When I wrote my article last week , SCG Indianapolis was finishing up and the new Standard format was just starting to take shape. At that point, I knew that Hydroid Krasis was probably pretty good and that Judith, the Scourge Diva had stayed home sick for some reason. Beyond that…I wasn't quite sure. Were any of the decks that didn't make Top 8 in Indianapolis actually good? Was Sultai Midrange as good as it seemed? How would the metagames on Magic Arena and Magic Online react to the innovations that were deployed on the SCG Tour®?
While metagames are always evolving, there's something to be said for paying especially close attention to what things look like once we've passed beyond the first wave of results and the format's brightest minds have had their chance to react. This is when the true powerhouse decks tend to reveal themselves and we can finally get a look at the archetypes and cards that are going to be good for the next couple of months.
This isn't to say that great decks can't develop later - Izzet Drakes was several weeks late to the party during Guilds of Ravnica Standard, for example - but if you're really on top of things as the metagame first settles out, you'll be able to put yourself in the best position to squeeze the most value out of your Standard collection.
Take Guilds of Ravnica. Right now, previously hyped mythic rares like Lazav, the Multifarious, Dream Eater, and Underrealm Lich are all readily available for $3 or less. But during the first couple weeks of Guilds of Ravnica Standard, they were all still selling in the $6-$10 range even though it was already starting to look like all three cards were going to bust.
If you were savvy enough, you could have gotten out of those cards (either via trade or buylist) as they tanked into oblivion. Then, if you were both savvy and lucky, you could have used that money to buy into Arclight Phoenix.
I talk a lot about buying low and selling high, but this is the one time of year when it's right to think about selling low and buying high. Even though we all know how good Hydroid Krasis is, and we're all pretty sure that Electrodominance isn't going to end up being the slam-dunk staple that some of us thought it might be; it takes time for some cards to finish climbing and others to finish falling. There are still people who believe in Electrodominance right now - and they may well be right! - but I'd rather sell my copies now when they're worth $5 than wait until it drops into bulk rare range.
That's why it's so important to pay attention to the decks that are already proving themselves in the new metagame. Even though things are going to keep changing, I'd rather take my chances with the cards that look good now. Cards that are good in decks like…
- 2 Carnage Tyrant
- 3 Hydroid Krasis
- 4 Jadelight Ranger
- 4 Llanowar Elves
- 4 Merfolk Branchwalker
- 2 Midnight Reaper
- 2 Ravenous Chupacabra
- 1 Seekers' Squire
- 4 Wildgrowth Walker
Sultai Midrange is the deck to beat in Standard right now. Not only did it win the SCG Indianapolis last weekend, but it's currently the most popular Standard deck on MTGO according to the MTG Goldfish numbers. Furthermore, Sultai Midrange has a pedigree - the base of the deck is essentially the old Golgari Midrange deck from last season, but with a blue splash for Hydroid Krasis and a couple of sideboard counterspells.
Key Financial Cards:
Even though Sultai Midrange is both good and popular right now, I feel like there's some evolution left to come here. Perhaps most importantly, I'm not sure that Carnage Tyrant is all that good right now - the shift from Jeskai Control to Esper Control has left that card in a bit of an awkward spot, and I wouldn't be shocked if something like Zegana, Utopian Speaker ends up taking over that slot at some point. Financially, this is a pretty big deal: Carnage Tyrant retails for $35, and it doesn't see play in too many other decks right now. I'm probably not selling my personal 2-3 copies of Carnage Tyrant if I'm a Sultai Midrange player, but I'd be very wary about holding onto any extras at the moment.
On the other side of the coin, Vivien Reid continues to become a bigger and bigger part of the metagame. Along with Jadelight Ranger, she's one of the holdovers from the old Golgari deck that's absolutely going to remain part of the core plan going forward. I assume that we're going to see price bumps for both cards at some point this late winter or early spring; after all, we're not opening any more packs of Core Set 2019 or Rivals of Ixalan. At the very least, both green staples feel like incredibly safe holds to me right now.
