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Reprinting Modern Staples in Standard Sets


The price of Modern has been a hot topic lately, and rightly so. The cost of decks and cards in the format has spiraled out of control over the past several months, at least in part because bad Masters sets have led to a lack of good reprints. While Masters-set reprints are certainly helpful, basically putting the reprinted cards on sale for a period of six months to a year, often for a 50% discount, the truth about cards reprinted in Masters sets is that they normally return to near their pre-reprint price within a few years (unless they are reprinted again). The lower supply of Masters sets combined with the ever-increasing demand for Modern staples means that it's very hard for a Masters-set reprinting to reduce the cost of staples permanently. This does happen for lesser, fringe cards on occasion, but the demand for the best cards in the Modern format is just too high compared to the supply increase from a Masters set.

As a result, one of the best ways to bring down prices of cards permanently is to reprint them in a Standard-legal set. Thoughtseize is a great example of this. The one-mana discard spell was over $60 before it was reprinted in Theros, dropped all the way down near $10 at its low, and even when it started to increase in price again, it just barely got back to $20 (before being reprinted again in Iconic Masters). If the Theros reprinting were instead in Modern Masters 2015 , thenThoughtseize would have been back near—and possibly above—$60 before the second reprinting in Iconic Masters

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Since high-supply Standard set reprintings is a guaranteed way to lower prices, having more of these reprints is a popular request from the community. While cards like Scapeshift and Crucible of Worlds in Core Set 2019 show that Wizards is listening, the bigger issue is that a lot of the most expensive cards in Modern range from difficult to impossible to reprint in Standard-legal sets for a variety of reasons. Some of these cards are simply too good for Standard—Thoughtseize itself led to endless complaints and articles about how it was ruining the format, and Mutavault (aided by a mono-colored Standard that made it easy to play an efficient, colorless creature land) didn't fare much better. Others have archaic wording from 15 years ago that Wizards probably wouldn't want newer players to experience in Standard. Yet others have specific mechanics or flavor requirements that limit (or even eliminate) the number of Standard-legal sets they could possibly fit into. So today, our plan is simple: we're going to look at the 25 most expensive cards in the Modern format—the cards that people presumably want reprinted the most—and see just how many of them could actually be reprinted in a Standard-legal set. 

25 Most Expensive Cards in Modern

Image from Jim Casale's article on CoolStuffInc about Masters-sets reprints.

Group 1: 100% Reprintable (Currently or Recently in Standard)

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Let's start with the easiest group of reprints: cards that either are currently or were recently legal in Standard. Logic dictates that since Wizards recently decided to print these cards in Standard-legal sets, they are probably safe to be reprinted. This group has three cards: Teferi, Hero of Dominaria, Blackcleave Cliffs, and Ugin, the Spirit Dragon. Of these cards, Blackcleave Cliffs is both the easiest and safest to reprint. We currently have the enemy fast lands in Standard, and while they are solid, they certainly aren't breaking the format, and the names on the original ally fast lands seem generic enough that we wouldn't need to return to Mirrodin (or New Phyrexia) for the lands to fit into the set. Ugin, the Spirit Dragon, meanwhile, is a card that is better in older formats thanks to the fast mana, and while it was fringe playable as a ramp finisher in Standard, it didn't push other decks out of the format—it has a sort of natural safety valve of being eight mana. This being said, planeswalker reprints are surprisingly rare, with Wizards often choosing to reprint new versions of planeswalkers for story purposes, although it's possible that the return of the core set will offer more landing spots for reprinted planeswalkers. 

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Oddly, the newest card on the list might be the least safe of the bunch. Teferi, Hero of Dominaria is already generating some grumblings about it being too good for Standard, in part because of its synergy with Nexus of Fate and in part because it works not just as a value planeswalker but as a finisher by tucking itself back into the deck as the opponent mills themselves out slowly. While it's too early to state with certainty that Teferi, Hero of Dominaria is too good for Standard, it's very possible (and perhaps likely) that by the time the Azorius planeswalker rotates a year from now, we will be breathing a sigh of relief and hoping that it never shows up in Standard again. Still, for the sake of our article today, the fact that Wizards just printed Teferi in Standard a few months ago means that they think (or at least recently thought) it was safe for Standard.

Group 2: 95% Reprintable (Why Hasn't This Happened Already?)

