So, uh, it's been kind of a big week in Magic.
Since my articles run on Monday mornings, I haven't had a chance to react to the bannings yet. You've probably read a few thousand words on the topic at this point, though, so I'll keep my thoughts brief.
Even though these bannings came on the heels of the Aetherworks Marvel, Smuggler's Copter, Felidar Guardian, and Emrakul, the Promised End bannings, they feel different to me. Marvel and Guardian were each half of a broken combo, and neither deck had even a prayer of surviving the banning. Smuggler's Copter and Emrakul had kind of the opposite problem-there wasn't a single dominant deck, they were just ubiquitously format-warping.
Attune with Aether, Rogue Refiner, Ramunap Ruins, and Rampaging Ferocidon aren't broken combo pieces, and they weren't especially format-warping. If WotC had wanted to nuke Energy and Ramunap Red from orbit, they could have done that by banning cards like Hazoret the Fervent, Longtusk Cub, Whirler Virtuoso, or even The Scarab God. Instead, they attempted to power down both decks just enough to open up the format and allow Rivals of Ixalan to make an impact. By not banning any expensive mythic rares and ensuring that the FNM crowd didn't have to build a whole new deck from scratch, WotC tried to give everybody what they wanted: a fresh Standard format that didn't involve folks being forced to throw their expensive deck in the garbage.
Obviously, WotC can't always thread the needle like this. There was no way to stop the Saheeli Rai + Felidar Guardian combo without banning one of its two combo pieces, for example. But if this banning is considered successful, it opens up the possibility of WotC making a similar proclamation every year or so-a second "rotation," if you will, to keep Standard fresh near the midway point by taking the format's best deck or two down a bit without obliterating it. Hearthstone does stuff like this all the time by issuing card errata, and it might simply be a necessity in an era of Magic where creating a truly diverse metagame on Standard's top tier continues to elude R&D.
I'm not saying that this is necessarily the best solution, and I'd love to see Standard succeed without regular power level management bannings, but I wouldn't be shocked if last week's event was the start of a longer trend. And if so, the financial implications would be quite interesting.
My initial reaction is that it would cause Standard's top staples to be worth less, overall-uncertainty breeds uncertainty-but the truth is that nothing buoys the price of Standard cards like a good format that lots of people want to play. This created an odd paradox where The Scarab God and Hazoret the Fervent have actually increased in value this week despite their natural homes getting hit with major bans. In fact, unless you own a lifetime supply of Rampaging Ferocidons, the bannings almost certainly increased the value of your Standard collection-even if you were an Energy or a Ramunap Red player. Cool, right?
Anyway, enough about the far future. Let's take a look at where Standard finance is heading over the next couple of weeks.
I usually talk about analyzing Standard's week one results with a grain of salt (it's only one tournament, after all), but this week we're going to have to use, like, a whole dump-truck full of salt. The SCG Dallas Open was Team Constructed, so the Modern and Legacy matches carried exactly as much weight as the Standard games did. I was happy that the SCG coverage folks decided to feature a lot of the Standard games, which gave me a lot of time to see the new cards in action, but I still don't have a great handle on which of the format's newest strategies are rising to the top and which are still just hopefuls.
Since running down the Top 8 decks seems misleading this time around, I'm just going to highlight most of the different Standard archetypes that were floating around the SCG Dallas Open as well as on MTGO over the last couple of days. This will give me an excuse to highlight cards that look like they might start seeing more play in our new post-ban Standard environment.
One thing I think we can safely say: this new Standard format looks awesome. Things might tighten up over the next couple of weeks, but if SCG Dallas is any indication, there are loads of viable strategies, starting with slightly powered down versions of the previous format's best deck:
Temur & Sultai Energy
One of the important things to remember after a ban is that not everybody has the resources to jump straight into a brand new deck. While some Energy players will take a look at the next couple weeks of tournament results and pick whichever deck seems to have the edge, a lot of them are simply going to look for the best way to update their existing deck and keep playing.
Enter Jadelight Ranger. It's sold out at $12 right now, and a large part of that is because it can do a pretty good Rogue Refiner impersonation in decks that used to rely on that card. It remains to be seen if Energy can survive simply by downgrading their Refiners to Rangers and replacing Attune with Aether with a couple more lands and a few other utility cards, but this is where a lot of players are going to start. It's going to keep Jadelight Ranger's price fairly high for a couple of weeks even if it doesn't find any other homes. If it does (I believe it will) than this will be an $18-$20 card. Jadelight Ranger is already pretty expensive, but buying high seems like the right call here.