Lastly, it sure does seem like Sultai Midrange is the best Hydroid Krasis deck in the format right now. While I still feel like the Jellyfish Hydra Beast is being a tad overrated at the moment, it has pretty clearly become the signature card for Ravnica Allegiance, the current metagame, and this deck in particular. That sort of spotlight matters a lot, and it's a big part of why Hydroid Krasis is selling for $38 right now. I feel pretty confident in believing that this card is going to remain one of the 2-3 most expensive cards in the format going forward.
Esper Control is pretty clearly the best and most popular way to build control right now. I was kind of hoping that Jeskai would survive, or that Nicol Bolas, the Ravager would find its way to claw back into the metagame somehow, but neither of those things are on my radar right now. If you want to play control, it's going to look something like this.
Key Financial Cards:
I don't really have much to say about Teferi at this point. The powerful planeswalker is far and away the most expensive card in the format, and that's not going to change this season. Teferi is the most important card in Esper Control and one of the most important cards in the format, period. If you want these, you're going to have to pony up for them. Otherwise, find a different deck.
Financially, everything else about Esper Control keys off of Teferi. The fact that you need four copies of a $60 card in order to play this brew is a heck of a bottleneck; either you already have your Teferis, or you must shell out $240 in cash or trade before you can even walk up to the table.
This is the biggest reason why Kaya's Wrath is just $5 and Absorb is just $3 despite both cards being powerful rares that totally lived up to the early hype. I strongly suspect that both cards are going to continue to do a lot of work going forward, but their upsides are limited thanks to Teferi's price tag. I'm fine holding these cards from here on out, but they're not terribly enticing specs for me because I don't see how they cross over into any other decks.
Then there's Search for Azcanta, which has been fairly stable for about a year now. Seriously: ever since last February or so, Search for Azcanta has never been cheaper than $17 or higher than $30. I feel like Search is going to remain in this range for the foreseeable future, mostly due to the amount of play that it sees in Modern as well, though it's got some room to grow if another Search for Azcanta deck (Bant Nexus maybe?) ends up taking off.
Before we move on, it's worth talking about a couple of other potential additions here. While Nick Cowden's build of Esper Control doesn't run Karn, Scion of Urza, Raja Sulaiman's winning build from the Star City Games® Classic last weekend in Indianapolis ran two copies of the formerly-hyped planeswalker. At just $23, Karn has been kicking around at the bottom of its market for a while now, but it has a chance to reappear in decks like Esper Control and Esper Midrange as the metagame continues to develop. The fact that it sees play in formats as far back as Vintage gives it a pretty decent price floor, so it's a pretty solid low-risk trade target for those who are interested in such things.
The other card I want to bring up is Hostage Taker. Not only can Hostage Taker slot right into Esper Control, but it's a potential inclusion in Sultai Midrange as well. If this card does end up finding a home in the two most popular Standard decks, expect it to end up jumping from its current $4 retail price up toward the $7-$10 range. It's no guarantee that Hostage Taker will end up being a huge part of the metagame, but if you're a big believer in Hydroid Krasis then you should probably be a believer in Hostage Taker as well. Taking your opponent's Krasis off the table and re-casting it yourself has to be one of the best things you can be doing in the mid-to-late game, right? If Standard is going to become a Krasis-palooza, expect to see this Pirate running around everywhere as well.
Nothing has really changed with Mono-Red Aggro since the Star City Games® Open last weekend. Caleb Scherer's tenth-place build still seems like the correct choice for the current metagame, and I strongly suspect that more people are going to turn in this direction over the coming days:
- 20 Mountain
Financially, the most interesting thing here is just how cheap this iteration of Mono-Red Aggro actually is. These decks have historically been budget options, but you can literally build this thing with nine rares between the maindeck and sideboard. Seriously - there aren't even any non-basic lands this time around.
Key Financial Cards:
Goblin Chainwhirler and Risk Factor are the two big ones here; the deck runs four copies of each and they're the two most expensive cards in the deck. When the two most expensive cards in your deck are $5 and $7, respectively, there's plenty of room for growth. Granted, Mono-Red Aggro cards have historically remained less expensive than comparably successful cards in other archetypes, but I wouldn't be shocked if Risk Factor ends up at $10-$15 at some point. Regardless, these two cards are going to remain in demand for quite a while to come.
