Insider: The Floor on Modern Decks, or Why Cursecatcher Is $9 Now

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Markets move in unconscious ways. Today, we're going to talk about the way that Modern decks get priced. Nobody consciously sets a benchmark, but the market moves in very predictable ways to make cards go up in value. My theory is this: the average Modern player has an amount they'll buy into the format at, and a deck priced below that threshold tends to rise up to that amount.

My best estimate for that price is $400. I'll show you how I got there and how you can use this to profit on future Modern market movements.

A brief history lesson on the "budget" decks of Modern

It depends on how far you want to go back in Modern, but there are a bunch of decks that were once inexpensive to build. Banish the thought of anything with Tarmogoyf, but decks like Splinter Twin were darned cheap at Modern's inception. Lately, we've seen so-called budget decks become much more expensive. A great resource to get a handle on this is the MTGGoldfish metagame list (and be sure to click to paper prices). Here are some short examples.

  • Burn, once the $60 special, now totes $32 Goblin Guides and 7-8 fetches, which are $80-350 on their own. Lava Spikes are $3, Rift Bolts are $2.50.
  • Bloom Titan had no fetches and no shocks. Once it gained traction, it rose from a $150 deck to over $600 now, despite lacking any "format all-star" cards like Tarmogoyf, Cryptic Command or Dark Confidant.
  • Affinity averages $680 these days. When Modern started, one had to buy Arcbound Ravagers at $20 apiece and the rest of the deck was reasonable. Now, prices have shot up.

Nefarious dealer plots don't exist

This is happening because Modern is becoming more popular and people will still buy the decks, even if it costs way more to do it.

This isn't some scheme of speculators and dealers, either. Remember that dealers were happy to sell Amulet of Vigor at $1 for years. Dealer logic goes like this: customers keep asking for Amulet at $3, what happens if I price at $4? Are people still buying? If they are, raise it to $5. At some point, too few people will pay an increased price and it'll stop gaining. Meanwhile, people who have cheap copies will dump theirs. I know, this is basic economics, but we have to lay out some ground rules to see how it works.

The key is that those actions above are distributed among the whole Magic finance ecosystem. I don't need to start listing my Amulets at $1 if the market is paying $4 for them, for example. I can watch the price even out over time and then list my copies, or I can undercut the market without doing work to find out what the basic price is. That's because the prices of Magic cards are public and that makes this all pretty efficient.

If a deck becomes popular, all of its elements tend to slowly gain like this. This phenomenon happens on all the cards. A dealer sells a lot of a card and then increases its price. Another dealer pre-emptively increases prices on staples by a few percent. This repeats itself over and over. The players who complain about buying Deceiver Exarch at $2 will turn around the next week and brag that they paid half of what the market wants for them now.

When budget decks get popular, they don't stay budget.

Travis Woo scored a great deal of his early success by popularizing the Living End deck. It cycled a bunch of creatures and then cascaded into Living End, bringing them all back. The only expensive card in the deck was Fulminator Mage, which was $4 or $5 at the time. Travis wrote a series of articles on the deck and the Mage just took off in price. It was one of the few rares in the deck and also one of the oldest. Naturally, the market started asking for more of them.

Living End pushed Fulminator Mage up to $50. It did that because enough people wanted to play it that the whole deck saw increased demand. People can justify buying rares at higher prices, so the rares went up in price.

Look at Horizon Canopy in Bogles. Look at Prismatic Omen in Scapeshift. These cards went up because people wanted to get those decks, and the market was willing to let those prices ride way up. If a deck is $150, it's a steal of a deck to build in Modern.

Those deals don't last long. That's one reason Fulminator Mage hasn't dropped to the $6 we were hoping for. People are still willing to pay $25, knowing it was so much more expensive a few months ago.

R/G Tron is our latest example of a budget deck bursting.

R/G Tron was on the fringes at the beginning of Modern in 2011. It was mostly ignored, since the format was stupid with combos at the time. After a while, the deck gained some traction among people who wanted to play with battlecruisers. Grove of the Burnwillows was $12 at the time and saw no play in Modern and light Legacy play. Karn Liberated was $14. The deck could be assembled for about $150, and people quietly put it together as a budget list for a number of years.

Lately, the deck has gotten a lot of attention and play. Pilots have done well with it; R/G Tron has made a few good GP and SCG appearances, which it needed to see to go up in price.

Over time, the elements of the deck have gone up. Grove shot up from $25 to $40 in January of 2014, for example. Karn dropped from a high of $55 to his current $42 on the reprinting announcement. All of this combines to show that the deck has been gaining value over time and that the budget deck is now worth two car payments.

Speculating on New Decks and Trends

The only premiere deck in Modern right now around $400 is Merfolk. Most other decks are at least $600. That tells me that the staples of Merfolk, things like Aether Vial and Mutavault, still have room to increase. Silvergill Adept and Master of the Pearl Trident can yet rise. Bear in mind that Merfolk itself was a budget deck--but our titular Cursecatcher rose to absorb that player money that was ready to invest in the deck.