While a lot of the Temur Energy decks are sticking to those minimal changes, many of the Sultai brews are also starting to lean on Glint-Sleeve Siphoner. This has caused Glint-Sleeve Siphoner to jump from near bulk to $4. I've also been seeing Glint-Sleeve Siphoner show up in Grixis Energy and the other Scarab God decks. At this point it seems like one of the best multi-deck utility creatures in the format.
Price memory is keeping Glint-Sleeve Siphoner in the $5 range, but we'll see how long that lasts. If it was a new card in Rivals of Ixalan, it'd be approaching $10 by now. I'm probably not going to spec on a bunch of these at $4, but I am going to make sure that I have a personal playset going forward, and I bet it'll end up in the $6-$7 range at least.
It also looks like The Scarab God is going to be more important in Energy now than it was before the banning. It looks like Sultai Energy is a bit better than Temur Energy now, and those Sultai Energy decks are moving toward a full four sets of The Scarab God. That card was the biggest gainer of the week on MTGO, and the paper price is going to follow.
Vraska's Contempt is worth a couple of words as well. Black seems to have improved in the new Standard, and the other good removal spells are more important now that Harnessed Lightning has lost some of its utility. It's great against decks where the threats are going in the format right now (more Scarab Gods, fewer Bristling Hydras) and a lot of these decks are moving toward the full set of four. At $8, I'm not sure how much higher Vraska's Contempt has to go, but the card is currently spiking on MTGO, and there's a shot it'll spend a couple of weeks in the $10-$12 range before things start to settle down again.
If you want a sleeper pick out of this deck, check out Lifecrafter's Bestiary. Last week, it was another card that Brad Nelson talked about in his article, and I'm pretty sure that showed up in a couple of the Monsters brews over the weekend as well. It might just be a sideboard card or a main deck two-of, but it's only $1.25 right now, and that's pretty much its floor based on casual and Commander demand. I'd grab a couple of sets just in case.
Grixis Midrange (& U/B Control)
There's not a lot to talk about here-this is a "good stuff" deck that combines some of the better cards from the old Sultai Energy decks with some control pieces, like Supreme Will and Glimmer of Genius.
Financially, the key cards are Glint-Sleeve Siphoner, The Scarab God, Vraska's Contempt, and Torrential Gearhulk. We talked about the first three already, but Torrential Gearhulk is starting to see a bit of an uptick again as well-no surprise, since this card has been at least somewhat good in pretty much every iteration of Standard since it was printed. It'll probably tick back toward $20 again soon.
The U/B Control decks are pretty similar, though they eschew the red and some of the energy stuff for a more straight The Scarab God/Torrential Gearhulk/Search for Azcanta plan. Yep, all of these cards are still looking quite good in the new format.
Mono-Red Aggro (& R/W, R/B Aggro Variants)
Much like the Energy mages, a lot of devoted Mono-Red Aggro players aren't going to abandon their deck simply because they lost a land and a sideboard card. Mono-Red should still have enough gas to compete, even if their reach isn't as good as it used to be.
To me, the real question is whether or not this deck will remain mono-red or end up shifting toward R/W. I was wrong when I poo-poo'ed Path of Mettle in my Rivals of Ixalan set review; I just didn't think that it was worth jumping through hoops to get a slightly better Ramunap Ruins on the battlefield. Now that Ramunap Ruins is gone, however, Path of Mettle seems a whole lot better.
$4 is still a little bit high for a rare that hasn't proven itself and is only going to be good in one deck, but I don't want to ignore how good Path of Mettle has looked in the games when it flips early on. This isn't going to be the next Search for Azcanta or anything, but it might end up in the $7-$8 range for a while. It could go even higher if R/W ends up taking Mono-Red's place in the meta.
Oh-and Hazoret the Fervent is still really, really good. Don't expect this one to come down in price anytime soon.
It's back, with more copies in Day 2 At #SCGDFW than any other deck in Standard!
Sure, Mardu Vehicles no longer has Gideon, Ally of Zendikar, but Toolcraft Exemplar is better than ever and Heart of Kiran is still an absurdly powerful Magic card with a very favorable price history. Heart of Kiran doubled in price on MTGO over the weekend, but as of this writing there are still a few dozen copies available on SCG for just $5. This is a mythic rare that used to be worth $30, so price memory could push it pretty darned high if a Heart of Kiran deck ends up performing well at some point over the next couple of weeks. (It sees play in G/R Monsters, too.) And with Whirler Virtuoso taking a backseat, that's not exactly a bold claim. I'm grabbing a set ASAP.
