When Jace, the Mind Sculptor was unbanned back in February, I was shocked. Modern was already a diverse and excellent format-why throw a Jace-shaped wrench at it? Best case, I figured, Modern would gain a couple of extra cool decks. Worst case, Jace gets re-banned and everyone who bought in for $80+ a copy gets hosed.
We're about six weeks in now, and it seems like WotC's gamble paid off. Modern is as diverse as ever, only now there's an additional chase card for us to obsess over. You can't blame me for being skeptical after R&D's recent string of power level woes in Standard, but I'm pretty happy that they got this one right.
Modern may still be sweet, but it's a different format than it was back at the start of 2018. Some of the Modern's formerly hot decks aren't nearly as good as they used to be, while some long-forgotten strategies have been making a comeback. Which Modern staples are still on the rise, and which have seen their influence drop? Let's find out.
- 4 Champion of the Parish
- 1 Dark Confidant
- 1 Dire Fleet Daredevil
- 4 Kitesail Freebooter
- 4 Mantis Rider
- 4 Meddling Mage
- 1 Mirran Crusader
- 4 Noble Hierarch
- 3 Phantasmal Image
- 4 Reflector Mage
- 4 Thalia's Lieutenant
- 3 Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
If I had to choose a top deck in Modern right now, it would probably be Humans. It's the second most popular deck on MTGO, Steve Locke used it to take down Grand Prix Phoenix, and it just finished second at Grand Prix Kyoto. Humans isn't utterly dominant in the way that some top Modern decks have been in the past, but we have to start somewhere, right?
The key card in Humans is Noble Hierarch, which also sees play in Counters Company, Infect, R/G Eldrazi, and a few other second and third tier Modern lists. Humans is the primary reason why Noble Hierarch has been the biggest Modern gainer of the past couple weeks, though, and the staple is now sold out at $85.
Is Noble Hierarch the first new addition to the top tier of Modern staples in a while? I think so. My guess is that it'll stabilize around $80, though another high finish could cause a spike past $100. Selling into the current hype is totally fine because the overall Modern index is inflated at the moment, but I don't think that Noble Hierarch is mispriced compared to the rest of the format. It's a very good card, and the demand here is real.
I haven't seen a lot of secondary spikes thanks to Humans' continued dominance, though a lot of these cards have spiked several times over the past six months, thanks to the deck's strong recent track record. If any of the other high end staples are going to make a move, my money's on Aether Vial and Meddling Mage. They're too expensive for me to recommend speculating on, but I'm fine trading into them at current retail.
I'd also consider snapping up foil copies of Kitesail Freebooter and Dire Fleet Daredevil while Ixalan and Rivals of Ixalan are still in print. I'm already seeing movement on non-foil copies of Dire Fleet Daredevil thanks to the amount of Modern play it's seeing, and the next iteration of Standard might cause that card to spike soon. Regardless, these are low-risk, slow burn plays that I rather like right now.
Jund was the hottest deck on MTGO for most of late February and early March, a trend that proved spicy enough to spike Dark Confidant, Liliana of the Veil, and Tarmogoyf as players rushed to cast their Bloodbraid Elves for the first time in years.
The Jund hype has fallen off pretty hard after that initial rush, though. Jund is still the most played Modern deck on MTGO, but that wave has begun to recede in recent days as demand for the deck's top-tier staples have begun to fall off. Liliana of the Veil and Dark Confidant both lost value this week, though neither card is even close to where it was before the Bloodbraid Elf unbanning. More importantly, Jund did not make the top 16 at the SCG Modern Classic last weekend and it underperformed in Phoenix despite a second place finish. Is it possible that we all overrated Jund in the wake of the Bloodbraid Elf unbanning?
Sort of. I prefer the theory that Jund is currently dealing with an inordinate amount of hate, thanks to its current status as the most popular deck in Modern. Todd Stevens backs me up on this , though he also points out that the deck doesn't have any truly great matchups, either.
My guess is that Jund remains a top ten deck in Modern, but that's a really low bar considering that Jund is currently about a thousand dollars more expensive (!) than the next best deck in the format. That feels unsustainable to me. I'm fading all the main Jund staples at their current prices, and I'd be thrilled to get anything close to current retail for my Dark Confidants and Tarmogoyfs right now. My guess is that these cards will all be 20-30% lower by midsummer.
