Insider: The Impossible Science of Evaluating Cards in a Vacuum – How to Have a Responsible Spoiler Season

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With every new set we get an a thrill-packed spoiler season--cards being pitched at us like each and every one is The Second Coming.

In the not-too distant past, spoilers consisted of a half dozen or so cards, and you saw the rest at a regional prerelease. Now, spoiler season is a two week long commercial that we consume ravenously through a variety of channels and can never get enough of.

These days, Wizards produces enough cards to spoil a new card every single day of the year. And we would still lose ourselves each and every time.

Let's face it: Magic is awesome like that.

With the mountain of spoilers we're burdened, we have the impossible task of evaluating these new cards. Half the problem is that each of them is accompanied by a Trumpet Blast and Angelic Chorus praising the card from on high. Every writer "gifted" an exclusive spoiler is forced to praise whatever turd they're given, whether there's nuts in it or not.

The other half of the problem is the overwhelming wave of hype that drowns out every rational thought we're able to form when evaluating spoilers. How do we filter the tainted lenses of the masses without a Cascade Bluffs?

Some Turds Clearly Stink


This is what a big stinky turd looks like. There is not really a scenario where this card is playable in anything outside of a clunky Scion of the Ur-Dragon EDH deck.

"But you can save up for a really sweet dragon spell!"
-Timmy, Power Gamer

No child, it's terrible. How long does it take for this card to pay off?

  • T1: One mana
  • T2: Zero mana because you're charging your Crucible
  • T3: One mana because you're charging your Crucible
  • T4: FIVE MANA!!!! Quick! Cast Stormbreath Dragon or the mediocre five mana dragon of your choice. Surely it will be enough to make up for three turns of doing absolutely nothing. Surely.

So we know this card is a turd. We know, as a turd, that it will virtually never be worth more than $1, and even that is being generous. Outside of a scenario where Wizards prints a five color dragon that wins the game in one attack, this card simply won't see play.

Some Cards Will Break With the Right Friends


Soulflayer is the type of card that's likely to break and unbreak eventually. Right now the card plays well with a variety of cards showing up in Standard, but there's still some boxes to check off. Slotting Soulflayer directly into the various Whip of Erebos strategies seems like a "gimme", but mostly because everyone forgets we already have a 4/4 for six mana with Delve: Hooting Mandrills.

For Soulflayer to be better than a pack of damn dirty apes, you need creatures with sweet abilities to hit the bin. Obvious Standard candidates include Siege Rhino, Sylvan Caryatid, and Hornet Queen--cards that already play well together in the Abzan Reanimator decks. You could theoretically exile Soul of Theros to grant Vigilance, but you're probably better off paying the mana and getting the big payoff.

There are two cards in Standard that stand to gain by association with Soulflayer - Erebos, God of the Dead and Pharika, God of Affliction. Both of these cards are already playable in Abzan Reanimator to varying degrees, but being able to gobble up extra copies to make indestructible Soulflayers is a promising prospect. Adding two to the devotion count certainly doesn't hurt either.

Once you go into Modern, a format that's always been unfriendly to graveyard based strategies, you hit some synergies with Vengevine, Stinkweed Imp, and Narcomoeba, but there are a lot fewer Tier 1(ish) caliber friends for Soulflayer to play with in Modern than there are in Standard.

In both of these formats, a few boxes getting checked presents a huge opportunity for Soulflayer to become more than a fancy Hooting Mandrills. Much like how Stoneforge Mystic was only seeing play as a one-of in Fauna Shaman decks before Scars of Mirrodin block was printed, the mere printing of a couple cards that pair well with Soulflayer--or the lack thereof--will send his (her?) price rising and falling.

The Painfully Ambiguous

Temporal Trespass

Here's the card that inspired the article. Twitter was ablaze with polarized comments ranging from nonsense about this being the Time Walk to Treasure Cruise's Ancestral Recall. How could we not connect the dots? Humans naturally seek out patterns where none necessarily exist.

Connection or no, we still have to answer the question: is it good?

I think not.

Time Warp costs five mana and only saw fringe play during it's time in Standard. Temporal Mastery costs seven mana and can be cast occasionally for two mana and saw roughly zero play in Standard.

These are our reference points. Temporal Trespass costs as much as eleven but as little as three. Three mana for a time walk does look pretty sweet. But there's a slight problem--it's three COLORED mana.

Which deck in Standard is going to be casting UUU spells easily? Maybe Blue/Black control, but they're already pushing the delve limit between Treasure Cruise and Dig Through Time. If the deck could support more hugely expensive spells with delve, we'd probably see Empty the Pits or Dead Drop showing up.

That's not even taking into consideration that attacking with Pearl Lake Ancient is the deck's only real capitalization on that extra turn.