I've loved Rekindling Phoenix since the moment I saw it, and it's nice to see a couple of brews running around that take advantage of the full four copies. Standard is looking pretty midrangey at the moment, and Rekindling Phoenix is exactly the sort of card that feasts in formats like this. I snagged my copies for $8 during the pre-order period, but $18 still might end up seeing like a bargain if the Phoenix ends up a multiple tier one lists. I'd consider trading for these now if you want to build around it and you haven't secured your copies yet.
From a spec perspective, Treasure Map is the more interesting card in this deck. They're still retailing for just $3.50, and this card has never been lower than $2 due to casual demand and the cool design. That's the kind of high floor that I love as a conservative speculator. Treasure Map is a four-of in this deck, and it'll double in price if this deck continues to do well.
It's also worth noting that Chandra, Torch of Defiance is key in R/B Midrange, as well as pretty much every aggressive red deck in the format right now. Ramunap Red may be gone, but it's possible that Chandra is actually in a better place now than she was a week ago. Chandra, Torch of Defiance spiked pretty hard on MTGO over the weekend, and I expect the paper price to start ticking up a bit too.
Temur & G/R Monsters
This is another sweet new midrange red deck with Chandras, Glorybringers, and a full set of Rekindling Phoenix, only it runs green instead of black for cards like Jadelight Ranger (one of the most played cards all weekend) and Rhonas the Indomitable.
Brad Nelson discussed Rhonas in his post-ban Standard article last week , and he was proven right at SCG Dallas-the card was all over the coverage last weekend, and it often looked very impressive. Rhonas has shown up in Standard before, and it's just a $7 mythic right now. You could sneeze and get this card up to $15, so it's one of my top buys coming out of the weekend.
Oh-and this is another Heart of Kiran deck, too. Brennan DeCandio ran three of them in the main deck of his G/R Monsters build. If you're not gonna buy Rhonas, at least grab some of these. They're good again.
It's no surprise that people desperately want Merfolk to be good in Standard. Merfolk has been one of the most popular Modern and Legacy tribes for years, and Silvergill Adept is an objectively great Magic card.
I've seen a couple different U/G Merfolk variants kicking around MTGO, but they all seem to run four copies of Deeproot Elite and Kumena, Tyrant of Orazca. As a result, Kumena is up to $25 and Deeproot Elite has climbed to $7. If Merfolk is legit, and it looked pretty danged good at the SCG Open this weekend, these are fairly reasonable prices. Since the deck mostly relies on commons and uncommons, like Merfolk Branchwalker and Merfolk Mistbinder, the deck's small handful of rares and mythics have a higher than average ceiling. It's possible that Kopala, Warden of Waves and Deeproot Champion will end up in some future version of the deck, but I'm pretty bearish on them for now.
Unfortunately, this was the only dedicated tribal deck that showed up in Dallas. Sorry Pirate, Dinosaur, and Vampire fans-I'm selling those cards for now, and I'll buy back in if things change at some point over the next few weeks.
U/W, Bant, and Esper Approach
Approach of the Second Sun might have been the best deck not to be hurt by the bans, but there's no telling whether or not it'll be the best control deck now that the format has been shaken up. Regardless, this deck is full of cards that are spiking a little thanks to their utility in this deck as well as the other U/B, Esper, and Grixis control shells. Torrential Gearhulk has started to tick up in price again, for example, and Search for Azcanta is up to $23 and climbing. The Scarab God is likely to jump a bit, too-it was up more than ten tickets this week on MTGO, and it's still a crucial bottleneck in a ton of interesting decks.
One card that's gone under the radar a bit so far is Settle the Wreckage. It's a crucial four-of in Approach, and the format seems to be shifting more toward larger creatures in the wake of the banning. If we start to see more Vehicles and Dinosaurs running around, Settle the Wreckage is only going to increase in importance. It's a $6 card right now, but it could easily end up being worth $8-$10.
Rampaging Ferocidon was banned so that decks like this could come back into the metagame, and Abzan Tokens looked good on camera at the SCG Dallas Open. This deck might also contribute to Treasure Map gaining value, but the key cards here are Anointed Procession and Vraska, Relic Seeker. Vraska was a $25-$30 card the last time that Tokens even threatened to become a tier one strategy, and it's starting to tick back up again. I don't think it'll be one of the major gainers coming out of the weekend, but it should steadily gain value if Abzan Tokens ends up being a real player.
Anointed Procession is harder to pin down. It only dropped a few dollars over the holidays despite seeing a lot less play, mostly because it's such a good Commander card. The price floor is pretty high here, so it might be worth grabbing a few extra copies if you're a believer in Abzan Tokens. I tend to think it'll remain a low variance card-high ceiling, low floor-which means that it's the sort of thing I rarely buy but love to target in trade. Worst case, this isn't dropping below $7 anytime soon.
