Hi everyone! Thank you for the tremendous support and positive feedback I received from my first article! I could not ask for a warmer welcome.
As some of you know, I recently returned from MagicCon Minneapolis, which is the second of four major MTG conventions this year that will culminate in the World Championships in Las Vegas, Sep 22-24, 2023. The three days in Minneapolis allowed for the meeting of friends both old and new, countless games played, and much exciting business to be conducted. For this article I want to focus on one aspect of my experience, specifically my observations on collecting and trading premium Magic cards in the current environment.
A key focus for me lately has been the recent releases of the serialized cards in MOM, the “giveaway” Secret Lair cards (limited each to 295 copies), and the Secret Lair Prize Cards (exclusive to MagicCon events). Why do we care about these cards in particular? The short answer is that MTG as a collectible card game is evolving and for all of you engaged in the MTG Finance community, it is imperative to take note of the opportunities for short term arbitrage associated with time boxed or location specific limited releases. Allow me to illustrate my point here through several personal anecdotes from the floor of Magiccon Minneapolis.
First, let’s begin with the serialized MOM cards. As a refresher, WOTC decided to serialize in editions of 500 each of the 65 Multiverse Legend cards from MOM and the 5 new Praetors. That’s a whooping 35,000 serialized cards injected into the MTG community. The community’s feedback I would argue has been mixed. While everyone loves to see Ragavan in a masterpiece frame, not everyone is so enthused by a serial number stuck to a card with the same art with average foiling. Furthermore, no one can really understand why a bunch of uncommons (Daxos? Yargle?) get serialized treatment. These are indeed somewhat baffling production choices. On the other hand the unique art exclusive to the serialized versions of the new Praetors are stunning ultra low print run collectibles and the market has responded accordingly.
I arrived in Minneapolis with 8 serialized cards, including 3 serialized new Praetors (Elesh Norn, Sheoldred, Jin-Gitaxias). I had snapped up these Praetors during the prerelease windows (each at $800 or less), theorizing the unique art would make them quite desirable. I consigned the 8 serialized cards through a vendor friend of mine who had a booth, and 6 cards sold including all the Praetors (Elesh Norn $2000, Sheoldred $1700, Jin-Gitaxias $1500). A few points here worth reporting: 1) the vendor noted that many buyers came up looking for serialized cards, and the Praetors were some of the most asked about cards at the show; 2) all the serialized cards sold within 5% of the asking price; and 3) there were few serialized cards on the floor until the last day and almost no Praetors (whatever was tabled, ended up sold).
My takeaway here is that serialized cards with top-notch unique art deserve special attention. When these cards also happen to be playable, as is the case with the Praetors, the demand and price support are readily found in the market. Note that even without unique art, I had success selling my serialized Emry, Lutri, and Zada at a profit – simply because they are playable and as a “one of a kind” serialized card, they found a home in someone’s very blinged-out EDH deck. It’s clear that serialized cards will exist from here on out given the announcements for LOTR. Though it may be tempting to brush off serialized cards as some lame marketing gimmick ported over from the sports card world, we have enough data at this point to show that there is clear demand from buyers for these cards as a new tier of premium MTG collectible. The fact that EDH is the dominant format for MTG and is a singleton format only helps the cause for serialized cards, as players are indeed willing to spend to “bling out” a favorite deck. The obvious corollary is that there’s going to be downward pressure on the basic versions of serialized cards, as the value in new sets is now spread out and skewed in favor of super-rare chase cards.
The second anecdote I’d like to share concerns probably one of the ugliest MTG cards in recent memory (my subjective opinion shared by many!). I present to you the Secret Lair 295 Giant Growth:
This specimen is limited to 295 copies, which were given out randomly to MagicCon attendees (with a bias towards content creators and kids). This Giant Growth is the second Secret Lair 295 card given out, with the first being the Shivan Dragon (see above right), which was distributed at MagicCon Philly. The dust has settled on the Shivan Dragon, and we know that the current market price is around $2,000 based on extensive data points from Facebook sales. Giant Growth is virtually unplayable in every format. Given the troublesome art and the lack of playability, a couple vendors I know of took the brave step of paying $500 for the Giant Growth as the first copies hit the floor. I immediately went and bought 2 copies each at $600. One vendor professed that the card probably should be worth $200 as it’s so unappealing and was worried he’s taking a bath by even paying $500. My own logic however was that the card is a serialized release tied to a major MTG event. While this is no Shivan Dragon, there will surely be foreign buyers and other premium collectors that would pay $800? Even $1,000? Within hours I had my answer. SCG said they were buying copies at $1,000 (which came down eventually to $500 during the weekend), and on Facebook, copies sold to collectors pretty briskly at $800-1,000 (as I’m writing this article, this is still the market price). I sold both my copies on the first day within hours of receiving them for $1,000 each, pocketing $400 profit per copy. Sweet!
