Rivals of Ixalan is almost here, and I have to admit that I'm starting to get excited. I get why you might be hesitant to believe that Rivals is going to affect the Standard metagame very much-I had high hopes that Ixalan was going to shake up Standard back in September, and it didn't really happen. Why should the second set in this block be any different?
Remember, though, that all four tribes are fully powered up now. Tribal sets are inherently parasitic, and strategies that weren't quite there in September should be ready to break through once Rivals hits shelves. And if that's still not enough, I expect that WotC will start to take actions (via banning) to power down the energy decks. Regardless, I feel like some of these new cards will end up hogging the Standard spotlight at some point in 2018.
From a financial evaluation perspective, one of Rivals' biggest quirks is how conditional so many of its cards are. Most of the tribal cards are only good if you've got a critical mass of Merfolk or Vampires or whatever, the cards with ascend vary greatly depending on how easy it is for you to get the city's blessing, and there are a bunch of other rares that require you to jump through a couple of different hoops in order to earn yourself a Tolarian Academy or something.
As a general rule, I tend to dislike speculating on conditional cards. Players tend to underrate their downsides and overrate their payoffs, especially in situations (like with tribal lords) where a card only has one shot to break out. That doesn't mean that there aren't Merfolk or flip cards I like in Rivals, but cautious speculators should avoid going too deep on these. A handful of them will break out, but culling the hits from the misses ahead of time is more difficult than usual.
As always with these financial set reviews, I'm on the lookout for cards that have the best shot at breaking out. Historically, these tend to be the most powerful and versatile cards in the set. If a card has a shot to be a four-of in a tier one deck, great. If it has a shot to be a four-of in multiple tier one decks, even better. If it looks like it might see some play in Modern, that's the dream.
I'll be covering about half the set today and about half the set later this week, so be sure to stop back later for the thrilling conclusion!
Zetalpa, Primal Dawn - $2
Zetalpa, Primal Dawn might see some play in God-Pharaoh's Gift, but even in the best-case scenario they won't want more than a couple of copies. In Commander, Zetalpa isn't very useful outside of Odric, Lunarch Marshal or Dinosaur decks. This is a future bulk rare.
Radiant Destiny - $1.50
Radiant Destiny isn't very powerful, but Anthems tend to hold their value in the $1-$2 range and it'll have some casual demand regardless. There's an outside shot that this'll break out in some sort of tokens deck and end up at $4-$5-especially considering the text on Huatli, Radiant Champion-but I'm not taking that bet. Radiant Destiny is fairly priced right now, but I'm not convinced it's too cheap.
Bishop of Binding - $1
I haven't seen much praise for Bishop of Binding, but it seems quite good in the proper metagame. It's obviously terrible in any matchup where dealing with a 1/1 is trivial, but Fiend Hunters have been good before, and this one can buff itself and crack back for a significant amount if it isn't dealt with.
Obviously there are going to be environments where Bishop of Binding is flat out unplayable, but there's a chance that this card is being massively undervalued right now. I'm grabbing a set because it's cheap and has $10+ upside, though the odds of it hitting are admittedly low.
Paladin of Atonement - $1
Paladin of Atonement seems like it has a strong shot to be a four-of in Mono-White Vampires. "Each upkeep" is the key here, and Paladin of Atonement can come out fast and grow quite large. Best case, this is a $3-$5 single deck staple. Most likely, it'll kick around the $1-$2 range. Regardless, it's a fine gamble at $1.
Sphinx's Decree - $1
Silence wasn't any good the last time it was printed, and I doubt Sphinx's Decree will be any better. Future bulk rare.
Timestream Navigator - $10
Timestream Navigator is going to be a gorgeous foil, and it'll have some Commander demand due to its cool tribal affiliation and neat ability, but this is too much risk and too many hoops to jump through for competitive Constructed play. At $10, staying away from Timestream Navigator is an easy call. This is a future $3 card.
