The last time we had a summer core set was way back in July of 2015, when Magic Origins unleashed Jace, Vryn's Prodigy onto an unsuspecting world. While the ebbs and flows of Magic finance haven't changed very much since then (give or take a couple of $800 dual lands), it's likely that we could all use a refresher course in what makes core set finance a special and unique sort of animal.
The first thing to know about core sets is that they tend to sell worse than most other Magic sets. Some players skip them because they're just a little too generic, while others simply don't play as much Magic during the height of summer. The Draft formats are rarely all that memorable, either, and they just don't feel like they're as big a deal as, say, Ixalan or Dominaria.
This relative lack of popularity generally means that core set staples tend to trend a little bit higher than the best cards from the fall or winter sets. It also means that long-term casual specs tend to rebound faster than comparable cards from normal expansions. Just don't expect this trend to be too extreme: Magic 2015's cards rebounded from their rotational lows at a quicker rate than comparable cards from Journey to Nyx, for example, but both sets contain the same number of $5+ cards today.
It's also worth remembering that core sets tend to be defined by a couple of high end "reprint anchors"-the sort of gee-wiz inclusions that are designed to entice established players into buying a box of a set that they might otherwise skip. Magic 2015 had Chord of Calling and Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth. Magic Origins had Goblin Piledriver (a bigger deal at the time), the enemy-colored painlands, and Knight of the White Orchid. Core Set 2019 has Scapeshift, Omniscience, and Crucible of Worlds: far better pulls than I would have expected going into preview season.
In the past, these cards have tended to drop by roughly 50% of their pre-order price by mid-August before eventually rebounding back to their pre-order price after a year or two. While the sample size is far too small for me to say that this is absolutely what will happen to the reprint anchors in Core Set 2019, I'll likely be holding off on buying for now.
Because core sets are a little simpler than most other sets, they tend to be a little easier to evaluate as well. Core Set 2019 will probably not have as many "this could be $1 or it could be $30" cards as Dominaria did, which makes it a worse set for bulk or near-bulk speculation. Don't spend too much time overthinking things: the best cards in Core Set 2019 are likely to be obvious utility role-players-cards like Magic Origins' Languish, which was a format-defining sweeper in its day. The best specs in this set are likely to be the sort of cards that could go from $4 to $8, or $5 to $15, or $20 to $50-not $1 to $20.
Core sets often contain either hints or plants designed to bridge the gap between different blocks. It can be hard to figure this stuff out in advance, but I wouldn't be surprised if Core Set 2019's tri-color Dragons get a little easier to play thanks to the move back towards "multicolored matters" with Guilds of Ravnica. And while Scapeshift and Crucible of Worlds are much-needed Modern reprints, the fact that they're both "lands matter" cards might not be a coincidence. Could Scapeshift really see play in Standard next season? It's possible!
Anyway, I think it's time to look at the cards themselves. I've got the first half of Core Set 2019 for you today, and I'll cover the rest next week along with my thoughts on the set as a whole.
Crucible of Worlds - $49.99
Wow. Short of Mox Opal or Liliana of the Veil, it's hard to imagine a bigger bombshell than a Crucible of Worlds reprint. This card has been so expensive for so long that I can barely remember a time when this thing was just $10-$15. MTG Goldfish tells me that Crucible of Worlds has been at least $25 since 2011.
It's worth noting here that scarcity plays a bigger part than demand does in Crucible's price. This thing was only printed twice, in Fifth Dawn and Tenth Edition, two old and poor-selling sets. While I expect casual and Commander demand to rise once the price starts to come down, I can't imagine that it maintains a price tag anywhere near $50. The "halve the pre-order price" rule is as good a heuristic as any here, and I suspect that this one will end up stabilizing around $25 by the middle of August.
Scapeshift - $24.99
StarCityGames knows that Scapeshift is going to drop hard. Its pre-reprint price tag wasn't all that far off from Crucible of Worlds before this news, but the card is starting at $25, not $50. Not only is the demand for Scapeshift likely to remain smaller than the demand for Crucible since it's not as good a casual card, but this one is even more of a low-supply situation: the card had only been printed once, in Morningtide, and it was beyond due for a comeback.
Because SCG has already priced Scapeshift down pretty aggressively, I doubt it'll lose a full half of its value from here. It is a mythic rare, after all, so $15 feels right to me.
Omniscience - $17.99
I'll admit, I had to change this article a bit after I thought I was finished with this section because I didn't think we would get a third high quality reprint in Core Set 2019. WotC really is pulling out all the stops for this set, and I suspect that the number of good reprints will keep the value of the newer cards a little lower than normal simply because there's only so low that cards like Crucible of Worlds and Omniscence can fall.