I usually don't address uncommons in articles like this, but I wanted to highlight Light up the Stage as a card that's going to be expensive for years. This card is no joke (I think it was on the latest episode of The GAM Podcast where they called it the red Thoughtcast) and you're going to want to snag four of them sooner rather than later. Current retail is $3, but I can see it hitting $5-$6 for a while depending on how much Ravnica Allegiance is opened. Also, you can probably get it cheaper than that in trade since uncommons tend to be undervalued once the binders are opened.
It's also worth pointing out what isn't in this deck; namely, more than a single copy of Experimental Frenzy. While I still like that card in a vacuum, it doesn't seem like the current metagame is the right place for it. I'd expect that one to start falling off a bit, though it might be a good spec target at some point depending on how the red decks end up adjusting to the next expansion.
Neither Mono-Red Aggro or Bant Nexus made it into the Top 8 in Indianapolis, but that doesn't mean that the decks aren't essential parts of the metagame going forward. Both decks are still clearly among the format's most intriguing and important strategies, and there's one card in particular that we need to talk a lot more about. More on that a little later.
Key Financial Cards:
I could keep going. Bant Nexus is the most expensive deck in Standard right now, starting with 3-4 copies of Teferi as well as a full four copies of the $30 Nexus of Fate. And we haven't even gotten to the Hydroid Krasises (which may or may not actually belong in the best version of the deck) and the pricey three-color manabase!
This is a big part of why I'm a little more gun-shy about Nexus of Fate's future value right now than I feel like I should be. The fact that it's sold out at $30 right now and has been climbing on MTGO tells one story, but can a single second-tier Standard deck really sustain this many pricey cards? I'm not so sure.
That said, I'm still very high on Wilderness Reclamation. The card may not have made it to the top of the week one heap, and I don't think that it's going to get emergency banned like some people were saying before #SCGINDY, but it is one of the most powerful cards in Standard, full stop, and I'll be shocked if it doesn't end up in at least one tier 1 deck during its time in the format. At just $2, I put it in the same tier as Light up the Stage - get your copies now, because this is going to be a $5+ uncommon at some point.
Wilderness Reclamation is also part of why I'm not as down on Settle the Wreckage as I would be otherwise. The fact that Kaya's Wrath is so much better in Esper Control shouldn't matter nearly as much if Wilderness Reclamation is going to be running around the top tables, because Settle the Wreckage is the perfect card to hold up with all your mana open. Or, heck, just leave the Reclamations at home and run something like the Johnathan Hobbs Bant Flash list . The fact that you can represent Angel of Grace, Frilled Mystic, Settle the Wreckage, and a half-dozen other cards with your mana open is unbelievable, and this is one of the directions that I suspect the metagame is heading toward right now.
I didn't talk about Four-Color Gates very much last week because it had a moderately disappointing showing at #SCGINDY. Again, I think this is a result of small sample size, as well as the fact that we likely haven't found the optimal brew yet. Both of those things are going to change.
I have no idea if this build is right. I like it a little more than the Nexus of Gates version, but I'm still not sure if either is particularly optimized. What I do know is that cards like Gatebreaker Ram and Guild Summit are absolutely worth running a bunch of terrible Gates for. And I also know that silly decks like this tend to be more popular among the FNM crowd than they are at events like Star City Games® Opens, which means that we could be seeing some nice financial gains.
Key Financial Cards:
Yet again, we're looking at four copies of Hydroid Krasis as the expensive cornerstone for this deck. You can see why this card isn't going to come down in price anytime soon, right? The only other expensive cards here are singleton copies of Breeding Pool in the maindeck and Carnage Tyrant in the sideboard, both of which are somewhat replaceable. It's kind of absurd that we've got a four-color deck where the manabase is among the cheapest parts of the deck, but that's the beauty of Gates.
Plaza of Harmony and Mass Manipulation are both pretty clutch in this deck, yet they're both still available for bulk rare prices. This is where it's worth taking advantage of the fact that people (like me) dunked all over these cards during preview season. Yeah, most of us figured that Gates would be a Limited-only strategy and Mass Manipulation was just some silly Commander only thirteen-drop winmore. We were wrong. While neither of these cards is probably going to break out and end up being super expensive, they're both essential role-players in an otherwise cheap strategy. Get your copies now before people start to figure that out.
