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Insider: State of the Modern Staple

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Last week was a fun and informative look back at some old trades I made, and I plan to bring it back as a topic in the future, as well as posting new trades, but this week it’s time we got back to the Grindstone, so to speak.

We’re now being inundated with decklists, with GPs and SCG Opens happening nearly every weekend. The information is flying at us from every angle, and it’s easy for a new card or deck to steal the spotlight. Standard seems to be in a good, if predictable, place (not an indictment of the format), so I don’t see too much interesting happening there at the moment.

So, rather than focus on that, I want to look at Modern.

And I’m not here to hype you on the merits of Seismic Assault or something else new that’s come on of late. There were something like 12-14 unique decks vying for Top 8 spots in the last round of GP Hoth, and from that we can deduce a few things.

Yes, it says good things about the format that so many decks were in contention. But it’s still a very fledgling format that hasn’t been sorted yet.

Legacy used to be much the same until it started getting played every week and broken down by the best. That is why there is most certainly a metagame to Legacy now, even if decks occasionally break the mold and pop up (Burn!).

I see Modern evolving much the same way.

So, while you should certainly be aware of the newest trends and act accordingly, you need to keep in mind that it can all change very rapidly.

But we know there are some things in the format that will stay very safe bets, and that’s where I want to focus our attention this week. I’m not just going to provide another list of Modern cards to have, as myself and others have done in the past.

Rather, I want to look at the price of these cards today compared to their price on the day the most recent round of bannings were announced. Since the format seems to be in a healthy place, I think it’s safe to say we won’t see a lot more banned soon unless that assessment changes.

Ergo, we can fairly accurately evaluate the status and changes in the Black Lotus Project (eBay) prices of these staples with confidence. They should stay “staples” for a good while and can help us make our investment decisions accordingly. Let’s dig in.

The Staples

Fetchlands

This is, in my opinion, the safest thing you can do in Modern finance-wise. If you’ve read much of my past work, you know of my love for lands and my Fetchland project. It’s possible we see a reprint of one of these in FTV: Realms, but I doubt it (since it wouldn’t exactly be from “the vault”).

We’re going to use Scalding Tarn as our baseline, since it’s the most commonly used.

Dec. 20, 2011: $10.35

March 1, 2012: $11.67

Here we see the slow growth we expected from the fetchlands. This still leaves a ton of room for upward growth, and, barring reprints, these will continue to rise. Can’t suggest trading into these any more strongly.

Tarmogoyf

Dec. 20, 2011: $73.31

March 1, 2012: $79.05

This still seems as safe as ever, though I imagine the chance of this seeing a reprint somewhere along the line is quite high.

I hit on these two first because it reveals something very important – even cards that were already Modern staples pre-banning are continuing to rise. This means the format is not being viewed as a passing fad by the player base and confidence in the format is high. This means these are stable prices from the angle, and reprints are the biggest thing to watch out for.

Onto more interesting cards (finance-wise).

Hallowed Fountain

Dec. 20, 2011: $22.08

March 1, 2012: $26.04

This is also interesting. The card is down since its highs in September that were primarily driven by speculation rather than actual demand, but has risen since December. I think this strengthens the point above that true demand is driving the prices on Modern staples at this point and will continue to do so.

Chord of Calling

Dec. 20, 2011: $2.87

March 1, 2012: $6.13

Here’s one of the new “staples” of the post-ban metagame, and we see the drastic increase you would expect from such. Ever since Green Sun's Zenith got the boot, this has been the go-to card, over even Summoners Pact. The fact that Melira Pod (which are both cards you should grab on the cheap) is a true player means that Chord will hold value competitively.

But more important is that Chord seems to be an acceptable tutor for Wizards to allow and probably won’t see the banhammer like Zenith did. The biggest reason is probably that Zenithing for a Dryad Arbor in addition to a late-game bomb was too powerful, whereas Chord doesn’t present that danger.

Inquisition of Kozilek

Dec. 20, 2011: $1.78

March 1, 2012: $1.87

We haven’t seen much movement here, but I think this is one of the best speculation targets in the format. More and more decks are starting to use Inquisition over Thoughtseize. It hits a lot of the important cards that ‘Seize does but doesn’t lose you the life, which is proving to be extremely relevant in the format.

