Once upon a time, Modern was the engine that drove Magic finance.
Introduced back in 2011, Modern was initially billed as Legacy's affordable little brother. There were no Reserved List cards to worry about in Modern, and the best decks were fairly easy to build with the remnants of the decade's best Standard brews. Many Modern staples spiked in price pretty quickly after Modern's inception, but they were still fairly easy to find—at least compared to Legacy's daunting Lion's Eye Diamonds and Underground Seas.
After a slightly rough and combo-centric start, Modern quickly found a natural balance and strong equilibrium. Aggro, midrange, control, and combo were all playable, and it was rare that the format went more than a month or two when this wasn't true. There were usually 5-6 top decks at any given time, but Modern always remained incredibly diverse. 30-40 lower tier brews always felt like they had the potential to run the table on any given weekend.
We're just months away from Modern's 10th anniversary, however, and the format is starting to seem like something of a financial afterthought. There are several reasons for that, and we'll get to them in the next section of this article. Honestly, though, I'm kind of amazed at how quickly Modern fell on hard times. When I wrote about financial fallout from the biggest set of bans the format has ever seen last week, I couldn't believe how many times I found myself writing sentences like, "this banned staple would have collapsed in value if the Modern market hadn't already been at rock bottom, but instead its price hasn't moved much at all."
2021 is going to be a pretty big year for Modern, though. Not only did we have those aforementioned bans, but we've got Modern Horizons 2 arriving this summer, complete with the enemy fetchlands reprinted at rare. Couple that with ever-increasing COVID-19 vaccination rates, and it's starting to look like the second half of this year might be fertile ground for a Modern rebound.
So, let's talk about the future of Modern today. Why are Modern prices so depressed right now, and how likely is that to change? What might the bans, Modern Horizons 2, and the fetchland reprints do to Modern prices going forward? Most importantly, should you be buying Modern cards now, while prices are low, or is the format simply going to remain dormant for years to come?
Let's find out together.
There are several big reasons why Modern prices are incredibly depressed right now.
First, and most importantly, the pandemic has depressed the price of nearly all competitive Magic cards. Commander cards are still doing well, as are collector-focused cards like Reserved List staples, but nobody is buying Standard, Modern, or Pioneer cards right now.
It makes sense when you think about it. If you're spending $20 on a staple for your favorite Commander deck, you know you'll still be able to play that card once social distancing is behind us. You can't say the same about competitive staples, though. That $20 Modern card might be banned by the time you can finally shuffle up your deck down at the LGS. It might only be playable in a deck that's no longer competitive. It might even get reprinted between now and then, cutting its price tag by up to 80%. There was very little upside in picking up hot Modern staples in 2020, and there was quite a lot of downside.
Modern's absence from Arena was also a problem in 2020. As the competitive Magic community pivoted toward the newer digital client in the absence of tabletop events, very little attention was paid to formats that Arena does not offer yet. As a result, there were almost certainly more strategy articles written this year about the evolving Historic metagame than the Pioneer, Legacy, and Modern metagames combined. Modern was out of sight, out of mind.
The pandemic also hit at the exact wrong time for Modern. After years of relative stability, the first Modern Horizons set was like a hand grenade lobbed at the format's top tier. Not only did Modern players have to endure months of format-warping cards and combos, but beloved long-time strategies were wiped out of existence as WotC scrambled to ban old cards that enabled their broken new staples. The Mox Opal ban was the last straw for many of Modern's original players, who finally lost access to Affinity despite the deck's viability since Modern's inception. It felt very much like the end of an era.
Modern's metagame instability also makes it somewhat less attractive to invest in a Modern deck. The main appeal of eternal Magic is that you can spend more money to build a deck that will remain viable for years instead of months. This is great for players who can't get down to their LGS every week, but who still want to play competitive Magic. If bans and format-warping cards are going to shake up the entire metagame every few months, though, Modern becomes less appealing to players like this. Many of them will simply shift to Commander, just play Standard, or give up Magic altogether.
Will the second half of 2021 reverse these trends? I think it'll be something of a mixed bag. I remain optimistic about our post-social-distancing future, and I still believe that we'll see LGS playrooms opening this fall with large tabletop events coming back in early 2022. Modern is also likely to dance back into the community spotlight when Modern Horizons 2 releases, which should lead to increased prices early this summer. The fetchland reprint is especially nice, since making these cards significantly cheaper will open up format accessibility to more people.
