2020 Rotation Prep: Guilds of Ravnica

I’ll be the first to say this every summer and the last to say it every fall: Standard rotation creates some of the best Commander buying opportunities you can find. I’m back to write about Standard rotation in 2020, something that might prove to be unique compared to years past. Last time I was writing about this topic, I was still working for another MTG finance publication (you can find my 2019 series here if interested), and that would prove to be the last set of articles I would write before founding Conviction Gaming.

What a year it has been.

Conviction has grown to over 120 members since officially breaking ground in October 2019, and our Patron support is up to over 50 amazing members now. Really a remarkable thing for me to reflect on considering I did not plan to build something like this; it just sort of happened.

Thinking more about these last 12 months, a lot has changed in my personal life. My son is 16 months old now and he’s already showing interests in everything “dada” likes (aka I might have someone to play paper MTG with consistently!). Another change is the “normal” we live in – coronavirus has changed it so much, and impacts have been felt in just about every facet of day-to-day life. The COVID factor is what makes writing about Standard rotation unique in 2020 compared to prior years. It is always a challenge to predict future trends, but this year is harder than usual. We have to throw out the patterns that emerged in previous years and do the best we can to make estimates or educated guesses.

Regardless, Chris’s Commander Corner was a huge hit when I first started it in August of 2018, and there’s no chance I would pass up doing one of the pieces of content I love creating for the MTG community the most. Without further adieu, let’s talk about Standard rotation and start our preparations for the best cards to buy as these sets go out of print.

Investment Plan: a Prelude

One of the thematic approaches I have always used in my series, Chris’s Commander Corner, is to breakdown the cards I have added to my watchlist or purchased under the Investment Plan section. In the past, I have used a rating scale of 1-10 (with 10 being highest) to show confidence in cards I am acquiring. I have since done away with that because it felt like a tactic that induced buyouts and FOMO rather than proper analysis.

Moving forward in this series, you can expect me to layout the cards I am watching, why I am watching them, a very clear target-entry point to buy the cards, and my expectation for hold time as well as target exit point.

Finally, to reiterate one of the most important things that I have always done since I began writing MTG finance content: disclosing what I own. You can find my store Chicago Style Gaming and it is important because you can see my listed inventory at all times. My articles will provide complete transparency on any card I have purchased with exact purchase prices per copy as well as the total number of copies acquired. Recently I decided to move on from the vending side of the game, so my speculation will likely be limited to just buying copies I perceive I may need for personal use moving forward.

The transparency I provide combined with real data analysis and player background (I am an MTG player first) is what uniquely differentiates my content from the next MTG finance creator. I run at a rough-90% speculation hit-rate, but I also do not speculate on a volume of cards just to produce content. Everything I call out is well-researched and typically backed by buylist support (albeit buylists have proven to be more difficult in 2020).

You can trust my research to be best-in-class, but I always encourage you to do your own research, too, before purchasing anything I recommend. I am always open for feedback and discussion, and I am also happy to admit I am wrong. It is the only way to truly perfect the craft – learning from others and my own mistakes.

Please contact me with questions or if you want more insight after reading this piece. For now, though, let’s get to the Guilds of Ravnica set review!

Top Played Rares and Mythics

Alright, so Assassin’s Trophy is super easy to reprint. There’s no denying that. But it is also the most played spell from Guilds of Ravnica in EDH, and sees a reasonable amount of play in Standard as well. Why does this make it the top choice in the article? Because cards that see play in Standard drop at rotation, but if they have homes in EDH and more competitive formats like Pioneer and Modern (hint: Assassin’s Trophy does), they rebound faster! Good ol’ supply and demand on this one.

I like copies in non-foil around $6-7 if they get down that low. What I am concerned about is in prior years, Standard rotation prices dropped significantly due to heavy buylisting at August MagicFests as well as GenCon. With coronavirus, this is not going to happen en masse and it remains to be see how much buylisting we will see in coming weeks as rotation hits. I expect it to be less impactful to supply than in prior years, so $6-7 for non-foils might end up being ambitious.

That said, be patient and don’t reach on this one (or any card mentioned). It is important to stay diligent with your target entry price to limit risk. Stretching target entry points can lead to dangerous habits, and it can erode margins (or simply eliminate the chance at profit altogether).

Target Entry: $6-7 non-foil by November 1st

** I am avoiding foils at current prices because I’m most concerned about a promo foil version as a reprint. Plus, foil rares already going for $25+ in Standard will have a tough road ahead to go much higher than that.

Target Exit: $12+ in Q1, 2021 with opportunity to exit sooner for lower margins at $10 barring a reprint

Underrealm Lich is among the more powerful cards I will be writing about in this entire rotation review series. In EDH, this card not only offers upside as a combo-engine for The Gitrog Monster, but it also interacts in a pretty funky, super-janky, extremely good way with Sylvan Library (i.e. with both on the field, it basically reads draw 3, mill 6, don’t lose any life).

Talk about card selection.

But for real, let’s talk about its price. I called Lich in the Conviction Gaming Finance Discord (accessible via our Patreon) back when a combination of two things happened (around March 2020). First, the Ikoria: Lair of Behemoth spoilers were taking place and Nethroi, Apex of Death was revealed. And second, Secret Lair: International Women’s Day was announced and included Meren of Clan Nel Toth.

Both Nethroi and Meren being reprinted within weeks of one another was enough for me to be confident that Lich would see pressure – and sure enough, it did.

Until Underrealm Lich is reprinted, it will never drop back to the prices you could get it for in March 2020 ($1.50 or so).

Looking at the chart above, we can see it has leveled off recently and even started to gradually tick back up a bit. This is a great sign that rotation will have little impact to its price trajectory long-term, and with Guilds of Ravnica firmly out-of-print now, we can expect this card to climb until it is inevitably reprinted.