Lessons learned? The principle of scarcity is relevant here in that the limited supply of this card, which was released within a very narrow window, created its own demand. Collectors and vendors did not want to miss out, and this pretty mediocre card still found its support in the market at a robust price. With these limited releases, especially with cards that are mediocre at best, it’s important to move quickly and take advantage of scarcity value. You need to know your outs (Facebook groups and Twitter), and be disciplined and informed with the right data (i.e., Shivan Dragon 295 is $2,000, so an out for Giant Growth at $1,000 is more than respectable). We can expect more of these 295 cards will appear in MagicCon Barcelona and Vegas. If offered the opportunity to buy a mysterious 295 card on site for $500, would you? The answer may well deserve to be yes, especially if the print runs and singles event releases stay consistent.
My last anecdote concerns a very special card shown here:
Ragavan needs no introduction, but this is the Secret Lair Prize version. This card exists in foil only with a total population of 128 copies to be distributed during the four MagicCon events this year. To date, 64 copies have been put into circulation, and it’s worthwhile to study the price behavior for this card. I attended MagicCon Philly and was an aggressive buyer of this card as soon as copies came into circulation. Vendors had originally buylisted the card at $1,000, then $1,250, and eventually close to $2,000. It became clear that there was extraordinary demand, as the art is highly unique and desirable to many for this truly iconic card. I was able to procure two copies of this card at $2,200 and $2,400, which I then sold shortly after Philly for $2,800 and $3,300. I flag this particular card because coincidentally in Philly, the Multiverse Legend version of Ragavan was announced including a serialized edition. Many thought that this Secret Lair Prize version was doomed for failure because the same card is being hit for reprint twice in succession and both in a premium treatment.
The question is what happened in Minneapolis? Instead of seeing any price pressure, the Secret Lair Prize Ragavan saw a significant price increase. Vendors told me they had to pay $2,400 to $2,800 in buylist just to get a copy. Most copies procured also had ready buyers on the back end. Meanwhile, serialized Ragavans (not special numbers) have slipped to the $1,200 range even when many swore that the Masterpiece frame can’t be beat. It is clear that yet again, the art matters and for a staple card like Ragavan, the very limited number of 128 copies will carry the day. It does not matter that a Masterpiece frame exists, as that art treatment is printed into oblivion now and the serialized version of Ragavan is the same card.
Recognizing this unique price trend, I suspect that this Ragavan may see yet another ratchet, especially in 6 to 12 months once all copies are given out. I opted to reinvest some of my gains from above into a personal copy.
I hope the above stories from the floor provide you all with some interesting windows into how the MTG community is responding to the recent limited and special edition cards. I will look forward to reporting again soon when LOTR drops and we see some numbered rings enter the market and we get a glimpse of how the market forms on 1900 serialized Sol Rings and the mighty single copy of The One Ring. Until next time!
Bolas’s Citadel is in 105k decks on EDHREC, and 12% of all black decks, marking it as a super staple of the format. As a WPN wide distribution promo this version of Bolas’s Citadel has plenty of copies lingering in the secondary market, which is doing a great job of keeping it’s price in check . The old border treatment is very interesting when paired with a colored casting cost artifact and the mystical art of the citadel looks good in the frame. Add in the classic foil WoTC swoosh and you’ve got a solid version of one of the most powerful black cards in the format.
Providing ramp in multi color EDH decks and the ability to trigger Landfall or abuse CIP effects on your lands, the gorgeous new borderless bounce lands from Double Masters 2022 are super cheap at $2 or less per foil copy and a great edition to any Commander collection with full sets running for just $15.
