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The Tribes of Zendikar: Allies


One of the defining characteristics of Magic Origins spoiler season was tribal-based price spikes. Some of them make a bit of sense, for instance Legion Loyalist and Warren Instigator in response to Goblin Piledriver, while others are a bit more optimistic like Auntie's Hovel and Gilt-Leaf Palace. Logical or not, there were a bunch of big price increases related to Elves and Goblins. This is unsurprising — the spoiling of powerful new cards for popular casual tribes has a history of causing prices to jump. Maybe the best recent example is the return of Slivers in Magic 2014. Pulmonic Sliver, for instance, could be had for $1 in March 2013, a year later it was $4 before peaking at over $6 this spring. Brood Sliver went from $1.80 to $3.60 during this same time frame. Sliver Overlord from $4 to $16. Toxin Sliver from $8 to $12. I could go on, but I assume you can see the pattern by now. 

The interesting thing about these spikes is that they are not based on competitive play. Even when a five-color Slivers deck shows up in Modern or Legacy, it's not playing Brood Sliver or Sliver Overlord. These increases are based on a lack of supply (which is funny, since some of the Slivers that spiked were included in the Premium Deck) and casual demand. 

Now you might be wondering why I am writing about this now since the Magic Origins spikes have already happened. My theory is that the tribal theme in Magic Origins is a plant for the Battle for Zendikar block. Apart from the lands, what do you associate most with Zendikar? For me, it is the tribes: Allies, Merfolk, Vampires, Elves, Kor, and Goblins. In fact, if you look back over the set you'll see that almost half of all the creature in Zendikar come from one of these six tribes. As such, it seems likely that most or all of them will return this fall. 

Mark Rosewater, in his typically cryptic way, seemed to confirm as much on his blog. Someone asked if BFZ would give Merfolk some love, and Maro responded "the original Zendikar block had Merfolk" and more or less confirmed the return of Allies. This is not to mention the new focus on keeping the story and flavor flowing between blocks (and even supplemental products). Plus, while Origins does give us tribal support, without more pieces it isn't clear that Elves or Goblins are currently Standard playable, and Merfolk is almost certainly are not, so all signs point to more of these tribes this fall. 

In an effort to be prepared for the next (possible) tribal spikes, over the next few weeks we are going to explore these tribes under the assumption that they might be supported in Battle for Zendikar and, if history holds, some old and almost forgotten cards could increase in price as a result. We'll focus mostly on rares, but a few powerful uncommons and commons might slip in from time to time as well. Let's start be looking at the one tribe we are 100 percent sure will be in BFZ: Allies. 

Allies

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Allies are actually quite similar to Slivers in that each one you play grants some sort of bonus to the rest of your team, or has an ability dependent on the number of Allies you control (like Sea Gate Loremaster). While Slivers are far more popular in casual circles, Allies do have a bit of a cult following. Getting some fresh (and hopefully powerful) new friends in Battle for Zendikar has potential to move the group up in the ranking of popular casual tribes. 

Before being reprinted in Magic 2014 and 2015, there were only 13 rare Slivers ever printed, which is actually pretty surprising considering they showed up in five different sets. As of today, there are only nine rare Allies, all of them have only a single printing and are from Zendikar or Worldwake. Getting another cycle of rares, and possibly even their first mythic (which is what happened with Slivers over the past two Core Sets) has potential to work wonders for a small tribe like Allies. 

Tribes in general suffer from diminishing returns, mostly because new cards are often hard-pressed to match up with preexisting cards. One good example of this is Dwynen, Gilt-Leaf Daen which is unlikely to see play in either casual or competitive decks (even though it is an Elf lord) because there are so many better Elf lords in print. For a tribe like Elves, adding 10 new cards (and 3 rares/mythics) in Magic Origins doesn't do much for the overall playability of the tribe — the difference between having 277 and 287 Elves just isn't that significant. On the other hand, adding 10 or 15 new cards to a tribe like Allies — which currently only has 9 rares and 30 total tribe members — is huge, potentially the difference between building something semi-competitive and not being able to build a deck at all. 

