While every Magic: The Gathering set feels special, there are only a few expansions that change the game all by themselves. Lorwyn gave us planeswalkers, Shards of Alara gave us mythic rares, and Modern Masters provided the template for all future reprint sets. The impact from each of these sets has continued to reverberate through the present day, an effect that's also very much true about the expansion I'd like to talk about today: Modern Horizons.
When Modern Horizons was first teased back in March of 2019, I was beside myself with excitement. WotC deliberately printing competitive cards that were too powerful for Standard? There was no way that this set was going to be a dud. I didn't yet know how much Modern Horizons would shake up the Modern metagame, but I knew it was going to be a big deal.
We're fast approaching the 18-month anniversary of Modern Horizons' release date, and if anything, I was too conservative in my original estimation of how impactful it would be. The set didn't just shake up Modern—it picked Modern up by its heels, carried it a hundred yards downfield, and drop-kicked it into the woods behind the bleachers. Modern Horizons wasn't simply the most impactful Modern set ever—it fundamentally changed the way that we think about the Modern financial market and the format as a whole.
Oh—and Modern Horizons was a really important Commander set, too.
Why talk about Modern Horizons today? Three main reasons. First, we now know that we'll be getting a second Modern Horizons set this coming June, and it's well worth asking ourselves what the impact of that one might be, so we'll know how to handle our Modern collection over the coming months.
Second, the original Modern Horizons has now been out of print long enough that boxes and packs have started drying up. That could lead to some pretty serious spikes in the near future, with no additional supply to back them up. It's possible that Modern Horizons' current pattern of quick spikes and hard falls will finally lead to some permanent, lasting gains. You should plan to buy in before that starts to happen.
Third, Commander Legends previews began earlier this week. While I'll be covering Magic's newest set in great depth over the coming month, I wanted to take a week to talk about an expansion that could see some pretty major Commander-driven spikes over the coming days.
So, let's talk Modern Horizons. It may be getting cold out there, and WotC may have suspended in-store play through the rest of the year, but I'm still quite excited about this set's long-term prospects.
Modern Horizons' overall price index peaked a few weeks before the set was even released. Modern players were beyond excited for this set, and nobody knew how many boxes would be available, so prices started out incredibly high—especially for the Horizon Lands. By late May of 2019 the set had a total value of almost $880—a figure that it would never again reach.
By release date, that figure was down to $540. That was before the set's true impact was known, however, and things began to pick up from there. A month later, on July 15th, 2019, the set hit its in-print peak of $620.
Modern Horizons started to slowly decline after that, bottoming out at $372 in late December of 2019. This is fairly typical behavior for a set like this, so it's not surprising to see. Late December tends to be the best time to buy Magic singles, especially for sets that were released earlier that year. We'll be covering this in greater detail about a month from now, when I walk you through a number of killer end-of-year buys from sets like Double Masters.
We're talking about Modern Horizons today, though, and that set began to perk up again in late April of 2020—right when the COVID-19 stimulus checks went out. It hit a second peak of $525 again in mid-June of this year, a year after its release, and has been slowly dropping again ever since, however. Right now, a full set of Modern Horizons is worth roughly $495.
Why do I think Modern Horizons has so much potential? Well, I could tell you, but I'd rather show you, instead. To the charts!
This is Unbound Flourishing. It's a mythic rare from Modern Horizons that bottomed out as low a $1.91 last December. Flourishing also peaked at a whopping $17 this July, when Zaxara, the Exemplary was released. If you'd picked a bunch of these up at or near its low and sold at or near its high, you would have been able to finance all of your purchases for the rest of the year.
Unbound Flourishing is also crashing right now, through no fault of its own. Pretty soon, it'll be back down in the $3-$4 range again. This didn't happen because it was reprinted, or because it lost its place in the metagame—it's a Commander-only card, after all. No, Unbound Flourishing has only dropped off this much because the Commander world has temporarily moved on to other brews and strategies. Rest assured, at some point WotC will release a new commander that plays well with Unbound Flourishing and it'll be back up near $20 again. I can't wait to buy in.
