Welcome back, readers and fellow speculators!
While I know that the Battle for Zendikar (BFZ) release is still a ways away, anticipation is already starting to rise. Nothing shows this more than the deflation of soon-to-be-rotating cards. We see previously $20+ staples plummeting to under $5 and staying there for months before rotation. While it's plausible that some of these cards get a minor bump should their respective decks have a big showing one weekend, these prices are likely to stay or continue to drop a bit as we near rotation.
So while it hurts to look over your binder of the previous block's staples and see that they are much lower than just six months ago, it's important not to let this get you too down...it means all the staples are much cheaper and you can begin to target your longer-term speculation targets.
One mistake a lot of people make is assuming that as we near rotation prices will continue to drop and waiting until right before or after rotation to start picking up speculation targets. If you have a very large playerbase around you, this may work fine and allow you to maximize potential future profits. However, if you're like me and your playerbase isn't as big, you need to start targeting your cards a bit earlier.
Many players ship them off to buylists to recoup whatever they can before rotation, and your competitors are also working off a smaller pond (where there are only so many fish). This style of speculation may also limit your "future Standard" speculation targets because once spoilers start hitting any new synergies can cause major price changes in Khans block cards.
First let's make sure everyone knows exactly what all is rotating out of Standard when Battle for Zendikar hits.
- Born of the Gods
- Journey into Nyx
- Magic 2015
That's four sets and a good amount of the card pool. This means Standard will likely see a pretty big shakeup. It's important to review what archetypes die at rotation so we can get a feel for which Standard-legal cards may drop when they lose their home in decklists.
- Devotion decks - With the loss of Nykthos and the other cards that relied on devotion strategies we'll likely see a major shift away from this type of deck.
- Constellation decks - With Theros, the designated enchantment block, rotating out, Constellation loses its entire core. The minor enchantment theme in Magic Origins is likely too weak to support this deck moving forward.
- Heroic decks - This Tier 1 archetype was the latest iteration of the hexproof decks of old (though instead of the creatures having built in protection and the player playing spells to make them bigger, they grow bigger simply by playing protection spells). Like Constellation it was heavily reliant on a block mechanic that disappears entirely.
Surviving Archetypes That Take a Hit
- Abzan Control - The loss of Elspeth, Sun's Champion, Thoughtseize, and Hero's Downfall means that any future variants of this deck will have to rely on very different means of control. The biggest loss at this point is likely Elspeth, who provided a strong controlling presence (the ability to board-wipe or make chump blockers for days) and win condition (her ultimate typically ended the game). None of the planeswalkers that will remain at rotation can fill this void currently, so the archetype will likely revert back to more of a midrange deck.
- G/R Ramp decks - While Stormbreath Dragon has fallen in and out of favor, it was still one of the big components of this archetype. With the printing of Dragonlord Atarka, Stormbreath lost some of its luster; however, haste is one of the most relevant abilities in racing situations and he's one of the few cost-efficient dragons as of late to have it. Another major component to lose is Sylvan Caryatid, which acted as a virtually untouchable mana rock that could block small creatures if needed. The loss of Elvish Mystic is another huge loss for this archetype as having 2-3 mana dorks in the first few turns allowed for quick Atarka's.
- Sultai Control - While the deck still maintains all its delve spells, similar to Abzan Control it's losing a lot of early game interaction (Thoughtseize, Hero's Downfall, and Bile Blight). It also loses Satyr Wayfinder which was a huge boon in fueling fast delve spells and hitting necessary land drops.
- Blue-based Control - The blue-based control variants (Esper and U/W mainly) lose both Dissipate and Dissolve and are left with Clash of Wills as their only real viable "counter everything" spell--which is a huge problem for the archetype. Control decks in the new format will likely have to be built around Silumgar's Scorn, which carries heavy deckbuilding restrictions.
What This Means
Obviously cards that are still legal but heavily support these archetypes will drop in value and demand (unless BFZ re-introduces the archetype).
