It's another week of examples today, selected to help hone some of your predictive senses on speculation. I'm going to share some cards today and I'll be honest - sometimes, I still don't know why these things act the way they do. Join me as we tease out the reasons why cards go up or fail to go up. If you didn't catch my article last week, here it is. You'll get a sense of my thinking process and the questions that I'm asking myself along the way.
First off, let's start with one I called about a month ago...
Baleful Strix is a little wonder-bird that showed up first in the new Planechase set. It has three really powerful abilities - Deathtouch, flying and cantripping - it replaces itself when you cast it. This card has been creeping up pretty quickly, and let's look why.
Does it exist in an earlier set? No, certainly not. We have never seen a card with this kind of utility before and like Bonfire, which I talked about last week, this looks unique. The closest we've gotten is Tidehollow Strix, which has made completely zero impact on constructed sets. However, this one trades off a point of power for a full card. Thus, it's sort of hard to compare this Strix to that Strix.
How powerful is this card? Baleful Strix is mighty powerful in the right environment. Baleful Strix is a freebie to cast. It pitches itself to Force of Will. It conquers the mightiest of attackers - even Emrakul bows to the avian's fetid touch. The combination of Flying and Deathtouch means that the Strix will trade with any attacker or blocker it comes across - this is an incredible deterrent to attacks. On top of that, it draws a card - a control deck can therefore gain both a blocker and a card. It adds beef to the board and a 1/1 with the right backup is a fine win condition.
Baleful Strix would be a Standard all-star. It would spawn a thousand fascinating and fun control lists and it would be a fine bird to wield a Sword. However, Baleful Strix is only legal in Legacy and Vintage. We must, then, look at it in the lens of these two formats.
Baleful Strix has not made much of an impact in Legacy and the reason is that there are too many creatures for it to trade with. Hear me out on this, since it seems like a good reason to play the Strix in the first place. The creature quality is both low enough and dense enough in Legacy that you're not going to get much advantage out of swapping this for a Delver or Nimble Mongoose. A 1/1 will die to plum anything in Legacy, even if it has to take something out with it. U/B is a bad combination on its own in Legacy and this card does not solve the problem of too few cards that can seal up the game. Therefore, you're not going to play the Strix when Delver of Secrets can probably do the same or better job and will actually put enough pressure on things to win the game in Legacy.
Vintage, however, is another monster indeed. Remember that Vintage games play out much differently than any other format. Mishra's Workshop, in particular, warps a lot of play. Shop decks typically run big artifact punishers. Think of Chalice of the Void, Lodestone Golem, Sphere of Resistance and more. They aim to shut you down and then pound you to death with big robots and they are very good at punishing blue-based decks. This Strix solves a critical problem that blue decks face. Entertain this possibility: a Shop deck plays a Mox, an Ancient Tomb and a Thorn of Amethyst on their first turn. You reply with a humble Island. They play another land and then a Lodestone Golem - you're on the clock and you don't even have some lucky Moxes to beat their taxing effects! However, you peel that Polluted Delta, get a Swamp and play a Baleful Strix right through both of their resistance effects. That Golem is completely shut down and the Shop player is going to have to wait on more threats to pressure you. You've got a serious chance of winning the game, even if all you have is a 1/1 on defense. It's doubly dangerous if you've got Goblin Welder trading your Strix in and out, drawing cards and producing a Deathtouch blocker when needed. On top of that, it's pretty good against Noble Fish, a deck that leans hard on Tarmogoyfs to get their damage through.
Are people going to love to play this card? Baleful Strix applies to a specific kind of player: the value-added man. Nothing is thrilling about Baleful Strix on its face, but this is a total grinder card. This is the card that you lovingly trade for a big man from the opponent, knowing that you paid UB and zero cards to eliminate their worst threat. It's not going to see much play in Legacy, but I see it as a role-player in Commander. None of this explains, however, why this card is going up so much in price.
Conclusions: Let me give you a little bit of history with Baleful Strix. About a month ago, I posted in the QS forums to keep an eye on this card. It was at about $5 at that time and I had seen several of my Vintage teammates do very well in a regional tournament with it. Their decks gladly ran four of the card. This card has a narrow print run and limited availability, so it was prime for growth. However, Vintage doesn't exactly move card prices. Lodestone Golem and Grafdigger's Cage, two epic Vintage noteworthies from recent times, can be had for a song. Nonetheless, Baleful Strix was going to be a key part of Vintage, even if it wasn't a big market. I was pleased and impressed that it jumped to $10 in that time, but I am at a bit of a loss to explain why. My theory is that the lack of card availability on this (you aren't opening this uncommon in packs) and the need to have four in a deck combine to drive a market on this. On top of that, people LOVE to play blue decks in Vintage, so lots of people are going to try out the Strix. I normally discount Vintage impacts from influencing the price of just about anything in Magic, but I am pretty sure that this card has reached this price because of that boutique format. I see Baleful Strix rising ever more after Planechase disappears from shelves. I'm not going to call it a great buy at $10, but getting it for that in trade is a fine idea. The remainder of the Planechase deck it comes with has some nice cards, too - meaning that you can buy the boxed set, crack it for the Strixes and still cover some of your expense.
I'll also caution you that this is not an endorsement of jumping on cards that only have Vintage appeal. In this instance, the Strix's limited availability beat the fact that it's only Vintage-playable to make it worth something. This isn't usually the case.
Memnite is the first creature with an actual power that you get for free. It's a true gambit that asks "what's a 1/1 worth to you? Would you spend card slots on it?" A lot of times, the answer is "yes, I'd love to play this thing."
How powerful is this card? I've gotten beat to death enough times by Memnites to tell you that this is a powerful card. Free is a fine price to pay for a 1/1 in the right deck. What kind of deck? Well, Affinity for one... Modern loves this card. Further, people have seen success with it in Tempered Steel decks and red aggressive decks with Kuldotha Rebirth. Plus, it's a fun card. You get something for nothing with seriously no strings attached.
Are people going to love to play this card? Emphatically, yes. I believe that this card is going to follow in the footsteps of Shield Sphere among casual players in that it will have a long and loyal following. Shield Sphere is a dumpy little wall that is outclassed most of the time by Steel Wall. However, it's free and it's from an older set. Shield Sphere nets a dollar and it's not as good as Memnite. You must consider the draw of "free." People are going to play with these in every deck; they'll get beat up from play. They'll get buried in boxes. They'll continue to see banner play in Affinity. These are cards to hold onto.
Conclusions: I see Memnite getting into the $3 range in a year or two. Remember that Memnite is going to rotate out of Standard, meaning its $0.90 current price will likely dip down a bit for awhile. There will never be another card printed that's as good as Memnite for the price, and we are unlikely to see a straight reprint. Pick up this guy and hold onto it.
A final note to follow up from last week. In the feedback, pipdickenz took me to task for claiming that Bonfire of the Damned would not hit $45 in print. I'm bearish on this card and I'd like to explain my reasons. At print time, the card was about $28 from Ebay. It's gone up in stores because chase rares typically behave that way, but the prime indicator of the market is Ebay - it's hard to disagree with what people are actually paying for a card. The card is currently closing for about $32 plus shipping, which is a far cry from $45. I don't think it'll get to that threshold on Ebay. We'll see.
Until next week,