MSCHF x Secret Lair Swords to Plowshares – $16
Despite Swords to Plowshares being the 3rd most popular EDH card of the last 2 years according to EDHREC, it hasn’t received that many premium versions that really draw the eye. The MSCHF x Secret Lair may push the definition of budget given a 5x multiplier vs. regular copies, but it is very unlikely to catch a reprint and should age well as copies steadily drain out of the resale market. If you’re playing white in Commander, you are playing this card, so you’ll never be without a place to rock this unique treatment as your deck collection grows.
Arcane Signet Dan Frazier x Secret Lair: $18
There have been plenty of Arcane Signets printed over the last few years, and there will be plenty more in years to come, but the Dan Frazier x Secret Lair version stands head and shoulders above the rest. During the inventory rush when this drop arrived in vendor hands months ago copies could be had for $10-14, but this retro art style by the artist who handled the P9 Moxen is still a solid deal at $18 for the regular version and even $30 for the foil etched. As the second most played card in the format this will be a coveted collectible for years to come.
Secret Lair Blasphemous Act Borderless: $15
The most played sweeper in Commander is easily Blasphemous Act with the card appearing in 30% of all red decks. By far the coolest version of this perennial red staple is the Secret Lair borderless version featuring a homage to horror exploitation films of the 1970s. With massive eye appeal and ultra low chance of reprint, this sexy sweeper wil draw comments at every table you wipe with it.
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Wow. Modern Horizons is a truly unprecedented set. There is a lot going on with this ground breaking new product from our friends at Wizards of the Coast. As players, collectors and speculators it is important for us to wrap our heads around the various aspects of this set before naming our target personal pickups and speculative entry points.
Let’s review some basics before we get to the priority targets, shall we? Here’s what you need to know about Modern Horizons:
– 254 cards + 1 Buy-A-Box Promo (Non-Foil Flusterstorm) – 36 packs/box with Standard set style foil distribution – Art cards in every pack – Full-art snow basics in every pack – Double-faced tokens in every pack, including foil versions in 1/4 packs
Whew! That’s a lot of product in a single box. Full-art snow basics, art cards and foil tokens will all be contributing a bit to the estimated value (EV) of boxes, as is sensible for a set with a wholesale cost more than double (~$160 or so vs. ~$70 for Standard legal sets).
The other big factor in play that is likely to drive long term box EV appreciation is that 209 of the cards in the set have never been printed before, including 14/15 Mythics and 48 of the Rares. That’s a lot of fresh blood!
Another factor to consider is that WoTC has fairly stuffed the product release schedule this year, resulting in Horizons ending up sandwiched within 6 weeks on either side of the blockbuster War of the Spark release and the Magic 2020 core set that will start previews in just four weeks! Coupled with high box/pack costs, there is a decent chance that even though Horizons is in theory a “print-to-demand” style print run, Wizards will actually provide relatively modest replenishment of stock to vendors through their distributors once the hype cycle has shifted to other products. Word from our network is that Hozions is being printed at about 75% of the print run of a Standard set release, so that matters as well. Remember also that shortly after M2020 we have the summer Commander 2020 deck releases, to be followed up in early fall by the main Standard set of the year, (whose name is still under wraps, presumably to lessen the looming feelings of product exhaustion).
This article is being written in the last couple of days of previews, but already the depth of this sets at all rarities is incredibly obvious. People may have been expecting a pile of new Snapcaster Mages and Lightning Bolts, but what they got instead is a highly complex, varied and subtle series of odd duck role players, many of which seem suspiciously like set ups for the reveal of additional puzzle pieces in forthcoming Standard or ancillary sets. Believe me, with tremendous depth at common and uncommon, this is going to be the kind of set that bulk handlers are going to be salivating over five years out.
So what does all of this add up to? Put simply, Modern Horizons is likely to lead to some very strong card spikes and set EV appreciation just as soon as it stops being widely available for purchase. Once the boxed product dries up, there will be no easy source of replenishment and any cards that shift into the spotlight for Modern or EDH are just going to take off hard, especially foils.
Let’s set some ground rules. As per usual, we’re looking at these cards in order of rarity, with an eye to the ones that are most likely to require players to buy the greatest # of copies across multiple formats, with a priority on Modern and Commander.
