Insider: Two Cautionary Modern Tales From SCG States

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One of the hardest aspects of cross-referencing metagame and financial data is looking for what's not there. It's easy to browse decks and highlight key finishes, looking for nutty Modern speculation targets that are likely to explode in the coming weeks. It's much harder to see what decks and cards didn't show up, and to analyze those absences in the context of the broader format.

On the spike side, Restore Balance combo is a perfect example of a runaway Modern stock that everyone noticed. Following a respectable 6th place finish at the SCG Premier IQ in Atlanta, deck staples blew up from bulk-rare status to the dreaded "sold out" tag in a matter of hours.

I shudder to see where these prices will land but I can assure you it's a short-lived hype.

Restore Balance to These Prices

Finding the next Restore Balance is often easy. Finding a key metagame absence, however, is not. A few notable Modern decks didn't appear either at SCG States or in the weeks leading up to these events. Their absences are an important indicator for savvy Modern investors.

Today, I want to look at two Modern decks that are long on hype but short on either immediate event results or long-term metagame prospects. These two examples offer an indirect case study on how metagames and markets interact. I'll also provide direct advice on the decks' core cards.

Before we get started, here's an important disclaimer: SCG has not yet published results from 10/19 States events, so it's possible the picture changes once those go up.

Even without those stats, preliminary factors suggest a mismatch between investor excitement and metagame realities. Let's see if we can get an edge on the Modern market by sorting those out.

Lantern Control

Lantern Control might have taken down a Grand Prix under the careful piloting of Zac Elsik, but this deck is nowhere near breaking out in a big way. In the 29 States standings I looked at, I saw only a single instance of Lantern Control: Jonathan Stock brought a close replica of Elsik's list to Utah's States, getting 7th at the event.

Seventh? At only a single event? We're still waiting on 10/19 data, but that's not what we should expect of a list that took down a Grand Prix. It's certainly not what we should expect of a deck that led to one of the quickest spikes in recent memory.

The Lantern Control Core

To be clear, Lantern Control isn't a bad deck. I'd go so far as to call it a good deck, especially in the right pilot's hands. Unfortunately, it's also not a deck that will enjoy widespread popularity or even success, which makes these cards risky investments.

On the one hand, cards like Ensnaring Bridge are low-circulation rares with theoretically high ceilings. Just look at Blood Moon to see that price magnification in action, and Moon actually enjoys more printings than Bridge.

We see similar trends at play in other core Lantern Control cards: Lantern of Insight itself jumped to $5.50 after the GP with only one or two finishes underlying its rise.

On the other hand, the ceiling on Bridge and Lantern is likely to remain a matter for theory and speculation. The deck just doesn't have what it takes to succeed in big metagames. Without that success, it can't see widespread popularity and cards like Bridge will never climb to Blood Moon levels.

What's holding Lantern Control back? One factor is pilot skill. It takes a lot of practice to be good at the deck, and that's not just me tossing in the overused line that leads every deck primer on the internet. You really do need to know the format and your matchups, and many Modern players lack the energy or interest to make that commitment.

Another problem with Lantern Control is the brutal Burn matchup, which can be a major disincentive for players trying the deck out at the local level. New Moderners tend to gravitate towards cheap, top-tier decks like Burn.

If you are trying to run your neat Lantern Control build in a Burn-infested metagame, particularly one full of these recent Modern converts, you're gonna get Burnt. This makes spending $90 on a playset of niche cards a risky proposition.

Lantern Control also suffers from a bunch of incidental drawbacks that collectively bring down its metagame share: splash damage from Affinity hate, cards that don't transfer to other decks, and the complaint that it's boring to play and watch.

None of these suggest Lantern Control can't win another major event, but they seemed to be in full effect over the SCG States weekend.

Recommendation: Steer Clear

If you buy into Lantern Control staples right now, you are likely to see some profit. However, it's likely to be very small and you'll need to sell them quickly.

There simply isn't enough demand to make buying multiple Bridges at $23 per pop worth it. Moreover, the metagame is unlikely to see much more Lantern Control in the future, so its prospects aren't great.

That said, something from Lantern Control like Glimmervoid is a much safer bet because of its overlap with format heavyweight Affinity.

Affinity is currently enjoying tremendous popularity, and that is likely to continue throughout the year. Glimmervoid is integral to Affinity's success and will only go up in price as more Affinity (and Lantern Control!) players use it.

