I think most of us have had that one pet card that never panned out. Whether it's collecting thirty or so Duskmantle Seer during its Standard tenure or staring longingly at a box of Dragon Whisperer, Magic players will always be attached to certain cards based on their own personal experiences and beliefs. Sometimes we pick up cards on the belief that they'll get better in the future, when supporting cast members get added to the mix. For example, I bought a lot of Spawnsire of Ulamog in the weeks prior to Battle for Zendikar's release. While BFZ block ended up being one of Mark Rosewater's biggest regrets, the simple expectation of new Eldrazi to cast with Spawnsire created a lot of hype and helped the price to increase.
With Duskmantle Seer, I had personal experience with the card being very good in a Standard deck at the time. I was crushing local events, gained mastery over the list and felt like I had really found something that attacked the metagame at its weak point. With Dragon Whisperer, I was basing my purchase off the past successes of similar cards like Kargan Dragonlord, Figure of Destiny and Grim Lavamancer. Red decks tend to want cards that close out the late game in case of flooding, that don't impede their primary game plan of attacking early. Sound logic, right?
Sometimes, I buy cards (or set them aside when I get them in collections) with none of that previous logic. The "box of shame" as it's frequently called, has a lot of Skill Borrowers and Necrotic Oozes in it. Is there any reason for Skill Borrower to go up right now? Of course not. Has Necrotic Ooze been 5-0ing any MTGO leagues lately? I don't think so, but please (PLEASE) let me know if I'm wrong. I don't pick these cards or set them aside because I think they're primed to spike based on current information or cards we have available to us. I pick them because I think they're just one card away from being playable.
Well, Heartless Summoning was in that same box of shame for all of 2014 and 2015. If we know anything about Wizards of the Coasts' track history, it's that they have a tendency to make "costs less" effects completely fair and balanced all the time…. Right? Right?
My logic was that it would only be a matter of time before Wizards printed something that worked really well with Heartless Summoning. I figured that because the card was a true bulk rare, my buy-in would be really low on a per-card basis. If Wizards made a card that suddenly worked really well with Summoning, I would make a fair bit on the following price spike. In late 2015/early 2016, I was finally vindicated. It turns out Eldrazi don't really care too much about having -1/-1, especially if you're casting Oblivion Sower for two mana with the help of Eye of Ugin.
As you can see by the MTGstocks graph here, Heartless Summoning and I had a really good weekend. While the deck only ended up being a flash in the pan and ended up completely overshadowed by the more fine-tuned Eldrazi lists during the following Eldrazi Winter, I got in and out at the right times; the "one more card" that Summoning needed for the hype to take off happened to just be a bunch of colorless tentacle monsters.
There's a joke I like to use when talking about a box of shame, or someone's personal pet card that never panned out. There's no such thing as a failed spec, they all just become really long-term specs. If I think there's even a slight chance that a card has the capacity to one day be good in Modern, Commander or even Pauper, I'll just leave it in the box rather than dumping it as true bulk. If the odds of something like Punishing Fire or Mind Twist getting unbanned are less than 1%, the potential reward on that gamble is higher than the third of a penny that I'd be getting per Punishing Fire if I choose to dump them in with my true bulk anyway.
Using this logic, there's a small list of cards that I like to keep a close eye on, based on the off-chance that Wizards makes another future design mistake, they revisit a plane that has the potential to cause hype for the card, or maybe I just think the card needs a single piece of synergy to break into Modern as a new fun brew to play. The following cards are a few pieces of that list.
Restore Balance has been toyed around with in Modern by several prominent players, including Ari Lax. One of the most iconic misnomers in the game, the "Balance" effect always does anything but, rendering one player's board state to effectively nothing when played correctly. While Restore Balance requires a couple of hoops to jump through, we did receive a piece to the puzzle recently in Amonkhet; As Foretold lets us cast Restore Balance from our hand, and will likely be an integral piece to any Balance deck in Modern in the near future.
I don't know what the theoretical card looks like that brings this shell into the spotlight again, but I do know that Restore Balance itself is incredibly difficult to reprint. Suspend is a crazy mechanic on its own, and pairing it with an effect like Balance is challenging to pull off outside of a Masters set. It's not the kind of card you can just jam into a Commander precon, Standard set or other ancillary product like Explorers of Ixalan. If this deck does become a thing, Restore Balance is suddenly a $20 card just like Living End. It might just need one card to get there.
While Retether has steadily increased to $3 over the past several years (and I cannot for the life of me understand why; there can't be that many Bruna players, can there?), I tend to group it, Academy Researchers and Arcanum Wings all into one pile. The most powerful aura we currently have to suit up our own creatures is Eldrazi Conscription, but what if we simply need another aura on that level to cause a lot of hype and interest in a new Modern brew?
Theros block was surprisingly high and dry for expensive and flashy auras that weren't bestow creatures, but I continue to hold out hope that we'll one day get something that lets us play Sovereigns of Lost Alara again. If we one day see an eight-plus mana aura previewed that makes our creatures massive, you can be sure I'll be selling into the hype.
This big boy has always ridden the speculation box on the back of Heartless Summoning, because I had always expected them to be paired together. I'm also really hoping for some wacky deck that drops your entire hand with Burning-Tree Emissary and Hidden Herbalists, putting a bunch of power into play on turn one or two. Obviously both of these lists are a pipe dream at the moment, and would get crushed out of contention at a serious Modern event or Grand Prix. That said, what does the deck look like if we get one more card to push it over the edge like we saw with Hollow One? Would people spend money to throw the deck together? I'm really hoping to find out.
While "Dies to Bolt" has always been a litmus test for competitive Magic viability, it really hurts your chances if you're a four-mana creature that doesn't do anything when you enter the battlefield. Cards like Bloodbraid Elf and Tireless Tracker will almost always generate at least some form of advantage before they meet their end by a burn spell, while Skill Borrower and Necrotic Ooze leave you with a bad taste in your mouth. That said, I'm always curious to see if Wizards will give us one more activated ability that rings true for either of these creatures to see a bump in their price point. I've always wanted to see the Ooze emulating a Griselbrand and comboing off in response to a Bolt, but maybe we're just one or two cards away from making a crazy deck like that a reality in a wide-open format like Modern.
Do you have a pet card like the ones I've listed here? Let me know in the comments below if you're stockpiling on a certain card, sitting on your thumbs and waiting for Wizards to print a specific key piece that would make your Modern brew a reality. I'm curious to see if there's any other cards out there that would be welcome additions to my box of "wait and see if Wizards prints any more mistakes that vindicate my purchasing choices." We've seen so many cards over the past several years that seemed like junk at first, that just need a little bit of a push to come into their own. What's the next one?
Thanks for reading, and I'll see you next week!