The Watchtower 07/20/20 – Looking Back At Core 2020

Jason’s article last week that compared last year’s Core Set 2020 to this year’s Core Set 2021 got me having a look at cards from last year’s set that could still be good spec targets, and I was pleasantly surprised. You should view the cards I’m talking about today on a longer timeline than some of my usual picks, but I think that these are great ones to stash stacks away for a couple of years and pull out to buylist or sell individually, depending on your setup and how much the card has moved by then.

Icon of Ancestry (Foil)

Price today: $3
Possible price: $10

Icon of Ancestry is one of a few different ‘Lord’ effects for tribal decks (cards that give a certain creature type +X/+X), but it’s actually the lowest cost one we have that can slot into any deck. The closest comparison would be Adaptive Automaton, and although being a creature means that Automaton can attack and block, I’d argue that the unfortunate attribute of being able to be removed much more easily than a non-creature permanent means that it has greater downside than upside.

Icon is in close to 7000 EDH decks registered on EDHREC now, and that number will most likely have another spike when people can finally start to get their hands on their Jumpstart cards, a lot of which are tribal-based and have already shown to be popular with the EDH crowd.

There aren’t a huge number of foils left around, with 30 listings on TCGPlayer for the regular versions and less than that for the prerelease and promo pack versions. I don’t mind the non-foils here too, but bear in mind that this would be a very easy card to reprint in a Commander product in non-foil, so foils are the safer play here.

Tale’s End (Foil)

Price today: $3
Possible price: $10

Tale’s End isn’t in as many decks as Icon, at just under 4000, but there’s no doubt that it’s a powerful card. Being able to counter someone’s Commander unconditionally for 2 mana is a very good rate, and with the second mode of the card being a good old Stifle, it’s hard to go wrong with this card.

It’s very popular in mono-blue counter/control/combo decks like Baral and Gadwick, as well as being included in a plethora of other blue-based decks. The only good reason not to play this in a blue spell-based deck might be because it’s ‘unfun’ playing a card just to counter peoples’ Commanders, but I can definitely think of much more obnoxious things that people don’t bat an eyelid at.

Anyway, supply again on this isn’t too deep, with only 19 TCG listings for set foils of Tale’s End and a nice ramp up towards $10. I think that this is a very solid card that should perhaps see a little more play than it currently does, but time will tell. Non-foils under a dollar are fine here too, if you can find a decently sized pile at once then even better – they’ll probably buylist for $3 or more down the road.

Scheming Symmetry (Foil)

Price today: $6
Possible price: $15

Tutors have always been a popular effect to utilise in EDH – just take a look at the numbers for Demonic Tutor (over 63k decks) and Diabolic Tutor (over 40k decks). Scheming Symmetry is a unique effect for a tutor, but still very powerful at just one mana and has made its way into just under 8000 decks. You just have to try and make sure that whatever you’re tutoring for is better than what your opponent is going to fetch!

There are a bunch of different ways you can make this card much better than it might appear on the surface, including effects that tax your opponents for searching their library (Ob Nixilis, Unshackled, Leonin Arbiter etc.), mill effects and more. It’s also great in combo decks, and has the added bonus of your opponent not knowing whether they’ll need to find an answer to your threat, something to fight against your counterspell, or more threats of their own.

These foils start around $6 on TCGPlayer, with only 22 vendors holding copies. Interestingly there seems to be a plethora of the promo pack foils around, so I’d steer clear of those for the time being (especially seeing as Card Kingdom is paying less on those than pack foils, which isn’t a particularly common occurrence). The set foils will be the pick of choice for most players pimping out their EDH decks, so that’s the direction I’d be inclined to move in with these, and ride them up to $15 or more within 12 months.

David Sharman (@accidentprune on Twitter) has been playing Magic since 2013, dabbling in almost all formats but with a main focus on Modern, EDH and Pioneer. Based in the UK and a new writer for MTGPrice in 2020, he’s an active MTG finance speculator specialising in cross-border arbitrage.

War of the Spark at Rotation

We have almost exactly two months until the official release of Zendikar Rising, and that means we’ve got that much time until War of the Spark rotates out. In addition to being a blast to draft, and introducing a lot of planeswalker variations (static abilities, uncommon power level, Nicol Bolas, Dragon-God having every other ability, etc.) we’ve got to decide what to buy and what to avoid from this set for the long term.

