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Betting on Battle for Zendikar

In the MTGGoldfish newsletter last week I mentioned the time has come to sell out of cards from Khans of Tarkir and Fate Reforged. In fact, the peak has likely already passed. If you look at the tournament schedule between now and when Standard rotates in April, you'll see there are only five major Standard events in this time frame: three Grand Prix and two SCG Standard Opens. As a result, even though there are still four months on the calendar before the rotation, there really isn't much time left to play with the cards from these sets. 

While Standard cards are tending down in general, cards that will rotate have begun to crash. After a couple months of steady increases we see staples like Anafenza, the Foremost and even the fetch lands losing between between 5-10% each week, which is a clear sign of rotation induced sell offs. We are at the point where Khans of Tarkir and Fate Reforged cards should be sold as soon as possible to maximize your collection's value and to create a nest egg for buying cards post-rotation. 

I plan on doing a Preparing for Rotation on both Khans of Tarkir and Fate Reforged over the next few weeks, but I wanted to make sure I left one bit of Khans of Tarkir advice here: don't feel like you have to sell your fetch lands. The general feeling is they will decrease somewhere between a little bit and not at all, and over the long term they are safe investments barring an extremely random and unforeseen reprinting. I believe the same is true about Ugin, the Spirit Dragon, but I wouldn't be surprised to see him decrease a decent amount this spring before slowly rebounding. Whether or not this decrease will be enough to justify selling your copies and rebuying them in the future I'm not sure, but I don't think holding Ugin, the Spirit Dragon is a horrible idea. 

Today is about looking to the future and examining what cards from Battle for Zendikar may be worth picking up on the cheap, so you won't have to buy them for retail price this spring or next fall. 

Battle for Zendikar

Rotation typically does crazy things to the prices of cards that remain in the format. Cards suddenly go from unplayed to Standard staples and their prices go from near bulk to expensive. The trick is figuring out which cards could be Standard playable at rotation. Trying to predict what the format will look like is foolish since we know nothing other than the fact that Shadows Over Innistrad Standard will likely be a 1-to-3 color format rather than a 3-to-5 format like Khans of Tarkir Standard. Instead of looking at what deck a card might go in, the smartest thing to do is look at general power level and efficiency. My goal in buying cards for rotation is to pick cards I think have a chance at being playable and hope their power shines through. 

As with all new sets, cards from Battle for Zendikar benefit from surviving not one, but two rotations. This doubles their odds of finding a home during a shakeup in the format. This is why some Battle for Zendikar cards are attractive. Even if they "miss" during spring rotation, they'll still have another shot during the fall rotation. While none of these cards are slam dunks, I believe they have enough potential to merit discussion. I've ranked them based on how much confidence I have in the card's future. Anyway, let's talk about some cards!

The Battle for Zendikar Duals - Average Current Price $4.75

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Why they're a good bet: Currently, the Battle for Zendikar duals are relatively underplayed because of the presence of fetch lands. The average fetch land has 3.64 copies per deck, while the average Battle for Zendikar dual has only 1.66 copies per deck. This means it is entirely possible that the amount of play this cycle sees in Standard will more than double this spring. Furthermore, dual land cycles from big fall sets have a strong track record of being expensive at some point in their Standard life. The fastlands from Scars of Mirrodin averaged under $3 a piece the winter after they were released, but the following winter they peaked at $12 each. We see the same pattern with the Innistrad lands. They averaged $4 the winter after they released, and climbed to $11 the following winter. The Return to Ravnica shocklands never hit the lows of the other cycles, instead staying between $9-$11 their entire Standard life. If history holds, the Battle for Zendikar duals will be $10+ at some point next year. 

