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Preparing for Rotation: Rotation Finance


Apart from shaking up Standard, the release of Core Set 2019 brings into focus something else: rotation. When the next set is released—Guilds of Ravnica on October 5th—all of Kaladesh and Amonkhet blocks will leave Standard forever and move into the lands of casual and eternal formats. For Standard players, rotation is an exciting but also stressful time. Having a new Standard format is one of the best parts of of playing Standard, but having a bunch of valuable cards you've played with for the past two years suddenly become illegal in Standard can have big financial implications, especially if you don't prepare for rotation ahead of time. 

With this in mind, some of the most common questions we get are, "What should I do about rotating card x, y, or z? Should I sell it now and rebuy it after rotation? Should I hold onto it because it sees play in Modern or Commander?" These are the questions we are going to delve into today. By looking at some cards that have rotated over the past couple of years, we can (hopefully) figure out what the future holds for cards from Amonkhet and Kaladesh

The Basics

Before jumping into the cards, a quick refresher on the mechanics of rotation and its financial implications is important. Standard is the most played tournament format in Magic and a huge driver of card prices. There are significantly more Standard players than there are Modern or Legacy players, so when cards rotate from Standard, a huge group of players sell or trade away their rotated cards because they are suddenly useless. When you combine this with the fact that most cards that are playable in Standard aren't good enough for Modern (or other formats), the combination of less demand and more supply in the market (from players selling) means that the prices of most rotating cards crash, and many never recover.

From the perspective of a player, this makes preparing for rotation one of the most important aspects of collection management. If you can sell your rotating cards while they still have value, you can use this money to buy cards for post-rotation Standard. On the other hand, if you simply hold onto all of your cards, you'll have to fund your post-rotation Standard decks out of pocket. However, while you should sell or trade away most of your rotating cards, there are a few exceptions to this rule: Modern staples, Modern playables, and Commander staples. Discussing how the prices of cards in these groups react at rotation and identifying soon-to-be-rotating cards from Kaladesh and Amonkhet blocks that fit into these groups will be our main goals for today!

Modern Staples

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Over the past few years, we've seen a handful of cards among the 50 most played spells or creatures in Modern rotate from Standard. These are cards that can safely be considered true staples of the Modern format. Creature-wise, this short list includes Thought-Knot Seer and Tireless Tracker, while the spells are Collected Company, Collective Brutality, and Kolaghan's Command

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The common knowledge with Modern staples is that while their price may decrease at rotation, in the end, they will regain the value that they lost thanks to Modern demand. While this is true, our recently rotated staples paint an even rosier picture of these cards at rotation. Outside of Collected Company, not only did all of our staples increase in price from their rotational lows, but today, Thought-Knot Seer, Tireless Tracker, Collective Brutality, and Kolaghan's Command are worth more than they were at their peak Standard price. This means that even if you bought these cards at the most expensive point in Standard and simply held them through rotation, you'd still come out ahead. While in most cases, you would come out even more ahead if you sold the cards at their Standard peak and bought them at their rotational low, you'll do just fine even if you take the low-effort path of holding onto your rotating Modern staples.

If you look at our group of recently rotated Modern staples as a whole, you'll see that at rotation, the average value was $7.50. Now, a year or two later, the average value is $15.38—more than a 100% increase in a relatively short period of time. As such, if you held these cards through rotation, you either saved yourself a lot of money (because you don't need to buy these cards for Modern at the new, higher price) or made yourself a lot of money (since you can now sell these cards for way more than you could have back when they were rotating from Standard). Either way, by holding Modern staples through rotation, you come out significantly ahead.

Another Modern staple that isn't on the list is Bedlam Reveler, which presents a sort of unique situation. Bedlam Reveler was a fringe card in Standard and essentially unplayed in Modern, which had it floating at bulk prices through most of its Standard life and rotation. Then, it broke out in Modern and became a five-dollar card. While this doesn't really provide much in terms of data because it's pretty hard to predict what will or won't break out in Modern at some point of the future, there is a worthwhile lesson to be learned from Bedlam Reveler. When it comes to bulk-level cards, if you think there's any chance the card might see play in Modern (or Commander) in the future, you might as well hold onto the card through rotation. Cards at bulk prices have no place to go but up, and you'll always be able to sell these cards at bulk prices at some point in the future, so apart from a minimal opportunity cost, there's really no downside to holding onto these cards, just in case they are suddenly in demand at some point in the future.

