Insider: Deep Modern Specs Before EMN Previews

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Card evaluation is challenging during spoiler season. Without actually testing the cards, many players have no idea how to separate the next Jace, the Mind Sculptor from a Narset, Transcendent. Even isolated testing can lead to misevaluations because testers won't even know the best way to build around a certain card.

This can make for perilous speculation during a preview period, when it's hard to know whether the big breakout will go the way of Thing in the Ice // Awoken Horror or Nahiri, the Harbinger. Thank goodness I got my Things for a mere $7.99 a copy!

Booms and busts from Shadows

Think investment during a preview season is hard? What about before the preview season even begins? Of course, you can't actually buy cards from the unrevealed set, but all the synergistic combo pieces from previous releases are ripe for the taking. There's even more room for such profit in a massive format like Modern, where synergies like Nahiri and Emrakul, the Aeons Torn can mean increases across the board in both combo pieces and supporting cards (e.g. Celestial Colonnade) alike.

On the one hand, this style of preemptive investment gives you a chance to get ahead of any spikes and make big bucks. On the other hand, how the heck can you invest in synergies and combos without knowing any cards in the set? That seems like an even riskier investment than the $19.99 Thing copies I hope none of you bought before Shadows' release.

In today's article, we'll go over a few strategies for investing in older Modern cards ahead of a new release. This will include a few potential pickups for those who want to go deep into pre-Eldritch Moon speculation in the hopes of getting ahead of the hype.

Identifying Set Themes

Even if you don't know a single card in an upcoming set, you can still make some educated guesses about what might be around the corner. Nowhere is this truer than in the second set of a block (after you already have a sense of themes from set #1), and in a set with such clear lore surrounding its storyline. Eldritch Moon fits that bill perfectly.

We're getting our first Moon previews today on Monday courtesy of Jimmy Wong, and rumors have been buzzing for months about how Innistrad's lore and fate might impact card printings. I have no idea whether #TeamEmrakul, #TeamMaritLage, or #TeamCURVEBALL is going to prevail for the coming preview season, but I have a sneaking suspicion the set is going to keep playing on a few big themes we've seen in Shadows already.

Theme 1: The Eldritch Horror Approaches!

Wizards said it, players observed it, Shadows flavor indicated it, and the community has been gossiping about it ever since: something big and scary is coming to Innistrad. What else is Nahiri, the Harbinger going to bring to the plane other than some giant evil monstrosity, whether artifact or creature?

Flavor-heavy Shadows block suggests Wizards would never create a Nahiri ultimate that didn't somehow fetch the block's ultimate villain, which points directly to some kind of Emrakul, the Aeons Torn second-coming in the pending Eldritch Moon. Equally possible is some kind of artifact moon card to emulate Innistrad's silver moon, which we recently learned is actually made of silver.

Here, the key is not to identify Emrakul, Marit Lage, or whatever other entity you are rooting for. The key is that Nahiri is summoning something, and that something is likely to be big.

Fatties coming to Innistrad

If we are to assume Wizards hit a flavor home-run with Nahiri's -8, that also means this creature needs to be the kind of big-bad that might not have Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger's on-cast restrictions. It might just be big and scary enough to win the game on the spot. If so, that bodes well for all the Modern effects which cheat fatties into play, not just Urzatron ramp effects which cast them.

Theme 2: More Werewolves

Innistrad means werewolves, and werewolves means more players trying to get Werewolf Tribal to work. The RGx deck has yet to make a Modern impact, even with such powerful additions as Collected Company last year and Duskwatch Recruiter // Krallenhorde Howler a few months back. Both MTG Goldfish's SaffronOlive and the MTG Salvation brewing community have been hard at work on the deck, but with no strong results so far.

The Modern Werewolves status quo

Thankfully for #WolfPack fans everywhere, Eldritch Moon is sure to see even more lycanthropes added to the existing pool. This doesn't guarantee the strategy's success after set release, but even a few extra cards could push them into Tier 3 territory. Tribal staples like Sedge Sliver have gained value off even untiered performances in their home deck, which is great for all the werewolves that players have hoarded since Shadows' release.

In this theme, we're not looking for a Tier 1 or even Tier 2 werewolves deck. We're just looking for a few cards that make the strategy a little better. There are big margins to be gained on many deck staples, even if the strategy can just start matching Allies, Slivers, Goblins, and other fringe tribal options.

Theme 3: Graveyards Matter

If you play as much MTGO as I do, you've already encountered the Modern Dredge deck. Packed with Prized Amalgams and enough dredgers to please even the most nostalgic Ravnica fans, the Dredge strategy is seeing more and more play as people refine its core 60.

Although no other graveyard cards made a huge Modern impact, we're virtually guaranteed to get more in Moon. With Liliana as the set's poster-lady, and with both the Cecani siblings Gisa and Geralf still causing trouble, it's impossible to envision an Eldritch Moon without more graveyard themes.

I'm not sure whether this means more delirium, madness, Stitchwing Skaab reanimation, or some good old Gravecrawler recursion, but no matter which particular graveyard flavor we get, it's good news for Modern players who are trying to make graveyard strategies work.

