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Ultimate Masters has generated more buzz than any set since (maybe) the announcement of fetchland reprints in Khans of Tarkir. With an incredible amount of high-quality reprints, plus many new Masterpieces with a new frame, Wizards held nothing back.
Not all the talk is positive, though, and the new ultra-premium MSRP of $34.99 for a three-pack blister pack, higher than past Masters sets, has some crying that it’s the worst thing to ever happen to the game since the Reserved List. Personally, I don’t see how it’s anything but good for players. Even if someone can’t afford to buy packs of the set, reprints will bring the prices of cards down, and the set is filled to the brim with quality Modern and Legacy staples.
What’s most interesting to me about Ultimate Masters (UMA) is what’s not in the set. When a staple is not reprinted in a Masters set, that means it’s mostly safe until the following year’s special release, so demand for copies of these cards tends to rise. Now that UMA is full spoiled, we have a clear look at what is not in the set, so today I want to identify some key cards that were absent, and as such, are likely due to rise in price during 2019. The Modern card pool is huge, but there are some elephants in the room. There are also some hints about what might start rising based on what has started appreciating on Magic Online after the spoiler hit, and now that the paper market has had some time to process the news, there have been some small initial paper movements that could accelerate. I’ll also explain some Modern metagame factors at play that are exacerbating the effect and could catalyze a spike.
Mox Opal and Hardened Scales Affinity Cards
Conspicuously absent from UMA is Mox Opal, which is also one of the very best cards in Modern. It’s played in multiple top-tier strategies, including the Krark-Clan Ironworks combo deck that might be the best deck n the format. It’s also used in Affinity, including the Hardened Scales Affinity deck that has been rapidly increasing in popularity over the past couple weeks.
Since last week, Blinkmoth Nexus quadrupled in price online after being bought out, presumably “crunched” out of UMA, meaning someone figured out it couldn’t be in the set even before it was fully spoiled (based on collector numbers and alphabetization). Now that UMA has been spoiled, other staples of the deck are starting to trend upwards, including Steel Overseer growing 75 percent, Arcbound Ravager 45 percent, and Hangarback Walker 35 percent. With the deck on the rise, I see this increasing demand likely to carry over to paper, so I see growth ahead.
I have a theory that Mox Opal was purposely left out of UMA because it’s so high on the list of potential cards to ban in Modern, and because I assume UMA was in the design process last year and very early this year, when Lantern Control was at its zenith, that it could have been seriously up for discussion to ban. Modern seems like it's in a pretty good place now, so I don’t expect to see a banning of Mox Opal or anything else in the near future, but it is something to keep in mind. Potential to be banned does make Mox Opal a relatively risky spec, but because this bannability factor makes Wizards hesitant to reprint it, the risk is rewarded with a lower risk of reprint. It seems to have already been slightly creeping up in price in paper, and may be due for a breakout, or at least some modest growth back to its former peak of around $110, from where it currently sits just shy of $100.
An interesting spike related to Mox Opal is Cranial Plating, which isn’t in the Hardened Scales Affinity deck but is a staple of the classic version. It has seen some massive growth, from under 0.1 tickets to over 0.3 to 0.5 for the various versions. Despite multiple reprints, maybe its paper price under $1 is too low?
Dark Confidant and Rock Cards
One oft-reprinted card absent from UMA is Dark Confidant, which also escaped reprint in Modern Masters 2017. Its omission is understandable since its play has been minimal in recent years, but that didn’t stop its price from seeing a massive spike at the release of Masters 25, where it was absent. This also coincided with Bloodbraid Elf’s unbanning, which brought Jund, and thus Dark Confidant, back into the picture. While nothing can compare to the effect of an unbanning, similar conditions are shaping up surrounding Dark Confidant and this Masters release.
Assassin's Trophy has now become industry-standard in Modern Rock decks, like Jund and Abzan, and have brought about a revival of straight Golgari decks, and Dark Confidant plays a key role in the strategy. The card missing reprint seems like the perfect catalyst to change its price trajectory, which has been steadily falling since its spike back to its current position at pre-spike levels.
A key card for The Rock is Verdant Catacombs, which along with other fetchlands has been appreciating online this week. UMA was an opportunity to reprint them, but it is not surprising Wizards held such a juicy card for a better opportunity. These cards are among the most important staples in Modern, and the reprint of shocklands in Guilds of Ravnica has made them even more appealing. In the short term, the smaller supply of enemy-colored fetchlands might see the most movement, but they are more at risk for reprint, so for a longer horizon the allied-color lands will be safer.
Humans and Spirits Cards
I’d keep my eyes on cards from Humans and Spirits that missed reprinting. Aether Vial is shared by both, which explains why it’s now trending up online this week.
I am watching Phantasmal Image, which is also in both decks. One card that seems overdue for some growth is Collected Company, a staple of Spirits.
Don’t Ignore Uncommons
There are few staple uncommons missing from UMA that are starting to spike. Mishra's Bauble is a staple of Death's Shadow decks, which has been increasing in popularity, is used in the Ironworks deck, and sees other scattered play. Its price had been slowly increasing online all month from where it had slumped to around 6 to around 8 tix at the beginning of the week, and is now over 10 tickets. Its paper price has slumped to a low of $6, so it looks to have plenty of upside.
An even bigger staple is Manamorphose, a key card in Storm, but one that is seeing a ton of new demand from Arclight Phoenix and Runaway Steam-Kin. It’s also in very short supply, being from the notorious Shadowmoor, which is why its price has always been so high to begin with. It hasn’t been reprinted since the first Modern Masters. Its online price has actually slumped since the announcement because it was inflated from hype, but the paper prices of both printings are clearly on the move up from $10, with the reprint pulling ahead.
Buy Low, Sell High
For a more speculative pick, look at Living End, which spiked online this week, up from half a ticket to over a ticket. Its namesake deck is at a low in the metagame, currently suffering severely from hate against Dredge. This explains why its price was so low, and why its paper price has been steadily falling all year.
The graph of the card is actually rather interesting, with its entire history being cycles of spikes followed by a steady decline, which has really been accentuated over the past two years. With its demand and price currently at a bottom, it seems like future growth is inevitable as the metagame shifts and the deck becomes viable again.