Remember, we’re looking for things that are awesome in the Eternal formats (Vintage, Legacy, Modern, and Pioneer) or in casual/Cube/Commander. Fortunately, or unfortunately, this is the last set with the old rules: there are regular copies, and foil copies, and we’re expecting the foils to be about 3x the price of the nonfoils. The War of the Spark uncut sheets that got sent out last year don’t seem to have made a dent in those foil prices, if you were worried about it.

The foil multiplier rules don’t apply to newer sets, but let’s look at what data we have.

First of all, I need to take a moment and repeat what we’ve been saying on MTG Fast Finance: the alternate-art Japanese planeswalkers in foil are being siphoned out of the market by collectors and players, with the Holy Grail of the Yoshitaka Amano art for Liliana, Dreadhorde General going on eBay for $2,300 or more. That’s the most expensive card possible from a Standard booster pack that I can think of. Expensive boosters are from long-out-of-print sets, and even the lesser planeswalkers in alternate foil are going for $50+.

Suffice it to say, keeping Japanese sealed War of the Spark is an excellent investment. The rise in price of the foil alternates will keep rising, and that will drive up sealed prices. They haven’t gone crazy yet, but the prices of the singles involved will make this climb like mad. 

Finale of Devastation ($20 nonfoil/$35 foil) – Being a mythic is part of what’s driving this, but it’s also an upgrade/backup to Green Sun’s Zenith. It’s in 15,000 decks on EDHREC, which is pretty great for a card a little over a year old. It sees some Modern play, because it can go get any part of an infinite combo and isn’t restricted to green creatures. It’s also a finisher, giving +X/+X to the team and wiping out other players. It’s too popular not to get a reprint, though, and that’s the only thing making me pause. 

That’s not what a graph of a rotating card usually looks like. That’s a card on the rise, and I have to say it: Get your personal copies now, because while the chance of a reprint is high, we’ve no way of knowing when it’ll be. It’s a little too pricey to be in a Commander deck already. If it dodges reprint in Commander Legends later this year, then it’ll take off. If you’re comfortable with the reprint risk (and a downshift to rare is quite possible) then it’s a great target, because any Commander decks with Green in the colors ought to be running this.

Teferi, Time Raveler ($15/$27/$44 in Stained Glass) – Big in Modern, Pioneer, Legacy, and Commander, this is THE card if you want to have a warm safe feeling that comes from none of your spells being at risk. It’s also the mirror-breaker, the card that can shut down a whole strategy. Being this much of a staple means that it’s got a lot of legs going forward. There are also several versions to watch out for, so aside from the original, there’s also the Secret Lair stained glass and the alternate art in Japanese. 

I think Teferi is a good pickup, especially if the price falls a little farther. Ten bucks is a super-reasonable price for a long-term investment, but if it stays at $15, that’s going to take a while longer to get into profits.

Narset’s Reversal ($5/$12) – I didn’t think this would be any good, but you know where it’s phenomenal? Commander. It’s listed in 20,000 decks! The idea is that you’re going to use this spell on a giant haymaker of a spell, something for extra turns, a Comet Storm for 40, or the game-ending Insurrection. The pedigree is there and I think the foil is a solid pickup. This isn’t seeing any play in other places, which means copies are not circulating once they are put into Commander decks.

Ashiok, Dream Render ($1.50 – $100, depending on printing and finish) – There is currently one foil Japanese alt-art copy on TCG for $100, and I don’t think that’s unreasonable for a card with this level of usefulness in Commander. I don’t advocate picking up nonfoil English, but I think Secret Lair stained glass in the $13 range is a fantastic purchase. This shuts down tutors, and exiles everyone’s graveyard, both eminently useful abilities in Commander. Get it, keep it, use it.

Nissa, Who Shakes the World ($5/$12/$40 stained glass)

The graph is helpful here: 

That’s a card getting dumped before rotation. The problem is that it’s one of the most-played cards in Standard right now, being best buddies with Uro, Growth Spiral, and Ugin. Your exact configuration may vary, but this Nissa has been a big part of Standard her whole career. There’s just enough interest in Modern and Pioneer ramp, plus her Commander appeal, to make this a very solid pickup once she bottoms out, perhaps as low as $3 right after rotation. There’s a rumor that she’s in all the Godzilla land Secret Lair drops, and if that’s the case, I’ll be looking to pick up stained glass copies on the cheap as they flood the market.

