Tag Archives: Speculation

PROTRADER: Unbanning Speculation

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How about this week for bannings and unbannings! Gotta love when changes happen all over the place, in an apparently random way. The end result is important, though, and I think the Felidar ban is good for Standard. Shake it up!

This week, and next, I’m going to look at the currently-banned cards in a couple of formats and see what I’d like to have on hand in case of unbanning. Protean Hulk made some amazing gains when it was unbanned in Commander, and frankly, I’m looking forward to seeing how I can abuse the card in a couple of different decks.

I didn’t see the Hulk coming, but I did have a stockpile of Kokusho, the Evening Star when it got unbanned, and that was a nice play. So let’s start with Commander this week, and see what we can speculate on and what we should not get.

Power Nine: Not coming off the banned list ever, the RC is pretty clear about this. Mana Vault being legal is indeed an inconsistent application of their ‘no fast mana’ rule, but if you can get Power you should do so on general principle.

Chance of unbanning: less than 5%

 

Library of Alexandria: So this card is not legal, while the literally-twice-as-expensive The Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale is. I would advocate owning a Library, as it’s got nowhere to go but up. There’s a chance this gets unbanned in Commander, since lots of disgusting things are legal.

Chance of unbanning: 25%

 

Balance: This has been banned for a long long time. If the effect was limited to creatures, it’d likely be unbanned already, but the effect on lands and hand is a very unfair and unfun experience.

Chance of unbanning: 0%

 

Biorhythm: The RC is not big on ‘play this and win’ cards, so I don’t think Biorhythm ever gets banned. I’d like to say something like ‘Green players need to stick it to those creatureless Blue players!!’ but the truth is that G/U decks are super strong. Jerks.

Chance of unbanning: 0%

 

Braids, Cabal Minion: This would be okay except that mana acceleration is so very good, and it’s easy to get this out early and lock the game down. If you’re locking everyone else down, go ahead and giggle, but everyone else hopes you die of paper cuts.

Chance of unbanning: 0%

 

Coalition Victory: I feel like this should be legal, and considering the hoops that have to be jumped through, I think this has real potential to be unbanned at some point. It is a rare from a small third set (plus the Timeshifted version) and people would immediately jump on the hype. I would advocate picking some up, considering that regulars are fifty cents and foils are under $3. I get that you’re thinking ‘But it wins the game on the spot!’ and my reply would be “Look at this Reddit post and tell me Protean Hulk isn’t just as bad?”

Chance of unbanning: 65%

 

Channel: Fast mana is not good, especially with Eldrazi running around. I don’t think this is ever unbanned.

Chance of unbanning: 0%

 

Emrakul, the Aeons Torn: This was a sore point for a long time in the EDH community, and the banning felt inevitable. This wouldn’t get cheated into play much, but it was not terribly hard to build a deck that accelerates well to the spaghetti monster. I think it’s unlikely but possible, and its use in Modern and Legacy already has affected prices.

Chance of unbanning: 10%

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Erayo, Soratami Ascendant: This prevents people from doing things, and it’s in blue, so you’d likely need three spells to get rid of this. Unfun and noninteractive means it’s probably never coming back. However, it’s already at $9/$24 foil, indicating that there’s a lot of people who like this card.

Chance of unbanning: 5%

 

Fastbond: What makes this card busted is the potential with Crucible of Worlds, paired with Strip Mine and Wasteland. The problem isn’t someone playing three lands on turn one, it’s someone paying a life to destroy a land.

Chance of unbanning: 0%

 

Gifts Ungiven: I always forget this card is banned, but really, it needs to be. It’s super busted, to go find Time Warp, Time Stretch, Relearn, and Call to Mind. I call that the ‘Flipped Table Special’ and that’s before I get into Unburial Rites combos. It’s already at $5-$7 due to Modern and other formats, despite being in two different Modern Masters sets.

