The first few weeks of Modern speculation were like the Wild West. Fortunes were made overnight as dollar cards suddenly found themselves worth ten to twenty times their previous value. Some stores were buying in to the format so hard that you could get more from a vendor than you could on eBay. All it took for something to triple in price was half a rumor that it might someday be good.
Just like the Scars of Mirrodin planeswalkers hit dizzying pre-order heights because no one wanted to miss the next Jace, Modern cards shot toward the moon because no one wanted to miss the next Legacy.
Of course, most of those cards didn’t stay worth that much for long.
After the Modern announcement, people eager to play in events found themselves unable to compete. For months, there was simply no way to play the format outside of MTGO. Then came Wizards’ quick, decisive bannings, and people began to shy away from investing in entire strategies that were being culled by the minute.
The week Modern was announced, I made two decks: Jund and Twelvepost. The Jund deck, even with the Punishing Fire combo, wasn’t good enough. The Twelvepost deck was too good.
I have still never played a sanctioned match with either. Twelvepost was banned almost immediately, and Jund (without the combo, now) is finally good enough to run. But for months those cards just kind of sat around gaining and losing value in fits and starts.
Looking at the current Modern metagame, I think we’ve finally reached the sort of format that Wizards had envisioned the entire time. There are two tier-1 aggro decks (Zoo and Affinity), two tier-1 combo decks (Twin and Storm), and two tier-1 midrange decks (Martyr & Jund). The format is still relatively new, and control decks are always the slowest to evolve. I imagine by the end of the season, the best control strategies will emerge as well. Right now, U/W Tron and Teachings look to be the best, but I’m not sure you can comfortably slot either into the top tier.
Financially, then, the real question is what happens to Modern after the PTQ season. Will it end up on a boom/bust cycle like Extended, or will it be year-round like Legacy?
Ultimately, I think Wizards envisions Modern as the successor to Legacy and the top supported eternal format.
I’ve written a ton about how Legacy offers a play experience that Modern could never hope to replicate, but recent events have shifted my though process. Honestly, many of the things that were awesome about Legacy (format diversity, first and foremost) have been lost due to cards that have been printed in the last couple of sets.
I expect that the lull in Legacy’s popularity will continue unless something changes. After all, if you’re just going to play an infinite number of fish-y, zoo-y, Delver decks, why not do it in a cheaper, more accessible format? Legacy isn’t ‘broken,’ per se, but it’s not awesome right now either.
The big things to look out for are the Sunday events for the Star City Open series. Right now, SCG Sunday Legacy is the only thing still really keeping those prices high even though the tour has taken on a much lower profile due to the massive cuts in payout this season. If SCG Sundays switch to Modern, expect the format to remain ‘evergreen’ in its prices.
Long term investing in Modern is going to be tricky. I imagine we will see many of the key, expensive cards reprinted in the next 3-5 years. Wizards isn’t going to let something like Wasteland or Force of Will hit $80 – $100 without intervention.
That said, I think the impact will be lower than some people expect. Some cards (Tarmogoyf) will likely never be re-printed in a Standard legal set due to their warping affect on the format. Others will still hold the bulk of their value due to Standard playability.
I expect that the days of sweeping archetype bans in the format are over as well. Prices are slightly depressed because no one wants to drop $500 on a deck and see it disappear tomorrow. As we move further from that MO, prices will go up.
Decklists and Research
This is obviously not the place to come if you’re looking to decide what to run in this weekend’s PTQ.
I honestly haven’t played much Magic recently, and rarely do I play constructed anyway. That guy who beat you at FNM last week is probably a better person to ask than me for information on how good a certain card might be in your next brew.
So why am I qualified to write this article at all? Two reasons.
1) Actual value does not entirely correlate with tournament playability.
Sure, the top tournament decks are usually full of valuable cards, but that’s only a small piece of the puzzle. Rarity, age, hype, and viability over multiple formats on the casual/competitive spectrum are all important factors in coming up with the price of a card. Tournament playability is only a small part of the puzzle.
2) Actual value often does correlate with our communal perception of value.
What affects the price of a card? That’s just simple supply and demand. If a card goes up in price, there’s more demand. If a card goes down, there’s more supply.
On the supply side, rarity and age are going to be the most likely indicator of low supply. Sometimes, other factors (good cards from unpopular third sets for example) come in to play as well.
The demand side has a lot to do with tournament results, but the most important factor is media saturation. If a deck is talked up a lot for whatever reason, the cards in it are going to be more in demand than a better deck that flies under the radar for the entire season. Often, ‘more fun’ decks (control decks or wacky combo/alternate win decks) are in higher demand. So are decks that have more recent cards and are easier to build. So are decks run by the most popular pros. So are decks that win high profile tournaments.
If you want to make money speculating on cards, do your research! Read the articles that everyone else is reading, talk to people on Twitter and stay up in the community. By doing that, I can get a great birds-eye view of the Magic scene regardless of how good I actually am at Magic.
Here are a few of the better articles I read and sites I visited to prepare for this article. If you want a good understanding of the Modern metagame as it stands now, give these columns a read:
• A Modern Bestiary – Alexander Shearer (Channel Fireball)
• The Most Modern Zoo – Owen Turtenwald (Channel Fireball)
• Understanding Modern – Jeremy Neeman (Star City Premium)
• What You Need to Know About Modern – Patrick Chapin (Star City Premium)
• Magic Online Tournament Results (Magicthegathering.com)
By checking what these writers are talking about against actual tournament results, a strong picture of the format begins to appear. Feel free to read the rest of this column without reading those decklists and analyses, but be advised that they will give you a much better sense of where I’m coming from.
