We’re hot on the heels of the release of Ravnica Allegiance and I’m sure you are all excited to play in the pre-release this weekend. If you follow Loading Ready Run you would have seen the pre-pre-release last weekend which featured a ton of new cards and came with an additional announcement a lot of people may have missed. Challenger decks are coming back! In this article I want to take a look at what challenger decks are and how they affect the prices of cards contained within them as well as what cards I think are likely to be included.
What are Challenger decks?
Challenger decks are the evolution of the event deck to something that you can actually just play at your local FNM and be reasonably successful with. The last set of Challenger decks included a lot of cards from the previous year of Magic as you can see here. It helps players save money on cards that are going to be rotating in the near future but also isn’t devoid of upgrade options. Unlike a lot of other preconstructed decks, these decks do not shy away from printing high value high rarity cards. The highlights of these decks included Chandra, Torch of Defiance, Hazoret the Fervent, Glorybringer, Walking Ballista, Verdurous Gearhulk, Scrapheap Scrounger, and Settle the Wreckage. These were all pretty high dollar valuable cards and the fresh injection of cards into the market helped to curtail some of the prices. It was recently announced by Gavin Verhey that they will be returning. The expectation is that all of these decks will contain similar style reprints.
How do they affect card prices?
For this, I want to talk about Chandra, Torch of Defiance. It was a format defining card and probably the best Chandra planeswalker ever printed.
I’ve adjusted the time line a little to show its peak and its valley. Most cards late into their Standard life cycle will slowly decline. If decks remain largely the same (as they unfortunately did for a lot of the KLD/AHK/XLN Standard) then there is no new demand and they will naturally decrease in price. You’ll see in February 2018 a leveling off and then a cliff dive. That’s when full Challenger decklists were revealed and the card started to free fall. It’s not unusual for a card to decline but it is unusual for a format staple mythic to decline so quickly. Chandra fell from $30 to $25 within a week and then $20 by the time the Challenger decks were released. As the single most expensive card in all of the decks it is pretty surprising to see a 30% drop in price leading up to the release of the card. What is also very important is that due to the timing of the release of these decks, none of the cards have the lifetime left in Standard to rebound after the decks sell out. The price decrease is more or less permanent for the remainder of their stay in Standard.
Likely Reprint Targets
First and foremost, these are supposed to be functioning decks. As the decks will be revealed in late next month, they have almost assuredly been sent to the printers and will not contain any Ravnica Allegiance cards. What this all means is that it is likely the most popular decks right now will be the decks that are reprinted as challenger decks.
The first deck that seems like the easiest to include is the Golgari midrange deck. It comes in many forms but largely includes cards from sets that will rotate in the fall. Ultimately, I largely expect this deck to include one or two Carnage Tyrants. The big dino is one of those format defining cards that will be used to help sell these challenger decks and isn’t a card that you need a terribly large number of to be successful. I expect at the release of these challenger decks that the once imposing dinosaur will be a paltry $15. The card I’m the second most expecting to be reprinted is Jadelight Ranger. It’s a card that they can expect to be popular in the Gruul and Simic decks that are coming in the next set. These are not particularly expensive right now at $7 but it is a rare and not a mythic and is a good candidate to have 4 copies included. I expect these should be $1-2 at release. The last expensive card I’m expecting out of this deck is Vraska's Contempt. It’s a pretty popular and flexible answer card that is probably too expensive for what it does. Right now Vraska's Contempt is about $10 and I’d expect it to fall naturally after the printing of Bedevil anyway. I’m expecting it to be $5 at the release of the challenger decks.
After the Golgari deck I’m not really sure what decks will be included as challenger decks. There are a lot of different arguments that you can make for a lot of different decks but ultimately I’m not sure which ones they would choose. What I am sure of, is the cards that are likely to be reprinted. Treasure Map feels to me like a card that fits into enough decks it will find a home. It’s $8 right now and I think it is a $3-5 card after a reprint depending on how many Ravnica Allegiance decks decide to play it. In a similar vein, I think History of Benalia is another great mythic to head line a deck. It’s usually a corner stone of the Selesnya tokens deck or the Boros Aggro deck but either way they play 4. This could be like Heart of Kiran and a deck could include 4 copies despite it being a mythic.
The cards I’m less certain of but I think could be on their mind are a bit more expensive. Teferi, Hero of Dominaria is in a similar position to Chandra, Torch of Defiance but Teferi sees a lot more play in non-Standard formats. I think it’s possible one deck includes one copy of this card but I don’t expect it to take a terribly large hit in price. He likely settles at $30 if he is reprinted. Nexus of Fate is another card that might seem weird to reprint but actually accomplishes a lot of goals if its included here. Players have been unhappy with the distribution method of Nexus of Fates and the fact that it is not available in non-foil. Foil cards are prone to warping and can become unintentionally marked if they are included in a deck with no other foil cards. If Nexus of Fates was included in a challenger deck it would put some downward pressure on the price of the promo as well as release a large number of non-foil copies into circulation for the people that want them. Extra turn effects have typically had a floor of $10 so I don’t expect it to ever get lower than that anyway.
What should you do?
If you were on the fence about getting out of any of your Standard cards you have about two weeks to get top dollar for them. After the decklists for the challenger decks are revealed your cards will continue to drop in price. Anything you don’t see yourself playing should be sold while it still has value. If you were on the fence about purchasing any cards from the previous year of Standard you should continue to wait as any cards not reprinted will continue to get cheaper until rotation in the fall anyway.