Hi there! I just got back from Grand Prix New Jersey; while I didn't play in the main event, I did manage to bring some packs of Unstable to draft with some friends. I drafted pretty poorly, played mediocre and went 0-2. Maybe you're reading this and thinking "Wait, DJ actually plays Magic?" Well, I do sometimes. I prefer Commander and Limited, but Unstable is definitely a great draft format for those who haven't tried it out yet. My highlight so far has been Ol' Buzzbark for X = 13 (and not a single one of those dice landing on their Rules Lawyer), but I've yet to cast Spike, Tournament Grinder. While some people in the community have managed to generate some really sweet combos with her, the card itself doesn't have a whole lot of financial relevance outside of foils (which are going for around $15).
So why do I bring up Spike in particular? Well, that question would be a lot more interesting to answer if articles didn't require relevant, eye-grabbing titles to be published. Spike isn't going to cause any banned cards to jump, she's just a timely segue into our discussion today on the financial relevance (or lack thereof) of banned cards. With the continued Lull in the Magic world and Rivals of Ixalan still on the horizon, I figured it would be a good time to stop and talk about a topic that gets brought up every few months when we roll around to the Banned and Restricted List Announcement. If you owned Thopter Foundry or Golgari Grave-Troll, you stood to make some money if you were able to sell into the hype of the unbanning.
While we currently have banned cards in more formats than usual (lookin' at you, Standard), I'm going to focus exclusively on the Modern banned list for the purposes of this article. While Standard bannings are the unfortunate result of a myriad of factors, unbanning cards in Standard creates an even larger consumer confidence issue, and we don't have any precedent for cards being unbanned while they're still in Standard. While Smuggler's Copter might be a great pickup at $2 right now (and I think it's a pretty reasonable target), that would probably be a result of future Modern applications rather than speculation on a Standard unban.
Modern is the format with the most frequently changing banned list and home to some very strong opinions one way or the other on what should be legal. Years down the road, we still have diehard Splinter Twin and Birthing Pod fans saying that their champions did nothing wrong, and would be perfectly legal in the format. There are those who argue Deathrite Shaman died for the sins of Bloodbraid Elf, and those who think Stoneforge Mystic would be safe as long as we trade it for the flesh of a Batterskull. I'm not here to discuss whether I personally think any of the cards on the Modern banned list are fair or balanced enough to be removed. I'm simply going to address some of the hot-button cards that at least a portion of the community agrees could be fine in the format, and talk about some of the potential financial implications if that happens.
I mentioned earlier in the article that Thopter Foundry and Golgari Grave-Troll were two of the best cards to capitalize on the hype from the day they got unbanned. Buyers hit the market to immediately pick up their personal playsets (and sometimes more than that), and test with the cards that were unleashed into the format. You had to be really quick with the mouse to grab your sets on the cheap, especially if you were hoping to have them arrive in the mail and then flip them for a few bucks down the road. However, not all of the cards related to the unbanning jumped as quickly as Foundry itself. If you took a few minutes to research the history of some of the decks that played these previously banned cards, you could sneak past the buying behavior that was impacting the unbanned cards themselves.
What do I mean by that? Well let's call Thopter Foundry a "level zero pick." That's the super official technical term. If you see that they get unbanned, it's really simple to try and buy those cards while the market hasn't adjusted. You practically have to be hitting F5 right when Wizards throws the announcement up, and grab your playset at lightning speed. Everyone is going to be on that train, so we want to go down the path a little less traveled. Sword of the Meek is the card most commonly paired with Thopter Foundry, so those disappeared almost as quickly. While it's not the banned card itself, it goes with the Foundry like peanut butter and jelly.
If Foundry is level zero and Sword is level one, then I think Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas is level two. While Foundry, Sword, and Tezz all jumped on the exact same day (April 5, 2016), these price increases were still hours apart. Someone with their finger on the pulse of the unbanning announcement who was interested in building the Thopter Sword deck would have time to look up the old Extended lists, and see how Tezzeret fits in perfectly. Buying in at $15 would give you several weeks to either play with the card while it's at its peak, or sell into continued brewer hype over the course of the next several weeks. While Thopter-Sword never ended up being a top contender, brewers and finance-minded people alike had an opportunity to buy in quickly if they paid attention to the announcement.