- 4 Hollow One
- 4 Bloodghast
- 4 Flameblade Adept
- 4 Flamewake Phoenix
- 3 Gurmag Angler
- 4 Street Wraith
- 1 Tasigur, the Golden Fang
It took everybody a couple of weeks for people to realize that B/R Hollow One was a real deck, and I think that some people are still struggling with the idea that this is actually one of the best decks in Modern. If it was too high variance to be good or it was easy to hate out of the format, those things would have happened by now. Instead, B/R Hollow One continues to put up high finishes on a consistent basis.
Now that we know the deck is good, how high can Goblin Lore actually go? Hollow One's marquee card seems to find a new plateau every couple of weeks, and I suspect it'll be restocked at a higher rate than its current $22 price tag. $30 seems more reasonable, but it could spike past $40 if B/R Hollow One takes down a major tournament. Bloodghast could end up back in the $25 range again soon, too, and Engineered Explosives is already on the march toward $70-$80.
I'm a little less excited about Flamewake Phoenix and Hollow One since the supply is so much higher than, say, Blackcleave Cliffs and Goblin Lore, but both still feel a tad underpriced to me. Much like with the newer cards in Humans, I'll trade for these and current retail and target underpriced foils when possible.
Some people (myself included) figured that Jace, the Mind Sculptor would massively improve Jeskai Control, and we'd end up in a metagame where four copies of Jace and four copies of Snapcaster Mage were the default starting point for the inevitable best deck. Thankfully, that didn't happen. For one, there are too many decks in the format with a good matchup against control. Also, we've learned in recent days that the correct number of Jaces is closer to two than four.
Jace has proven to be a crucial part of the metagame, though, and card scarcity plus the planeswalker's truly iconic nature should keep its price in the $100 range for a while. Jace's price tag has leveled off in the days since the Masters 25 release, both in paper and on MTGO, and it sees enough play to sustain that value going forward. Feel free to buy or sell your Jaces at current retail without much fear.
As for the other cards in the deck, it might be worth snapping up a few extra copies of Supreme Verdict. The card is pretty low right now, thanks to Iconic Masters, and it sees play in Jeskai Control as well as a newer breed of U/W Control decks that have been popping up lately; see Akira Tanaka's 4th place finish at Grand Prix Kyoto . That deck also runs Dragonlord Ojutai, which is an intriguing spec in its own right. The fact that Dragonlord Ojutai is great in Commander gives it a fairly low floor, though I suspect that this cycle will be back in one of the next couple of Masters sets.
- 4 Devoted Druid
- 4 Dwynen's Elite
- 4 Elvish Archdruid
- 4 Elvish Mystic
- 1 Eternal Witness
- 4 Heritage Druid
- 4 Llanowar Elves
- 3 Nettle Sentinel
- 1 Selfless Spirit
- 1 Vizier of Remedies
- 4 Ezuri, Renegade Leader
Elves isn't anywhere near the most-played Modern decks on MTGO, but Brent Clift won the SCG Classic last weekend with a G/W variant and I've seen some nifty G/R versions with Bloodbraid Elf running around as well. Gilt-Leaf Palace has skyrocketed on MTGO in recent months, but I don't love it as a paper play since I'm not sure that the G/B variant of Elves is the one to beat.
Collected Company seems like a pretty solid buy regardless, though. Not only is Collected Company good in Elves, but it sees play in Counters Company, Bant Company, Knightfall, and even some Humans builds. It's one of the few Modern staples not to surge in recent weeks, despite the fact that it wasn't reprinted and it seems fairly well positioned in the current meta. If the right deck spikes an event this spring, this $17 card could hit $35 overnight.
- 4 Arcbound Ravager
- 3 Etched Champion
- 2 Master of Etherium
- 2 Memnite
- 4 Ornithopter
- 4 Signal Pest
- 2 Steel Overseer
- 3 Vault Skirge
- 1 Hope of Ghirapur
PSA: Affinity is still good. It was good the day Modern was announced, it's good now, and it will be good next week. I guess Mox Opal and Arcbound Ravager have some room to gain value, but I think most of the heat will be around Modern's newer, sexier decks. Affinity staples are good places to "park" value if you want to trade out of riskier cards, though, so it's worth reiterating that Affinity's stability will likely remain unchallenged this year.
Lantern Control has fallen way off since the unbannings. Remember how a large chunk of the player base was calling for a Lantern banning after Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan? They didn't get their wish, but they probably won't have to face off against Lantern Control regardless.
