If you haven't been playing Standard recently, you're not alone. Between Smuggler's Copter, turn 4 Emrakul, and the Felidar Guardian combo, there isn't a Standard player who didn't have to deal with the format's inherent brokenness over the past year. Either you played the best deck and had to deal with a banning, or you played a second-tier deck and had to face off against overpowered nonsense round after round. I don't blame anyone for giving up on the format at some point in 2017.
Here's the good news: Standard is awesome again. It's a wide-open format with no single dominant deck and a ton of room for innovation. The games are interactive and skill-testing, too. If you love good Magic, you might want to pick up a Standard deck for the first time since before Kaladesh.
Of course, we financially-conscious Ned Starks already know the problem with that. Rotation is coming, and refusing to plan for this impending storm is a great way to throw your money away. Liliana, the Last Hope is still a $30 card, and even though it sees some Modern play, I have to believe that it'll end up down near $10 after rotation. Even lesser staples like Diregraf Colossus ($2 now, but a post-rotation bulk rare) can add up to some pretty major losses. All told, it seems safer to wait until after rotation before buying back into Standard.
Here's the problem with that. If everybody gets back on the Standard bandwagon with Ixalan, there's going to be a pretty major surge in demand three to four weeks from now. Getting ahead of the curve has some inherent risk, but it's still going to be better than waiting for the market to explode. Battle for Zendikar and Shadows over Innistrad might be going away, but Kaladesh and Amonkhet blocks are sticking around for thirteen more months—and since we aren't opening those packs anymore, we've already hit peak supply. If you're planning to play Standard at some point over the next year, now is the time to buy.
A Look at the Current Metagame
Predicting a post-rotation metagame is tough. There are many factors to consider. First, how powerful is Ixalan likely to be? Historically, most large fall sets have completely upended the metagame, but some sets have been more of a blip on the radar. This tends to happen during Magic's "powering down" intervals, which are necessary to prevent the game's power creep from getting out of control.
Based on Amonkhet block and what we know about Ixalan so far, we appear to be in one of those intervals. I could be entirely wrong about this, of course, but I wouldn't be surprised if Wizards of the Coast is saving a lot of their Kaladesh-sized firepower for Dominaria. If Ixalan is a bit underpowered, the best decks in Standard will end up leaning even harder on existing cards. This is yet another reason why it makes sense to buy in now. If the best cards in Standard are already available, waiting will cost you money.
But what cards should you target? The best place to start is by considering how many of the format's existing decks are going to survive rotation without losing too many of their key cards. Luckily, Jim Davis did a bunch of this work for us already. Thanks, Jim!
- 4 Bristling Hydra
- 3 Glorybringer
- 4 Longtusk Cub
- 4 Rogue Refiner
- 4 Servant of the Conduit
- 4 Whirler Virtuoso
- 1 Rhonas the Indomitable
- 2 Cataclysmic Gearhulk
- 4 Walking Ballista
- 3 Angel of Invention
- 4 Champion of Wits
- 4 Glint-Nest Crane
- 4 Minister of Inquiries
- 4 Thraben Inspector
In summarizing that article, it appears as though Ramunap Red, Temur Energy, God-Pharaoh's Gift, and U/R Control are going to survive rotation more or less intact. Mardu Vehicles and G/R Ramp are losing key spells that might be very difficult to replace. Mono-Black Zombies and B/G Constrictor are basically kaput.
This bodes well for a good post-rotation format. One could argue that Ramunap Red, Temur Energy, and God-Pharaoh's Gift are the three most impactful decks in what has become a very fun Standard season. If all three survive, it means that Standard should still be pretty fun a month from now.
Ramunap Red might be the safest deck to buy into right now. It's incredibly hard to hate out of the format, and I can't see how Ixalan is going to change that. Aggro decks also tend to do well in the early days of a new season, too, which means that there might be some major Ramunap Red hype in late September.