Chance of unbanning: 25%

 

Griselbrand: Nope. Sorry. Never. Starting at 40 life and without even a ‘shuffle me from the graveyard’ clause, it’s far too good. I played with it during the short period it was legal, and it’s precisely as busted as you fear.

Chance of unbanning: 0%

 

Karakas: It’s not that the effect is unfair, it’s how free it is being on an untapped land. A lot of Commander decks wouldn’t fold to this, but it’s so easy and free and tremendously effective.

Chance of unbanning: 0%

 

Leovold, Emissary of Trest: I’m aware that this was designed while Tiny Leaders was hot stuff, and either ability would have been fine separately, but these two together are unfun. That said, I think he’s too expensive to spec on right now, even though I don’t think he will be banned forever.

Chance of unbanning: 15%

 

Painter’s Servant: Originally, this was legal and Grindstone was ruled to be too good. The RC decided to switch the cards, and Grindstone is now legal. I highly doubt that this ever gets unbanned, but it’s not a zero-percent chance.

Chance of unbanning: 10%

 

Panoptic Mirror: Cast it. End of the turn, imprint a take turns card. Defend until it’s your turn. Take all the turns. GG. Never ever, sorry.

Chance of unbanning: 0%

 

Primeval Titan: This was a longtime battle to get banned. It’s severely powerful, and fetches up whatever you need, though most often it was Cabal Coffers and Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth. The presence of this card quickly becomes a battle of control and copy effects, or one person gets way far ahead on mana. This isn’t coming off anytime soon, but it’s just good enough in Modern that I wouldn’t mind having a few on hand.

Chance of unbanning: 10%

 

Prophet of Kruphix: Oh, I want this to be unbanned. Please. Please! I’ve got a stack of these that I traded for at $1-$2 each. Infinite turns on one card is too good, though, and this card enables everything in the two best Commander colors.

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That being said…I’m glad I already have my stack. This is a ridiculously good card in casual circles, and it’s at a low point in its price history.

Chance of unbanning: 15%

 

Recurring Nightmare: This was ruled to be too good in 2008! That’s nine years of degenerate graveyard interactions. Graveyard hate has gotten much better, and the creatures have gotten far better. I have abused this in Cube and this would be much more likely to be unbanned if returning it to hand weren’t part of the cost! It’s already a $12 card, and is pretty much a Cube staple…and I want to have some of these on hand.

Chance of unbanning:30%

 

Rofellos, Llanowar Emissary: I don’t think he’s as big a problem in the deck as he is when he’s the commander, but he’s busted right in half.

Chance of unbanning: 10%

 

Sway of the Stars: Resetting a Commander game is lame. There’s just no other word for it. The best way to use this is with Jhoira of the Ghitu, and suspend a couple of big things to resolve after this.

Chance of unbanning:5%

 

Sundering Titan: I’m going to let loose a contrarian opinion here: I think this card isn’t terribly unfair. It can only hit lands with basic types, and that skips over a lot of lands that see a lot of Commander play. Yes, it hits basics and duals and shocks, and the battle lands and the new cycling duals, but that’s it, aside from the corner cases. I know that my three-color decks aren’t dependent on those lands, enjoying checklands, manlands, filters, Temples, etc. I think there’s a chance here. It can be had for $5, $20 in pack foil or a $35 Invention. There is room for significant growth.

Chance of unbanning: 75%

 

Sylvan Primordial: So this got banned pretty soon after it came out, and mainly because it destroys lands and then gets you more lands, enabling whatever shenanigans you’re into. You end up with one person having all their Forests out, and no one else has lands in play, once you start flickering or recurring this in some way.

That said…is it really worse than Hulk ending the game on the spot? This is a super-attractive speculation, as you can get this at nearly-bulk prices, and foils are just over $2.

Chance of unbanning: 50%

 

Time Vault: Considering all the ways there are to take infinite turns in Commander, I’m sort of surprised this isn’t unbanned, but the RC is not known for consistency, as previously noted.