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I've never been able to figure out why the "cycle from the battlefield" lands haven't been printed as a cycle yet. Horizon Canopy is a strong card, especially in Modern decks that can tutor it out at a silver bullet or recur it from the graveyard, but discounting our current format with Crucible of Worlds, there normally aren't a ton of strong graveyard-based land synergies in Standard (and I'm not even sure that Crucible of Worlds plus Horizon Canopy would be too good for Standard). In reality, Horizon Canopy is an upgraded version of the cycle lands from Amonkhet (since it enters untapped), but it seems very unlikely that having a cycle of Horizon Canopies in Standard would be detrimental to the format. In fact, mechanics like cycling and scrying often make gameplay better, since they help even out some of the variance that is inherent in the game of Magic. I'm hopeful that eventually we'll get a set where the "cycle from the battlefield" lands are the primary rare land cycle, and I expect that when it happens, the lands will be popular and lead to some really fun gameplay in Standard. 

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As for Leyline of the Void, it will be reprinted in Standard, perhaps as soon as Guilds of Ravnica block. The main reason it hasn't been reprinted yet is that its price increase is fairly recent, so the need for a reprint wasn't that great. Wizards has shown recently that it is more than willing to print graveyard hate in Standard, and while Leyline of the Void is powerful graveyard hate, it's still just graveyard hate. It will be back at some point.

Group Three: 90% Reprintable (The Fetch Lands)

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The fetch lands are likely the most important cards we'll talk about today. For all the other cards on our list, you can sort of build around them—if you don't have Karn Liberated, you can still play Modern—you just can't plan an optimal build of Tron)—but fetch lands form the foundation of most of the tier decks in the Modern format. They are the single most important cards you can own if your goal is to build a Modern collection, and their prices are still extremely high, even after a reprint in Modern Masters 2017. Unfortunately, the fetch lands are not without controversy when it comes to being reprinted in a Standard-legal set. 

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Let's start with the good news: discounting land-based mechanics like landfall and assuming that there are no fetchable dual lands in the Standard format for the fetch lands to tutor up, fetches are actually pretty bad in Standard. If your fetch land can only ever find a basic land and can't trigger any broken mechanics, then Scalding Tarn isn't significantly more playable than Sulfur Falls or Spirebluff Canal, since they only make one color of mana from the battlefield, while real dual lands offer both colors every turn of the game. Without additional fetchable dual lands or synergies, you'll play a playset of your Scalding Tarn if you happen to be playing a blue-red deck, just like you would Spirebluff Canal, but that's about it. Basically, it's possible and even easy to imagine (or design) a format where fetch lands are perfectly safe as far as gameplay is concerned. 

This being said, there are three big problems when it comes to getting fetch lands reprinted in a Standard set. First, the last time fetch lands were in Standard, things went very, very wrong, which has left a bad taste in some people's mouths regarding fetch lands in Standard. For some reason, Wizards decided that fetch lands and fetchable dual lands would be okay in Standard together, which proved to be pretty untrue. We had decks in Battle for Zendikar Standard that cost nearly $1,000, partly because of Jace, Vryn's Prodigy but mostly because decks were running 12 to 14 fetch lands to support an ungodly four- or five-color mana base. This left us with a Standard format where there was very little reason to not just jam all of the best cards together in your deck, since the mana was so good.

The second reason that fetch lands might not return to Standard is that shuffling is annoying and slows down games. From Wizards' perspective, this might be one of the biggest arguments against reprinting fetch lands in Standard. People go to FNM to play Magic, not to spend a half hour each match shuffling decks, and fetch lands lead to a lot of shuffling. Finally, it's likely that Wizards will support a post-Modern format eventually, and it's possible Wizards won't want fetch lands to be part of that format, which would make fetch lands off-limits to Standard reprintings forever (personally, I don't really buy this argument though because most new formats, especially non-rotating formats, start with a banned list, so if Wizards didn't want fetch lands in post-Modern, it would be pretty easy to just ban them right from the start of the format). 

The bottom line is that from a power-level perspective, fetch lands are perfectly safe for Standard as long as they can't fetch up dual lands. Unfortunately, there are a few weird things working against a Standard-legal fetch land reprint that could prevent it from happening. On the other hand, sticking the enemy fetch lands into an otherwise lackluster Standard set is a good way for Wizards to sell about a billion booster boxes. My guess is that the potential for huge profits from a not-great set will soon be too much for Wizards to pass up and will outweigh the other concerns, leading to a reprint, but it's also possible that Wizards will just put fetch lands into Masters sets for the next 10 years and figure that this is profitable enough. In the end, this leaves us with fetch lands being 90% reprintable, although the odds of a Standard-legal reprinting are significantly lower.

