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Insider: [MTGO] Speculating on Block Cards

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If speculating with the Modern format seems to be easy and highly predictable, at the other side of the spectrum speculating on block formats is a totally different type of game.

Modern is a pretty resilient and predictable format. One more set, one less set, the whole format is not going to be fundamentally affected and it is easy to know which cards to bet on. Rarely, if ever, does a new card make an archetype disappear--there's simply too many solutions in a format with thousands of cards available.

On the other hand, it's not easy to predict what the block format will be before the release of the third set.

Archetypes that are strong with the two first sets may disappear entirely when new cards from the third set join the party, as with Innistrad block. Speculating on potential winners when the Block PT comes with only the two first sets could be a very risky exercise.

In addition, the block format is not nearly as popular as Standard and Modern. The PT's impact on prices is likely to be minimal or, at best, contained to short spikes. Many of the Return to Ravnica and Gatecrash cards used during PT Dragon's Maze didn't really move. Most of, if not all, of the noticeable spikes were on cards from Dragon's Maze's. Buying RTR or GTC cards in advance would not have made you rich.

By reviewing what happened with the two previous block seasons (Innistrad and Ravnica), we'll see that the only consistent strategy that worked out for me was to carefully follow the PT Block, ride the hype and deal only with quick flips.

Previous Experiences

Innistrad Block

With only Innistrad and Dark Ascension available, I remember at least four decks that were quiet popular and efficient at that time.

  1. Red-White, with humans, tokens and Hellrider
  2. Red-Blue, with Delver of Secrets // Insectile Aberration, Stromkirk Noble, Spectral Flight, Furor of the Bitten and a bunch of direct damage
  3. Blue-Green Self-Mill, with Splinterfright, Kessig Cagebreakers, Mulch and Tracker's Instincts
  4. Jund Control, with a lot of removal, Garruk Relentless // Garruk, the Veil-Cursed, Liliana of the Veil and Olivia Voldaren

These decks were pretty solid. Hellrider has proven to be an extremely powerful creature, and it was hard to imagine not playing the red hasty creature in Block. UG Self-Mill was slow but pretty resilient, and not much was needed to make it the real deal. Not much was missing for Jund Control, besides Bonfire of the Damned.

229 cards later, Avacyn Restored had totally changed the Innistrad Block format. More than twenty cards from AVR showed up in the Top 8 and at least four brand new archetypes emerged: U/W Miracles, Human Reanimator, Bant Shroud and Naya Aggro.

Simultaneously, all the previous archetypes established with ISD and DKA got completely wiped out by Restoration Angel, Wolfir Silverheart, Cavern of Souls, Bonfire of the Damned, Terminus, Angel of Glory's Rise and others.


 

Before AVR was released, I had bought some ISD and DKA cards that I thought were good speculative positions leading up to PT Avacyn Restored. Among them, SplinterfrightKessig CagebreakersFalkenrath Aristocrat and Stromkirk Noble.


 

In the end, only the Aristocrat turned out to be a good idea. I had to wait eight to ten more months to see Stromkirk Noble increase, and only because of Standard. Clearly, the others cards I invested in, which also included a couple uncommons from Innistrad, were a waste of time and tix.

Avacyn Restored was not yet available online when the PT was played, rendering any speculation on AVR impossible. As you can see from the Top 8 deck lists, very few cards from Innistrad and Dark Ascension received a boost. Falkenrath Aristocrat and Geist of Saint Traft were two of them. I was on the vampire but not the legendary spirit, as my bankroll and confidence were not good enough to speculate on a 20-tix card.

However, the one move that I made based on the results of PT Avacyn Restored was a good one. Increasing Savagery, that was unplayed so far, jumped from 0.1 tix to 0.8-1 tix. Nothing really big here, but it was about a dozen of tix made in two days, a nice little quick flip for a card that was totally under the radar.


Ravnica Block

I don't have perfect memory about the state of Ravnica block with Return to Ravnica and Gatecrash. From what I recall, red- and green-white-based aggro and three-color control (Bant or Esper) were among the top contenders. Obzedat, Ghost Council, Jace, Architect of Thought, Sphinx's Revelation, Supreme Verdict, Loxodon Smiter, Detention Sphere, Mizzium Mortars and Angel of Serenity were among the usual suspects.


 

Unlike with Innistrad Block, the third set, Dragon's Maze, didn't change everything. The core of the control and aggro decks remained similar. Players added Advent of the Wurm and Voice of Resurgence to their arsenal, and Aetherling and Blood Baron of Vizkopa took Obzedat's spot as a finisher in control decks.


 

When PT Dragon's Maze came, none of the Return to Ravnica or Gatecrash cards that were already played spiked, and no new cards from those sets emerged from the PT. Speculating on Angel of Serenity, Boros Reckoner or Obzedat, Ghost Council might even have been a bad idea as they lost some value.

Here again, according to the PT results, quick flips were the best way to grind some tix. Unlike PT Avacyn Restored, the last set of Ravnica block was available online, and all the Dragon's Maze cards spotlighted during the PT spiked for one or two days.

Dragon's Maze was released on MTGO only couple of days before the PT. It is always a balancing act to try to speculate or achieve quick flips on cards in very limited supply and with high prices that are steadily on the decline.

I was able to make a couple of dozen tix with AetherlingBlood Baron of Vizkopa and Deadbridge Chant. This was successful mostly because I didn't wait to sell my positions--the cards were bought on Saturday and Sunday, and flipped on Sunday night or on Monday at the latest.


 

Take a look at some of the Dragon's Maze cards highlighted during the PT. AetherlingBlood Baron of Vizkopa, Legion's Initiative,Deadbridge Chant and Voice of Resurgence all went up by 1 tix or more during this weekend. Only Advent of the Wurm remained relatively flat.

   

 

Theros Block

So, how to turn PT Journey Into Nyx into substantial profits? What is going to be a profitable move?

The examples of the past two Block seasons convinced me that it is pretty hard to find real winners among the two first sets of a block. Overall, the Block format itself is not a very profitable way to invest your tix.

Whatever Theros cards are going to be played at PT Journey Into Nyx, I'll be mostly focused on the JOU cards that receive a little boost, and I'll try to do quick flips only. I will stick to my strategy: buying promising cards on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, and selling everything by Monday night at the latest.

At most, and similarly to what happened to Jace, Architect of Thought, the next PT could be a good indication of the future Standard. This is another story entirely, also with implications for speculation.

If you are more of a player, and know better than me which cards are likely to be played in the Theros Block deck lists, you may have an advantage. In my case, I'll follow the coverage and take a look live since PT Journey Into Nyx is in Atlanta, where I live. See you there!

Thank you for reading,

Sylvain Lehoux

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