On December 6th, Wizards of the Coast is going to make what they're calling a "major competitive Magic gaming announcement." While I (along with everybody else) fully expect this announcement to be related to Arena - giving folks a path to qualify for the Pro Tour via Arena, perhaps, or even announcing that one of the six Pro Tours in 2019 will take place exclusively on Arena - I've heard some folks wonder if the announcement might contain something else as well: the birth of a new Eternal format.
Let me be clear. I have no inside knowledge into the upcoming organized play announcement, and I feel like the creation of a new Eternal format probably isn't going to happen two weeks from now. That said, such an exciting announcement wouldn't surprise me, either. That's because I feel like the addition of a new Eternal format is going to happen at some point over the next year or two, no matter what.
Consider the following:
- There's community demand for a new competitive format. While Frontier never really caught on, the fact that so many people were willing to give it a shot even though it was never a sanctioned competitive format tells me that there's room in the Magic ecosystem for another Eternal format. Would WotC support and sanctioning have been enough to keep Frontier alive? I think so.
- WotC has created and announced new formats out of the blue before - and fairly recently, too. Remember Brawl? That one was also a pretty significant failure, but it proves that Wizards of the Coast is actively working on finding new ways to play Magic.
- The team Pro Tour was a huge success, but it also laid bare some of the issues with card availability in Legacy. Since WotC has held steadfast in their promise to maintain the Reserved List, it wouldn't shock me if they wanted a third Constructed format for future team events that was actually accessible and affordable.
- From an economic perspective, WotC must be somewhat concerned about the lack of value in recently rotated sets. After all, the fact that "the card I open tomorrow might be worth $100 in a couple of years!" is a big driver of Standard pack sales, but there really haven't been many of those cards since Innistrad. And even though they aren't making anymore Masters sets for a while, they're going to need headliners for future sets when they do. The best way to create new expensive Eternal cards? Create a new Eternal format.
- While Modern is great right now, it also doesn't feel like there's much more that WotC can do to shake it up without risking the stability of the format. They can always print a few more cards that might create a few more linear strategies, and there are probably 3-4 other cards that can safely come off the banned list, but by and large, Modern is what it is. Which is great for Modern, but it's not going to lead to any major "wow" moments over the next couple of years. And WotC relies on those "wow" moments to sell packs and drive Pro Tour viewership.
- The number of sets that have been released since the inception of Modern now outnumbers the pool of sets that were Modern-legal when the format was first announced. The format is more than twice as big as it was when it began, and each subsequent set has a smaller and smaller impact on the size of the card pool.
- Arena. Whether or not it's the future of Magic, the platform has proven to be a smashing success right out of the gate. And while most of us are still hoping that we can eventually use it to play Modern, Legacy, and Vintage, announcements like this one only show that WotC is doubling-down on what they've said all along: MTGO is going to remain the client for these formats. But what about introducing a new Eternal format on Arena, one that allows you to use all the cards in your collection regardless of rotation? That seems fairly inevitable, right? Without a new Eternal format or the introduction of some kind of dusting mechanic, a lot of Arena players are going to be pretty disappointed next autumn when more than half of their collection becomes completely useless outside of casual Magic.
If you want to look for evidence that a new Eternal format is going to be announced before the end of the year, you can certainly find evidence to support that call. For one, it's odd that we still don't know the formats for any of the Pro Tours in 2019. Is that because one of them is going to be New Eternal?
It's also possible that Ultimate Masters and the temporary shelving of the Masters series is a hint as well. Perhaps there won't be an Masters sets for a while because 2019 will have a strong focus on New Eternal, where card availability is less of an issue. Perhaps that's why they felt comfortable reprinting, like, 70% of the good cards in Modern. Heck, perhaps some of the remaining rares in the set are staples in New Eternal that wouldn't have seemed exciting three weeks ago but will seem exciting when the set releases the day after the organized play announcement.
