The focus of today's article is strategy, albeit couched in financial lingo. I've been testing Standard a lot these past few weeks and today I am going to share what I take to be the best uses for each tournament viable Rare and Mythic Rare in the set, along with the associated financial implications. If you only want a quick recap of what to invest in, skip to the conclusion. If you're here for strategy, I have two articles worth of content (over 4,500 words) to share with you today.


How to get the most out of this article

In most of my previous Financial Predictions articles I've focused on card prices and how I expect them to change in the short term and the long term. While I will continue to do that today, along with a quick summary at the end of the article, I would like to suggest a useful way of reading between the lines. As you read this article, instead of asking yourself, "Does Craig think [insert card] is a good investment?" ask yourself, "Do I think the circumstances Craig mentions for [insert card] spiking will come about?" In other words, I am going to tell you what circumstances I believe will have to happen in order for each card to succeed, and then I will leave it up to you to determine whether those circumstances will come about.

A lot of the cards in this set look great on paper but don't have homes or they look innocuous yet have their homes already pre-built. So I'm going to walk you through several lines of reasoning with each card so that you not only hear my verdict on each card but also how I arrived at that verdict. This way if my reasoning at any point is flawed, you can trace back exactly where it went wrong and you can then adjust the final verdict accordingly. This will act as a sort of backup Safeguard so we don't miss another Spellskite or Boros Reckoner due to either misreading a card or failing to account for an important factor.

Let's begin with the Mythic Rares and then the Non-Mythic Rares.


The 6 "Soul" Avatars

They key question with the avatars is: "How effectively can their ability be used from the graveyard if they immediately get killed upon entering the battlefield?" Titans were so good because their triggered ability upon entering the battlefield was their residual value. The avatars' residual value is being able to activate their ability one time from the graveyard. Given this test for strength, let's consider all six of them and make predictions as to which to buy and which to sell.

Soul of Zendikar allows you to make a beast for five mana, which is something, but unlikely to have a very big impact on a board state following the death of your six-drop, so I'll sell on the green one.

Soul of New Phyrexia has one of the weaker abilities, but after it dies you can at least protect your other creatures from Supreme Verdict. It can be useful in conjunction with flash creatures such as Advent of the Wurm and Boon Satyr since these would allow you to always keep up mana for the ability throughout opposing turns. Those cards already beat Supreme Verdict decks though, so I'm selling Soul of New Phyrexia.

Soul of Theros would require you to play multiple smaller creatures in order to take advantage of the +2/+2 bonus. Not many such decks are in the market for a six-drop though, and if they are, Obelisk of Urd is probably much better, or even Elspeth for that matter since you probably have anthems already to make the tokens bigger. So if it's not good enough for the small creature decks and its ability isn't very good unless you have small creatures...I'm selling!

Soul of Shandalar can be played as a top-end threat in a Monsters-style Green/Red/x ramp deck. And when it dies, you get to bolt the opponent and one of their creatures for five mana. Three damage doesn't really kill a lot of things in the mirror, and not much against control decks either. And against aggressive decks you really don't want a six-mana creature anyway, so this one will likely not find a home. Sell.

Soul of Ravnica looks best in a control deck running multicolor cards like Detention Sphere and Kiora the Crashing Wave. That way you can use the ability as a Jace's Ingenuity after it dies. This one has some promise to it. A 6/6 blue flyer can block a (non-monstrous) Stormbreath Dragon and pretty much any ground creature, so it has to be dealt with. Also green decks have trouble blocking flyers outside of Arbor Colossus and Hornet Queen. And a slow four-for-one against a midrange deck when they have a removal spell for it is still a good deal. I don't know that this one will be format-defining, but I'm less inclined to sell on this one than most of the other avatars.

Soul of Innistrad allows you to Raise Dead three creatures. This can be useful in a midrange mirror match to recover your fallen creatures. This is very slow though since first you pay six mana to cast the avatar, then the following turn you pay five mana to activate the ability, and then on the next turn you recast the creatures you got back. This seems like way too much investment to be worthwhile over simply running a Planeswalker. The place I think this avatar will shine is in a dredge deck, especially against midrange attrition decks and against control decks. If you mill it into your yard, along with various other creatures, then you are literally paying five mana to get three creatures back without ever expending a card! While I'm not yet convinced dredge has what it takes, this soul I think has the most promise and is the only one I'm buying right now.