Dig Through Time (as powerful and awesome as it is) may see a bit of a drop as many of the cheap efficient spells leave the format (and we have the highest amount of options when the card pool is biggest). It may be more difficult to run the full playset in a deck and I see many control decks cutting them down by one or two.
We will likely also see a drop in Ugin, the Spirit Dragon usage, as control decks often take a back seat at the beginning of any new format. We are also losing both of the three-mana sweepers (Drown in Sorrow and Anger of the Gods), so aggro decks will likely flourish at the start of the format. The best sweeper (as it stands) sits at the four-drop slot. We're losing both Scouring Sands and Circle of Flame, which were efficient answers to weenies and tokens.
Surviving Archetypes That Gain
- Mono-Red loses a lot of its burn spells (Stoke the Flames, Searing Blood, and Lightning Strike), but it also loses some of its biggest challengers (the three-mana sweepers and Courser of Kruphix).
- Jeskai Tokens - Tokens decks lose Raise the Alarm, but keep Hordeling Outburst, Secure the Wastes, Dragon Fodder, and Hangarback Walker. Like with Mono-Red, they benefit from the rotation of Scouring Sands, Circle of Flame, Anger of the Gods, and Drown in Sorrow. The fact that Secure the Wastes is an instant and allows the token players to recover immediately after a big expensive sweeper implies it might be a solid choice moving forward. The biggest challenge for this deck may be the loss of the scrylands (which helped secure its manabase), though I can easily see this moving to R/W Tokens, with or without a blue splash for the Jeskai Ascendancy/Treasure Cruise package.
Cards I Like Moving Forward
- Sorin, Solemn Visitor - When in doubt, bet on planeswalkers, especially with Hero's Downfall rotating. Sorin can provide a steady (albeit slow) stream of threats against control decks, but most importantly he provides a repeated source of "mass" lifelink, which can completely turn around a game in which players are racing.
- Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker - Again, cheap (sub $5) planeswalkers are usually a pretty safe bet. The fact that we lose Stormbreath Dragon also opens up the five-drop slot for the G/R ramp decks and the fact that Sarkhan himself turns into a dragon means he can turn on the powerful "dragon matters" cards from DTK.
- Zurgo Bellstriker - Barring a reprint of Goblin Guide in BFZ, this will likely remain one of red's best one-drops (sharing that honor with Monastery Swiftspear and to some extent Lightning Berserker). Coming from the third set in Khans block means there are likely fewer of them in circulation than any Khans rares. At $2.5 there's still plenty of upside, though I doubt he's more than a $5 card.
- Secure the Wastes - As mentioned above, I see token decks making a big resurgence come rotation and this is the type of card that fits well in a token shell and doubles as a control finisher. Another $2.50 card, there's plenty of upside and it too is a third set rare.
- Monastery Mentor - Another card that could easily fit in multiple archetypes, the card has proven itself in every major format all the way to Vintage. It's currently sitting near its all-time low (around $14) and likely has the most upside of any card on this list (coming from a second set that was quickly overshadowed by its predecessor).
These are cards that I consider more of a gamble (i.e. they have proven themselves yet, but have potential.)
- Sarkhan Unbroken - As I said, planeswalkers are often a good bet. While this is only the second tri-color planeswalker (the first being Nicol Bolas), his plus ability is very strong, his minus ability is strong and can protect him, his ultimate can either be irrelevant or very powerful depending on the deck he's played in. The biggest question mark is whether a Temur deck that can use him materializes in Standard.
- Orbs of Warding - First, I'll preface this one with an acknowledgement that I'm already 60+ deep on this card. The hexproof is very powerful against burn, discard spells, some planeswalkers' abilities (Ashiok comes to mind, though she rotates with BFZ) and Sphinx's Tutelage. The damage reduction ability is hugely relevant against token and thopter decks, as well as rush decks like Mono-Red. They are not legendary and stacking the creature damage reduction can often lock opponents out of the game.