The Early Targets
#1 The Horizon Lands: The Ringers
The Horizon Lands, named after Horizon Canopy, are the most obvious Modern playable staples in Modern Horizons. In decks that are looking to win in the first few turns trading off a few life points for even better early mana fixing is no big deal. Tack on the ability to extend your reach by trading in excess lands for fresh cards and you have an instant classic. Keep in mind that Horizon Canopy is both one of the most expensive and most played lands in Modern, and though it loses a bit of juice from the appearance of it’s cousins, the pedigree for top level play is already well established.
If these lands had been printed into a Standard legal set, we would be looking for them to settle into the $6-12 range and then start a long slow climb over $20. Thing is, Modern Horizons is not your average set. These boxes cost vendors twice as much as a Standard set, and that translates to $6-7 packs at retail. That means that you can count on a 50-100% bump in the expected price range at each rarity, especially for the key cards that are wanted in multiples by players in multiple formats. Many serious Modern players are going to want complete play sets of this entire cycle for their quiver, and Commander players will find reasons to want them too. Modern decks like Burn, Death’s Shadow and Infect all need playsets. In EDH Lord Windgrace and The Gitrog Monster seek to recurse their lands as resources, so Nuturing Peatland is an auto include.
The thing is, everyone clued into the value of this land cycle pretty much right away so they are pre-selling near $20 in the EU and as high as $35 for Fiery Islet in North America.
The question here then, isn’t if you will buy these lands, but when. I’m inclined to think that $15 is a solid target during peak supply, aiming to exit over $30 within 18 months, and possibly sooner if supply dries up like I think it might. Foils on the other hand are likely to jump high, retrace a bit under pressure during peak supply this summer and then start a slow steady march toward $60-80 or higher. Remember, these are single source cards that were only ever printed in a premium set and are unlikely to see a reprint for five years or more. Gains are inevitable.
#2 Goblin Engineer & Giver of Runes: Strong 2nd Choices
Here we have a pair of utility creatures that players seem divided on. Frankly, I don’t get it. Both of these creatures cross-format super staples waiting to happen. Giver of Runes is the closest we’re going to get to Mother of Runes in Modern, a card that is a good enough white creature to see play in Legacy. Giver of Runes can’t target itself, but two copies CAN target each other, and the extra point of toughness isn’t irrelevant in a format with Gut Shot & Lava Dart. Mother of Runes is in the Top 20 white cards of all time in Commander and the decks that want it may easily find reason to want some redundancy. Giver is pre-ordering in the $5-8 range, but I think you’ll be able to snag $16-20 playsets during peak supply and that’s a strong buy signal IMHO.
Goblin Engineer is clearly the WoTC approved fixed version of Stoneforge Mystic, but the card is powerful enough that it will see play in Vintage, Legacy, Modern and Commander. We’re talking about a 1R creature that tutors up any artifact here. Yes, of course, it does go to your graveyard, but depending on your format of choice, everything from Goblin Welder, Trash for Treasure & Refurbish can make that work out for you. If the artifact is three mana or less the Engineer will be all too happy to help you swap it into play if you don’t have another option handy, and it’s the open ended synergy of that play sequence that has me seeing $$$ down the road. This card is going be a slow gainer out of the gate, but the second it posts up some interesting Top 8s in Modern, it’s going to explode and you’re going to want to be holding copies.
#3 Urza, Lord High Artificer: Doomed to Overachieve?
If there is one mythic card in this set that rang the power level bell for most players in Modern Horizons, it was Urza, Lord High Artificer. Putting aside the solid art and fantastic flavor and we’re left with a 4-drop of such a ridiculous power level that Commander decks built around it will almost certainly need to be intentionally de-tuned to allow you to avoid getting the boot from your playgroup. A pile of cards have already spiked on the back of this reveal, including Paradox Engine, Unwinding Clock and Thran Turbine.
This card peaked near $70 during early pre-orders, but has since collapsed back to a still lofty $40-50 range, a price that doesn’t really leave much meat on the bone.
I think your ideal play here is for Urza to not start putting up Modern results for a while, allowing Commander players to bite off their single copies and then allow the price to settle back into the $20-30 range. If it gets down to $14-22 I’ll start paying attention. Anything higher and the upside just isn’t juicy enough.