The point here is simple: when it comes to Modern staples at rotation,  you really can't go wrong. If you take the high-effort route of selling your cards at their peak and rebuying, you can make more money, but even if you just buy the cards for Standard play and hold them through rotation, you'll still do just fine. 

Kaladesh and Amonkhet Modern Staples

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The only downside here is that there aren't that many true Modern staples from Kaladesh and Amonkhet blocks. In fact, only Walking Ballista and Hollow One show up on our 50 most played lists. Right now, Hollow One is under $2, and Walking Ballista is about $14. While it's hard to see Hollow One dropping too much since it's already so cheap, it wouldn't be a surprise to see Walking Ballista dip below $10 at rotation. However, based on the history of other similar cards, seeing Hollow One near $5 and Walking Ballista back over $20 within a year or two of rotation are very real possibilities. Since the peak price of Walking Ballista was $24 back in May (before the Challenger Decks, which do complicated matters, although it's worth mentioning that Collected Company was printed in a supplemental product during its Standard life and is doing just fine), at this point, it's probably correct to just hold onto your copies with the expectation that they will be worth more in the future thanks to Modern demand.

Modern Playables

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While most rotations feature a small number of cards that are Modern staples, there's a much bigger group of Modern playables. These are cards that regularly show up in Modern decks, but they either show up in small numbers or in decks that are outside of the top tiers of the format, which keeps them off of our list of 50 most played spells and creatures in the format. Take Eldritch Moon, for example: while Collective Brutality is the only true staple from the set (along with Bedlam Reveler, which we already discussed), Liliana, the Last Hope, Thalia, Heretic Cathar, Spell Queller, Grim Flayer, and Selfless Spirit are all Modern playables, perhaps along with a few more cards, depending on how you want to define "playable."

Like Modern staples, Modern playables are fine cards to hold through rotation; however, they have much less short-term upside than Modern staples. While some of the better cards on the list like the mythic Liliana, the Last Hope and multi-deck Spell Queller are up slightly from their rotational lows, most of these cards are roughly the same price today as they were nearly a year ago at rotation. 

This makes Modern playables one of the trickier groups of cards to handle at rotation. You'll do well if you can sell them at their Standard peak, but unfortunately, peak Standard prices usually happen about nine months before rotation, so you'll be without these cards for Standard for nearly a year. Of course, you should definitely sell any extra copies (i.e., ones that you aren't using in decks) while they have Standard demand, but it's often hard to justify tearing apart your Standard decks nearly a year early to minimize your losses at rotation. If you don't sell during the cards' peak Standard price, then you might as well just hold the cards through rotation. In theory, these cards can eventually increase in price because some players are purchasing them for Modern and the supply of the cards is no longer increasing, but with Wizards focused on reprinting cards, this rarely works out in practice. For Modern playables, barring a surprising breakout performance (making the card a Modern staple, like Bedlam Reveler), it often takes a few years for the cards to increase meaningfully in value. By this time, it's somewhere between possible and likely that the card will be reprinted in a Masters set or in another supplemental product, which at best resets the clock on the price increase and, for lesser cards, makes it very difficult for the card to ever gain significantly in price. 

This being said, there are certainly examples of these cards working out. Secure the Wastes managed to dodge reprinting for a couple of years and ended up tripling in price, but for every Secure the Wastes, you have a Courser of Kruphix that ends up in a Masters set or an Atarka's Command that falls out of favor in the Modern format. 

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All in all, when it comes to Modern playables, you should certainly hold onto them if you think you might eventually play them in Modern. If you don't play Modern and are fairly certain you won't pick up the format in the future, the best move is to sell them as far before rotation as you can without destroying your Standard decks. Once rotation nears, you might as well hold onto the cards for at least a year because the risk of a reprinting in the first year after rotation is minimal, and selling around rotation isn't ideal, since you are competing with a ton of other Standard players who are also trying to sell the card, which drives down buylist prices. Perhaps in that year, you will get lucky and the card will become a Modern staple thanks to a shift in the metagame or a card printed in a future set; otherwise, it will likely remain near its rotation price. Then, you can cash out somewhere between a year or two after rotation before the risk of a supplemental product reprinting becomes too high and likely take advantage of stronger buy prices, as less players will be selling their copies compared to rotation.

Kaladesh and Amonkhet Modern Playables

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Somewhat surprisingly, the list of Modern playables from Kaladesh and Amonkhet blocks isn't really that long. While there are a few cards that fall into this group, neither block is especially good in Modern.