Kitchen Finks

Dec. 20, 2011: $3.30

March 1, 2012: $4.91

I understand that it has a set-specific keyword, but this thing has to be ripe for a reprint in some ancillary product in the next year or two. That leaves plenty of time for you to continue to profit off of them, however.

This thing is insane in the format in all variety of decks. And even people who realize it’s not a bulk Uncommon won’t realize it retails for $5-7. Continue to move on these.

Arcbound Ravager

Dec. 20, 2011: $14.34

March 1, 2012: $17.66

Another staple, another price increase. Affinity may be on the edge of having something banned to bring it a little more in line since it’s put up the best and most consistent results of any deck, but for now it seems to be safe, which means Ravager is a fine investment. It’s important to note that this card was worth real money before Modern was a thing, which helps back its price.

Dark Confidant

Dec. 20, 2011: $29.67

March 1, 2012: $34.60

Another card that I would put at risk of a reprint somewhere (because it’s older and so well-known), but for now Bob looks safe. As I wrote back in April 2011 (when I suggested buying Bobs at $14), drawing cards isn’t getting worse any time soon, so I wouldn’t be worried about putting your money in Bobs.

Rounding Up

That’s more than enough cards to spot the trend. Modern cards, across the board, are up solidly in just the last three months. This allows us to throw out the hype from the format’s creation or the rampant speculation that followed and see that demand is truly driving card prices.

What does this mean for us? Besides the fact that our current holdings are staying stable, it means that we can expect slow appreciation on those cards just like we plan on for Legacy.

This means that, moving forward, you can treat something like Cryptic Command or Life from the Loam like you would treat Polluted Delta or Lions Eye Diamond – as cards that will hold value and resell at a better percentage than Standard fare. This bodes very well for Modern as a format and for all the investments you’ve hopefully already made into it.

Thanks for reading,

Corbin Hosler
@Chosler88 on Twitter

6 thoughts on “Insider: State of the Modern Staple

  1. I think it would have helped your article a lot if you had included the price graphs for these cards, not just their past and current value. Did the cards indeed gradually rise, do we have an outlier today, is it perhaps on its way down again, etc.? The article has quite a lot of merit, but that would have improved it.

  2. I have heard people talking about beginning to unwind their Modern positions due to the end of the PTQ season. But you're saying get into Modern staples now? I know that Extended prices used to dip after the end of the season and would have expected you to advise getting out, then back in after the drop. How do you think format seasonality will affect Modern prices?

    1. This is a good point, especially since Chad mentioned in his article yesterday that modern season is ending in around 30 days.

      Is this a good time to unload staples expecting a drop? Or will they hold value throughout the off season? And when does Modern start up again?

      1. The purpose of this article was to determine how the price of the staples have performed, and they've all been steady gainers, rather than flat or bumpy. I probably should have been more explicit, but my point was that putting your money into these staples is a solid long-term play. In the short-term you should follow the usual ins and outs of seasonality, but over the long-term we can expect Modern staples to behave like Legacy staples moreso than Standard staples, which is what I wanted to examine with this piece.
        That said, It remains to be seen how much prices will drop. I do believe there will be some dropoff, but unlike old Extended Modern will never rotate and the new GP schedule will keep it somewhat played year-round. Prices won't be higher than during PTQ season, but they may not dip that much lower, either.

      2. I think the answer to this lies in what exactly your model is as a trader/business person. Buying cards as people are winding down on them is really smart if you're able to hang on to them until they swing back up. Personally I'm grinding on every dollar value i can get to pay for my events, so I want to focus more on selling at the right time, than buying and holding for extended periods of time. Both are viable, as long as you know what the market looks like, you can be making smart moves.

  3. With all the questions about price dips following ptq season, I would really like to see a follow up article in another month or two to examine this issue further. I tend to agree with you that these staples are a great long term investment and will not show significant declines in price after ptq season, but the fact is that we still don't know. I am also on the hoarding fetches boat, so I hope that pays off.

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