Insider: Speculating on <> Mana in Modern

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(Warning: Here Be Spoilers!)

Between the Magic community's excitement over a massive Oath of the Gatewatch leak and Wizards' less-than-excited response, it's been a busy week for Magic fans! We've confirmed a new Kozilek, reprints of multi-format staples like Wasteland and Horizon Canopy, and finally resolved the forum and reddit brawls about <> mana. Plus we get the long-awaited Barry's Land.

Between the cards themselves and their likely impact on Modern, count me among the excited investors.

Modern players are no stranger to the Eldrazi or colorless ramp decks. Emrakul, the Aeons Torn has been popping in and out of Modern decks for years, especially in the format mainstay of R/G Tron.

Tron has always been a Modern fixture, but we've seen a notable uptick in the Urzatron lands over 2015. In part, metagame shifts and counter-shifts around BGx midrange decks are to blame. In another part, it's due to the strength of linear decks with offbeat interaction axes.

Whatever the reason, R/G Tron is here to stay, which means Modern will always have a top-tier home for new Ancient Stirrings targets. And let's not forget Affinity, Lantern Control, and the Timmy-tastic B/x Eldrazi decks creeping around the MTGO Leagues, all of which welcome Oath's new <> mana and related mechanics.

In today's article, we'll look at a few existing Modern cards that are likely to rise after Oath hits tournaments. Some of these cards are already on the move and have been since those first blurry images of Kozilek appeared on Twitter, but there's still plenty of profit to be found if you move quickly. We'll go over the existing cards that might increase and the new Oath releases that could drive spikes.

Eldrazi Temple and the Surrounding Landscape

If you thought we'd start off an Oath speculation article with a boring R/G Tron deck, then you haven't seen Wasteland Strangler in action as part of B/x Eldrazi strategies. That's right: Wasteland Strangler. In Modern.

Strangler might be one of the more exciting creatures in the new Eldrazi lists, but the real engine (and chance for financial profit) comes in the deck's manabase. Dust off those old tradebinder fillers, because they're about to enjoy a renaissance.

Old Lands for New Eldrazi

We've seen a few B/x Eldrazi builds around MTGO in December, but before we get to the speculation potential of these cards, we need to assess the deck's viability.

As I've mentioned in other articles, it's really easy to follow the siren song of Modern hype without considering metagame context (see Ensnaring Bridge's recent spike for an example of this). We don't want to spend good money on bad decks, so before you get too excited about the 50 Eldrazi Temples you've been hoarding since Rise of the Eldrazi, let's make sure the strategy is actually viable.

B/x Eldrazi's Viability

Built around a black core, B/x Eldrazi combines discard staples such as Thoughtseize and Inquisition of Kozilek with a big-mana ramp plan. Expedition Map finds your critical lands. Nihil Spellbomb and Relic of Progenitus ensure opponents play fair, while also digging for more engine pieces and creating fuel for your Eldrazi processor creatures.

Your goal is to curve from this early disruption into the exile-hungry Wasteland Strangler and Blight Herder around turns 3-5. After that, the win is just an Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger or Void Winnower away.

With all these synergies, Cthulhu's horde is more than capable of shifting roles from ramp to midrange, from midrange to control, and back again to whatever is needed.

Lands are integral to this fluidity. A turn one Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth fires off the midrange Thoughtseize. Then drop the turn two Eye of Ugin and a lone Relic, and you can exile one card from a graveyard to fuel a follow-up Strangler. Modern is packed with aggro decks relying on cheap creatures, and this Strangler line rips that opening to shreds.

Taking on Jund, Grixis Control, or any of Modern's fairer decks? Wish them luck as they try to one-for-one a string of Eldrazi tutored off Eye of Ugin. Maindeck graveyard hate makes the matchups even better, cutting off Snapcaster Mage and Kolaghan's Command from resources.

Add to that anti-combo bullets in discard and Spellskite, and mana-disruption in Ghost Quarter, and you have a deck that's theoretically geared to brawl with any strategy in the format.

Eldrazi clearly look good on paper. What about in real events?

Since December 1st, Eldrazi lists have made five showings in the public MTGO datasets, four of which were 5-0 finishes in League play. That's in the same ballpark as B/W Death & Taxes, Mono-U Tron, B/W Tokens, and even Temur Twin, at least on MTGO. If a new deck is punching in the same weight class as these Modern veterans, that bodes well for its long-term prospects.

On the paper side of the metagame, Eldrazi has made a handful of appearances in the Japanese Modern circuit, chiefly in the hands of Chiharu Tani.

Whether looking at Eldrazi's card choices or its rising metagame profile, we're seeing a deck with significant potential and a lot of early success signs. It never hurts to invest in strategies meeting these benchmarks.

Eldrazi's Financial Upsides

I struggle to imagine an Oath that doesn't improve the Eldrazi deck, either with new cards in the creature type or with <> staples that fit into the deck's manabase.

Either way, you can get ahead of this by investing in the Eldrazi core: the colorless lands highlighted at the start of this section. No matter what Eldrazi strategy you jump aboard (we've seen at least four distinct color pairings and maindecks among the deck supertype), you need Eldrazi Temple and friends to make it work.