Anyhow, Omniscence was an $8-$9 card back when it was printed the first time. It spiked to $30 because it saw play in Legacy as well as in casual decks, but this new printing should negate all of that increased Legacy demand. It may not drop as far as $8 this time, but $10 seems like a reasonable target to me.
Death Baron - $7.99
I wasn't suspecting SCG to be this aggressive on Death Baron, either-this card was over $20 last week. $8 seems fair as a pre-order for this casual all-star, though I do expect it to drop even further once Core Set 2019 hits shelves. I pegged its eventual price at $5 last week, and I stand by that prediction.
It's worth nothing here that all four of these cards will almost certainly end up being good long-term buys. Time after time, these core set reprints drop considerably after the set is released and time after time, they surge again after six months or a year. I wouldn't buy in now, but there will be a nice long window at some point soon. Just be patient.
Magistrate's Scepter - 1.99
Did you even know that this was like a $6-$7 card since it's a random Time Walk effect? If so, congratulations-you're either an expert on the temporal arts or someone who's really good at picking bulk. Regardless, there will be more than enough copies to go around now. Future $1 rare.
Mentor of the Meek - $0.99
Mentor of the Meek has been reprinted several times already and the price continues to fluctuate between $0.50 and $1. The Core Set 2019 reprint isn't going to change that. Future bulk rare.
The New Stuff
Nicol Bolas, the Ravager - $29.99
Is this the most Constructed-playable iteration of Nicol Bolas yet? My gut tells me yes. Assuming that you can get around the tough Grixis casting cost requirements, this is a two-for-one almost every time you play it regardless of what happens next. A 4/4 flier for four with a solid ability is nice on the face of things, but the fact that you can turn this into a giant unstoppable killing machine in the late game pushes Nicol Bolas, the Ravager over the edge. I adore cards that allow me to have an amazing late game without having to put six or seven mana cards in my deck at all, and Nicol Bolas is exactly that.
Is $30 the right price for this card, though? Since it requires a dedicated Grixis manabase, I can't imagine it becoming a multi-deck staple like Karn, Scion of Urza or even Chandra, Torch of Defiance. For Nicol Bolas to be worth a pre-order at $30 it would have to be pretty stable in the $30-$40 range, which would only happen if Grixis instantly became the best deck in Standard. I'm not saying that's impossible, but it's not a gamble I'm personally willing to take. This card might jump a bit over the short-term as people realize how good it is (if it's as good as I think it is, of course), but I suspect it'll be under $30 by mid-August regardless.
Resplendent Angel - $17.99
My biggest problem with Resplendent Angel is that I don't know where it fits in Standard right now. It's amazing with Lyra Dawnbringer and Shalai, Voice of Plenty, but is that enough for Standard's top tier? I'm not sure. A 3/3 flier for three is on-curve, though, and Resplendent Angel is great if you can turn on either of its abilities even once. Much like Nicol Bolas, it's a card that can come down early, pose a substantial mid-game threat, and then help close out the game late.
At $18, I'm on the fence. While Resplendent Angel has "best card in the set" upside, I don't see a world where that happens without Lyra's help. And since Lyra is both cheaper and more proven right now, why not just grab a couple of those if you're going to invest along these lines? It's the safer play and the upside is just as real.
Ajani, Adversary of Tyrants - $15.99
I know that this is a boring thing to say in a set review, but Ajani, Adversary of Tyrants is a good card for a very specific niche and it's priced fairly. All its abilities are solid in white aggro, where it plays wonderfully with both Walking Ballista and History of Benalia. Ajani is almost certainly going to be a two-of or three-of in at least one good deck, but I can't imagine it does much beyond that. If you think that you'll need these, $16 is fair. This card will probably settle in around $12 if white aggro fails to regain a solid share of the metagame and $17-$18 if it does.
It's also worth noting that Walking Ballista might tick up a bit in response, though the card is so close to rotation that it could just keep slowly dropping even if it starts to see more competitive play again. History of Benalia is probably the better buy if you'd rather focus on proven post-hype pick-ups.
Vivien Reid - $14.99
I know that I said to keep a lookout for generically good cards in core sets like Core Set 2019, but Vivien Reid might just be a little too generic. I feel like I'll be paying five mana for a single Disenchant far too often here, and I'm not sure that the promise of card selection will be enough to push Vivien over the edge into playability. I can imagine a metagame where Vivien had a chance to shine, but the most likely scenario here is that she becomes another $7-$8 five-mana planeswalker in a long, long line of them.
