With every set there are hundreds of new cards just waiting to break into a variety of formats. Modern is a set where the barrier to entry is pretty high, unfortunately. While not every set delivers multiple top-tier Modern staples, most sets have some. This set definitely has some standouts but there are a lot of factors involved here that could save you a ton of money. I'm going to use this article to outline my Kaladesh buying plan.
As you have probably seen already, Kaladesh and every Standard-legal set going forward will contain a sub-set called Masterpieces within it, modeled after the Zendikar Expeditions from last year. These will have serious implications for many different aspects of Magic pricing going forward.
We can look at Battle for Zendikar block to see how these cards impact the price of singles directly. In the chart below, you can see that even with the amount of dominance Gideon, Ally of Zendikar enjoys in Standard, he still can't sustain a price tag above $20.
This is directly a result of Zendikar Expeditions eating so much of the expected value of the set. This is obviously great for Standard players looking to play their format for cheaper, but it helps Modern players just the same. Check out the chart on Thought-Knot Seer:
If you weren't able to buy Thought-Knot Seer during the Eldrazi Winter that led to the banning of Eye of Ugin, waiting until Eldritch Moon to buy your playset would have saved you $36. If you also waited until now to buy Reality Smasher you could have saved an additional $24. The total savings basically gives you a free Noble Hierarch toward your Bant Eldrazi deck. That's some pretty serious savings for waiting six months. While it's not always practical to wait, it definitely pays off the longer you decide to. It's almost impossible due to the supply of these cards for anything to really spike and make waiting a bad proposition.
The real key here is that the price of Expedition-style cards put a cap on the cost of the rest of the set. When the set is new and barely opened, the cards are sky high. The only way they reach equilibrium is when the cost of a box at wholesale is greater than the expected value of the contents of a box.
Estimating the Expected Value
There are resources available to see what the expected value of a box is at any given time. I like to use Dawnglare. So taking a look at Dawnglare at the time of this writing, a box of Battle for Zendikar has an expected value of $32. That seems insanely low for how many great cards are in it, right? Well Dawnglare has a few stipulations. Among them is that the value of Zendikar Expeditions is not included in the EV of a box. You can see how the average price of an Expedition can influence the EV of a box. The average cost of an Expedition from Battle for Zendikar is approximately $112. This is in stark contrast to the average value of an Oath of the Gatewatch Expedition which is a much less impressive $65. With half as much of the value of the set tied to Expeditions, Oath of the Gatewatch has an EV of $55. While the numbers aren't exact, you can see the relationship.
While I don't have a ton of information about the eventual prices of the Kaladesh Masterpieces, we can glean some information from their pre-order prices on Star City Games. The average pre-order price of the 30 Masterpieces is $84.67. With the information from Mark Rosewater's article, we know they appear at approximately 1 in every 144 booster packs (or 4 boxes). This would add approximately $21.17 to the EV of Kaladesh boxes. That's a lot of value that will come out of the staples of the set until boxes reach their equilibrium. Either the prices of Masterpieces will fall very quickly or the price of the cards in the Kaladesh set will fall quickly. Waiting is the most profitable thing you can do.
Cards to Keep an Eye On
To begin with, plenty of writers have already talked about the new fastlands. While I expect to begin playing Inspiring Vantage almost immediately, I'm not going to rush out and get my copies unless I need them for a tournament.
All of the fastlands (Inspiring Vantage, Botanical Sanctum, Blooming Marsh, Concealed Courtyard, and Spirebluff Canal) have the potential to join Modern manabases, but their prices right now are just too high. At $5 to $6 each I can't imagine a world where they can stay this expensive. Kaladesh will most likely be one of the most opened sets of all time and most cards can't maintain this price tag. Pretty much every card in Kaladesh will go down in the first month.
Cinder Glade is a played land in Modern---and look at its price. It's almost half of the price of these new lands. There is no way they can stay this expensive for more than a few months. It's easy to see the parallels to the Scars of Mirrodin versions, but the comparison just isn't fair when there are so many less in existence because of their age. My target time to pick up the new fastlands is in December, or just before the spoilers for Aether Revolt. I will be surprised if you can't get them for $3 or less by then.