Hazoret the Fervent and Chandra, Torch of Defiance are the two cards here most likely to keep rising in price, and Chandra seems especially likely to break $50 at some point soon. The fact that Temur Energy runs a couple of Chandras in the sideboard shouldn't be ignored.
Speaking of Temur Energy, this is still a relatively affordable Tier 1 brew without too many mythic rares. The four-color version runs a couple of copies of The Scarab God, which is probably worth picking up on the chance that it becomes ubiquitous. Glorybringer has a real shot at gaining value, too, especially if it finds a second home in some new post-Ixalan brew. Skysovereign, Consul Flagship is cheaper than it should be considering the amount of play it's seeing right now—I'd make sure I had a couple of copies before rotation. All of Kaladesh's multicolor lands are likely to gain value over the next couple of weeks, too.
God-Pharaoh's Gift is a riskier deck to buy into since it's far better in an environment that's unprepared to deal with it. There's less of a track record here and more of a risk that some random new Ixalan strategy is just going to hate it out of the format. That said, God-Pharaoh's Gift is a really fun deck that is going to be incredibly popular if it proves that it has any kind of staying power. Angel of Invention is my main target here—it's only a $7 card right now, and it's the deck's only four-of mythic rare. If God-Pharaoh's Gift proves itself a Tier 1 strategy after rotation, Angel of Invention should end up in the $20-$25 range. Cataclysmic Gearhulk seems like a solid buy for much the same reason—it's only a two-of in the deck, but it's also just a $3 card right now.
Last, U/R Control has been buzzing around the format for a while now without really breaking through. The format feels too open right now for a tuned control deck, but that should change if things settle down after Ixalan is released. Torrential Gearhulk is still the key card here—it's going to be a four-of in any control deck that ends up establishing itself at any point. I also like Sweltering Suns, which has fast proven itself to be the sweeper of choice in every deck that wants to deal with pesky little critters.
Finding Post-Hype Sleepers
If you haven't been playing much Standard and you just want a post-rotation deck, buy into one of those four decks and hope for the best. Past performance is the best predictor of future value, and your chances are very good that they will continue to be solid choices in one form or another. Even if a deck like Temur Energy fails to survive rotation, most of its staples will still see play somewhere. Chandra, Torch of Defiance will still have a home. So will Spirebluff Canal.
This isn't a great way to make money, though. Chandra is already a $40 card. Spirebluff Canal is $12. These are pretty safe buys at current retail, but you aren't going to be making any money speculating on cards that are already highly sought-after. If we want to find cards with a chance at doubling or tripling in price, we need to look elsewhere.
My favorite targets are cards that were either expensive to begin the pre-order period or had a brief but serious value spike before dropping like a rock. Not only do these cards still have a high price memory associated with them, but they've intrigued a large group of competitive players at some point. Many of these cards are never going to amount to anything, but some will become post-hype sleepers, cards with the potential to break out now that they have the right supporting cast. If Ixalan (or the loss of super-staples like Gideon, Ally of Zendikar) gives any of these spells the chance to break out, they'll end up experiencing a major price spike as a result.
Here's the list of post-hype sleepers that I'm monitoring:
I'm not in love with any of these options, and Noxious Gearhulk still doesn't look like it's going to be the right call in the post-rotation metagame with all of those tiny red creatures running around. It's worth noting that both of these planeswalkers were $20+ pre-orders, though, and Nissa, Vital Force still has a ton of raw power.
Another set, another pair of planeswalkers that ended up being fairly disappointing in Standard. Much like with Kaladesh, there's a small chance that one of them might find a home in a post-Ixalan world.
Gideon of the Trials is an interesting buy, especially since Gideon, Ally of Zendikar is rotating. Liliana, Death's Majesty may also see a little more play now that Liliana, the Last Hope isn't an option anymore. Angel of Sanctions is also a tad better without Avacyn, Angel of Hope in the format. Harsh Mentor still seems like it would still be awesome in the right metagame, too.
