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The Financial Impact of BFZ: Ob Nixilis, Kiora, Bring to Light and Undergrowth Champion

It seems like every BFZ finance article I write starts off with a warning that my price predictions will likely be lower than you expect because of the composition of the set. It is well understood that after the set is opened, the price of the cards in a booster box will fall below the cost of the box while the set is in print — usually totaling somewhere between $50 and $75. Zendikar As such, Expeditions, slowlands and enemy manlands put a relatively firm cap on the prices of other cards. Maybe the best way of explaining this is to lay it out visually:

Hypothetical BFZ EV Breakdown
Card Group Number in Group Average Price Average Number in Box EV Added Max EV Remaining (starts at $75.00)
Expeditions 25 $130 0.167 $21.71 $53.29
Slowlands 5 $6 2.97 $17.82 $35.47
Manlands 3 (likely) $3 1.78 $5.34 $30.13
Full-Art Basics 36 $0.15 36 $5.40 $24.37
Mythics 15 $3 4.5 $13.50 $10.87
Non-Land Rares 45 $0.50 26.75 $13.37 -$2.50

Of course this is just an estimate, but it goes to show just how little value there is to go around in this set. Even knocking the average price of an Expedition from $130 to $100 doesn't really do all that much (lowers the box EV by about $4), and I'm having a hard time imagining slowlands and manlands to be much below their estimate prices (although knocking the average price of a slowland from $6 to $4 would free up another $5 in EV).

This means the average value of a mythic has to be about $3. While this might sound unreasonably low, it actually is not; the current average price of a Khans of Tarkir mythic (at TCG-mid) is $2.74. However, this does mean a lot as far as the breakdown of mythic prices. For every mythic you predict at $8 (maybe the planeswalkers or Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger) you have to predict another mythic to be bulk. Predicting Gideon, Ally of Zendikar at $40 would mean that ever other mythic in the set would have to be bulk, which obviously isn't likely. 

This makes things especially difficult because we currently know so few of the rares and mythics. It sounds great to say Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger will be $15, but this comes with a high opportunity cost because for this prediction to be remotely correct, you are pricing yourself into predicting two or three other mythics at bulk sight unseen. As such, these early BFZ predictions are even more speculative than with most other sets simply because there is very little wiggle room in the price. Anyway, let's talk about some new cards!

Bring to Light

I'm pretty sure Bring to Light is broken. Yes, it's a five-cmc tutor with a whole pile of drawbacks (can't search for artifacts or enchantments, can't search for big things, requires a lot of different colors to power up) but with one huge upside: You get to immediately play the card you search up for free. Over the history of Magic, this has been an extremely broken mechanic. I'm going to assume that any deck playing the card will be able to figure out their manabase and cast it at full power, which doesn't seem like that big of an assumption in a format like Modern where a three-color deck can run a couple off-color shocks and call it a day. Let's look at some of the broken things you can do with this card:

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The first thing everyone on social media thought of when reading Bring to Light was the cycle of manacost-less sorceries from Time Spiral. Currently both Living End and Restore Balance see play in Modern mostly in conjunction with cascade spells, which allows the player to cheat on the suspend cost and cast the spell immediately. At first glance, it would seem that the cascade spells are better, since Violent Outburst and friends only cost three mana while Bring to Light is five. However, the cascade plan comes with a significant deck building restriction — you literally cannot play any spells with a converted mana cost of less than three or they could be hit by your cascade spells. With Bring to Light you have no restrictions; you can play Abrupt Decay and Birds of Paradise in your Living End deck. You can play counterspells and Path to Exile in your Restore Balance deck. In essence, you can build a "real" deck and still taking advantage of Living End or Restore Balance. Even better, you don't need to worry about converge since the CMC of all these cards is zero, allowing you to play a straight blue-green deck and always be able to search one up. 

Whether or not this is good enough remains to be seen. How good would Living Death be in Modern? I have no idea, but we are about to find out. While the black mana changes to blue and green, the CMC of casting Bring to Light for Living End is exactly the same as Living Death. How good is a five-mana Balance? Obviously five is a lot more than two, but who knows how much Balance would cost if it was printed today. You can even play Brainspoil as Bring to Lights 5 though 8 if necessary. Regardless of whether of not this combo is good, it is exciting simply because it gives us options we didn't have before in Modern. 

