Insider: Preparing for an Energy Ban

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Welcome back, folks.

This is an important week for MTGO finance. One need only look at Standard card prices to see that there is an abundance of optimism about Rivals of Ixalan Standard. Preview season showed that Rivals of Ixalan offers many exciting toys for brewers to test with, and at a high enough clip to where many believe that new decks can compete at the top tiers of competitive Standard play.

Ixalan prices have gone up by 15 percent since Christmas Eve. And even the other sets have seen modest gains – Hour of Devastation, Amonkhet, Aether Revolt, and Kaladesh prices have gone up by an average of 5 percent each. Standard prices usually don't go up like this heading into a new format; usually card prices on MTGO are about 10 percent lower than normal the week before and after a new set's release as players sell their cards to draft the new set.

So what's my main topic of discussion today?

A Nerf to Temur Energy seems Imminent

Perhaps most important of all, there are strong indications being sent out by Wizards of the Coast that Energy decks will be nerfed to some degree. In her article this week, Melissa DeTora likened Energy to Affinity, dubbing both of them "block monsters," meaning that they discourage the use of cards from other sets.

Normally, a block does not itself contain enough support to make its cards tier one, requiring cards from other sets around it to support its themes. For example, treasures from Ixalan help improvise from Aether Revolt, and the artifact tokens from both of those sets helping to support the ascend mechanic in Rivals of Ixalan. Energy and Affinity were not like that, however, as both discourage the use of cards from outside their respective blocks. Affinity, as you may recall, was banhammered into oblivion.

The next indicator is a tweet by Aaron Forsythe, in which he announced that there will be no Modern cards banned in the upcoming B&R announcement.

Finally, I can't help but think that Wizards is extremely worried about the heavy shift by Star City Games toward Modern and Team Constructed – the only Standard tournaments will be on release weekends. We don't have as much data as Wizards does, but what is known is that viewership of Standard events is in the doldrums, and it is likely that there has been a decline in Standard participation across the board.

It is no accident that the rise of Pauper has coincided with a deep-seated apathy toward Standard. Wizards will want to assure that this upcoming Standard is a good one, and the only way to do that is to nerf Temur Energy. To that end, I expect Attune with Aether (95-percent chance) and Rogue Refiner (75-percent chance) to be banned next Monday.

At this point, I believe this to be so likely that you should make financial moves in its anticipation, especially if you currently own the key pieces. Regardless, it is a good idea to reflect on the potential implications of a nerf to the Energy shell.

Cards to Sell

There are several cards that will lose a lot of value if Attune to Aether is banned, and a lot more if Rogue Refiner is additionally banned. Starting off with lands, Botanical Sanctum and Spirebluff Canal will stand to lose the most, as both see heavy play in the deck. Canal will eventually rebound, but Sanctum might not, as its Standard usage is bound up almost entirely in various Energy shells (Temur, 4-color, Sultai Pummeler).

Nissa, Steward of Elements  has quietly been seeing Standard play as a one-of in Temur Energy and Four-Color Energy sideboards, so expect the card's stock to drop by about 50 percent.  Nicol Bolas, God-Pharaoh is in a similar boat, but I'm not sure how much lower the card can go – at 3.09 tix, it is already at its lowest point ever. I wouldn't fault you for holding any copies of Nicol Bolas you might still own. Bristling Hydra, like Nissa, should be expected to see a sharp drop-off.

Although not in the flagship Temur Energy shell, Glint-Sleeve Siphoner is a full playset in Four-Color Energy and should take a financial hit. I've sold all my copies, and you should be able to buy in again below the 2.00 tix mark. Greenbelt Rampager is inexplicably still hovering around 1.00 tix; expect that to change next week.

