We made it, friends. It's late September, and Zendikar Rising is finally here. I'm sure many of you are chomping at the bit to start buying singles and cracking packs—I know I am. Original Zendikar is one of my top-five sets of all time, and I have a lot of nostalgia for the adventurous plane of Vampire Nighthawks and Lotus Cobras. Zendikar Rising looks like it'll live up to the hype, and I'm excited to get my hands on some of these sweet new spells.
While this is my buyer's guide for Zendikar Rising, this isn't my first look at the new set. If you want to read my card-by-card analysis of all the rares and mythics in Zendikar Rising, you can check out parts one, two, and three of my set review.
Of course, there have been some pretty wild Zendikar Rising price shifts over the past few days as the initial Standard metagame establishes itself. I'll be covering these early trends as part of my article today, but that's only a small part of what I want to look at this week. Since many of us are making our big Zendikar Rising buying decisions this week, I want to walk you through my thought process on what, when, and how to buy into this set.
Is it worth picking up singles now, or should you wait? Should you buy a box of draft boosters, or are set boosters the better deal? And what's going to happen with those fancy fetchland box toppers, anyway? If you're planning to engage with Zendikar Rising at all, this article is for you.
Zendikar Rising is the third Standard set impacted by COVID-19, not to mention the effect the pandemic has had on special sets like Jumpstart and Double Masters. So far, we've seen two major trends emerge from these 2020 releases. First, Standard demand is down across the board, but it isn't entirely dead. Top tier Standard mythics aren't going to sell for the prices they would if we could all gather in LGS back rooms and play FNM like in the before times, but people are still buying plenty of copies of these cards—either to play in game stores overseas, or for webcam/kitchen table games, or just because they want to build decks for kicks. You can't fully ignore Standard demand, but you can't count on it to cause a price spike the way you could just a few months ago.
Second, the initial supply of sealed product for all these sets has been severely impacted by pandemic-related printer delays. With Ikoria, they delayed the North American release for about a month, causing some weird-looking price charts as copies trickled in from overseas for several weeks and prices stayed artificially high. For example, here's Luminous Broodmoth, which became Standard-legal on April 17th despite not being released in the US until May 15th.
WotC handled Jumpstart differently, and it changed a lot. Unwilling to move the release date back, WotC just shipped what Jumpstart they had as soon as they could, meaning the product trickled onto shelves over several months instead of being readily available at launch. I expected this to lead to a slow and steady price erosion over time, which is kind of what happened. But a lot of the cards in Jumpstart haven't actually lost all that much value over the past few months, even as the supply continues to grow. For example, here's Tinybones, Trinket Thief. Comparing this to the Luminous Broodmoth chart above, you can tell the initial sales spikes aren't as large as they usually are in relation to the number of sales per day later on.
What does any of this have to do with Zendikar Rising? Well, this set has been experiencing some supply chain delays as well. A lot of shops have seen their allocations delayed, and it's likely there won't be enough Zendikar Rising to meet demand over the coming weeks. This could lead to higher-than-average prices, or at least smaller-than-average week one drops, though I suspect the lack of Standard demand will help keep things pretty reasonable. This also doesn't seem to be a Jumpstart-level issue: there are plenty of Zendikar Rising draft booster boxes available for around $90 on eBay, which is in line with normal pricing. If anything's going to be here on time and en masse, it'll be those.
Set booster boxes are drying up faster, however. The cheapest ones I can find right now are selling for about $180, which is high, especially compared to the prices a few weeks ago. There's a twitter user @MTGTweets who compiles pricing trends for booster boxes, and they've found that Zendikar Rising's set booster boxes have climbed $43.36 since their initial lows, almost $32 of which has been gains made over the past seven days. By comparison, Zendikar Rising's draft booster boxes have gone up about $5 over the past week, while collector booster boxes have gained about $20 over the same time period.
