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Paying for Power

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With the Standard environment recently changing and about to undergo another major change, I decided to take a look at the ten highest-priced cards in Standard to ruminate on why they cost so much. I hope this will help us to identify the big money cards in future sets.

Geist of Saint Traft – $17

Geist of Saint Traft
This mythic rare plays a very specific role in the metagame. It’s a cheap creature that’s really hard to remove that also puts your opponent on a really short clock. The fact that it’s an ideal target for its controller’s Equipment and Auras often not only makes the clock even shorter, but can also remove blocking as a good option. Most cheap creatures with hexproof aren’t much of a threat without being enhanced. In the case of GST though, if you can remove your opponent’s blockers, the Geist can easily go all the way. If you’re not running Geist in a deck, it might be a good time to consider moving them, as Innistrad won’t be in Standard forever, and GST doesn’t seem to be a huge presence in Modern. At the moment, the only Standard deck running the Geist is Bant Auras.

Scavenging Ooze – $18

Scavenging Ooze
The thing that really makes this card stand out from the rest of my list is that it’s not a mythic. The Ooze has risen to such a steep price due to several factors. First, it’s only in one set (not counting Commander precons). Second, it’s an incredible answer to graveyard decks, which had been a dominate force in the metagame. Third, it fits into a lot of decks. Many creature-heavy decks are base-green, and having a solid 2-drop that’s both good on its own and a house against specific decks is usually worth main-decking. The other factor to consider is the number of decks that either fill up their own graveyards or even just make a point to kill all of the opponent’s creatures. It’s very easy to make it so that your 2-mana creature impacts the game more like a 5-drop. The Ooze has only just joined Standard, so it might be awhile before this price goes down. This card is a staple in Gruul midrange, Golgari control and Naya midrange.

Sphinx's Revelation – $20

Sphinx's Revelation
Of course, the rest of the cards on this list are mythic rares. Any time Wizards makes mythic rare—that’s also such a game-breaker—you can be sure the price will soar. If you’re playing a serious control player, you’re probably playing a deck with white and blue in it, in large part because of this card. It’s a card with a flexible cost that gives you an increasingly larger amount of both cards and life the later in the game you play it? Yes, please! This card basically addresses every major weakness of control decks. Once a control deck player has answered all of the opponent’s threats and stabilized the game, he or she needs a card that really puts its foot on the opponent’s neck, putting him or her firmly in control and removing victory from the opponent’s options, Revelation fits this role to a T. It also helps that control decks usually have to play with extremely large quantities of mana, thus making mana-flood a very real danger. Revelation not only gives you something to do with all that mana, it completely fixes your flooding problem at that point. There won’t be a better card for performing this role in Standard decks anytime soon, so don’t expect the price to drop much. Revelation is being run in American midrange, Azorius control, and Esper control.

Garruk, Caller of Beasts – $20

Garruk, Caller of Beasts
While on some level it’s not surprise for any planeswalker to be expensive, this one is a bit of a head-scratcher. First of all, 6 mana is a quite a bit of mana to pay for a planeswalker, especially a green one. High-casting-cost planeswalkers would seem better-suited to a color with mass removal, such as Day of Judgment. The other issue is that there aren’t any major decks in the metagame running this card at the moment. Of course, the card’s abilities are really cool. I imagine there are some really cool and fun-to-play tier-two or -three decks running this card. The fact that this card just arrived with M14 probably has quite a bit to do with its price also. Unless this card starts showing up in a tier-one deck, I expect its price might come back down a little bit.

Snapcaster Mage – $22

Snapcaster Mage
This card is a versatile powerhouse. The fact that it’s cheap and has flash makes it perfect for most blue decks. Not only does its enters-the-battlefield ability combine well with what most blue decks want to do anyway, it also makes it synergize with Restoration Angel (the fact that Restoration Angel isn’t on this list speaks volumes about the difference between rares and mythics). While the price might drop a bit when Innistrad leaves Standard, it will probably stay pretty high because of how tempting it will be to use it in other formats besides Standard. Snapcaster can be seen in both Azorius control and American midrange.

