The Grand Prix are coming! Between the Twitch coverage, Twitter updates, Reddit and online forum discussion, and all the inevitable spikes, buyouts and letdowns, it's a can't-miss weekend of Modern action.
Lille, Indianapolis, and Guangzhou will also, in all likelihood, be the format-defining events for the rest of 2016. The only remaining Modern Grand Prix (Dallas) isn't until November, with nothing else until 2017. Because Grand Prix set the Modern cadence more than any other event, this means August's Grand Prix are going to be the big pace-setters for players, fans, and investors to watch for the next 4-5 months.
Besides, with a format as open as we've seen since May, anything can happen!
On the eve of the Grand Prix, Modern hasn't changed too much from our Modern Nexus metagame update in July. That doesn't mean my friends heading to Indianapolis will encounter those exact same Tier 1, 2, and 3 decks in their Grand Prix bid. It just suggests a "Stage 1" for the current metagame, with "Stage 2" sure to develop by Sunday evening. With Modern's top-tiers split between so many different strategies, it's anyone's guess how the contests will resolve.
In today's article, I want to give a diverse range of strategic and financial advice to reflect Modern's diversity leading up to the Grand Prix. We'll start with the format's deck-to-beat before moving to the format's big story (Dredge! Be afraid!) and how it should affect your tournament plans. We'll end with a few cards I'm eyeing before the weekend.
These pointers will be valuable to both players and speculators alike as you gear up for the weekend and look to make the most of an awesome three-day streak.
Bet on Jund
Since April's Eye of Ugin banning, Jund has cemented itself as Modern's most reliable top-tier deck. I specify "reliable" over "best" or "top" because Modern is never going to have a best deck in the top-tier: Wizards' banning and format policies all but ensure this.
That said, Modern can definitely accommodate different decks at the top of their class. It can have a fastest deck. It can have a best-positioned deck. It can have a most-rewarding deck. And, in the case of Jund, it can have a reliable deck which has average matchups across the format, few bad matchups, and a string of good matchups against random strategies. As anyone who has been following tournament results for the past month can attest, this matchup spectrum is Jund in a nutshell.
Jund got second at the past weekend's Star City Games Invitational. It sent five players to the Top 16 of last weekend's Syracuse Open, where Jund also took second place. It's the most-played deck in paper by 3%+ and a top three in MTGO. The deck has also been at the top of the Nexus metagame charts since April with no sign of faltering.
These are commanding performance measures and ones that guarantee Jund will be a huge player in the upcoming Grand Prix metagames. It might not win the event. It might not put more than one player into the Top 8. But it will be a huge factor and force---prepare your decks and buylists accordingly!
For the most part, Jund's territory is too frequently traveled for either innovation or breakout financial hits. Tarmogoyf fluctuates between the $110 - $150 mark. Dark Confidant had pushed closer to Snapcaster Mage for a while, but frequent reprintings dumped his stock to the mid-$30 range.
Most Jund staples follow a similar story because they are such known quantities, which is good for players who need to know what to expect but worse for investors who want to make money off the deck.
But fear not! Despite Jund's mainstream status, the deck does have some cards worth picking up and room for growth. Here are a few I've identified before the Grand Prix weekend. If you're a player, this section will clue you in on some of Jund's important strengths and update you on recent technology. If you're a buyer or seller, it will give you ideas of where to put your money.
Kalitas and Pact
During Sunday's Top 8 rounds at the Star City Games Invitational, Jadine Klomparens showcased the extraordinary power of Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet and Slaughter Pact. Since his release, Kalitas has been a major Jund (and Grixis) player, bolstering the deck's stock in both grindy and fast matchups. Pact had seen lesser play as a sideboard card, but was also on most Jund mages' radar before the Invitational.
With Klomparens maindecking both and putting on a great show to exhibit their power, I expect we'll see more of this pairing in the future.
The vampire legend is already hovering in the $25-$30 range and could easily increase with a major Jund Grand Prix finish. The card sees widespread Modern play in a variety of black-based decks, which has supported this price tag despite little Standard pressure. Once Collected Company rotates out of Standard, Kalitas might only get stronger and pricier as more people jump from Bant Company and similar strategies to Kalitas options.
Kalitas' removal spell of choice is a much safer target, a two-printing rare (one in Future Sight!) that hasn't been reprinted since 2013. It's undervalued in the $5-$6 range if Jund and other Kalitas players pick it up more widely.
In a punishing and fast format like Modern, Pact lets you develop your board on the critical turns 3-4 without letting the shields down. It also offers disgusting blowouts against the popular Death's Shadow Zoo strategies. Of course, Pact is at its best when cast following a Kalitas---Klomparens almost won a critical Game 2 off that line, were it not for a misplay involving Lily and a discarded Maelstrom Pulse.