Likewise, foils are going to start very, very high, and retrace only 30-40% as peak supply rolls through. If a great Modern deck emerges early on that makes use of multiple copies, you may never get a shot at grabbing more than your personal playset at a reasonable price.
#4 Ranger-Captain of Eos, Seasoned Pyromancer & Wrenn and Six : Mythic MVPs in the Making?
Ok, so in looking over the rest of the mythics from Modern Horizons, these are the ones that stand out as being a) pushed, b) most likely to be played in multiples and c) capable of seeing play in both Modern and other formats.
Ranger-Captain of Eos only searches up a single creature vs. the two from Ranger of Eos, but it also provides some potential disruption as a bonus and you get that package for a mana less, which matters a lot in Modern. Just off the top, searching up a Death’s Shadow, Given of Runes, Walking Ballista, Thraben Inspector or Noble Hierarch seems like solid value. The thing is, Modern has not been very kind to fair decks in recent times and we didn’t really get the kind of disruption or sideboard options in this set that seem likely to push the meta back to the fair (a couple of great new counterspells not withstanding). The good captain can currently be had in the $10-15 range, but I don’t intend to acquire many until I see it doing work on camera deep into a big Modern tourney.
Seasoned Pyromancer has already shown up in some SCGLive brews this week and while it didn’t blow me away on camera thus far, there may be something here at some point. A 2/2 body for 1RR is almost embarassing in Modern at this point, but the double discard/draw ability has real potential to do work, especially when it can also end up adding 3 bodies to the board only to do it again down the road in the rare long game. Keep in mind that they also just gave us Unearth to attempt to abuse in Modern, so there are more than a few interesting angles to attempt here. Ultimately we need to know whether the card can a) find a semi-permanent home in at least a T1.5 deck and b) how many copies they want to run. I’m adding this to my wait and see list.
Wrenn & Six analysis starts with the simple fact that this is a 2-mana Planeswalker built around recursing lands in a set theme that seemed determined to push a deck of that style into Modern. Not only do we have 6 new sac ready lands in the format thanks to MH1, but they also gave us back the full cycle of Onslaught single mana cycling lands, Tectonic Reformation, Ruination Rioter, and we’ve already got Seismic Assault and Life from the Loam. And don’t forget about creature lands, Field of Ruin, Ghost Quarter and Tectonic Edge. It may all very well add up to a pile of Jank, but I won’t at all be surprised to see Wrenn & Six post some MTGO 5-0 leagues at some point in the near future. If you like this spec, cross your fingers that Sam Black and Zak Elsik take their time figuring out the build so that this card collapses under $15 and sets up a reasonable spec. There is just as much reason to play this card in Commander, so foil price weakness will likely be a buy during peak supply.
Mythic Side Notes: Echo of Eons ($30-40) is the mythic I most want to see be insane and with Narset, Parter of Veils, Teferi, Time Raveler and Day’s Undoing you can clearly do the thing. A Timetwister you can flash back for the original P9 casting cost is no joke, and the art IS great, but keep your eyes on Conley Woods steam to see how real the card is later this month. Hexdrinker ($10-15) is a card that is likely to end up a 4-of if it finds a deck that wants an evolving half-hexproof beat stick, but I’m benching the spec until I see results. Kess, Dissident Mage ($10-15) is very likely to do some work in a Grixis control shell, but it will likely be as a one or two of, so no rush on moving in.
#5 Aria of Flame: Ready to Catch Fire?
A lot of players likely looked once at this card and dismissed it immediately. I mean, why would Burn oriented decks want to give their opponents half their life total back?
Let’s do some quick math. You play the card, and it does nothing but set you back -10 on your goal of killing your opponent. And if the card could have been a lightning bolt, you are actually back -13 and a couple of mana.
