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Insider: Playing Maze of Ith in Modern (and why Wizards wants Modern to kill Legacy)

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Wizards announced three more Modern Grands Prix this year, bringing the schedule to two American GPs, a Euro GP and a Canadian GP so close that I'd imagine plenty of players are hunting for their passports. Modern is a ripe field for speculation and it's a great time to be stocking up on some hot cards for the format. This week, we're going to take a look at what you should pick up, what you should hold off on, and what the Modern metagame will shape up to.

First, though, an interlude...

A few weeks ago, I wrote about using bidding schedulers to price-enforce cards on Ebay. Kelly emailed me yesterday, thank-bragging me about getting a Tawnos's Coffin for $10 shipped. That's the kind of thing I was talking about – policing the market to get $15 cards for 40% off. If you haven't read the article yet, you're leaving money on the table!

Prediction: Legacy will be at 60% strength a year from now.

It is becoming clearer and clearer that Wizards of the Coast is more interested in Modern than in Legacy. This makes sense. If the Modern card pool gets out of control in price, they can release the pressure with Planechase, Commander, Archenemy, Duel Decks and other boxed sets. Wizards cannot do that in Legacy. Wizards wants people to graduate to more expansive formats, and Modern is one that's achievable. Legacy, with $40 fetchlands and $100 duals, is less and less approachable. It's getting harder for WOTC to run Legacy events with a straight face.

Unsustainable.
There are only so many of these to go around. Not everybody gets to cast Delver of Secrets.

By the end of this year, there will have been seven Modern Grands Prix and only three Legacy GPs. The Pro Tour forReturn to Ravnica this Fall will be Modern. I have intimated before that I don't see the Legacy market sustaining both high prices and high interest. Thanks to the newly-spoiled Temporal Mastery (the Time Walk miracle), more and more Legacy players feel that the format is too degenerate to play in. This may be a little bit of Chicken Little on their part, but it's worth paying attention to the sentiments of players. Attendance at events noticeably dropped during both Darksteel Affinity and Worldwake Caw-Blade, which depressed secondary markets.

Modern is a fantastic format to speculate on. We see cards like Proclamation of Rebirth go from a dollar to $9.00 in five days. This dynamism is supported by an actual event calendar that supports play more than the SCG Opens do. People are more likely to buy the high-dollar cards when they have bigger events to play in. Everyone wants to live the dream of being the unknown that takes down pros at a Grand Prix.

That said, there are some intelligent cards to speculate on and there are many that you should avoid. Speculating on Modern often depends on being in the right place with the right info, which is why our Insider alerts are a crucial tool for many speculators. We've also been writing about what's worth stocking up on for Modern before Modern was a format. I've concluded that the list is a lot different if you are a player or a speculator. If you're a player, you do not want to be caught buying $4 uncommons that you needed. As a speculator, you cannot tie up so much money in playsets of cards that won't generate the profits that keep you hustling instead of pursuing meaningful work.

There are very few secret bargains left in Modern.

Tarmogoyf is the most absolutely stable bet you can make in Modern. It has no chance of being banned right now because, believe it or not, the card isn't as good as Delver of Secrets // Insectile Aberration. Goyf lacks evasion and even though it gets huge, it's a little bit easier to handle in the format. It's $82 on Ebay and about $90 in stores right now. I'd predict this to hit $100 or more during the GP season. I also doubt that this will be reprinted in meaningful quantities because it's still above the curve for most Standard environments. A 4/5 for 1G is a potent monster, even if you have to build it up with a Ponder or a Lightning Bolt instead of fetchlands.

Shocklands could still be $15 if they were in Standard - just look at Seachrome Coast's price tag these days.

I'm not confident that putting investment cash into Goyfs is sound, though, because a gain of $20 on an $80 card is only a 20% profit. If you roll that same $80 into short-term specs, you could double or triple it. Tarmogoyf is better trade fodder than gold bouillon from Credit Suisse, so if you can get more in trade value, it's still worth thinking about.

The Zendikar fetchlands are also solid bets for long-term holds. You've heard this before, sure. The one point I'll make on it is that although everyone overestimated how much the Ravnica shocklands would get played, nobody estimated that we'd see this many fetches in decks. It's much easier to run six fetches and two duals than four duals and four fetches – the chances of getting whammied by Blood Moon are much lower if you can more reliably get those basics out. These are also unlikely to be reprinted in the next five or more years. They will eventually get up to the $30 range of their Onslaught friends if they do not see reprinting.