Summoner's Pact supports a value closer to $10 with a virtually identical reprinting and print run. Unlike the black version, however, Summoner's Pact doesn't see regular Tier 1 play yet. This means Slaughter Pact probably has a few dollars to grow, which could mean decent margins for investors.
As for players, beware of the card if you're against Jund, and strongly consider playing it if you are on the BGx Midrange train.
The painless dual-land has quietly been integral to Jund's success for years. It's also a major reason why Abzan continues to flounder as a midrange strategy and Jund excels (Lightning Bolt also has something to say about that). Cliffs is indispensable to even the most budget Jund list, and even upstart Mardu players are using it to try a new take on BRx Midrange strategies.
All of this is great news for people who want to pluck copies of the single-printing Scars of Mirrodin rare.
Because every Jund player uses the card, to say nothing of the Grixis and Mardu strategies which use it too, Cliffs is a very safe investment that is likely to rise over the next six months. The only danger would be a fastland reprinting, complete with enemy-colored versions, in Kaladesh. I'm a doubter because I'm still confident Wizards will prioritize Zendikar fetches first, but it is something to consider if you think Cliffs are the best bet for spending cash.
Playing Jund or thinking of playing it? The ubiquity of damage-based aggro (Death's Shadow Zoo, Elves, Eldrazi, Dredge, etc.) makes these cards invaluable and should push you away from other midrange options with more painful manabases.
Anger of the Gods
I talked about the impressive red sweeper in last week's article and not much has changed since then. Despite being a rare from a relatively recent set, this card is still undervalued in the $1-$2 range. Once more red mages catch on to Anger in this new Modern metagame, the card is going to gain value. Remember: an increase from $1-$2 into the $3-$4 range is still a 100%-400% gain and a big chance for profit.
Expect Jund to pack at least two, possibly three, copies of Anger into most sideboards. Expect the same for Jeskai, Mardu, Scapeshift and Valakut strategies, along with all the other non-creature decks at the Grand Prix. Dredge's rise makes Anger even better than it was when you just had to worry about Death's Shadow Zoo, and Elves' victory at the recent Invitational should increase Anger's stock even further.
Even if you aren't interested in speculating, test this card as a midrange/control player and prepare for it as an aggro one. This card should be everywhere at the Grand Prix.
As a whole, both these select cards and Jund are all great choices for the weekend. Know them, prepare for them, fill your shopping carts with them, and don't be surprised to see Jund on camera.
Be Wary of All Things Dredge
In my initial vision for this article, I was going to focus exclusively on Dredge-based cautions for the weekend. Then I remembered I wrote two Dredge articles over the last two weeks and didn't want to go three for three. Topic-streaks aside, Dredge is definitely the specter looming over Grand Prix weekend, even if it's more overblown than many of the Modern alarmists would have us believe.
Instead of giving you the full-article cautionary tale, I'm going to split out my Dredge warnings into four different categories. You'll need to heed all of these both as a Grand Prix contender and a TCGPlayer entrepreneur.
Watch out for Dredge
Dredge hasn't approached any of the metrics to remotely justify the usual round of alarmism (Bans! Unbans! "R&D sux!", etc.), but it's undoubtedly a good deck. I do think its current Tier 1 march has a healthy dose of hype behind it, but even after that buzz dies down, the deck will surely stay in Tier 2 with the occasional Tier 1 foray. Simply put, Modern never had a deck with Dredge's trajectory that didn't stick around.
This means Dredge is here to stay and that you need to respect Dredge's gameplan at the Grand Prix. It also means your investments into Dredge should endure alongside the deck's top-tier rating. Good news for people that heeded my advice two weeks ago and got those Bloodghasts early!
At the very least, you need a solid gameplan against Dredge and four sideboard slots against the deck. That doesn't mean jamming a Leyline of the Void playset and calling it a day, unless Leyline is also helping close other holes in your matchup grid. It means something like two Nihil Spellbomb and two Anger of the Gods, cards that see play across matchups and are relevant against Dredge.
It could also mean running a strategy with a maindeck game plan that ignores Dredge (e.g. Infect, Bogles, Ad Nauseam). Modern's narrower answers do reward diverse, proactive threats, so that approach is always feasible.
However you prepare for the weekend, respect Dredge. It's here to stay.
Watch out for anti-Dredge cards
Splash damage is one of the most important and least understood elements of Modern metagaming. Stated generally, a deck that seems like a good choice against another strategy may fall apart because of how other people are preparing to beat that strategy.
The Merfolk example during Eldrazi Winter illustrates this perfectly. Merfolk was pretty good against Eldrazi, but terrible against all the random hate (Worship, Ensnaring Bridge, Supreme Verdict, etc.) that people were playing to beat Eldrazi. This ruined many Merfolk players' days during Eldrazi Winter, and the same effect is at play if people get too trigger-happy against Dredge.