Here's Seasoned Pyromancer. The card doesn't do much in Commander, but it's a house in Modern and is currently the 4th-most valuable card in the set. Again, you can see the wild price swing here, from a low of $5 to a high of $35. Most cards in most Magic sets are incapable of making swings this big, but Modern Horizons is different.
What makes Modern Horizons so special? It's the confluence of several factors. First, Horizons is a recent set, which means that it's capable of some pretty extreme lows. Cards from older sets like Lorwyn and Time Spiral rarely experience that much passive downward pressure, because there simply aren't that many of them out there. They'll fall off a cliff if they're reprinted, but otherwise? Not so much. On the other hand, there are plenty of cards from recent sets out there, so a lack of demand quickly leads prices on a massive race to the bottom. Because of that, cards from recent sets have better buying windows.
On the other hand, there aren't nearly as many Modern Horizons cards out there as there are, say, Throne of Eldraine or Theros Beyond Death cards. Cards in those sets rarely see major price spikes out of nowhere, because demand has to be massive for it to start outstripping supply. If a card from Lorwyn suddenly becomes a key staple in Modern or Commander, it'll shoot up in price, but widespread play is needed before the same is true for a card from a newer set.
Modern Horizons lives right at the fulcrum of that see-saw. As a set that was readily available for about a year but at a higher price point than most packs, it's under-printed enough to be conducive to major spikes but overprinted enough to experience significant price erosion over time—at least for now. Modern Horizons is also one of the few sets where booster packs were sold at a premium, but most of the cards inside were brand new, not reprints. If a card from a Masters set spikes, well, there's generally at least one or two other printings out there adding supply to the market. Modern Horizons? Not so much.
The result is a set where cards can double or triple in value overnight, and everyone can just look at it and say, "yeah, that makes sense." In order words, a set that's oozing with potential.
Before Modern Horizons, the Modern metagame was far more stable. Modern had more in common with Legacy than it did with Standard, and if you owned a top tier deck with most of the key staples, you could more or less count on those cards to remain playable for years to come. Decks evolved over time, and linear strategies like Death's Shadow waxed and waned in popularity, but Modern was still an eternal format in the truest sense of the world. Decks like Tron, Azorius Control, Humans, Jund, Affinity, Burn, and Amulet Titan were about as evergreen as it gets in competitive Magic. If you stepped away from the game for a year or two, Modern would still look somewhat similar when you came back.
Then Modern Horizons happened.
Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis was the set's original sin, but Arcum's Astrolabe and the rest of Modern Horizons' snow-covered shenanigans might have been an even bigger problem. Regardless, the format was dominated by brand new decks that were based around Modern Horizons cards for nearly a year, while many of the format's venerable staples were pushed to the wayside. Mox Opal even earned itself a ban thanks to Modern Horizons, which was quite a blow to a lot of long-time Affinity players who were used to being able to shuffle it up whenever there was a tournament in town.
The result of this shake-up? An overall drop in the price of Modern as a format, with the biggest staples taking some of the largest hits. Here's Snapcaster Mage from the start of 2019 through today:
Here's Jace, the Mind Sculptor:
And here's Chalice of the Void.
I picked these three cards because they're still among the most expensive in the format, but that entire tier of cards has lost value over the past two years. Various reprints have come into play here and there too, of course, but the trend is still pretty unmistakable. Modern doesn't really have the elite tier of super expensive cards that it used to.
The proliferation of Masters sets and other premium reprint channels have helped speed this trend, but Modern Horizons was gasoline on the fire. People were willing to pay hundreds of dollars for cards like Snapcaster Mage and Liliana of the Veil when they were all but guaranteed to get years of top tier playability out of their deck. It's harder to justify dropping two grand on a Modern deck if a single set is going to render it unplayable. A lot of people were (justifiably) upset about how much Modern Horizons shook up the format, because nobody's deck survived unscathed, and many of us were forced to start building new brews from scratch. This is fine in Standard, where prices are cheap, but it's a bit of a dagger if your last deck cost you several months' rent and you only got to play it a couple of times.