Group 4: 75% Reprintable (Now or Never)

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In the past, I would have ranked Dark Confidant a lot lower in terms of reprintability, but the last year of Standard (along with another return to Ravnica) has made me think it's not impossible. While (mostly) limited to energy archetypes, Glint-Sleeve Siphoner is in many ways a better version of Dark Confidant, since you only take one damage when you draw a Torrential Gearhulk or The Scarab God and because menace makes it an actual threat on offense. We've also had a lot of other "bad Bobs" over the years like Ruin Raider, Asylum Visitor, and friends, and none of these cards have made a significant impact on Standard, let alone break the format. Combine this with the fact that we've got Goblin Chainwhirler around to play X/1 police for the next year, and there's a pretty strong argument that the time is right for Dark Confidant to make its return to Standard in Guilds of Ravnica block. While the odds of Bob showing up in Guilds of Ravnica are still fairly small, in part because Wizards has been pretty gun-shy about reprinting expensive Modern cards in Standard lately, I also think that it would be mostly safe in the format.

Group 5: 50% Reprintable (Risky but Maybe Someday)

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Next up, we have a bunch of cards that could possibly be reprinted in Standard but are just as likely to be forever banished to Masters-set reprintings. Personally, I'd rank Liliana of the Veil lower on the list, but it wasn't that long ago that Wizards had the three-mana planeswalker in a Standard-legal set only to pull it at the last minute, so it's clearly not 100% off limits. Meanwhile, Karn Liberated is extremely powerful, but it's also seven mana. Last time it was in Standard, it only saw fringe play, and it's honestly less scary in Standard than Ugin, the Spirit Dragon, which exiles your entire board rather than just a single permanent. While I could see Karn Liberated being problematic if there's a lot of good ramp in the format, it's also pretty easy to imagine decks spending a lot of effort to ramp into Karn only to exile one thing and die on the backswing to Scrapheap Scroungers and Hazoret the Fervents.

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Meanwhile, Vengevine is a lot like Karn Liberated, in that it's much scarier in Modern thanks to the support cards the older format offers. The dirty secret of Modern is that Karn Liberated isn't actually all that good—it's making seven mana on Turn 3 with Tron lands that's broken. Vengevine is similar, in that it's not so much the hasty 4/3 that's broken but Faithless Looting and the other cheap looting spells in the format that allow for busted things to happen. You could ban Vengevine from Modern, and people would still find a way to kill people on Turn 3 by drawing and discarding through their deck with cheap red spells (Hollow One is actually a good example of this, since the deck didn't play Vengevine at all for a long time). While it would be unwise to put Vengevine in a Standard format with Faithless Looting, much like Hollow One, if the scariest thing you're doing is hoping to discard Vengevines to Cathartic Reunion on Turn 2 and then jump through some additional hoops to get a four-power creature, Standard would survive the reprinting. 

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Of our 50% cards, Celestial Colonnade is the reprint I'm least sure about. We just had more creaturelands in Battle for Zendikar, and they were generally powered down compared to the original Zendikar versions, which could suggest that Wizards views creaturelands on the power level of Celestial Colonnade as being too good for the format. Also, imagining the current UW Control or Turbo Fog deck with a free Serra Angel finisher is incredibly frighting, which might be tainting my view of Celestial Colonnade's reprint potential. However, we know that creaturelands in general can show up in Standard, and we'll probably go back to Zendikar at some point so Wizards can try to fix the mistake that was Battle for Zendikar. Including the original creaturelands would be a great way to sell the set if Wizards is dead set against reprinting fetch lands in Standard. 

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Finally, we have Tarmogoyf. While this might sound crazy, I'm not convinced that the two-drop is simply too strong for the Standard format. Creatures keep getting better. Is a two-mana Tarmogoyf in the mid- to late game really that much better than a two-mana Gurmag Angler or Tasigur, the Golden Fang? In Modern, it's pretty easy to stock the graveyard with card types thanks to fetch lands, cheap discard like Thoughtseize and Inquisition of Kozilek, cheap removal like Lightning Bolt and Fatal Push, and cheap planeswalkers like Liliana of the Veil. In Standard, it's a lot more difficult. Instead of just playing Tarmogoyf and trusting that it will naturally grow into a huge threat, it would likely be more of a build-around (although, to be fair, in Standard, a 2/3 for two is already somewhat playable, and a 3/4 for two is great, so maybe the bar is low enough that Tarmogoyf would be broken). 