Temple, Eye, and Urborg are all under $10 with some of the better cards (Temple) closer to the $1-$2 range. You aren't taking on too much risk in picking these lands up, but you do stand to make a huge profit if the deck takes off. Eldrazi doesn't even have to become Tier 1 or Tier 2 to make big bucks. You just need to count on other players making the same jump to Eldrazi, and the buy-in is so small that you aren't in too much financial danger.

Speaking of lands, most of the successful Eldrazi decks splash one color on top of black, whether for Lingering Souls, Abrupt Decay or Lightning Bolt. With Oath on the horizon, Eldrazi might need lands that fuel both the colored spells and the new <> symbols. Enter the cards you'd forgotten about in a world of fetches and shocks: old-school Ice Age and Apocalypse painlands.

Bring the Pain

If Oath brings good <> cards to augment existing Eldrazi maindecks, painlands will be snap-includes in the manabase. Even if you aren't gambling on the Eldrazi decks, the painlands are still likely to get better in a post-Oath format, which makes them safer bets than the Eldrazi-specific cards.

That said, painlands have seen a ton of reprints since their first appearances. This places a lower ceiling on the painlands than on Temple and company, which is something to consider when deciding where to spend your $8-$10 per playset.

Upgrading R/G Tron

Shifting gears from upstart newcomer to format mainstay, R/G Tron is sure to benefit from new Oath cards, much as it recently enjoyed Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger out of Battle for Zendikar. All the Urzatron lands will receive errata to add <> mana instead of the old {2} or {3}, so if you need an engine to power out the high-end Eldrazi behemoths, look no further than the format's top ramp deck.

Tron and the Urza Lands

Any and all of these cards could increase in the coming months. R/G Tron is already seeing an uptick in popularity over the past few months, jumping from 3.5% in August up to 6.2% in November and seeing regular rises in the interim months. This deck was trending up even before new Ulamog hit the format, making it well-positioned for further metagame increases after Oath.

From a financial perspective, I'm eyeing Ancient Stirrings as a possible big winner. Stirrings sees play in Tron, Amulet Bloom, and Lantern Control, not to mention the splash-green version of the B/x Eldrazi decks we looked at earlier. The sorcery has only been printed once and is absolutely mandatory in the decks that use it, which gives it a high ceiling for a common. If Amulet or Lantern Control gets Oath toys too, the card is going to get even pricier.

Naturally, Urza's lands are also decent targets. As Tron continues to solidify its Tier 1 position, Urza's Tower, Urza's Mine, and Urza's Power Plant will cement their own status as valuable investments. These cards were going to keep rising before Oath. After Oath likely contributes even more one- or two-ofs to the Tron arsenal, the lands become even better.

Have we seen any Oath spoilers that will play into the Tron renaissance? I've got my eyes on Kozilek's Return, an upgraded Pyroclasm that is sure to make waves after Oath.


Poor image quality aside, Return is an instant-speed sweeper that you can find off Stirrings. It costs one more than the archetypal Pyroclasm, but the ability to snag this off your dig and fire it at instant speed is huge.

Return is totally insane in the Affinity matchup, where it blows up the otherwise invincible Etched Champion and hits the sorcery-immune Blinkmoth Nexus and Blinkmoth Nexus. You'll also get value off Return when your mid- and late-game Eldrazi "flash it back" to blow up Tarmogoyf, Gurmag Angler or Tasigur, the Golden Fang. Sign me up for at least two of these in Tron's main 60.

Between new cards like Kozilek's Return and the existing speculation targets such as Stirrings and the Urza's lands, R/G Tron is buzzing with investment opportunities: keep an eye out for more spoilers to sweeten the pot!

Diamonds in the Rough?

Everyone is going to be scouring Oath spoilers for Modern playables, especially in the <> department. Somewhat disappointingly, we haven't seen too many big <> cards yet, but there's enough potential here that you'll want to sneak in on some of these support cards now. Most of the cards we covered today are under $5 with relatively stable floors: you can do much worse than picking up a few playsets and betting on more <> cards to drive metagame shares.

I'm looking forward to the upcoming Oath spoilers and the Modern banlist update at the end of January. Both will give us plenty to discuss as we move into 2016.

Let me know in the comments if you've seen other <>-based Modern investments we should keep in mind. What decks look like they can benefit? What Oath cards might make it big in Modern? Feel free to share and I'll see all of you soon!

2 thoughts on “Insider: Speculating on Mana in Modern

  1. I went looking for eldrazi temples today. It looks like US ebay has been bought out of all cheap sets, lowest starting price was $8.95. There have already jumped in price and sold out or in low supply at multiple dealers. So I did what any one would do. I went international and picked up 14 playsets for a total of $53. May take a little longer to receive them but that is ok.

    1. There were a few Leagues that published since I wrote the article on Sunday, all with 1-3 Eldrazi lists. It looks like people are catching on before this stuff gets to print! But there are still copies lying around and others would be wise, like you, to pick those up in a hurry. Even if the bubble bursts (They are probably overvalued relative to the deck’s strengths), there’s a lot of room for profit here.

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