intriguing "budget" option. In fact, most of the other cards in Soul Sisters are well under $5.
The big exception is Flagstones of Trokair. My guess is that a lot of Soul Sisters mages will avoid dropping almost $100 on a set of these, but the card is required for the best version of the deck, and it has never been reprinted. I wouldn't be shocked if someone buys these out the card is restocked closer to the $50 mark—the current supply is just that low. Grab a set now if you think you'll want them once Iconic Masters comes out.
Are there any dark horse decks about to take the format by storm?
The only problem with speculating on cards from rogue or under-the-radar decks is that it's hard to find the sweet spot between viable, emerging tech and a sweet homebrew that got lucky. I really like browsing the 5-0 lists that Wizards of the Coast provides, but it's worth maintaining a healthy dose of skepticism when reading those results.
Are people really going to start playing the Mono-Green Ramp deck with Chord of Calling that went 5-0 in an event a couple of days ago? How about the Mono-Red Blood Moon brew that was also featured? These are the sort of decks I'd love to brew up for a local Modern tournament, but I'm not going to go out and buy a dozen copies of Garruk Wildspeaker based on one result or one article. One data point does not make a trend.
This goes back to a piece of advice I gave last week: when speculating, play to your strengths and your knowledge base. If you brew a lot of Modern decks, be more aggressive in speculating on new Modern brews. The rest of us should hold back a bit and make sure that there's fire as well as smoke. One rule of thumb: if a new deck makes you really excited to try it out, chances are a lot other people are going to feel the same way.
One slightly less risky option is to think about investing in a Modern deck that has a proven track record but has fallen out of favor in the current metagame. I'm specifically thinking about decks like Infect, Hexproof, Delver, Lantern Control, Bant Knightfall, Amulet Titan, Living End, and Blue Moon.
There are good reasons why almost all of these decks have fallen out of favor, but the best predictor of future success is past success. If the metagame shifts enough, any one of these decks might find itself back in the spotlight. This is not a strategy that I recommend for most small-time speculators, but if you've got a big Modern collection already or you really enjoy trading goals, starting to build some of these decks while they're out of favor might end up paying off big. If a deck like Living End ends up taking down a Modern GP, you'll see those prices double overnight.
What are Modern's key staples, and are any of them undervalued right now?
This last question is the hardest to answer. At the SCG Classic in Dallas earlier this month, the Top 8 included Jund, Eldrazi Tron, Bant Spirits, G/R Tron, W/R Prison, Burn, Gifts Storm, and Elves. A few weeks earlier, the SCG Classic in Louisville had a Top 8 with U/W Control, Jeskai Control, Ad Nauseam, Esper Gifts, G/W Hexproof, Affinity, and R/G Breach. That's fifteen different decks out of a possible sixteen, and it's not like I cherry-picked those events—they were literally the two most recent Modern Classics in the StarCityGames.com® Deck Database.
The best I can do here is go back to my MTG Goldfish data and see what they're calling the most-played cards in Modern. Again, this data is unlikely to perfectly match the format diversity we see in paper Magic, but it's still really good information for making difficult observations like these.
Culling every card under $5 (commons like Lightning Bolt and Serum Visions), here are the twenty most-played cards in Modern right now, with first place at the top. I've included their current value and set of most recent printing:
Path to Exile - $6.50 (Modern Masters 2017)
Thoughtseize - $20 (Iconic Masters)
Fatal Push - $9 (FNM Promo Foil)
Snapcaster Mage - $55 (Modern Masters 2017)
Inquisition of Kozilek - $5 (Modern Masters 2017)
Relic of Progenitus - $5 (Eternal Masters)
Collective Brutality - $14 (Eldritch Moon)
Stony Silence - $6 (Modern Masters 2017)
Thought-Knot Seer - $8 (Oath of the Gatewatch)
Collected Company - $18 (Dragons of Tarkir)
Liliana of the Veil - $90 (Modern Masters 2017)
Grafdigger's Cage - $6 (Modern Masters 2017)
Lightning Helix - $6 (Iconic Masters)
Rest in Peace - $10 (Return to Ravnica)
Surgical Extraction - $23 (Modern Masters 2015)
Blood Moon - $25 (Modern Masters 2017)
Sleight of Hand - $6 (Ninth Edition)
Remand - $6 (Modern Masters 2015)
Aether Vial - $45 (Iconic Masters)
Leyline of Sanctity - $28 (Modern Masters 2015)
There is a lot of interesting data to parse here. First, it's pretty interesting to note that eleven of the twenty most-played cards in Modern saw reprints this year, including the top five. You only have to go back as far as 2015 to pick up all the rest of them, save Sleight of Hand. That's remarkable, and it speaks to the good job Wizards of the Coast is doing right now in making the format more accessible.
On the one hand, you can look at this list and see the futility of going too deep into any of these cards for too long. I have to believe that 2018 is going to bring more reprints, as are 2019 and 2020. This is clearly a priority for the company, and you shouldn't be surprised when any of these cards come back again soon.
On the other hand, take a look at the "older" cards on this list. Rest in Peace has tripled in value over the past couple of years. So have Leyline of Sanctity and Surgical Extraction. There's clearly some money to be made here, especially since we're probably not going to see all of these Modern Masters 2017 reprints showing up again immediately. In most cases, it'll probably take at least a year or two. Hmm—how can we use this to our advantage?
Buying into the Bottom of Modern Masters 2017
Let's take a look at what has happened to the value of the top cards in Modern Masters 2017 over the past six months. There hasn't been any major movement, but we might be able to pick out some subtle trends that will grow more pronounced as Modern re-takes the community spotlight.