This deck looks fairly similar to the Constrictor decks running around in the format last year, and Walking Ballista's days of being a $10+ card aren't behind us just yet. More importantly, this is yet another Jadelight Ranger + Vraska's Contempt deck. The more I look at the metagame, the more convinced I become that Jadelight Ranger will end up around $20 and Vraska's Contempt will be stable over $10.
G/B Constrictor also runs a couple copies of Vraska, Relic Seeker out of the sideboard. For those keeping track, that's three decks (at least) running at least two copies of Vraska somewhere in the deck. If this Standard format ends up proving popular, Vraska should end up above $20 again soon.
God-Pharaoh's Gift Variants
There are several versions of this running around-Esper, U/B, and U/W. There aren't too many changes here yet, though the black versions are running Ravenous Chupacabra now. This deck should also help keep Walking Ballista's price up, it's another home for The Scarab God, and it'll keep Angel of Invention and Champion of Wits in high demand.
Key Rivals of Ixalan Cards That Aren't Showing Up Yet
I'm not saying that these cards aren't going to ever be good-Emrakul, the Promised End looked like a bust during the first few weeks of Eldritch Moon Standard-but selling or trading away new cards that aren't doing anything right away is a good Magic finance rule of thumb. Even if you end up selling these at a "loss" based on the prices they were at last week, cards like this tend to keep dropping in price unless they start to see play. Selling high and buying low is only one part of the game. Knowing when it's correct to sell low and buy high is equally important.
This Week's Trends
The Modern Pro Tour is almost here, and prices are starting to rise a little as we head toward that long-awaited showdown in Spain. Snapcaster Mage, Karn Liberated, Mox Opal, and Through the Breach are all up a bit, while Runed Halo has maintained its post-spike $40-$50 price tag.
Players looking for a budget deck in Modern have turned toward the latest Saffron Olive brew, Mono-Red Hollow One. It's a pretty cool deck, and Burning Inquiry spiked from bulk to about $2 because of it. I'm surprised that Burning Inquiry was the card that jumped, especially since Goblin Lore, Hellspark Elemental, Bloodghast, Street Wraith, and Prized Amalgam are all four-ofs in the deck and they're all quite a bit more scarce. (I bet at least one of these cards, probably Goblin Lore, will spike between when I write this and when you read it.) As always with these Saffron Olive decks, selling into the hype is correct. They're a ton of fun to play, but the prices always come back to earth after a few weeks pass and the community moves on to something else.
The Pauper revolution rumbles on, and format staples like Gush, Battle Screech, Standard Bearer, Prismatic Strands, Spreading Seas, and Moment's Peace continue to climb. If you haven't pawed through your bulk in a while or your LGS has a bunch of commons at five for a dollar or something, now's a good time to take another look. Did you know that Gush is sold out at $6 and is likely worth about $8 right now? Crazy, right?
Reserved List staples continue to climb in price as well, especially cards from sets like Legends and Arabian Nights. The Abyss, Forcefield, King Suleiman, Gwendlyn Di Corci, Island of Wak-Wak, Chaos Orb, Mana Crypt…they're all still on the rise. A few major stores have been raising their buylist prices on these cards in recent weeks, which has helped spur the price increases. I'm not sure if (when?) this bubble's going to burst, but it's a bit crazy how many "useless" old cards are expensive now simply because of how scarce they are. The power of collectors is very real.
Lastly, we got our first look at WotC's plan for the Magic: Arena economy. If you were hoping it would be Magic finance friendly, you're out of luck. There's no trading, and you won't be able to have more than four of a single card in your collection - any you open beyond that are automatically turned into progress toward unlocking a "vault" prize.
This was more or less expected, but everyone also figured there would be some kind of "dusting" system similar to Hearthstone were players could delete cards in order to earn points toward crafting other cards. That's not going to happen in Arena, though. Instead, you either have to open the cards you need (in boosters or the Vault) or open a "wildcard" that you can then trade in for whatever you want.
The accessibility of these wildcards is likely to be one of the determining factors for whether or not Arena will replace MTGO as a viable testing platform for pros and competitive players. If people who play a lot of Arena can accrue enough wildcards to more or less build decks at will, it has a much better shot of taking over at some point. If wildcards are very hard to come by and it becomes difficult to get the newest cards right away, it'll end up being more of a casual-only environment.
I've read some hot takes on both sides of this announcement, but the truth is that it's still too early to tell how friendly the Arena economy will be to competitive players. This system seems to be designed with casual play in mind, but that doesn't mean it won't be liberal enough with its rewards to make everybody happy. We'll just have to wait and see.