By: Derek Madlem
“It’s probably a little late for that one Derek”
-some guy that hasn’t read this article yet.
Late? Or early? No, I think I’m proceeding right on track here. We’ve grown accustomed to the 24 month life cycle of Standard. When Theros hit store shelves, we knew that we could settle in for the long haul because this was going to be a part of Standard for TWO FULL YEARS. We also knew that one year into that two year term that Theros cards would likely hit their all-time high price as Return to Ravnica block rotated out and Khans of Tarkir rotated in.
Timing this price point was a time-honored secret for success for a long long time. We used to watch Block Constructed results from Magic Online and at the Pro Tour to help us determine which cards were going to be exceptionally powerful going forward. While these results helped us hone in on format superstars like the “Mythic” deck during the tail end of Shards of Alara Standard, most of these picks were painfully obvious like Stormbreath Dragon or Elspeth, Sun’s Champion.
We knew to pick up Elspeth’s when they bottomed out at $20 because we could easily unload them at a higher price once Khans of Tarkir was released (ended up being at $30). We also knew that the back side of that last year was a slow slide from the price peak to basically nothing.
It’s Different Now
Your Theros cards are worthless. Yes, basically all of them. Arguments can be made for cards like Sylvan Caryatid and Courser of Kruphix in Modern, but let’s not get too carried away because these cards certainly don’t see anything resembling “regular” play in Modern and there’s a metric ****ton of them in the wild right now.
But Theros is not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about Khans of Tarkir and Fate Reforged. Something that nobody’s really mentioned yet is the new economics of rotation. As Theros and Magic 2015 rotate in September at the release of Battle for Zendikar, Khans is already going to be rotting in your binders. Why’s that?
Six months to live. Yeah, that’s a thing. You might not realize this, but Khans of Tarkir was born with a birth defect common to all sets going forward: a shortened life span. While many of it’s ancestors lived to the ripe old age of 24 months, Khans is only going to see 18 and Fate Reforged is going to fare even worse: 15 months.
So that means we need to rethink cycles and card prices and we also need to acknowledge that in relation to when Khans is rotating, we’re already past the traditional “peak” of one year before rotation.
Seasons Still Matter…
… but not as much as they used to. Some of you may not remember this, but PTQ season formats had a real impact on card prices. Back when Extended was a thing for three months a year, there was a massive sell-off at the end of every season because these cards were simply useless for 95% of the population for nearly an entire year… could be longer because we didn’t know when a format would come back around.
Right now we’re in the middle of a PPTQ season that’s featuring Modern. This means that outside of Grand Prix’s and the SCG Open Series that there is little reason to keep an arsenal of competitive Standard cards, and many of the prices already reflect that sentiment. Take a look at one-time all star Whisperwood Elemental, this card has nearly halfed in value since it’s peak in March ($15-$8).
Modern Masters Effect
I would be doing a disservice if I didn’t point out the obvious: there’s only so much money available in the Magic economy at any given time and Modern Masters 2015 is drawing a lot of that water right now, both directly and indirectly. There were a lot of pent up desire for Modern cards. Many players were waiting for this set to “make their move” into Modern and they’re coming on board in large numbers, which is one of the primary reasons so many card prices are going ape right now (pro tip: it’s not speculators).
With MM2015 on the horizon, many of Modern’s card prices “locked in” because of the uncertainty of what was going to be reprinted. Nobody wanted to go out and drop $200 on a Tarmogoyf if it was going to get reprinted in a couple months. If Tarmogoyf was confirmed early to not be in MM2015, we’d probably be looking at $250+ Gofys right now, but that impending reprint kept that price in limbo. You can repeat this example with just about any card that’s gone up in the last month. Pro tip: it wasn’t a spike, it was a correction.
Ahh, finally we get to the reason for all these words: some of your Khans block cards are already dead and should be abandoned ASAP. Like what?
Like Dig Through Time for example. This card is the unbending backbone of blue decks in Standard. Dig is amazingly powerful, which is why we’ve seen it banned in Modern and watched as it makes a really strong case for being banned in Legacy as well. What’s that mean for those Digs you’re sitting on?
Dig Through Time is going to be a bulk rare in the very near future. There are roughly a billion-kajillion of these in existence and anyone that needs them for Legacy already has them. Sure there might be some casual demand for this card in Commander, but it’s power is diminished substantially in 100-card singleton formats.