This one is less obvious, but an energy ban would lead to a rather aggressive metagame, with Ramunap Red and aggressive black, black-red, and blue-black Pirate shells running amok. Although I expect The Scarab God to recover in price, I do think you'll be able to sell now and get it back below 20.00 tix later. I'd personally sell any copies I owned beyond the second or third. I have been wrong about The Scarab God before, though (expect an article this year on Standard cards that reach $30 or more, as I want to understand them better).

Card to Keep

These big red cards are simply too good and do not depend on an Energy shell to be successful. I don't believe you should be worried about holding these; even if they see a bit of a dip after the expected ban, they'll rebound. Chandra, in particular, might actually benefit from the ban, since Ramunap Red would become the new top dog of Standard.

I'd be more inclined to hold Vraska than The Scarab God, in part because she's more proactive, in part because her price has been extremely stable, and in part because the risk in holding her is lower since her value is only 11.56 tix in comparison to 29.52 tix.

Some Potential Winners

White tokens: The obvious winners from an Energy ban will be Ixalan tribal cards, since those are the cards held back the most by Energy midrange variants. The market already detects that, as Ixalan prices have risen more than those from the other sets. Going one step beyond the obvious, white-based token strategies will be sure to pick up steam to prey on more linear aggressive strategies in a post-energy world. Legion's Landing // Adanto, the First Fort is excellent in such decks, and other all-stars include Anointed Procession, Dusk/Dawn, Adorned Pouncer, and Champion of Wits. See sample lists here and here.

Control: Energy is among the most resilient decks against control variants, since most of its creatures are either very sticky or generate card advantage when they enter the battlefield. In a world without energy, the threat quality should decrease, helping decks that rely on control cards like Fumigate, Regal Caracal and Vraska's Contempt see more success once their lists are tuned to the metagame. I've picked up about 20 copies of Vraska's Contempt, and am contemplating picking up some number of copies of Torrential Gearhulk, a card whose price (13.52 tix) has never been lower.

Improvise Artifact Shells: Artifact-based improvise decks are a long-forgotten part of Kaladesh Block. We remember vehicles, we remember energy, but we don't remember Marionette Master or Tezzeret the Schemer. Those decks were just not quite powerful enough to see competitive Standard play, but now those decks might be able to emerge from out of the shadows of the other Kaladesh themes.

I have not yet invested in these cards, but I think I will. They offer a high-risk, high-reward opportunity that I think might pay dividends. Tezzeret is sitting at just 1.54 tix, and Herald of Anguish at 1.25 tix. My main hesitancy comes from the strange lack of treasure-support that Rivals of Ixalan is bringing to Standard.  The only cards that catch my eye cost four or more – Pirate's Pillage chief among them. I'm likely to invest a modest amount of money into this sector, and it's definitely one to mull over as it is slipping under the radar.

Signing Off

A copy of my portfolio can be found here. As readers long-familiar with my weekly column can attest, I don't mine cards from the upcoming set as speculation opportunities the way that our friends on the paper side can do. There is no preorder season on MTGO, and it is generally wise to speculate on old, rather than new, cards in the early days of a new set's release.

Therefore, now is a good time to ask what my readers want to see me write about. Tell me what interests you the most, what questions you have, what sort of articles you'd like to see in the coming weeks. I look forward to your comments. Y'all have a great week!

2 thoughts on “Insider: Preparing for an Energy Ban

  1. Wouldn’t the potental drop in price on Botanical Sanctum due to an Energy ban be negated by the fact that it would probably make U/G Merfolk better?

    1. Hey Justin, thanks for the question. To some extent, of course. But Energy has reached Caw Blade levels of metagame percentage, something that Merfolk will not be able to match. There would be an influx of Botanical Sanctum into the marketplace, and demand would not be able to sustain a $8-$10 price. Already Sanctum is dropping in value as players and speculators anticipate the ban – I sold my 6 copies several days ago, and it appears others are doing the same.

      There’s also downward pressure on Sanctum (and all the KLD fastlands) due to the treasure chests. Sanctum sits at a 12 frequency now. Over time that is going to put a hard ceiling on its price.

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