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Sustaining Standard

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Since the transition a number of months ago to a Standard-focused article, I have received a great deal of feedback, mostly positive, about the new direction of the series. Of course, as I have grown more accustomed to the ways of Constructed again, I have lightened up on the finance content. While I still do want to focus on new decks and archetypes primarily, I think it is still relevant to not only cover singles that have potential, but also to hit on topics of a broader nature that can be relevant to every Standard player.

Arashin Foremost
This week, I am still going to talk about the Pro Tour and the usual decklist discussion, and changes moving forward will be included, but I want the theme of this week to be sustainable set prices and why Dragons of Tarkir will be subject to that soon enough—of course, with that comes some advice on how to properly react.

The first and most important part when looking at the overall value of a new set is to identify the cards that have inflated the initial value. This is not something we can do until the format is a few weeks old and prerelease prices have worn off. Right now is the perfect time to evaluate this exact market point as it is probably at the highest point it will ever be. There is still a small chance for growth, as supply is still not at peak, and a high demand still exists, but overall, we have seen the top of the mountain.

Prices at this precipice become significantly swingier week to week as the inflated value of the overall set—boxes now being valued at over a $120 in singles on average—means something has to give on the current pricing, and cards will need to fall before much else can rise. Approaching redemption can also trigger this adjustment—it is best to be ahead of the curve, and luckily, with the Pro Tour guiding our way, it is an ideal time to figure out where you want to be in the format, and it’s an ideal time to move out of what you do not currently need.

Trading is a great way to ensure you keep the full current value, but until stores reach peak supply, list numbers will also be strong on high-demand cards. I like to take this time to personally move out of a few of my high-end cards and move in on some of the long-term specs I have for the set—Arashin Foremost comes to mind. The avenue that is best for you is all based on what you want to get out of your collection, but no matter your purpose, this is a very important time in a set’s cycle.

Now that we have the general idea of why these prices are not sustainable across the board, it would be ideal to know what will hold value through the storm. This is where I usually turn to tournament results for answers, and though that is still a large factor in my determining a card’s eventual value, this season has left me grasping at times. With the ever-changing meta, it is more important than ever to truly nail down the format staples, as everything else has a much larger chance of losing value if it loses favor for even just a few weeks.

I work best when given real-world scenarios to compare to, and though I do want this article to be timeless in a sense, I am going to use current Standard decks from this past weekend’s Pro Tour in Brussels to give everyone their fix.

Though not the most interesting deck out there, it is certain after this weekend that U/B Control is here to stay, and with three different lists in the Top 8, it certainly has some space to grow as well.

Icefall Regent
This is the perfect list to bring understanding to just what I mean by sustainability; the two things I want to note are the absence of Dragonlord Ojutai and the inclusion of Icefall Regent. The lack of Ojutai tells us that control is not forced to be Esper to compete, which is important when looking at the current price of Ojutai. Though the card is certainly great, I really believe almost all of the Dragonlord cycle will have their heydays—Ojutai and Atarka are just the first two up to bat. With this Dragon flavor of the month, it is likely that you may be able to get in and out of each of these a few times during the course of Standard, profiting each time.

I would be moving out of Ojutai right now for a few reasons—the lack of being a four-of clearly does hurt, though it will probably be the same across the board for the Dragons, limiting their prices to what I hope will be slightly lower than what the Titan cycle showed during its life in Standard. Any time you have a cycle like this—when all or most of them feel playable—it is likely that each is, but in order to disperse the value across the set, it is unlikely more than two will be expensive at any one time. This means if you begin to see another Dragon gaining traction, either Ojutai or Atarka has to give, and right now, Ojutai feels like the weaker of the two for overall Standard play.

Icefall Regent tells a similar tale down the road I feel, but the price now is fine for the current supply and demand, but it is unlikely to sustain for more than the month. This means now is the time to move them if you are not looking to play control—or at least the control that contains the creature shell.