Set boosters are new, and it's unclear how much they "should" sell for in our post-MSRP world, but this sort of prerelease rally is quite rare. A lot of it comes down to a single seller on eBay, who sold a bunch of boxes via pre-sale and had to cancel most of their orders due to a lack of allocation. You may have to pay these spiked prices for collector boosters if you need them—they're only printed once, after all—but both set and draft booster boxes are print-to-order. There will be more of these hitting shelves later on. You should avoid paying the current spiked prices for set booster boxes right now, and they're only this high because of supply chain issues. If you want a box of Zendikar Rising set boosters, be patient.
Why are set boosters so expensive? In large part, because they contain cards from The List. No, not the Reserved List; this is a different list of 300 cards from throughout the history of Magic that have been reprinted exclusively in Zendikar Rising set boosters with their original border and expansion symbol, Mystery Booster style.
How scarce are individual cards from The List? Very. To begin with, each set booster only has a 25% chance of having a List card to begin with, which means that your $180 booster box is only going to have, on average, 7-8 cards from The List. That's not many!
I tried to find a full EV breakdown for The List, but it doesn't look like anyone has actually priced out all 300 cards and broken them down by rarity. I don't blame them, because this sort of analysis takes forever. I know this because I decided to crunch the numbers myself. You're welcome!
Unfortunately, I hit a couple snags in my analysis. The first is I still don't know exactly how The List weights for rarity, though a source at WotC did confirm to me some rarity weighting is present. It's possible this happens at the same rate as set boosters, which would mean you'd see ten commons before a single rare, but it's also possible that it's a lighter weighting at something like a 1:2:3:4 ratio between mythics, rares, uncommons, and commons. We won't know this for sure until a lot of people open a lot of booster boxes and we can crunch the numbers ourselves.
Second, there are some List cards I can't fully determine a rarity for. There's randomly an Unglued Plains on The List, for example. Is that going to have the same drop rate as a common, or a rare? And what about the textless MPL promo copies of Disenchant and Terminate and such? I could see them showing up at pretty much any rarity on the spectrum.
Some data is better than no data, though, so I did my best to determine rarity, putting the Unglued Plains in the Common slot and including the MPL (and other) promos at the rarity level of the first printing of each card. When you average out all 300 cards on The List, you get the following result:
If there's rarity weighting, that puts the weighted EV of a random card from The List between $3.68 if you use 1/2/6/20 draft booster style weighting and $4.18 if you use a 1/2/3/4 simple weighting. Take away the weighting entirely, and the value of the slot goes up, but not by a ton. Instead of around $4, it would put the average value of a List card at $5.13.
Of course, we now have to divide these numbers by four since each set booster only has a 25% chance of containing a card from The List. Using our weighted figures, we get an average slot value of about $1. That's significant—it adds up to about $30 per booster box—but it's also not worth worrying much about when making our box-buying choices. Once in a while, you might open up a sweet rare from The List, but usually you won't open anything great. If you're buying set boosters, you should consider The List to be a nice bonus and nothing more.
As for the future value of cards on The List, I honestly don't think this particular reprint venue is going to hurt the price of any given card much. Assuming the barest minimum of rarity weighting, you're still only opening a given rare from The List once every 80 boxes or so. That's not going to do much to the price of cards like Food Chain or Scroll Rack, though it might hit some of the pricier commons if the set is weighted heavily toward opening cards at lower rarities. At any rate, I own plenty of cards on The List, and I'm not bothering to sell them in advance of this set release. You don't need to either.
This is perhaps the biggest finance question in Zendikar Rising, and we're going to approach it from a couple of different angles. First, let's take a look at what happened to the best Godzilla series cards from Ikoria. Here's the chart for Mothra, Supersonic Queen - Luminous Broodmoth:
And here's Ghidorah, King of the Cosmos - Illuna, Apex of Wishes:
These two cards are directly comparable to the foil Expedition fetch lands, because they were released in the same Collector Booster slot just a few months back. In both cases, the right time to buy was the day before the formal set release date. The pre-order price just kept dropping and dropping and then, suddenly, bam—they hit bottom, rallied, and stayed high for several months before slowly dropping off as the world kind of moved on.