On the other hand, I don't think Modern is going to be regaining its pre-Modern Horizons stability any time soon. WotC's current design philosophy privileges splashy, broken cards, and we've already seen what can happen when they design an entire set of powerful spells with Modern in mind. It's possible that Modern Horizons will end up being a fairly tame set that's mostly buoyed by the fetchlands, but I doubt it. My guess is that Modern Horizons 2 will give us some buck wild card or five that will warp the format for several months, just like we've seen in the past few Standard-legal sets. We might get a return to 2015-era Modern at some point, but I've seen no evidence that WotC values that level of stability yet.
Ultimately, however, I do expect we'll see movement in the Modern market in 2021. Modern Horizons 2 should be exciting enough to cause some pretty major spikes, and quite a few new people will give the format a shot once the fetchlands are more accessible. If vaccination rates are still rising and COVID cases are falling in June, it'll be easier for people to dream about playing their favorite new deck down at the LGS. In fact, I would be downright shocked if Modern prices remain this low throughout the year.
Long term, however, Modern is still in a little bit of trouble. If WotC insists on upending the format several times a year, it will not be very effective as an "eternal" format. It's also possible that a newer format, like Pioneer or Historic, will eventually supplant it as the competitive eternal format of choice.
So yeah. Modern may never regain the status that it held from 2011-2018, but that doesn't mean it's a poor investment right now. Prices are incredibly low, and the market can't really get much worse. If you're even a little interested in playing Modern in a post-distancing world, keep reading.
We know for sure that we're getting a real enemy fetchland reprint this summer—good news for those of us who want to grow the Modern player base via increased financial accessibility! Other than a small handful of cards, Modern is actually really cheap right now. In many cases, fetchlands are pretty much the only expensive cards in a given deck.
Take Izzet Blitz, one of the top strategies in post-ban Modern right now. Outside the sideboard or mana base, the most expensive card in the entire deck is Soul-Scar Mage, which you can find on TCGplayer for less than $4. The entire deck costs about $400, though that's mostly because it requires two copies of Arid Mesa and four copies of Scalding Tarn. In fact, those six cards make up roughly half the cost of the entire deck.
Assuming the Modern Horizons 2 reprint cuts the price of fetchlands in half—not an unreasonable back-of-the-envelope prediction—you'd see the Izzet Blitz deck end up being roughly 25% cheaper to build. More importantly, the deck becomes quite a lot cheaper for those players who are lucky enough to open a box of Modern Horizons 2 with, say, two Scalding Tarns and one Arid Mesa inside.
This is how Modern Masters sets worked for years, managing to reduce the price of key Modern staples while also stimulating interest in the format. If you were lucky enough to open two Tarmogoyfs, then it only made sense to build Jund. Get lucky on Jaces or Cryptic Commands? It's time for Azorius Control. This has had diminishing returns over the years as Masters sets began pulling focus away from Modern and toward Commander, but Modern Horizons 2 will focus on Modern and will contain the format's most-needed reprints. I have to believe this will only serve to drive Modern demand.
Before we talk about the decks that might benefit most from a fetchland reprint, let's talk about the fetchlands themselves. What might happen to their price tags, and when should you buy in? Let's go to the charts.
First off, here's Scalding Tarn's price history over the past decade:
Since its initial spike, Scalding Tarn has crested $100 three different times. It has also dropped below $40 three different times. Very few of those peaks or valleys lasted long, and Scalding Tarn usually ends up somewhere in the $50-$80 range.
Scalding Tarn has only had one significant reprint during that period, though, back in Modern Masters 2017. All its other reprints have been at the Masterpiece level, which hasn't done all that much to the card's long-term value. It's possible that an additional reprint will affect the price more significantly than the last one, but there's no evidence that it will even come close to crashing the price of this card. In fact, I will be shocked if that happens.
Here's Arid Mesa over the same timeframe. In this case, it appears as if the Masters 2017 reprint has acted as a fairly permanent damper on the card's ceiling. Arid Mesa has approached (but hasn't hit) the $50 mark since the reprint, and it has dropped below $25 a few times. This sort of thing could happen to more of these lands after the Modern Horizons 2 reprint, allowing these cards to keep their rather high price floors without having $100+ ceilings anymore.
Verdant Catacombs looks more like Scalding Tarn, though at this point you can see how synced up all five of these cards are. They're at slightly different price points, but they tend to rise and fall in unison as opposed to the whims of specific metagame shifts.
There's a slight exception to this rule, though, and it's Misty Rainforest:
Misty Rainforest follows the same spike-and-drop pattern as all the other fetchlands, but it actually peaked in the summer of 2020, despite the promise of fetchland reprints on the way. The reason for this is simple: Simic has been the most important color pair in Modern for the past several years, so the Simic fetchland has increased in both popularity and importance. The Uro ban should help reverse this trend somewhat, and I wouldn't be shocked if Misty Rainforest sees a bit more of a drop than some of the others after the reprint.
