From October through June the engine of Magic finance is driven by Standard.
Far and away the most popular format it's hard to find a Constructed Magic player who doesn't at least dabble in Standard. Even if you only play Limited and/or casual formats Standard still affects your life in terms of card pricing and availability.
For the past few months Standard has been a lame duck format. Grinders and pros were still paying attention to it but for the most part the FNM crowd was playing out the string while waiting for Return to Ravnica. These days most players are financially savvy enough to avoid trading for cards that are about to rotate during the summer. It's rare for entirely new decks to hit the scene and dominate during the dog days of summer.
That's why last weekend's tournament results from the SCG Open Series in Cincinnati were so important. After months of analyzing a mostly irrelevant format we finally got our very first look at what the new season of Standard has in store for us.
That tournament's results are further amplified by the amount of analysis on them that you've no doubt seen in every single article that went up last week. None of us Magic writers want to miss out on the fun and the fact that we only have one week worth of results means that those first few decks are going to be analyzed more than the zapruder film. In fact that single tournament will likely have more words written about it than any other event this year.
Of course a single weekend of Standard legality is not even remotely enough data to start drawing too many meaningful conclusions about how the metagame will shake out. Check out the deck that won the first SCG Standard Open after the release of Innistrad:
- 3 Chandra's Phoenix
- 2 Goblin Arsonist
- 3 Grim Lavamancer
- 2 Hero of Oxid Ridge
- 2 Spikeshot Elder
- 4 Stormblood Berserker
- 4 Stromkirk Noble
- 23 Mountain
This deck told us approximately nothing about what the Standard environment would look like over the following year. Mono Red wasn't a very good deck for the majority of the 2011/2012 season and Stromkirk Noble—the "breakout" Innistrad card from the "best new deck"—is currently selling for a whopping $2.50. That weekend though the card was sold out at $10 before being bumped to $12.
Of course the brew everyone was talking about coming out of that tournament was this one:
This deck was far and away the one most people wanted to build after the first week of Innistrad. It was unique fun and unlike anything that had been Standard viable for a while. On the back of that deck Liliana of the Veil shot up from her preorder price of $35 to a whopping $70.
Of course there were some good lessons to learn from the Top 8 of that tournament. Geist of Saint Traft for example appeared in multiple decks and quickly became one of the breakout mythics of the set. Snapcaster Mage proved versatile and powerful as well though that card had very few doubters going in to the tournament. Tempered Steel the breakout deck of 2011 Worlds reared its head as well. Skaab Ruinator was MIA and the card dropped from the $20 range to the $2 range.
Scars/Innistrad Standard didn't come into its own though until Grand Prix Brisbane two weeks later. Because there was no Pro Tour lined up with Innistrad's release this GP was the first event where most of the pros spent a significant amount of time innovating in the new environment. The breakout deck of that GP was this one which was entirely absent from the format's first week:
- 2 Solemn Simulacrum
- 2 Wurmcoil Engine
- 1 Acidic Slime
- 1 Birds of Paradise
- 4 Primeval Titan
- 4 Viridian Emissary
- 1 Thrun, the Last Troll
The big financial winner from that tournament was good old Primeval Titan. That summer old Prime Time was down in the $8-$10 range. He had already started climbing again by October and his value shot up again after this deck started making waves. Meanwhile Stromkirk Noble and Liliana began their descent after posting mediocre showings. Both cards have been in winning decks but neither has been a cornerstone of the format.
Right now we can only use the information we have. Cards that are currently priced like expensive Standard staples but haven't seen any play yet should be moved as soon as possible before their prices catch up.
Even though the format hasn't really shaken out yet I would happily move these cards now and buy back in if they start to show promise. And even though there's a good chance that many of the cards that did do well last week won't be a major part of the future metagame the fact that they've performed well once gives them a much better chance of succeeding than cards that aren't showing up at all.
I'm not saying to just give these cards away but at a certain point people will have to start looking beyond the hype. A card like Abrupt Decay for example will certainly see play in Eternal formats and will almost assuredly not fall below $8-$10. If it doesn't see much play in Standard though its price will drop—and fast. Stay ahead of the curve by looking to move these cards:
- Garruk Relentless – One of my sleeper picks coming into Ravnica it seems destined to be one-of or two-of in just a few decks.
- Liliana of the Veil – One year later and she's never panned out as anything more than a role-player.
- Sorin Lord of Innistrad – This will start rising in price again once the first mouth-watering Orzhov card is spoiled.
- Avacyn Angel of Hope – Only casual value keeps this card high and very few people want to trade for her at full retail.
- Bonfire of the Damned – This is down quite a bit from its absurd high. This might go up again when Gruul is released and it certainly has my vote for the "card that was missing from week one that will dominate" award. Sell if you can get full price though—if it doesn't show up next weekend it'll keep falling.
