Today I'm writing to you from the past - by the time this article goes live, the new Banned and Restricted announcement will have gone live. But that doesn't mean there isn't advice I can share with you that applies to this and every other ban update.
Just like every other announcement, there's a bunch of articles, opinions and theories on what has to get the boot, and what could be safe to unban. There's talk of Ancient Stirrings needing a banhammer, which could seriously hurt the consistency and power level of decks like Lantern Control, Tron, and Krark-Clan Ironworks (KCI) in Modern. Some players are rallying for a Stoneforge Mystic unban, and her current price reflects the confidence that those players have towards that belief. Even I joined in on the fun a little, voicing my opinions that Cyclonic Rift and Paradox Engine should not be legal in Commander. Even if the Commander banned list isn't updated until a new set release, these types of announcements are a ripe time for argument and discussion about why cards should or should not be legal.
I've written once before about why I think buying banned cards can be a solid financial play. The buy-in price is usually pretty low for cards that don't have a home anywhere else, and the payoff can be huge if you get rewarded. Those who bought into Golgari Grave-Troll at $1.50 and then watched it spike to $10 know exactly what I'm talking about. If you were going to sleep at night on a pillow of $2 Bloodbraid Elves, then you might be more likely to stockpile on Punishing Fire or Stoneforge Mystic. This week, we're not going to bring up a shopping list of which banned cards you should or could buy. Instead, we're going to talk about The Domino Effect and how it impacts banned cards.
As of the minute I'm writing this article (the evening of July 1st, 2018), Stoneforge Mystic rests at $38-42, depending on which version you're looking at. The Worldwake version is more expensive, of course, but players are actually paying double what the card was a week and a half ago, with virtually zero confirmation or evidence from Wizards of the Coast that it would be freed from its shackles in Modern. The market price actually adjusted because players were willing to pay the "new" price based on zero information, and that change was reflected at the top of the charts at MTGstocks.com.
Of course, if Stoneforge had been unbanned players would continue to buy it past the $40 and even $50 mark. I remember on the infamous Jace+Bloodbraid unban day, I was selling those at $150 and $15 respectively, and they're both less than half that now. A player who actually wants to cast the Kor in Modern would almost certainly be better suited to waiting until the dust settles, then hunting for a deal in a post-hype world.
That said, Stoneforge won't be the only card that moves in price because of its own unbanning. For every player who purchased a Bloodbraid Elf because they wanted to cast it, many needed to purchase the requisite lands to do so. Stomping Ground went from $14 to a solid $20, securing its place on the throne as the most expensive shock land. Raging Ravine revitalized the ferver for Jund, rapidly climbing from a two-year low of $10 back up to the high $20s. While it's on the downswing around $18 at the moment, there's a sense of delayed hype to the cards that aren't as obvious at first glance.
I've addressed these types of price increases in the past with separate levels from zero to two. Stoneforge Mystic is a "level zero" spec; that's not to say that it's a *bad* pickup if you snag it at the bottom of the price trough, but it's a pretty obvious one that you had to get in on at a very specific time. If it ever gets unbanned, you're already too late by the time you try to fill your cart. On the next level, we have Batterskull; While I don't expect an exponential price increase in the living weapon if it's harbinger is freed (It is usually a one-of after all), there'll still likely be enough fresh demand to push it to the $25 range. Batterskull (and other equipment like Sword of Feast and Famine) are "level one" because they're the first thing you think of after the card itself gets unbanned. It directly synergizes or combos with the forbidden card; Another example of this one is Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle from the recent Scapeshift reprint. While the circumstances surrounding Scapeshift itself were slightly different (it was reprinted in Core Set 2019 instead of being unbanned, it still caused a domino to fall by directly impacting the demand for Valakut, as evidenced by the land's $18 price tag.
Lastly, a "level two spec" is going to be a staple that's already in moderate-high demand from current play but creeps up over time as players begin to finish out their decks that utilize the unavailable card. Using Scapeshift as another example of this domino effect, I think Primeval Titan is a card that you could be looking at picking up sooner rather than later if you were planning on piloting the pile of lands. It bottomed out at around $6 after the reprint in Iconic Masters, but could slowly creep up to $10 while going under the radar as the Scapeshift reprint gets copies into players' hands that they can afford.
The "level one" cards will rise in price quickly. However, you'll have a little more time to collect the level two specs – using Stoneforge Mystic as our example, one of the most likely creatures to get paired with it in Death & Taxes lists is Thalia, Guardian of Thraben. If Legacy is any indication, this dynamic duo have enough Staying Power as a combo to put pressure on the "fair" decks of the format while Thalia puts a damper on Storm and the like. Another card that's bottomed out since her reprint in a Masters set, Thalia could ride the hype wave back to the $14-15 price point.
Alternatively, we could see players reverting to the pre-Modern era of Caw-Blade, updated for the 2018 metagame. I remember the days when Standard decks had Stoneforge Mystic, Celestial Colonnade, Jace, the Mind Sculptor, and Scalding Tarn. With Jace continuing his decline after making minimal waves in Modern, being reunited with his old partner in crime could start to see that graph make a quiet climb in the other direction.
Of course, Stoneforge Mystic isn't the only card perennially being discussed. Paulo Vitor Damo Da Rosa of Channelfireball.com released an article discussing his ideas on what his ideal Modern looks like, and it doesn't include Ancient Stirrings. A powerful cantrip that's been debated at length for a long time now, Stirrings is a core piece to several Modern decks. As Paulo writes, KCI and Lantern would likely cease to exist without the glue to their consistency. If Stirrings gets hit, the line of play for the purchases in the MTG finance world becomes much more difficult for armchair speculators, and much easier for those who understand the inner workings of the metagame.
If Stirrings (Or Mox Opal) ever gets hit with a ban in the future, multiple decks suddenly vanish from the top tables. Instead of adding obvious decks to the potential pool like Bitterblossom or Golgari Grave-Troll, a ban creates a vacuum that needs to be filled. What decks were kept down by Tron or Lantern? What unknown shells and cards were previously designated as unviable not because of their own power level, but specifically due to the match matchups against KCI? These aren't questions that I'm going to be able to answer for you, but they're ones that are worth finding out the solution and being ahead of the pack.
Obviously, this article came out after the announcement. You might think that means it's too late to take action based on the resulting bans/unbans that happened (or didn't happen), but that's the beauty of level two spec targets. Raging Ravine watched its Bloodbraidy friend get unbanned on February 12th, but didn't immediately spike to double or triple its price. It did almost triple up, but it took almost two weeks for it to even climb by 40%, and it only hit $27 in late March.
If you can find the corollary to Raging Ravine or Stomping Ground for this announcement, you'll outpace everyone who risked $40 on a single Stoneforge Mystic by playing at level zero. If Birthing Pod gets unbanned (WIZARDS PLEASE), you don't want to be the person buying Birthing Pod – look for the Renegade Ralliers and Kitchen Finks, or whatever you believe the equivalent is in Legacy with the banning of Deathrite Shaman and Gitaxian Probe.
Thanks for reading, and I'll see you all next week!