The "soul" avatars overall seem pretty weak, though I suppose this is a bit of fresh air after the whole Titan cycle. If I had to guess, it seems that "discard" as a cost may get pushed in the next block. Waste Not would be quite the heartbreak to all the fans who designed the card if it ended up being unplayable throughout its life in Standard. And these souls would also be a disappointment if none of them saw more than fringe play as generic big dudes with some incidental value tacked on. So if the price Plummets into bulk in the short term, you might want to keep your finger on the pulse for what sort of mechanics get announced for Khans of Tarkir. I could see the soul cycle spiking later.


The 6 Planeswalkers

Two of the six Planeswalkers are reprints (Chandra, Pyromaster and Liliana Vess), each of which has seen fringe play but has not proven format-warping by any stretch. Their reprint will likely bring the price of each down slightly, unless one finds its way into a tier one deck, in which case it will go up in value by about half as much as a newly released walker would. I don't expect that to be the case with either, though Liliana has higher potential if it proves good enough in Monoblack Devotion.

I already talked at quite a bit of length about Ajani Steadfast in recent articles here and here. After testing a lot with him since he was first announced, I have decided he serves two primary roles. First off, he is a great sideboard card against red decks that could also be a formidable maindeck card if you need game one help in those matchups. Secondly, he is best in a GW ramp style deck that goes all the way up to Elspeth, Sun's Champion. He is not a great curve topper in aggro decks like Ajani Goldmane was. He flourishes best as the middle play, not the big play. His life gain helps you to survive to that point too, so he plays his role well. He would be best in a deck similar to the deck Patrick Chapin won Pro Tour Journey into Nyx with.

With this said, the big question is will this deck be in high demand? I don't know for sure, but my inclination is about 50-50. I don't know whether this is a good investment or not, but I believe I've isolated exactly what will happen if it does take off.

Nissa, Worldwaker is a powerful card. She works great with all the RtR shock lands if you play a three to four color deck, which is possible with Sylvan Caryatid. She is also good in Monogreen Devotion style decks as a way to ramp into a huge card such as Hornet Queen, or even Chord of Calling for Hornet Queen. She can also just win the game on her own in a few turns by animating lands. I'm not sure if Darksteel Citadel is good enough, but indestructible 4/4 tramplers are pretty sexy. Whether this card spikes will depend on (a) how good green devotion is and (b) how many copies of Nissa green devotion will play. It's hard to fit Garruk, Chord, and Nissa into the same deck, so something has to give in order to make space. I don't know the answer to this puzzle, but I believe that will be the deciding question for this card.

Jace, the Living Guildpact is not your typical Jace. The name "Jace" tends to invoke a similar feeling that the name "Yawgmoth" used to invoke. After Yawmoth's Will and then Yawgmoth's Bargain, I believe it was Aaron Forsythe who claimed, "I would be terrified even of a card called Yawgmoth's Crappy Little Bean!" Jace, the Mind Sculptor was clearly the apex of blue planeswalkers, or I guess all planeswalkers for that matter. Now every time a blue walker gets printed, especially a new Jace, the immediate comparison is to the most infamous walker ever printed. And of course every time the new one compares unfavorably. But guess what? Wasteland, Ghost Quarter, and even Tectonic Edge are all very good despite none of them stacking up to Strip Mine.

Anecdote aside, I am buying on this Jace. Every Jace has been designed as a controlling type card. Jace, the Mind Sculptor was the only proactive version and it was so because of the bounce ability. This new Jace revisits the bounce ability, but instead of providing you a triple Time Walk it only provides you a single Time Walk. You then have to use the plus ability before you can bounce again. Scry has reminded us lately that card selection can be just as powerful as card drawing in various situations. For instance, if I am a deck with a low curve, scrying a land to the bottom in the mid-game is essentially the same as drawing it since the sole determining factor of whether we win the game at this point is whether we draw the final bit of action to seal the game in time before the window closes. Jace's "fixed Brainstorm" ability makes it such that we are getting a little better than a free scry each time, which will greatly increase our chances of finding enough action for the rest of the game to seal the deal. And after using the ability once, we can bounce again the following turn.

While I don't think Jace will revolutionize the format in nearly the same way the Mind Sculptor version did, I expect this one to see a healthy amount of play – and in decks that you don't typically see Jace in. Sure, we already have an aggressive Monoblue Devotion deck in the format but I'm thinking the best home will be an aggressive BUG deck. Milling one card to the graveyard can have incidental value. Think of the "soul" avatars and being able to use their abilities from the graveyard. It also handles creatures like Blood Baron of Vizkopa and other creatures that a Hero's Downfall can't handle. Bouncing a Rapid Hybridization token also feels really good. I don't know the exact home for this one yet, but it will be a more aggressive deck – not a control deck.