Cliff (@WordOfCommander) has been writing for MTGPrice since 2013, and is an eager Commander player, Draft enthusiast, and Cube fanatic. A high school science teacher by day, he’s also the official substitute teacher of the MTG Fast Finance podcast. If you’re ever at a GP and you see a giant flashing ‘CUBE DRAFT’ sign, go over, say hi, and be ready to draft.

Unlocked Pro Trader: Adoption


I know I say this all the time, but today I’m going to try something new. I don’t know if it will work and you’re going to get me trying to construct some sort of way to compare two sets released at drastically different times under drastically different circumstances and try to draw some conclusions we can use to make some money from. Sound good? It doesn’t sound… like, ideal to me, but that’s what’s going to happen.

What can we figure out about Core Set 2021 by looking at Core Set 2020 and also just relying on stuff that we know?

There, that’s the thesis statement for this thing we’re doing here. Yes, it seems loose to me, too. That said, Core Set 2021 may have some very ambiguous and confusing pricing based on the myriad factors that made this release very abnormal but it does not have ambiguous adoption numbers – those are pretty clear. Some of them are surprising but I don’t expect them to change drastically enough for me to be able to get out of admitting I was wrong about, for example, Teferi’s Ageless Insight. For the most part, though, there aren’t too many surprises which makes me think the data we have is “stable” (as in not likely to change in proportion as it changes in value – we’ll have more decks playing Garruk’s Uprising in 6 months but the percentage of eligible decks playing it shouldn’t change).

If we can assume the numbers are stable enough, we can try and figure out what the prices should do and see if there are cards we can identify that are good buys at their current price or figure out if there are cards we should watch. Will prices go down as boxes are opened more? Maybe? They certainly should, but boxes are being opened and singles are being introduced to the market very slowly and inefficiently. I don’t think anything in Core Set 2021 will get as cheap as an “equivalent” Core Set 2020 card, but we can at least look at the ratios between the prices in the set and try to make predictions.

Let’s look at the new set, shall we?

Here is the order commander from Core 2020 are being built. No real shockers here because all of them are really bad. I mean, Radha and Vito are fine, I guess, but Vito is boring in the command zone and everyone already has a deck like Radha and they’ll just make Radha and Mina and Denn swap spots.

The cards in the 99 are a little more interesting.

So is $1 on Teferi’s Ageless Insight Showcase versions good? How about $0.50 on Sanctum? Will $15 for Ren and Stimpy hold up? Let’s look at Core Set 2020 and see if we can learn anything.

Maybe it’s because I’ve had an additional year to play with them, but these cards just seem better. I don’t know if the price matters, but I’m certainly interested in the ratio of prices. Is Drakuseth worth twice as much as Seraph and can we say that Terror of the Peaks will be worth twice as much as Mangara? That seems doubtful on all counts. What is interesting is that a lot of the cards used most in EDH were also used a lot in Standard. Will that be the same with Core Set 2021?

Moldervine Reclamation is in quite a few decks. It’s in the same percentage roughly as Veil of Summer, but over the period since Core Set 2020 has been legal, twice as many decks that have Green but no Black have been built as decks with Green and Black both. Does that mean that in a year we’ll see Garruk’s Uprising in twice as many decks as Moldervine Reclamation? If we do, do we think it has any upside?

If you think Garruk’s Uprising has twice the potential of this foil that is now $3 and climbing, does that mean we might want to look at foil Uprising?

Does this $1.50 foil double or quadruple, then? Will it be $3 or $6? Here’s a huge potential complication.

Do people want this, the set foil?

Will they want this non-foil showcase version? I hate foils but like premium versions so this would be my preference. But this isn’t the “best” version for people who like to optimize.

There’s also a foil version of the showcase version. That said, there isn’t much price difference with the 2 showcase versions right now.

Based on the current price of Moldervine Reclamation, I think that Uprising has as much or more potential. The 4 different possible version and 3 versions that feel “premium” complicate matters a lot, but I think if there is no downside to buying the foil Showcase version, you might want to have a diverse portfolio. We don’t know what all of these different showcase versions mean to EDH players and instead of betting on one outcome, cover your bases since the price is so similar for all versions.