Okay, so some of that stuff in the last paragraph is a bit tin foil hatty, but you can see why I'm writing this article now instead of later. When Modern was announced back in early 2011, its first wave of staples caused a price surge unlike anything that the Magic market had ever seen. $1 cards jumped to $10, $5 cards jumped to $25, and $10 cards jumped to $50. If you were sitting on a stash of, say, Ravnica shocklands on Modern announcement day, you would have seen a 3-5x return on your investment.
The other reason why I like the idea of speculating on New Eternal cards right now is that they are currently among the lowest-risk investments in all of Magic. Take Chandra, Torch of Defiance. The downside of buying Chandra right now is that you must spend $13 on a card that only sees fringe play in Modern, which means that it's probably not going to spike in price without some sort of New Eternal. But how much lower is this planeswalker actually going to get in the meantime? It's certainly not going to be reprinted anytime soon, and casual demand should keep it from dropping below $10 and might even cause it to go up. So, whether the New Eternal announcement happens in three weeks or three years, you'll be prepared.
Where Will WotC Draw The Line?
Of course, all the New Eternal speculation in the world won't help if you don't know where WotC plans to start the format. After all, you don't want to buy cards that miss the cutoff - if your specs are too old for New Eternal, they won't rise in price at all.
To me, there are three realistic possibilities for WotC's New Eternal cutoff:
First, and perhaps most likely, they could set the cutoff at Magic 2015. This is the same cutoff that Frontier used, and they chose Magic 2015 as their starting point because it was the first set to include the anti-counterfeit stamp on the front of the redesigned card face. This uses the same logic that WotC had when they created Modern, which was based on the redesigned Eighth Edition card face.
The issues with this plan? Well, the optics might be kind of bad since Frontier is already considered by many to be something of a failure. "Surprise! We have a new format for you and it's the same as the one you already rejected on your own!" might be a bit of a tough sell.
Another problem? The Frontier card pool includes Khans of Tarkir, and I have kind of a gut feeling that WotC doesn't want to have any fetchlands in their new Eternal format. They create an annoying amount of shuffling, and they're probably the single best cycle of fixing lands ever produced. They could always ban the fetchlands, of course, but that might feel a bit clunky.
Lastly, this cutoff would require WotC to release Magic 2016, the entirety of Khans block, Magic Origins, Battle for Zendikar block, and Shadows over Innistrad block on Arena at some point in the future. This would be far easier than releasing the entire Modern card pool, but it would probably require a decent amount of planning/rollout, and I can't imagine them doing that until Arena is far more stable and established.
This brings us to our second potential cutoff for a new Eternal format: Kaladesh forward.
The upside here is obvious: all of these sets are out on Arena already, which means that it should be an easy format for Arena-first players to figure out. They won't have to retrofit any sets on Arena, and this format would certainly play a lot differently than Modern does.
The problem? The card pool is way, WAY too small for an Eternal format. When Modern was released, its card pool contained thirty sets. Kaladesh-forward is nine sets, more than half of which overlap with Standard. Also, Kaladesh had some pretty problematic cards in it. They might be fine if the card pool is large enough, but even if you ban Smuggler's Copter and friends, you're still going to end up with a few of last year's Standard decks a few of this year's Standard decks. Yuck.
A potential third solution? Include everything from Magic 2013 forward. This includes all of Return to Ravnica block, and it would currently encompass a total of 26 currently-released sets. I'll admit that this is mostly just a pet theory of mine, but I like it as a cutoff because it includes a similar-sized card pool to Modern back when that set was initially announced.
At the same time, I deliberately chose not to go back far enough to include the original Innistrad block. Cards like Snapcaster Mage and Liliana of the Veil are so powerful and so intrinsically tied to Modern at this point that feel like WotC is going to want to keep them out of the new format to ensure that there are some pretty serious differences between them. This third solution contains most of the same problems as the first, including the existence of the fetchlands and the need to rerelease a bunch of sets on Arena, but I also feel like it would lead to the best, most exciting format on day one.
