With very little information coming in and the PT quickly approaching, I wanted to shift gears a bit. This past weekend, at the local Release Event, I was talking with a couple local players about what I thought was going to blow up. The first was Contested War Zone and the other was Mitotic Manipulation. After a short discussion a question was posed, how do I speculate on values?

Well, speculating on a card is fairly straightforward, but knowledge of trends, history and understanding the card’s purpose in the bigger picture is important. Understanding the power-level of a card regarding playability and it's innate intrinsic value is important as well.

I think the best way to understand how my process works is to walk you through, step-by-step.

The first card I want to evaluate is: White Suns Zenith.

Here are the stats:

White Sun's Zenith
Instant
XWWW
Put X 2/2 White Cat creature tokens onto the battlefield. Shuffle White Suns Zenith into its owner's library.

Comparable Cards

The first thing I did when I saw this card was compare it to the most recent cards I could remember that did something similar. Which cards recently have been printed with an X that created tokens?

Martial Coup
Sorcery
XWW
Put X 1/1 white Soldier creature tokens onto the battlefield. If X is 5 or more, destroy all other creatures.

Gelatinous Genesis
Sorcery
XXG
Put X X/X green Ooze creature tokens onto the battlefield.

The above cards are the only ones recently that have an X in their mana cost and create a token of some sort. Now, comparing these two cards is difficult as they are still pretty different.

Martial Coup serves two major purposes. It was a potential kill condition for control decks, while serving as a mass removal spell. On the other side, Gelatinous Genesis is board presence. It's very linear and very expensive to cast. Of these two cards, neither are quite like White Suns Zenith.
So, let's look to see if there are any older cards that are closer in function.

The next card I thought of is, Decree of Justice. Here is the information on it:

Decree of Justice
XX2WW
Sorcery
Put X 4/4 white Angel creature tokens with flying onto the battlefield.
Cycling 2W (2W, Discard this card: Draw a card.)
When you cycle Decree of Justice, you may pay X. If you do, put X 1/1 white Soldier creature tokens onto the battlefield.

This card is similar to Gelatinous Genesis and White Suns Zenith. However, one of the things that made this card unique was the cycle ability. In its hay-day, it would create soldier tokens on end steps or randomly during combat, just like White Suns Zenith. However, it also had the ability to make some very heavy hitters in the late game.

Between Martial Coup and Decree of Justice, I believe White Suns Zenith is most comparable to Decree of Justice.

Looking at History

What is Decree of Justice worth now? What was it worth back then? While it was in Standard, Decree of Justice carried a $10.00 - $12.00 price tag. Part of this price was influenced by the role it played in Block, which is currently unavailable to non-pro players. However, even after it left Standard and entered the world of Extended, it carried an $8.00 price tag. Currently, the card is worth $3.99 and is regularly picked up by EDH players.

If we did price checks on Martial Coup, we would see it as high as $8.00 and regularly in the $4.00 - $5.00 range during Standard.

So now we've compared the card to other existing cards, and we've researched a bit of the comparable card histories. What's next?

Role in the Existing Metagame

The next step in my process is to analyze how the card would fit into the existing metagame. Predictions based on an unknown metagame are impossible, yet there are a few things to do. I'll cover those at the end of this article.

Currently, Standard consists of a variety of decks. Let's break them into tiers

T1
U/W Control (Caw Go)
U/B Control
Valakut
B/R Vampires
Boros

T1.5
U/G Genesis Wave (could be T1)
Kuldotha Red
Goblins

Let's look at how could potentially fit into each deck.

For U/W Control
This card could easily fit into the deck and provide an additional kill condition for it. It's also an additional shuffle effect for Jace, which makes finding this card multiple times pretty good. This card could definitely find a home here.

For Boros
This card could potentially see play in Boros, but is a little too expensive for a deck that wants you dead by turn 5.

For all the other decks
Being triple white, this card is definitely not splashable. Therefore, including it in decks with 2+ colors already is probably incorrect.

So we know that in the current metagame, U/W Control is about the only deck that can absorb this card into its 75. But that's not to say there’s isn’t a possibility for new archetypes to emerge.

New Decks and a New Metagame

The second to last part of my process involves predicting what new decks will emerge. Now, if we look at the bigger picture we understand that there are only four major archetypes. Aggro, aggro-control, control and combo. If we break these down a bit further, we can look at historical deck types (e.g. White Weenie, Sligh Red, Tokens, Fish, Blue Control, Blue/X Control, Storm Combo and Combo).