Whisperwood, as mentioned above, has fallen from grace. This card is clearly awesome, but it just exists in the wrong space and time. There is virtually zero chance this card sees Modern play after rotation as it’s simply outclassed by cards like Thragtusk. Legacy? Not a snowball’s chance. There’s also just too short a window for this card to curve out. While there’s sure to be casual appeal for this card for years to come, it’s not going to be enough to sustain a price above $3-4… if that.
Dragons are sweet.
Planeswalkers are sweet.
So this should be worth a million dollars right? That’s what we thought when he first showed up. We quickly figured out that he’s not really good in Standard and his price reflects it. Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker is hovering around $5 solely because his card says “Planeswalker” on it. This is not going to show up in competitive decks past Standard so that demand is going to be tied to casual demand only. The good news is that he’s unlikely to go much lower without a Duel Deck appearance, but he’s almost certainly not going to go rise this fall.
Sorin, Solemn Visitor has a much better chance of mounting a slow and stable recovery as he’s replaced his previous self in all those B/W token decks in Modern. He’s still at a great risk of a Duel Deck reprint thanks to being a vampire and that whole tick craze still sputtering along. But how has Sorin fared in Standard lately? Yeah, exactly. Not exactly inspiration for a big investment. This is another card that’s not going to tank outside of a Duel Deck reprint, but it’s going to be a slow climb moving forward.
Anafenza, the Foremost is still a card that I feel suffers from “too much textbox syndrome”. People just forget that whole secondary clause about exiling creatures instead of allowing them to hit your opponent’s graveyard. I was very bullish on Anafenza as a Modern contender because she did a great job of hosing many of Birthing Pod’s shenanigans while still being a fairly insane addition to basically any Abzan deck that attacks with creatures. But as Fleecemane Lion leaves Standard in search of a new mane wig, Anafenza is going to be left behind with a short window and few allies to help her prove worthy of a higher price. Anafenza’s likely going to pull an impression of Thalia, Guardian of Thraben in Modern and possibly Legacy, only showing up in niche scenarios as an oversized hatebear. I’m not going to be surprised to see these as low as $2 by / after rotation.
In case you haven’t figured it out yet, Brutal Hordechief isn’t Hellrider. You can spend the rest of your life looking at the text box trying to figure out how this card never became a thing, but my bet’s on the fact that it’s a Hill Giant and nobody likes a 3/3 for four mana. You can lump Shaman of the Great Hunt in with Hordechief as a promising young athlete that failed to make it big in the NFL because they got drafted to the Lions or the Raiders. The lack of compelling teammates doomed both of these cards to mediocrity and there’s no chance for recovery. These are already on the cusp of bulk Mythic and I expect to them to retire as such, maybe they can open a car dealership or something.
Do you know what a $1 board wipe looks like? It looks just like a $6 board wipe except it’s rotated. There is not much hope for Crux of Fate after rotation because in a vacuum it’s pretty crappy compared to cards like Supreme Verdict or Damnation. These are already slipping as people figure out that playing mirror matches in the draw bracket all day is the very definition of Standard Hell, but you can still get out at $3 if you want to save a little of that value.
Obviously the fetchlands are pure gold. they’re going to retain the bulk of their value and continue to grow incrementally going forward. Tasigur, the Golden Fang, Monastery Mentor, Soulfire Grand Master, and Ugin, the Spirit Dragon are basically the only rares outside of the fetchlands that I don’t see cratering as they leave Standard. Even Siege Rhino is struggling to hold onto that $5 price tag and he was an absolute BOSS. If you have Standard cards that are worth more than $1 that you are not going to need in the next nine months, it’s time to ship them. There’s a very short window for recovery and most of these cards are unlikely to be lifted by it.
Except for maybe See the Unwritten – ELDRAZI!!!!
edit: I think people were missing the point of the article by a fair margin. I’m not saying that all of these cards are worthless now, I’m trying to point out that we have a new rotation starting with this set so we’re likely to see things behave differently this time around and you will not have as much time to divest from Khans block as you have had in the past. Couple that with the reality that most of this block has no life past Standard, you’re in for some Temple of Epiphany sized losses if you don’t plan ahead.