Chance of unbanning: 0%

 

Tinker: I feel like artifact decks don’t need the help. I really don’t want Blightsteel to be in play on turn one or two.

Chance of unbanning: 0%

 

Tolarian Academy: This isn’t allowed, but I can play other degenerate and fast artifacts? Again, I wonder if the Hulk gets out of the penalty box, there’s got to be a chance for this, right? It’s at $32 now and it would jump to at least $100 if unbanned.

Chance of unbanning: 20%

 

Trade Secrets: So the rationale for banning this was when two players decided they wanted to draw all the cards together. That seems more like a failure of the social contract than anything else, but I think this will get re-evaluated eventually. Nearly a bulk rare, only a $3 foil.

Chance of unbanning: 45%

 

Upheaval: I already want to kick Cyclonic Rift to the curb, and this is even worse. I won’t have anything at all in play!

Chance of unbanning: 0%

 

Worldfire: Same as Sway of the Stars above. Just silly.

Chance of unbanning: 0%

 

Yawgmoth’s Bargain: Academy Rector is already super annoying, and this would be neck-and-neck for the best target, alongside Omniscience. This card spiked earlier this year for reasons I can’t seem to find, but it’s on the Reserved List anyway. Having a few on hand would only be prudent.

Chance of unbanning: 15%

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PROTRADER: The Best of the Rest

There is a narrative structure to Magic releases, and although it has changed a bit over time, the major points are all largely the same. As in:

  • Spoiler Season
  • Prerelease
  • Release
  • Pre-Pro Tour Environment
  • Pro Tour
  • Post Pro Tour Environment
  • (NEW!) Post Pro Tour B&R announcement

In this system, interest, excitement, and (most importantly) attention are directed at the new release. The last few weeks of a lame-duck Standard format tend to see drops in participation and innovation, and prices on existing cards soften (even more on cards rotating out). One of the most important (and simultaneously, most difficult) things to do during the first few steps of that cycle are to pull OUT OF the gravitational pull of a new set, and focus on which existing cards may be undervalued. Margins are hugely important when it comes to Standard, so its vital to pull the trigger when the time is right. Some of what we discuss today will be informed by what happened at the Star City event over the weekend, as well as expected responses and metagaming course corrections. I think you’ll see what I mean as we get started.

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UNLOCKED PROTRADER: The Aftermath

Holy.

Crap.

Bannings are tricky things. A ban in Standard is different than one in Modern or Legacy, both in terms of tone and player response. “Older” formats inherently carry the risk of bannings as a check against unforeseen interactions between new and old cards (this is the essential crux of the Golgari Grave-Troll re-banning, new cards like Cathartic Reunion just made Dredge “too good”). It’s possible that this is because formats like Modern are created with some bans already in place, so some of the bloom is off the rose from the get go. Standard, however, is a much more volatile situation. Standard is sold in part as a balanced environment, and bannings, even intended to preserve the greater good, are considered in part a failure.

BRIEF COMPARATIVE ASIDE: The immediate aftermath of a Standard ban kinda feels like when an interim head coach takes over a football team. Yes things are different with Umezawa’s Jitte gone, but nobody thinks that Dan Campbell is really going to stick around. Then again, the Jags hired Doug Marrone, so who knows?

My guess is that bannings in Standard ultimately take some of the romanticism away- players (bad ones) assume that THEY will find the missing piece of the puzzle and vanquish the scourge of whatever deck they keep losing to at FNM and then some how win a Pro Tour. I want to get to the meat of these particular bans (the Standard ones, mostly), but I will say that the addition of a second B&R announcement is an early check against Saheeli Combo disguised as a good idea. I don’t know how the Magic population writ large will respond to the idea of a more policed format philosophy, but I do think it will help prevent player bleeding in the event of a broken format.

