Hey there! We're two days into Masters 25 previews, but let's not forget about Wizards' announcement of Challenger Decks! These are being released on April 6th, and these lists are stacked with powerful cards from across all sets in Standard right now (though they are mostly concentrated with cards that are rotating in the fall). Wizards describes these as a "on-ramp" to Standard, designed for players to pick up and play at an Friday Night Magic level. While the Event Decks of the past have had a long history of not being good enough to fight off top-tier competitive Standard lists, these lists – tuned by the Play Design team – look like they're only a few cards away from being on par with the best decks.
For example, the one list on everyone's mind is Hazoret Aggro; packing a single namesake God in addition to Chandra, Torch of Defiance. With a combined market price of over $30 in these two powerhouse mythics alone and an MSRP of $29.99 on the product, there are some parallels to my article on sealed product from a couple of weeks ago. I discussed the merits of buying certain products when the value of the cards inside (like Jace, Bloodbraid, or Chainer's Edict) increase to the point where buying the sealed item becomes much better than buying all of the singles inside the product.
Of course, there are a couple of key differences between something like the Grave Danger theme deck from the early 2000s and a Challenger Standard list released in 2018. The first is the obvious supply difference. There are so many more players in the game nowadays, so we're likely going to see a ton of these decks hitting the shelves in early April. The second factor is how these decks are released only a few months prior to rotation. Almost every card in each of these decks is from Kaladesh or Amonkhet block, both of which rotate in the fall. Except for a few non-rares and Settle the Wreckage/Dragonskull Summit, every card in each of these decks is going to rotate out of Standard.
That said, an egregious difference in value between the cards inside and the price of the product itself can only exist for so long. Gaps are closed as players take advantage of the great deal, or the cost of the sealed product increases to make it less of a "free money" situation. We saw this correct with the Grave Danger decks, as players picked up copies off the internet to lessen the cost of $10 Chainer's Edicts.
We saw the Chaos Reigns deck creep up a bit as the two included Bloodbraid Elves made the product a little more appealing to pick up. With all of these factors combined, it's going to be much more likely that the value of the cards inside drops, versus the opposite possibility of these decks being sold for far above MSRP. If you're someone considering dipping your toes into Standard with the announcement of these products, I would breathe easy with the confidence that stores will be selling these at the suggested price throughout the season.
In other words, I think these decks will do exactly what Wizards wants them to do. They're given a fine line to walk when releasing preconstructed sealed product, because they must make sure it doesn't err too far on one end of the value spectrum. If there's "too much" value in the deck and not enough supply, then the deck ends up being picked up en masse by those who want to resell the cards and doesn't end up in the hands of the intended players. If the deck has "too little" value, then it's going to feel bad when a player overpays for a pile of weaker cards and then loses hard at a casual FNM. By including chase mythics and modern playable cards in all the decks, but doing so close to rotation, I think Wizards managed to find a strong balance where these decks will get into the hands of players who are looking for that on-ramp to Standard.
Another aspect of these Challenger decks that has been mostly overshadowed by Hazoret the Fervent and Chandra are how many powerful commons and uncommons (as four-ofs, no less) have been worked into these lists. As someone who's greatly enjoyed digging through recent Standard bulk to find Censors, Field of Ruin, Blossoming Defense, and Lightning Strike, I've been asked at the LGS if I'm worried about these decks not only reducing the value of the chase mythics, but in turn hurting the value of the playable uncommons that will be added to the supply. My answer to that is mostly the same as the rares and mythics that are sharing a rotation with these uncommon staples. Because they've all (with the exception of Unclaimed Territory and Field of Ruin) been in Standard for so long, I really think that their loss of value won't be because of the Challenger decks at all. Cards like Blossoming Defense and Censor will creep downwards and people unload their cards in preparation for rotation, not because a preconstructed list will add a huge amount to the overall supply.
On the other hand, the two powerhouse Ixalan uncommons that ended up sneaking into these decks will likely retain their thrones for the foreseeable future. Unclaimed Territory has an incredible number of applications in multiple formats (Modern, Commander, Standard and casual), and it's still got a year to prove itself in Standard. I wouldn't be worried about it crashing from its current price of $2.50-$3.00. In fact, the vehicle deck that contains the four Unclaimed Territory doesn't have a whole lot of value outside of the mana base. It has four Spire of Industry, a Concealed Courtyard, Inspiring Vantage and Dragonskull Summit, but Heart of Kiran will likely drop to a point where the deck barely contains its MSRP in value. That's not to say that it's a bad pickup for those looking to play with it at FNM for the next six months, but it's worth noting that most of the value in the pre-con is tied up in lands.
So, what if you're someone holding these cards right now? If you're holding copies of Irrigated Farmland, Aethersphere Harvester, Glorybringer, or any of the other "Standard-only $3-5 cards" that got put in these decks and you're not planning on using them anytime soon, now is a fine time to sell them before rotation. While it seems crazy to talk about rotation as early as eight months out, it's still definitely a factor that has been having an impact on card prices earlier and earlier every year for the past several years. It's kind of like how the holiday season in the United States somehow starts in freaking mid-October nowadays…
For the singleton Modern playable cards like Fatal Push, Walking Ballista and Hazoret, I think the amount of value you'll lose from selling now and then rebuying later is marginal enough that you're better off holding for now. Even if Ballista drops from $10 to $7-8, it's still enough of a Modern/Legacy staple that I recommend holding post rotation, like how Kolaghan's Command and Collective Brutality remained valuable after their exit from Standard.
Overall, I think some of the recently printed Commander preconstructed decks are really good comparisons to draw from when evaluating the impact of these Challenge decks as an on-ramp to their intended format. Both contain carefully considered reprints, are balanced enough to hold their own against each other, and don't require a massive financial undertaking to be competitive in a normal environment. While we're unsure of exact supply numbers, I'd expect these to be readily available at your local game store if you've been considering getting into (or back into) Standard. I think the decision to include cards that rotate relatively soon is well-thought out, and hopefully they continue that trend to not negatively impact booster box sales when it comes to new set releases.
- DJ Johnson