Whew, it has been an exciting week in Magic finance! Not only have some older cards been going crazy in price, we saw good old Tendershoot Dryad finally go up in price by a pretty significant margin! Remember that Rivals of Ixalan $1 rare that didn't really do anything in Standard? Well it's Six. Whole. Dollars. That's quite a large increase for a card that's not really seeing the top tables of Standard. We've got age-old rivals Mono-Red Aggro and White-Blue Control dueling it out at the top of the tier list, but Saprolings? Thallids? Nowhere to be found. So how can we account for the huge increase in demand for this leafy green Rivals of Ixalan rare?
Oh, right. Good ol' Slimey. This innocuous uncommon has caused quite the stir in the Commander community, hyping a bunch of singleton mages for a role-filler that Thelon of Havenwood couldn't seem to germinate. Psychotrope Thallid, Utopia Mycon, and Nemata, Grove Guardian are all on the up up up, and it's all thanks to this uncommon.
So how could anyone have predicted this? If you were an early adopter of Saproling-based cards when you saw the leaked FAQ of Dominaria, you could have harvested a decent crop of value by trading or selling your veggies to aspiring Slimefooters. If we can find a pattern that somehow signals all the Saprolings even prior to the leaked FAQ, we can be months ahead of the crowd that's buying Elvish Farmer for $6 right now. Get ready, because we're going to spend this entire article talking about plants!
When Rivals of Ixalan was released, Tendershoot Dryad seemed like kind of an oddball inclusion. In a set focused almost entirely on the four warring factions of Vampires, Merfolk, Pirates, and Dinosaurs, a Saproling lord seemed pretty out of place. In fact, there's literally only one other card that cares about Saprolings in the entire block of Ixalan, and it's Overgrown Armasaur. Not exactly a gamewinning Standard curve out when faced with The Scarab God or Glorybringer, eh?
Thankfully, Wizards of the Coast doesn't design cards or sets in a vacuum. They understand that once a new set releases, it's smart to include cards that synergize with the new toys. Tendershoot Dryad is the most recent example of this, where Wizards of the coast will seedor plant (there it is!) cards in a set that might seem strange or unconnected to the current plane. As we planeswalk to the next couple of sets, those reasons for the seed become a lot more obvious, and the cards themselves can sometimes increase exponentially in price.
Let's Time Walk backwards a little bit further to the release of Aether Revolt. When it was released, Metallic Mimic was mostly brushed off as an alternative Adaptive Automaton for tribal decks that were lordless. Kaladesh block had a little bit of tribal support, but no one was exactly making Standard decks around Midnight Entourage. What about turn-two Metallic Mimic, naming Dwarf? Yeah, not really happening. Finance people like yours truly pegged Mimic as a casual card was mostly going to follow Adaptive Automaton's price history, sitting comfortably as a $3-4 card for an extended period.
Little did we know that Amonkhet was packed full of Zombies for Mimic to synergize with, and helped Gerry Thompson command an undead horde to a Pro Tour victory. Wizards of the Coast knew that there were going to be more than just the tribal synergies of Kaladesh block during Mimic's tenure in Standard, and seeded it far in advance of Amonkhet, Ixalan, and Rivals of Ixalan. With a few more months left in Standard and Mimic falling to half its all-time high, will we see a resurgence of Metallic Mimic through the Knights of Dominaria? For a card in a set with minimal tribal interactions, Mimic has proven to be the glue of a ton of aspiring Standard strategies over the past year and a half.
Metallic Mimic wasn't the only plant in Aether Revolt, though. By the time they were wrapping up development of the set, Wizards was already working on Ixalan block. They wanted to make sure there was at least a little bit of prior tribal support that you could have ready and waiting for when you opened up your Pirates and Vampires. Did it seem strange back in winter of 2017 that Kari Zev, Skyship Raider was a Pirate and not a Rogue? How about Yahenni, Undying Partisan and Gifted Aetherborn being Vampires? Melissa DeTora wrote an article at the start of this year discussing exactly this phenomenon of seeding, and how Wizards tries to use it to avoid stagnation in the Standard metagame.
If we spin the clock back even further, hindsight lets us examine some of the cards from blocks past that were very likely intentional plants for sets that would be released in the year following. Was it a coincidence that Nightveil Specter or Boros Reckoner provided a ton of devotion for multiple colors at once? What about Frostburn Weird or Burning-Tree Emissary? Theros mechanics were on the drawing table when Return to Ravnica block was being tweaked, and we can see the results of those interactions years later.