Last up, we have Marsh Flats. This is the flattest chart of all the fetchlands, probably because it's the least competitively-relevant of the set. The card dropped as low as $22 right after the Modern Masters 2017 reprint, and has broken the $45 mark a few times over the years. It usually sits in the $30-$40 range, though, and it seems like very few things are actively working to change that.
What can we glean from these charts? First of all, it's pretty clear that enemy fetchland prices have more in common with each other than with, say, the ups and downs of various Modern decks. The more competitively relevant cards like Misty Rainforest can see higher spikes due to increased demand, while the less competitively relevant cards like Marsh Flats have flatter charts, but these five lands tend to move in unison. This tells me that when you go to buy in this summer, you can probably pick up whatever fetchlands you need together, irrespective of how hot they are in Modern at the time. In fact, these charts also help illuminate something I've believed for a long time: fetchlands are primarily expensive due to Commander demand, not competitive play. Otherwise, these charts would look a lot wilder and would likely be further decoupled from each other.
It also seems pretty clear that another Masters set style reprint will not permanently tank the price of these cards. The Modern Masters 2017 reprint did help depress the price of Arid Mesa, but it doesn't seem to have done much of anything to the price of the other four enemy fetchlands once the initial lull wore off. I expect the Modern Horizons 2 reprint to be far more significant, if only because booster pack prices should be lower and the print run should be higher, but the idea that these cards are just going to keep dropping in price for months and months after MHZ2 doesn't seem likely to me.
When should you buy in, then? Either on release weekend or 4-6 weeks later. These tend to be the best two buying windows for hot cards from new sets, allowing you to either get in right when people are opening their initial supply of boxes or when the set hits peak supply. If these fetchlands end up acting more like the Modern Masters 2017 reprint, you'll want to buy in on release weekend. If they end up acting more like the staples from the first Modern Horizons set, the second window will be better.
I'll be going for that first window myself. Even if those release weekend prices aren't the absolute low for fetchlands going forward, they'll be close, and I won't have to risk missing out on the window before the inevitable post-release spike.
You're definitely going to want to wait until Modern Horizons 2 releases before picking up your fetchlands, but what Modern cards should you pick up while the prices are nice and low?
I already gave you a lot of my top pics for post-ban Modern staples last week, including Aether Vial and Stoneforge Mystic. Let's see what has happened to those two cards over the past week.
Here's Aether Vial:
And here's Stoneforge Mystic:
Neither card has seen a price spike yet, but if you look at the green bars you can see that there's been a significant increase in demand since the bannings on 2/15. Increased demand eventually leads to increased prices, and I expect these cards to start creeping up over the coming months. If you want in, get in now.
I also called Kroxa, Titan of Death's Hunger the best spec in Modern right now. I stand by that, and it looks like it has ticked up a buck or two since last week. If you don't have these in your collection, get them now. Seriously.
In addition, I expect Azorius Control pieces to do well over the coming months. This is one of Modern's last original iconic decks, and it had been relegated to near-unplayability for months. It's back now, though, and people are going to want to cast their Snapcaster Mages, Cryptic Commands, and Jaces again.
Looking for an even safer bet? Check out other Modern lands. It's quite possible that Aether Vial, Stoneforge Mystic, or any number of Azorius Control staples will be reprinted in Modern Horizons 2, but we already know that the rare land cycle is going to be the enemy-colored fetchlands. That means that there almost certainly won't be any other land cycles, and there definitely won't be any other enemy-colored rare land cycles.
Enter the Kaladesh lands: Spirebluff Canal, Concealed Courtyard, Blooming Marsh, Inspiring Vantage, and Botanical Sanctum. This is the third most important cycle of lands in Modern, following fetches and shocklands. Not only do we know that these lands won't be in Modern Horizons 2, but there isn't a Core Set for them to get reprinted in this year, either. Flavor-wise, I also don't think they'll show up in Strixhaven, Innistrad, or the D&D set. That makes them a pretty safe buy.
I feel the same way about the Horizon lands from the original Modern Horizons. These lands ended up being fairly important parts of the Modern metagame after being initially disappointing, and I would be shocked if they're reprinted anytime soon. The first Modern Horizons set is also out of print now, so these cards could double-up at literally any time. In fact, I suspect this spike would have already happened if it wasn't for the pandemic.