I have it on decent authority that shocklands will be reprinted in the next year, possibly in M13. We are returning to Ravnica in October, which leaves both M13 and Ravnica as good places for reprinting these lands. Even if they are reprinted, they might command $15 in Standard – just look at Seachrome Coast for proof. I'm not going to be picking up any shocks for more than $20, which de facto means I'm not picking up any shocks right now.

Stocking up on investment cards depends on whether you are playing or speculating.

As I mentioned earlier, there are different lists of “get this” cards for players and speculators. If you're a player, I think you need to make sure you have access to the power uncommons and the less-powerful uncommons that routinely get played. The two that immediately come to mind are Firespout and Electrolyze. Both are great for picking off weenie hordes. Both can hit $3-5 at event sites if you need them. You should have Path to Exiles because they will only go up in price; I don't think they'll appreciate enough to reward speculating, but getting cheap playsets is wise. This will be $5 or more forever.

As long as we have Tron in the format, Expedition Maps will be worth money, and more over time. It's unlikely that we will see nonbasic hate that is as powerful as the spells that Tron can crank out. To explain further, it's not like we'll see a better Sowing Salt, but we did see a better Wurmcoil Engine when Karn Liberated was printed. We will continue to see big Tron-worthy spells and monsters, which makes Tron ever more potent.

GP: Turin will quietly shape the Grand Prix Trial season for the rest of the year.

Let's look at the T8 from GP: Turin, which was a Modern event. Take a good look at Jose Luis Velazquez Del Pozo's U/R Storm list. No Pyromancer Ascension, just Gifts Ungiven. I've tested this deck and it's startlingly like High Tide. Jose's list is on the more tame side of Gifts combo, but be aware that these sorts of decks exist. I say he's on the tame side because there are some lists that run Increasing Vengeance, which is an insane piece of technology that you should remember.

That card makes it quite easy to make lots of mana with Seething Song, fight counterspells or double up on things like Banefire. These kinds of Storm decks are nearly mechanical in their regularity, just like High Tide is. You just set up for four turns, cast Gifts at an endstep and win the next turn. Doesn't matter who or what the opponent is. In the hands of disciplined players, this is the storm deck to look out for.

Totally great creature control that nobody can afford to play in their deck.

Splinter Twin decks also popped up, both in maindecks and sideboards. I think it's totally lame that atwo-card creature-based combo is actually great. We will be seeing a lot more of this combo. I suggest that players get their set of Damping Matrix. There's also the chance that Night of Soul's Betrayal will be playable, but I think it suffers from The Abyss Syndrome. The Abyss is great, but no decks can really play it in Legacy because the ones that care about creatures often want to run their own creatures.

NOSB shuts down combos, but it also cuts off some of the best creatures in the format from your deck. Curse of Death's Hold is still an option, but it may be just a little too expensive. Torpor Orb is also a consideration – but Twin decks usually have plans for Damping Matrix and the Orb. The card “Splinter Twin” is a known card at this point; its value should remain stable, but I wouldn't bother getting them unless you personally wanted to play the deck.

The deck that Antonio used to take down the event, RUG Delver, is a strange beast. It's not particularly great at anything, but it's very efficient. It has decent filtering and contains a few bombs like Garruk Relentless // Garruk, the Veil-Cursed and Cryptic Command to negotiate tough spots. I predict we'll see a lot of this at GPTs, since it runs blue cards and it's Pro-approved. I don't think the deck can withstand a lot of out-there strategies, though de Rosa did hold his own against the Soul Sisters deck that he battled in the finals. Vedalken Shackles and Threads of Disloyalty are both worth keeping an eye on. Shackles dismantled everyone that de Rosa played, and Threads is an excellent post-board answer spell for the mirror.

Maze of Ith is actually Modern-legal (but it's not called by that name).

Pack your Camels, boys. This is going to be a painful trek.

The best anti-fair deck card I've come across in awhile has been Desert. A deck like RUG Delver cannot beat two Deserts on the field, and a single Desert is going to stop decks like Faeries and Affinity. I suggest dropping the $2 and getting your set if you play Modern; there will come a time when you want the dessicating land's ability to completely mess up combats.