The bigger problem here is complexity, which is probably a main vote against Tarmogoyf being reprinted in a Standard set. Counting card types is weird, especially when Tarmogoyf includes things like "tribal," which would require a lot of explaining for newer Standard players. Plus, there would be an endless rash of judge calls as people try to Lightning Strike a 2/3 Tarmogoyf with no instant in the graveyard only to find out that Lightning Strike itself makes Tarmogoyf a 3/4, so it would survive. When you combine these two things together—being borderline on power level and extremely high on complexity—there's a strong argument that Tarmogoyf will never return to Standard, but it's close enough to being safe that I can imagine it happening—it would generate a ton of hype and sell a ton of boosters.

Group 6: 25% Reprintable (Would Need a Lot to Go Right)

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Mox Opal, Engineered Explosives, and Through the Breach highlight one of the problems with reprinting expensive Modern cards in Standard: they have very specific mechanics, which greatly limits the reprint possibilities. On power level alone, Engineered Explosives is 100% safe, Through the Breach is 50% safe (its power would depend on what is being cheated into play—if it were Griselbrand or Emrakul, the Aeons Torn, Standard would be broken, but Through the Breach would probably be fine if it were a random Dinosaur), and Mox Opal is maybe 25% safe (a format could be designed where it was just a good card in Standard, but Wizards would need to be extremely careful about what other cards would be legal in the format). But power level isn't the real issue here. The real issue is that for any of these cards to return to Standard, their mechanics need to return to Standard as well. 

This basically leaves all of these cards with two hoops to jump through to ever be reprinted in Standard. First, Wizards needs to deem the mechanic as being worthy of return; then, Wizards also needs to decide that the specific card is safe to be reprinted. Needing two things to go right rather than just one brings down the reprint percentage on all of these cards. 

So, what are the actual chances of these cards being reprinted? For this, we can turn to the Storm Scale (Mark Rosewater's ranking of just how likely it is for a mechanic to return in a future set) to get a rough idea. Metalcraft scores a six on the storm scale, which in Maro's words means they "would need to find the right place, but [he's] less than optimistic." Meanwhile, sunburst scores a nine, which means it would literally take a "minor miracle" for the mechanic to return. While I couldn't find a score for splice onto arcane specifically, arcane in general comes in at a seven on the storm scale (unlikely but possible in the right environment). Basically, according to Maro's ranking, all of these mechanics are unlikely to return at all, which means it's even more unlikely we'll be seeing Through the Breach, Mox Opal, or Engineered Explosives in Standard anytime soon, or ever.

Group 7: 10% Reprintable (It Would Take a Miracle)

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While in theory Cavern of Souls could be reprinted if Wizards were really worried about control decks and had a tribal-based Standard, the fact that we are coming off of a tribal-based block in Ixalan where control decks are near the top of Standard (thanks to Teferi, Hero of Dominaria) and Wizards chose not to reprint Cavern of Souls makes me think that Wizards views the card as less reprintable than we might think. While some people really dislike control, Cavern of Souls might be just too good as control hate, giving decks access to a land that literally invalidates most of the opponent's deck. In some ways, it's reminiscent of hosers of old like Choke, which randomly just beat opponents who happened to be unwise enough to play the wrong deck. While this "gotcha" style of gameplay is fine (and even fun) in older formats like Modern, Wizards has tried really hard to keep these cards and decks out of Standard in recent years, and Cavern of Souls walks a bit too close to the line. 

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As for Snapcaster Mage, last time it was in Standard, it proved to be extremely frustrating, with lines like Vapor Snag into Snapcaster Mage targeting Vapor Snag pushing a lot of cards and decks out of the format (to the point where Thragtusk was printed specifically to hose this interaction). Unlike some cards that require very specific support cards to really be good (like Scapeshift with Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle), Snapcaster Mage combos with any cheap spell, which means it's basically impossible for Wizards to design a Standard where the two-drop would be bad. As such, it's more likely that it's just relegated to Masters sets moving forward.

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I almost put Noble Hierarch into our last category—the "it's not going to happen" group—but the reprinting of Llanowar Elves increases the chances of a Noble Hierarch reprinting ever so slightly. It wasn't that long ago that one-mana mana dorks were completely off-limits in Standard, which would have eliminated Noble Hierarch from consideration altogether. However, with the Llanowar Elves reprinting, it's clear that Wizards views at least some one-mana ramp spells as safe. The bad news for Noble Hierarch is that it's significantly better than Llanowar Elves in multiple ways: making multiple colors of mana, attacking as a 1/2, and even pumping other creatures thanks to exalted. As such, it's very likely that even if Wizards is willing to bend on the "no one-mana mana dorks" rule, it likely isn't willing to bend far enough to reprint Noble Hierarch in Standard. 

