Let's talk about long-term specs.
I could write like 4,000 words on this in a single night, but I unfortunately lost my notes and outline for this article. So instead, we're just gonna kind of improvise it.
I recently got into a Twitter discussion with Chaz V about the values and risks of speculating on long-term casual picks versus short-term Standard stuff. You can find the meat of the discussion here and also here, but the basic summary is that I feel confident in the longevity of my specs even when they're not on the Reserved List. I don't believe that the "era of reprints" is a drastic change in the number of cards that are currently being reprinted, and I think that we still have the ability to plan our specs around the announced set releases far into the future. Reprints can even help us choose new specs, by plummeting format staples down to a new low that will continuously creep up over the next couple of years.
Most of this discussion was sparked when Daretti, Scrap Savant was announced as a reprint in the upcoming Commander 2016 product. I've been vocal about liking this as a pick because of its role as one of the most popular and powerful mono-red Commanders (that can also find a slot as one of the 99 in lists that don't have him leading the army). I picked up a dozen or so copies from between $2.50 and $3, and was comfortable waiting a while. After this reprint, I'll be abandoning ship on the card and selling at cost for a small loss. Is it frustrating? A bit, but I've got a whole lot of other specs that dodged that C16 reprint with ease.
One of my favorite specs that paid off well over the past few years has been Cyclonic Rift, and it works really well as an example of my strategy in long-term speculating. After being decent in the Standard mono-blue Devotion deck and slowing back down to $3, it was kicked into the dirt further by a Commander 2014 reprint.
It was practically a bulk rare at this point, and I felt really confident saving up a whole pile of these until they hit $3, at which point I sold off a whole bunch of them from my display case for an easy multiplier. The fact that I still had some left when they hit $5 was just gravy.
You're probably rolling your eyes at the humblebrag story, but I do have an overarching point here. While it's true that a card becomes a more likely candidate for a reprint the longer it goes without one, you can feel extremely safe buying in almost immediately after the reprint (Burgeoning is currently the only exception to this rule), which is one of the only other real spec targets that C16 even hit).
Scooping these up at 50 cents was really easy when I didn't have to watch my back for a one-two punch reprint post-C14. A simple EDHrec.com search shows us that Ghast sees play in thousands of decks, and earns a slot in a very significant percentage of mono-black lists. While it's not "one-sided instant-speed Upheaval" good, the idea of it staying true bulk was really questionable here.
How Does This Help Me Right Now?
I've talked about cards that were really easy to target after a Commander printing two years ago, so what's this year's easy Commander staple that has been reprinted but is sure to creep back up to former glory?
Well, I'm going to keep a very close eye on Chromatic Lantern over the next couple of years. As a long-time $3 card that has inched its way up to $9 over the past several years, I'm really questioning the fact that SCG and Cool Stuff, Inc. have their Lanterns listed at $3.99 a pop. Lantern certainly isn't going to dip into dollar-rare or true-bulk status like Rift and Ghast did, but we need to remember that Lantern is only in one out of the five Commander 2016 decks. If the all-but-white Maelstrom Wielder deck isn't very popular, then we won't see nearly as many extra Lanterns as we might be currently expecting.
I was wrong about Inquisition of Kozilek for a similar reason: I underestimated the degree that people would throw Conspiracy 2 to the wayside in the weeks immediately following its release. If Chromatic Lantern avoids the reprint hammer for another couple of years (which I fully expect to happen, after also getting an influx of supply from the Masterpiece Series in Kaladesh, then I don't think $9 Chromatic Lanterns are unlikely halfway through 2018.
If anything, the demand is there to out these whenever I please; just look at the usage on EDHrec.com. It's played in thousands of the most popular three-color Commander lists, and a large majority of the five-color ones. I can only imagine that the players building the other four-color decks will also want to pick up the Lanterns that they didn't get in their precons.
I just expressed real confidence about Chromatic Lantern dodging reprints. Why? It's the age of reprints, and there are so many more reprints now than there were two years ago, right? Wizards has answered the prayers of Modern and Commander players alike, and are making sure cards are ground into dust.