Admiral's Order - $1.50
Over the years, I've learned not to underestimate unassuming blue tempo cards. Cancels with upside tend to see play, and Admiral's Order is a blowout if you're ahead on the battlefield going into the mid-game. It's good in Pirates, good in Merfolk, and has further utility beyond that even if none of the tribes end up hitting. I wouldn't be surprised if Admiral's Order ends up stabilizing in the $5 range for a while, and $1.50 is pretty close to this card's downside as situational sideboard tech. I'm in for a couple of sets.
Induced Amnesia - $1.00
I want to live in a world where Induced Amnesia is good. It looks like a bulk rare to me, but there's a shot that someone will find an easy way to sacrifice enchantments for profit and turn this into an absurd engine. Regardless, it's the sort of "combulk" I'll be looking to pick up at fifty cents and flip for $4 whenever Saffron Olive inevitably showcases it a few years from now.
Kumena's Awakening - $1.00
Kumena's Awakening is cool, but I just can't imagine it's powerful enough for Constructed play. Future bulk rare.
Seafloor Oracle - $1.00
Seafloor Oracle is a bit fragile, but I bet it'll end up seeing some play if Merfolk become a thing. Think 2-3 copies in a single deck, which gives this card $3 upside. That's a fine snag if you're planning to play the deck, but not enough of a margin to be worth flipping for potential profits.
Vona's Hunger - $3
Vona's Hunger has some pretty serious upside if you can ascend, but it's not great if you can't. To The Slaughter only saw play because of the peculiarities of that metagame, and a three-mana edict doesn't seem all that great right now. I'm cautiously optimistic that Vona's Hunger will find a home as a role-player at some point during its time in Standard, but $3 is too much to spend on a card with such a strong shot at busting out.
Tetizimoc is on the Magical Christmasland City Council, but it's still a six-mana spell that requires a ton of set-up time to work and is never going to surprise your opponent. I can imagine a Standard metagame developing where a single midrange deck could end up running a couple of these, but that's not the sort of financial upside I'm looking for. Todd Anderson is marginally excited about it , which gives me some pause, but I still feel like this is a future bulk rare.
Dead Man's Chest - $1.50
I love the flavor, but the payoff needed to be better considering the hoop you have to jump through in order to get Dead Man's Chest to do anything. Future bulk rare.
Rekindling Phoenix - $8
Rekindling Phoenix was $6 when I started writing this article. It's up to $8 now, and I bet that price will keep rising like a bird from the ashes. Most mythic Phoenixes have historically been either bulk rares or affordable role-players, but Rekindling Phoenix might be the most powerful variant ever printed. If you're beating down, Rekindling Phoenix forces your opponent to deal with both the attacker and the token. If you're on your back foot, you can block with this, get a token, and sac it at the start of your next turn so that you can block again.
The only question I have is whether or not Rekindling Phoenix will find a home right away. Does Ramunap Red need another four-drop, or will we need another midrange deck to develop first? Regardless, Rekindling Phoenix has $40 "marquee mythic" upside if everything breaks right. I bet it'll end up in the $12-$15 range at the very least. Grab a set of these ASAP.
Etali, Primal Storm - $4
I've seen some decent buzz surrounding Etali, Primal Storm, but it's not the kind of card I like to invest in. It's a six-drop that doesn't do anything when it enters the battlefield, has no evasion or protection, and has a lot of randomness associated with its ability. It'll really only see play in Dinosaurs, which isn't a real deck yet. Oh-and it's competing with Carnage Tyrant, the best Dinosaur, at the six-drop slot. Best case, this is a two-of or three-of in a single deck. I bet it'll end up in the $1 range before long.
Tilonalli's Summoner - $1.50
Tilonalli's Summoner is a pretty good way to ascend in the midgame if you want to. It's not really a two-drop, though-it only begins to scale well once X is at least three, which means that this is really more of a six+ drop control finisher. It might find a couple of niche homes, especially if a big mana deck develops, but it doesn't have enough raw power or broad appeal to interest me at $1.50.