The next several spells you cast, play out as follows: +1 damage +2 damage +3 damage +4 damage +5 damage
By the time you have cast five more spells, you have now gone net positive on the damage race, at +2 damage. The sixth or 7th spells likely kill your opponent, as they add 13 damage to the mix. That seems like a lot of set up and not at all what a Burn deck wants to do but Todd Anderson of SCG Tour fame has theorized that it might be what an Arclight Phoenix deck wants to do instead of Pyromancer’s Ascension as the backup kill plan. The mono-red version of Phoenix now has access to Lava Dart, each copy of which now represents two spells toward your goal. They also run 3-4 copies each of Desperate Ritual, Gut Shot, Manamorphose, Faithless Looting and a couple of Tormenting Voice. The UR versions of the deck run similar spells but add Serum Visions and Sleight of Hand into the mix. Storm decks might also find reason to lean on Aria for their end game.
In Commander, there are actually a LOT of ways for you to abuse the Aria triggers and giving the board a pile of life might not matter if they give you enough time to really go to town.
Aria of Flame is currently pre-ordering from some North American vendors at $1, and in the EU copies are under $.75. I like picking up this card under $1 to target a 1-2 year exit closer to $3-4.
#6 Archmage’s Charm & Force of Negation: Counter-Intuitive?
If you had suggested, we would be getting not one but two new strong counterspells at rare in Modern Horizons, I would have thought that pretty odd, but here we are.
Both of these cards are very likely to see significant play in the format, as they both provide a lot of utility to the decks that can cast them. The UUU cost on Archmage’s Charm is the biggest limiter on how widespread its’ usage pattern will become, since only U/W Control decks and possibly Mono Blue Tron builds with Urza are likely to be able to easily support the color requirements. That said, if you have correct mana, the ability to outright counter a spell or draw cards at the end of your opponent’s turn is pretty great. The third mode is being underrated by some players, as it can steal a long list of prevalent targets including Death’s Shadow, Noble Hierarch, Aether Vial, Goblin Guide, Monastery Swiftspear. In Commander you’ll have the option of stealing Sol Ring, Mana Crypt, Mana Vault and a whole bunch of other nasty little cards.
Archmage’s Charm is currently pre-ordering around $12, and I’d love to see it come down closer to $6-8 during peak supply, looking to out it over $12 within 18 months.
As the supposed fixed version of Force of Will for Modern, Force of Negation is riding higher on hype, and has a lot to live up to with pre-order prices close to $25. I don’t want any part of that price tag, but if I see copies under $15 I will start to get interested.
The need to be pitching blue spells to make it work is real, but there are enough blue decks in the format and enough combos that need to be stopped on your opponent’s turn that this card is likely to see constant play for years, even if mostly out of the sideboard.
Here we have a card with no immediately obvious home but a ridiculously high power level should the right partner cards present themselves. The easiest way to evaluate Planebound Accomplice is probably to compare it to Sneak Attack, a card that has been doing busted things with creatures in a similar way for years. The Accomplice actually costs one less to get rolling, is more fragile as a creature than an enchantment, but should still be able to get off an activation assuming you have four mana available the turn you cast it.
Thing is, there are a LOT more options in the creature type than in the planeswalker type that are capable of doing really busted things when you get to activate them early. Even still, folks have already tossed around infinite combos involving two planeswalkers and Cloudstone Curio. In researching this article, I also found the following cute combo, which also works with Progenitus, Hornet Queen or Terastodon depending on your needs. Liliana, Death’s Majesty can bring a creature back from the yard, Liliana, Dreadhorde General forces folks to sac two creatures and Nicol Bolas, Dragon-God can double up on whatever jank you’re up to since he copies all planeswalker abilities. The other Bolas walkers are all equally charming when they show up early. Nissa, Vital Force brought in for R can bring back another previously used Walker (or perhaps Cloudstone Curio) to hand and let you go again. Ugin, the Spirit Dragon lets you sweep the board or colored permanents.
Jamming all of that into a deck is likely to amount to little more than a pile of FNM jank, but it’s only a matter of time before something more concrete coalesces around Planebound Accomplice and sends it into a price spike. I’ve already snapped up 100+ copies of the card in Europe for under $1, and my target out will be $5 or so within two years.
Ah yes, the new fetchland for basics, including snow basics and Wastes. These are going to be a big part of mana bases in multiple formats for years, including Modern and Commander, as they let you find the right basic on schedule while providing very minor deck thinning. That’s enough to make them attractive buys but $20-25 pre-order pricing is not where we want to enter on these.