Emrakul, the Promised End: This is quite possibly my favorite ban- Emrakul was the de facto top of the format in terms of size and effect, and it warped card choices and game plans towards it. Killing Emrakul (or rather, imprisoning her on the moon) opens up endgame opportunities for cards like Ulamog, Kozilek, or new cards like Herald of Anguish. More importantly, decks that were homogonized in certain forms can now branch out and specialize- Green Black doesn’t NEED to be Delirium anymore, if they find a finisher better than Traverse for the next best thing to Emrakul, although that’s still an option. That trickles down to mean that early game plans don’t have to be the “self-mill while trying to stay alive” tactics that they were before. I don’t know if there is a clear best winner in this situation, but there are several smaller ones.

My personal favorite finisher.

Smuggler’s Copter: Actually, this might be my favorite ban. Copter had the same deck-building effect as Emrakul, but on the exact opposite archetypes. There will continue to be decks that want to include a mix of Vehicles and creatures, but I don’t expect there to be a 1-for-1 replacement (not even the impressive-looking Heart of Kiran).

Golgari Grave-Troll: Dredge is tough to balance, and GGT is just way too good to exist in Modern. Early impact has been a spike on Golgari Thug, although that card doesn’t have the potential to close out games like Troll does. The only Dredge cards that should be allowed in Modern are Life From the Loam and Moldervine Cloak, as they are the ones I like best.

There’s now way this card is coming back. Plan accordingly.

Reflector Mage: The UW decks have a lot of congestion, and so losing Reflector Mage makes the construction of those decks more streamlined. That’s to a degree the opposite effect that the other bans are expected to have, but it also eliminates some of the weird issues that Reflector Mage had on the formats it was in (namely, Eldrazi Displacer). I think UW is still a deck after losing Mage and Copter, but I don’t think it’s a major player.

Gitaxian Probe: I can’t pretend to know everything about how this impacts Modern, but I definitely get that it’s a big deal. I’m going to pass on this as there’s way too much contextual determination on what replaces it where, and I’m not sure that there is much financial upside given that most of the replacements are things like Serum Visions and Sleight of Hand. Combo decks get some degree worse, although mostly because they can’t have a Peek before attempting to go off.

To close, here are my favorite cards ahead of this weekend’s prerelease!

Yahenni’s Expertise: I think there is a real possibility that the next few months are dominated in part by Liliana, the Last Hope. That’s not to say that there won’t be other decks (we know Saheeli Combo will be a possibility for at least the first eight weeks), but I do think that Lili could stand to serve as a pillar of the format. In that situation, Yahenni’s Expertise seems INSAAAAAANE. Planeswalkers are graded in part on how well they can defend themselves, and having the opportunity to package a Languish in for [1] seems incredible. At $6 I still really like these, but I would rather trade for them than buy them outright.

I really love this card. “Free” is the most dangerous word in Magic.

Sram, Senior Edificer: Big IF here, but if Puresteel Paladin Combo is a deck, then this feels like a critical 4x. Definitely a high-risk situation, but Modern has been shaken up considerably. I don’t think THIS is the card that sees a tremendous price spike, but I think this is the card that makes the deck work. Key pieces that COULD see an increase include Mox Opal, Monastery Mentor, and Puresteel Paladin itself.

Greenwheel Liberator: I read this a few times to make sure that it counted my Windswept Heaths. It does! Definitely going to try this in Modern with Experiment One and Burning-Tree Emissary. Hidden Herbalists and Narnam Renegade are interesting options also- although these are all pretty narrow.

Lifecrafter’s Bestiary (foil): These feel like a sneaky-good pickup, but definitely for the long term. Most of the decks that want this have access to green already, so color identity isn’t an issue. Long term hold.

I love this long-term.

That’s all for today, good luck at your prerelease!