The good news for those of you who own this deck is that most of the good cards in Lantern Control are also good in other decks-Ancient Stirrings, Thoughtseize, and Mox Opal see plenty of play, for example. The Lantern-exclusive staples are almost certainly overpriced right now. Mishra's Bauble, Lantern of Insight, Ensnaring Bridge, and even Darkslick Shores look poised to drop off over the coming months. The overall Modern bull market has kept this crash from happening so far, but unless the metagame becomes more Lantern friendly over the next few weeks, I think we'll see a fairly significant drop at some point this summer.
The existence of Bloodbraid Elf and the fact that another top deck (Jund) can run Fulminator Mage hurts Tron, but its favorable matchup versus the Jace-based control decks helps it. I'm a little worried at the lack of top Tron finishes lately, but I suspect that has more to do with Jund's overrepresentation in the metagame due to unban excitement than Tron's lack of ability to compete with the format's best current decks. Once things settle down a bit more, I think Tron will settle back into Modern's top tier.
Unfortunately, there aren't many good financial deals to be had here in the meantime. Karn Liberated and Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger have both spiked in recent days, and Grove of the Burnwillows has started trending upward as well. World Breaker and Kozilek's Return are probably worth snagging in low-end trades and holding for a while, but neither card has a very exciting short-term ceiling.
The fact that Lightning Bolt has become Modern's dominant removal spell should have helped Thought-Knot Seer and Reality Smasher continue to dominate, but the overall metagame simply hasn't been friendly for this deck since well before the unbannings. Eldrazi Tron is solidly third tier at this point, and I don't think too many people are looking to buy in right now.
While some versions of Mono-Green Tron do run Thought-Knot Seer, and Chalice of the Void shows up in Legacy, I'm bearish on the short-term future for both cards. Much like with Ensnaring Bridge, I'm especially unsure how Chalice of the Void will recover from its Masters 25 printing without its primary deck being a major part of the metagame. I'm selling, even though its price is relatively low at the moment.
- 4 Arbor Elf
- 2 Birds of Paradise
- 4 Bloodbraid Elf
- 3 Inferno Titan
- 4 Tireless Tracker
- 1 Courser of Kruphix
- 2 Pia and Kiran Nalaar
On the flipside, G/R Land Destruction is a deck on the rise. It hasn't had too many high finishes since winning the Modern Open in Dallas back in early March, but I suspect it'll end up kicking around Modern's second tier for a while. At the very least, it's the sort of cool unique strategy that will always be popular among a certain style of Magic player, regardless of how well-positioned it is.
G/R Land Destruction is the biggest reason why Tireless Tracker has tripled in price over the past couple of weeks, though there haven't been too many other spikes here. Birds of Paradise certainly has some room to grow, and Inferno Titan is one of my favorite low-risk spec targets right now. The card is up to 16 tickets on MTGO, but they're still just $3 in paper. The additional Commander printings hurt, certainly, but the discrepancy shouldn't be this big. If people keep playing G/R Land Destruction, and I think they will, then Inferno Titan could break $10 quite easily.
Welcome back from the dead, G/W Hexproof! Daybreak Coronet was down to $5 after its Modern Masters 2015 reprint, but the resurgence of G/W Hexproof brought it back up to a sold-out $18. Leyline of Sanctity also spiked a little, but probably not enough considering how good this deck is right now. Kor Spiritdancer and Slippery Bogle haven't really budged yet, and both cards have plenty of room to run. If G/W Hexproof takes down another major event, Kor Spiritdancer could jump from $8 to $30. I'm a big fan of snagging these ASAP at current retail.
Grixis Death's Shadow was tier one for so long that it's hard to believe that this one is probably tier two at best right now. Its most expensive cards-Thoughtseize, Kolghan's Command, Snapcaster Mage, and the manabase-all have several other homes, but I'm a lot more bearish on Death's Shadow's immediate future than I was a couple of months ago when I called it a solid buy. I expect Death's Shadow will have a comeback at some point, but its eponymous card might fall off quite a bit between now and then.
Check out Ben Weitz's guide to the deck if you haven't yet , but his central thesis is that Ironworks Combo is good in a Jund-centric format and bad with too many copies of Stony Silence and Rest in Peace running around. My guess is that this brief resurgence in Ironworks' popularity will wane now that the percentage of people playing Jund is dropping, but I've been wrong about this stuff before.
For me, most speculation around this deck begins with its namesake card. Krark-Clan Ironworks is sold out at $8 right now, and it's a $30+ card if this deck ascends into Modern's top tier. That's not a bet I'm willing to make, but it's worth keeping on your radar.