• Tarmogoyf – $100
• Dark Confidant – $40
• Liliana of the Veil – $30
• Snapcaster Mage – $30
• Arcbound Ravager – $20
• Elspeth, Knight-Errant – $20
• Mox Opal – $20
• Knight of the Reliquary – $10
• Past in Flames – $8
• Splinter Twin – $4
All of these cards are in the decks that are currently dominating the format: Jund, Affinity, Zoo, Storm, Martyr, and Twin.
I do not expect to see Tarmogoyf or Arcbound Ravager re-printed in a Standard legal set ever again. It could happen, obviously, but I’d bet strongly against it. Judge/GP foil printings would probably not affect the price too much.
Knight of the Reliquary, Past in Flames, Liliana of the Veil, Elspeth, Knight-Errant, Splinter Twin, Snapcaster Mage, and Mox Opal were all printed very recently and will likely go up before they go down. Knight, Twin, and Flames I particularly like right now, as all three have a shot to double in price within the next year.
I am still holding out hope for a Dark Confidant reprint sometime soon.
Sitting comfortably on the second tier right now are Boros, RDW, Pod, Tokens, Merfolk, U/W Tron, Teachings. and various other blue-ish control decks.
Most of these cards are decent buys right now, as any of these decks could make a strong push for tier-1 status.
Aether Vial seems to never move from the $8-$11 range, no matter how good it is. We’ll see if the resurgence of Merfolk in online Modern events helps to change that.
Goblin Guide is an especially good buy right now. One or another deck with him will be awesome in some format again, and he’ll pop up to about $8 again because of it.
Ethersworn Canonist is a support card in Melira Decks as well as being a cornerstone of the tokens brew.
Support Cards to Watch
Thrun, the Last Troll – $15
Thrun shows up in basically every sideboard of every format now – Modern included.
Proclamation of Rebirth – $10?
These are sold out basically everywhere. On eBay, they’re closing between $5 and $8 each. If the Martyr deck sticks around, expect this price to hold up. You still have a small window to pick these up in bulk bins while supplies last.
Serra Ascendant – $4
Spellskite – $8
A third-set rare that has already proven its meddle in Standard and Legacy, this is currently featured in the Splinter Twin deck. Expect it to be a combo deck mainstay for years to come.
Pyromancer’s Swath – $3
This is a sold-out price and they’re going for about $3 on eBay right now. Future Sight rares obviously have a LOT of growth potential, and if this becomes a must-run in all the storm decks I expect an increase in price.
Etched Champion – $3.50
The champ has been a stalwart for months now, yet the price never seems to go up. Your window to get these for under $5 is closing soon.
Bloodbraid Elf – $2.50
Anyone playing Jund probably has these already. The deck requires 4x Tarmogoyf and 4x Dark Confidant, which is almost $600 for just eight cards. That’s not even counting the Lilianas, Thoughsiezes, or the manabase. So yeah, the Elf might be awesome, but he’s not likely to spike in price.
Leyline of the Meek – $1
This is already sold out most places thanks to mono-W or Wu (splash for Polymorph) tokens decks that are performing reasonably well on Magic Online. Another bulk bin steal that is starting to climb in value.
Kitchen Finks – $4
This is starting to show in multiple decks and can still be found often enough for $3 or less.
Blinkmoth Nexus – $8
Most affinity decks are running a full set of these. They can still be found in trade for $5 or less if you get lucky.
Blood Moon – $6
A very popular sideboard card in the format.
Mindbreak Trap – $3
I still believe that this card has plenty of room to grow. It’s seeing a lot of play in sideboards.
Fringe/Rogue Cards to Watch
Batterskull – $15
Currently a 1-of in some Esper decks, I’d never count this versatile piece of equipment out – even in a Stoneforge-free format.
Vedalken Shackles – $11
Mike Flores introduced us to an interesting Shackles-centric take on mono-blue control that is worth noting.
Some affinity builds are running a full set of these.
Chord of Calling – $4
This is a 4-of in some Birthing Pod builds.
Reveillark – $3.50
This elemental will likely start showing up in more and more pod builds.
Death Cloud – $2.50
A couple Death Cloud lists have made decent showings on MTGO recently.
Living End – $2.50
A massively underperforming deck right now, but that can change with the right enabler.
Another deck with waning success, but the card is worth watching.
Sulfur Elemental – $0.25
A great bit of hate against the Martyr decks.
Low Value Commons/Uncommons To Stock
All of these cards see a reasonable amount of play, and none of them should still be moldering in your closet. If you’re planning to attend a GP or PTQ, throw these all in a box and walk around for an hour before the event starts. You might be surprised at what you’ll get in return.
• Ancient Grudge
• Azorius Signet
• Cranial Plating
• Darksteel Citadel
• Deceiver Exarch
• Delver of Secrets
• Desperate Ravings
• Desperate Ritual
• Early Frost
• Echoing Truth
• Empty the Warrens
• Esper Charm
• Expedition Map
• Galvanic Blast
• Gitaxian Probe
• Ideas Unbound
• Kird Ape
• Lightning Bolt
• Loam Lion
• Mana Leak
• Mystical Teachings
• Peer Through Depths
• Pyretic Ritual
• Seal of Primordium
• Seething Song
• Serum Visions
• Shrapnel Blast
• Signal Pest
• Sleight of Hand
• Springleaf Drum
• Steppe Lynx
• Thirst for Knowledge
• Treetop Village
• Tribal Flames
• Vapor Snag
• Vault Skirge
Right now, we’re just scratching the surface of what Modern can be. Which control deck will assert itself and join the top tier? Will Storm be too oppressive? What about aggro? What hate cards will emerge? Will Modern end up a beloved format, or will it be swept into the dustbin of history?
Join me next time, when I will likely have absolutely zero answers for those questions.
- Chas Andres