Insider: Five Modern Pickups After Battle for Zendikar

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Modern players are rarely satisfied with new sets. I remember the outcry against the supposedly overpriced delve spells back when Khans of Tarkir hit shelves. A few months later, Treasure Cruise and Dig Through Time joined cards like Deathrite Shaman on the banlist.

Meanwhile, Tasigur, the Golden Fang and his Zombie Fish friend, Gurmag Angler, reshaped the format around the mighty Grixis color pairing.

Let's just say it's hard to evaluate new cards. Battle for Zendikar is certainly no Khans of Tarkir or Fate Reforged, but the set still has a few gems that are worth Modern players' time.

More importantly, some of these cards are likely to drive the prices of older Modern cards, creating a few investment opportunities for enterprising Modern players.

Looking for the next big thing

Before we dive into some spicy Modern purchase targets, I want to take a minute and introduce myself to all of you at Quiet Speculation.

I've been involved in Modern since the format's birth in 2011, both as part of online communities and as an avid player. This has included moderating the MTG Salvation Modern forums from 2013 through the present, where I do extensive work on metagame tracking and deck tiering for the Modern playerbase.

More recently, I co-founded the Modern Nexus website where I now work as Editor in Chief. We publish articles on all things Modern, most notably by collecting tournament finishes from across the world to get a complete picture of Modern's metagame.

I've written extensively on Modern prices and finance before and am excited to be joining the Quiet Speculation team to bring this information to the QS readership. You can expect my articles to have a mix of investment advice, rising deck alerts, metagame discussions, and general Modern finance analysis.

If you want to get ahead of the next Gilt-Leaf Palace buyout or invest in a rising deck before it takes off in popularity (and price), then these articles will give you an edge on the rest of the Modern competition.

Enough introductions: let's get to Battle for Zendikar.

Whenever a new set comes out, smart Modern investors need to analyze both the new cards and the old cards that promise to increase in value. Even weaker sets invariably lead to speculation, buyouts, and even sustained price increases in older cards.

Whether you are a player who wants to try a new deck or an investor who wants to make smart purchases, it's important to stay on top of (or ahead of) these trends.

Today, I want us to look at five Modern-legal cards that are poised to gain from Battle for Zendikar's release. I'll also talk about the Modern metagame trends driving these card prices to make sure you have the format-wide context before you make any purchases.

5. Ancient Stirrings

ulamogtheceaselesshungerAlready a mainstay cantrip in R/G Tron and Amulet Bloom, Stirrings saw a sharp price increase in June 2015 due to its performance in these two decks.

Ali Aintrazi was one of the driving forces in this increase, winning the SCG Invitationl with R/G Tron and reminding players how strong the Urzatron ramp deck was in a metagame shifted too heavily towards Jund. The Amulet Bloom craze drove Stirrings' price even further, with many pilots investing in the combo deck following a format-wide discussion on its strengths in Modern.

Grand Prix Oklahoma City added a new layer to the Stirrings narrative in Lantern Control. When Zac Elsik took down the entire tournament with his innovative Lantern of Insight/Ghoulcaller's Bell list, Stirrings gained another competitive home.

Between Elsik's high profile finish and the existing credibility of both R/G Tron and Amulet Bloom, the old Zendikar block common was already a strong pickup even before Battle for Zendikar cards promised to drive it up even further.

Tron pilots are reporting early success with Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger, as well as interest in Titan's Presence (particularly on the Mono Blue lists that have seen less press in recent months).

Although these cards are hardly the second coming of Wurmcoil Engine, Stirrings will only improve as more colorless monsters and spells get released. This makes Stirrings a strong investment both for players who eventually want to get into Tron and/or Bloom, and for players who want to capitalize on both decks' successes.

When analyzing an investment target in Modern, we need to analyze not only a card's financial profile/prospects, but also its metagame position independent of its price tag.

September metagame numbers are very favorable for Stirrings. We are already seeing an uptick in R/G Tron relative to its summer prevalence. Amulet Bloom also enjoyed some under-appreciated success at Grand Prix Oklahoma City, where Jacob Nagro flew under the radar with his 24th place finish.

Then, of course, there's Lantern Control, the breakout deck that everyone wants to play. While everyone else is speculating on their Ensnaring Bridge and Lantern of Insight playsets, get a step ahead and pick up the common cantrip that enables not just one but three powerful Modern decks.

Barring a reprint in a later BFZ set, the card will only go up from its current $3-$3.50 price: take a look at Serum Visions if you want to see what Modern demand can do to the price of even a common.

4. Supreme Verdict

prairiestreamU/W Control was another big winner from the summer of Modern.