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The other place I'm really excited to test out Bring to Light is as another Birthing Pod replacement. Again, based on the assumption you build a manabase that can fully power the card, it is better than Green Sun's Zenith at searching for a five-drop, and equal when searching for a four drop. Compared to Collected Company, as I learned playing BG Elves in Standard, for some decks getting the one right card is much more important than (hopefully) getting two semi-random cards. Plus Bring to Light can hit more expensive creatures that Collected Company cannot. As for Chord of Calling, on an empty board Bring to Light will typically be better since it is significantly cheaper, although the advantage flips to Chord of Calling if you have a deck that can flood the board with creatures.

The biggest benefit of Bring to Light compared to all these cards is its ability to search for instants and sorceries as well as creatures. In theory, Bring to Light can search for the Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker you need to complete your infinite combo, or the Abrupt Decay you need to kill a Torpor Orb preventing you from comboing off. While it might not be that efficient, it can also be a five-mana Thoughtseize to make sure the coast is clear, or a Wrath of God when you are behind on the board. Oh yeah, and Wizards decided to leave that pesky "exile" clause off Bring to Light so you can do some crazy things involving Snapcaster Mage and Eternal Witness

As far as I can tell we have never really seen a card like this before, which admittedly makes it difficult to evaluate. But tutoring for things directly to the battlefield is traditionally a broken ability (see: Tinker), so while it is possible that this card is a dud, it is just as likely that this card is incredibly broken in some way or another. Not to mention that it gets better with every set that is printed. 

Out of all the cards I've seen from Battle for Zendikar so far, this is the one that is most tempting to pre-order. While the odds may be relatively long, Bring to Light seems to have the most potential to be the next Collected Company and end up as a four-of in Modern. While Collected Company-level prices might be unattainable over the short term thanks to the composition of the set, there is a more-than-zero chance that this card is expensive someday, and I'll hope to have some copies around when it happens. 

Ob Nixilis Reignited

Ob Nixilis Reignited is at the very top of the "cards from Battle for Zendikar I'm going to love way more than I should" list, and as a result, I'm not sure how reliable my analysis will be. There's something about +1 "draw a card" that I just can't resist. When you combine that with a -2 that is Murder and an ultimate that is both achievable and game-winning, Ob Nixilis Reignited has everything I'm looking for in a planeswalker. 

Since the lands from the set are going to hold down the prices of mythics, it seems exceedingly likely that Ob Nixilis Reignited ends up being somewhere between $5 and $10, with $10 being the "sees play as a two-of in a tier 1/1.5 deck" price and $5 being the "second coming of Sarkhan Dragonspeaker" price. Since I'm starting to worry that writing a million articles telling you how every mythic is going to be worth $10 or less will get boring, instead of harping (again) on lands and expeditions, let's talk a little about the history of five-CMC planeswalkers to help us judge Ob Nixilis Reignited's potential in Standard. 

According to Gatherer, there are a total of 18 planeswalkers that cost five mana, however four of these are from the "legal as your commander" cycle from Commander 2014, so they don't really help us much in terms of analyzing Standard playability. As such, we'll focus on the other 14. We'll be using old decklists to determine just how much play these walkers will see. Since the number of tournaments has increased in recent years, the total number of decks isn't really a good metric; instead we'll be looking at the number of different archetypes the planeswalkers were played in, as well as the average number found in a deck. 