If anything, Azorius Aggro has only gone up in my estimation since last weekend. It's become one of the most popular decks in the format on MTGO, and I can see why. Remember: it wasn't that long ago when History of Benalia was dominating Pro Tour Guilds of Ravnica, and there's nothing in this metagame that has blanked that card's sheer power level.
- 4 Benalish Marshal
- 4 Dauntless Bodyguard
- 4 Deputy of Detention
- 1 Healer's Hawk
- 4 Hunted Witness
- 4 Snubhorn Sentry
- 4 Tithe Taker
- 4 Venerated Loxodon
Small white creatures are still pretty good, y'all. This deck runs about a zillion one-drops, but it's the addition of cards like Deputy of Detention and Unbreakable Formation that have really pushed it over the top.
Key Financial Cards:
Azorius Aggro has quite a few rares in it, but none of them are all that expensive right now. History of Benalia is the big one here, and that one's still just $18. We know what the upside looks like - History of Benalia hit $30 for a hot minute after winning Pro Tour Guilds of Ravnica - and this card has been slowly dropping in price ever since. At the very least, the success of Azorius Aggro should reverse that trend.
I called Deputy of Detention a must-buy in last week's article, and I stand by that assessment. The Vedalken Wizard is a crucial four-of in Azorius Aggro as well as Esper Midrange, two very different decks, and I feel like Deputy of Detention is both good and versatile enough to see play in almost any metagame where it's castable. $4 feels like it's on the low end of where this card will end up.
Ajani, Adversary of Tyrants is the other interesting card here. Ajani is only a sideboard card in Azorius Aggro, but it's a mythic rare from Core Set 2019, which means that it has plenty of room to gain financial ground. Azorius Aggro will probably have to become a bigger player in the metagame for that to happen, but it's a card that I'm keeping my eye on for sure.
Mono-Blue Aggro is another deck that I'm fairly high on right now despite only getting as high as 45th place at SCG Indianapolis last weekend. This has been treated as sort of a budget/gimmick deck for a while now, but the addition of Pteramander is absolutely massive. And even though Mono-Blue didn't do great last weekend, Pteramander sure did.
- 1 Exclusion Mage
- 4 Merfolk Trickster
- 2 Mist-Cloaked Herald
- 4 Pteramander
- 4 Siren Stormtamer
- 4 Tempest Djinn
- 19 Island
As much as Ravnica Allegiance might end up being known for Hydroid Krasis, I suspect it'll also be infamous for having so many top tier uncommons. Pteramander is currently the cheapest of the elite at just $1.25, and that's an absolute steal. This card is going to be smashing people for the next year and a half, and Modern play isn't out of the question, either. Get your copies now.
Key Financial Cards:
More uncommons! Siren Stormtamer and Curious Obsession spiked a few months ago when this deck first burst onto the scene, but they both have more room to grow if Mono-Blue Aggro really does become a strong second tier metagame call like I think it will be. And there's no way that Tempest Djinn should be selling for $0.99 - it's the only maindeck rare in a good Standard deck, not bulk bin fodder.
- 4 Basilica Bell-Haunt
- 4 Deputy of Detention
- 4 Hero of Precinct One
- 2 Hostage Taker
- 3 Seraph of the Scales
- 3 Thief of Sanity
- 2 Lyra Dawnbringer
This is another deck that was a bit of a surprise last weekend, though it's shown up enough on MTGO this week that I feel confident calling it one of the more successful decks in the current format. I'm writing about it here instead of the refined build of Izzet Drakes (featuring Pteramander) because I've seen a heck of a lot more Esper Midrange kicking around online.
Key Financial Cards:
We've talked about Deputy of Detention already but let me reiterate here how much I like the card right now. Ditto for Hostage Taker, which could end up being a key piece of tech in three or four of the brews we've talked about already today.
Lyra Dawnbringer is the most expensive card in the deck right now, but I feel like it has a lot of the same issues as Carnage Tyrant at the moment. It was quite good in the last iteration of Standard, but I feel like it's a bit too slow and clunky now. I wouldn't be surprised if it ends up replaced in this deck going forward. That said, Wyatt Darby himself wrote about the deck here last week and he kept the Lyras in his maindeck going forward. It's going to depend a lot on whether the metagame shifts more toward midrange/control or if aggressive strategies continue to develop.