Garruk, Apex Predator is clearly the hallmark card of the set. Its image is on the packs and booster boxes; the pre-release events got life size cardboard cutouts of him, and the storyline overall is centered on Garruk, just as it was on Elspeth, Sun's Champion during Theros. I expect this to have massive casual appeal and be a constructed powerhouse too. Green ramp decks are already tier one in two different ways (Jund Monsters and Green Devotion), so the ramping capabilities are clearly already there. Moreover Nissa also helps ramp into Garruk, which is a weird thought because original Garruk Wildspeaker was always the card that helped ramp into bigger things (or just overrun the opponent take over a game on its own, which is about what I expect we'll see a lot of from this Garruk).

I tried a 5-Color Ramp Walkers deck and it did not go well. My version was probably bad (e.g. I had Axebane Guardian in it) and this is certainly not the kind of deck I am best-equipped to build. I can't remember the last time I registered a deck containing a seven-drop. With that said, I fully expect Luis Scott-Vargas to show up with this card in his deck at the pro tour. And if he does, it will likely win him quite a few games. Everyone else who loves big mana cards/decks will likely want to play "the Garruk deck." Even if this card happens to not do well at the Pro Tour (and I think it will do well), I can't imagine it not doing well at an SCG Open at some point down the line. I'm buying on Garruk. I think it will go the way of Karn Liberated and be in high demand from multiple markets.


The Other 3 Mythics

The Chain Veil has some nice flavor to it and I expect it to garner some (but not very much) casual appeal. I tried it for Constructed and it felt too narrow. If you have multiple walkers in play and the four mana to afford to activate The Chain Veil, how are you not already winning without The Chain Veil? And if you don't yet have a walker in play, you have to hold The Chain Veil in your hand until you draw one because otherwise it damages you each turn. So you then finally draw a walker, cast it, and then the next turn you cast The Chain Veil. And unless you have eight mana, you're waiting yet another turn before you can even use its ability. And then what happens when the opponent kills your walker? Yep, start taking damage from The Chain Veil anyway. I do not expect this to see any tournament play and I would be very surprised if it does.

Perilous Vault is the new Nevinyrral's Disk. You cast it and (unless you have nine mana) you won't be able to blow it up until the following turn. Unlike the disk it exiles the permanents. Also unlike the disk, however, it exhausts your whole turn. With the disk you could basically restart the action by recasting spells the same turn after paying one mana to blow everything up. With this card the opponent gets first action after you had to spend yet another turn to blow everything up. And you also have to hit that fifth land drop or you're basically in terrible shape. With all this said, it's a colorless answer to enchantments, artifacts, creatures and walkers. So for instance, a black deck might have no other out to an enchantment. I don't expect this one to take off, at least not so long as the ramp spells in the format are permanent-centric (Sylvan Caryatid, Planeswalkers) instead of spell-centric (Rampant Growth, Kodama's Reach). It could show up as a fringe role player at times though.

Sliver Hivelord is the newest installment of "not quite Sliver Queen." If slivers prove viable, this could be an anti-wrath measure that is also good against point removal spells. It doesn't work especially well with Mutavault though, considering its color-intensive mana cost. I'd sell on this one, though the verdict is still out whether slivers are a real deck or not. And if they are real, it's possible that Hivelord is more important than Mutavault. That is, however, a lot of possibilities coming together exactly right.


The Notable Non-Mythic Rare Reprints

The 5 Apocalypse pain lands will have the greatest impact, but they will likely only be worth a few dollars each since they've already been reprinted in tenth edition. Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth is another reprint that will see its share of play. It will also garner casual appeal. Chord of Calling is a staple in the most played Modern deck ( Birthing Pod) and will see plenty of play in Standard.

Preeminent Captain was discussed by Melissa DeTora here and I've also been brewing with it. First turn Elvish Mystic, second turn Preeminent Captain. No big deal, right? It's just a 2/2. Ok, third turn attack, putting Spark Trooper onto the battlefield, bloodrush Ghor-Clan Rampager on the Spark Trooper and then give it double strike with Boros Charm. No big deal, just a 20 point Drain Life on turn three! A few other options involve Lavinia of the Tenth and Foundry Champion. I'm not selling on this one, but I'm also not buying. There are likely better things to be doing in Standard.