Best,

Ross

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PROTRADER: O Brave New World

Today we are going to talk about Frontier, and I am going to be VERY critical of it. I want to state a couple things off the bat, in hopes that it will help both of us take the most from this that we can:

  1. I have long been advocating for a reboot of Extended. However, I have no financial interests in that “format” outside of the miscellaneous cards acquired as a consistent Standard player of the last several years.
  2. I do not want Frontier to fail as some sort of emotional vendetta. I believe that Magic is good when there are lots of popular formats, and tournament-level constructed Magic TRULY needs more options to cast the wide net that Organized Play wants.
  3. Similarly, I do not intend to target Frontier as either a boon or detriment to Modern. I’ve been pretty vocal in my complaints with that format, and (spoilers!) they are present in my assessment of Frontier’s flaws.
  4. I flew on Frontier Airlines once, and it was a pretty subpar experience, and if we are being totally honest, like 8% of my dislike of Frontier comes with mentally auto-associating it with crappy flights.

Let’s start by describing what Frontier actually is. Frontier is a format that started popping up in Japan several months ago, and began to gain traction there as an alternative to Modern. The starting point here is M15, in part because that set introduced new card frame changes (including that little holographic oval on rares/mythics). The similarities to Modern don’t stop there, however- Frontier is non-rotating, so the cards that are already in are only leaving through bans. It also only includes Standard-legal expansions, so things like Commander products don’t have a significant impact. Let’s talk about what the selling points of Frontier have been so far:

CARD ACCESSIBILITY: In this sense Frontier is advertised as a cheaper alternative to Modern, rather than a new experience. Some Modern cards, like Blood Moon and Dark Confidant, have not been made easily available since they were last in Standard. Things like Tarmogoyf serve as permanent representations that if you haven’t been playing Magic for a very long time, you will have a harder time participating now.

This is something that I definitely sympathize with, and I don’t think that making the jump from Standard directly into Modern is feasible anymore (if it ever truly was). The problem, of course, is that Frontier only solved the symptom, not the cause. If Frontier is still around in ten years, then cards from M15 and Tarkir will still be old cards. They are accessible now the same way Cryptic Command was accessible when Lorwyn was the newest set out. It is mistaking recency for availability, and that’s a long-term issue.

One of the problems with Modern is that it has baked-in issues created by turbulence in Magic’s past. Tarmogoyf’s price is reflective of the fact that it was printed at a time where Magic’s active player population was possibly a third (or less!) of what it is today. Modern is a set of rules for play but not a means of itself providing for that play. If Magic’s boom times are coming to an end, or we see a large enough shrink in players that print runs decrease, then those fluctuations will be forever encased in amber in Frontier’s availability. The graph below represents Modern’s accessibility problem because that inequality is unchangeable (reprints that aren’t in Standard legal products have yet to meet the required numbers to address this issue, by virtue of their scale).

THAT LITTLE FOIL OVAL: It’s not a major selling point, but it’s nice to know that there is an extra security measure against counterfeit cards. I don’t actually have an argument against this, so I’ll give them points for this. See? Fair and balanced.

DESIGN PHILOSOPHY: Modern’s tentpole exists on the basis that the card frames changed, not a clear and consistent development philosophy. Modern simultaneously operates in a reality where Blood Moon, a rare originally printed in THE DARK (!!!!), exists alongside several sets where Stone Rain was deemed “too good to exist anymore”. Magic design and development is not static, and so effects and functions evolve over the course of time. This is why some effects, like “Destroy all creatures” (originally found on Wrath of God), have crept up in cost and mutated in functionality. These fluctuations serve as a complex system of balance beams in Standard, while at the same time narrowing in on theoretical ideals of cards/effects (Day of Judgment probably costs a theoretical 4.5 mana). Of course, when you compare these new cards to Blood Moon, a card so old that “The Adventures of Pete and Pete” WAS STILL MAKING NEW EPISODES, they fail to come close to making an impact.