Form of the Dinosaur - $1
Form of the Dinosaur is almost certainly unplayable in any competitive format, but the fact that it's essentially a red lifegain spell means that we have to at least consider it as a late game play for aggressive mono-red decks. Those sorts of decks don't like six-drops, though, and the fact that this doesn't help you burn down your opponent's life total isn't great, either. Form of the Dinosaur might show up in a couple of sideboards, but it's almost certainly a future bulk rare.
Brass's Bounty - $1
Unless you're comboing off with Revel in Riches, there are better things to do with your seven mana. Future bulk rare.
Polyraptor - $5
As long as you have some way to deal damage to your Polyraptor, you can go infinite with this card really fast. Casual players are going to be messing around with Polyraptor for years, and it's the exact sort of silly mythic I love.
Unfortunately, eight mana 5/5s that don't do anything when you cast them aren't good in competitive formats. You'd need a way to sneak this onto the battlefield early on as well as a way to activate enrage, which is just too much to expect with any sort of consistency. This is a future $2 mythic that will randomly be worth $8-$10 in three years (barring reprint) thanks to casual play.
Jadelight Ranger - $4
Rogue Refiner is one of the most powerful and important cards in Standard, and Jadelight Ranger does a pretty reasonable imitation outside of the dedicated energy decks. In fact, Todd Stevens just wrote about how it might even outclass Rogue Refiner .
If Jadelight Ranger lives up to its potential, it will end up like Tireless Tracker in its heyday-a multi-deck staple with peaks in the $7-$15 range. At just $4, then, this seems like one of the safest bets in Rivals . Even if Jadelight Ranger doesn't break out right away, I'll be keeping an eye on this one as a potential post-rotation gainer. Grab a set now if you play green.
Tendershoot Dryad - $3
It's worth noting that Tendershoot Dryad gives you a Saproling on each upkeep, which means that you'll have three permanents toward the city's blessing by the time you get to attack for the first time. Throw in the five lands required to cast this card, and you only need two more permanents on the battlefield for this thing to go absolutely nuts. Tendershoot Dryad won't see any competitive play if most of the good decks are easily able to deal two damage to creatures, but there are certain midrange environments where this card could just take over a game.
Don't sleep on this card as a long-term causal spec, either. Token cards always hold their value well, and this is an absolute doozy. I doubt Tendershoot Dryad drops below $2, which makes it an interesting spec opportunity. If you hear any rumblings about this card making waves in Standard, grab a set ASAP.
Deeproot Elite - $2
I don't think Deeproot Elite is the reason to play Merfolk, but it's certainly worth considering if you're already committed to playing with the tribe. $2 is fine for a card like this, which has $5 upside and bulk rare downside. Grab a set if you want to mess around with Merfolk early on.
Ghalta, Primal Hunger seems pretty solid if you're looking to break a midrange battlefield stall. I'm not sure if the format is going to develop in that direction, but this is probably a sideboard play (or main deck two-of) in Dinosaurs. $2 is fair if you want to play with it, but I don't see Ghalta becoming a financial breakout.
Path of Discovery - $1.50
Are you really going to take a turn off in order to set up later explore triggers? There's an off-chance that Path of Discovery shows up in a Standard tokens deck, but more likely it'll be limited to the casual ream. It's pretty solid in Commander, especially if you're running a ton of tokens, but I'm not sure it'll make the cut in any of my brews. Future bulk rare.
World Shaper - $1
I'd have been really excited about World Shaper's combo potential if I didn't already know that Splendid Reclamation hasn't really gotten there in Modern. Maybe someone will make it work now that we have access to a few more copies, albeit ones that are harder to use? I doubt it, but at near-bulk prices I might snag a couple of foil playsets just in case. I doubt this gets there in Standard, but Gitrog Monster Commander players are going to want these at the very least.
Huatli, Radiant Champion - $12
Huatli, Radiant Champion seems like a perfectly reasonable (if narrow) planeswalker. Unlike most planeswalkers, hitting Huatli's ultimate is not only within reason, it's possible to hit on her second turn on the battlefield. You do need to have a fairly established position, but you're not playing this card in a deck without a ton of creatures anyway. And once you've gone ultimate with Huatli in a deck full of creatures, it's going to be very hard to lose.