Currently it looks like Vito is outperforming Vilis 2 to 1 and while that might not hold, Vito is VERY strong in the 99 and probably about as boring as Vilis in the Command Zone, but it could see more play potentially than does Vilis. Vilis saw play outside of EDH very briefly and maybe Vito will, too. If Vito doesn’t, we’re looking at him merely doubling the inclusions Vilis has, and if that holds, we could see a better price outlook. Let’s look at Vilis’ graph. Fine, ugh, graphs. See? This is why I don’t like to talk about foils, then you always have to talk about foils.

When it got a little play outside of EDH, it hit $6, briefly, after peak supply. Not bad at all.

The foil shot to $15.

One thing I will say is that it’s less likely anyone uses Vito outside of EDH in paper because, duh. I think it’s going to have to be EDH that makes this price go. The foil’s buylist price is creeping up a bit but the foil and non-foil are kind of flat. Basically, if you bought some copies at peak supply, you had lots of opportunities to double up on the non-foils, a small window to sextuple up, a small one to triple up, and you may need to hold another year to get more than you paid if you still have them.

Vito is sitting at $4. If we assume the upside is twice as good for Vito, you probably buy at $2 if it ever gets that low and try to sell at $6ish. I don’t think Vito can ever start at $4 and stay above it for long. That said, Vito is the #3 commander in Core 2021 and Vilis is #8 in Core 2020, in case that matters. We’re talking about 362 Vilis decks in the last year – Vito is already at 70 a few weeks in. I expect Vito to be built more. That could give more upside to the foils, which are currently $5 at Strikezone and $10 everywhere else. Hmm.

I’ll buy $5 foils of a $4 card when it’s $10 on Card Kingdom. I’ll do that deal all day. One of you should. I almost did but that would be rude of me.

Things are less promising for the Extended art foils. $13 is a high buy-in indeed, and Vilis needed a lot of help for the foil to even flirt with $15. I am not as bullish on the Extended art foils per se, but I do like non-foil Premium cards so I am targeting the non-foil Extended art copies. This is good in the command zone and the 99 and we have a card played half as much to compare it to directly – seems good to me.

It’s hard to know what to compare Mangara to, but we can compare Mangara to Mangara for one.

So far Mangara is at the helm of 38 decks…

and included in 10 times as many. It’s safe to say Mangara will be a 99-focused card. Do we like it at $6? How many mythics in Core Set 2020 are above $6?

4? Brutal. Unless Core Set 2021 is opened way, way less than Core Set 2020, we’re over a year away from wanting to even look at these cards as cards. What does foil Yarok look like, though, while we’re asking?

It’s on its way back up but all this card did was lose. Yarok is the #10 ranked Commander over the last 2 years and people are more likely to want a foil of their commander than a card in the 99, where Mangara is 10 times as likely to end up. Pair the fact that there are multiple premium versions of Mangara compared to the one of Yarok and how bad Yarok’s graph looks and I think you will forgive me for not even looking up the price of Extended Art Mangara. OK, fine, I’ll do it.

Mangara won’t be built as much as Yarok and that price took a header and is only now recovering. Do you want to bet that supply issues mean Mangara has upside at its current price? I don’t. I’m not saying I think it will or won’t, I’m saying I am risk-averse in my old age and I have the luxury of opting out, as do you. If you think the graph of a card like Mangara could look healthier than Yarok (Mangara isn’t built as much but it will go in way, way, WAY more 99s than Yarok, a Sultai card because Mangara is splashable) go for it. The $10 non-foils look more inviting than the $30 foils, especially for a non-Commander.

That does it for me this week. I think there may be some more analysis in this same vein (Vito joke) to do next week and I’m just the person to do it. Did you like this kind of article? Let me know in the comments below because I really never know whether I should do experimental formats unless you tell me. Thanks for reading – Until next time!

The Watchtower 07/13/20 – Banned & Restricted…Or Not?

I waited to write today’s article until the B&R announcement was out, so that I at least had the option to react to it and potentially write about cards related to it. For reference, the relevant info from today’s announcement:

  • Oath of Nissa unbanned in Pioneer
  • Arcum’s Astrolabe banned in Modern
  • Historic & Pauper bans that aren’t important here

With that information in hand, today’s article will be a little different to usual; I’ll be taking a wider view of competitive Magic and the health of various formats, with some picks sprinkled in to keep you readers satisfied during my rambling.