Dovin, Grand Arbiter and Seraph of the Scales are the other really interesting cards here. Both were already kind of expensive - promising new mythics and planeswalkers are always kind of expensive - but the success of Esper Midrange will keep them from dropping any further. Utility planeswalkers rarely end up breaking $20, but there's a little upside for Dovin, Grand Arbiter at $10. $11 for Seraph of the Scales isn't bad, either, but she'll probably need to show up in, say, the sideboard of Esper Control or something to end up going up in price.
Key Standard Cards That Are Missing Right Now
We've talked a lot about the cards that are performing well right now, but what of the no-shows? Here's a partial list of the most expensive Standard staples that aren't really doing anything right now, coupled with a thought or two on each:
- Arclight Phoenix ($26) - Not even Izzet Drakes is playing Arclight Phoenix at the moment. Modern demand should keep this card over $15, but it's got plenty of room to fall - and I expect that fall to begin soon.
- Rekindling Phoenix ($25) - This card is an absolute powerhouse in a whole bunch of decks that just aren't making the cut right now. Gruul Aggro, Jund, Rakdos Aggro, etc. I respect the power level of Rekindling Phoenix, and there's a very real shot that this thing surges back into the forefront of the metagame at some point, but $25 is ridiculous for a card that doesn't see play in either Standard or Modern right now. Sell.
- Nicol Bolas, the Ravager ($25) - Casual demand is the only thing propping up Nicol Bolas' price tag right now. Grixis Control isn't going to happen. Sell before this card ends up closer to $10 than $20.
- Elenda, the Dusk Rose ($16) - I know, I know, I want Mardu Aristocrats featuring Judith, the Scourge Diva, too. Maybe it'll happen, but I haven't seen any evidence yet. This card jumped from $6 to $16 during Ravnica Allegiance preview season, so we know what the floor is here. If you're gold to hold, you have to be comfortable with that floor being the realistic end point here.
- Assassin's Trophy ($16) - Between its Eternal applications and the occasional appearance in Sultai Midrange, Assassin's Trophy is probably going to remain above $10. I'm still a little surprised that this card hasn't made more of an impact, though.
- Resplendent Angel ($15) - The days of Boros Angels are over, and even Aurelia herself is down to just $5. There are aggressive, midrange, and control decks in this format that are all based at least partially in white, and none of them run Resplendent Angel. No way should this card still be $15.
- Prime Speaker Vannifar ($15) - I'm writing this before #SCGBALT, where Prime Speaker Vannifar could make her first main-stage debut in Modern. This is a strong buy until we get more results. If Vannifar has a good weekend in Baltimore, we could be looking at a $30+ card simply due to how much demand there's going to be from Birthing Pod fans. If not, I'll look to buy in again below $10.
- Doom Whisperer ($14) - I really loved Doom Whisperer when Guilds of Ravnica was first previewed. It's never done anything, though, and I'm baffled as to why it's still $14. I suspect it'll start to drop again soon.
- Spawn of Mayhem ($13) - Everything I just wrote about Doom Whisperer could apply here as well, only more so. We'll revisit this if Rakdos Aggro ever takes off, but this card might get really cheap in the meantime.
- Angrath, the Flame-Chained ($13) - Angrath seems pretty well-positioned right now despite not having a deck. That minus-3 sure does look like a good way to counter an opposing Hydroid Krasis! I'm a higher on Angrath than most of the cards on this list, but it'll need to find a home.
- Domri, Chaos Bringer ($12) - The Gruul Aggro decks I've seen aren't even running Domri. Get out now.
- Skarrgan Hellkite ($10) - None of the midrange red cards have a place in the metagame right now; that's why we've examined both of the Phoenixes on this list already. We can re-visit Skarrgan Hellkite if/when there's room for a deck like that.
- Growth-Chamber Guardian ($8) - Growth-Chamber Guardian and its pal Incubation Druid looked like they were going to light the new format on fire, only they didn't show up much at #SCGINDY except in Bant Midrange and a few of the more interesting builds of Sultai Midrange. I still really like them, but at the moment it seems like Merfolk Branchwalker and friends are still the right call in most of the green-based creature decks. I still feel like Growth-Chamber Guardian is going to be a part of this metagame at some point, but right now my gut tells me to sell.
