Insider: Three Specs in a Linear Modern

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It's time to move on from bans and get back to Modern. Although every metagame development after this point will be situated in the Splinter Twin ban context, we still need to push beyond the ban discussion and return to things we love about Modern: metagame analysis, new decks, and zesty tech.

If you want a Last Word on the Splinter Twin ban, you can check out my Modern Nexus article posting later today. If you're Sick and Tired of banlist conversation, stick around here because we're returning to the metagame and some key pickups in this new format.

Big Players After the Big Ban

As many authors and players have attested, Modern is likely to undergo a short-term shift towards linear decks. We saw a similar trajectory back in September and October, when Twin's retreat saw a temporary uptick in Affinity, Burn, Infect and Zoo variants. We are also seeing early signs of this movement in a pair of tournaments reported on Reddit, featuring these same decks along with R/G Tron and B/x Eldrazi.

Ultimately, Pro Tour Oath of the Gatewatch will decide Modern's post-ban landscape, but these initial datapoints (coupled with extensive theorizing) suggest we are looking in the right direction.

This means we also need to look to these linear decks for short-term profit potential. Although Modern is likely to evolve beyond an immediate linear shock, we won't be able to identify this later evolution for some time. Linear staples, however, are hotter than ever before.

Today, I'm going to look at three cards I've had on my investment radar since even before the Splinter Twin banning. Modern's 2016 future has significant uncertainty, but the upside and ceiling of these three cards is a much surer bet.

1. Spoils of the Vault

Remember Ad Nauseam combo? Grand Prix Charlotte viewers will surely look back on Darien Elderfield's 5th place finish with fond nostalgia. Or mild annoyance, if you're not a fan of Modern's linear menagerie. Either way, it's hard to deny Ad Nauseam's power in an unprepared metagame, which is exactly where we find ourselves today.

From an investment standpoint, Ad Nauseam, Lotus Bloom and Angel's Grace all promise some value if the deck takes off, but the card I'm most interested in is the aggressive Spoils of the Vault.

Spoils has all the trappings of a breakout speculation if its home deck enjoys a breakout performance. It's a Mirrodin rare, which means an old card in a set with no mythics. It has also never seen a reprint, unlike similar Mirrodin money-makers like Oblivion Stone and Chalice of the Void. Even without any history of price increase, these metrics alone would make Spoils a possible steal.

Fortunately for those with Spoils of the Vault in stock, the powerful tutor did have such a spike in its price record. Following Elderfield's Charlotte finish, Spoils leaped from around $1.20 to the $4.30 range.

If this price change could happen after a single Top 8 finish with minimal metagame presence, Spoils could be due for an even bigger jump following a major win at Pro Tour Oath of the Gatewatch or the subsequent Grand Prix events in March.

Spoils Price Chart

Spoils has been falling since Elderfield's finish, but a single notable showing would reverse this. 2016 is ripe for such a turnabout. Before the ban, Ad Nauseam suffered from an uncertain URx Twin matchup and a downswing in one of its favored opponents, Burn.

After the ban, Twin is gone, Burn is likely at its zenith, and R/G Tron is bigger than ever. This is a favorable environment for the combo strategy, and sideboarded Leyline of Sanctity will handle most B/x Eldrazi woes you encounter. The Infect matchup remains awful, which could undermine Ad Nauseam's chances if Blighted Agent and friends slink up to the top of the post-ban pile, but the risk on Spoils is so low that it's likely worth the dollars.

Everyone is far too worried about Affinity, Burn, R/G Tron, B/x Eldrazi, and possible Twin successors to be thinking about Ad Nauseam. Buy in on deck staples now and just wait for combo players to reprise Elderfield's success.

2. Inkmoth Nexus

Ladies and gentlemen. Moderners and Magic investors. I want someone to explain to me why this card still has 23 copies available on as I'm writing this article. You entrepreneurs are either missing your cues or there has been some leaked information about a Modern Infect Event Deck.

Unless it's the latter, go out there right now and clean house on any available copies of this Affinity and Infect mainstay. You can't play the decks competitively without Inkmoth Nexus and these strategies are likely to rack up impressive mileage in the coming months.

I've mentioned Inkmoth in many of my recent articles, including last week's piece on the Twin banning aftermath, and I'll continue to do so until their retail price is no longer profitable or a reprint is confirmed. If Glimmervoid can climb to the $40 bracket off Affinity and Lantern Control, you can bet Nexus can get there off Affinity and Infect. The infector doesn't even benefit from a Modern Masters reprint!