- Sigarda Host of Herons – This hasn't started showing up in the good Selesnya lists yet. It seems to be a very good card that just isn't well positioned.
- Restoration Angel – I've started to hear some claims that this just isn't good enough anymore. I'm not sure I buy that but it was a glaring omission from the top tables at the Open.
- Temporal Mastery – Just not seeing any play right now.
- Ajani Caller of the Pride – Nor is this one.
- Thundermaw Hellkite – Ditto.
- Epic Experiment – The retail value of the rares/foils in the average Ravnica box is between $160 and $250 depending on which pricing metrics you use. That cannot and will not last. Cards like Jace Lotleth Troll and the shocklands can only fall so far so the wind is going to come out of the sails of the cards that are only good in casual/Eternal formats. Look toward this one dropping into the $3 range.
- Niv-Mizzet Dracogenius – Still being told this is absurd. Still haven't seen it actually happen.
- Rakdos's Return - Too slow for the Rakdos decks that are winning right now.
- Rakdos Lord of Riots – This saw some sideboard play last weekend but it's probably just straight up inferior to Olivia Voldaren right now.
- Sphinx's Revelation – An underrated card…that will only see play as a one-of or two-of in the most controlling deck in the format. Again the value drop out of Ravnica will have to come from somewhere.
- Vraska the Unseen - It's already way down from its $40 high and I see it at $8-$10 in the future.
- Deathrite Shaman – Pick these up once they drop to $2 and hold onto them for Modern and Legacy play.
- Abrupt Decay – Eternal and casual value will keep this versatile spell over $8 but it just doesn't kill much in Standard right now. It's already dropped from its $20 high and that drop should continue unless it starts seeing play.
- Trostani Selesnya's Voice – SCG jacked the price on this one up to $20 over the weekend even though it didn't do all that much. My guess is that the causal demand for this far outpaced supply. Over time unless the card puts up results it should drop back into the $10 range.
- Armada Wurm – Another card that didn't make the Top 8 Armada Wurm was the hottest mythic in the set at my FNM last week. It's good enough to see tournament play and casual players are bananas for this card. That said I just don't think it is a top Standard finisher and I would trade it while it was scorching hot.
- Geist of Saint Traft – Don't look now but this one is climbing again all over the 'net. I don't see why—it saw a lot more play just a few months ago. Retail on this shouldn't be any higher than $20 $25 max but it's sold out here at $30 and is impossible to find anywhere. I really don't understand but I'm thankful for the chance to sell high.
- Return to Ravnica Shocklands – Unbelievably these are still going up as people rush to build their Standard mana bases. These cards cannot maintain $15-$20 price tags for more than another month or so but they'll never drop below $8-$10. I've had very little trouble getting people to part with these lands at $12-$15 in trade and I've been picking them up at that price (only in trade for other overinflated Ravnica cards) in order to flip them quickly. If you can get full retail for them though you should do so.
The Hottest Cards in Standard
Last weekend a handful of cards—mostly from Return to Ravnica and Avacyn Restored—shot up in value. Normally it takes the market a few days to react to tournament results. This time though it was nearly instantaneous. Ben Bleiweiss must have spent his morning watching coverage and talking to players because SCG was very quick to react to the decks that started making waves. By the end of the weekend the community was left reeling over how high some of the hottest cards had climbed.
Here are my thoughts on some of Standard's biggest movers along with buy or hold calls (the 'sell' calls are on the above list). These calls expire once we start getting some results from Standard events at which point we'll have a much better idea of how the format will end up.
Keep in mind that I still think Standard will drop in value across the board. If you can move any of these cards for cash sealed product at MSRP or Eternal/casual cards you should do so. The below ratings are for Standard-for-Standard trades only: cards that earn a 'hold' shouldn't be traded away unless you get a very good offer and cards that earn a 'buy' should be traded for at current value if possible.
Jace showed up in two of the top ten decks including an appearance as a four-of in the deck that took down the whole tournament:
I've been asked my opinion on Jace over the past few days more than all the other cards in the set combined and I still feel very conflicted.
On the one hand we have yet to see a fall set mythic sustain a price anywhere close to $50. The top of the market for these seem to be around $35 and that's for cards like Geist of Saint Traft when they are four-ofs in the consensus top deck. Add that to the nascent nature of the format and the overall value of this set and I simply cannot advise buying into Jace at what might be the top of his market.
That said Snapcaster Mage—not a mythic—spent the majority of last year between $20 and $30. If Jace is anywhere close to that ubiquitous $50 is possible. For that to happen it would have to continue to be a four-of in the best deck and many of the other rares and mythics in the set would have to come down in price. If you think those things are likely Jace might be the man for you.
