By: Derek Madlem
We’ve theory crafted the hell out of this set already and said time and time again that there’s no good investment targets in this set. This is the tune we’ve all been playing since the Expeditions were spoiled, and it’s been said across pretty much every #mtginance article about Battle for Zendikar. But now that we’ve seen the entire spoiler there’s a grim truth to acknowledge: something has to be worth money.
The easiest place to pile on the bulk of the set’s value is on the altar of Expeditions. We don’t really have any reasonable idea where the value of expeditions will land, but it’s unlikely that we’re going to see $350 Marsh Flats and Blood Crypts any time soon so that means the rest of the cards in the set are going to need to soak up some of that value. But there’s just soooooo much garbage.
Anyone that’s been paying attention to the talking heads for very long will quickly point out that we all said pretty much the same thing about Dragons of Tarkir, but sure enough value materialized there. What’s the difference this time? Well sit down kid, I’ll tell you:
What’s hard garbage? Hard garbage is a term defining those rares that only exists in bulk boxes and have no competitive prospects. Hard garbage is a level of bulk rare that’s not debatable, these cards are barely playable even in limited. Like what?
Face it, nobody is going to run four colors to live the dream of a 6/6 Vigilance Trample creature. How many would run this in a three color deck to situationally power out a four mana 5/5?
For this price, I would want the tapped creature to stay tapped as long as Prism Array remained on the battlefield. For all five colors of mana I want a little more bang for my buck than scry 3. Is there a world where we drop this in a three color deck to tap three creatures? Nope.
This has been compared to Phyrexian Plaguelord. I got news for you, I’m a close personal friend of Phyrexian Plaguelord, and this is no Phyrexian Plaguelord. Is this card good in limited? Probably. Is this card playable in constructed? Have at it. I can think of better things to do with five mana in constructed, most of which already cost a dollar.
Are you kidding me? Mind Control was five mana and basically unplayable in constructed and now you want to make it a five color spell with an upper limit? Get the ____ out. Seriously, out. This card is the prime example of hard garbage. Unless we somehow stumble upon a format full of two power indestructible creatures, this is not playable in any sense of the word. Hard garbage.
“What if we took Cone of Flame and made it bigger?”
“Cone of Flame? You mean that uncommon that was only played in limited?”
“Yeah, except there’s a twist! We’ll make it colorless!”
-overheard at Wizards
Seriously, who comes up with this crap? I know this set is supposed to be durdly, but for seven mana a rare removal spell should just straight exile three creatures. Requiring three targets is a downside, not an upside. Exhibit A:
Remember when this card was good? Me neither.
Beyond the hard garbage, we have mountains of soft garbage. These cards are just clones of cards that we’ve seen before with a twist. What’s the twist? They’re worse. There’s a chance some of these see play, but their not going to hold any value because there are just better options in eternal formats.
Remember when Awakening Zone was all the rage? It was a cute way to get a creature into play for Polymorph, but that was the extent of it’s usefulness during its reign. Well, it’s back! But it costs more! Oh wait, this has a sweet tutor ability so you can search out your best eldrazi! Just think, you can tutor up a seven mana eldrazi and play it on turn six!
Remember Firespout? How about Slagstorm? Anger of the Gods? What do these cards have in common? They’re all more reliable than Radiant Flames. Sure, there’s a corner case scenario in some format where you would like your Anger of the Gods to only deal two damage because that’s enough to kill all your opponent’s creatures but not enough to kill all those sweet three toughness creatures you’re playing…but that’s not a compelling reason to play a less reliable sweeper spell.
We’re all going to try it and we’re all going to pretend that the flexibility is better, but given the current state of Standard…we’re just going to play Abzan Charm instead, aren’t we? At three mana in one or two colors we get to draw two cards with zero drawback, if we’re going to play three colors we should get to draw three cards with no drawback. This card is symptomatic of everything wrong with Battle for Zendikar, it’s power level was pushed…in the wrong direction.
Beyond these examples, there are a number of cards that require cards in exile to have any effect. These cards are depowered to make the ingest mechanic matter in limited, but that ultimately means that these cards will be nigh-unplayable in constructed unless we see a whole new slew of delve cards that we can’t live without.