Of these cards, the three closest to being Modern staples are Chandra, Torch of Defiance, Baral, Chief of Compliance, and Whir of Invention, with Scrap Trawler close behind thanks to the recent success of the KCI deck and the rest of the cards on the list showing up in specific builds of specific (often fringe) decks. Chandra, Torch of Defiance's future is also somewhat clouded by the Challenger Deck reprint. While being in a supplemental product isn't a death sentence (see: Collected Company and Windswept Heath), the extra supply does give the planeswalker a bit less future potential than it would have had otherwise.

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The good news is that, outside of the mythics that see heavy play in Standard like The Scarab God, Hazoret the Fervent, and Chandra, Torch of Defiance, many of these cards are already cheap, so there really isn't much harm in holding onto them through rotation. While the odds that they pay off in the future are fairly small, the chance that you lose a meaningful amount of value by waiting a year or two to sell these cards is also fairly small, and by waiting, you buy yourself a small chance that one of these cards will end up becoming a Modern staple and shooting up in price. While I would probably lean toward selling the most expensive cards on the list now (Gideon of the Trials, Rhonas the Indomitable, and The Scarab God are all in the $15–20 range based almost exclusively on Standard demand), the rest seem like solid holds through rotation, just on the off-chance you get lucky. Just make sure to ship them out in a year or two before they get reprinted in a supplemental product. 

Dual Lands

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Dual lands are some of the most important cards in Magic—important enough to deserve their own section. At rotation, we'll have two cycles of rare dual lands leaving the format: the enemy fast lands from Kaladesh and the cycling lands from Amonkhet. In Modern, the hierarchy of land cycles is pretty simple: fetch lands are—far and away—the most important cycle to the format, followed by shock lands. After the big two, there's an odd jumble of other lands, with fast lands and the check lands featured heavily in the mix. 

Right now, the fast lands are between $3 and $7, with Spirebluff Canal and Blooming Marsh leading the way in the $6–7 range. Considering the cycle's importance to the Modern format, it's hard to imagine that they will fall too far at rotation—even Modern-playable lands that have been reprinted multiple times tend to be worth at least a few dollars, and the Kaladesh lands only have a single printing. While it is possible that Spirebluff Canal and Blooming Marsh will drop a bit, perhaps down near $5, all of the fast lands have the potential to slowly climb over the next few years if they aren't reprinted in the near future. When you combine this with the fact that you'll want these cards for your Modern collection anyway, they are a solid hold through rotation. While seeing big gains is unlikely—the supply is fairly high—the fast lands will always maintain as least some value thanks to their Modern playability.

The cycling lands, on the other hand, should be sold or traded away as quickly as possible, while they still have some value. In general, the cycle doesn't see play in Modern, and while they do see some play in Commander, the level of play is roughly similar to that of the Shadows over Innistrad land cycle, and the Shadows over Innistrad duals are now worth between $1 and $2. Irrigated Farmland is already cheap thanks to being a four-of in a Challenger Deck, so selling it won't really change much, but the rest of the cycle is between $2.25 and $5. Considering that all of the cycling lands will likely lose at around half of their current value at rotation, selling them now makes sense. If you end up wanting them for Commander, you'll be able to pick them up for near bulk prices after rotation.

Commander Cards

The world of Magic finance has changed a lot over the past two or three years. It used to be that casual Commander cards were mostly an afterthought. Today, outside of Reserved List cards and Standard staples, they are the hottest cards in all of Magic. As such, one of the single most important things you can do at rotation is to make sure that you hold onto your rotating Commander staples because popular casual cards are often the most consistent (and even biggest) gainers post-rotation. 

*Two notes: first, Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger is the second most played Commander card from Battle for Zendikar and it's doubled in price since rotation, but I had to leave it off the chart since its $22 price tag was throwing everything out of whack. Second, both Nissa, Voice of Zendikar and Ob Nixilis Reignited are top-three cards from their sets, but their Duel Deck printing makes them an exception, so they were also left off the list.*

The above chart shows the three most played non-land rare or mythic Commander cards from Battle for Zendikar, Oath of the Gatewatch, Shadows over Innistrad, and Eldritch Moon. As you can see, all of these cards have increased since their Standard lows near rotation. While many of the numbers look small, if you throw them all together, you'll find that the average price near rotation was $1.39, with the average current price being $2.52, meaning as a group, the Commander staples from last year's rotation have gained an average of 88% in less than a year—a number very similar to the Modern staples we were talking about earlier. However, these cards have one huge advantage over Modern staples: generally speaking, they are less expensive to begin with, making them easier for players to hold onto; plus, they are much more reprint-proof than most other cards. A great example of this is Zendikar Resurgent, which was originally printed in Oath of the Gatewatch and then reprinted in Commander 2017 but is still worth more than four times its Standard low.