Phyrexian Revoker is a solid answer to a Planeswalker, especially if you're a color that has trouble answering them. It's also a very strong trump to an opposing Elvish Mystic or Sylvan Caryatid. It basically neutralizes the mana dork. Advantage goes to the horror (yes, Revoker is a horror) when the opponent draws multiple copies of the card named. Disadvantage if they find a way to Remove the Revoker. Earlier this year I Top 8'd a Legacy Grand Prix with multiple copies of this card in my deck, so you know I'm buying that this will see sufficient play in Standard!


The Notable Non-Mythic, Non-Reprint Rares

Waste Not is finally a card that is good enough to play in a heavy discard deck. Megrim saw play as a combo piece in Memory Jar but it never saw serious tournament play for its intended purpose (i.e. in a discard deck). Liliana's Caress was a step in the right direction, shaving a mana off of Megrim, but Waste Not I think finally gets there. Dealing a few points of damage is not enough value. Adding mana, making Zombie Tokens, and drawing cards is definitely where it's at. No matter what the opponent discards, you get good value. It's like a Primeval Bounty for discard decks.

And it's a pretty good metagame card against Pack Rat too since you still get the value even if the opponent controls the discard effect. It seems especially great in the Pack Rat mirror showdown. Discard a land to make a Rat? Sure, I'll use that BB and one other to make my own Pack Rat Token. Discard a creature to make a Pack Rat? Zombie time! Discard anything else? More fuel for my Pack Rat! I definitely expect this one to see some amount of tournament play in addition to a high amount of casual demand. It would be an easy buy if it weren't already one of the most expensive non-mythic rares in the set. I'm still buying, but it's close.

Yisan, the Wandering Bard is not Birthing Pod. It's definitely not Survival of the Fittest. It might not even be Fauna Shaman, but it's a reasonable card. It's a human, so it can also work with Xathrid Necromancer in a value human deck. You can fetch Typhoid Rats and then Pack Rat the next turn with it. He's very slow but provides just enough value to make the opponent want to kill him. The big question will be whether someone can come up with a strong enough chain to break him. I'm selling on him, but he's an interesting one that I would not be too surprised to be wrong on.

Hall of Fame candidate Justin Gary designed Spirit Bonds. I love me some spirits, that's for sure! Lingering Souls, Spectral Procession, Moorland Hunt, Geist of Saint Traft. I have worn each of these cards out several times over. There are a few tensions in this card though. First off, you want some way to make the Spirit Tokens more impactful. So you want Obelisk of Urd, which puts you in a dedicated spirit deck. But then the second ability on Spirit Bonds is useless because all your creatures are spirits. So that line doesn't work. Instead you have to have a non-spirits deck to maximize the second ability. This is easy enough with Spear of Heliod and Hall of Triumph. But then you're playing a fairly clunky card that you need to cast prior to your creatures and hold extra mana up for in order to get the full value out of it. So basically it feels a lot like trying to play Blind Obedience in a creature deck. It's worth it in the right matchup, and in the case of Spirit Bonds, in the Monoblack Devotion matchup, but it really takes a lot of effort to set up and forces you to sacrifice a critical early turn (turn 2) to maximize it. If it sees play it will be a pinpoint metagame choice. Even then, these decks don't typically appeal to people and I'd be surprised if it was ever worth much money, barring future cards that combo with it in some exception way of course.

Stain the Mind will see play. It's Cranial Extraction for less mana when you need it to be. You can even convoke it with Rakdos Cackler in a monored deck to permanently deal with Sphinx's Revelation, Nylea's Disciple, or whatever card you care most about, or in a Blue Devotion deck off Nightveil Specter. I also expect this card to see modern play as you can cast it on turn three off a Raise the Alarm or even on turn two out of Affinity. This is one of my sleeper picks of the set to be a $10 card a year from now. And it's currently only $.32! I'm not sure I've ever predicted a card rise by 3,000% in one year, but I suppose there's a first for everything.

Sliver Hive will see play in the Sliver deck. Are slivers popular among casuals still? If so, ding! Put this one in the bank! If not, then unlikely.

Scuttling Doom Engine? You mean Cuddling Domo Engine? I certainly don't want to be on the receiving end of a Shrapnel Blast sacrificing this guy. Maybe a Blue/Red Affinity deck will come about in Standard and that will make his demand high. What do you think? We get Chief Engineer as the potential lynchpin. And Ornithoper! Who doesn't love Ornithopter? It's adorable!