The downside: You will notice I left one dual land cycle off the list. The Theros scrylands are the one land cycle that didn't see a big jump. In fact, many of them hit their peak right after Theros released. While I think most would agree that the Battle for Zendikar duals are more eternal playable than the scrylands, neither show up on the list of played cards in Modern. Plus, Battle for Zendikar has been opened a ton, which could limit the financial potential of Rares from the set. At the very least you should pick up your play set for Standard. There is a strong chance you could double your money this spring (or fall) by investing in the Battle for Zendikar duals. 

Part the Waterveil - Current Price $1.69

Why it's a good bet: It says, "Take another turn after this one" which is almost always worth $4 on a Blue sorcery. In fact, I believe Temporal Trespass is the only card in this group that isn't $4, and it's still Standard legal, so it has time to grow from casual demand. At only six-mana, Part the Waterveil isn't that much more expensive than Time Warp, which is pretty much the standard for modern Time Walk variants. Actually, being on-curve with Time Walk could matter if Mono-Blue/Blue-White Time Warp decks like the one played by Gerrard Fabiano at GP Pittsburgh catch on in Modern. Having the ability to be both a Time Warp and a 6/6 with haste is a huge deal. This is Part the Waterveil's competitive advantage in comparison to other cards. I wouldn't be surprised if Part the Waterveil is a finisher in a control deck. It synergizes well with Planar Outburst, which should move up the wrath rankings post rotation. 

The downside: It's from Battle for Zendikar, which could limit its long-term potential. Ten mana, the amount required to make the hasty 6/6, is a lot. There's a chance that it never catches on in Standard. If something like an Aetherling is printed, there's very little reason for a control deck to close out the game with the more fragile Part the Waterveil. That would limit Part the Waterveil's play to combo decks like Turbo Turns, which may not be playable after Temporal Trespass rotates this spring. Regardless, assuming it doesn't get reprinted in an Event Deck or Clash Pack, I really, really like Part the Waterveil over the long term. 

Painful Truths - Current Price $0.85

Why it's a good bet: It's getting a ton of hype in Modern GBx decks like Jund and Abzan. Hall of Famer Willy Edel recently said it, "After playing a lot (including 2 GPs) I can safely say that Painful Truths is the best possible SB card for BGx decks [in Modern]. [It] puts Dark Confidant to shame." As a result, foils jumped from $4.50 to $13.50, while non-foils have yet to show any significant movement. In Standard it has some competition in Read the Bones, which is clearly better in a two-color deck, but in a three-color deck, Painful Truths is significantly better. It's even seen some fringe play in Legacy, so if it catches on in non-rotating formats, maybe Standard play won't matter all that much. Most of all, it's a really cheap bet so there isn't much to lose even if things go poorly. 

The downside: It's not really the type of card people will pay a lot of money for. Read the Bones probably limits Painful Truths's price while in Standard. Despite the praise from pros and hall of famers, it's still too early to call Painful Truths a Modern or Legacy staple. Many new cards go through this weird testing phase in non-rotating formats, and while some stick around for the long term, sometimes initial results are deceiving and the cards fade away. It will take time to know which camp Painful Truths falls into. 

Quarantine Field - Current Price $2.00

Why it's a good bet: It's Mythic and sometimes is a more powerful version of Banishing Light. At $2, Quarantine Field costs less than Banishing Light did when it was in Standard. Honestly, I thought Quarantine Field was a horrible card when it was spoiled, but after playing it in a few different decks, I've changed my mind. It's super powerful. While paying four-mana to exile one permanent is bad, once you cast it for six-, eight-, or ten-mana, it feels unfair. Remember, Ugin, the Spirit Dragon is leaving the format, which is important for two reasons. First, Ugin, the Spirit Dragon is Quarantine Field's natural enemy. The only thing worse than getting your entire board exiled by Ugin, the Spirit Dragon is getting your entire board exile by Ugin, the Spirit Dragon and giving your opponent back multiple threats exiled under a Quarantine Field.

