Brian Grewe – Trade Routes: The Art of Speculation

With very little information coming in and the PT quickly approaching, I wanted to shift gears a bit. This past weekend, at the local Release Event, I was talking with a couple local players about what I thought was going to blow up. The first was Contested War Zone and the other was Mitotic Manipulation. After a short discussion a question was posed, how do I speculate on values?

Well, speculating on a card is fairly straightforward, but knowledge of trends, history and understanding the card’s purpose in the bigger picture is important. Understanding the power-level of a card regarding playability and it’s innate intrinsic value is important as well.

I think the best way to understand how my process works is to walk you through, step-by-step.

The first card I want to evaluate is: White Suns Zenith.

Here are the stats:

White Sun’s Zenith
Put X 2/2 White Cat creature tokens onto the battlefield. Shuffle White Suns Zenith into its owner’s library.

Comparable Cards

The first thing I did when I saw this card was compare it to the most recent cards I could remember that did something similar. Which cards recently have been printed with an X that created tokens?

Martial Coup
Put X 1/1 white Soldier creature tokens onto the battlefield. If X is 5 or more, destroy all other creatures.

Gelatinous Genesis
Put X X/X green Ooze creature tokens onto the battlefield.

The above cards are the only ones recently that have an X in their mana cost and create a token of some sort. Now, comparing these two cards is difficult as they are still pretty different.

Martial Coup serves two major purposes. It was a potential kill condition for control decks, while serving as a mass removal spell. On the other side, Gelatinous Genesis is board presence. It’s very linear and very expensive to cast. Of these two cards, neither are quite like White Suns Zenith.
So, let’s look to see if there are any older cards that are closer in function.

The next card I thought of is, Decree of Justice. Here is the information on it:

Decree of Justice
Put X 4/4 white Angel creature tokens with flying onto the battlefield.
Cycling 2W (2W, Discard this card: Draw a card.)
When you cycle Decree of Justice, you may pay X. If you do, put X 1/1 white Soldier creature tokens onto the battlefield.

This card is similar to Gelatinous Genesis and White Suns Zenith. However, one of the things that made this card unique was the cycle ability. In its hay-day, it would create soldier tokens on end steps or randomly during combat, just like White Suns Zenith. However, it also had the ability to make some very heavy hitters in the late game.

Between Martial Coup and Decree of Justice, I believe White Suns Zenith is most comparable to Decree of Justice.

Looking at History

What is Decree of Justice worth now? What was it worth back then? While it was in Standard, Decree of Justice carried a $10.00 – $12.00 price tag. Part of this price was influenced by the role it played in Block, which is currently unavailable to non-pro players. However, even after it left Standard and entered the world of Extended, it carried an $8.00 price tag. Currently, the card is worth $3.99 and is regularly picked up by EDH players.

If we did price checks on Martial Coup, we would see it as high as $8.00 and regularly in the $4.00 – $5.00 range during Standard.

So now we’ve compared the card to other existing cards, and we’ve researched a bit of the comparable card histories. What’s next?

Role in the Existing Metagame

The next step in my process is to analyze how the card would fit into the existing metagame. Predictions based on an unknown metagame are impossible, yet there are a few things to do. I’ll cover those at the end of this article.

Currently, Standard consists of a variety of decks. Let’s break them into tiers

U/W Control (Caw Go)
U/B Control
B/R Vampires

U/G Genesis Wave (could be T1)
Kuldotha Red

Let’s look at how could potentially fit into each deck.

For U/W Control
This card could easily fit into the deck and provide an additional kill condition for it. It’s also an additional shuffle effect for Jace, which makes finding this card multiple times pretty good. This card could definitely find a home here.

For Boros
This card could potentially see play in Boros, but is a little too expensive for a deck that wants you dead by turn 5.

For all the other decks
Being triple white, this card is definitely not splashable. Therefore, including it in decks with 2+ colors already is probably incorrect.

So we know that in the current metagame, U/W Control is about the only deck that can absorb this card into its 75. But that’s not to say there’s isn’t a possibility for new archetypes to emerge.

New Decks and a New Metagame

The second to last part of my process involves predicting what new decks will emerge. Now, if we look at the bigger picture we understand that there are only four major archetypes. Aggro, aggro-control, control and combo. If we break these down a bit further, we can look at historical deck types (e.g. White Weenie, Sligh Red, Tokens, Fish, Blue Control, Blue/X Control, Storm Combo and Combo).