Return to the Ranks is very powerful and can reset your board after losing everything to a sweeper, to individual removal spells, or in combat. This may be the "late game Profane Command" we've been looking for. Or it might be a combo piece that allows you to "go off" by recurring both halves of your combo (Melira, Sylvok Outcast and Viscera Seer). You can also rebuy all your value creatures such as Brain Maggot and Satyr Wayfinder. Yeah, Wayfinder seems great with this card! I'm buying on Return to the Ranks, but I haven't yet figured out the best use(s) for it. It will see play somewhere though for sure.

I'm pretty sure Obelisk of Urd is best in Slivers, Goblins, Humans, or Soldiers. I have tried half of these and neither is satisfactory, though the jury is still out on the other two. The card is very good and as I just mentioned, it has four homes. The question is whether enough people will have answers to it (Putrefy, Banishing Light, Detention Sphere, Reclamation Sage, Annul) such that a different "big spell" will lead to more wins. It certainly makes Goblin Rabblemaster look good, that's for sure.

Hornet Queen seems great as a tutor target for Chord of Calling in Green Devotion decks. It's the beeeeezzzzzznnnnneeeeeeeezzzzzzzzzz! Also Hornet Nest. Where's the baseball ball?

Hushwing Gryff is one of the innocuous cards I mentioned in the beginning. The baseline stats are not that impressive. Sure it has flying and flash, but at just two power for three mana it needs a big ability to make it worth it. Well, its ability is probably bigger than you realize. Monoblack? Nice Lifebane Zombie n00b! Why don't you go hang out with Gray Merchant of Pillarfield Ox! Mono Blue? Hush little Master of Waves, don't say a word! Momma's gonna buy you a Cloudfin Raptor and a Tidebinder Mage that don't do anything either. What about Red? Fanatic of Mogis you say? More like Viashino Warrior. And Purphoros, God of the Forge? More like God of the blank text box.

The cost of running the Gryff is that you don't get to play with Banisher Priest, but that's probably fine since you still have Banishing Light. I'm buying on Ken Gryffy Junior. Or should I say Fred McGryff?

Genesis Hydra's best home is probably in Jund Monsters, though also possibly in Green Devotion. This is one of the few rares in the set that I can see starting off slowly and then taking off once people start jamming it into every deck as the default best thing to be doing with all this green mana. Have we forgotten the cascade mechanic already? It triggers upon being cast too, so even if they counter your monster, you still get a monster.

AEtherspouts. Don't even get me started with AEtherspouts. That card can go die in a fire. Why so brutal anyway? I'm just trying to be an honest Joe attacking with some creatures. Why you gotta get all up in my business like that? We all remember how fun not fun Plow Under was, right? Well now it's a split card of Plow Under // Terminus. At least there is Thoughtseize. Good old Thoughtseize. Everyone loves Thoughtseize. I got 99 problems and Thoughtseize solves all of them.


Conclusion

As I recommended in the beginning, it's wiser to consider my reasoning for each card and only invest in the ones you agree with me on instead of just investing in all my picks. With that said, here are my picks for cards most likely to retain or rise in value:

5 of the 15 Mythic Rares:

Soul of Innistrad
Ajani Steadfast
Garruk, Apex Predator
Jace, the Living Guildpact
Nissa, Worldwaker

Basically all of the reprint rares are also good investments. Each has a development feel to it. I suspect each was inserted at various stages of testing as a card that plays a role in Constructed:

Battlefield Forge
Shivan Reef
Caves of Koilos
Llanowar Wastes
Yavimaya Coast
Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth
Chord of Calling
Preeminent Captain
Phyrexian Revoker

These non-mythic, non-reprint cards have high upside:

Waste Not
Stain the Mind
Sliver Hive
Scuttling Doom Engine
Return to the Ranks
Obelisk of Urd
Hornet Queen
Hornet Nest
Hushwing Gryff
Genesis Hydra
AEtherspouts

Finally, these are my hottest picks of the set, the sleepers that are not worth much right now that I believe have a strong chance to take off and make bank for their investors (and their corresponding TCGplayer low price):

Hushwing Gryff $2.39
Genesis Hydra $2.25
Soul of Innistrad $2
Return to the Ranks $.93
Hornet Queen $.73
Goblin Rabblemaster $.72
Obelisk of Urd $.49

And my #1 sleeper pick of the set:

Stain the Mind $.32

What do you think are the best cards for Standard or for profit? Was there a card you think I misevaluated or one I didn't cover that you would like to hear my thoughts on? I'll be checking back in the comments today, answering questions. Today's your chance to get all your questions answered.

Craig Wescoe
@Nacatls4Life on twitter