Chromium, the Mutable - $11.99
The thing that I like most about Chromium, the Mutable is that it does one thing very well. If you want a slippery and uncounterable Esper Control finisher, Chromium is your Dragon. Seven mana is a lot, but flash does a lot to help ameliorate that problem.
Since I'm not really worried about whether Chromium is good enough, my financial questions must do more with how the metagame is likely to develop. Esper Control is probably the third most-popular deck in the format right now, but is Chromium likely to be more of a mirror-breaker in the sideboard, or a versatile maindeck threat? My guess is that Chromium is a little worse than average at the moment, since it has to compete with Torrential Gearhulk (still the better card, I think) at the top end and running any sort of seven-drop in a field dominated by red aggro seems a little suspect. It's possible that Chromium won't really shine until after rotation, at which point who knows how good Esper control will be?
That said, there's some real upside here. Good mythic control finishers can be worth $25, $30, even $35 in the right environment. Chromium isn't likely to fall below $6-$7 regardless, so a $12 buy-in piques my interest. I'll still probably hold out until we get a bit closer to rotation, but if you've already got Esper Control put together, you should probably snag a couple of these now just in case.
Vaevictis Asmati, the Dire - $7.99
I guess there's a shot that some sort of Jund Midrange deck will want to make use of Vaevictis Asmati, the Dire? A card that can force a sacrifice of any permanent can't be dismissed out of hand, but I don't really like anything else about this one. The casting cost is rough, there's no enters-the-battlefield ability, the attack trigger is not a may ability, and it has an inherent amount of randomness involved that makes me wary about using it in any sort of competitive context. There's a glimmer of upside here, but I'm banking on this being a future bulk rare.
Palladia-Mors, the Ruiner - $6.99
Palladia-Mors, the Ruiner seems quite a bit worse than Carnage Tyrant, which is already not seeing much play right now because green is so bad at the moment. Heck, I even like Azor, the Lawbringer more than this, and that one's just $1.75 right now. It's possible that Palladia-Mors will gain relevance this fall since the first new Ravnica set will include both Selesnya and Boros, but it's been a while since "big dumb Dragon that doesn't do anything other than hit" has been good.
Bone Dragon - $5.99
The first time I saw this card, I neglected to see the part where you must pay mana as well as exile seven other cards from your graveyard to put this onto the battlefield and started having happy thoughts about Manaless Dredge. That's not what this card is at all, though, and the unfortunate reality is that Bone Dragon is simply too underpowered to be anything more than a Limited bomb. A 5/4 flier for five mana is relentlessly mediocre, and jumping through hoops to get it back onto the battlefield sometimes is just not going to cut it. Future bulk mythic.
Alpine Moon - $4.99
So much for core sets being full of cards that are easy to evaluate!
On the one hand, I'm not sure that Alpine Moon is any good at all. I know that there are some seriously evil lands in Legacy and Modern (Dark Depths, Wasteland, Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle, Celestial Colonnade, Eldrazi Temple and, of course, Tron), but you're losing card advantage while also giving your opponent a free rainbow land. One that they can use to cast Nature's Claim, for example. Oh, and it costs you a sideboard slot to run at all.
On the other hand, this is a one-mana spell that shuts down many of the most powerful cards in Magic's most powerful formats. Comparing this to Blood Moon isn't fair, because Blood Moon is a three-mana card. Being able to interact for just a single mana is a huge deal, and there's a shot that this becomes the most important new card in the entirety of Core Set 2019.
This is not a spec for the faint of heart. If Alpine Moon isn't good, it's a bulk rare. If it is good, we might be looking at a $20 Modern staple. I tend to be conservative with my preview season speculations, so I'm staying away. If you're more of a risk-taker, however…
Elvish Clancaller - $3.99
Elvish Clancaller is interesting enough that we must spend a moment talking about its playability in both Standard and Modern.
The biggest problem with Clancaller in Standard is Goblin Chainwhirler. A one-toughness creature must be beyond amazing for me to consider playing it right now, and Elvish Clancaller just seems okay. There aren't enough Elves in the format to counteract that issue, though Guilds of Ravnica could change the calculus on that front. If the fall set brings us a bunch of sweet new Elves and Goblin Chainwhirler ends up either banned or forced into the fringes of the format, then we can talk.
In Modern, Elvish Clancaller seems like a fringe inclusion. I've talked to a couple of Elves players and they've indicated to me that they're going to test it, but they're not certain if it'll be good enough. If it is, the price will likely remain in the $4-$5 range. If not, there's a very real shot that this will drop toward $1-$2 and become a very intriguing late summer speculation target based on future Standard and casual demand.
