Conventional wisdom dictates that looking at the previous year's Block Constructed format is a good way to get a sneak peek at coming year's Standard. While the 'old' Standard format is often dominated by rotating sets Block doesn't have that problem. Thus it seems as though a savvy speculator could probably make a tidy profit picking up Block staples during the summer lull.
But is this really true? After all Block is a small format where marginal cards often thrive and simple gimmick or aggro decks can dominate in a way they never could in Standard. Is it worth looking at Block from a financial perspective at all? Does it actually help preview the coming Standard season or is it just a red herring?
Let's find out by taking a look at some past Block Constructed formats and seeing how closely they align with Standard.
Scars Block Constructed
At the time Standard was mostly a control versus ramp battle. U/W and U/B Titan Control deck battled it out with Avenger of Zendikar style ramp decks. Tezzeret Agent of Bolas and Mono Red were the other two 'major' decks in the format and pretty much no one was playing Tempered Steel. Yet.
This deck only has four rares: Mox Opal Tempered Steel Hero of Bladehold and Inkmoth Nexus. If you had bought into any of them in July of 2011 you would have ended up doing well. Mox Opal stayed stable through the fall Inkmoth Nexus rose about 30% in value Tempered Steel doubled in price and Hero of Bladehold nearly quadrupled.
How did this deck evolve when Innistrad block came out? Check out Conley Woods' third place deck from Worlds 2011:
The Heroes have moved to the sideboard and Etched Champion ended up in the maindeck along with a blue splash but by and large this is the same deck that dominated Block. If you had simply gone out and purchased the best Block deck last summer then you were pretty much set for playing Standard in the fall.
What about the lesser decks from Scars Block? Can we learn anything from those?
This Puresteel Paladin deck was gaining a lot of traction and for a while I thought that Puresteel Paladin was likely to be one of the biggest sleeper Standard hits out of the block. Unfortunately a tier 1 deck never really materialized. Many people played him in Standard that summer but aggressive decks went in a different direction once Innistrad came out and the Paladin has been relegated to bulk rare status.
That said the other big rare in that deck Sword of War and Peace ended up being one of the most valuable cards in Standard this spring. If you had purchased your Swords for the $15 each they were trading at last July you would have probably been happy when they topped $40 apiece in March.
Unfortunately most of the other Scars Block flagship cards never found a home in Standard. Koth of the Hammer Venser the Sojurner and Glissa the Traitor all saw a small amount of play but not enough to make them a good investment last summer. Only Birthing Pod made a real leap into Standard but that was mostly the result of other cards being printed that made the card a great deal better.
Zendikar Block Constructed
I can't find a comprehensive overview of this format from midsummer 2010 but here's a great Cedric Philips article from late May that gives us a good overview of Zendikar Block Constructed.
Because the power level of Zendikar block was so high the Block format was much more closely aligned with the good decks in Standard already. Without Jund around to keep things in check though the two decks that were the most dominant in Block were variants on Boros Aggro and U/W Control.
- 4 Cunning Sparkmage
- 3 Kor Duelist
- 2 Kor Skyfisher
- 4 Plated Geopede
- 4 Steppe Lynx
- 4 Stoneforge Mystic
- 4 Student of Warfare
Interestingly enough neither deck made the immediate transition to dominance in the fall. The Boros deck was a fringe contender but Tempered Steel had already begun replacing it as the aggro deck of choice. And while Jace was present in the control deck (as—gasp—a three-of!) that build doesn't bear too much resemblance to the Caw-Blade brews that oppressed Standard for months to come.
That said take a quick look at the rares in both.
The Boros Aggro deck only has five rares: Student of Warfare Stoneforge Mystic and three of the five fetchlands. The fetchlands stayed stable for their time in Standard and were never a bad investment. Student of Warfare traded around $5 at the time this article was written dropped down to $2 during the dog days of summer and then climbed right back up to $5 again in the fall. Stoneforge of course went up in price tenfold by Christmas from its summer low of less than two dollars. Just like during Scars block investing in the dominant Block Constructed deck would have been the right play.