Between the foundation of garbage and the beautiful vistas we’ll find on our Expeditions, there’s something; and something is still going to be worth…err, something. We’ll start with the obvious:
These are your best bet for holding some of the set’s non-catastrophic real estate. The tango lands are going to see heavy play at least until the fetch lands rotate (and beyond if we’re lucky and Zendikar fetches get reprinted). There is potential for these to soak up all the remaining value equity in the set, but there’s a couple other contenders to consider:
Ob Nixilis is a solid card advantage engine that can protect himself with targeted removal. He can easily slot into an Abzan or Esper Dragons decks without much hassle and the absence of Hero’s Downfall is only going to make him that much more powerful contextually.
Gideon has appeal. I personally don’t like this card as a constructed player, but there is a huge subsection of casual players that are getting ready to sleeve up allies like it’s going out of style…and that’s not to mention all the Gideon fans that would follow this guy right into Kozilek’s rectum if he asked them too.
I’m not excited about Kiora’s prospects in constructed, mostly because Sultai and Temur have been steaming turds for the bulk of Khans of Tarkir’s run in Standard thus far. There’s a chance that the format gets slowed down enough that Sultai is able to grind out the long games again, but the loss of Whip of Erebos is going to put a major hurting on that strategy. The good news for Kiroa is that she’s a two-color planeswalker and players identify strongly with their favorite guilds…especially those Simic kids.
Those Commander kids love their Time Walk effects and this card would be an auto-include in those decks even without the awaken portion of the text box. At Mythic rare, this is going to hold some value, though likely only around $5.
Quarantine Field is a card that has potential to give us all headaches. This sort of utility effect at Mythic rare can leave us all cringing if we end up seeing optimal builds running four copies. While I’m not excited to pay four mana for an Oblivion Ring, getting two for six mana is pretty much average, and getting three for eight mana is just #value.
I’m placing my bets on this seeing a similar amount of play as Silence the Believers, a sporadic one-of.
This brings us to the manlands. If you were around the last time these cards graced Standard, you’ll remember that their prices varied greatly with Lavaclaw Reaches on the low end and Raging Ravine and Celestial Colonnade splitting the upper tier. We can expect that some of these will be duds while others will excel. Shambling Vent feels like a loser to me.
On turn four you can activate this land to block a two power creature or you can cast a real threat. This is the weakest offensively of all the two color manlands printed to date. Even Lavaclaw had the ability to dump additional mana to accelerate the clock. Shambling Vent has no evasion and very little body to talk of.
Lumbering Falls has the dubious honor of being the best of the new manlands, but only because we’re only getting two with Battle for Zendikar. At three power, this at least matches the clock provided by Stirring Wildwood, a card that was playable but not amazing during it’s day. The big bonus for Lumbering Falls is hexproof; this allows the Falls to take the role of solid finisher for a control deck as it dodges board wipes and spot removal and, for now, larger manlands. Being a playable land is usually a good start when it comes to being worth money.
We’re also likely to see some of the rare and mythic eldrazi soaking up some of that value equity, kids love big stupid creatures.
The Crux of Fate
As a master of hyperbole, I can spot hyperbole. The thing to remember is that something HAS TO be worth money. Nearly all of us #mtgfinance writers have been saying that nothing in this set is going to be worth money outside of the Expeditions, and that’s probably not going to be the case. I think we’re better off saying that we’re not excited about any of these cards as investments.
We’re entering uncharted territory when it comes to #mtgfinance. We don’t know what the upper limit for “super users” is when it comes to pricing these lands. I really don’t think there are that many $500+ Scalding Tarn buyers out there waiting in the shadows to unload their cash in exchange for shiny cardboard, but we’ll know soon enough.
While many of you will be Battling for Zendikar at your local prerelease, I’m going to be checking eBay for that first wave of expedition lands…this is going to be the real starting point in the conversation about the financial value of BFZ. The completed listing prices will ultimately determine what everything else in the set is going to be worth and even lower value expeditions only leave room for just a small handful of cards to be of any value.