Five-CMC Planeswalkers
Planeswalker Number of Archetypes Average Number Played Notes
Ajani, Mentor of Heroes 1 1 Shows up in a couple GW Aggro lists, but primarily Abzan Control/Midrange.
Chandra Nalaar 0 0 Maybe the worst planeswalker of all time?
Elspeth Tirel 4 2 Most often a 1-of, but a 4-of in BW Tokens and 4-of in GW Aggro.
Garruk, Primal Hunter 3 2 Always a 2-of, a huge majority of play in Jund Midrange (tier one deck). 
Gideon Jura 2 1.5 1-of in Caw-Blade first go around, 2-of in Solar Flare second time. 
Jace, Memory Adept 1 1 Almost always a 1-of, primarly played in Esper Control/Solar Flare. 
Liliana Vess 3 1 Always a 1-of in various midrange and control decks (not always included). 
Nissa, Worldwaker 2 1 Played in Abzan Control and Green/x Devotion, saw more play earlier in the format. 
Sarkhan the Mad 1 2 Played in a few builds of Jund (not many) typically as a 2-of. 
Sarkhan Unbroken 0 0 Lol, riiiight. 
Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker 3 1.5 Generally a 1 or 2-of, mostly played in Mardu or Jeskai Midrange. 
Tamiyo, the Moon Sage 2 1.25 Mostly 1-of (but sometimes two) in Solar Flare and Bant Control. 
Tezzeret, the Seeker ? 2? Hard finding 2009 lists; was 2-of in Time Sieve
Venser, the Sojourner 2 1.25 Very fringe play in UW Control and Pod, generally as a 1-of. 
Vraska, the Unseen 1 1 Only played in GBx Midrange/Control (including Jund), typically a 1-of. 

There you have it; in the entire history of five-CMC planeswalkers, not a single one has seen, on average, more than 2-of play in Standard and most are played as a one-of. This is about what I would expect for Ob Nixilis Reignited. Unfortunately the best comparison for the new Ob Nixilis is probably a mono-colored Sarkhan Unbroken or a less aggressive Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker — neither of which are exactly lighting the world on fire. His +1 is almost exactly the same as Sarkhan Unbrokens, except worse because you don't get a Lotus Petal and you have to pay life, while his -3 is a strict upgrade over Sarkahn, the Dragonspeaker's "deal four damage" ability. All in all, this makes me nervous about just how much play Ob Nixilis Reignited will see. 

On the other hand, at his very worst Ob Nixilis Reignited is a sorcery speed Unholy Hunger (destroy target creatures, you gain two life), which obviously isn't a constructed worthy card on its own, but might be enough to push Ob Nixilis Reignited into some control decks. It is nice that you'll always be able to play him regardless of the board state, where some other planeswalkers (like Tamiyo, the Moon Sage) might get stuck in your hand because if you play them, you'll get very minimal advantage and they'll immediately die. 

My guess is Ob Nixilis Reignited will see about the same amount and type of play as Liliana Vess. It will show up as a one-of in various midrange and control builds, but probably won't be universally adapted. The best case scenario is probably Vraska the Unseen-type play where if you are playing a specific (hopefully tier one) archetype (in Vraska the Unseen's case GBx midrange) you'll always run a copy. All together, this leads me to believe Ob Nixilis Reignited will probably fall on the low side of the $5 to $10 price range six months from now. 

Undergrowth Champion

In a vacuum, this card seems horrible. Yes, it is really difficult to kill in combat. If the only removal in the format is Roast and Exquisite Blood, it might very well be insane. But it matches up extremely poorly against cards like Ultimate Price and Ruinous Path. Before you get all bent out of shape and tell me that "dies to removal" isn't a good argument against the power and playability of a card, think about the most played creatures in Standard. They all have two things in common: either they have some sort of ability to minimize the downside of dying to removal (Siege Rhino drains, Den Protector regrowths, Monastery Swiftspear has haste, Courser of Kruphix draws a card), or they are just so far above the curve that it is worth the risk (Anafenza, the Foremost, Elvish Mystic, Fleecemane Lion, Jace, Vryn's Prodigy). 

Undergrowth Champion is neither. It's a 2/2 for three, and in the best case you can crack a fetch on turn four to pump it to four power and toughness. One of the main arguments I've heard in its favor is "haven't you heard of Hardened Scales?" Here we have two problems. First, as of right now, Hardened Scales is at best a fringe archetype in Standard. While this could change after rotation, suddenly having a tier one Hardened Scales deck is far from a guarantee. Second, is Undergrowth Champion really any better than Managorger Hydra in the three drop slot in a Hardened Scales deck? It seems unlikely. After a turn or two, both are immune to burn and basically impossible to kill in combat, but Managorger Hydra is way scarier because it has trample. 

Forgetting Hardened Scales for a minute, the biggest problem for Undergrowth Champion is Deathmist Raptor. Is the typical green deck going to drop the tried and true megamorph package of Deathmist Raptor and Den Protector for a three drop that is arguably worse against removal and has less synergy with what will likely be the best green creature in the new Standard? Seems unlikely. 