Long Live Pioneer

If you take a look at how much of today’s B&R article Wizards have dedicated to the Historic metagame and compare it to the Pioneer section, it’s clear here that they don’t care too much about the health of Pioneer. Most people were expecting at least something from the Inverter deck to take the hit, as it’s unquestionably been the top dog in the format for quite some time now.

For the past few months the top three decks have all been combo based: Inverter, Lotus Breach and Heliod-Ballista. This has made for a stagnant format, with these three decks taking up over a third of the metagame by themselves. Numerous Pioneer Challenges haven’t even been firing on MTGO the past couple of weeks, and where WotC could have reduced the event player caps, they did nothing.

I don’t want to sound all “the sky is falling”, but Pioneer isn’t making them any money, and at the moment it certainly looks like they’re leaving it to die. Unbanning Oath of Nissa is like a band-aid on a sinkhole, and I doubt it will do anything to change the metagame; I don’t think it adds much to the green ramp deck with Leyline of Abundance still banned. Once paper Magic starts back up, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Historic brought in as a replacement for Pioneer on the competitive scene. It will move more in-print product for WotC than Pioneer does, at the very least.

With all that said, my #mtgfinance advice here is to start moving out of any Pioneer-only specs you may currently be sitting on (i.e. ones that don’t see play in other formats).

A Modern Refresh

On the flipside, it seems that WotC have made a much better decision in regards to Modern. Midrange Arcum’s Astrolabe decks have been plaguing the format for a while now, and although a lot of people wanted to see Uro gone as well, Astrolabe was definitely a problem card. The colour fixing it gave these decks meant that it enabled some ridiculous combinations of double green, double white and triple blue cards to all be played together at very little cost – the card even replaces itself on ETB.

This is a step in the right direction for Modern, and I think we’ll start to see the return of some of the more so-called ‘traditional’ Modern decks. Urza decks may return to the Thopter-Sword combo, and more classic control decks might be more viable again. No doubt we’ll still see plenty of Uro around, but the removal of Astrolabe will mean that much more strain will be placed on manabases. And Blood Moon is playable again!

One deck I do want to focus in on here is Eldrazi Tron. Even during the past few months, where Astrolabe decks have reigned supreme (except for that bit where Companions were totally busted), Eldrazi Tron has consistently been putting up reasonable results in Modern. Fast mana will always be one of the most powerful things you can do in Magic, and it shows. Recently the deck has picked up a new toy as well: Mazemind Tome.

How would you like to start the game at 24 life with +3 cards in hand? Seems pretty good, right? It gets even better when you realise you can get this card back from exile with Karn, the Great Creator. The ship has sailed (for now) on EA foil Tomes, but my pick here is foil Karns. I would tell you to buy foil JPN Alt Art copies, but they’re already sky high at $200+. So for Modern players that like foiling out their decks, regular foils are the next best thing.

Pack foils, prerelease and promo pack foils all start at around $12 on TCGPlayer, and I think that these will have a good run up to $20-25. I don’t mind regular copies at $5 but supply is a lot deeper. Ugin, the Ineffable is also a popular card in the deck, and has the additional pedigree of being in over 11k EDH decks recorded on EDHREC. Here I’d recommend grabbing JPN alt art foils in Europe under €40 if you can, but otherwise regular foils at $6 look pretty nice too.

Bonus Arbitrage

You’re probably already bored of B&R discussion (especially if you spend any time on Twitter), so here’s something entirely unrelated! I’m cheating slightly because James picked these on the podcast last week, but Japanese Alt Art Planeswalkers from War of the Spark are still underpriced in Europe compared to the US. Have a browse for yourselves, but some of the better options here are Ashiok and Saheeli, both of which have strong EDH numbers whilst also seeing a smattering of competitive play as well.

People have been realising how rare these Planeswalkers really are, and a lot have already been absorbed into collections never to be seen again. A quick flip from EU to US is viable here, but considering I don’t think we’re likely to see these printed again remotely soon (if ever), these cards are definitely fine for a longer hold too.

I hope you’ve enjoyed my ramblings today, but be sure to keep it to yourself if not. (Kidding, I always appreciate feedback). Next week I’ll probably return to my usual format, so if you didn’t like this change then don’t be put off!

David Sharman (@accidentprune on Twitter) has been playing Magic since 2013, dabbling in almost all formats but with a main focus on Modern, EDH and Pioneer. Based in the UK and a new writer for MTGPrice in 2020, he’s an active MTG finance speculator specialising in cross-border arbitrage.