There's a few cards that the community argue about regularly in regard to an unbanning. Again, I'm not arguing that a specific card should be unbanned. I just think that those who want to be savvy with their money should have a plan in place for if a certain pet card of theirs get unbanned. While a Stoneforge Mystic aficionado might already have their playset of the card just in case, there are other singles to keep a finger on the pulse of just in case Wizards decides to get experimental with the Modern format.
If we play around with the possibility that Stoneforge gets let out of jail, then there are several equipment you should be trying to get a deal on. Sword of Feast and Famine comes to mind after Batterskull, but they'll both usually be played as a one-of, maybe two at the most. That is the point of playing a tutor, after all. Stoneforge could slot into existing control decks like Jeskai, making passing on turn three with Spell Queller (a card that's gone up to $6 since rotation) another interesting possible purchase. Considering it's from Eldritch Moon, a set without Masterpieces, the ceiling on non-mythic rares in that set is certainly higher than the blocks that surrounded it. Queller could be the "level two" pick to go to $10 if Stoneforge gets unbanned. While everyone's out buying Stoneforge itself and the associated equipment, look to the other synergies that exist and the shells that she can fit into easily.
The MTGstocks graph for Bloodbraid Elf's price is amusing. There's a cyclical rising and dashing of hopes that's happened for the past few years as hype for a potential unban comes and goes; 2017 was no different. Bloodbraid is, at first glance, one of the more "fair-looking" cards on the list, but its power to put Jund over the top was no joke. We haven't been able to cascade into a Kolaghan's Command in Modern yet, but it and Liliana of the Veil are certainly two of the most powerful three-drops to push out for free. While Liliana doesn't exactly have the price tag of an appealing "just in case" spec target, Kolaghan's Command dances a fine line of "could easily get thrown in a Masters set" while also being $15 already. I'd be hesitant to buy into anything Bloodbraid-related, especially since Jund is already one of the priciest decks in the format. If Bloodbraid gets unbanned and you want to buy in, $5 Bloodbraids are the least of your worries.
I'm not suggesting that you go out and spend $200 on a playset on the off chance that it gets unbanned. It would be impossible for Wizards of the Coast to just flip the on switch without an appropriately timed large-scale reprint, because Jace would likely become a $200 card (for a single copy) overnight. Regardless of its power level, Wizards certainly doesn't want another Tarmogoyf price accessibility issue for a single card.
But what happens if Jace gets unbanned following a couple reprints in 2018?
People who are much better at Magic than I am have asked that question themselves, and written much longer articles on the outlook of a Jace unban. I'm simply here to bring up a talking point as to what cards you want to pick up in response to a world with Jace. I think the format would start to look drastically different over the following weeks, but I don't know exactly what that would look like. I'm sure he would find his way into lists like Jeskai Control and Grixis Shadow (probably in the sideboard), but speculation on single-target specs is beyond me at that point. I'm curious to hear your thoughts on the matter as we prepare to close out 2017; It's certainly been an interesting year in the financial world of Magic, and I appreciate all of those who came along for the ride.
While in Jersey, I was able to sell some cards to dealers while my wife played in a side event. One of the notable things about the vendor booths was how much a few vendors were willing to pay on foil Unstable lands. One vendor in particular was offering $75 cash on Islands, which is literally above the TCGplayer available low as I wrap up this article! While vendor confidence in a card can support the argument that it will increase in price soon, I'm happy to sell off foil Unstable lands at whatever price they're at now. Wizards will continue to print unique and interesting basic lands, so I'm happy to capitalize on any current hype by moving both foil and non-foil Unstable lands. They're gorgeous, but I prefer to play with my MPS Ravnica ones… Thanks for reading, and Happy Holidays!
- DJ Johnson