All in all this means that the printing of more Allies in BFZ could be a big deal for casual players and might shake up the financial side of things as well.

Harabaz Druid

Considering that most Allies decks are four or five colors, having a card that both fixes mana and ramps is a key piece to any Allies deck. Enter Harabaz Druid which is basically the Manaweft SliverGemhide Sliver of the Ally tribe (although slightly worse, since the Slivers allows you to tap their friends for mana immediately while you need to untap with Harabaz Druid). Both of the mana Slivers are between $1.25 and $1.50 despite the fact that one is a common and the other is an uncommon, so it seems like there might be room for Harabaz Druid to grow. Even though the current spread is average, buylist prices have been steadily increasing over the past few months while retail prices have been flat — typically a good sign. This is already taking hold as a spec on Magic Online where prices have more than doubled (from 0.3 to 0.8 tix) in the past week alone. While I'm not expecting explosive growth, doubling up from $0.75 to $1.50 or $2.00 is certainly not out of the question if BFZ spoilers break the right way. If you think you might want to build an Ally deck this fall or are looking for a cheap, low-risk spec, there is little reason to wait on buying in.

Jwari Shapeshifter

If you are playing a deck that is composed entirely of Allies, Jwari Shapeshifter is a better Phantasmal Image which is a pretty appealing for a tribe that is overloaded with enters-the-battlefield abilities. The main draw of Jwari Shapeshifter is that it allows you to double-down on whatever ETB trigger happens to be best in any given situation for the low price of two mana. While tournament worthy Ally decks are rare, when they do show up, Jwari Shapeshifter is typically a key part of it. For example, Magic Online user MadKat's list has cashed several Modern Daily Events this year: 

Much like Harabaz Druid, the financial numbers on Jwari Shapeshifter are middling at best, but unlike the mana-producer, Jwari Shapeshifter has a combination of a tournament playable ability and an efficient mana-cost. On the outside chance that Allies become a thing in Modern, the price increase is likely to be much more meaningful. Better yet, Jwari Shapeshifter doesn't need a tournament deck to be a good buy; at $2/playset there is very little risk in purchasing a few sets with the goal being to out them in September or October to casual players looking to build with the new BFZ Allies. 

Talus Paladin

Talus Paladin is quite the beating giving your entire team lifelink every turn while also having a respectable and ever-growing body. Unfortunately, costing four mana puts it outside the range of most Modern decks, especially since Aether Vial builds never want to tick it up all the way to four. Essence Sliver, which is basically just a worse Talus Paladin, was one of the few rare Slivers that didn't spike over the past two years. While this is a little discouraging, it is possible that Talus Paladin could fair better simply because there are less powerful options in the Ally tribe. 

The good news is that Talus Paladin is super cheap. The most recent eBay completed listing was for a playset at $0.99 with free shipping. If you can pick them up in this range, there is almost no risk considering you can buylist them for $0.19. While I'm not interested in buying at current retail prices, Talus Paladin probably isn't the worst trade throw-in over the summer and any copies you can pick up for near $0.20 are basically a free roll. 

Kabria Evangel

Kabira Evangel might be the best Ally to Aether Vial into play at instant speed. Not only does it offer a way of protecting your team from targeted removal or something like Anger of the Gods, but it is a way to actually close out the game by pushing damage through a cluttered board (which is important since Allies lack good evasive creatures). The downside is that his 2/3 body isn't very exciting either in Modern or on kitchen tables where players are known for their love of fatties. This combination of having a spikey ability but being in a casual tribe might be the death knell for Kabira Evangel's financial future. Tournament players don't really want it because it's an Ally, but casuals don't really want it because it isn't big, flashy or fun enough. Buying in on Kabira Evangel is basically a bet that a significant number of people are going to build Modern Allies for FNM type events, and to me this feels like a long-shot unless the BFZ Allies are far more competitive and powerful than the originals. 