It acts like a Maze of Ith because nobody is going to attack into Deserts – but that still lets you cast things at the endstep! It's even better than Maze because if your opponent has two 1/1s and you have a Maze, they will attack in. If they have two 1/1s and you have a Desert, they are unlikely to attack at all.They have to hope that they have something like a Sword to put on a smaller creature to make it survive a trip through the Sahara. If you play Maze, people will still attack you and make you tap Maze to keep you honest. No such problem with Desert - the mere threat means that they'll stay at home.

I've had a bit of success with super-greedy 4c Gifts decks that run 4 Deserts (27 lands total) that just use Desert to buy a lot of early time until you need to cast that Gifts and take over the game. Desert is a highly-threatening card and it threatens without actually costing you mana if you have instants that you can pour that mana into.

I'd imagine that they make storage lands like Dreadship Reef much more interesting, too. Desert will break parity when their Tarmgoyf is attacking into yours. Desert does nothing against Storm or Twin, but it frees up a lot of space in the deck to handle those sorts of encounters.

Modern is also poised to make Lingering Souls even more of a star. Lingering Souls is a busted card in every non-Vintage format, so let's be clear about that. Getting four separate bodies for five mana is a great bargain, even in Modern. It's revolutionized control strategies, since you can tap out on one turn (or just tap low) for two tokens and see if you can ride them all the way with counters backing up. Alternately, you can use the spell like a Moment's Peace. The only caveat I have about building around Lingering Souls is that Surgical Extraction and Snapcaster Mage will eat your lunch.

Finally, I'll note that Surgical Extraction is a good long-term hold for Modern. It's Phyrexian mana, so it won't be reprinted again in any non-special set. It's better than Extirpate by a long shot. It will always be useful as long as cards like Lingering Souls and Splinter Twin exist, and it will only get better with time. Get your set now and thank me in a year.

Until next week,

Doug Linn

(super excited to write "Grands Prix" in this article, which is even better than writing "Lightning Helices.")

9 thoughts on “Insider: Playing Maze of Ith in Modern (and why Wizards wants Modern to kill Legacy)

  1. Me and a couple of the more committed magic players at my local store were discussing this topic a few days ago. It's a topic that is quite interesting to me as I'm currently working my way up to a full set of forty legacy duals. However, with the news of ravnica's return and also WOTC seemingly pushing Modern as their new eternal flagship I'm actually wondering whether the duals are a good investment or whether I should stop now and move into modern instead?

    1. If the lands bring you pleasure, keep grabbing them. I don't think they'll go up in price at what we've seen. It's also worth noting that Underground Sea, which is probably the 4th-worst dual land in Legacy, is also the most expensive. Casual players and Commanders love to play UB decks, though, so the price is also driven by that. I don't think dual lands will ever lose significant value.

  2. I'm in the same boat. I've got around $25,000 tied up in legacy staples, and I'm a little nervous that the format is gonna start fading.
    Modern is so under-played right now though. The Modern PTQs are under-attended, as are the local modern events around me.

    I think my biggest fear is for SCG to drop Legacy and do Modern on Sundays. I think that would put a pretty big nail in Legacy's coffin…

    1. +1 on Gus's comment. If SCG moves to Modern, Legacy is in a bad way. That being said, SCG did recently increase their buy/sell prices on blue dual lands. They clearly have a significant amount of money in Legacy as well. Let's hope this remains a significant driving force in their decision to stick with Legacy.

      A set of 40 NM Duals sell for nearly $3,000 on the auction market. It's tough to leave that much money in cards that may see a major drop off in play over the next couple years…

    2. I neglected to mention that the absolute killer for Legacy would be if SCG even shifts a little of their Sundays into Modern.

      Small local tournaments happen now and then; I think the big breakout is going to be for people who are Modern fans to take things into their own hands and start hosting smaller events.

    3. I neglected to mention that the absolute killer for Legacy would be if SCG even shifts a little of their Sundays into Modern.

      Small local tournaments happen now and then; I think the big breakout is going to be for people who are Modern fans to take things into their own hands and start hosting smaller events.

  3. The big driver for Legacy is the SCG Open events. The weekly GPs are obviously the big contributor to the decline in the Legacy Open's attendance. On the other hand, the consensus I received at GP Nashville is that there are just too many GPs and it is too much of a grind. Players will get bored and do something else. I don't think we have reached an equilibrium yet. I predict the next action will be for SCG Opens to increase prize support to draw back some of the attendance.

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