Infernal Reckoning - $3.99
I have no idea how effective Infernal Reckoning will actually prove as a tournament level hate card, but the fact that I haven't heard much chatter about it tells me that it's probably not good enough to make an immediate impact. If it drops off toward bulk, I'll probably pick up a bunch in order to hedge against future Modern or even Legacy formats where this becomes a useful piece of sideboard tech.
Lathliss, Dragon Queen - $3.99
Lathliss, Dragon Queen isn't good enough for competitive play, but it's a new must-play in every Dragon-themed Commander deck ever made. Foils should start fairly high and will remain solid long-term holds. Heck, I wouldn't be surprised if Lathliss (along with the other cool Dragons in this set) cause a couple of minor Dragon-related Commander spikes similar to what happened with Dragons of Tarkir came out.
Dark-Dweller Oracle - $2.99
I have slight PTSD from the name of this card and the reality that I have about 60 copies of Goblin Dark-Dwellers sitting in a box somewhere. Oh well. Dark-Dweller Oracle might have some game in a casual format where the sac outlet is a good thing, but this is far too random and below the power curve for Standard. Future bulk rare.
Amulet of Safekeeping - $2.99
This is one of the weirdest cards I've seen in years. It makes no sense on an intuitive level. My guess is that Amulet of Safekeeping is R&D's attempt to try and answer the question of how to ensure that Modern players can sideboard against multiple strategies at once so that your progression though a large Modern tournament is less matchup dependent. That's a noble goal, even if it does lead to Clunkasaurus Rexes like this.
Anyway, Amulet of Safekeeping is probably good enough to see at least marginal Modern and even Legacy sideboard play. $3 is a totally fine buy-in for even a fringe Eternal card. Buy a set of these, sock them away, and pull them out whenever you need them. It doesn't have a ton of financial upside, but it's likely to be at least marginally useful for a very long time.
Incidentally, expect the printing of this card to lead to a lot of "unban Splinter Twin!" chatter this winter. That card is $5 right now, and I expect it'll get close to $10 by early January simply due to people buying into the possibility of an unban. The profit won't be outstanding, but it's free money if you want it.
Demon of Catastrophes - $2.99
I don't hate Demon of Catastrophes, but I hate the fact that it must compete with Hazoret the Fervent, Rekindling Phoenix, and Chandra, Torch of Defiance at the four-drop slot in R/B Aggro. Also. Do you really want a four-drop with BB when you're trying to get Goblin Chainwhirler out there as soon as possible? I suppose a future metagame could develop where this card ends up seeing play in a deck like that, but control brews aren't going to like how conditional this is and the aggro/midrange decks are skewing red. I feel like Demon of Catastrophes will be lost in the shuffle, at least for now.
Patient Rebuilding - $2.99
I'm not patient enough for Patient Rebuilding. A five-mana do-nothing that might draw you a card sometimes? Pass. I might run this in my mill Commander deck simply because there aren't a ton of cards out there that can mill as well as draw, but the days of "draw-go" control are over, and this is neither good enough for competitive play nor unique enough for widespread casual demand. Future bulk rare.
Isareth the Awakener - $2.99
I was ready to dismiss Isareth until I re-read the word "deathtouch," one of my favorite underrated abilities. A 3/3 deathtouch for three is a totally reasonable on-curve play for a midrange deck, and Isareth the Awakener's reanimation ability pushes it over the top for me. I don't know if Isareth the Awakener will find a home in the metagame or not, but the power level is there. At $3, this is a totally fine gamble.
Mistcaller - $2.49
Are we sure that Core Set 2019 isn't just Sideboard Tech: The Set? This thing is great against everything from Aether Vial and Collected Company to Reanimate and Show and Tell-all for a single mana. That seems great to me, though my Legacy pals tell me that it's probably not going to see play in a format where Flusterstorm and Containment Priest exist as better options.
Much like with Amulet of Safekeeping, I don't see a ton of downside to just grabbing a set of these for $10 total if you play a lot of Eternal Magic. Even if it doesn't see a ton of immediate play, it's a solid hedge against strategies that have proven very good in the past. Best case, this becomes a key sideboard card and spikes to like $10 at some point.
Desecrated Tomb - $1.99
Sweet, sweet, combulk! Grab these once they drop to bulk, and then wait for Saffron Olive to make some sort of infinite Bat engine using a stack of random Innistrad commons. You'll have about a week to out these at $5-$6 each before the hype dies back down.