Other Notable Themes

I'm not going to dig through all of Innistrad's considerable lore for more specific themes, but here are some general ones to keep an eye out for in the next set. Our following section won't explicitly discuss cards from these thematic categories, but you can still apply the same kind of thinking and analysis to each of these themes to identify other zesty speculation targets.

  • Zombies: Modern brewers love tribal decks, and people have been trying to get Zombies to work from Gravecrawler until today.
  • Vampires: Nahiri may have killed most of Sorin's brood, but Olivia, Mobilized for War is still bringing the pain with her own house. Another tribal investment.
  • Clues: I'm not sure if we'll see investigate and clues return to Moon; the mystery might be solved by then. But if we do, all the previous clue cards may get better, as may older Modern cards that care about clue tokens (i.e. artifacts).
  • Eldrazi: With articles like Wizards' "Something Twisted This Way Comes," it's getting harder and harder to deny Emrakul and the Eldrazi. Or maybe it's a huge red herring. If not, old Eldrazi cards are likely to pick up steam if we get any new colorless-matters creatures. Bant Eldrazi is already Tier 2 in Modern, so new Eldrazi cards could push it further.

If you can think of other themes from the lore, articles, Blogatog posts, or other esoteric sources of Magic knowledge, feel free to hit me up in the comments with some other ideas!

From Themes to Pickups

Between our three core themes and many others you can pick up on (madness synergy, a possible blue-white or mono-blue Tamiyo, etc.), there are ample opportunities to make educated guesses about what Modern cards are worth investing in. Maybe you'll miss entirely, but with some of these cards already being worthwhile speculation targets, and with others costing peanuts, it's hard to go wrong.

Following this theme-identification method, here are some cards and card categories on my radar as we head into Eldritch Moon month.

Cheating Fatties

I will be stunned and more than a little unhappy if the big Eldritch Moon reveal does not synergize with Nahiri, the Harbinger. My guess is others will be too, which suggests the combo was too obvious for Wizards' designers and developers to miss. If we're banking on a big creature, artifact, or artifact creature nemesis, that means we're also banking on Modern cards which can cheat the monster into play.

Modern Grishoalbrand has not put up notable results since its Grand Prix Charlotte 2015 debut, but the deck is still formidable off just Griselbrand and Worldspine Wurm alone. More traditional Griselbrand decks swap the Nourishing Shoal/Wurm combo for trusty Emrakul, and these decks may improve with more redundant threats.

Either way, the Grishoalbrand example shines a spotlight on two of Modern's best ways to get scary finishers into play. Of course, the first is the powerful reanimation staple which even sees Legacy play with the deck's namesake demon: Goryo's Vengeance.

A big Eldritch Moon monster might avoid the graveyard entirely à la Blightsteel Colossus, or it might keep Emrakul's original shuffle trigger. If the latter, Vengeance is a great investment target to pair with Faithless Looting and other Griselbrand staples for quick kills.

Up next is the second half of the Griselbrand cheat-package, the powerful one-shot Sneak Attack effect of Through the Breach.

Unlike Vengeance, Breach doesn't care about graveyard shuffle triggers and generally synergizes well with all fatties except the on-cast ones like Ulamog and Kozilek, the Great Distortion. I doubt the Moon bad guy has the on-cast stipulation or it wouldn't be as exciting with Nahiri. Or maybe that's why Nahiri bounces it to your hand, as a follow-up blow after giving you a hasty preview. Either way, Breach would get the creature into play and swinging before your opponent could do much to stop it.

There's a small risk Wizards has learned from old Emrakul's power and tacked on some kind of nonsense Phage the Untouchable clause to the card, but again, this is flagrant Nahiri anti-synergy I just don't see.

Outside of Breach and Vengeance, there's a huge list of Modern cards which cheat big creatures into play. Or big artifacts! It's always seemed odd that Nahiri can get both creatures (obvious) and artifacts (surprising), which suggests artifacts could be central to the Eldritch Moon theme. If so, Shape Anew and clue tokens are great, and flavorful, ways to also fetch the win condition.

As you try to speculate around this theme, first look for cheating mechanisms that are currently playable in Modern. Then look to the unplayed gems like Shape Anew. Of course, this also includes Nahiri herself, but you'll also want to check out synergies like Gifts Ungiven/Unburial Rites.

That said, stay away from the cards that are bad to begin with and have no hope of later success: for instance, Descendant's Path and its much-hyped spike from the 2016 Pro Tour were toxic for speculators.

Werewolves' Time to Shine?

I haven't seriously tried the werewolves decks. Even so, I can see how the RGx strategies can abuse Collected Company, a go-wide aggressive strategy, card advantage engines, and even some interaction in Lightning Bolt to try and make competitive waves.

If you're banking on werewolves in Moon, the first place to start is with the strong werewolves which would currently be part of a playable deck today.