Well... I'm not so sure. Let's take a look at the current upcoming product list through 2017. While we don't get a Crystal Ball to see the fate of Chromatic Lantern, we can cross out a decent number of sets that we can reasonably expect it to be absent from.
Here's the current upcoming products list from the Wizards home page. Now let's look at that page while crossing out the sets that have already been released, or that we can confirm with 100-percent accuracy that Chromatic Lantern won't be included in. There go both of the Anthologies products, and those were part of the "huge increase in products released" that everyone has been so worried about this year.
Okay. Now how likely is it that Wizards burns a slot of one of their Standard-legal sets on Lantern? I mean, we don't actually have a percentage or anything, but it seems really silly for them to burn a slot of Aether Revolt when the Masterpieces happened a few months prior, and I'd argue that it doesn't fit the environment of the Amonkhet plane very well, if at all. So that leaves MM17, a Duel Deck or Archenemy.
With Lantern only excelling in decks of three or more colors, I'm not really seeing it in the Duel Deck. There have been exactly three decks with three or more colors in the history of Duel Deck products, and "Mind vs. Might" feels generic enough to be a RG aggro vs. UW control or something to that effect.
Modern Masters 2017? Ehh... They do throw EDH players a bone in these sets, but it's almost always to suppress the prices of really old and stupid Eventide or Guildpact rares that have gotten out of hand and dodged reprints up until now.
That literally only leaves Archenemy: Nicol Bolas, to which I concede the very small possibility that they jam Lantern in. I mean, they have like 150 different mana rocks to choose from to allow the Nicol Bolas deck to play its three colors, but Lantern is a possibility. Sure.
Even here, Lantern isn't one of my "safer" specs. In my Twitter thread with Chaz, I mentioned a few different archetypes that I believe are absolutely and completely safe from reprints based on the products we know for a fact are coming out.
The above cards are three of my favorite specs at the moment, because they're on the "technically not Reserved List, but I mean, come on, we all know that none of us are sick of Eldrazi yet, right?" list.
Each of these archetypes uses a "game-breaking" (for lack of a better term) mechanic that is really hard to reprint almost anywhere on the above list of upcoming products. Anyone want to bet on Infect creatures in Amonkhet? I didn't think so. The only place I can foresee Infect being placed in that entire list is Modern Masters 2017, and it's reasonably likely with how badly Inkmoth Nexus has been begging for a second printing. Thankfully, my position in the poisonous stock market is all commons and uncommons. Instead of buying Inkmoth Nexus at full retail (bad, bad idea), I've been slowly and steadily picking out my Blight Mambas and Glistener Elfs out of bulk commons and uncommons, costing me fractions of a penny per card. If they get hit, I lose nothing. If they reprint literally every single Infect creature I've been stocking up on, I will be thoroughly shocked.
As for Restore Balance, I'm confident that it's not anywhere near the radar of Wizards of the Coast, what with all the other fires they need to put out. And besides, when can we realistically expect the return of Balance to games of Limited Magic, with the added gameplay of the suspend mechanic? The second we see the card doing well at a Grand Prix or making top eight of an SCG Open, I'll be happy with my double-up.
What's the Real Message Here, DJ?
The real message here is diversification.
It's easy to get hosed by reprints if you only invest in Modern cards or focus all of your energy into picking up Commander cards that have been going without a reprint for a bit too long. While it's true that Wizards has zero obligation to go without reprinting the cards I've talked about in this article, they've also proven to be very careful and calculating in their long-term reprint strategy.
We can play around their reprints in the same way you play around your opponent having the counterspell in hand: have multiple must-answer threats and force them to have the correct answer 100 percent of the time. If they hit my Chromatic Lantern, I have some River Kelpies waiting. While my 10-cent Necroplasms will never see the light of day, they haven't hit my Phyrexian Unlifes yet.
Overall, I don't believe that the increase in reprints has become such an issue that long-term speculation has become the worse choice when compared to short-term. What do you think? Let me know in the comments.