In the end, I feel like option #1 is WotC's most likely move if they act soon, but option #2 gets more and more likely as time passes and the Arena-forward card pool increases in size. I can't imagine WotC leading off a new eternal format with a nine-set card pool-there's too much that's likely to go wrong and tank the format's popularity before it's had a chance to catch on. But if a year or two passes and we haven't seen New Eternal yet? Then it'll be time to revisit the Kaladesh-forward hypothesis.
There's also a fourth option on the table: re-introducing Extended. Back when Extended was retired in 2013, it kind of played out as a watered-down version of Modern. But Modern's card pool is twice as big now, and Extended would play out a lot more like supercharged Standard than lousy Modern.
So what would be in Extended right now? It would include everything from Battle for Zendikar forward until next September. This doesn't solve any of the Arena issues since four of those sets pre-date the platform and you'd still have cards rotate eventually, but it would be neat as heck (and would do a lot to revitalize prices) if there was an Extended Pro Tour in 2019.
The Cards That Will Benefit Most From A New Eternal Format
Now we get to the meat and potatoes. While it's impossible to know which cards will end up being format staples in a format that we don't have any parameters for yet, there are certainly ways to make some educated guesses.
First off, any card that is both good in Modern and legal in New Eternal should automatically be high on your radar. While most of these cards are already fairly pricey, any card that can find a home in a format with a massive card pool has a great shot at finding a home in a format with a smaller card pool as well. The exception are cards like Bedlam Reveler, which requires a deep and specific supporting cast to work, but if a card was good in Standard AND Modern, it's probably gold going forward.
Second, we should take a long look at cards that used to be Standard staples but never found a home in Modern because the card pool was too deep or the decks were too fast. Think Goblin Rabblemaster or The Scarab God. Not only do these cards have the most room to grow, but they'll be everybody's tier zero specs when the new format is announced, which means you'll be able to sell them into the initial hype regardless of how good they may or may not end up being.
Lastly, we can take a look at the actual Frontier metagame to see what cards people played when that format had its brief moment in the sun. While this won't do us much good if WotC chooses a different cutoff, and Frontier is likely different now that it has more cards than it was the last time anyone thought too much about it, I still tend to believe that some competitive results are better than no competitive results.
Let's take a look at these three categories one at a time and see if we can pick out some of the juiciest specs:
Recent Modern Staples
I'm using a bit of a loose definition of "Modern staple" when I include cards like Gideon of the Trials, but it seems pretty clear to me that Walking Ballista, Fatal Push, and the Kaladesh rare lands would be a pretty major part of any new Eternal format. They were good in Standard, they're good in Modern, and they'll go up in price almost immediately if New Eternal is announced.
Magic 2015 forward: Grim Flayer, Liliana the Last Hope, Bedlam Reveler, Collective Brutality, Selfless Spirit, Spell Queller, Tireless Tracker, Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger, Hangarback Walker, Collected Company, Kolaghan's Command, Ugin, the Spirit Dragon, Tasigur, the Golden Fang, The Khans of Tarkir fetchlands, Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth.
I'm not sure there would be enough Spirits to make Selfless Spirit work, and the lack of Tron pieces might make Ulamog and Ugin tough to play. Collected Company would certainly be a top deck, though, and Liliana the Last Hope would be a top 5 expensive staple in this iteration of New Eternal. The Khans fetchlands would immediately spike, too.
This final chunk of cards doesn't give us much more to work with, and they're also the least likely to actually be included in a new Eternal format. I'd rather invest in slightly more recent cards that have a better shot of making the cutoff.
Ex Standard Staples
Kaladesh forward: The Scarab God, Hazoret the Fervent, Liliana, Death's Majesty, Rhonas the Indomitable, Anointed Procession, Disallow, Angel of Invention, Chandra, Torch of Defiance, Torrential Gearhulk, Smuggler's Copter, Aetherworks Marvel.