For those of you who have been playing for a decade, you might remember how Stoneforge Mystic was practically a bulk rare for a reasonable amount of time after release. When the best equipment you can tutor up is Trusty Machete and Basilisk Collar, you're not exactly destined to be a Legacy powerhouse. Thankfully (or not, depending on your opinions of Batterskull), Wizards knew that Scars of Mirrodin block was going to follow Zendikar. They prepared several cards that worked well with equipment, allowing some cool decks like Quest for the Holy Relic that would eventually get drowned out by the deadly duo of Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Stoneforge Mystic. If you picked up Stoneforges at bulk and were disciplined/lucky enough to hold onto them long enough, you ended up really happy.
Unfortunately, not all the seeds that Wizards plants end up panning out. Sometimes the synergies aren't powerful enough, or unexpected archetypes pop up that override the expectations that Wizards had for the metagame. Dark Intimations is one of the most obvious seed cards ever, considering that it was released during a time when we didn't even have a Nicol Bolas planeswalker in Standard. I know several people (myself included) who set them aside after picking them out of bulk, because it was as good of a guarantee as we'll ever get that Wizards was going to print a Nicol Bolas in an upcoming set. While Nicol Bolas, God-Pharaoh ended up preordering for $20 and Dark Intimations saw a miniscule spike as a result of that hype, the miniature Cruel Ultimatum never ended up making the cut over more powerful options like The Scarab God.
Another example of a seed that got really hyped up, but landed flat on its face when the time came is See the Unwritten – it had a lot of people thinking of Summoner's Trap when it was previewed, and you can see both of the hard spikes on the MTGstocks graph being related to Battle for Zendikar hype. Zendikar meant Eldrazi, and Eldrazi meant hard-hitting, double-digit power and toughness, and that meant easy money for those who bought See the Unwritten at $2-3….. Right? Well, the graph speaks for itself at how well that turned out. Those who sold into the hype at $8-9 made out pretty well, but anyone who held onto the bag expecting Eldrazi to take over Standard were sorely disappointed. Wizards of the Coast aren't perfect when trying to cultivate a healthy Standard environment, and these two examples show how even being correct in identifying the seed doesn't mean it'll grow into a successful speculation target.
When Dominaria was still a few weeks away, I had my finger on the trigger for buying a big old pile of Sinew Sliver. The card had seen a little bit of play in Pauper, was an off-color lord that was very unlikely to get reprinted in anything other than a Commander precon or Duel Deck, and it was almost unheard of at the time to revisit Dominaria without bringing back Magic's iconic meat hooks. I put a big pile of Sinews in my cart and decided to sleep it over before making the purchase.
Well, it turns out that Mark Rosewater decided to answer a few questions on his blog the next day, and one of those answers was a resounding "No" when asked if Slivers were going to be in Dominaria. Even when we have information about what the upcoming set or block is going to be, it's impossible to be 100% accurate about where Wizards of the Coast chooses to take the design and worldbuilding. Looking back at cards like Nightveil Specter and Tendershoot Dryad might make it seem like all you have to do is identify a block, mechanic or theme and make a purchase, but it's also possible that you get blown out by a simple design mistake on another card, or a decision by Wizards to not fill Dominaria with Slivers.
Looking ahead, it's pretty difficult to determine which cards in Dominaria are the seeds being sown for the next Standard season. Passing over that painfully obvious Saproling pun, we only really know that the next set being released is a Core Set. It's not going to contain any crazy or complex mechanics, and it doesn't strongly tie into the storyline in any meaningful way. That means that the seeds in Dominaria are going to be impacting the set only known as "Spaghetti," affectionately named after the MTGO codebase.
Once we learn a few things about the fall 2018 set, there will be opportunities to buy cards from Dominaria at their low. Maybe Marwyn is a seed for a September set with a ton of Elves; maybe Yargle is a seed for an upcoming block populated entirely by Frog Spirits and dead horses. Either way, I'm interested in hearing what your pick for the Dominaria plants are. Let me know in the comments below what your theories are on the next set after 2019 Core Set or your picks for plants! I'll see you next week for more finance content on TCGplayer, thanks for reading!
- DJ Johnson