Peak supply should push playsets down toward $40-50 at which point I’d be more interested in moving in. Foils are also likely to be solid targets, but I’d really like to see them down closer to $20 before moving in.
Morophon, the Boundless is never going to be a thing in Modern, and Commander players are only likely to need the single copy, but when these get low enough I’ll be looking to scoop some, mostly in foil. Most of the time targeting Commanders isn’t really the play, as the cards the Commander needs that are in short supply often do much better as specs. In this case however, Morophon isn’t aimed at one tribe, but as many of them as can profitably make use of the mana cost reduction and want to run under a 5 color banner to make use of all of their options. This will tend to matter more for multi-color builds and tribes with big mana costs in multiple colors, so your options ARE narrowed somewhat, but over time more and more options will appear. I could see Morophon ending up as one of the Top 30 commanders of all time, but my play here will likely be shallow in case it’s just a passing fad.
#10 Unbound Flourishing: Doubling Down on Doubling?
Once upon a time a little card called Doubling Season became one of the more important casual and Commander cards around and made folks a bunch of money. Now Wizards is handing us a new 2G enchantment in a similar vein but with a significantly more narrow sphere of activity. In Unbound Flourishing we find ourselves looking around for permanents, instants and sorceries with X in their casting costs or abilities, and our options are definitely more limited than they are with counters and tokens. That said, the synergy here IS open ended so as time goes on we are likely to eventually reach a preponderance of synergy. The odds of action are better in Commander than in Modern at present, but this card is still commanding a high pre-order price of $20+. At this price I’m on the sidelines. Wake me up when this drops under $10 and we can talk but it still doesn’t likely to become a priority spec unless it gets closer to $5.
Ok, so clearly no one is interested in actually suspending this card. No, here we have yet another spell set up to be abused with As Foretold or Bloodbraid Elf. No one really seems excited about this card, partially because the Rhinos don’t have haste. It seems a bit crazy to me that 8/8 trample spread across two bodies isn’t good enough on T2 in Modern, but I’m happy to bow to the likely superior group think and ignore this card for now. If it shows up in a tasty list somewhere or a new combo piece gets printed we can certainly reevaluate.
#12 Marit Lage’s Slumber: When Shall the Snowflakes Wake?
Let’s state the obvious: the snow theme in Modern Horizons feels incomplete. We got some very interesting puzzle pieces here, but they don’t all add up to a great deck yet. Many of us were expecting the snow theme payoff to include snow duals, which would have made cards like Marit Lage’s Slumber a bit more likely to succeed, but no such look…so far.
Part of me is now wondering whether this whole theme is just the setup for a forthcoming Ice Age style set on a new plane, perhaps Kaldheim and a Norse mythology themed set within the next couple of years. In the absence of such an event, I’m not excited to go deep on the more powerful of the snow cards including On Thin Ice and Dead of Winter.
Marit Lage’s Slumber is $3 but I’ll get more interested when it’s down closer to $1.
This card is really strong. In Commander it gives red decks and Boros decks significantly more protection from flooding out, and in the lands matters decks like Windgrace and The Gitrog Monster, it will do a ton of work. In Modern there are also a ton of puzzle pieces to place alongside this that may yield a deck, but we’re not there yet. The fact that you can cycle extra copies if they aren’t necessary may lead to running a higher # of copies. This could take a short or a long while to get there but the unique impact means that at minimum I’ll be looking to grab some cheap foils during peak supply.
Final Thoughts: Nice Commander Foils To Target During Peak Supply
All of these cards will have foils that will end up draining out of the market given enough time. The Commanders in this list also happen to fit into the 99 of other commanders, so their demand profile will be better than the average Commander option. Hall of Generosity foils are Volrath’s Stronghold/Academy Ruins for enchantments, so the long term prospects are very strong given likelihood of the effect on a land remaining unique for a long time. All of the new Talismans will also be worth snapping up in foil at their lows.
What are you thinking about Modern Horizons? Do you have pet specs that I missed here? What is your thesis? Until next time!
James Chillcott is the CEO of ShelfLife.net, The Future of Collecting, Senior Partner at Advoca, a designer, adventurer, toy art fanatic and an avid Magic player and collector since 1994.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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