Hey there! I was just minding my own business last Monday, getting ready to do a Legacy deck tech video on Grixis Delver, when the unthinkable happened. Banned. Both Gitaxian Probe and Deathrite Shaman, cut down before their prime. Slaughtered by the cruel assassins hired by the powers that be. Not even given a chance to shine in Legacy, the most-
Wait, what's that? You're saying that they were both legal for over half a decade, and they've both been due for a banning for a while? I should have expected this? What do you mean one-mana planeswalkers and free information/cantrips are bad for Legacy? What the heck am I supposed to write about now?
All jokes aside, the bannings seem to be a solidly healthy choice for the Legacy metagame. While everyone was up in arms about a potential Stoneforge Mystic (heh) or Ancient Stirrings shakeup, we were instead gifted with a much more interesting Legacy viewer experience for the 25th Anniversary Pro Tour next month. And to be honest, you probably didn't click on this article to hear my thoughts or opinions on how the Legacy metagame is going to shift in anticipation of said Legacy event. This week, we're going to talk about what happens to the price of a banned card from the moment that the guillotine is dropped, to years down the road.
On first release, Deathrite was quietly seen as a card that probably wouldn't see Standard play but had a shot in Modern or Legacy. Pretty much everyone knew that the lack of fetch lands would keep it from using its premier ability in Innistrad-Return to Ravnica Standard, so it was mostly relegated to sideboard slots to help fight against Reanimator matchups. Over the course of the next couple of months, it truly found its stride in Modern, powering out turn-two Liliana of the Veils and earlyBloodbraid Elves (until that one got sentenced to five years of timeout in January of 2013). Many players decried that Bloodbraid had died to pay for the sins of Deathrite Shaman, which continued to dominate the format mostly through Jund, until finally the Elf Shaman got the axe a year afterward in 2014.
During its Modern tenure, Deathrite hovered between $12-15 over the course of 2013. Sometimes it was slightly out of favor, but it never dropped below $12 until that announcement immediately following Born of the Gods. Without being legal In Modern, what happened to the price? If you guessed that it immediately plummeted, you'd be wrong. In fact, it only slowly started to decline under $10 in May/June of 2014, and then continued an incredibly slow trickle downward over the next two years. Our little Skull Collector even started to dredge its way back upward with a slight tick towards $7 before it was swiftly pushed back down by the Eternal Masters reprint in summer of 2016.
In effect, the reprint in Eternal Masters had a much swifter and more severe on Deathrite's price than a Modern banning in 2014. Even over this past week, the market price of Deathrite hasn't sunk by a significant amount. The TCGplayer buylist is still offering an average of $2 per Deathrite for those players who want to sell their copies, which means that those stores purchasing the copies have an expectation of being able to continue selling at around $4.
I mentioned the history of Deathrite Shaman earlier in this article for a specific reason. I've heard a little bit of discussion regarding this card's price over the last week, and one of the attributions of the market price sticking reasonably well is that Legacy simply wasn't that popular of a format, so there's very little reason for players to sell their Deathrite Shamans in mass quantities immediately in the face of the banning. However, that argument looks significantly worse in the face of the data regarding Deathrite's place in Modern. Even after getting axed from Modern, our 1/2 friend didn't take a nose dive off the graph. The demand slowly waned over the course of literal years. While the higher entry point of Legacy as a format makes losing Deathrite a drop in the ocean when considering the price of decks, losing a $40 playset back in 2014 would arguably have a much more significant impact, and more people would be fireselling their copies…. Right?
It turns out that most players don't sell cards very often. If every Modern player immediately listed their Deathrites on TCGplayer at $.05 less than the previous seller in the aftermath of the banning, you likely would've seen $6-7 copies floating around back in March of 2014. But that doesn't happen. For most players, a banning results in purchasing new cards instead of shipping out obsolete ones. In the wake of last week's announcement, I've had a significant increase in the number of people asking me for Tundras, Wastelands, Griselbrands, and Savannahs. I haven't bought any Gitaxian Probes or Deathrites, even though my buylist number really hasn't changed.
One of the other factors affecting a card's price in a post-ban environment is how many formats the card still has the potential to impact outside of the format it was banned in. To many Spikier players, there are only really three formats; Standard, Modern and Legacy. When a card is irrelevant in all three, it can be confusing why a card might actually still be in demand and worth something. While Deathrite Shaman isn't exactly a powerhouse in Commander, it still serves a role as a swiss army knife with a lot of graveyard hate and utility. EDHrec says that the card is played in almost 12,000 Commander decks, and that's only counting the decklists that get uploaded to the site. Deathrite sees play in most higher-powered Cubes, allowing players to experience broken strategies of formats past. Even though the card has been banished from most 60-card formats, it lives on elsewhere and is still being purchased to slam down on turn one off a cracked fetch land.
We saw a similar effect in April of last year when Sensei's Divining Top was deemed too strong for Legacy when combined with Counterbalance, so it got the axe. The Eternal Masters version of Top had capped out at $18, but it took nearly eight months for that price to settle down at the $12 mark. One of the biggest reasons for that was Commander players (some of those 37,000 players, according to EDHrec), picking up their copies for decks as soon as the price started to Falter a little bit. While many Tops sat in binders post-banning, some of the ones that did make it to the secondary market through websites like TCGplayer got scooped up by Commander and Cube enthusiasts. Since that banning, Top has crept back up to its previous Plateau of $18, thanks to those exact Commander players picking up all the copies that were dropped down from the Legacy banning.
On the other hand, cards that don't really have a home in Commander to back up their price will experience a much more drastic downfall when they're banned. Let's look at Top's partner in crime, Counterbalance. While it wasn't the card that was officially banned, it stopped seeing play in Legacy pretty much entirely. Top sees play in 37 times as many Commander decks, with Counterbalance sitting at a measly 1k. Ouch. Without that kind of safety net, it's easy to see how the Coldsnap uncommon fell from $17 to a bottom of $5. It's actually started a little bit of a recovery train since the end of last year, but it's struggling to even crest $7 at the halfway point of 2018.
Lastly, I want to talk about one more reason that banned cards (and their counterparts) might not dip as much as you would expect in the initial months following their removal from a format. In fact, I'm kind of responsible for it because I wrote about it here on TCGplayer. If you were one of the hardcore believers in Bloodbraid Elf and bought in while it was banned, you got rewarded big time. While BBE is pretty awful in Commander, it still maintained a $2 price tag during its imprisonment because of players who were willing to spin the roulette on the card being freed from jail eventually. I've gone on record saying that banned cards can be a really strong financial play, as long as you're patient, lucky, or very good at deciphering Wotc's next moves. Stoneforge's graph is probably the best example of this, looking like a roller coaster with a yearly spike in anticipation of a possible unbanning.
If you're someone who believes in the eventual return of Splinter Twin or Birthing Pod (and you put your money where your mouth is), then you're technically part of the reason that Twin has maintained a $5 price tag over the past couple of years. That's not a negative accusation or insult, it's just part of the way the game works. Investing in banned cards can simply save you a lot of money if you're someone who can envision themselves playing with the deck if it was ever freed, and there's definitely a non-zero number of people who practiced this theory with Deathrite in the wake of the banning announcement.
What's your strategy when it comes to banned cards? I personally have a decent pile of Punishing Fire and Mind Twists, because I think those are some of the cards that Wizards might eventually let free from Modern or Legacy respectively. The buy-in cost is also relatively low for each one, so it doesn't tie up much money for me to hoard those two away when I happen to find them in collection buys. Thanks for reading, I hope you all enjoyed riding the Stoneforge wave these past few weeks!
- DJ Johnson