With Ugin, the Spirit Dragon leaving the format, it will be safer to exile things with Quarantine Field. Quarantine Field may also take over Ugin, the Spirit Dragon's role in some ramp decks. At eight-mana it exiles three permanents, which isn't as good as Ugin, the Spirit Dragon in every situation, but Quarantine Field scales better in ramp decks that can get up to 16- or 20-mana. Quarantine Field can hit colorless creatures, which is important as the format moves from the Khans wedges to Battle for Zendikar's devoid. 

The downside: At four-mana Quarantine Field is worse than Banishing Light (more expensive) and Utter End (sorcery speed), and it's not like either of those cards were that expensive during their prime. The fact that it costs so much mana means it could be limited to big mana decks. It's also possible Eldrazi Ramp decks won't want to splash White, especially while Dragonlord Atarka is in the format. 

Planar Outburst - Current Price $0.81

Why it's a good bet: With Crux of Fate and End Hostilities leaving the format, Planar Outburst moves up the wrath rankings. Languish will likely still be the most played wrath, but there will be some builds where Planar Outburst is better. It's completely possible that when Pro Tour Shadows Over Innistrad rolls around in mid-April, the premiere control deck is Blue-White, built around awaken, Gideon, Ally of Zendikar, Jace, Vryn's ProdigyDragonlord Ojutai, and Narset Transcendent. While Esper is still an option, the mana is certainly worse with the depature of fetch lands. If control is primarily Blue-White instead of Blue-Black, Planar Outburst could be in for a raise. Bulk is incredibly cheap for a five-mana wrath, and Planar Outburst is not only a wrath but a finisher as well, so it's a low-risk bet. Awaken is an underrated mechanic. I wouldn't be surprised if awaken gets it's chance to shine in Standard.

The downside: As I mentioned before, Languish will continue to be the most played wrath until next fall's rotation. While the most played wrath in Standard is almost always worth $3+, the second most played wrath doesn't have as good of a track record. That said, End Hostilities spent most of its existence costing twice as much as Planar Outburst does today, even while being overshadowed by Crux of Fate and Languish. The bigger risk is that control decks of the future do not run White. If Shadows Over Innistrad is a UB Control format, Planar Outburst will fall by the wayside. It's also possible Planar Outburst gets outclassed since Wizards has been printing some sort of wrath nearly every set. Maybe instead of moving up the wrath rankings, Planar Outburst will find itself falling further behind. 

From Beyond - Current Price $1.29

Why it's a good bet: Two reasons. First, the card has pedigree. Awakening Zone is a very similar card and it floated between $3 and $6 while it was Standard legal. From Beyond is better most of the time, despite costing one more mana. Making 1/1's is a major improvement over 0/1's, and the added functionality of tutoring for Eldrazi is a huge benefit. Second, we know we are getting more Eldrazi in Oath of the Gatewatch, and this could massively increase the tournament potential of From Beyond. Right now the second (tutoring) ability reads, "search for Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger," which isn't all that exciting. However when this ability reads, "search for an Ulamog, Kozilek or Emrakul" the card becomes much more powerful. Assuming the unconfirmed Kozilek, the Great Distortion spoiler is real, From Beyond lets you tutor for an Eldrazi titan at a very reasonable cost. 

The downside: My biggest concern with From Beyond is the cards it's competing with. Considering that some sort of Eldrazi Ramp strategy is most logical home for the card, it needs to beat out Hedron Archive and Explosive Vegetation in the four-drop slot. While the Eldrazi ramp deck will rely heavily on Eldrazi with Ugin, the Spirit Dragon no longer available, From Beyond has less immediate impact on the board than other candidates. Depending on how things shake out, it's possible From Beyond won't see significant play until Explosive Vegetation rotates, if it does at all. 