Kalonian Hydra – $22

Kalonian Hydra
It’s not surprising that forty percent of the cards on this list are from the most recent set—it’s the set that’s mythics and rares have had the least time to disseminate into the Magic community. Not to mention that it’s the set that will be remaining in Standard for the longest. As I mentioned in my recent article on Golgari, this Hydra is a total powerhouse. It can win games all on its own, and if your deck happens to have a +1/+1 counter theme, it can become truly absurd. With Thragtusk leaving Standard soon, this monster will become even more the green 5-drop de jour, so we may even see the price go a bit higher—as crazy as that may sound. Though the fact that the Hydra isn’t seeing play in tier-one decks yet is reason for some caution for those considering investing in a Hydra farm in Kalonia.

Archangel of Thune – $25

Archangel of Thune
The last of our M14 foursome is also the most expensive. It’s actually very similar to Kalonian Hydra in many ways. It’s a 5-drop that can make itself and other creatures you control bigger. Much like there are a lot of ways to make +1/+1 counters in Standard, they are also a lot of ways to gain life. Further proof of the power of mythics when it comes to pricing is that while the Ooze is the only one of the M14 foursome actually seeing much play in Standard at the moment, it’s the one that’s the cheapest to buy. The big thing that the other three cards all have in common is that they do things that are really cool and they can fit into decks that are really fun to play.

Domri Rade – $28

Domri Rade
It’s no shocker that a low-casting-cost planeswalker with multiple powerful abilities you can start using immediately is high on this list. The main reason it’s not much higher is almost certainly the fact that it forces you to play two specific colors. The other big thing holding its price and usefulness in check is that it’s only powerful in decks with a really high creature count. Historically, the big-ticket planeswalkers are typically ones better-suited to control decks with low creature counts. As long as there is a Standard deck like Gruul midrange that’s well-suited to running this card, the price should stay pretty stable, but that’s not necessarily a very stable scenario.

Voice of Resurgence – $35

Voice of Resurgence
While the first eight cards all ranged within an eleven-dollar span from $17 to $28, we now spike seven dollars to the number-two card on our list: Voice of Resurgence. What makes it so special? That would mainly be its power level. It may well be the most powerful 2-drop in all of Standard. Like the Ooze, it’s good by itself, really good in decks designed to synergize with it, and really good against specific decks. By itself, it’s a 2/2 for 2 that not only cranks out potentially powerful tokens whenever your opponent casts things on your turn, it gives you one when it dies. While not as likely to win a game singlehandedly as a Hydra, it’s pretty good at it considering it’s a 2-drop. If your deck has either a swarm of creatures—or better yet, a token theme—this card becomes pretty nuts. If your opponent is playing a deck that’s really dependent on playing cards on your turn, such as permission, it becomes better still. I can only imagine what the price would be if it were a mono-colored card or if it were featured in a tier-one Standard deck.

Liliana of the Veil – $44

Liliana of the Veil
A nine-dollar jump brings us to the top card on the list: Liliana. It’s pretty shocking to me that few of the top cards on this list appear in tier-one Standard decks at the moment. In addition, Liliana has been around awhile, and the clock is starting to tick on her for Standard. The good news for her is that, like Voice, Liliana certainly has the power to be in a tier-one Standard deck, and they both are decent in other formats like Legacy and Modern. Clearly, the price of this mythic planeswalker is being driven largely by formats other than Standard, so the price may actually stay close to this high for quite a while—as surprising as that may sound. The bigger question may be: Will the price of Voice of Resurgence catch up to Liliana when Innistrad cycles out of Standard?

 


The big things I take away from this list are:

  • A card doesn’t have to see a ton of Standard play to be high-priced.
  • Mythic really matters.
  • Being from the most recent set really matters.
  • Power level really matters.
  • Having a card do something that is both powerful and really fun matters.
  • Locking down a specific role in the metagame and in specific archetypes matters.

Thanks to my friend Israel Rivera for helping with the research for this article, identifying the highest-priced Standard cards.


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