We've got a year's worth of sales data, and the editorial staff here at TCGplayer (Stybs, Corbin, and myself) tried to figure out what to do with it all. Top Sellers of the Year was the Level Zero (read: obvious) idea, but the numbers crap all over it; Oath of the Gatewatch has a massive advantage over every other set by virtue of being the first expansion released in 2016. So that idea went out the window.
What we settled on was a week-long retrospective of 2016 through the lens of card sales. What I've learned from doing the Super Sellers column is that my perception of what people like andåc dislike and are generally looking for in Magic cards is based on nothing but my perception. Sales certainly don't paint a clearer picture, but they create an unbiased snapshot of what players are looking for at any given time. A spike in sales of a weird niche card like Skred is easier to explain than when something like Allosaurus Rider appears in Super Sellers, but then again, sales data doesn't exist to reinforce or dispel our theories, or do anything else but tell us exactly what cards sold well this week and in what sequence.
That retrospective starts today with a look back at the best-selling cards of Oath of the Gatewatch. I'll be tackling the Standard expansions while Corbin covers the supplemental releases. He'll be talking about Eternal Masters tomorrow.
We can't know exactly what sales data means, but we have hunches. Some hunches are better than others. Let's ride.
During Oath of the Gatewatch preview season, I wasn't high on Oath of Nissa (read: I told all my coworkers it sucked). My coworkers thought it was incredible: green finally got card draw! Indeed, they all snapped up playsets as soon as they could.
The reality of the situation was that Oath of Nissa lie somewhere in between the respective evaluations of my coworkers and myself. Is Oath of Nissa a world beater? No. Does the card suck? Also no. I mean, the card won a Pro Tour, for cryin' out loud. Oath of Nissa's moment in the sun was short-lived, but it will likely be remembered for bringing home the hardware for Steve Rubin, and for this moment.
One of the hallmarks of Kaladesh Standard is how bad the removal is. Hero's Downfall is gone, Ultimate Price and Go for the Throat are a distant memory, and Lightning Bolt was a weird, fun experiment that's unlikely to ever be in Standard again. Right now, Grasp of Darkness, Harnessed Lightning, and Stasis Snare all compete for the claim of Standard's best removal spell. Stasis Snare has a pretty significant drawback within the context of Kaladesh Standard (Disenchants are everywhere) and Harnessed Lightning technically works outside of an energy-based deck, but often reads as a Lash Out with high-variance upside. Grasp of Darkness is the best removal spell in Kaladesh Standard.
Side note: It's funny how closely Black-Green Delirium follows the black/green/x midrange deck formula that Jund and Abzan adhere to in Modern. They all even play Grim Flayer!
Creature-lands are real in every context. The Worldwake cycle of creature-lands saw regular play when they were in Standard and continue to see play in Modern. The creature-lands of Battle for Zendikar and Oath of the Gatewatch are similarly pushed; their ceiling for potential is pretty high. Guildgates are pretty close to being playable by themselves, and creature-lands are a historically powerful type of card, dating back to Mishra's Factory. Creature lands are good.
When I was in college, I worked at a comic book store that sold Magic cards. Magic cards quickly became a huge chunk of our revenue, and the most common Magic-related call I took at the store was, "what Eldrazi do you have?" This was back in 2011, so the only Eldrazi in existence were from Rise of the Eldrazi, but I was still shocked at the regularity of the requests for Eldrazi. I'd estimate they were our best-selling creature type for the year I worked there — better than elves, better than goblins. Players like ginormous, flashy, cool-looking hell monsters.
Oath of the Gatewatch's Eldrazi are sleeker than their Rise of the Eldrazi and Battle for Zendikar counterparts, but what they lack in girth they made up for by utterly dominating Pro Tour Oath of the Gatewatch, backed up by Eldrazi Temple and Eye of Ugin. Eye of Ugin has since been banned in Modern, but the Eldrazi of Oath of the Gatewatch continue to make their presence felt in Modern.
The infamous anecdote is that R&D didn't test out Reflector Mage at all in Constructed. This might seem like a heinous oversight, but the truth of the matter is that they've been trying to get Man-o'-War to work for a while now. Reflector Mage is simply the zenith of the card type, achieved by a series of infinitesimal, deliberate pushes.
In Kaladesh Standard, Reflector Mage sees a permissible amount of play. It's a fine role-player in the White-Blue Flash archetype; sometimes it's a fantastic card, sometimes it downright sucks to draw. It is a fine card — it is no longer ubiquitous with Standard. That's because Collected Company rotated.
The pervading narrative seems to be that, for whatever reason, R&D is hesitant to really push on their broken cards during development. Between Collected Company's year-long, thorough dominance of Standard and the omnipresent Emrakul, the Promised End, the latter of which was only tested as an interchangeable endgame, not a deck's stated path to victory. Broken cards make innocuous-looking support cards into all-stars. The clearest example of this is Collected Company's effect on Sylvan Advocate and Reflector Mage.
Colorless is, for all intents and purposes, Magic's sixth color. Wastes are more or less unnecessary in Constructed, thanks to all the lands legal at any given time that tap for colorless and have some other upside. I played one copy of Wastes in my Standard Showdown deck because I could fetch it out with Evolving Wilds, but outside of its Evolving Wilds interaction, I can't see putting Wastes in a deck.
The full-art Wastes were also our #1 and #3 best-selling cards from Oath of the Gatewatch (Reflector Mage was #2). The allure of a new color is hard to resist, and if you're playing a more casual format, there's no reason not to stock up on a bunch of the new basic land for the sake of coolness and dodging Wastelands. New stuff trumps the old, even if only for a minute or two.