This brings me to Goblin Piledriver and the cards surrounding it in a hypothetical Goblins list. I've seen people jumping on cards like Warren Instigator without researching previous successful Goblins lists. The few I've seen don't even run Instigator. Few have Aether Vial. Goblins in Modern is more of a token deck than the Legacy list. That means that a card like Legion Loyalist can shine where it would be ignored elsewhere.

It also means that Goblins will see across-the-board price increases with success. Goblin Chieftain, Goblin Grenade and Spikeshot Elder are the cards to target if Goblins sees good results. They're from older sets and they're cheap. Goblins, as a deck without Piledrivers, is about $150 if you don't want fetchlands. That price isn't going to last if people adopt it and do well with it. And for the record, I think Goblins is a bad idea in Modern when it has to compete with Affinity for crazy plays.

Putting it together: evaluating decks and not cards

There seem to be three tiers in Modern.

Emerging decks and budget lists. These are the $400-and-under decks. They're Merfolk, Burn, things like Mono-Black Rack. I've seen a sweet Twiddle deck floating around that fits this category. These are the unloved decks that only get attention when they've won something big. Don't underestimate them, though--Bogles, Tron and other staples came through this category.

Decks with Zendikar fetchlands. These lists run at least $600, due to their manabase alone. Twin used to be this cheap and we've seen Goyf-less Junk decks that ran this price for awhile. If Battle for Zendikar includes enemy fetches, I'd invest heavily in the other cards in decks like Junk, Jund and Twin. There's a price memory for paying a lot more.

Decks with fetches and Tarmogoyfs/Cryptic Commands. This is the marquee level of Magic deck construction. Jund will run you $1,800 to build. Strangely, at this level a fetchland reprint won't cause me to bank on the other staples. This is crazy to say, but $800 is reasonable for a Modern deck and $1,200 isn't. We might still see cards like Raging Ravine shoot up to compensate, though.

If you're interested in a deck that has done well lately, look at how much it costs to put together. MTGGoldfish and MTGTop8 will both display the cost to buy a list from TCGPlayer.

When you look at the Goryo's Vengeance deck, is it any surprise that the cards shot up in value? If we set aside the $200 for a playset of Blood Moons (barf), then the deck is $600 right now. Previously, you could have had it for about $350. Thus, the market prices everything upward after a success.

Yeah, Goryo's Vengeance is $45, but you could have still made out on Worldspine Wurm going from $3 to $5 or Through the Breach going from $12 to $25 or even Nourishing Shoal, going from nothing to $10. So much of that deck was poised to rise, it was just a matter of selecting a few unique cards that didn't see other play and investing in them.

If you approach a new deck hype with the goal of buying cards if it's under $400-600 already and targeting unique cards, you'll do well. It doesn't matter the rarity at this point. So many bulk mythics cry when they look at Heritage Druid. The rising tide of success raises all boats. You don't have to get the most expensive card going in, either. You might conclude that Simian Spirit Guide is underpriced at $3.50.

There's nobody to blame for a card shooting up before you bought it.

Modern drives prices quickly and savagely these days. My best advice to you as a player is to get the sets of cards you need today. You don't want to be stuck wishing you bought Blood Moon when it was only $18. The market is going to quickly price a new deck or hyped card.

If you see a deck that costs under $400 and it's doing well, scoop up the elements. If the deck is $600, target more selectively. If it's over $1,000, only get cards that look newly essential. There's not much to be made at the high end.

While I'm not an economics major, I've based this on years of playing and speculating in Modern. There's doubtless something I've missed and I'd like to hear from you in the comments section!


10 thoughts on “Insider: The Floor on Modern Decks, or Why Cursecatcher Is $9 Now

  1. I disagree with the premise that Living End is the reason Fulminator Mage became a $40+ card before its reprinting in MM2015. Fulminator Mage is a powerful sideboard card in Jund, Grixis, and UR Delver decks, and it answers Tron and Amulet Bloom, two rising stars in the modern scene.

    1. I remember playing it as a 1-of in Melira Pod back in the first few months of Modern, but it was probably $4 at that time. I seem to remember Living End getting popular before it really saw 4-of adoption in Jund sideboards. It’s definitely still in demand, but my premise was that it was Living End that originally pushed it up and not Jund.

  2. What’s the revive all goblins effect in standard? Correct me if I’m wrong, I don’t think Patriarch’s bidding is modern legal …

    1. GREAT question, I wish I answered it in the article! It helped Burn a lot, since the deck can splash for Boros Charm or Atarka’s Command more inexpensively. Outside of that, there were few decks that benefited directly because the enemy colors are the strongest in Modern.

      Splinter Twin comes to mind. While the Khans lands made the manabase potentially $400 cheaper, so many other elements of that deck have risen since. I look at Exarch hitting $4 and Snapcaster pushing north of $70 as examples. I’d say that the price-of-deck threshold only dipped for awhile until the market probably corrected it right back up.

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