Akoum Firebird - Current Price $0.86

Why it's a good bet: I've put together an Akoum Firebird deck multiple times, only to realize Mantis Rider is so much better. However, once rotation occurs, Mantis Rider will no longer be a concern. While it still matches poorly against all the Dragons flying around Standard, most of the Dragons will rotate next fall. There's a chance that a Red deck will want a recursive, 3/3, flying, haste creature on turn four. It's a bulk Mythic, which means the risk is low. It could randomly quadruple in price with a good weekend (see: Ashcloud Phoenix being a $4 card for an extended period of time). Atarka Red loses Monastery Swiftspear, Temur Battle Rage, and Become Immense this spring, so Red aggro will look a lot different than it does today, which could open the door for Akoum Firebird.

The downside: It's not an overpowered card. Although Red decks will change, they may still don't want the Firebird. Plus, Akoum Firebird looks incredibly bad compared to Mantis Rider, and the community may be so spoiled by the latter that they won't even give this phoenix a shot. Its ability is super expensive, but it does provide a hedge against flooding out, which is valuable as Red decks will lose their ability to combo kill. 

The Best Best - Battle for Zendikar Complete Sets

Why they're a good bet: You can redeem complete sets of Battle for Zendikar from Magic Online for about $85, shipping and fees included. We see this happen on a regular basis. Sets get extremely cheap, then at rotation they increase significantly in price. There was a time when you could redeem a complete set of Khans of Tarkir for $85, and today the cheapest sets on eBay are selling for $139. This means that, even with fees and shipping, you would have made a reasonable $33 (28%) profit for very little work. Because Khans of Tarkir is so dominant in Standard, it seems likely that sometime before rotation, and maybe even before the release of Oath of the Gatewatch, will be the best time to pick up complete sets of Battle of Zendikar. Redeeming complete sets allows you to bet on Battle for Zendikar as a whole, and you can either sell the complete sets later, or sell individual cards as they spike over the next year.

The downside: The Battle for Zendikar duals are not fetch lands. While I think they can average $10+ at some point in Standard, topping $20 is extremely unlikely. Plus, Battle for Zendikar is considered a bad set. A lot will depend on Shadows Over Innistrad this spring. If Shadows has a power level on par with Battle for Zendikar, things look good. If Shadows is another Khans of Tarkir (i.e. it's so much better that very few non-land cards from Battle for Zendikar see play), it's possible that the set price doesn't increase at all. Finally, while I think the new rotation schedule is a good thing for Battle for Zendikar overall (it gives Battle for Zendikar cards twice as many opportunities to see play), the impact of these changes are still uncertain. 

Long Shots

  • Undergrowth Champion will lose a lot of its appeal when fetch lands rotate. If it has any chance to be a player in Standard, it will likely be after Deathmist Raptor and Den Protector rotate next fall. 
  • I really want to like Drana, Liberator of Malakir, but she is already expensive for a Mythic. Only a tiny minority of Mythics can command a price over $10. How much support Black aggro will see in the future is a wildcard. She has a power-level that could put her among the best cards in Standard next fall, but will she get the right pieces around her?
  • If Ally Encampment ever drops to true bulk, it will have a lot of appeal over the long haul (i.e. Sliver Hive). Allies are fringe playable in Modern and popular in casual circles. Maybe target foils?
  • Bring to Light's time to shine is over, at least in Standard. With the format shifting away from five-color to three-color at rotation, it's going to be hard to justify building a Bring to Light mana base, unless some broken combo emerges. 
  • Cards I like, but are not confident enough to buy at the moment include the colorless lands (Shrine of the Forsaken Gods and Sanctum of Ugin), Awaken cards like Scatter the Winds and Ruinous Path, and Lumbering Falls


Anyway, that's all for today. I'm not saying that all of these cards will be Standard staples, but I think they all have some chance to see play in the future, which is more than I can say for many of the cards from Battle for Zendikar. What Battle for Zendikar cards do you like when Khans of Tarkir and Fate Reforged rotate this spring? Did I forget anything obvious? What are your sleeper picks? As always, leave your thoughts, ideas, and opinions in the comments. You can reach me on Twitter (or MTGO) @SaffronOlive. 

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