$10-$15 seems right for a planeswalker that should see Standard play but only in one (maybe two) decks and almost certainly not as a four-of. Feel free to snag these at $12 if you want them for yourself, but I doubt she'll spike past $20 at any point so it's fine to hold off if you're reluctant.
Kumena, Tyrant of Orazca - $12
Kumena, Tyrant of Orazca is quite good. I can't imagine there being a Merfolk deck that doesn't run at least a couple of copies. The real questions are these:
How likely is it that Merfolk are a tier one Standard strategy?
How many copies of Kumena would that deck run?
Is there a shot that Kumena is good enough for Modern Merfolk?
I'm bullish on Merfolk in Standard, but going in on a linear deck before any results reminds me too much of my belief in Olivia, Mobilized for War back during Shadows Over Innistrad. The good news is that I feel like the best version of that deck still wants three or four copies of Kumena even though it's legendary. I'm not sure what you'd cut for it in Modern, though. It's probably more of a 2-3 copy role-player in the U/G variants there, and I feel like its financial fate is much more closely tied to Standard.
If Merfolk does make it to the top of the Standard metagame, this is probably a $25 staple. If Merfolk doesn't make it, this is a $3-$4 card. I don't like risking my money on cards that need a single deck to work in order to be any good, so I'm holding off. There's certainly money to be made here if the Merfolk hit big, though, so keep an eye on that.
Angrath, the Fame-Chained might end up being a post-rotation sleeper, but it doesn't seem very good in a metagame where it has to compete for slots with Chandra, Torch of Defiance, Glorybringer, and even The Scarab God. It might be a sideboard or Grixis Control one-of, but beyond that it just doesn't look like it lines up well right now. I'm gonna stay away for now and try to snag these when they're $4 in August.
Azor, the Lawbringer - $6
Yeah, yeah, I know. Sphinx's Revelation was good because you could cast it at instant speed, and Azor, the Lawbringer won't let you do that. This card is also pretty hard to cast, and the built-in Sphinx's Decree is only going to help protect Azor some of the time. I also don't think that Azor, the Lawbringer slots nicely into any existing archetype except maybe as a one or two-of in God-Pharaoh's Gift.
And yet, we've underestimated these U/W mythics before. Both Sphinx's Revelation and Dragonlord Ojutai were panned at release only to end up being pillars of their respective formats. Mythic control finishers are often among the most expensive cards in a given set, and Azor, the Lawbringer certainly fits that bill. I'm not sure that there's room for Azor until Torrential Gearhulk rotates, but I bet this card will see some play at some point. I'm going to be monitoring the situation pretty closely, and it's possible that this $6 price tag will look hilariously low at some point in the near future.
In a vacuum, Elenda, the Dusk Rose seems massively underpowered. I'm not sure I'm ever going to be up for spending four mana on a 1/1 creature unless you can sacrifice it to immediately put Jace, the Mind Sculptor onto the battlefield or something. If you can ensure that it's probably not going to be a 1/1, though…well, it starts getting interesting. Metallic Mimic is a thing. So is God-Pharaoh's Gift. I don't see Elenda, the Dusk Rose ending up as a powerhouse or anything, but it could see play as a three-of in a couple of different decks if everything breaks well for it. It's too much of a long shot for me to buy in right now, and I'm still betting that this will be a $3 mythic going forward, but there are worse cards to gamble on.
Storm the Vault - $6
I don't know where this gets you in Standard, where your reward for spending a ton of mana is…a ton of mana? It's a little more interesting in Modern, where there might be some combo application, but a four mana enchantment that requires you to jump through hoops to get a Tolarian Academy isn't really a Tolarian Academy at all.
If you're going to buy a copy, snag it in foil. Storm the Vault might be something in Vintage, where you can play and flip this immediately on the right hyper-aggressive artifact draw. I'm holding off, though. I feel like the only reason this card is $6 is because it evokes a much more powerful card from Magic's history.