The control deck's eventual value is a little more complex. The rares in it included Iona Shield of Imeria Sphinx of Lost Truths Jace the Mind Sculptor Gideon Jura Day of Judgment Celestial Colonnade and Marsh Flats. Sphinx Marsh Flats Colonnade and Iona Day of Judgment all stayed stable throughout the fall. Jace kept climbing going from $50-$60 when this article was printed to $80 by the winter. Gideon on the other hand dropped like a rock falling from a high over $40 to a low under $20 by Christmas. I think that one you can chalk up to new planeswalker hype something everyone knows about and anticipates nowadays.
Even though we didn't quite know it at the time these two decks nicely showcased the two most powerful cards in the block: Stoneforge Mystic and Jace the Mind Sculptor. Of course it wasn't until someone put them together in the same deck that things got really degenerate.
Shards Block Constructed
The best article I was able to find about this format is the official Wizards' coverage of Pro Tour Honolulu 2009 which was the major Block Constructed tournament of the summer.
In the summer of 2009 Standard was made up of G/W Tokens W/B Tokens Kithkin Five-Color Control Faeries and Reveillark. The Fae faded as the summer went on and by the end of the season the token decks were dominating nearly all the Standard tournaments.
Shards Block Constructed didn't have a single dominant deck much of which was due to a lack of innovation. The sets were majorly underpowered compared to Lorwyn/Shadowmoor block so few of these cards had been fully explored in Standard. Esper Stoneblade Four- and Five-Color Control decks Grixis Control decks Naya and Jund all did well in the Pro Tour and every shard made an appearance.
Just like in the other two Block Constructed formats the seeds for the best deck in the coming year's Standard—Jund—were easily visible here. However the Five-Color Control decks and Esper decks that also did well didn't pan out. If you had invested in either of these two brews which were among the best in the format you would have been very disappointed come fall.
In terms of individual cards the crucial interaction of the next several months—Bloodbraid Elf into Blightning—was present in the deck that won the whole event. That deck also ran Ajani Vengeant Broodmate Dragon and Maelstrom Pulse which proved crucial the following year along with Exotic Orchard which did not. Even though this four-color deck didn't make the Standard transition buying its components would have allowed you to play Jund fairly easily going forward.
Innistrad Block Constructed
This year's Block Constructed Pro Tour was early bringing the format into the spotlight before anyone had played it much at all. Let's start with a look at Jonathan Sukenik's analysis of that event and see what decks stood out as well as taking a peek at the decks that did best in the Swiss portion of the event. Oh! And we can't forget Todd Anderson's tournament report. Honestly even though people went into this tournament fresh the innovation done for it was remarkable.
First off it is important to note that Lingering Souls and Intangible Virtue are banned in Innistrad Block Constructed. These W/B decks were dominating in the months before the tournament and this likely would have ended up taking down the Pro Tour. It is quite possible that these two cards—possibly alongside Sorin Lord of Innistrad—will rear their head again in the fall. I heard Selesnya likes tokens; perhaps we'll see G/W/B as a dominant strategy in a couple months.
As for what did get played Team SCG Blue pretty clearly had the best handle on the format. Their Naya deck was pretty much just a jumble of good cards but often that belies the true powerhouses of Innistrad Block.
- 4 Avacyn's Pilgrim
- 3 Borderland Ranger
- 3 Fiend Hunter
- 4 Huntmaster of the Fells
- 4 Restoration Angel
- 4 Scorned Villager
- 1 Ulvenwald Tracker
- 4 Wolfir Silverheart
- 1 Mikaeus, the Lunarch
This deck has a ton of maindeck rares: Huntmaster of the Fells Restoration Angel Ulvenwald Tracker Wolfir Silverheart Mikaeus the Lunarch Garruk Relentless Bonfire of the Damned Cavern of Souls Gavony Township and Clifftop Retreat.