18 months later, however, and the Modern metagame looks a lot more like it did before Modern Horizons came out than it has at any other point since that set's release. Humans, Azorius Control, Amulet Titan, Burn, and Tron are all viable decks again. Affinity is still gone, unfortunately, but there's nary a Hogaak or an Ice-Fang Coatl in sight. And most of the cards from Modern Horizons that do see play, like Seasoned Pyromancer, Force of Negation, and Wrenn and Six, have arguably made Modern a richer, more diverse format than ever. In this way, Modern Horizons reminds me a lot of Throne of Eldraine and Zendikar Rising: once you ban a tiny number of format-warping cards, the set is honestly pretty great.
It's possible that this metagame correction will eventually lead to higher prices for Modern staples in the future, but that will likely have to wait until the end of the pandemic. Instead, I'd like to posit the hypothesis that Modern Horizons 2 will shake up the format just as much as the first one did. While it's tempting to believe that WotC saw the community reaction to Modern Horizons and will course-correct a bit, nothing about any of the recent batch of Magic sets has made me believe that they aren't locked into the "print powerful nonsense and ban whatever we have to" plan from here on out.
What does this mean for us? My guess is that the Modern market is going to see some serious movement surrounding the release of Modern Horizons 2, with major spikes for cards that are currently being overlooked. The last Modern Horizons set gave second-tier strategies a bunch of new ammunition, and I'd expect the same thing to happen this time around. Since Modern prices are fairly low across the board right now and there's a good shot that Modern Horizons 2 will completely shake up the metagame just like the first set did, I wouldn't be surprised if we see a lot of major spikes next spring. In fact, it might be worth buying in sooner rather than later.
Let's talk about a few Modern Horizons cards that might spike over the coming months, due to either Modern or Commander. My goal here is to be somewhat clever, but not overly cute. Often, what you want are the obvious first-level specs that will spike in response to some new piece of tech being printed. It's always best to sell into this initial hype window, if you can.
Let's start with The First Sliver. It's a five-color Sliver, and it's terrific in Commander. In the past, all the five-color Slivers have spiked hard whenever a new Sliver set has been teased, regardless of how good any of the new Slivers have ended up being. WotC is absolutely going to print more Slivers at some point, and this card will end up in the $20-$30 range without breaking a sweat when they do. It's as obvious a spec as you can get in the world, and you can pick them up for less than $10 right now. A total no-brainer.
Here's Echo of Eons, another Commander staple that spiked over the summer but has dropped off a bit since then. Wheels of Fortune are always going to be in high demand, and this one is no exception. I'm always happy to pick up cards like this for less than $10, especially if they're mythic rares, because the upside is so massive.
This is Hexdrinker, a card that has never done much of anything finance-wise. I'm bringing it up here anyway, though, because it sees more play in Modern than you'd think for a card that is essentially just a big dumb mana sink of a creature. If Abzan, Golgari, or Jund decks ever make a comeback in Modern, this card has a lot of potential to be a piece of that puzzle. These are the sorts of cards that eventually start to spike, but you have to wait for the available supply to dry up. Not bad for a buy-in of less than $5.
Cabal Therapist was one of the cards that WotC used to sell the set early on, but it has been a complete competitive no-show so far. That's disappointing, and I'm sorry to anyone who pre-ordered this bad boy for $8 to $10 that spring, but Cabal Therapist is so far off of everyone's radar that you can now snag these for less than $0.20 each. That's a heck of a deal. At the very least, Cabal Therapist is a solid card in 1v1 Commander, and I wouldn't be surprised if it does find a competitive home eventually. Worst case, I bet you'll be able to buylist these away at some point for your current cost. If you like penny stock specs—I sure do—snap this one up.
This chart belongs to Plague Engineer, one of the first breakout hits in Modern Horizons. This card isn't mythic, so it doesn't have the upside of some of the cards we've already talked about, but it was worth $9 at its apex and it's less than $4 now. While it wouldn't be hard for WotC to reprint this one and tank its value even further, it's also the exact sort of card with the potential to kick around the $15 to $20 range for a while. Plague Engineer has proven its worth in Modern several times over, and is cheap now mostly because of metagame shifts. If the metagame ever shifts back, this card should have another day to shine.