 

Even outside of the very top cards of the format, pretty much any Commander mythic that sees a reasonable amount of play tends to do well post-rotation. Cards like Mind's Dilation, Tree of Perdition, and Drana, Liberator of Malakir have all shown steady growth since rotation. If you jump back one more rotation to look at cards from Khans of Tarkir through Magic Origins, there are some even bigger winners, with cards like Alhammarret's Archive going from $3 to $12, Dragonlord Dromoka going from $4 to $14, Sidisi, Undead Vizier going from $1 to $6, and Clever Impersonator going from $2 to $5. 

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The point of all this is is that, beyond true Modern staples, rotating Commander staples are the single most important cards to hold (or even buy) at rotation. They are fairly easy to predict thanks to sites like EDHREC, which lists the most popular cards in the format, and they are fairly resilient to reprinting and have a ton of demand, since casual play (led by Commander) is one of the biggest formats in all of Magic. Plus, these cards are often cheap, so the opportunity cost of holding onto them is low. So now that we've seen that you should hold onto your Commander staples through rotation (and even go out and buy Commander staples you are missing while they are at a low), what Commander staples are there from Kaladesh and Amonkhet blocks?

Kaladesh and Amonkhet Commander Staples

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Looking over the list of soon-rotating Commander staples, one thing stands out: even compared to last year's rotation, many of these cards are already at least somewhat expensive. For some cards, this is because of Standard play (like Disallow and Fumigate), but it seems like the cycle for Commander finance is speeding up. It wasn't that long ago that the best Commander cards from a set remained near bulk through almost their entire life in Standard, with the common wisdom being that you could pick these cards up near rotation and watch them slowly grow in coming years. Now, cards like Torment of Hailfire and Paradox Engine hit their low point almost a year ago around last rotation and have been steadily growing month by month throughout their life in Standard. While you should certainly hold onto these cards through rotation, this makes going out and buying copies less appealing. Actually, based on how last year's crop of Commander staples acted, we should probably be taking an early look at the Commander staples from Ixalan block and Dominaria that will be rotating a year from now and picking them up over the next couple of months to get the best prices.

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Wrap-Up

So, where does all of this leave us in terms of our impending rotation? It's really pretty simple: if a card is a Modern staple, not only should you look to hold onto your copies through rotation, but it's also often worthwhile to buy copies at rotation. These cards tend to increase in price fairly quickly after rotation and often maintain their value until they are eventually reprinted two or three years after rotation. If a card is playable in Modern but not really a staple, the future is bleak. While the best financial move is to sell the card while it's at its Standard peak (typically the winter before rotation), this isn't always possible because you may need the cards for your Standard decks. If you find yourself holding the cards near rotation, there's little risk in holding them for a year or two in the hopes of getting lucky, but in general, these cards don't grow in price quickly or often. By the time they do start to increase in price, they are at high risk of being reprinted. 

You should also hold onto all Commander staples and in general pretty much any card that sees heavy play in Commander (especially ones that aren't Standard staples, making them comparatively cheap). These cards have a great track record of increasing in price post-rotation, although in recent years, people have become aware of the great deals rotating Commander cards have to offer, which makes it harder to buy ultra-staples on the cheap around rotation. 

Otherwise, if a card isn't playable in Modern or Commander, this likely means that pretty much all of the demand for the card comes from Standard. These are the cards that end up crashing hardest in price at rotation and are the least likely to recover. When it comes to collection management, these are the cards that it's most important to sell or trade away while they still have value, to stockpile some assets to build post-rotation Standard decks. 

Conclusion

Anyway, that's all for today! Hopefully, this helps as we move toward our latest rotation and a new Standard format! As always, if you have any questions about other cards or rotation finance in general, make sure to let me know in the comments! As always, leave your thoughts, ideas, opinions, and suggestions, and you can reach me on Twitter @SaffronOlive or at SaffronOlive@MTGGoldfish.com.


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