So in case you missed it, we are back to one rotation a year, and that rotation will be in the fall, just as it used to be. But what does it mean? What cards and strategies are impacted? Should I buy now? Should I hold?
Well, it’s actually not that earth-shattering an announcement, considering that the old model didn’t have very long to take root. I freely admit that I don’t play a lot of Standard, so this decision was likely a reflection of conversations with R&D, vendors, distributors, local stores, and of course players. I don’t feel the need to parse the words of the announcement, but I do respect that they are listening to concerns and acting when they can.
A longer rotation means, for us, a return to what many of us consider ‘normal’ cycles with regard to the prices of cards. I have been watching Gideon, Ally of Zendikar for some time, and considering that a bellwether for what good cards should be expected to do financially. In this case, and in a lot of cases, cards aren’t spiking due to Standard demand. Cards were setting a price early and trickling downward, at different rates depending on how much it’s played.
Before the change, there was a point about one year after release when some middling to great cards would spike nicely. My favorite example from recent times was Hero’s Downfall.
Mmmm. Pure, undiluted value. That spike at the rise of Mono-Black Devotion. One of the things I love doing is hunting for the value that will be, and lots of us write about it.
With the 18-month schedule, it’s very difficult for that spike to happen. Cards are going to rotate out so soon, there wasn’t much time to enjoy your deck, especially for cards released in the second set.
The power of the card, the need for a four-of, and that it was a mythic in a small set, all contributed to the gain in value, but I don’t think it went as high as it could have, because people knew they were getting a card just for the next few months.
Now, if you pick up some Gideons or Returns, you’re going to be able to play them until next October, making it a lot more palatable to drop the money on a playset.
Gideon is one example, and Return seems likely to pick up a couple bucks, but those aren’t going to grow a lot. I also think that while Liliana, the Last Hope is really well positioned against the swarm of aggressive and tiny creatures in Standard, being at $45 doesn’t leave much area for growth.
Ob Nixilis, Reignited – $4.90 – I know he’s an easily available foil in the Duel Deck that dropped in September, but this is a very cheap price for a strong mythic planeswalker. He does everything a control deck wants, and at worst, he’ll replace himself immediately before getting answered. Being in the Duel Deck is going to seriously cap his value, but cheap planeswalkers are always a solid investment.
Quarantine Field – $1.13 – It’s a bad deal at four mana, but good at six and game-breaking at eight. A dollar mythic is always going to get my attention, though I think Fragmentize puts a top on how high this can go.
Goblin Dark-Dwellers – $1.17 – This was the buy-a-box promotional card so there’s more of them, but this is a card good enough to show up in Modern. I’m a big fan of cards with nowhere to go but up, and we just got a good lesson in how good replaying spells can be, thanks to Torrential Gearhulk. Having flash makes the Gearhulk better, but I like this at a buck.
Oath of Nissa – $2.50 – It’s a rare from a small set that gets played as a four-of. I like getting these and waiting for them to go up to the $4-$5 range.
Cryptolith Rite – $1.37 – Have we forgotten how good these swarm decks can be? This is a real enabler of a card that has good potential to spike.
Ishkanah, Grafwidow – $8.41 – This is a very powerful card, and mythics from this set stand to do very well with the extra time in Standard. I’d look for this to spike by $5 or more when it hits big.
Tamiyo, Field Researcher – $11.41 – There’s two other mythics from this set that are $20+ and all it’s going to take is one good set of results at an SCG open or a GP for this to spike. The supply is rather low (remember, this lost time being drafted due to Conspiracy: Take the Crown) and this could easily be the third card to hit that price.
Today is not going to be about the new (old?) Standard rotation structure. I’ll tell you that I like it, though, and I suspect that my LGS’s lagging FNM attendance will improve because of it. Today is going to be the start of a new mini-series, and it’s focused on the aspect of Magic finance that tends to get overlooked.
Players new and old tend to approach the concept of Magic finance as “how can I make my hobby cheaper or free?”, only to realize that most of the conversation in that sphere is between vendors. In honor of Game Day Weekend (and a month of [NEW SET] singles pouring into the market), I’m going to tell you which Standard deck I recommend for the upcoming format. This is for the people who want to play in FNM, PPTQ, and 5k level events but don’t have the time, energy, or resources to learn and buy-in to the entire format. These are not going to be “budget” decks, but a key component in my selecting them is that they are cheap enough to give you a good shot at breaking even. I think this first installment does a good job encapsulating a lot of what I want to get across with this series, so let’s dive in!
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So last week was originally intended to be sort of a “Week 1 Winners and Losers” bit, along the lines of what I have done in the past. That piece didn’t go up due to scheduling complications courtesy of Hurricane Matthew- fast-forward to THIS week, where the Pro Tour is starting on my USUAL publishing day. What I have decided to do is include the parts of last week’s piece that are still relevant (updating where necessary), while including my PT expectations as well.