In the market for the exciting new Masterpieces as the coolest and most exclusive cards for your deck? You could also probably wait a little bit. I think the Masterpieces that will see the most upward movement (if any of them do) are the Legacy and Commander mana rocks. There's a little more room for Mana Vault to grow, as this is the first foil copy available. For its part, Mana Crypt will likely stay close to $200---the judge foil is holding at $180 even after the recent Eternal Masters printing. It's possible that the thrill of Mana Crypt will finally vanish and it will start to tumble, but I wouldn't bet on it. Sol Ring could also stay pretty high and carry a lot of the other Masterpieces because there are only two other foil versions. The FTV version is $25 and the judge promo is $160 (more than the pre-order price of the new Sol Ring).
But what about Modern cards? Mox Opal is painfully expensive. I don't know how it could justify an additional price increase. You can buy Modern Masters 2015 foil Mox Opals for $50 or Scars of Mirrodin foil Mox Opals for $85 on TCGPlayer right now. The price right now seems very steep and I wouldn't be surprised if the Masterpiece version fell to about $100.
Steel Overseer is another one that might fall a little. At $70 pre-order price, it's more than the only other foil (M11) by $40. I think some of these listings might be people panic-selling in expectation that the pack foil will go down, but I wouldn't be surprised if Steel Overseer fell into the $40-50 range. It's a niche card that is only really good in a few decks so I don't think widespread appeal will keep the price this high.
Aether Vial is really the only popular Modern card I might recommend picking up early. The art is fairly unique and it's a four-of in every deck that plays it. It's popular in Legacy as well which draws more people to it and helps sustain a higher price. Aether Vial sold out multiple times yesterday at $120 and I'm not sure they weren't listed a little too cheaply.
We can see with the Expedition fetchlands that extremely popular cards can command some pretty consistently high prices. This printing is also pretty unique because it's the first time Aether Vial will appear without the old-school "Æ" ligature. If you're a Merfolk or Death and Taxes player considering trying to pinch some pennies here, you might be one of the few who ends up losing by waiting.
While I won't go into great detail on the cards I think will be good in Modern, I can say there are plenty of people I know who love to brew. The decks might be bad but they just love taking new cards and jamming them with old cards to make "cute" decks. If you're eyeing Madcap Experiment waiting to pre-order your copies, you should also remember to get the combo pieces you need to go with it.
In almost every situation where a new deck gets popular, the oldest cards become the most expensive the quickest. If you want to flip over some Platinum Emperions or negate the drawback with Soulfire Grand Master, get those cards now. Don't wait for the set to come out. Plenty of other people will come to the same conclusion as you and decide they need those cards.
This phenomenon is most noticeable with Commander products. Older cards like Teferi's Puzzlebox and Forced Fruition got much more expensive when Nekusar, the Mindrazer was released, but not before. That said, the same thing can happen in Modern when new decks break out, even if they ultimately prove less than viable.
Pickups for the Future
We haven't seen the whole set yet but we can still think to the future of this block. It's pretty clear there is an emphasis on artifacts as a central theme. If there aren't any Modern-defining cards in this set they may be in Aether Revolt. Much like Battle for Zendikar brought back the Eldrazi but saved the more thrilling ones for Act 2, we may see the spicier artifacts in the second set.
I am very much looking to make sure I have the sideboard cards I need to beat artifact decks. If you don't own Stony Silence, Kataki, War's Wage, Fracturing Gust, Shatterstorm, etc., I would keep them in mind to acquire before Aether Revolt spoilers in January.
It's very hard to predict what synergy cards will be good with new cards before they're spoiled, but it's much easier to figure out how to break them up. We won't know if the next great artifact fits into Affinity or Tron but we know how to beat those decks if they become too powerful. Being prepared for the worst can be a great money saver if it does happen.
So far I'm not seeing a ton of spoilers that look likely to make a big impact on Modern. What are you guys most excited about? Any Kaladesh cards I might have overlooked?
And how about those Masterpieces in every set moving forward? I know a lot of my money will be invested in foils in December, but I will probably try to get some Masterpieces once they've bottomed out.