We also know that WotC likes to give lower tier Modern decks a boost when they print Modern Horizons sets. The first Modern Horizons set had gifts for decks like Izzet Pyromancer and Dredge, boosting both decks' fortunes considerably in the process. What decks could be the recipient of WotC's boon this time around?
Well, it's easier to print specific cards for linear decks, so that's a solid place to look. I can absolutely imagine Wizards trying to rejuvenate Infect after many years, and people will rejoice if WotC finds a way to make Affinity work again—even without Mox Opal. Merfolk and Goblins could use a boost if they go the tribal route, and it would be fantastic if they gave us something for the Delver decks. It would be shocking if Jund doesn't get some kind of boost, and ditto for Death and Taxes.
If you're looking to speculate on key cards from these decks, you run the risk of getting too cute with your money. WotC might choose to rejuvenate Affinity while reprinting Arcbound Ravager in the process, so if that's the card you chose to speculate on, too bad for you. WotC might bring back Infect, but invalidate several of the key staples in the process. You just don't know at this point.
If you're interested in that type of speculation, the best time to act is on the first day or two of Modern Horizons 2 previews. Take a good long look at what WotC is including in the set, extrapolate on what second tier decks are likely to be supported, and buy in accordingly. You might get clipped with a few reprints, but you should still do well overall.
In the meantime, you can assume that a rising Modern tide will eventually lift all boats. If the Modern market wakes up at some point—and I expect it will—then we'll see significant price increases across the board. If you want to take advantage, start picking up cards now. Either choose a fun new Modern deck and start picking up pieces, or simply try to fill out your overall collection with the staples you're missing. It's not as clever as trying to out-think WotC's Modern Horizons 2 strategy, but the results should be just as good, if not better.
I'll be covering both Strixhaven and Time Spiral Remastered in depth in future articles, but it was nice to get our first few little peeks at the new sets this week. The Strixhaven commands look fantastic, but from a financial perspective it's all about the Mystical Archives. This set of 63 mini-Masterpieces will act similar to the Timeshifted sheet in the original Time Spiral set, giving each pack a shot at a second bonus rare or mythic.
It will be a while before we can determine what the existence of the Mystical Archives sheet will do to Strixhaven singles prices, but my guess is that it will at least somewhat depress them. We know that Demonic Tutor is one of the 63 cards, and even if the majority of them are close to bulk, there will be at least a small handful of chase cards included in the set. This could cause Strixhaven singles to track 10-20% lower than they otherwise would, in addition to lowering the prices of the cards that are reprinted in the Mystical Archives.
There will also be a Japanese alternate-art subset of Mystical Archives, similar to the Anime planeswalkers in War of the Spark. Unlike that set, however, these will not be exclusive to Japanese Booster Boxes. Instead, there will be one Japanese Mystical Archives card in every Collector Booster. These cards will hold a premium, then, but don't expect their price tags to go hog wild like their War of the Spark brethren.
As for Time Spiral Remastered, it looks like we're going to see a lot of the best cards from Time Spiral, Planar Chaos, and Future sight reprinted—though not in either the color-shifted or future-shifted frames. None of the original Timeshifted cards will be reprinted, however, so your Gemstone Mine or Lord of Atlantis specs are still holding strong, I suppose. This still means that cards like Gemstone Caverns, Vesuva, Flagstones of Trokair, Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth, Damnation, Pact of Negation, Tarmogoyf, and even Sliver Legion are more likely than not to be reprinted in Time Spiral Remastered.
While a booster box price of $200 should keep Time Spiral Remastered closer to the Masters set range than a Standard-legal set, every card reprinted in Time Spiral Remastered is going to see a significant price drop over the coming weeks. It's probably too late to sell your copies at this point, though, so you may just have to wait it out. I'll be back as soon as preview begin to give you more thoughts on Time Spiral Remastered and the future value of your Time Spiral cards, including cards that might gain value after dodging a Remastered reprint.
Lastly, I've heard some rumblings from the high-end dealers I follow on Twitter that the Reserved List spikes might be slowing down. A few of them have stopped aggressively buying Revised Duals and other key Reserved List cards, waiting for the market to stabilize instead of chasing it ever-higher. According to them, demand is softening a bit, and these elite cards may have reached the top of their market for now.
It's unclear what will happen to these cards in the future, and I still think you're going to want to hold onto your near mint and gradable Reserved List staples. If you're waiting for the overall Reserved List market to peak, though, there's a strong chance that these cards have reached their 2021 apex. If you've been waiting to sell and you want to get out of these cards this year, this seems like a fine time to pull the trigger.