As a general rule, if you can buy into Tier 1 staples that overlap with powerful, fringe decks, you should do so in a heartbeat. Be more cautious with niche novelties like Bridge, and Lantern itself.

If you have them already, hold onto them. If you haven't picked them up yet, wait a bit; they are likely to keep dropping as the metagame proves more hostile to Lantern Control than many supporters foresaw.

Knight of the Reliquary

It seems like the online Magic community can't get enough of the Knight of the Reliquary plus Retreat to Coralhelm combo. Knightfall threads and reports have infested my r/modernmagic and r/spikes feed for weeks. I, for one, am just happy we settled on a palatable (even cool) name for the deck.

The good news is that Knightfall development is ongoing and numerous players have reported success with the deck at a local level. This bodes well for Knight/Retreat players who are still tuning their decks and figuring out the best way to bring the combo to a larger tournament.

The bad news? Knightfall was nowhere to be seen at SCG States, at least not in the first 29 events.

Falling Knightfall Stocks

I'm genuinely optimistic about seeing Knightfall succeed as the year progresses. Indeed, we've already seen at least two successful Knightfall players since October started: 4th place at a 60-player event and 5th place at a 34-player one.

Those were international events, however, so they are unlikely to generate the same kind of buzz we see from the SCG States circuit. This is probably (definitely) a disservice to those pilots and tournaments, but it's an unfortunate reality of the Magic content-sphere, especially the English-language one.

Another unfortunate reality is Knightfall's failures so far at SCG States. Say what you will about a bias towards certain events, but it's hard to ignore the deck's absence from 29 tournaments despite an insane online profile. True, this discounts the more anecdotal tournament reports we've seen on reddit, but overall it's still a small competitive imprint for a deck with such hefty hype.

Based on all this, we need to approach Knightfall pricing, buying, and selling with a mix of caution and optimism.

Looking at the two reported Knightfall finishes above, we see two very different approaches. One build favors Collected Company. The other approaches Knightfall from a midrange angle, replete with Undergrowth Champion, Simic Charm, and other oddball threats. One of my Modern Nexus authors, rising star Trevor Holmes, opted for an Aether Vial build for his version.

All of this is to show that Knightfall is a budding deck with no agreed-upon core. Until that agreement happens, Knight and its buddies are unlikely to enjoy much Modern success and, by extension, much financial growth.

Recommendation: Hold

We've already seen Knight stagnate around the $15 mark. Many retailers are unwilling to lower her price for fear of a breakout performance, but unable to raise it for lack of results.

This trend will continue until Knightfall exhibits a big win. That said, I do think a big win isn't too far outside of Knightfall's future, which suggests players need to sit tight and not buy or sell too much into this climate.

For now, I recommend holding your Knightfall cards, or looking for cheap buy-ins. Don't buy into these current prices, unless you are doing so as an eleventh-hour response to a major Grand Prix news update.

Don't sell out yet, though! It's tempting to get cold feet when a deck isn't doing well but we're still in an off-season and it's too early to tell if Knightfall is a bust or a boom waiting for its time in the spotlight. We should know this by the end of December, but until then, keep on brewing to make Knightfall work for you.

The Next Big Hit?

There will be plenty more to discuss next week, especially once the 10/19 results go up.

There are also lots of positive results to discuss, as opposed to the decks that didn't make the cut. Such a discussion would certainly include the rise in Twin, a scattering of Jeskai wins, lots of Amulet Bloom, Slivers (!), and a wacky Aggro Loam deck packing more Molten Vortex than Seismic Assault.

If you've been paying attention, you should quickly identify this as a potential short-term spike that is unlikely to hold value for long. Tread cautiously.

Hopefully we get enough sweet finishes once the standings update, after which you can be sure I'll revisit this topic for next week.

What were some of the other winners and losers you saw from the 10/18 States? Any movement you saw on the local level, if not the national one? Stories from States to share? I'll check out your comments below and look forward to more Modern lists before next week!

2 thoughts on “Insider: Two Cautionary Modern Tales From SCG States

    1. I would still hold off on that purchase. Lantern Control put up only a single finish during the States circuit (all results are now in), which is just not good enough to justify its prices. I’m sure Bridge will go down and that’s when you want to move in: ideally, right before the GP/Open in November/December.

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