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Insider: A Stable Modern Format

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I can only beat the “Old School / Reserved List / Alpha and Beta” drum so many times. I recognize these are the main focus of my articles frequently, and that’s for two good reasons. First, it’s where I keep the vast majority of my MTG resources allocated—I try not to advocate chasing cards I would not be willing to buy myself. It seems poor practice to me. Second, these cards fit my risk profile—given my goals for MTG finance, I cannot take on high-risk positions often. Put the two together, and you have a fairly consistent message.

This week I thought I’d try something a bit different. Thanks to yesterday’s emergency ban of Felidar Guardian, every major format was changed in some way with the Amonkhet Banned & Restricted list change except one: Modern. Legacy had a major banning, Vintage had two restrictions, and Commander had some shake-ups as well. Modern remained untouched.

While there may be a ton of new opportunities in Standard with Copy Cat’s banning, I don’t know the format well enough to write an informed article about it. Best we read others’ work and follow the metagame closely these next couple weeks to take advantage of the shifts there.

Wizards must be content with the Modern metagame, at least for now. To me this indicates there may be some relative stability within Modern cards. Not to the extreme of Reserved List cards, mind you, but more so than previously. This starts to attract my attention as a result. The only issue is all those darned reprints that keep flaring up. However Wizards can’t reprint everything all the time. There are simply too many staples.

So let’s take a look at what is played frequently in Modern that hasn’t been reprinted recently to see if there are some attractive targets out there.

The Data

To organize things, I’m going to search for the most played cards using MTG Stock’s data. Then while scrolling through the list of fifty cards, I will identify the cards that haven’t been (re)printed in the most time. We’ll look at the price chart and see if by the end we can draw some conclusions. Ready? Here we go!


We don’t have to browse far down the list before finding something worth discussing. While the Theros reprint of Thoughtseize was devastating to its value, we haven’t seen a new printing of the black sorcery in almost four years! Theros block is indeed getting quite old. After finally bottoming at $11 at the beginning of this year, this card has since gained traction and has moved up.

This is driven by the rise in popularity of the Death's Shadow deck, which runs the card. With that deck pushing Thoughtseize up to the number two most played card in Modern, and with Thoughtseize getting relatively “old” as compared to other cards on the list, this card is almost guaranteed to surpass $20 in the near future.


Khans of Tarkir is a full one year newer than Theros, but this isn’t enough to overcome the overwhelming demand for the set’s fetch lands. Bloodstained Mire is currently the sixth most played card in Modern thanks to the Death's Shadow deck, and its recent surge in price is symptomatic of that fact. It also bottomed in early 2017 and has since gone on a tear, jumping from $12.50 up to $18 in just a couple months.

With no reprint on the horizon, this is another $20+ card in the making. The other Khans fetches merit the same scrutiny, as they all have upside potential once the metagame inevitably shifts again.


I have to mention this one because it’s the 33rd most played card in Modern and hasn’t been printed since Modern Masters in 2013. Despite being a common in that reprint set, the card has surged lately on the heels of the Death's Shadow deck (noticing a trend here?). I can’t advocate buying in here at $7, though I suppose $10 is not out of the question. There are better places to put money than a $7 common.


Speaking of money commons, this one seems far more attractive to me. It’s played in a more broad selection of decks and has continuously improving synergy as more colorless cards are printed. Like Street Wraith, this is also a common, but the big difference is the date of latest printing. The wraith was last printed in 2013 while Ancient Stirrings has only one printing in Rise of the Eldrazi, seven years ago!

This card has recently settled in the $5 range but another year of no reprint will easily drive it up towards $10. This very well may be the oldest card on the entire Top 50 list!


Last and least we have Thought Scour, a lowly common out of Dark Ascension. This card is still selling for under a buck, likely due to the reprinting it had in Duel Decks: Jace vs. Vraska. That said, this Duel Deck came out over three years ago. I’m guessing the product didn’t sell well, and we’re a long ways off from Thought Scour being worth enough to motivate players to crack additional sets.

Therefore, I’d wager the supply is still fairly low. As the 46th most played card in Modern, this card isn’t exactly dominating the top tables. There are fewer and fewer sets to be found for under a buck a copy, and the open-ended synergy this card offers makes it an attractive pickup.

Underlying Trends

This research has led me to three definitive conclusions. All of which can be combined to make us more savvy Modern speculators going forward.