With the new white cards coming out we definitely have buzz floating around regarding both White Weenie and Tokens. The new battle cry mechanic fully supports both of these deck strategies. So the question is posed: Does White Suns Zenith fit into either White Weenie or Tokens?

White Weenie has a similar snag as Boros as this deck wants to kill very quickly. This card may be too slow for a true White Weenie deck. The Knight deck would probably not run this either as the tokens are merely Cats and not Cat Knights (Leonin Skyhunter!)

So now we go to Tokens. Historically, Token decks have done decently when there were enough spells to support an entire deck. In Standard, specifically in white, we have the following cards that make tokens:


Supporting this strategy, while staying in white, we have:


If we paired this with spot removal, theoretically, we could have a decent deck. But how does it match up against the current meta? This takes us to the last step.

New Meta vs. Old Meta

A particular phenomenon that occurs every time a new set releases is the re-emergence of older, time-proven decks. For example, at a major FNM, the Top 16 saw a return of Eldrazi Green and Valakut. At the last major SCG Open, we saw a triumphant return of Valakut, Mono-Black Vampires and Goblins.

This occurs for various reasons. One is that some players tend to not change decks until an entire season has run its course. When new sets release, Johnny’s are quickly trying new decks, while Spike’s will tend to return to an old favorite. Timmy’s on the other hand will lump themselves into the Johnny pool and sling ridiculous combos or creatures that Spike’s would most likely never touch. The first few tournaments following a major release are a Spike’s Hay-day, as they typically find it easier to navigate the field of new, untested decks.

The last part of my analysis takes this into account. How do my predictions for possible decks stack up against time-trusted decks? Is there a benchmark deck to rate against? When I first started playing Legacy, the deck to beat was Goblins. This was before Counterbalance was printed and the top decks were Canadian Threshold, Goblins and Solidarity. Dead Guy’s Ale had just been creating a stir and that Black/Red deck with Rotting Giants were seeing a lot of play. But at that point we would always start by testing our decks against Goblins before worrying about any other deck.

I think in Standard we could use Valakut as that standard of testing. Can the deck survive against Valakut? What strategies does it have to outpace this powerful behemoth? Unfortunately, I don’t think the matchup against Tokens would be very difficult for Valakut. It has access to the following cards to deal with creatures:


To deal with pesky enchantments, we have:


Valakut can also stay ahead in life with Obstinate Baloth and quickly match or outnumber the Token deck with its own tokens from Avenger of Zendikar. Could we gear the deck to beat Valakut? Maybe. Tokens could run cards like Journey to Nowhere, Condemn, Leyline of Sanctity and even a wrath effect, but it might be too diluted. These questions are a reason why I am thankful that although I am a Spike, I don’t really have any Johnny tendencies. That is why I keep people like Conley around.

So after I have taken into account all of that information, I have to make a decision. How much do I value the card at? Is it higher or lower than what the stores have set for the card? How do they set their prices? Well, stores employ people like me to price out new sets based on zero information and an unknown metagame. This process is slightly different than mine as they still take into account historical information, they get pro players’ opinions and they compare the card against other cards in the set. Rarity plays a factor as does the intrinsic power-level of the card.

As a trend forecaster, I find myself bouncing between my own speculations, the opinions of my friends and teammates, and reading every article that comes out. I read other financial writers and I participate in heated discussions on other sites about card values. All of this helps inform my opinion, which I then share with you.

To review, my process looks like this:
1. I look at the card and try to find comparable cards that were recently printed. Is this card a functional reprint of an older card? After 18 years of existence, new ideas for cards are becoming more scarce.
2. After I make a list I research the history of the card. If it was around when I played I can usually remember details on the values and the factors it included, but not always.
3. I look at the role of the card in the current meta. How will this card fit into existing 75’s?
4. I speculate on what new decks could emerge. Are there any outstanding themes within the cards? What are the pros talking about? What are people brewing on the forums?
5. Finally, I compare those decks to current ones. How do they match up? Do these new decks that run the card in question match up well?

After this process, I am still forced to make a decision. I tend to be more conservative on the value of a card than most and would usually underrate it than overrate it. For me, with new cards I tend to speculate and keep their prices low. Hyping up cards early, before they are proven, is about the worst thing for the average Magic player. It causes difficulty in getting the cards and usually creates a huge deficit in profit when they drop. Examples of this can be most recently be seen in the Scars of Mirrodin planeswalkers. Each one released at $45.00 – $50.00, while none of them are even close to that value.