This pattern held for most key cards from Double Masters VIP boosters as well. Here's the chart for the borderless foil Doubling Season:
And here's Force of Will:
These dips weren't quite as pronounced as the Godzilla cards, and there are a few others that didn't dip much, but this is still the prevailing trend with these sorts of promos. I suspect the same will hold true for the Expedition fetch lands from Zendikar Rising Collector Boosters. You should either buy in right as the boosters are first hitting shelves—which is only a few days from now—or you should wait several months for the hype to die down.
Now that we've figured out the best time to buy our Collector Booster cards, let's take a look at when we should pick up Zendikar Rising singles for both Standard and Commander. Fall sets tend to behave differently from sets released at other parts of the year since they're paired with a set rotation, so I'll focus exclusively on autumn releases for this particular deep dive.
Let's start by looking at The Great Henge from Throne of Eldraine. While this card did see some tournament play, it's expensive almost entirely because of Commander demand. Here's what The Great Henge's price chart looks like since it was released last September:
There's another little dip at release, similar to the Collector Booster cards we just looked at, but the real trough hits in mid-November. Between 11/7 and 11/20, The Great Henge dipped below $10 for the first and only time. It began to rebound by the end of the month, and only dropped again this spring due to the COVID-19 market correction.
I wish I could throw up some charts from other Throne of Eldraine Commander staples, but there really aren't any. The addition of Collector Boosters really depressed a lot of the prices from this set, including cards I really liked as long-term buys like Emry, Lurker of the Loch:
It's possible that this card will get frisky now that it's been kicking around the $1-$2 range for almost a year, but the truth of the matter is that most of the charts from this set (and all recent sets, quite frankly) look like this—a flurry of early excitement followed by a long and slow bottoming out. The trick is to be as patient as possible with the majority of the set, while also trying not to miss out on cards like The Great Henge that do increase in price over time.
As for Standard, it's hard to evaluate cards from last autumn because Oko, Thief of Crowns and Once Upon a Time cast such a dark shadow over the whole format. Standard cards tend to follow metagame trends a lot more closely than seasonal trends, though, which is how you end up with charts like this one for Brazen Borrower:
This card bottomed out several weeks earlier than The Great Henge, hitting $11 on October 18th of 2019 before rocketing back up to a high of $28 in early December. It really only started to drop again in early March, thanks to the pandemic as well as the announcement of the Challenger Decks. Now that Brazen Borrower is seeing some play in Dimir Rogues, it's on the rise again.
Can we learn anything from the 2018 fall set, Guilds of Ravnica? Maybe. Sets released before the advent of Project Booster Fun are always going to behave differently from sets released now, but maybe looking at the shocklands can tell us something about the ebb and flows of pricing the fall set. After all, shock lands are about as steady as it comes. Here's the price chart for Steam Vents from fall 2018 through the end of 2019:
Interesting! According to this chart, the best time to buy Steam Vents was…a week before Guilds of Ravnica came out. In some ways, this is reminiscent of what's happening with Lotus Cobra right now. People are too aggressive in selling a popular reprint before its new set is actually released, and end up missing out on higher prices later. I'm not sure if this chart can tell us anything about Zendikar Rising as a whole, but it's definitely interesting when it comes to analyzing reprints, and it's not quite what I expected.
Let's take a look at one more card from Guilds of Ravnica and see if there's any chance at developing a pattern here. Here's Divine Visitation, from release to now:
Divine Visitation is an interesting card. It began pre-ordering absurdly high, and then dropped rapidly until mid-December, at which point it started seeing play in Standard and was promptly bought out. But even when Divine Visitation faded out of Standard, it remained fairly high and eventually started to climb due to Commander demand. It's now a $13-$15 card, entirely due to casual play.
None of this leaves us with a particularly clear and obvious picture of when to buy Standard and Commander cards from Zendikar Rising. Most of the best casual cards in the set will probably drop between now and the end of the year, but you also don't want to leave 2020 without buying them. After all, most of the best cards will spike again before 2021, like Divine Visitation and The Great Henge did. The best way to handle this is probably by identifying the cards you want to buy now, and checking in on them at least once a week to see where they're at. If they start spiking, get in ASAP.
As for Standard cards, nothing beats good old fashioned metagame analysis. If you play a lot of Arena, or read a lot of articles, you'll get a sense of what's going to spike a few days before it does. Looking at overall trends is somewhat useful, but Standard demand always ebbs and flows based on what's looking good right now.