LOSER: CHANDRA, TORCH OF DEFIANCE: Chandra was almost inevitably going to be branded as a bust coming out of the gate. It is nearly impossible for a planeswalker to perform well enough to justify a $60 price tag in a new format, and Chandra’s intangibles (RR casting cost, the fact that she’s red at all) only made that harder. Of the mono red planeswalkers, Koth of the Hammer probably had the best career; all of the others were gadget roleplayers at best (Sarkhan Dragonspeaker falls somewhere in the middle). I’m not sure where Chandra’s home is, in the sense that she doesn’t seem to play any singular role exceptionally well. Ignoring Jace, the Mind Sculptor, all of the best planeswalkers can be slotted into fairly definitive roles- Liliana of the Veil is the Pox/grindy attrition planeswalker, Ajani Vengeant is the Zoo topper, Nahiri (the good one) fit perfectly into Modern Jeskai control strategies. If Chandra is able to have a dominant weekend at the Pro Tour (multiple 4x decks in the Top 8, including some camera time in the finals), then its possible that the price bounces back. More likely, however, is that Masterpieces continue to exert downward pressure on rares and mythics, and Chandra eventually bottoms out somewhere around $18-22. At this point, the only thing keeping her up is SCG not wanting to drop the price from 60 to 30 so quickly.
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Standard is the most popular format in competitive Magic, but it has never really been very popular. Maybe it’s better to say that it is the most ‘populous’ format. Either way, Standard has the de facto largest market share of Magic formats, and is the face of competitive Magic’s brand.
I have heard people complain about every Standard format for the last 12+ years- sometimes justified and other times not. As we take our first steps into the Masterpiece Era, it’s important to understand that Standard is going to be the primary factor for pricing on any new1 cards, as well as potentially creating a very distinct life cycle pattern. As we review Kaladesh from the perspective of a Standard player, we are going to simultaneously hit on a few key points in this new post-Masterpiece economy.
Cataclysmic Gearhulk: I want to go over the Gearhulks individually, because they are being broadcast early on as a pretty significant element in the set. This isn’t a flavor statement, since I’m not sure what their role is there, but as the latest cycle of “titans”, these fill a pretty big role as marquee single-color threats. Despite the longevity of Primeval Titan in other formats, which often overshadows his (?) siblings, its important to remember that all five of the M11 Titans saw action in Standard. The Gearhulks are not as pushed as the Titans as a whole, but they do represent an evolution of the cycle that is understated yet significant. The Titans were all 6/6s for 4CC, whereas the Gearhulks cost EITHER 3CC or 4CC (and each with unique P/Ts). Cataclysmic Gearhulk coming down on turn 5 is significant because it saves you an additional turn against opposing strategies that are trying to go wide with threats. Although this isn’t templated the same as Tragic Arrogance (your opponent can pick which of their cards stay), it’s still an extremely strong effect that comes with a very defensive 4/5 Vigilance. If Kaladesh Standard shakes out to rely heavily on board presence, it’s likely that this is one of the best of the cycle. I don’t think its coincidence that these are all five Masterpieces.
Torrential Gearhulk: Okay, so this is probably the worst of the cycle, at least early on. Because Torrential Gearhulk is unable to target sorceries, there are no enticing combinations currently in Standard (the only mythic Instant is Kozilek’s Return, a card that is actually WORSE OFF being cast off of Gearhulk rather than staying in the graveyard). As things currently stand, this is going to very often just re-buy a removal spell and serve as a clean, if underwhelming, tempo play. It’s possible that WotC is holding back on the big splashy options until Gearhulk is closer to rotation, or that it proved too risky and we see all of the game-changing spells as sorceries for the next year and a half. This is going to be objectively better in formats with more high-impact instants, but those formats simultaneously become less forgiving for six mana creatures.
Noxious Gearhulk: Like its white counterpart, Noxious Gearhulk is a card that I expect to be better in practice than on paper. In fact, the two represent the varying extremes of threat dimensions, Noxious serving as an answer to a single opposing creature, Cataclysmic excelling against several individually weak creatures. Given that one of the set’s main mechanics (Fabricate) allows players to decide in game how they want their board to develop, it’s possible that these two ultimately work fairly well together. Menace is huge, especially in environments where Noxious Gearhulk is already otherwise a playable card. This is the least impressive of the three so far (and probably of the whole set) outside of Standard, but I don’t know that any of these are going to get serious play anywhere else.