I won't get into every example of how this plays out in a format drowning in Dredge content, but Grafdigger's Cage is a great illustrator.
Cage is great against Dredge and only costs one colorless mana. Bad news for Dredge and good news for people who want to beat it! Unless that person is on Abzan Company or Kiki Chord and has to face 2-3 Cages in every single round. The same goes for Living End and graveyard hate like Leyline, Relic, and Spellbomb (Living End itself does dodge Cage).
When you get ready for the Grand Prix, or think of cards to invest in ahead of breakout trends, consider splash damage. People will prepare for Dredge. People will also prepare for Death's Shadow Zoo, Jund, and Valakut decks. Don't walk into those hate cards and don't spend money on things those hate cards destroy.
Don't go overboard
I can't emphasize this enough: don't over-prepare for Dredge! Dredge is not Eldrazi 2.0. It's not even Amulet Bloom 2.0. It's just a good deck that the online and cardboard communities have seized on as a major Modern force. To be clear, this is a good deck that should slot nicely into the Tier 1 and Tier 2 band. It is not, however, at the format breaking point yet.
One of the perils of the 24/7 Modern content-mill, as is a peril in current-events-media, is hyperbole. That has been at play in lots of Dredge coverage and it might incentivize you to overcommit resources to the Dredge fight. Don't do that and don't treat Dredge any differently than you would any other Tier 1 strategy.
From a deck-building perspective, this means not picking a deck just because it beats Dredge or sleeving up too many anti-Dredge cards. From a gameplay perspective, don't sideboard too heavily and dilute your plan. From a financial perspective, don't go nuts buying Dredge or anti-Dredge cards. These cards have a ceiling and barring a Grand Prix win they'll hit it very soon.
Two Pickups for the Wise
I'm Dredged out for now, but I did want to end with two nice pickups worth monitoring for the coming weeks. Both of these cards feature prominently in major Modern strategies, have significant financial upside, and are sure to have bright spotlights over Grand Prix weekend.
After breakout Dredge, Death's Shadow Zoo has been the most popular MTGO deck in the past months and with good reason. It has an extremely favorable ratio of cost to competitiveness, doesn't have too many expensive cards, and follows Modern's pattern of rewarding proactive strategies. With the exception of big-bucks Tarmogoyf (an option in certain Zoo builds) the deck is quite affordable without a lot of room for growth.
That is, except for the deck's namesake, a one-printing rare from the seldom-opened Worldwake.
We all know how expensive Zendikar block rares can get, and although Death's Shadow is no Goblin Guide, Worldwake saw much less stock on the market than did Zendikar. See Jace, the Mind Sculptor's value for continued evidence of that effect in action. If we see Shadow Zoo make it big over Grand Prix weekend, I expect we'll see Death's Shadow push past $10 in short order.
I hate bringing banlist talk into my articles, but this is the kind of deck which might eat a ban depending on its performance. Thankfully, that card would almost certainly be Become Immense, a broken delve spell like Treasure Cruise and Dig Through Time before it, so Shadow's value wouldn't crash completely. If the deck doesn't take any bans, Shadow's obviously just go up from here.
Jund may be the most reliable deck for Grand Prix weekend, but Infect feels like the best-positioned. It's surprisingly good against Jund, excellent against Dredge, and off most players' radars as they focus too heavily on Death's Shadow Zoo and other strategies. Bant Eldrazi and various Chord/Company/Eldritch Evolution strategies are also sure to make big appearances.
All those decks have one card in common: Noble Hierarch. This rare, despite high profile reprinting, remains a financial powerhouse and looks to keep increasing until its (hopeful) re-release in Modern Masters 2017.
I'm always cautious about advising people to invest in expensive staples like Hierarch, but she's guaranteed to keep rising off the combination of Infect, Bant Eldrazi, and any blue-based Chord or Evolution strategies which emerge (pun intended) from post-Eldritch Moon Modern. Now's the time to buy these if you want to play them, and even if you're just looking to turn a profit, they aren't getting cheaper.
Five Days Left!
I'll be back next Monday with some major takeaways from the Modern extravaganza, although you'll need to stay sharp all weekend to react quickly to different price shifts. Monday will be too late to respond to the most immediate price shocks, but it will be important to reflect on the weekend and see which trends will hold and which will fall flat. I'm not attending the Grand Prix this weekend, but if I had to, I'd be packing up those Ad Nauseams and calling it a day.
Want a third pickup? Spoils of the Vault, one I've talked about numerous times before, is still undervalued in the $4 range.
Let me know in the comments if you have questions about any cards, strategies, or metagame developments as we get closer to the Saturday kickoff. Talk to you over the week and see you all after the dust has cleared!