Target In: $3 for non-foils by October 1st (requires some shopping around, check out CardTrader and the overseas markets to achieve this price!)

Target Exit: $5-7 by Q1, 2021 with upside into the $10+ range barring a reprint

I actually like foils of Lich as well, and would look to get those sooner (i.e. in September before rotation even hits) with a target in of $8-10 depending on LP or NM condition.

I think it is reasonable to predict foils could approach $15+ sooner than Q1, 2021.

I am hesitant to write about Thousand-Year Storm because of its constant knack for showing up in other content creator articles as a great pickup. This leads me to fear there being a stack of copies held by speculators which have not made their way back onto the marketplace yet due to its price still falling. If my senses are correct, this one will run into a barrier once the “exit point” is reached for those speculators and that will cap upside.

The card did also see recent pressure from Kalamax in Commander 2020, and any lingering copies that speculators horded in response to that spoiler season could also find their way back into circulation should the price rise.

I’m not calling this one, but do add it to your watch list. If you want a copy for play purposes, it isn’t a bad idea to think about grabbing one soon, but no immediate rush here in my candidate opinion.

Needless to say, Divine Visitation is one of the best cards for Commander in all of Guilds of Ravnica. Tokens are among the most popular themes all-time, and being able to turn 1/1s into 4/4s with flying and vigilance is strong enough to close out games. Being that it acts as a wincon and doubles by making Angel tokens (a casual favorite tribe), I see this as being a steady climber indefinitely into the future. I also expect this will become one of WotC’s “reprint equity” type cards which will be perennially considered for a reprint in a future Masters or Commander set.

Like Anointed Procession, Doubling Season, and Parallel Lives, I expect Divine Visitation non-foils to always hold $8-10 even if they are eventually reprinted. And knowing this makes it a conviction-buy for me (note: this is the only card in the article I already purchased copies of at the time of writing, 12 total for an entry-point of $9/ea.).

Target In: $9 whenever you can find them (aka ASAP)

Target Out: $15+ in Q1, 2021

Interestingly enough, foils are already hovering in near $20 which makes me less excited to call them as a spec. It is reasonable to think Divine Visitation foils are the mythic of Guilds of Ravnica that end up $35+ (following cards like Zacama and Muldrotha from prior years); however, it is important to realize token staples like Doubling Season, Anointed Procession, and Parallel Lives all have foil multipliers under 2x. It has always been this way, and reading between the lines we can make an assumption that token strategies are not as commonly foiled out (I hypothesize it is because tokens are an easier strategy good for entry-level players to Magic, and they are not as enfranchised [yet] as the player who prefers foils).

Doom Whisperer is what I imagine Griselbrand should have been if it were not banned in Commander. The ability to draw made Griselbrand too good in reanimator strategies, but Doom Whisperer is effectively the next best thing. Being able to Surveil up to 19 times to dig 38 deep is an extremely potent way to find exactly what you need. It is obviously risky with the life loss, but decks can easily build around that to ensure the payoff. This card can be found for $3 or less and while I do not expect the same upside as the other mythics I wrote about so far, I do think this has the potential to see steady gains for as long as it takes to be reprinted. Having a unique mechanic like Surveil in its text box may mean it is trickier to reprint, though I’ll admit, only a fool would believe that at this point.

Here is my stance: if you need this, grab a copy after rotation, likely sometime through the winter holiday season (November or later). You can hedge and grab one now, but I do worry that if/when COVID-19 ever passes and MagicFests return, we will see a massive rush of supply back to the market. I’ll touch on this thought more in my wrap-up section, but the gist is do not go too deep on Doom Whisperer (or any card mentioned in this article) unless you know you can resell them within 8-12 weeks.

Picking Bulk

I have a lot of bulk cards in every set which I love grabbing foils of. Usually these are commons and uncommons, though an occasional rare slips in (as with Camaraderie here). These are all cards which are seeing some reasonable amount of play in Commander already and that have upside to resell for quarters or more. The foils always used to be even more intriguing for commons and uncommons because they tend to be hardest to reprint in future sets. That has changed with recent years, but I still do appreciate these in foils as penny picks. Just note that most cards in the above table are heavy supply and thus could take a while to flip for profits if paying retail. I called this section out more for the average vendor or booster pack aficionado to ensure you have a few thoughts on the deeper list of pickable Guilds of Ravnica bulk.

Wrapping Up

I mentioned in the Doom Whisperer section that I fear once COVID-19 comes to an end we will see a massive rush of cards reenter the market. This is not a worst case scenario where the market floods and it never recovers, but it does mean we have to be prudent with any speculation we make on MTG moving forward. Getting caught holding a bag of specs if/when COVID-19 is cured could lead to significant losses, especially for cards that are fringe playable or rely heavily on EDH demand alone (like most of what I wrote about in this article).

George Tudor always talks on our podcasts about “knowing your outs” and I couldn’t agree more. If you want to think like a brewer and buy like a financier, you have to be prepared to know when not to invest deeply just as you would the other way around. Being prudent with your MTG money and not pulling the trigger just because someone says a card is “in low supply” or “the next big thing” leads to better overall profitability and playing the game cheaper.

Hopefully you enjoyed this write-up and be ready for another one to drop about Ravnica Allegiance on Tuesday, September 1st.

You can find Chris here on Twitter or the Conviction Gaming Discord.

If you like what you read, support Chris and the Conviction Gaming team by becoming a Patron. It unlocks the MTG finance part of the Discord and provides you access to daily insights and the best finance-driven spoiler coverage in the community.

Think like a brewer and buy like a financier!

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