This is probably the best combination of safety and potential value anywhere on this list. You might have to wait a while for this investment to pay off, but these cards will almost certainly be among whatever card pool WotC inevitably chooses for their new Eternal format, and they're cheap enough right now for the payoff to be quite nice during that initial flurry of excitement. At the very least, you should snag The Scarab God, Hazoret, Liliana, Chandra, and Torrential Gearhulk. Smuggler's Copter would also be solid if you thought that WotC might not ban it straight off.
Magic 2015 forward: Tamiyo, Field Researcher, Nahiri, the Harbinger, Archangel Avacyn, Thought-Knot Seer, Reality Smasher, Eldrazi Displacer, Nissa, Voice of Zendikar, Kozilek's Return, Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet, Chandra, Flamecaller, Gideon, Ally of Zendikar, Kytheon, Hero of Akros, Jace, Vryn's Prodigy, Secure the Wastes, Atarka's Command, Narset Transcendent, Dragonlord Ojutai, Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker, Siege Rhino, Anafenza, the Foremost, Dig Through Time, Goblin Rabblemaster, Languish, Nissa, Worldwaker.
Boy oh boy are there some sexy specs in here. Gideon, Kalitas, Jace, Vryn's Prodigy, Dragonlord Ojutai...these are cards that absolutely dominated their respective Standard environments, and they're easily my favorite spec calls on this list. Would all of them see play in New Eternal? Probably not, but enough of them would to make your initial investment more than worthwhile. I just don't know if WotC is going to go back this far or not when they create their format.
Magic 2013 forward: Ajani, Mentor of Heroes, Courser of Kruphix, Sylvan Caryatid, Brimaz, King of Oreskos, Hero's Downfall, Elspeth, Sun's Champion, Master of Waves, Thassa, God of the Sea, Erebos, God of the Dead, Sphinx's Revelation, Detention Sphere.
It would certainly nice to see cards like Courser of Kruphix, Elspeth, and Sphinx's Revelation get another couple of days in the sun, wouldn't it? Again, I think some of these cards would see a pretty extreme spike in price if they were announced to be in a new Eternal format, I just think it's more likely that well see a later cutoff.
The Frontier Metagame
It's hard to find any in-depth discussion of Frontier that's newer than December of 2017 or so. This Reddit overview seems pretty comprehensive, but it's a full year old. The last MTG Goldfish update to the metagame dates from back in February, and it only seems to have the results for a single tournament logged right now. As such, we should take all of this data with a shaker full of salt. After all, the format never really had time to establish itself, and there are several more Frontier-legal sets now. Plus, we have no idea if this is even the cutoff that WotC will end up using.
That said, when I look at the info we do have, a few things become clear.
First, Mono-Red Aggro is going to be a powerful choice no matter what New Eternal cutoff WotC uses. It was one of the top decks in Frontier, and a Kaladesh-forward Eternal format seems like it would be well-suited for the strategy as well. Hazoret and Chandra seem like slam-dunk specs to me.
Second, Collected Company is going to be good as long as it is legal. It was great back when it was in Standard, it's great in Modern, and it was great in Frontier. I can't imagine it wouldn't jump in price if it were given additional legality in a new Eternal format.
Next up, there will be some flavor of Abzan in the format as long as it extends back as far as Khans of Tarkir. You probably need the fetchlands as well as Siege Rhino and Anafenza for the deck to work, but those two cards would make up a pretty powerful core for a Rock-style deck and both are incredibly cheap right now. Warden of the First Tree and Dromoka's Command would seem like slam-dunks in this deck, too.
The format would almost certainly contain some sort of Dimir or Dimir/x control deck as well. Think Torrential Gearhulk, The Scarab God, Fatal Push, Languish, Liliana, the Last Hope, and even Dig Through Time if it's legal. We might see Azorius or Esper if the format had both Dragonlord Ojutai and Sphinx's Revelation in it, but blue and black are pretty much a given. Torrential Gearhulk seems to be the card with the most obvious upside here, but all of these control staples are intriguing.