First, there are very few Modern staples in Tier 1 decks that haven’t been reprinted yet. The fact that nearly 90% of the top 50 most played cards in the format have been reprinted since 2014 is saying quite a lot. Ancient Stirrings was the only card in the top 50 that has yet to see a reprint. There are some Tier 2 cards that haven’t been reprinted yet, such as Scapeshift, Lantern of Insight, and Krark-Clan Ironworks. But the list is thin and you have to reach pretty deep into the well to find more.

That said, if you want to speculate on something for a Modern breakout, finding cards that haven’t been reprinted yet offers significant upside. This is evidenced by the crazy price tags on the cards mentioned above. And if any of these cards truly break into Tier 1, you can make some real profits. Just look at the ideal scenario in the form of Mishra's Bauble for instance!


The second trend I noticed and already alluded to earlier is the financial impact of Death's Shadow’s namesake deck. Shortly after breaking out, many of the deck’s cards saw significant gains. This indicates to me that shifts in the Modern metagame can still generate opportunity. While the ship has sailed on this one, there are new cards entering the format on a regular basis. My goal is to stay better in-touch with the Modern metagame, making sure to jump on trends as soon as they begin to surface rather than drag my feet.

The third and final observation I want to make involves the rarity of the cards I shared above. I never used to pay close attention to commons and uncommons when speculating on cards. To me, all the opportunity was in the rare slot (this was before the mythic was added). Times have definitely changed, and with the 2012 renaissance of Magic, the player base surged significantly. This makes cards printed in Return to Ravnica or after far more plentiful than cards printed earlier. Even commons and uncommons from pre-2012 sets have shown the ability to surge in price despite their rarity.

Therefore, it’s unwise of me to stick my nose up at Modern-playable commons and uncommons as worthwhile speculation targets. In fact, many of the best profits have been made from commons and uncommons, and this is likely to continue. Therefore when something like Ancient Stirrings comes up, I pay closer attention. This is why I like Thought Scour here as a potential buy. Something I already have a position in is the Planar Chaos common Mana Tithe.


The card only has one printing from an older set, is fairly inexpensive, and sees occasional fringe play in Modern. With a little luck and some traction, this could be the next $5 common for all I know. It’s even older than Ancient Stirrings, after all!

Wrapping It Up

Modern appears to be fairly stable for now given Wizards decided to leave the format alone during this season’s banned and restricted update. While I tend to stick to Reserved List and Old School investments, I will admit I’m attracted to the stability offered by Modern at this moment. With Modern Masters 2017 released, it’s fairly safe to invest in some cards knowing a reprint is unlikely now for a couple years.

By digging through some of the format’s hottest cards, and focusing in on cards that haven’t been (re)printed in a few years, we may be able to uncover some worthwhile targets. It seems many components of the Death's Shadow archetype have already jumped, but perhaps there will be new decks that surface once As Foretold enters the format. Maybe new strategies will emerge as well? Sometimes it only takes the printing of a support card to make a deck viable in the format, and these shifts can generate a lot of profit.

In the meantime, I’m content to bet on a few low-risk, older cards. Even commons and uncommons are starting to get my attention, as evidenced by my recent bet on Mana Tithe. Despite their rarity, it is their age that make these cards attractive speculation targets. In some cases a card’s age, plus the fact that it hasn’t been reprinted, makes it just as juicy a target as the hottest mythic in Modern.

Sigbits

  • After hearing DJ talk about this one I immediately started tracking it: Nix. When you search on TCG Player for playsets, there aren’t many sellers with this many available. There are plenty of sellers with one or two copies, but you can’t even buy those unless you add other stuff to your cart from those sellers. Supply is smaller than it appears—it would only take one breakout card to make this suddenly playable in Modern sideboards. Star City Games has a bunch of SP copies in stock ($0.79), so this isn’t going to pop just yet. But it’s a low-risk / high-reward proposition.
  • Another card that Death's Shadow impacted is the more-recently printed Traverse the Ulvenwald. This rare from Shadows over Innistrad is a four-of in many versions of the Modern strategy. If Traverse was printed five years ago, this would be a $40 card by now. However its recent printing makes this card much more available. I like foils most here, and SCG is sold out of them at $7.99.
  • Collective Brutality is another card that shows up in the Modern Death's Shadow list, though not usually as a four-of. This one was printed in the less-opened Eldritch Moon, so copies are not as available. This is evidenced by the fact that Star City Games is completely sold out of all versions, with non-foils listed at $9.99 and foils at $17.99!

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