The Rest of the Rare Allies

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$ 0.00 $ 0.00 $ 0.00 $ 0.00

The rest of the rare Allies are currently literal bulk. None of them show up in the competitive lists and most are just too expensive and under-powered to see significant play. Turntimber Ranger is probably the closest to having a playable body and ability, offering five power for five mana the turn it comes into play and another three power whenever you resolve another Ally. But we are long past the days of a five mana 5/5 being exciting or eternal playable, plus it was an intro pack rare, so supply of Turntimber Ranger is higher than the rest of the Allies. 

As someone who doesn't play much casual Magic but does enjoy the penny stock aspect of speculating on bulk rares, none of these cards are appealing to me. If you have a casual Ally deck and know from experience that one (or more) of these cards is broken (or even playable), make sure to let me know in the comments, but for now I'll take a pass. I'm not even sure that the printing of several super-powerful Allies in Battle for Zendikar would be enough to bring this lot above bulk. This said, if you think any of these have potential to see heavy play on kitchen tables, it can't hurt to much to pick up a playset — they are already as cheap as a rare can get. 

Chase Uncommons

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While neither Hada Freeblade nor Kazandu Blademaster are worth very much at the moment, both were better than bulk a few years ago with buylist prices being near the current retail. If there is a competitive Allies deck, both are very likely to be included as four-ofs. Hada Freeblade is the only one-drop in the tribe and as Champion of the Parish showed us in Innistrad Standard, a one-drop that grows every turn can be very powerful when there is enough tribal support. On the play, the extra point of toughness really matters. Assuming you are able to curve out with allies from turns one through four, Hada Freeblade should have little difficulty attacking profitably every turn. This is not to mention the fact it is one of the rare one-drops that is relevant in the late game when stonewalling a Siege Rhino or Tasigur, the Golden Fang on turn five isn't all that unlikely. 

As for Kazandu Blademaster, the combo of first strike and vigilance makes it a premium two-way threat (basically the the Kawhi Lenord of Magic). After a couple of turns of accumulating counters, it is not only extremely difficult to block profitably, but it also gets to sit back on defense and make attacking a nightmare. When you consider that Kazandu Blademaster easily and quickly grows into a 4/4 or 5/5, it becomes clear that this card truly is unique. We get expensive creatures with first strike and vigilance (like Akroma, Angel of Wrath and Sphinx of the Steel Wind), and we get little creatures with this ability (Nightguard Patrol and Elite Inquisitor), but we don't get 4/4's for four and 5/5's for five with these abilities. They are just too strong in combat.

Financially speaking it is going to be difficult for either of these to see a massive spike without Allies seeing tournament play. The other side of the coin is that most of the premium uncommon slivers (Crystalline Sliver, Necrotic Sliver, Shifting Sliver, Ward Sliver) have shown meaningful increases over the past two years. While these probably aren't good spec targets (although the full-art promo Hada Freeblade is pretty sweet), they are worth keeping out of your bulk just in case. 

Conclusion

Anyway, that's all for today. I'm not completely sure when the next installment of the series will be published, but my goal is to cover all the tribes from Zendikar before the end of August working around things like the Pro Tour, Worlds and any other important an interesting topics. Until then, what do you think? Do any of these Allies have financial potential? We know the tribe is getting some amount of support in BFZ, but just how much do you think it will get? What about the rest of the tribes? Do you expect Elves, Merfolk, Vampires, Kor and Goblins in BFZ, or is Wizards going to break the mold and shake things up on our second visit to the plane? Let me know in the comments, or you can reach me on Twitter (and MTGO) @SaffronOlive. 


More in this Series

  • The Tribes of Zendikar: Allies (current), Jul 16, 2015

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