For years, Modern control mages turned to Jeskai Control and its different variations over the Lightning Bolt-less U/W Control option. Not even Gabe Nassif's performance at Pro Tour Valencia 2014 drove interest in the deck.

2015 didn't start much better for the Azorius mages, with Grixis Control and the much-hyped Kolaghan's Command stealing the spotlight for months.

The format has changed dramatically since the early summer, including a series of strong U/W Control finishes at the SCG Open in Charlotte, at Worlds 2015, and again at the SCG Open in Cincinnati.

Battle for Zendikar adds a few cards which could see play in U/W Control, including a possible one-of in Blighted Cataract and the fetchable Prairie StreamStream is particularly strong in Michael Segal's version of U/W Control, which relies on Emeria, the Sky Ruin to outgrind opponents.

If you are looking to invest in U/W Control, the best pickup is Supreme Verdict.

Verdict is played in all versions of the U/W Control deck (unlike something like Emeria or Sun Titan) and will only get better as decks shift to more creature-oriented strategies.

At between $3.50-$4.00, the card is incredibly undervalued for one of the best sweepers in Modern. It's particularly well-positioned for a return of any Grixis decks: Grixis Control has suffered a metagame share hit but is sure to return as the format keeps evolving.

The sweeper even has cross-format appeal as a mainstay in Legacy's Miracles deck! From a financial perspective, we're never going to see Verdict keep pace with Abrupt Decay prices (another Return to Ravnica rare), but the card still has a lot of room to grow as more players buy into it.

3. Return to the Ranks

Zulaport CutthroatWhen I think of Return to the Ranks and Rally the Ancestors-style decks, I think of Standard before I think of Modern.

We saw Ray Tautic's Abzan Rally deck score 1st place at the SCG Open in Chicago, and it looks like these mass-reanimation strategies got Modern players brewing, too.

Then fast forward to GP Oklahoma City, where Steve Rubin snagged 14th place with a grindy Return to the Ranks combo deck powered by Abzan Ascendancy and Collected Company.

Modern players are sure to have their eye on the deck since Rubin's finish, and Battle for Zendikar offers the deck a few more weapons it can use to keep taking down tournaments.

This includes a Blood Artist upgrade in Zulaport Cutthroat, and Blisterpod, a straight upgrade from the weaker Tukatongue Thallid.

Cutthroat is the more interesting of the two not because it replaces Artists, but because it can be Artists 5-8 in the deck. Or, should I say, Artist can be Cutthroats 5-8 for the post-BFZ Return Combo players.

It's unclear if these two cards will make Return a solid tier two deck, but with the combo seeing more profile and more support in BFZ, it's a great time to invest in its core engine, especially foil copies you can pick up for under $5.00.

Other investment targets following Cutthroat's and Blisterpod's addition to Return Combo include Teysa, Orzhov Scion (a low-supply rare from an underopened set) and Voice of Resurgence (a Modern sleeper with multi-deck appeal).

2. Knight of the Reliquary

retreattocoralhelmHere's an investment target that has nothing to do with metagame trends and everything to do with new-card hype.

Retreat to Coralhelm is an unassuming enchantment in an otherwise unremarkable cycle of landfall engines. Or it would be, if the collective online Modern Hive Mind hadn't discovered its combo potential with the venerable Knight of the Reliquary.

With a Knight and a Retreat on the battlefield, you can sacrifice a Forest or Plains, get another Forest or Plains, trigger Retreat and untap the Knight, and then repeat the process until Knight is large enough to hit for lethal. Searching for fetchlands effectively allows you to "double up" on untap triggers for Knight, and you can always search for cards like Kessig Wolf Run (another solid investment target here!) to finish off the combo.

Knight plays alongside Retreat in a Bant Midrange shell, complete with Noble Hierarch/Birds of Paradise for mana acceleration, Loxodon Smiter/Geist of Saint Traft for beatdown, and a variety of other options including Collected Company engines and the flexible Commune with the Gods.

Is Retreat Combo (Retreat of the Reliquary? Knight of Coralhelm?) a viable combo deck? I'm really not sure. I've tested the deck and, although its synergies are interesting, Bant has historically struggled in Modern.

Retreat only addresses one of those shortcomings--the lack of proactive win conditions--but not the others: lack of reach in Bolt/Snapcaster Mage, lack of good low-cost removal, etc. This strategy also suffers from the Twin comparison and the age-old question of "Why not just play Twin?"

From an investment perspective, this doesn't matter in the short term. The hype around Retreat Combo is very real, even if the deck is not, which makes Knight a good early pickup.

Indeed, I fear that by the time this article goes to press, Knight may have undergone a buyout and spiked up from its sub-$8.00 range to over $13-$15. If not and you still see copies around your LGS or on eBay, grab those knights as people figure out whether this combo is Modern-worthy.

