Welcome back, readers!
Ixalan spoilers have started up again (after that initial leak) and we're seeing some fun-looking new cards, especially for the casual circles. This is unsurprising as both Pirates and Dinosaurs are tribes that really appeal to casual players.
One interesting trend I've noticed is that the mythics in the set so far seem to have a much higher converted mana cost than usual, and many look very unlikely to see play in competitive formats. This is a major shift from what we've seen previously—in recent sets a lot of the pushed cards ended up at the mythic rarity, including many planeswalkers.
As of typing this, we have 13 mythics spoiled so far with an average converted mana cost (CMC) of 5.92. Look at how that compares to the average mythic CMC of the other sets currently legal in Standard:
|Set||Average Mythic CMC|
|Hour of Devastation||5.50|
|Shadows over Innistrad||4.77|
|Oath of the Gatewatch||5.08|
|Battle for Zendikar||5.06|
As you can see, Ixalan is the highest so far, but what is even more telling is that three of these sets (BFZ, Oath, and Eldritch Moon) had giant Eldrazi creatures with very high CMCs that greatly affected the averages. If we remove the Eldrazi from those sets, the average drops even further.
|Oath of the Gatewatch||4.63|
|Battle for Zendikar||4.71|
Looking at Ixalan, so far we have four mythics below the average, and of those Jace is the only one I think might see continual tournament play. The important point to keep in mind here is that in the previous Standard-legal sets, the majority of the higher-cost mythics (six or greater) did not see play, with the exception being in decks that could either ramp or cheat them out. This does not bode well for Ixalan mythics unless Standard as a whole slows down dramatically.
So what does all this mean? It means that as of writing, a large number of the Ixalan mythics will see little to no demand from the competitive Standard environment, which is typically the driving factor behind new card prices.
If this occurs, and there isn't a desire to crack open a lot of product by stores for the chase mythics, then we could very well see one of two things: either the value of the set as a whole will be lower than previous Standard sets, or the rares will carry more of the value behind the set. Both of these are likely good for competitive Standard players as the price ceiling for regular rares is much lower than mythics, so either one implies a lower cost of deck ownership.
Lets look at these two paths and figure out how we can benefit from them financially.
Low Total Set Value
If the overall value of Ixalan is low we can expect fewer pre-orders and likely less product initially opened. This means that early on any Ixalan cards that do find a Standard home may have a higher price ceiling due to scarcity.
Remember that out of the gates Ixalan Standard will have a significantly smaller card pool as we have an exodus of four sets (BFZ, OGW, SOI, and EMN). Hyper-aggressive decks often have a lot of success in these types of "new" Standard environments. We recently saw Ramunap Red win a Pro Tour, and while it does lose some key cards, the shell remains intact.
This means we will likely see a resurgence in Ramunap Red and thus a rise in prices for its non-rotating staples. We've already seen Soul-Scar Mage double up in value in the past few months.
The other takeaway is that if the value of the set ends up being low we will likely see fewer sets redeemed off of MTGO, leading to even more scarcity. In this context, buying up many of these casually-aimed mythics when they bottom out could be a good medium-term (one-to-two-year) play.
Lastly, as value is often tied hand in hand with power level, if the set as a whole is considered under-powered then players are more likely to use cards from other sets (to maximize their power level within their 60 cards). That means we could see a rise in older Standard staples like Heart of Kiran.
Rares Soaking Up the Value
If the rares are the cards that end up in the competitive decks, then they will likely all maintain a slightly higher price point than what we're used to seeing. Competitive Standard rares typically fall in the $3-5 range after any initial hype settles down; I wouldn't be surprised to see the best Ixalan rares sitting in the $4-7 range.
If the money is spread out more (especially at regular rarity), it will be interesting to see whether more casual players end up drafting. Unless you really value the experience of drafting, then quite often you end up in the red doing it. When most of the value of a set is tied to the mythics you are far less likely to open something valuable. If instead the money cards are at regular rarity you have a higher likelihood of breaking even (or at least coming closer than you normally would).
To prove it mathematically we can look at it like this:
If we look at something like Amonkhet (using prices around release, so we can include the scarcity inflation), we see that the average mythic value was $7.05 and the average rare value was $0.97. So our Estimated Value in a draft was $5.19.
Now look at Ixalan's current prices (which again are inflated due to scarcity). We have a similar average mythic value of $7.07, but our rare average is currently $2.32, which means an estimated value from a draft is $8.74. So this clearly shows that when the sample size is small (like it is in a draft) a higher average rare value has a much greater impact on one's estimated value.
The other thing to keep in mind with these calculations is that they are based on averages. If we look at the current retail price of the Ixalan mythics we see a pretty uneven spread:
|Admiral Beckett Brass||$2.80|
|Gishath, Sun's Avatar||$6.02|
|Huatli, Warrior Poet||$17.86|
|Jace, Cunning Castaway||$18.55|
|Star of Extinction||$2.09|
|Tishana, Voice of Thunder||$3.23|
|Vona, Butcher of Magan||$12.52|
|Wakening Sun's Avatar||$3.58|
Currently only four are above the average, which means they are propping it up. This adds some complexity to understanding the Estimated Value, because while your likelihood of opening a mythic is around 1/8, the chances it's worth more than $7.07 is in fact more like 45 in 1000. We have to consider this when our sample size—three packs—is very small. It's a bigger problem in sets in which only a few key mythics prop up the average mythic value.
We did all this because I have seen from personal experience that stores often get more first-time or casual drafters when the set's regular rares are more valuable. I specifically recall how my LGS had a ton of people for every Zendikar draft (we always had two pods), whereas previous Shards of Alara drafts would be lucky to fire at all.
Some of this could be due to very different draft formats, however, I would constantly hear players squeal when they opened a fetchland. Truth be told, I never missed a Zendikar draft for similar reasons—you had three packs to open one of five rares (the fetchlands) and your draft was paid for regardless of how well you did.
Sure, there were a lot of bulk rares in the set (Halo Hunter, anyone?), but the point was that when players feel like they have a much easier time "winning the lottery," they are far more likely to play. So it will be interesting to see if more packs get opened via draft than would normally get opened via stores trying to fill pre-orders.
Overall, the mythics in the set seem to be low on the power-level scale and I don't expect many to drastically altar Standard. However, the rares in the set seem to be making up for this reduced power level and it definitely seems like WoTC aimed this set more towards the casual crowd than the hardcore competitive.