Here's Morophon, the Boundless. This was the breakout Commander of Modern Horizons, and you can see its spike to $16 when this year's Commander decks came out. Much like The First Sliver, this is the sort of card that will spike fast and furious the next time WotC releases cards from a multi-colored tribe that really needs a Commander like this. That could be as soon as this week, thanks to Commander Legends. $10 isn't the biggest discount in the world, but Morophon is definitely a card I have my eye on.
Waterlogged Grove paints a pretty dire financial picture of the Horizon Canopy cycle of lands. This was the most-hyped inclusion in the entire set, and I really thought they'd make more of a splash than they have. These cards do see play in Modern though, and they're not bad in Commander, either. I no longer believe they have the value potential that I did back in early 2019, but if WotC goes a while without reprinting these, they could get frisky. At any rate, I don't think they're going to get much lower than they're at right now.
Let's end this section with another no-brainer: Hall of Heliod's Generosity. This is a must-play in any white-based Commander deck that utilizes enchantments, which isn't as narrow as it may seem. It hit $7 earlier this year, and is down to $3 now. My guess is that Hall of Heliod's Generosity ends up in the $10-$15 range at some point before its reprinted, and utility lands like this are among the safest gambles in all of Magic.
It's been a relatively quiet week in the world of tabletop Magic, but there were a few big movers this week. For instance, here's what Rotlung Reanimator is doing right now:
Why is this card going bananas at the moment? That would be Orah, Skyclave Hierophant, one of the most popular new Commanders from Zendikar Rising. As you can see, a bunch of people bought copies of Rotlung Reanimator back in early September when Orah was previewed, but the price didn't really start going up until it was clear that there would be a clear and sustained increase in demand over the next several weeks. There's no evidence of speculator-driven intereference here, either – it's all just evidence of a popular Commander getting its day in the sun. Sell into the spike if you've got Rotlung Reanimators kicking around in your collection.
Moving back into the world of Secret Lairs, which I covered in depth last week , I was shocked to find out earlier this week just how cheap even sealed copies of the Summer Secret Lair Super Drop are right now. Seriously—you can pick up the entire sealed box on TCGplayer—including the fetchland—for $10-$20 less than WotC was charging over the summer.
Normally I'd say it might be worth picking up the product at this kind of discount, but I'd rather focus my efforts elsewhere. Not only was this drop hurt a lot by the fetchland reprint in Zendikar Rising, but it was also possibly hamstrung by the fact that WotC allowed you to order it for two straight weeks. This is worth noting as we look at future Secret Liars, especially since the Walking Dead bundle also had a super long ordering window. It's possible that these extended-window Secret Lairs are even worse buys than usual, because everyone who wants one has a nice long chance to buy in.
Lastly, I'm excited to finally get into Commander Legends next week. Previews have already started, though, and we've also got several weeks' worth of leaks to contend with. I don't want to spend too much time on Commander Legends stuff right now, but I did want to check in on some of the Pirates that we talked about last week. (Pirates, you may remember, are going to be a significant tribe in the new set). Here's Admiral Beckett Brass:
And Captain Lannery Storm:
These first two cards began spiking last week, and demand is a little more organic than it might seem. There are plenty of folks buying a playset or two on spec, but also a lot of players just buying single copies for their commander decks. Both of these cards still have room to grow, and I wouldn't be shocked if Corsair Captain ends up at $20 at some point. Jumpstart cards are still very hard to get, and most casual players haven't even realized that Commander Legends is going to have a minor Pirate focus yet.
As for Captain Lannery Storm, you can see a major spec-driven buyout spike at the very end of that chart. A few of the other second-tier pirates were similarly bought out this week, including Fathom Fleet Captain, but I figured I'd just show the one chart since they all look so similar. These are solid penny stocks, and you can definitely snag a few if you want to try to spike yourself a small profit, but they probably won't go too nuts. I'd rather spend a little more and lock in some of the pirates that have clear, organic demand.