Obviously, it's a bit early to make calls on the new metagame. It gets late pretty early these days, though, and we're a long way from the era when the week one hype cycle was based on the results of a single tournament. These days, thousands upon thousands of Arena matches happen before the first physical booster pack of a new set even hits shelves. The meta is nowhere near settled, of course, but the cards that look good now will probably still look good a month from now.
Speaking of cards that look good, let's talk about ramp. We already knew that Lotus Cobra would be a star alongside Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath, but Omnath, Locus of Creation is also proving itself an unstoppable force of nature. Here's what the price chart for Lotus Cobra looks like:
And here's Omnath, Locus of Creation:
Both cards are on the rise right now, and Omnath, Locus of Creation is still in the process of spiking about as hard as a new card can spike. Omnath, Locus of Creation will almost certainly be between $30-$40 by the time you read this, and it'll remain there until the metagame changes, or the set hits peak supply. The fact that Modern Uro Piles has also started to use three to four Omnath, Locus of Creation speaks to its power level as well as its possible price ceiling, which is more or less the same as Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath.
Feel free to buy Omnath, Locus of Creation on the way up if you think you'll need a copy at some point over the next few months, though I suspect WotC will ban parts of the ramp deck if it's still the best thing in the format early in 2021. People are already sick of Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath, and this whole strategy might simply get the axe at some point just to let something else thrive.
Speaking of cards that are spiking right now, here's Scute Swarm:
Scute Swarm is all over Arena right now, and this little bug has also proven itself a casual darling. I'm skeptical any rare in this set can sustain a $10+ price tag on TCGplayer for long, so I'm not buying into the helium here. But it's obvious that Scute Swarm is quite good and was incredibly underrated until folks started playing with it. You should at least keep a close eye on this one to see what happens over the coming weeks.
I also wanted to highlight Clearwater Pathway // Murkwater Pathway, since it's jumped from $4.50 to about $9 over the past week. We'll see what happens when the set hits peak supply, but these lands have proven themselves legit and powerful in the early going. Not all of these modal DFC lands have gone up much yet—for example, Cragcrown Pathway // Timbercrown Pathway is still just $5—but they all seem to be on at least slight upward trajectories. Ignore them at your own risk.
Lastly, here's Glasspool Mimic:
This card hasn't seen an uptick in price yet, but it's showing up a lot in the early going, and seems to be the most popular member of this cycle—at least in terms of what I've noticed popping up in the initial metagame breakdowns. The price is still just $2, and I see no reason why this card can't end up in the $4-$5 range at least. If you're looking for a spec call based on what I've seen so far on Arena, this is it.
There's been some movement in Modern this week, as an Elvish Reclaimer-based deck is really starting to make some waves in the post-Zendikar Rising Modern metagame. Flagstones of Trokair is one of the deck's key cards, and the price has spiked from $4 to $16 over the past few days. Take a look:
This wasn't a single-source buyout. Even on the day the card began to spike and loads of copies were sold, the average copies/buyer ratio didn't change. People want to play this deck, and they're willing to pay nearly $20 for a copy of Flagstones of Trokair. Because of that, I don't expect the card's value to drop any time soon.
Seasoned Pyromancer is also on the move this week. Gruul Midrange is doing well in Modern right now, and the deck is fairly cheap save these and a single copy of Wrenn and Six. With Modern Horizons far in our rearview mirror now, it's possible that some of its key mythics are in position to spike and spike hard. Honestly, I think it would have happened right now if the pandemic wasn't suppressing competitive singles prices.
Lastly, here's an odd Modern spike. Recross the Paths was a bulk card until a few days ago, at which point it surged above $4. Why? Because of a sweet new no-land Modern Charbelcher deck, that uses Recross the Paths to stack your whole library. This deck is sweet, but this buyout spike was the result of just a small handful of speculators snapping up all the spare copies on the internet. It'll remain high, or even spike more, if this new Charbelcher deck is real. Otherwise, Recross the Paths will slowly drift back toward the bulk range.