Hour of Devastation hasn't been out long enough for a list like this to really make sense, and the pre-order prices were so low that there weren't really any hyped-up cards that dropped in price regardless. Ramunap Excavator was probably the closest, and that one still retails for $6. Solemnity and Nicol Bolas, God-Pharaoh might end up seeing more play, but those cards aren't dirt-cheap right now, either.
Whether you want to build a deck before rotation or you just want to make a couple of speculative pick-ups, I strongly suggest taking a moment to think about Standard this week. Staying ahead of the hype is the most important aspect of Magic finance, and we're getting super close to a community-wide pivot toward Standard. Don't wait for things to happen—make them happen.
This Week's Trends
We got to see four cards from Ixalan this week, so it's time for my set review to begin! Note: the prices are for regular versions, but because promo images are all we have, that's what I'm showing here for rules text reference.
Burning Sun's Avatar - $1.99
Burning Sun's Avatar isn't awful—six damage plus a 6/6 creature isn't a bad return on your six-mana investment—but I'm not very excited. The card would be a pretty good card if it cost five mana. I'd also like it if it had haste or some form of evasion. It might still see play if Dinosaur tribal wants it as a finisher or if there's some sort of competitive-level Dinosaur cost-reducing spell. I'm not holding my breath, though.
Bishop of Rebirth - $0.99
Sun Titan had its moments back when it was Standard legal, but Bishop of Rebirth is no Sun Titan. I'd be intrigued if there were an enters-the-battlefield trigger in addition to the attack trigger, but as-is I can't imagine this as being anything more than a future bulk rare.
We also got to see two interesting uncommons, Walk the Plank and Unclaimed Territory. Both are likely to see play, but their ceilings are limited by their lesser rarity. There are times when it makes sense to preorder an uncommon, but these are already at or over the $1 level. I'm staying away for now.
There wasn't a lot of movement in Standard this week. The Scarab God gained a bunch of value last weekend thanks to the Grand Prix Denver innovation of splashing black in Temur Energy, a neat piece of innovation that seems likely to stick around. Most of the key cards in Ramunap Red, God-Pharaoh's Gift, and Temur Energy saw small gains, too—cards like Spirebluff Canal; Chandra, Torch of Defiance; Angel of Invention; Authority of the Consuls; and Glorybringer. Meanwhile, the staples from Mono-Black Zombies continue to fall. Not only is the deck about to rotate, but it is starting to look increasingly outclassed in the current Standard metagame.
Dragonlord Dromoka gained a couple of bucks last week, which makes a lot sense. Not only does the card see play in Modern Amulet Titan, but it's got to be a nice inclusion in the Commander 2017 Dragon deck. I wouldn't be surprised if Dragonlord Silumgar, Dragonlord Atarka, and Dragonlord Ojutai are next.
Also up in Modern: Vengevine, which continues to see play in the Modern Hollow One deck. $30 is just about the limit for this card unless the deck takes another leap, so you can feel free to sell into the hype now. Just be aware that the card might see another double-up (yes, really) if this deck makes it into Modern's top tier. I'm not holding my breath, though.
Continuing our discussion from last Monday, it would probably be easier to list the Reserved List cards that didn't spike this week. Here are most of the highlights:
I wrote about this trend last week, and I doubt we've seen the last of these spikes. Reserved List rares from Arabian Nights, Legends, and Antiquities are still dominating the list, but Reserved List cards from later sets will follow at some point as well as non-RL cards from these older sets. Artificial buyouts are still the dominating reason for these spikes, but like I said last week, I expect these prices to remain higher than most people think. Get in ahead of the curve if you still need cards from The Dark, Tempest, Urza's Saga, etc.
Last, the Power 9 have surged in price on Magic Online. This is mostly due to the introduction of Vintage leagues, which should make the format a lot easier to play. These cards are still nowhere near their historic highs, and they have a lot of value to gain—especially if they're taken out of the treasure chest drop pools, like some people are predicting. If you want to play Vintage online, get in ASAP.