Thunderbreak Regent is another card on the top end of the set right now, and though I feel it will certainly dip, I am less certain about the card’s future once Dragons of Tarkir is washed away by the oncoming tide that is Modern Masters (2015 Edition). Before I dive too deep into exactly why I am not as confident that this card will drop as heavily as it may have been able to if printed in a set like Khans of Tarkir, let’s get a list to look at.

Now that we have some cards to look over, let me move on to why I believe Thunderbreak Regent may not be a bad place to be putting your Standard funds in the near future. Of course, Modern Masters (2015 Edition) will have a great deal of influence on how much Dragons of Tarkir is sold—similar to the previous Modern Masters, I imagine Standard will fall by the wayside for a while as people play, what was the first time around, a fantastic Limited environment.

Etched Champion
The real concern comes in how much more available this Modern Masters is than the previous and how long that disruptive period lasts. If stores can keep shelves stocked for even a few weeks to a month, it may really damage the market on Dragons of Tarkir—the prices will still drop in the short term, but the long term is less positive this time around.

With the first Modern Masters, we had a set before it that did very little to the Standard environment, and in turn, most of the value sank into a few cards, notably Voice of Resurgence. This time around, if we have more than just a few playables—as it appears we will after boxes of Dragons of Tarkir—are not the newest, greatest thing, we may see the overall value of the set rise above any we have seen in years. Redemption will certainly keep this in check—given that the added redemption cost and short window in which people will both be playing Dragons on a regular basis and looking to redeem is much shorter. Magic Origins does not come out that long after Modern Masters, and with the hype of double-faced ’Walkers already, I don't know how many people will still be content staying in Tarkir.

The reason I believe Thunderbreak Regent may be a great place to be if he falls anywhere south of $5 in the coming weeks is his potential playability outside of Standard. Sure, this guy is going to make his way into some Dragon Commander decks just for his ability, and Cubes will probably adapt him as well, but the underlying question is whether the Regent is playable in Modern. I am not sold that it has a place in the format, but I certainly believe the power level of the card is on par with the format as a whole.

Thunderbreak Regent
When looking to identify a card that you believe may be able to break the normal limits on its rarity—which, in a rare’s case is $8 to $10—it usually needs a perfect storm of factors to do so. I believe we have that this time around: Modern Masters forces the lifespan on the supply, the Standard playability across a number of decks is certainly there, the card usually sees play as a four-of, and if this coming Preliminary Pro Tour Qualifier season has any real results with Thunderbreak Regent, we could see a $20 rare on our hands by the end of the summer. I think it will settle closer to $15 given the addition of the Game Day promo, but overall, in a few months, that will probably not be a large factor—it just makes them cheaper to pick up now. This, of course, would provide downward movement on the rest of the set, but things will settle regardless, and since there is no rare cycle of lands to absorb the value this time around, this is where I would put my money.

I don't want to be too long-winded this week, but one last example of a card that perhaps falls between Ojutai and Thunderbreak Regent is Surrak, the Hunt Caller. When this card was spoiled, it seemed to float under the radar due to the popularity of Polukranos, World Eater. In a number of lists, this guy seems to be getting the nod, trading haste for the fight ability and moving yourself to a more aggressive position from the previous iterations of R/G last season.

I do not want to be heavily into Surrak now, as he is still splitting custody of green with the World Eater, but come closer to rotation, I can see this card being a major factor vaulting itself toward the ceiling for Standard rares. I only approach this to allude to another subject I will touch on later in the year as rotation approaches. Similar to how a set adjusts over time, it can also be important to identify the format as a whole when rotation comes—now every six months—to see what gained traction, and this card is currently on my short list.

I hope everyone managed to catch at least some coverage—I know I am still trying to readjust my sleep schedule. With the Pro Tour played out, the next few weeks should solidify exactly what from Dragons of Tarkir will continue to see play, and from there, it will be more exact on what to move in on, but for now, I would be moving out of anything you do not need from the set and looking forward to Modern Masters and, of course, if you can make it, Vegas! Next week, we will dive back into results and do a little less finance preaching; until then, enjoy Game Day, and win that Thunderbreak Regent!


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