Combustible Gearhulk: Just like the blue one, this Gearhulk is better in a combo shell than a traditional midrange battlecruiser strategy. Fortunately, we have the cards to “enable” Combustible in Emrakul, Ulamog, and uh… Emrakul. It’s possible that you will cast this card and LITERALLY win the game. Once. I don’t know that this deck exists outside of the realm of theory, but unless we also get Congregate at Dawn, expect this deck to be… swingy, at best. A strategy that rewards you for playing a critical mass of expensive spells is going to naturally suffer in the early stages of the game, meaning the fast decks can go to town, let you draw 3, and then just attack around the Gearhulk and win, while the control strategies are given sufficient time to find an answer (or just counter your guy). The “best” Combustible Gearhulk deck will have to fundamentally restructure Magic deck-building and theory if it’s going to attain respectable ‘Tier 1’ status. I’ll buy in on this card when the Angels win the pennant.
Verdurous Gearhulk: Of the four ACTUAL Gearhulks, this one is likely the worst. That is not to say that this is a bad card. Verdurous Gearhulk has the most flexibility of any card in the cycle, ranging from a 3GG 8/8 Trampler (something that would have taken 1996 by storm), to a 3GG 4/4 that can change combat math in any manner of permutations. If there is a G/x strategy similar to the GW token decks of the recent past, it is very likely that some number of green Gearhulks find their way into the 75. This card is kept in the conversation by virtue of costing  and not .
GEARHULK BREAKDOWN: The white and black ones are good, and are probably worth snagging sometime soon if you plan on playing a lot of constructed Magic (despite the usual new set tax). The blue and red ones are not quite ready for prime time, and at $6 each have plenty of room to fall after underwhelming out of the gate. Verdurous Gearhulk is the most situational, but surprisingly the most expensive. I don’t see a clear Day 1 strategy that I like for Greenhulk, so I’ll pass until supply forces a price cut.
Fumigate: Remember when we talked about Languish and Planar Outburst a few weeks back? Essentially the sentiment was that Planar Outburst was set to be the best Wrath of God effect after the rotation of Languish short of a playable alternative in Kaladesh. Fumigate is most certainly playable. Although Fumigate is priced at , the life gain addition does a good job of partially recouping the life lost from waiting an additional turn. In token-heavy strategies (a phrase I have typed quite a bit so far), this is likely to get you “back” roughly a turn, especially as creature power trends closer to 1. I think this makes a very strong case for control decks to have access to white mana and becomes one of the marquee anti-aggro spells in the format. If threat density becomes an issue for UW/x, I could see some number of Planar Outbursts serving as extra copies of the effect, but I think there are enough ways to win otherwise. At $3, just buy them now if you plan to play them.
The Kaladesh Fast-Lands: Lumping these together because they are coming into an environment where I expect their play will be very uniform. We are losing the Apocalypse pain lands at a time where enemy-pair strategies are still very popular. I expect most decks just play 3-4 copies of these, most specifically WR (a pair that plays fewer lands on average, but needs lots of double colors) and BG (a slower pair traditionally, but the one with the two most mana-specific colors). Slower colors will max out on creature lands first, but I still think these will be fairly uniform 4x in Standard. The price fluctuations are likely just due to some being “better” in Modern than others.
Smuggler’s Copter: This is starting to get some love going into the Prerelease Weekend as possibly the “best” vehicle for constructed. Testing results are still anecdotal at best, and likely to skew towards linear aggro decks, which tend to overperform in the early stages of a format’s life cycle. I’m not as impressed as other people seem to be, but I also think I like Fleetwheel Cruiser more. Vehicles are definitely going to take a while to figure out, at least beyond the semi-obvious RW Vehicle aggro deck. The upside here is that if you can otherwise animate a vehicle (Ensoul Artifact is sometimes played in Modern Affinity), you still get the combat abilities. Cool, but possibly not good enough.
Scrapheap Scrounger: Possibly the best crew member for vehicles outside of RW. Unlike that reckless Wesley Crusher, who got his friends killed by attempting dangerous stunts. He should have been expelled from Starfleet Academy for his unbridled hubris.
Demon of Dark Schemes: Okay so this… hang on a sec… *CRANKS DIO* THIS CARD IS METAL AS HECK. ANY MASSACRE WURM VARIANT IS GOING TO DESERVE A SECOND LOOK, ESPECIALLY IF WE CAN PREDICT TO SEE SOME PERCENTAGE OF TOKEN-BASED OR WIDE THREAT STRATEGIES. THE FACT THAT THIS HAS A TOTALLY VIABLE REANIMATION ABILITY AND A FREE SOURCE OF CONTINUOUS ENERGY GENERATION IS JUST THE GRAVY ON TOP. REMEMBER ALL THOSE GB DECKS RUNNING TRAVERSE THE ULVENWALD BEFORE? MAX OUT ON THOSE AND THIS IS AN EASY INCLUSION. *AIR GUITARS ALONG TO ‘RAINBOW IN THE DARK’*