Lastly, any new Eternal format will contain some number of older linear Standard decks attempt to make a comeback, certainly with varying degrees of success. Temur Energy, Mardu Vehicles, Four-Color Rally...you name it. You could snag some of these cards now, I suppose, but they'll probably still be fairly cheap in the hours immediately following whatever WotC's format-changing announcement ends up being. That way, you're not stuck with a bunch of otherwise-useless cards if WotC draws the line in some unexpected place.
Bringing It All Together
Let's review. First, I don't think it's likely that WotC will announce a new Eternal format on December 6th. It's possible, but so are a lot of things. I do think that a new Eternal format is coming at some point in the near future, though, and you should start preparing for that eventuality now regardless.
I don't see how WotC moves forward with a new Eternal format that has less than a third of the card pool that Modern had at its inception, so Arena/ Kaladesh-forward doesn't seem likely to be adopted very soon. If that's the path WotC takes, the earliest we'll hear of it is next fall, during the next set rotation. Otherwise, expect the card pool to be the size of Frontier…or perhaps even bigger.
Either way, you should bookmark this article so that you have a shopping list for the day that WotC inevitably does announce a new format. You won't have much time to act once WotC drops that bombshell, so you should be quick, decisive, and spend just about all the money you can stomach-prices will move fast. When in doubt, focus on the cards that have proven themselves in Modern as well as the cards that dominated Standard during their day.
That said, there are some cards that are worth buying now, because 1) they're very cheap at the moment, and 2) they're going to be staples no matter what the new Eternal format ends up being. You might only have to wait three weeks, or you might have to wait three years, but they'll eventually pay off. Of these cards, Torrential Gearhulk, Hazoret the Fervent, and Chandra, Torch of Defiance are my favorite calls, but you can't go wrong with any of the major staples from Kaladesh or Amonkhet blocks.
This Week's Trends
- Would you be surprised to find out that Pro Tour Guilds of Ravnica caused a small handful of Standard cards to spike in price this week? You shouldn't be. Like I predicted in last week's article , all three cards were from the Pro Tour-winning deck:
Don't expect this trend to continue, though. These spikes were modest, just $2-$3 dollars each, which is pretty tepid for a Pro Tour breakout deck. Not only is the format still wide open, preventing any one suite of staples from getting too expensive, but the supply of Guilds of Ravnica cards is finally starting to keep up with demand.
I stand by my analysis from last week: Standard is going to remain unseasonably popular over the next couple of months due to how good a format it is, but due to increased supply and seasonal trends I still expect the overall index to spend the rest of November and most of December dropping in price.
- Over in Modern, we're only just beginning to see the carnage thatUltimate Masters is about to wreak on card prices. Ultimate Masters staples like Gaddock Teeg and Engineered Explosives lost $5 last week, and $5 the week before. They'll probably lose $5 next week and the week after and perhaps even the week after that. There are plenty of Ultimate Masters boxes flying around online right now for way less than MSRP, including right here on StarCityGames , and the set is so chock-full of value that we're about to see some seriously large price drops. If you're holding off on buying any cards from this set, keep holding off. The right time to buy those singles is going to be mid-to-late December.
As for boxes of Ultimate Masters, the time to buy those is now. This Reddit thread seems to indicate that initial allocations for most local game shops are lower than expected, despite the fact that the major retailers seem to have plenty in stock. I'd grab your box or two now before those big retailers sell through. Even if there is a small second wave in late December, I can't imagine the price for sealed boxes gets any lower and I can absolutely see them getting higher.
- Lastly, there was some pretty decent movement on MTGO this week due to the announcement that you can actually qualify for the Pro Tour while playing Vintage, Legacy, and even Pauper on Magic Online. Vintage and Pauper staples have started to tick up in value, and this announcement should help revitalize those queues on MTGO. Additional growth will have to depend on how popular those qualifying events actually end up being, but I'm weirdly bullish on MTGO heading into 2019 despite how great Arena has proven to be.