What if we put it into another deck? Traditionally, Time Warp effects have only shown up in decks that chain extra turns from multiple sources and turbo-lands style decks. So far, the only other source of extra turns in Standard is Ugin's Nexus, and the only sources of mana ramp are far too lackluster to support a traditional turbo lands deck.

So it's unlikely that there is even an archetype that could exist to slot this card into... unless... maybe Narset, Enlightened Master becomes a thing.

We can obviously expect this card to show up in Commander decks, but that's probably not enough to push the price higher than bulk mythic status. Foil copies will probably end up at $7-10 come next October, but this is not a card I would bet anything on, no matter how excited Evan Erwin & company gets about it.

Having said all that, I'm not going to be surprised when I am 100% wrong and this is a dominating Standard. Ambiguity, amirite?

Good, But How Good?

Monastery Siege

These are my favorite cards to evaluate because it's pretty easy.

This card is clearly awesome on so many levels.

The mere concept of a Shaolin Master that spits out students is amazing enough all on it's own, but add in the fact that the card creates hordes of badass little monks is too good to pass up. Despite this card being awesome on multiple levels, they have to start on one of those levels for the preorder price, and they're often wrong.

Monastery Mentor started out at $19.99. Now he's at $29.99 and I would not be surprised to see him climb another $5 before the set hits the market. A $35 price tag is pretty near the $40 "soft cap" we've seen in Standard cards over the past couple of years, so I definitely wouldn't buy in at that as a spec. If you need them to play, then you know what you have to do.


Evaluating cards before seeing them in action is an insurmountable task. Success is simple if you follow a couple simple rules:

  • Use history - understanding history helps us understand the future
  • Make connections - some cards make other cards better
  • Ignore the hype - "the next Jace, the Mind Sculptor" is not a thing that's likely to happen for a long long time
  • Be patient - sometimes there isn't a good spec, don't force it, opportunities will come with patience

Whisperwood Elemental

I'll leave you with a question: What do you think of this guy? Show your work.

10 thoughts on “Insider: The Impossible Science of Evaluating Cards in a Vacuum – How to Have a Responsible Spoiler Season

  1. Whisperwood Elemental! The comparison I draw is to Master of the Wild Hunt, but you trade the removal aspect for mass-removal-insurance and the wolves can become cooler things.

    My first question is to ask “what decks does this fit into?” I’m certain this doesn’t have a home in grindier Abzan Midrange decks – turning your game-winning planeswalkers and versatile removal spells into 2/2s seems less than ideal. The aggro Abzan decks could jam this – the “wolves” turning into Fleecemane Lions or surprise 4/5-tramples feels like a winning proposition. The issue is that 5 mana competes with Wingmate Roc.

    Gruul and Temur decks experience something similar – lots of dudes, so you can often manifest into sweet things, but you’re still competing with smashier [I’m avoiding saying “better” or “worse” during a card analysis, on principle] 5-drops in Sarkhan and Stormbreath Dragon. However, across the board, Gruul/Temur decks benefit way more from manifesting sweet dudes face-up due to the general lack of comes-into-play effects. If this is seeing play, I believe I found the existing archetypes this slots into.

    Second question: does this fit into any new archetypes?

    …*shrug* We don’t have enough info yet.

    Third, and final, question: do EDH players want this? I’d say “potentially.” Someone who’s more in touch with the EDH scene can offer better insight.

    All said, I see this being a solid card in Standard, but not seeing play as more than a 2-of unless Wraths suddenly become much more prevalent. I’d put it in the $3-6 range once the dust settles due to some small demand in certain flavors of green.

    1. My first thought was Huntmaster, he also appeared in a middle small set and was completely underestimated at first.

      I 100% expect Brian Kibler to be playing this card at Pro Tour Fate Reforged

    1. You’ll have to talk with my editor on that one; surely he changed it to something completely incorrect as I would NEVER make the their / they’re mistake that grammar aficionados such as yourself savor pointing out.

      1. Can’t really afford to make mistakes like that for the prices this site charges, Derek. When I’m paying over a hundred dollars a year to read your words, I expect that they are not only accurate and insightful in terms of subject matter, but also grammatically correct. Your fellow authors don’t seem to have this problem, at least on the finance side (I don’t read the strategy articles), and I have previously noticed grammatical errors in your articles–although they’ve certainly gotten better over the past few months. Also, you seem rather defensive about this, so I have to assume that it’s been brought to your attention before now (unless this is a case of tone not carrying over in a written format, although I can sense a lot of sarcasm in the words “…grammar aficionados such as yourself savor pointing out,” so I’m guessing that I’ve got a good impression of your overall tone).

        In any case, I appreciate your writing, and that of the rest of the finance authors here on QS, but when we in the service industry receive critical feedback from our customers, it often comes right before they vote with their wallets–although, the OP seemed very friendly and not at all threatening in his comment.

    2. I hadn’t realized we have a 2nd, free editor. I should start placing grammatical/spelling errors into every article to see if he or she finds them 🙂

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