U/R Gifts Storm is a house right now, putting up some of the quickest goldfish kills in Modern alongside some top finishes at recent events including the SCG Team Open in Cincinnati. It's also one of the cheapest decks in the format; Steam Vents is the most expensive card you have to run and you can find those for less than $20 each.
Baral, Chief of Compliance, Sleight of Hand, Manamorphose, Remand, and Gifts Ungiven are all probably due for a bump in value. I get that speculating on Storm is risky, since WotC is likely to ban something if the deck gets too good, but almost everything from this deck is underpriced relative to the amount of play it sees and the results it keeps putting up. Remand and Manamorphose should be $15 cards at least, and Baral has a bright future. Storm is tough to play, of course, and it's not for everybody, but if I had to buy a Modern deck from scratch right now, this would be it.
The overall state of Modern hasn't really changed that much since before the unbannings. Getting the correct matchups is still the most important factor to doing well at a Modern tournament, so the metagame is likely to resemble a four-dimensional game of Rock Paper Scissors for the foreseeable future. You can play any of about thirty different decks, and an intimate knowledge of lines, matchup strategies, and correct sideboarding is going to take you a lot farther than simply herding toward the "best" deck. Other than the decks I wrote about today, I could have easily included:
- Ad Nauseam
- Bant Knightfall
- Blue Moon
- Bring to Light
- Counters Company
- G/W Hatebears
- Mardu Pyromancer
- Sultai Midrange
- U/R Control
Even though Modern is still awesome, I expect that we're at or close to 2018's financial peak. Historically, Eternal prices tend to peak in the early spring. It's tax return season, the weather isn't great yet, Standard is usually in a bit of a doldrums. We've also just had a Modern Pro Tour, a Masters set release, and the biggest unbanning in the format's history. I suppose it's possible that Modern will remain this hot all year long, and some prices will certainly keep gaining, but I expect the overall format index to tail off a bit over the next couple of months.
I'm not saying that you should sell out of Modern-it's Magic's best, most popular format, after all-but if you have any extra copies of key staples that you're looking to part with, this is a good time to do it. At the very least, you don't want to be selling in mid-August when prices tend to flag with the summer heat. I also wouldn't buy now unless you need the cards for an upcoming event. Prices should be down at least 10% across the board this summer, and I expect that most of the Jund staples will drop even more than that.
This Week's Trends
Even though Dominaria previews have started to trickle in, the Standard market is about as dead as I've ever seen it. The only Standard-legal card gaining value right now is Dire Fleet Daredevil, and that movement is almost entirely due to the role it plays in Modern Humans.
The good news, I suppose, is that prices aren't really dropping, either. No Standard card dropped more than a couple of cents this week, and the format's prices are basically in hibernation until we get a better sense of what Dominaria is going to bring to the format.
One thing we can say for certain is that Dominaria's "Wizards matter" cards seem pushed for Standard. Most of the format's currently powerful Wizards are from the rotating Amonkhet and Kaladesh blocks, but cards like Baral, Chief of Compliance and Soul-Scar Mage might see brief spikes in a couple of weeks when people first start brewing those decks. Timestream Navigator might finally get its moment in the sun, too.
Now that the NDA has dropped on Arena, I can talk freely about my experience with the new digital client. The interface is actually pretty awesome, and it feels a lot more like actual Magic than, say, Duels of the Planeswalkers did. I'm still not sure if it's capable of fully recreating all the crazy ways that a game of Magic can go- one Redditor reports that infinite combos are more or less impossible right now -but there's nothing about Arena that makes me believe a future version won't be capable of recreating at least 99% of all potential game states in Standard and Modern.
Oh the other hand, Arena's economy is frustrating. Wild cards don't show up nearly enough, and the daily grind feels positively sluggish, compared to games like Hearthstone and Eternal. I get that WotC doesn't want to be too liberal with their pack distribution since it would make spending $3.99 for a paper pack feel like a rip-off if Arena packs were too easy to unlock, but right now it looks like your options will be limited to "play for free and resign yourself to something pretty janky" or "spend a significant amount of actual money for a tier deck." If WotC sticks with this model, it might keep Arena from catching on as quickly as I'd been hoping it would. The financial upshot here is that I'm even more bullish about the next 2-3 years of MTGO. I still think it's likely that everything ends up on Arena eventually, but that's probably not happening either this year or next.