Here are the most expensive cards in Modern Masters 2017, sorted by value either gained or lost since April 1st of this year:
- Cavern of Souls (up $13)
- Snapcaster Mage (up $10)
- Liliana of the Veil (up $2)
- Death's Shadow (up $1)
- Scalding Tarn (Stagnant)
- Arid Mesa (Stagnant)
- Marsh Flats (Stagnant)
- Voice of Resurgence (Down $1)
- Goblin Guide (Down $2)
- Blood Moon (Down $3)
- Misty Rainforest (Down $3)
- Damnation (Down $4)
- Verdant Catacombs (Down $5)
- Tarmogoyf (Down $22)
As you can see, there hasn't really been a lot of movement. Even Cavern of Souls didn't jump $13 entirely because of Modern demand—it's good in Eldrazi Tron, sure, but I suspect a lot of that growth was because the last few months have been all about creature types and the casual/Commander players all want Caverns for their Pirate and Wizard decks.
Snapcaster Mage went up because it's the most-played creature in Modern, though, showing up in a full 19% of all decks according to MTG Goldfish. Tarmogoyf sees play in less than half that many decks right now, which is probably why the card has fallen out of demand. Meanwhile, all the other key cards in Modern Masters 2017 have only made negligible gains or losses.
I like buying recently reprinted cards because the risk profile is so low. As I said earlier, we're probably not going to see most of these cards show up in Masters 25, though Tarmogoyf always seems to headline these sets. But is it really worth buying in, or will these cards just bounce around near their historic lows for the next couple of years since there are so many copies of them now?
In order to find out, let's take a look at what has happened to the key cards in Modern Masters 2015. I'll measure their current value against their price on October 16th, 2015. Should you have bought in back then, or would it have been a mistake?
- Karn Liberated (Up $31)
- Mox Opal (Up $25)
- Noble Hierarch (Up $24)
- Surgical Extraction (Up $17)
- All Is Dust (Up $16)
- Emrakul, the Aeons Torn (Up $15)
- Leyline of Sanctity (Up $15)
- Dark Confidant (Up $13)
- Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite (Up $12)
- Bitterblossom (Up $10)
- Eldrazi Temple (Up $10)
- Fulminator Mage (Up $11)
- Kozilek, Butcher of Truth (Up $6)
- Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre (Up $3)
- Cryptic Command (Up $2)
- Primeval Titan (Stagnant)
- Spellskite (Down $8)
- Splinter Twin (Down $8)
- Vendilion Clique (Down $12)
- Tarmogoyf (Down $72)
This is a really heartening list. A few cards jumped out of niche status to become format staples—All Is Dust, Surgical Extraction, Eldrazi Temple—but for the most part, this is a list of cards that were good in 2015 and are still good today. The exceptions are Splinter Twin (banned), Spellskite (lost almost all of its utility thanks to other cards being banned), Vendilion Clique (multiple Masters printings, stopped seeing nearly as much play), and Tarmogoyf (ditto). Even casual cards like Kozilek and Ulamog saw small gains. Cryptic Command and Primeval Titan would have been higher if they hadn't just been announced as reprints in Iconic Masters, too.
For the most part, these cards saw gains in the winter of 2016 and again in the winter of 2017. Most of them experienced at least one spike higher than their current price tag. I see no reason why Modern Masters 2017 will be all that different. You've got a month, maybe two, to buy low on cards like Snapcaster Mage, Liliana of the Veil, Inquisition of Kozilek, Stony Silence, and all the fetchlands.
This Week's Trends
It was a relatively quiet week in Standard after the craziness of the past couple of weekends. The Scarab God continues to slowly tick up, and at this point they're getting pretty hard to find under $50. Botanical Sanctum was the second-biggest Standard gainer of the week, following last weekend's U/B land spikes. Since it's a staple in Temur Energy as well as Sultai Energy, I doubt this is a short-term spike. It's also worth noting that these lands see play in Modern, so they've got some long-term potential.
On the other side of things, there hasn't been a lot of price erosion in Standard as people are mostly holding onto the disappointing cards for now. Growing Rites of Itlimoc still retails for $11, as does Ripjaw Raptor. The fact that either card is still close to Search for Azcanta in price is getting kind of silly.
Yeah, future weeks could eventually bring breakout performances, but is that a bet you're really willing to take? Check out this Ari Lax article, which talks about why Ripjaw Raptor and Regisaur Alpha have been underperforming relative to expectation. My suggestion? Go find that one person at your LGS who is obsessed with "getting value" on trades and offer them these cards in exchange for better ones. Be willing to go 70-80 cents on the dollar if you have to.
We've already talked a lot about the state of the Modern market this week, and things are still predictably stagnant. Celestial Colonnade continues its push toward $50, and Horizon Canopy seems to be on the rise again while we wait for Iconic Masters to drop. Meanwhile, Tarmogoyf continues to drop off toward its lowest price since 2011. And you know what? I think it'll keep getting cheaper. If it's reprinted again in Masters 25, it will probably drop below $50.
There were a few notable casual and Old School spikes this week. Quicksilver Fountain was bought out and seems to be settling in the $5 range after being $1-$2 forever. It's a fantastic Commander card, but I've had to cut it from multiple decks, since it's super un-fun to play against. It can probably handle being a $5 card, though.
Two of the marquee cards in Arabian Nights shot toward the moon this week, as Erhnam Djinn and City of Brass both broke the $300 mark. Invoke Prejudice and the Legends version of Nebuchadnezzar spiked, too. As always, expect these prices to drop off a bit over the coming weeks, though not back to their pre-spike lows.
Sustaining Spirit, a Reserved List rare from Alliances, was also bought out a few days ago. I guess it has some combo potential with Solemnity? I can't imagine this has any competitive legs, though, so I'm selling into the hype.