1. Kabira Evangel

Lantern ScoutModern players have been trying to get Allies to work for as long as I can remember. I wrote an Allies deck feature on Modern Nexus where I charted the deck's recent history, and I remember seeing lists as early as 2013.

Allies saw their biggest success at this month's GP Oklahoma City, where Stephen Perigo's Naya Allies deck punched through a field of Affinity, Twin, and BGx to make it to day two.

Like the lists that came before his, Perigo's Allies leveraged synergies between Collected Company and Hardened Scales, combining them with the old-school Allies we know and love from old Zendikar block.

Also like his predecessors, this included the powerful Kabira Evangel--a rare Ally that has shown up in every single competitive Ally list since the deck first started cropping up on MTGO.

Battle for Zendikar introduced three new cards to Modern that are sure to improve the deck's strategy. This includes a new one-drop Expedition Envoy, an Ally-specific Sliver Hive in Ally Encampment, and, most importantly, a Talus Paladin replacement in the form of Lantern Scout.

Scout is the big player here, giving Allies a turn three source of lifelink to combat Burn and Affinity and adding another Company flip-target to the deck's creature base.

If Allies was making day two at GPs before Scout, I'm excited to see what it can do now.

If you want to play Allies in Modern, you are going to need those Evangels for your army. The Cleric is an invaluable addition, protecting creatures from spot removal and damage-based sweepers like Anger of the Gods, holding the line against larger bodies (provided you have an enter-the-battlefield trigger to give protection), and ensuring a lethal swing when you have a large enough force.

You can find regular Evangels for under $1.00 with ease, and foil copies aren't yet over $5.00.

Even if you have no interest in playing the tribe, know that others will as BFZ block keeps unfolding. Lantern Scout alone is going to push Allies to a new level, and it's only a matter of time before the deck gets its last missing pieces and becomes a powerhouse.

Buy your Evangels now to stay ahead.

Other Modern Pickups?

Set releases are a great time to sneak in key investment targets before the hype train comes into the station. This kind of buy-in is often effective independent of how good the cards/combos/decks actually are in their own right!

Just take a look at Warren Instigator, which still hasn't recovered from its 150% price spike following Goblin Piledriver's printing in Origins, even though Goblins has seen next to zero play in Modern since then.

Here are a handful of random pickups you can look into over the next week or so:

  • Runed HaloRuned Halo / Suppression Field / Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx
    Mono White Enchantments keeps pushing to break into Modern's tier three, particularly with new printings like Starfield of Nyx coming in every set. Stasis Snare is BFZ's addition to the deck, and although it's unclear if this will be much better than the existing enchantment options, it's hard to deny that Enchantments is reaching a critical mass of decent cards. Instant-speed really helps on Snare, and these core Enchantment cards could be decent buy-in targets as the format adopts Snare.
  • Huntmaster of the Fells / Scapeshift
    At about $12 and $22 respectively, these cards are a little higher than I'd be comfortable buying into without a deep pocket. Maybe a lot higher. Then again, Battle for Zendikar just gave Modern's two best Temur decks a powerful new manland in Lumbering Falls, a recurring Lava Spike once you've cleared out the board. Temur Twin enjoyed some success earlier in the summer at GP Singapore, with Scapeshift seeing newfound relevance following Matthew Dugan's 8th place finish at GP Oklahoma City. Temur gains a lot from 1-2 Falls in their maindecks, and Huntmaster/Scapeshift are the two important cards to get if you want to step ahead of an impending Twin/Scapeshift rise.

That's all for this week. What other older Modern cards strike you as important in this post-BFZ world? What other decks stand to gain from our new cards?

Let me know in the comments and I look forward to seeing how Battle for Zendikar fits into our evolving format!

4 thoughts on “Insider: Five Modern Pickups After Battle for Zendikar

  1. Great article and welcome to the team. My only disagreement would be this “This includes a Blood Artist upgrade in Zulaport Cutthroat”, Blood Artist’s ability to trigger on your opponents creatures dying…is likely far more valuable than 1 point of power.

    1. Thanks! I agree that Cutthroat probably isn’t as much an upgrade as I might make it out to be. That said, Return Combo doesn’t kill a lot of enemy creatures and typically wins by going wide: that’s a situation where the extra power can be highly relevant. Also, Cutthroat doesn’t target opponents, which can be relevant in metagames where Leyline of Sanctity sees more play. Overall, you are right that Artist isn’t much worse/better than Cutthroat in many scenarios (indeed, Artist is better against sac-heavy decks like Affinity). The best way to think about Cutthroat is for redundancy, not for being an upgrade.

    1. Glad to hear you enjoyed the article! You can expect many more in-depth Modern pieces throughout the year. Let me know if there’s anything you want to hear more on.

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