The assumption Frontier makes is that Magic is in a much healthier place now than it was when 8th Edition came out, and in that respect they are correct. The crux of that argument is backward-facing however, rather than anticipatory. Frontier, by never rotating, is cementing its own roster of “Best Available”- sure, that new card is good, but is it better than Siege Rhino? Is that new one drop really better than Monastery Swiftspear? If WotC ever decides to get aggressive with certain reprints (think Lightning Bolt in M10), then you have that card in Frontier FOREVER.

Frontier’s fatal flaw, as you may have pieced together by now, is a small thermal exhaust port right below the main port with a shaft that leads directly to the reactor system that it does not rotate. That is ultimately a long-term problem. If Frontier goes the way of Tiny Leaders and fails to mature into its role (that’s my bet), then that won’t be an issue ever- but if it succeeds, then it is going to be the crux that makes some hard to reprint cards mini-Tarmogoyfs. I’m going to close with some of the cards that stand to benefit from Frontier’s success- but be aware that buying into this format is definitely risky at this point.

Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy: This guy has to be the most obvious starting point. Well actually, my instinct was to start with Thoughtseize, until I realized (for like, the hundredth time) that Theros isn’t in this format. Jace is #1 because he is insanely difficult to reprint- he’s a flip card (expensive on the production side, requires a product with enough flip cards), he’s a specific character (can only appear in a set where Jace makes sense OR is flavor-neutral), and is a narrow iteration of said specific character (can only appear in a setting where Jace gets his spark like Origins OR is flavor neutral). Essentially, “Baby Jace” is going to have to be in a supplemental product that can afford the front end cost of including flip cards, even though almost all of the flip cards are from Innistrad, so there is no flavorful throughline for something like a Duel Deck. The best case scenario is the Modern Masters iteration that goes up to Origins, which is going to be several years away. Even if Frontier died tomorrow, it’s easy to see why this is a steady play at $45. Oh, and the Grixis/4c/5c control decks love this card, so it’s actually pretty good in the format. I’m not going to cite too much in terms of past results, but there are some decklists at mtgdecks.net that I’ve been scoping out. It’s too small a sample size to say what decks are “best”, but it’s still real data. If you have an appetite for more expensive “specs”, this is a good one even if you don’t like Frontier’s outlook.

 

Collected Company: If Jace is #1, then CoCo is #1A. Company gets better any time a creature that costs 3 or less is printed, and is easy enough to splash in any color aggro deck (we have literal fetchlands). These are down at about $10, which may be the lowest since DTK came out- this card is good in Modern and (very) fringe in Legacy, so snapping some up in trades is extremely appealing. This will be a pillar of the format if Frontier blossoms.

Emrakul, the Promised End/ Ugin, the Spirit Dragon: These two are roughly the tied for best in the “biggest thing” category, so I could see either (or both!) being the premier topper of the format. Emrakul is still in Standard for a while, but Ugin is pricy despite being playable in almost nothing else. I say hold off on both of these, but watch them- the success of either one (if any) will help dictate which playable support cards may see secondary spikes.

Dig Through Time: LOL there’s no way this format makes it. But this frustrating garbage is apparently legal, so expect at least modest gains if Frontier survives.

What would I play if I knew I’d face Dig Through Time every round? Civilization 6.

Obelisk of Urd: Elves is a deck, and there is probably some tribe (humans?) that is on enough of the white weenies to make this functional. Goblins is close but probably not close enough.

These are the sort of “Level 0” cards that caught my eye, because I’m not sure if we have a stable enough environment to begin metagaming off of it. The issue will for now be supply, because everything (other than maybe M15 and Origins) has pretty big market saturation. Things like Kalitas that are currently good in Standard AND Modern are interesting plays, but probably won’t see too much percentage increase as people who already play Modern won’t have much issue oscillating to Frontier.

That’s all for this week, let me know your thoughts on Frontier, my assessment of it, and what cards you like, if any.

Best,

Ross

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