With the new white cards coming out we definitely have buzz floating around regarding both White Weenie and Tokens. The new battle cry mechanic fully supports both of these deck strategies. So the question is posed: Does White Suns Zenith fit into either White Weenie or Tokens?

White Weenie has a similar snag as Boros as this deck wants to kill very quickly. This card may be too slow for a true White Weenie deck. The Knight deck would probably not run this either as the tokens are merely Cats and not Cat Knights (Leonin Skyhunter!)

So now we go to Tokens. Historically, Token decks have done decently when there were enough spells to support an entire deck. In Standard, specifically in white, we have the following cards that make tokens:

 

Supporting this strategy, while staying in white, we have:

 

If we paired this with spot removal, theoretically, we could have a decent deck. But how does it match up against the current meta? This takes us to the last step.

New Meta vs. Old Meta

A particular phenomenon that occurs every time a new set releases is the re-emergence of older, time-proven decks. For example, at a major FNM, the Top 16 saw a return of Eldrazi Green and Valakut. At the last major SCG Open, we saw a triumphant return of Valakut, Mono-Black Vampires and Goblins.

This occurs for various reasons. One is that some players tend to not change decks until an entire season has run its course. When new sets release, Johnny's are quickly trying new decks, while Spike's will tend to return to an old favorite. Timmy's on the other hand will lump themselves into the Johnny pool and sling ridiculous combos or creatures that Spike's would most likely never touch. The first few tournaments following a major release are a Spike's Hay-day, as they typically find it easier to navigate the field of new, untested decks.

The last part of my analysis takes this into account. How do my predictions for possible decks stack up against time-trusted decks? Is there a benchmark deck to rate against? When I first started playing Legacy, the deck to beat was Goblins. This was before Counterbalance was printed and the top decks were Canadian Threshold, Goblins and Solidarity. Dead Guy's Ale had just been creating a stir and that Black/Red deck with Rotting Giants were seeing a lot of play. But at that point we would always start by testing our decks against Goblins before worrying about any other deck.

I think in Standard we could use Valakut as that standard of testing. Can the deck survive against Valakut? What strategies does it have to outpace this powerful behemoth? Unfortunately, I don't think the matchup against Tokens would be very difficult for Valakut. It has access to the following cards to deal with creatures:

 

To deal with pesky enchantments, we have:

 

Valakut can also stay ahead in life with Obstinate Baloth and quickly match or outnumber the Token deck with its own tokens from Avenger of Zendikar. Could we gear the deck to beat Valakut? Maybe. Tokens could run cards like Journey to Nowhere, Condemn, Leyline of Sanctity and even a wrath effect, but it might be too diluted. These questions are a reason why I am thankful that although I am a Spike, I don't really have any Johnny tendencies. That is why I keep people like Conley around.

So after I have taken into account all of that information, I have to make a decision. How much do I value the card at? Is it higher or lower than what the stores have set for the card? How do they set their prices? Well, stores employ people like me to price out new sets based on zero information and an unknown metagame. This process is slightly different than mine as they still take into account historical information, they get pro players’ opinions and they compare the card against other cards in the set. Rarity plays a factor as does the intrinsic power-level of the card.

As a trend forecaster, I find myself bouncing between my own speculations, the opinions of my friends and teammates, and reading every article that comes out. I read other financial writers and I participate in heated discussions on other sites about card values. All of this helps inform my opinion, which I then share with you.

To review, my process looks like this:
1. I look at the card and try to find comparable cards that were recently printed. Is this card a functional reprint of an older card? After 18 years of existence, new ideas for cards are becoming more scarce.
2. After I make a list I research the history of the card. If it was around when I played I can usually remember details on the values and the factors it included, but not always.
3. I look at the role of the card in the current meta. How will this card fit into existing 75's?
4. I speculate on what new decks could emerge. Are there any outstanding themes within the cards? What are the pros talking about? What are people brewing on the forums?
5. Finally, I compare those decks to current ones. How do they match up? Do these new decks that run the card in question match up well?

After this process, I am still forced to make a decision. I tend to be more conservative on the value of a card than most and would usually underrate it than overrate it. For me, with new cards I tend to speculate and keep their prices low. Hyping up cards early, before they are proven, is about the worst thing for the average Magic player. It causes difficulty in getting the cards and usually creates a huge deficit in profit when they drop. Examples of this can be most recently be seen in the Scars of Mirrodin planeswalkers. Each one released at $45.00 – $50.00, while none of them are even close to that value.

Hopefully, this insight can help you all understand how I get to my numbers. It might not be how each of you do it, but maybe something in it will be of value to you in the future. See you all next week and Happy Trading!

Until Next Time,

Brian Grewe
mtgo: briangrewe