- Vraska, Golgari Queen ($6) - I'm only bringing up Vraska here because she falls into the same camp as Angrath in terms of being a really solid answer to Hydroid Krasis. The Golgari Midrange decks ran Vraska back when they first debuted in October, and the Sultai Midrange decks might start taking a look at her again soon. For $6, I'm intrigued.
This Week's Trends
I've had more than a few people come to me expressing anxiety about the long-term value of their collections due to concerns about WotC's current approach to organized play. While I'm certainly not a fan of the freelancer layoffs, cut coverage, and poor communication, things haven't gotten to the point where I'm worried yet. The new system is isn't working yet, but the old system was also broken - as we remember from Gerry Thompson's World Championship boycott only four months ago.
(2/2) For New Jersey forward, we'll be posting critical end-of-tournament information on Sunday evening instead of round-by-round postings here and on our sites. Fans can still expect to see Top 8 decklists and tournament results on Sunday evenings— Magic Pro Tour (@magicprotour) January 27, 2019
As I see it, the popularity of Arena is only going to help bring more people into the paper game. FNMs are all doing well. Prereleases are doing well. MagicFest New Jersey sold out. The SCG Tour® only keeps improving in quality and popularity. I don't see the current competitive climate as the precursor to some sort of Magic apocalypse, but as a painful (and somewhat mishandled) shift toward a world where WotC uses Arena's popularity and accessibility as its star-making apparatus while de-emphasizing the paper grind somewhat. Maybe this leads to a world where your collection is worth a little less, maybe not. Most Vintage, Old School, Legacy, and even a lot of the Modern events weren't Grand Prix or Pro Tours anyway, to say nothing of casual play. And I wouldn't be shocked if the influx of new players who want to get into formats like Legacy and Modern end up replacing some of that lost value regardless. Change is scary - I get that. Things can go wrong. But financially, things seem pretty clear cut to me. Magic is successful. Paper Magic is successful. And where there's demand, supply will rise up to meet it.
Moving on, it was another relatively quiet week in the Modern market. With no major Modern events or Masters sets on the horizon, it'll be interesting to see when the eyes of the community turn toward Modern. This is one thing that may lead to a short-term dip in your collection value: with WotC so all-in on Arena, will there be an "everybody think about Modern" season like we've enjoyed in past years? Right now, it's too early to say.
Regardless, we saw Woodland Bellower and Craterhoof Behemoth spike in price this week, likely on the back of some slightly off-kilter Prime Speaker Vannifar speculation. Personally, I doubt that either of these two cards will end up in a Vannifar chain, but the market has spoken. At the very least, I'd be selling my Bellowers into the hype; Craterhoof Behemoth is a great Commander card, at least, while Woodland Bellower is merely okay.
The Commander market is a tad more robust at the moment. Marble Titan, Massacre Wurm, Hallowed Spiritkeeper, Athreos, God of Passage, Thrumming Stone, and Sen Triplets were all up this week thanks to Ravnica Allegiance's impact on the metagame. Massacre Wurm, Hallowed Spiritkeeper, and Athreos are great in Teysa Karlov decks, while Sen Triplets plays well with the new Azorius and Orzhov cards. Thrumming Stone is obviously a Persistent Petitioners spike.
As for Marble Titan…I don't really know. It sees some play in Arcades, the Strategist decks, but I feel like this was more of an artificial buyout. There are still quite a few copies on the European market, and I wouldn't be shocked if it ends up back in the $4-$5 range instead of at $8, where it's at right now.
Lastly, it looks like the second (and likely final) wave of Ultimate Masters product has finally arrived. It was quite a small wave, though most of the big box stores near me were re-stocked with at least a few blister packs. Regardless, if this is all the Ultimate Masters that we're getting, expect both boxes and singles to begin rising in price at some point over the next couple of months. While I'm a little bearish about the Modern index as a whole due to the lack of market confidence at the moment, I still feel like Ultimate Masters staples are a solid buy right now.