Regardless I've been a believer in Jace 4.0 since I saw him (check my set review if you don't believe me!) and I do expect he'll hold a good amount of value simply due to casual play. I am calling hold on Jace.
These rare removal spells all saw just enough play to justify their prices—at least for now. People are still feeling out the format and chances are some of these will be upped to three- and four-ofs in the best decks while others will fall by the wayside. For now all of these are a solid hold.
Terminus - $8
Not only is this a four-of in Standard control it's all over Legacy as well thanks to how well miracle plays with cards like Brainstorm. It is quite possible that this will be the go-to Wrath in Standard as well as Eternal formats. At $6 I was picking up as many of these as I could in trade over the past several weeks. I don't like it as much at $8 but it's still a buy for me. It has the short-term potential to hit $10 and long term it's probably a $10-$12 Eternal card.
Tamiyo the Moon Sage - $25
While people were rushing to buy Jaces on Saturday I ran to pick up a set of Tamiyos. SCG is buying these aggressively and for a while it was possible to pick up a playset on eBay for right around our buylist price. Whenever I see a disparity like this I assume that someone knows something I don't and buy myself a personal set to hedge my bets. Worst case I can eat the cost of shipping and cash out.
Jace into Tamiyo is an absurdly powerful play and I wouldn't be shocked to see much more of her in a post Titan world. I'm calling this a buy—if Tamiyo breaks out she'll double in price overnight. Otherwise she's a casual star who will trade well over the coming season.
Entreat the Angels - $20
This is another card whose stock went up once the premier finishers rotated out of the format. Instead of running Drogskol Reaver U/W control decks simply decided to go over the top with miracles instead. Much like Tamiyo I'm awarding a buy to a card that should be a major Standard player all year. Entreat is good in Legacy as well so the floor is in the $10 range. Once again I like Avacyn Restored singles across the board and I tend to trade for them at every opportunity. This one is sold out right now and I expect it'll be relisted in the $30 range.
Angel of Serenity - $20
Showing up in three of the top ten decks my favorite breakout star from the preorder period is proving to be as much of a house as I had hoped. Her long-term ceiling is probably $25 though so she's rapidly approaching her top value.
If the Reanimator deck was the only one she was featured in I'd be advising you to sell— these sorts of gimmicky decks do well early in a season and tend to be less desirable once the format is designed. The fact that this card has showed up in multiple winning lists is impressive and I expect this card to be one of the three to four most desirable opens in the set. Buy.
Thragtusk - $15
Zombies coming into this event was much like U/W going in to last year's rotation. Everyone expected the deck to perform very well and no one was shocked that it did. The only real questioned seemed to be whether the B/R version or the B/G version would take down the top spot.
Surprise! Not only are both versions excellent but there's a Jund version that combines both and is good too. Some combination of these four rares is going to be played at the top tables for the next few months so you could do worse than owning these cards.
I'm calling all of them a strong hold/weak buy because each card has a little room to grow but the overall deck is getting very pricey. The three rares could still hit $15 and the mythic could creep up to $25-$30. The rumor of the death of Zombies has been greatly exaggerated.
Huntmaster of the Fells - $18
This card already has a higher price memory though I am uncertain if the version of Jund that plays this is actually better than the Zombie deck. Even still this is the sort of midrange threat that Gruul is going to love in a few months. It's being played in a good deck now and has future upside—sounds like a buy to me.
Olivia Voldaren - $15
Not only was Olivia played in the maindeck of Jund but a lot of Standard experts have been talking about her as sideboard tech in Zombies. Olivia is very well positioned right now and I expect her to jump up to $20 and stay there if Zombies finds a use for her and/or Jund continues to be a solid option. She's a buy.
Sublime Archangel - $20
This card was $20 even before the weekend where it finally began putting up some results. Arguably the most popular casual card from M13 it's not hard to find a trading partner who will want this. If I thought that the aggressive G/W decks were better I'd be touting this card more but as-is it's a very solid hold.
Winning games in Standard? Check. Winning games in Legacy? Check. I've been trading for these all month at $5-$6 and won't stop now. Buy.
The two weeks between the fall set's release date and now is really just an extension of the preorder/hype period. People are still going nuts over cards that haven't proven all that much. It's important to pay attention to what the first week taught—Zombies is a great deck Angel of Serenity and Jace are the real deals the verdict is still out on Selesnya Tokens—without getting caught up too much in a tiny amount of data.
For the time being you should try and trade cards that aren't showing up anywhere for ones that have already started winning especially if those cards are from Innistrad block. Don't go nuts though—the real game starts with round one of StarCityGames.com Open Series: Indianapolis.
Until next time–