This deck dominated the upper tables of the event followed by the Bant Hexproof deck that ran Dungeon Geists and Geist of Saint Traft instead of the red. Tamiyo and Snapcaster Mage showed up in a few other decks and of course Alexander Hayne's million miracle surprise was well positioned to take down the whole tournament.
Of the four-ofs Huntmaster of the Fells has stabilized in price over the past few months and currently retails for $19.99. Bonfire keeps rising in price selling here on SCG for an extremely solid $39.99. Restoration Angel keeps ticking up as well retailing at $12.99. Garruk Relentless keeps falling its retail price down to $11.99. Cavern of Souls' trade price has dipped considerably in recent days but it still retails here for $29.99. Wolfir Silverheart hasn't quite made the transition to Standard. It retails for $5.99 but it often trades for less than half that.
Of these I like Garruk and Huntmaster most as cards that could have a significant rise in value. I expect Bonfire of the Damned and Restoration Angel to remain hot but they're already close to their ceilings. I also think that Cavern of Souls' trade price will climb a bit though its retail value is likely stable at $29.99.
Of the fringier cards Gavony Township seems like a really solid buy. Not only is it an important part of the best deck in Block but it should fit perfectly in Selesnya decks this winter. Beyond that it is a casual all-star and fits the profile of a long-term Commander staple. The card retails for $1.99 and it can often be picked up for a buck in trade.
Of the cards in other decks I like Temporal Mastery as a sleeper hit. It was one of the best cards in the deck that took down the tournament and it pre-sold for almost $40 thanks to a ton of hype. Right now it retails for a measly $11.99 and trades for just around $8. While this card isn't the Time Walk reprint that some thought it might be it still has room to double in price over the next few months if everything breaks in its favor. It is also a powerful Eternal card and will likely maintain some long-term value based on that.
Looking at what happened in the past I doubt any of the decks that did well at PT Avacyn Restored will make the Standard transition relatively untouched. Innistrad Block seems to have a low overall power level aside from a handful of extremely powerful cards and I think Return to Ravnica block will dominate Standard next season.
That said many of the cards from those decks should still make up the backbone for what's to come. If I were a Standard grinder I'd make sure to have a playset of Geist of Saint Traft Garruk Relentless Huntmaster of the Fells and Bonfire of the Damned in my inventory. Those seem to be the four marquee mythics of the block and they will continue to be in demand through the winter. In addition I would trade for a set of Restoration Angels and Cavern of Souls. Those are the two rares likely to command the most value over the next few months.
Knocking Your Block Off
Historically it is rare for the best deck in a Block Constructed format to become dominant in the following season's Standard. The only time when this seems to happen is when one block is much more powerful than another or when a very linear deck type is released.
That said the rares that the winning Block decks rely on often become the pillars of the next format. Even more importantly it's crucial to remember that rare prices across the board rise between the year that they are drafted and the following season. No matter which Block deck you invest in you will likely have another chance or two to dump whatever cards you get at the price you paid if not higher.
This phenomenon is even more pronounced online where the sheer scale of drafting done warps prices considerably. Rares in current sets online tend to be cheaper than their paper counterparts but out-of-print cards can often be more expensive than IRL cards.
What does this mean for you? Playing Block Constructed on Magic Online is the closest that most people can get to 'going infinite' online. Simply pick out your favorite Block deck in November when the market is saturated from too much drafting and tinker with it all spring and summer long. If you hold off on selling your cards until the following Standard season you will very likely get more than you put in.
Beyond that Block Constructed on Magic Online is often a much more open format than Standard is. Because so few decklists are published you can brew to your heart's content without having to worry about running in to the same three or four tier 1 decks over and over again.
Play more Magic and spend less money. Seems good to me.
Until next time–