Gigantosaurus - $1.99
This card is the best excuse I've had in ages to link you to my favorite video from the early YouTube era . It just about sums up my feeling about the card as well. I suppose there's an off-chance that Mono-Green Aggro wants this, but that would involve Mono-Green Aggro becoming an actual deck again first. Future bulk rare.
Ajani's Last Stand - $1.99
Pro players tend to not like reactive and conditional cards like this. I don't blame them. It might see some sideboard play if a certain sort of discard strategy gains a lot of popularity, but I don't see that as a particularly likely outcome. Future bulk rare.
Goreclaw, Terror of Qal Sisma - $1.99
OH MY GOD THANK YOU WOTC FOR FINALLY PRINTING A LEGENDARY BEAR THAT CAN BE THE COMMANDER OF MY BEAR DECK. I REALLY HOPE IT SYNERGIZES WITH LITERALLY ANY OTHER BEAR THAT HAS EVER BEEN PRINTED.
Removed from that context, I actually really like Goreclaw, Terror of Qal Sisma. Mana cost reduction is no joke and getting this thing onto the battlefield can lead to some seriously absurd lines of play. The Scarab God for three mana? Don't mind if I do!
At the very worst, Goreclaw, Terror of Qal Sisma is a very good card in Commander. At best, it's going to revitalize some sort of R/G or Sultai Aggro deck. Oh-and people are already buying out Myr Superion on Magic Online, so expect at least minor gains there in paper even though it's a very silly combo. I'm not sure that Goreclaw is going to be great, but it's my favorite gamble on the $2 tier right now.
Metamorphic Alteration - $1.99
I've seen almost no chatter about Metamorphic Alteration, and maybe my initial reaction to the card (that it's unplayable garbage) is the right one.
That said, I think we might all be sleeping on a pretty versatile spell. Obviously it's not really worth spending two mana and a card to turn your worst creature into the best creature on the battlefield, but what about a spell that can either do that or turn your opponent's best creature into the worst creature on the battlefield? Sure, maybe it's better to just run an actual removal spell most of the time, but I'm at least going to monitor this one going forward.
Vivien's Invocation - $1.49
Vivien's Invocation is certainly no Tooth and Nail. It's too expensive and too inconsistent to be even a marginal choice for any competitive format. I might run a copy in one of my Commander decks, though, and the art makes it look like the foil could generate a slight premium simply because it looks cool. The normal printing will remain a bulk rare, though.
Open the Graves - $0.99
I'll probably throw one of these in my Zombie Commander deck, but the value isn't all the great even in a casual format unless the creature type of the tokens matters for you. This a non-starter in competitive play, obviously. Bulk rare.
Prodigious Growth - $0.99
It only takes one "in response…" before neophyte Magic players learn why cards like this aren't very good. We all must learn this lesson the hard way, though. Bulk rare.
This Week's Trends
- There wasn't much movement in either Standard or Modern this week. Crested Sunmare is up a bit thanks to all the new Horses in Core Set 2019, but the card is so close to rotation that I don't expect it to stick. Karn Liberated is doing well after Tron put on a virtuoso performance at Grand Prix Las Vegas. Jace, the Mind Sculptor continues to drop as it fails to make a major impact in Modern. Karn, Scion of Urza has been falling as well since it seems to be merely a very good card instead of a silly broken mistake like so many people (including myself) assumed it was early in the format.
- While some Standard cards will start to spike a bit now that Core Set 2019 is becoming a known quantity, I wouldn't chase the market too much right now. We're too close to set rotation, and most players are going to hold off until Guilds of Ravnica. Standard's yearly lull is about a month off, and I'll be advising you on how to buy in once we hit late July or early August.
- I'm sure some of you saw the r/mtgfinance post where a cryptocurrency investor dropped $100,000 into dual lands at Grand Prix Las Vegas last weekend. As I've stated before, I think this is one of the major reasons why we've started to see so many absurd reserved list spikes over the past year or so. There's a large crossover between the cryptocurrency world and Magic's player base, especially the sort of players who might believe that owning a ton of Reserved List cards might make a certain amount of financial sense. (And if not, who cares? These folks are good at shrugging off their losses and moving on).
Let this be a lesson for those of you who believe that the reserved list spikes are entirely based on a bubble in the mtgfinance world. If it were a bubble, we wouldn't be seeing so many people buying these cards for themselves - it would just be investors buying and selling and buying again in an effort to keep searching out the greater fool. Some of that is happening, certainly, and I'm not arguing that we won't see a bunch of Reserved List cards fall off in price at some point due to a market panic or whatever. But there are plenty of collectors with a stack of cash who simply want to own these cards and have the means to do so now. Ignore them at your own risk.