Ground 8: 0% Reprintable (It's Not Going to Happen)

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This group is pretty easy and, apart from Chalice of the Void, doesn't really require much explanation. Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Arcbound Ravager were responsible for (essentially) killing their Standard formats, being so dominant that people simply stopped playing the game, and both were eventually banned to solve the problems. Not only is there a zero percent chance that these cards will ever be reprinted in Standard, but if Wizards could go back in time, it wouldn't have printed either of these cards in the first place—they are two of the most infamous mistakes Wizards has ever made. 

Chalice of the Void is different. The ability itself isn't necessarily too strong for Standard, but the wording on the card is problematic (see: the recent debate on the ethics and legality of casting spells into Chalice). If Chalice of the Void were to return, it would likely be as a semi-functional reprint worded like Sanctum Prelate (where you can't cast spells of the converted mana cost, rather than allowing the spells to be cast and then countering them if the trigger is remembered). However, a semi-functional reprint isn't a true reprint, and the odds of Chalice of the Void getting a literal reprint in a Standard-legal set is essentially zero.

Wrap-Up

So, what does all this show us about reprinting expensive Modern cards in Standard? My biggest takeaway is that it's a lot harder to reprint expensive Modern cards in Standard sets than it looks. While there are a handful of cards that seem safe for reprinting, discounting the cycle of fetch lands, which skew the numbers, 14 of the 20 most expensive cards in Standard are 50% reprintable or less in our rankings, making them somewhere between risky and completely unsafe for Standard. 

In Magic, we have a lot of competing interests. We want fun and diverse Standard formats, and we also want high-supply reprintings of expensive Modern staples. Unfortunately, in most cases, these two goals are at odds with each other. Is having Snapcaster Mage or Jace, the Mind Sculptor dominating Standard for at least 15 months a cost we are willing to pay for cheaper copies of Snapcaster Mage or Jace, the Mind Sculptor for Modern? While your answer will probably depend on whether you are primarily a Standard or Modern player, from a meta-perspective, I'm pretty sure the answer is no. Having bad Standard (or even bannings in Standard) is a lot worse for the game overall in both the short- and long-term compared to having expensive copies of Snapcaster Mage or Jace, the Mind Sculptor

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Complicating matters further is that even if we move down a tier and look at the cards that fall just outside of the 25 most expensive in Modern, there are still a lot of cards that probably shouldn't show up in Standard, like Cryptic Command, Aether Vial, Goblin Guide, and the like. This being said, there are certainly good reprint targets for Standard-legal sets. Goblin Lore is a great example. While random discard is clunky, and Wizards would probably rather have Cathartic Reunion instead, sticking Goblin Lore in a core set to give Modern players access to cheaper copies would be more than worth whatever cost is associated with the reprinting in terms of Standard gameplay.

The bottom line as far as Standard reprintings of expensive Modern cards is that there needs to be a bit of give and take between Wizards and the community. The community needs to understand that a lot of the most expensive cards in Modern would be extremely detrimental to Standard, to the point where the reprinting would actually harm the game more than it would help by lowering prices. On the other hand, Wizards needs to be willing to give a bit as well. Maybe the shuffling from fetch lands is distasteful and less than ideal for Standard play, but we've survived multiple shuffling-filled Standards in the not-too-distant past, and I can't remember anyone saying that they quit playing Magic because they had to shuffle too often. Dropping the price of Scalding Tarn (and the other fetch lands) from $80 to $15 would solve a large part of the accessibility problem in Modern all by itself and greatly cut down on the endless stream of complaints about the cost of Modern decks, making it worth the cost. 

Basically, a lot of expensive Modern cards simply can't be reprinted in Standard, either easily or at all, and that's fine. There are plenty of supplemental products for reprinting these cards—we just need Wizards to take advantage of them. The problem is that there are also some number of expensive cards than can be reprinted in Standard, and before Scapeshift and Crucible of Worlds in Core Set 2019, Wizards hadn't been reprinting those cards either. Moving forward, hopefully Wizards is open to loosening the purse strings a bit by reprinting the cards that are safe in high-supply Standard sets, and hopefully the community realizes that reprinting Modern staples in Standard—at least, in many instances—is a lot harder and more dangerous than it looks and is more understanding about why cards like Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Mox Opal can't be reprinted in Standard sets.

Conclusion

Anyway, that's all for today. What did I get right and wrong in the ranking of reprintability? Would any of the cards I pegged as unsafe for Standard be fine? Would any of the cards I deemed safe break the format? What do you think about fetch lands returning to Standard? Is the cost of endless shuffling (and perhaps fetch lands in a post-Modern format) worth the benefit of having $20 Scalding Tarns for Modern play? 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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