Journey to Eternity - $5
Journey to Eternity is full of really exciting text, but it's slow, narrow, and incredibly bad against instant speed removal. It's also legendary, and you wouldn't want multiples of these regardless. Best case, Journey to Eternity seems like a $3-$4 single deck two-of to me. Worst case, it's a $1 rare. Regardless, I'm not going near this at $5.
The Immortal Sun - $8
The problem with The Immortal Sun is that it's a jack of all trades and a master of none. Sometimes this flexibility is a great thing (Cryptic Command), but I worry that The Immortal Sun isn't good enough at any one thing to ever find a home in a focused deck. This just doesn't look like much of a competitive Constructed card.
While The Immortal Sun isn't going to hit Sol Ring level of being a staple in Commander, it's certainly the kind of card that casual players are going to jam into as many decks as possible. Because of that, The Immortal Sun has a very high price floor: casual demand alone should keep it from dropping below $5-$7. I'm not buying at $8, but if I hear any rumblings of The Immortal Sun showing up in a good tournament list, I'll be snapping these up fast due to the card's low risk profile. It also seems like a solid long-term hold to grab when it bottoms out in a couple of months.
Silent Gravestone - $1.50
Silent Gravestone doesn't turn off God-Pharaoh's Gift, but it does work against The Scarab God and Refurbish, so it'll probably see some amount of sideboard play in Standard. I doubt it's powerful enough for Modern or Legacy, either, but $1.50 is a low buy-in on the off-chance that it does. This card's price floor is $1 (interesting hate cards rarely fall to bulk) so it's worth picking up a set now just in case.
Captain's Hook - $1
Captain's Hook is very cool. It's also not nearly good enough for Constructed play. Future bulk rare.
This Week's Trends
Standard has yet to rebound from the holiday lull, but it is coming. If you need any cards from Ixalan, Amonkhet, or Kaladesh blocks for the coming Standard season, grab them now. As soon as Rivals of Ixalan drops, people are going to start getting excited about Standard again and most of the staples will begin to increase in value. I'm already seeing signs that cards like Metallic Mimic, Kopala, Warden of Waves and Search for Azcanta are poised to make gains.
One Standard card that did gain value this week? As Foretold, which appears to have staying power in Modern. Its value has plateaued for the moment, but keep an eye on it: Modern season is here. If the deck shows up at the Pro Tour in February, As Foretold will easily break $20. Living End spiked again as well because of this deck, and it's getting hard to find these for less than $25 now.
Speaking of Modern, its price index is a lot more frisky. Celestial Colonnade, Chalice of the Void, Through the Breach, Snapcaster Mage, Karn Liberated, and Mox Opal were all up a bit this week. There were no major spikes or buyouts, but it looks like demand for the format's biggest staples is strong and natural right now. Due to the impact of the upcoming Pro Tour, I expect Modern to continue doing well through the end of next month at least.
The Commander 2016 common Ash Barrens was bought out and seems to be settling in the $6-$8 range right now. This is likely due to speculation over the upcoming Pauper events at 2018 GPs. While the format's "only commons are legal" policy should keep buyouts in check, there are a few quirks that speculators are going to leverage. Even though Ash Barrens is a common, the fact that it was only printed in a Commander set means that it's probably going to stay above $5-at least for now.
Meanwhile, even third tier reserved list cards are still spiking. Hatred was the latest to jump, probably because somebody bought it out. It's not a great card, and it doesn't see too much play in Commander, but it's probably a $10+ card now anyway.
Somebody bought out Fastbond this week as well. It's from Revised and it's banned in Legacy and Commander, so there are a lot of these out there and not a ton of demand. It probably won't drop back to last week's $4 price tag (it's still a reserved list card, after all), but I can't imagine there's enough demand to sustain a massive price increase here. Unless you're buying Fastbond for Vintage, Cube, or just to collect, what are you doing it with it, exactly?
Lastly, Scorched Ruins and Lotus Vale were bought out after Blood Sun was spoiled late last week. I'll be reviewing that card later this week, but let me just say now that I expect this combo to be too slow for Vintage or Legacy. These two reserved list rares aren't dropping back toward $10 anytime soon, but you should absolutely sell into this hype if you're holding any of these.