Huntmaster of the Fells // Ravager of the Fells is the rare example of a mythic creature with an existing top-tier pedigree that is also a fringe tribal player. If the card can sustain a $13-$15 price-tag off sporadic Jund inclusion and even more fringe appearances in Temur decks, imagine what it could do off a breakout Werewolves performance.

Naturally, Collected Company, Mutavault, Aether Vial, and Atarka's Command all join Huntmaster in the current top-tier club which only looks to benefit from an improved werewolves strategy. If you have extra copies lying around or were looking to invest in these anyway, keep an eye on them for movement around new Werewolves staples.

On the other side of the tiering fence, we have potential Werewolves inclusions that are far from top-tier. That said, with many of these cards costing less than $2 or even less than $1, there's a lot of potential for growth and virtually no risk.

Untiered Werewolves possibilities

It's unclear what form a tiered Werewolves deck would take, but some combination of these cards would likely make the cut. For instance, Daybreak Ranger // Nightfall Predator gives you early interaction against Abzan Company and Kiki Chord dorks, Affinity fliers, and Infect's Inkmoth Nexus attacks, before transforming into a reusable removal powerhouse.

Another example is Magus of the Moon, which puts a passable 2/2 Gray Ogre body to the devastating Blood Moon effect which can end matchups on the spot, all with a casting-cost under Collected Company's threshold.

Werewolves may remain stuck on the fringe after Eldritch Moon, but if Wizards tossed even a few bones their way, cards like these could benefit. Besides, with entry-costs so low, why not take a small gamble?

A Good Day for Graveyard Decks

Unlike the Eldritch Moon monstrosity or werewolves, we really have no clue what form the graveyard cards will take in our newest set. Maybe they are unplayable filler like Rise from the Grave. Or perhaps we get more ammunition to accompany Prized Amalgam in the dredge arsenal. Either way, I'm optimistic about a few graveyard staples going into preview season.

Someone already tried to buy out Trolls during Shadows preview season, and although they floundered after underestimating Troll stock, it shows how Modern's best dredge engine can move in the right conditions. These are not getting cheaper and are certain not to be reprinted before Modern Masters 2017, so keep your eyes on them if you have any interest in profiting from Modern graveyard strategies.

You can follow a similar speculation approach with any of the dredge bigshots, whether foil Stinkweed Imps or the extremely low-circulation Conflagrate (a discard engine that doubles as a win condition and interaction option). Greater Gargadon also saw movement alongside Bridge from Below, and all such interactions may improve after Moon.

Of course, you can also speculate on anti-graveyard cards, not just dredge shenanigans. There are lots of options here including the surprisingly expensive Leyline of the Void, the underplayed but awesome Surgical Extraction, and many others.

Speculating on graveyard hate

Grafdigger's Cage is a particularly juicy speculation target, which would both combat graveyard decks and any uptick in Nahiri and sneak-fatty-into-play strategies, with added upside against Company and Chord players.

We're unlikely to see the second coming of Dread Return in Eldritch Moon, but even a few additional graveyard options would push a number of other decks. Stay sharp on these and don't be afraid to move early.

Eldritch Moon Rising!

By the time many of you read this article, Jimmy Wong will have already unveiled his preview card and the Magic content-sphere will be abuzz with hype and hostility. Previews begin in earnest next week, so you can bet I'll be back again with more Modern-focused analyses of Wizards' newest set. Who knows? Maybe we'll actually get that Innocent Blood black mages have been pining for since Modern's birth.

Thanks for joining me and let me know in the comments if you have any questions or other observations about possible speculation targets. Also, fill those TCGPlayer carts early with your investment options before Wong's preview at 10:00 AM today. Make smart buys, stick with reputable dealers who won't suddenly be "out of stock," and I'll see you all soon!

5 thoughts on “Insider: Deep Modern Specs Before EMN Previews

    1. Neither for Emrakul. Given the on-cast requirement, new Emrakul is a Tron card more than anything else. Early testing is promising with her in the Ulamog slot, or replacing World Breaker or some Wurmcoils. She’s 10-11 mana depending on your build, and the expected value of a Mindslaver effect is often at least as good or much better than Ulamog’s double exile. I’m impressed and will keep trying her!

  1. New Emrakul seems very “meh” for modern given her way nastier predecessor. Mind slavering someone for a single turn vs. making them sac 6 permanents. No thanks.

    I really like the grafdigger’s cage suggestion in this article. It’s already good vs. Nahiri and CoCo decks. If Dredge strategies get a bump, Gd’sC will be in every sideboard.

    1. @Sheridan, does the fact that Cage recently spike make you think its hit a temporary ceiling, or do you really think it could spike again?

    2. I like new Emrakul in the on-cast fatty ramp slot in Tron. She compares favorably to the new Ulamog, and I’m impressed with her early test results. Will keep testing and publish semething about her on Wednesday over on Modern Nexus.

      @Cage: This card is not at its ceiling but it’s close. I’d look to Stony Silence (a hateful rare card with relatively comparable printings) as an example. Can’t see Cage going higher than $15 in the near future, and that seems high.

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