My initial impression is that this will be close to a bulk mythic — at least while Deathmist Raptor is still in the format. Maybe I'm underestimating the synergy of +1/+1 counters and the power of its landfall trigger, but even if I am, what's the absolute best case for this card? My guess would be somewhere around $5. 

Kiora, Master of the Depths

I'm really not sure what to make of Kiora, Master of the Depths (other than to create nine-card combos involving Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx and Voyaging Satyr to cast turn three Emrakul, the Aeons Torn). Her +1 really don't excite me in Standard since it reminds me a lot of Ral Zarek who didn't see much play when he was in the format. Of course this could all change if we get a surprise printing of Winter Orb or Stasis

Speaking of Winter Orb and Stasis, how many players do you think would quit Magic if they were printed in Battle for Zendikar? Personally, I feel that if you have never experienced the Stasis lock, you've never experienced real Magic. I look at Magic like art; good art isn't all fun and joy — good art should be discomforting and sometimes even painful. It's almost like modern Magic is a romantic comedy or super-hero flick. Yes, it's entertaining and fun, but you already know the ending before you sit down in the theater. People will fall in love, fall out of love, and back in love; or things will explode or creatures will bounce off each other until someone draws their fourth Siege Rhino. I like my Magic to be like an art-house flick. Sometimes you'll feel uncomfortable or sad or angry, but in the end the film will make you think, and you might even be a better person for having watched it. Either way, when you go to an indy movie, you never quite know what to expect, and this is Magic where Stasis and Winter Orb are legal. Sometimes you sit down to play and you literally do nothing. It's like being mana screwed but worse because you actually have lands in play. It is incredibly frustrating but everyone should experience this feeling because you come out the other side a better Magic player for having gone through it. 

I've said this before, but I don't believe that Magic always needs to be fun for both (or either) players. This is why cards like Strip Mine, Mind Twist, Armageddon, Stasis and the like are good for the game. The best movies and the best games cause you to feel something different every time you watch/play them. Feel good games of Magic are great, but without some feel-bad games thrown in, things will get boring eventually. This is probably why my favorite formats start with Cube/Vintage/Legacy, followed by Modern, and then Standard. 

All of this to say, while I will be looking to pick Kiora, Master of the Depths in cube, her plus one ability doesn't really impress me in Standard. Since Theros block is rotating along with the inspired mechanic, there is very little advantage to be generated by tapping and untapping a creature. Apart from a mana dork (which now cost two-mana, making them infinitely less playable) probably the most powerful thing you can do is untap Jace, Vryn's Prodigy to get a second activation. Beyond this, you're looking at fringe uses like untapping a Dragonlord Ojutai after combat or getting a creature out from under an Icefall Regent trigger. 

Her -2 is actually pretty sweet being close to a draw two that also fuels delve. This could give Kiora, Master of the Depths a shot as a one- or two-of in some sort of Sultai (or even Bant) control list with Dig Through Time and Treasure Cruise. Another possibility would be some sort of UG or Bant Megamorph shell which could use Kiora, Master of the Depths to fuel its Deathmist Raptor/Den Protector package. One of the the biggest rotation losses will be Satyr Wayfinder, so it's possible that Kiora, Master of the Depths picks up some of this graveyard-filling slack. 

While evaluating a planeswalker by their ultimate is usually foolish, Kiora, Master of the Depths does have a good one. Getting three 8/8's and destroying your opponent's three biggest creatures will typically be enough to win the game, and the "fight" ability even gives some amount of protection against your opponent untapping and casting a wrath. 

Financially, the verdict is similar to that of Ob Nixilis Reignited. Regardless of how good Kiora, Master of the Depths ends up being, she will likely cost between $5 and $10 after a few months depending on the amount of play she sees. I tend to think both walkers are likely to be closer to $5 than $10 just because of the EV concerns we talked about at the beginning of the article, unless Expeditions end up being way less expensive than everyone is predicting. 


Anyway, that's all for today. Leave your thoughts, ideas and criticisms in the comments, and you can reach me on Twitter (or MTGO) @SaffronOlive. 

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