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Back in Block

Every year, we hit this one Pro Tour that just throws all of the conventional wisdom of the known formats out the window and gives us a glimpse into the potential for the following year. I am, of course, referring to the third set’s Block Pro Tour, and this year promises to be much of the same, as there is very little to no carryover in Block, as even the devotion decks lack a lot of the essential tools the previous year provides. I wanted to talk about the upcoming Standard environment, but given that we do not have a Standard Grand Prix for a few weeks, it may be a while before prices settle down anyway. People want results to tell them what is good and what they are overvaluing, but until that is quenched, we will probably see a financial format slow to adjust.

Thassa, God of the Sea
I will work more on that environment as I see more testing—probably still early enough to pick up on a few gems—but as it stands, I have very few friends interested in anything but Block, as the Pro Tour is but a few short weeks away. Given this, I decided to also divert my focus this week and see what cards are looking to shine that still may be a bit underpowered or misaligned for the current Standard environment. Few people put enough stock in the Block format, and as one of the few Constructed formats I still enjoy, I must say watching this block grow over the three sets was both entertaining and exciting. I started the Theros block off with a four-colored deck that was very much rogue to start with, and I fought through fields of Heroic and R/G Monsters with an eventual tip toward Mono-Black Devotion and eventually coming back to square one as, suddenly, when approaching Born of the Gods, the format seemed to be almost all three- to four-colored good-stuff. This is fairly typical if the mana is existent, as there is a very limited card pool, and once people figure out how to fit the most overwhelming cards in the same deck, it is just time to wait for the next set. Unfortunately, I have not had enough time to concentrate on playing much in the past few months, but I have kept up with the format. It has wavered a bit, but the past month or so has shown a strong showing from U/B control and big-mana Reanimator with a few other decks, such as mono-red edging out an event here and there. Overall, the big-mana deck seems to be the boogey man of the format, though it’s certainly not unbeatable.

Going forward, we have added constellation to the mix, which may not seem as though it will make a huge impact on Standard. But for Block, however, I expect to see a number of variants trying to gain incremental value through cards like Eidolon of Blossoms. These decks become much more realistic when you look at the overall quality of the spot removal in this block combined with the lack of efficient sweepers. This will probably be shored up before we progress too far into the Standard environment next year, but from this side, I expect midrange to have some time to shine. Keeping this in mind, we can not only look at the cards that will probably be good in this Block environment, but also those that could be good given the correct home but for now are just being neglected.

Reaper of the Wilds
Reaper of the Wilds is a perfect example of a card that can almost take games by itself but that is still nearly in the bulk bins due to the recent Duel Decks printing. I have always liked this card and have talked about it a few times, but it has always made me hesitant, as it felt it may have a similar price path to Aetherling, and as we know, that hasn’t ended well. The difference is I believe Reaper is like a three- or four-of in any deck that can play her, and she can fill multiple roles in different decks, allowing her to also be far more flexible than Aetherling. Currently, these have almost no value, and she certainly is one of my primary focuses in Atlanta. If this card starts showing up in a few variations, it may now be time to start stocking up for next year.

Gild is a card I very much misjudged at first, as I—as many—read it that your opponent received the token, and we dismissed it. Block has, however, proven that a turn-four Gild into a turn-five Elspeth, Sun's Champion is relevant enough to warrant a few spots and has begun showing up in more and more lists, even those not sporting the white ’Walker. The format has to remain fairly slow for this card to remain relevant, but as it stands, Theros block has certainly looked to bring us back to the midrange and control and away from many aggro strategies. This may change with Journey into Nyx, and I hope it does, but for now, Gild remains a player, and at bulk-rare prices, how can you go wrong? Flavor-wise alone, this card will probably hold some value, as the effect is very unique, and black mana ramp with an added effect can be harder to come by than in most colors.

Prognostic Sphinx
Before I move away from the bulkier prospects, let me talk once again about a card I don’t believe I have mentioned since it was released: Prognostic Sphinx. This card has been showing up as a four-of in a number of variants, and it seems to be blue’s go-to win condition moving forward. Given how powerful scry 3 a turn can be, I can see why. I had this in my original four-colored deck and was never disappointed to resolve one against any midrange or control deck. The format offers very few ways to remove the Sphinx, and with a manaless, built-in protection mechanic, how much more can you ask for? This card flat out shapes games, and I have seen more than just my own games suddenly tilt in the favor of the person who resolves this bomb first. I imagine the decks that exist now will shape some for the upcoming tour, and new ones will form, but I expect Prognostic Sphinx will still show up in force.

A few more cards that already have some value to them—but that are certainly low right now—also come out of these control lists. Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver has seemed underpriced to me for months, and though it is seeing limited playability in Standard, it seems to complement Block very will, giving you a form of card advantage while also providing you with a long-term win condition if left unchecked. These can be found for a little over $5 still, and I would not be surprised to see this leap back above $10 even before rotation. If the format continues to shape the way it is and this carries into the next year, expect Ashiok to be a large factor when considering color options for control. This card feeds off the midrange decks, and with very little aggro, this card can be difficult to take care of through combat damage.

Hero's Downfall
Hero's Downfall is the last card I want to cover in detail today, though I certainly believe there are many more opportunities within the block. This card has already proven itself in both Block and Standard, yet, it had a hiccup in price due, once again, to the Event Deck. Though this has dropped the value currently, I highly doubt this card will stay below $5 for long, as it looks to continue dominating this removal-light block. I imagine the versatility of this card to not only be locked into control shells but also that it will see more widespread play than some of the others I have mentioned, and in turn, it may even fetch $10 to $15 given the correct timing. If you do not at least have your personal set now, it would not be a bad time to buy in, and if you don’t mind sitting on a few extra copies for a while, I imagine that will also reward you down the line.

I have taken but a brief look at this upcoming format, and I plan to not only watch and learn before the Pro Tour, but also convey what I find to you, so keep an eye out next week, as I will be coming back briefly to talk about my findings. This format has a lot to gain from Journey into Nyx, and as you read this, I imagine many of the pros are diligently plugging away and attempting to unlock those exact secrets. Having an idea of what you like moving into the next year will give you good focus over the next few months as you begin the yearly process of unloading your rotating stock to invest in the future Standard. Knowing what to target now while it is cheap can save you some money down the road—and even potentially net you a profit if you play your cards right. I want to hear what everyone thinks about the new environment and what you expect to hold through until rotation.

Ryan Bushard


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