From a metagame perspective, Affinity's worst matchup in 2015 was easily URx Twin. Splinter Twin has gone the way of the Birthing Pod, which means Affinity's greatest adversary is gone and the Modern field is ripe for the picking. As I've written about in previous Modern Nexus metagame breakdowns, Affinity has been a Tier 1 deck throughout all of 2015, seeing shares as high as 12% at times.

If that can happen in a URx Twin world, imagine what will happen with Twin gone and with Infect also picking up ground in a Twinless field.

Inkmoth Nexus Enablers

Honestly, the only reason to stay away from Inkmoth is if you are paralyzed by the prospect of an Infect Event Deck. This is definitely not an impossible scenario.

Infect dodged a ban bullet in the January 18th update, and even if this wasn't for sinister marketing purposes, it suggests the deck could be a strong top-tier Event Deck option. The deck has a diverse distribution of cards across the rarity spectrum, and budget versions can be just as viable as better ones. All of this might point to a pending Event Deck nod.

That said, there's already (more than) enough Modern hype around the Pro Tour. It is more likely Wizards would wait on an Event Deck release announcement until the March Grand Prix weekend, instead of spilling the beans during the Pro Tour. Or maybe they use the Pro Tour as a springboard for the Event Deck, knowing a captive audience is in attendance.

Even if this happens, you are guaranteed to make money off Inkmoths in the next 2-3 weeks. If it doesn't happen, however, you'll easily multiply your investment by 150% to 200% in the early months of 2016. It's up to you if you think this is worth the risk, but as we know, Modern speculation goes to the bold.

3. Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth

I've been playing Modern since 2011, and I don't remember a breakout deck that caused so many spikes across so many cards in such a short time frame. Eye of Ugin went nuclear from $4 to $34 in the course of one and half months. Inquisition of Kozilek, already looking to push well past $15, is now over $20. Even the humble Relic of Progenitus is now a $4 common!

Hype has been such a driver in these price changes that it's hard to find anything else worth buying. All the staples have already been picked clean across the online and local store markets. That said, I think there's one more card which has not yet reached its peak: the third piece of the so-called Eldrazitron.

Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth combines with Eldrazi Temple and Eye of Ugin to form the midrange/ramp hybrid's engine. These are the cards which enable turn two Wasteland Stranglers and turn three Oblivion Sowers. Urborg in particular ensures the deck can play both the midrange Thoughtseize and Inquisition angle while always threatening the big ramp angle.

Urborg is currently hovering around $15, buoyed by a Magic 2015 reprint of its Planar Chaos original. Can the land get any higher given this circulation? I believe it can and again, I look to Glimmervoid as a similar example. The original Mirrodin run of Glimmervoid was actually larger than the Planar Chaos run of old Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth, so on this initial count, Urborg seems to have better upside than the Affinity staple.

It's hard to compare the Modern Masters and the Magic 2015 runs, but my suspicion is Magic 2015 had more packs than did the limited-printing Modern Masters set. This would be a strike against any financial ground gained by Urborg from its Planar Chaos edge. Moreover, Affinity will probably always see more play than B/x Eldrazi, underscoring a more consistent demand schedule for Glimmervoid.

That said, B/x Eldrazi has a major publicity dimension that veteran Affinity lacks. Also, the space between Urborg's current high of $15-$20 and Glimmervoid's tag of $40-$45 is considerable. As long as Urborg settles anywhere in the middle, you make money.

I expect we'll see lots of B/x Eldrazi at the Pro Tour and in the coming months, and I would be shocked if Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth could not sustain a $25-$30 value. You'll need to put more money into this investment than into a steal like Spoils of the Vault (or Eye of Ugin at the beginning of the Eldrazi price shocks), but the return could be big if the deck pays off in February.

Processing the New Metagame

While B/x Eldrazi is processing all your exiled creatures and lands, I'll be processing the metagame data from upcoming Star City Games events and similar regional tournaments. Hopefully we'll start amassing enough data to start drafting a proper picture of a Modern without Splinter Twin. Unless our Modern understanding is more obsolete than we thought, however, linear decks and their staples are likely to be huge in the new Modern.

What other cards are you eyeing as we enter the Pro Tour season? How do you feel about Ad Nauseam, Infect, Affinity, and B/x Eldrazi as February opens? Any last words on the bans yourself before we turn the page on that chapter?

Come find me in the comments and I'll see all of you next week!

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