Hopefully, this insight can help you all understand how I get to my numbers. It might not be how each of you do it, but maybe something in it will be of value to you in the future. See you all next week and Happy Trading!

Until Next Time,

Brian Grewe
mtgo: briangrewe

16 thoughts on “Brian Grewe – Trade Routes: The Art of Speculation”

  1. The question I would be asking is not whether valakut can interact with a white token deck. It’s whether valakut needs to interact at all. spells that cost XWWW don’t fit in fast enough decks to beat anything.

  2. i can see that. Remember that i just chose any rare for this. I wanted to illustrate my process more than anything else.

  3. Hey Brian,

    Just a quick reminder that apostrophes are only ever used for possessives and contractions. For example, “I just whipped the shit out of those Johnnies with my CounterTop deck,” (no possessive, hence no apostrophe)


    “Check it fool, I just jacked this trade binder out of Spike’s backpack. Let’s go sell his Jaces.” (Note also the lack of apostrophe in pluralized Jace.)

  4. @david88 I’m hoping that i’m miss interpreting that last sentance. That Zenith in U/w is sick. I’m actually afraid of it. Eot make X dudes, counter your counter, untap, gideon’s a creature, activate collanade = WIN Oh, whats that? I had just DoJed and/or made everyone attack gideon not to mention All your mass removal is sorcery speed and you didn’t have a ratchet bomb on the field all game w/ 0 counters. GG. And no they didn’t reprint echoing truth.

    @brian grewe Another great article bro. Keep ’em coming! I find myself going through these processes for determining value. But since reading several of your articles I’m much more concious of them.

  5. I loved decree of justice. Onslaught/ mirrodin standard MWC. Wing shards, exalted angel, the real WoG.A decent deck, right before skull clamp and raveger affinity swept the format. If blue wasn’t sooo…. sweet/ powereful, however u wanna look at it, right now in standard I could see a place for mono white control.

  6. This article has suffered from the same editing issues others have on this site this week, but I find the author to be enjoyable.

  7. @stu55
    I found this topic interesting as I don’t know much about it. Please post the 1000 links so I can be as smart as you.

  8. As others have said, this is a topic I’ve heard about approximately a jillion times (“kazillion” is likely copyrighted already by a friend of mine). It is, however, decent information to have for someone not as well-versed, as I don’t think it actually has been covered (at least recently) in any well-read article.

    As for the content:

    1) Please learn to use apostrophes. You fail at grammar. kthxbi. And no, it’s not ALL the editor’s fault; if you write an article in the style of My Immortal (Google it), your editor has the right to not edit it and instead throw it back in your face.

    2) Your comment regarding Decree of Justice was disingenuous. While mechanically the two cards are similar, you left off a couple of VERY important differences that a speculator must consider.

    First of all, at the time there were no Mythic rares. Yes, it’s been done a jillion times, but the fact is that Mythic rares made all other cards cheaper. Remember when dual lands in Standard fetched upwards of $10 each? Try finding anyone who will give you $10 for your Scars duals, nevermind your M11 duals. As a card with a gold and not orange symbol, White Sun’s Zenith will automatically be worth less than Decree of Justice was back in the day.

    Secondly, Decree of Justice’s cycling mode was uncounterable. Remember countermagic? Yeah, it existed, even way back in the Dark Ages of Onslaught Block. Those of us who played back then remember cards like Voidmage Prodigy which, while tame by today’s standards, were the Jaces of their age. Having an X spell that came out of nowhere, cantripped, threatened lethal immediately, an was uncounterable was a BIG DEAL.

    Thirdly, Decree was more easily splashable. The mana fixing was a lot weaker, granted, but the cycling mode of Decree of Justice only cost a single W instead of WWW, and could thus be played more easily by more decks.

    Fourthly, Decree, at the time, wasn’t competing with much on the curve. WSZ has to compete with Sun Titan, Frost titan, Baneslayer Angel, Gideon Jura, Wurmcoil Engine, Elspeth Tirel, and Celestial Colonnade for the “big splashy wincon” in U/W Control. Decree, at the time, competed with Exalted Angel, Akroma, and…nothing?

    Basically, you’ve only given your readers half the story and pretended to teach them gospel (an apt analogy, IMO, but my personal opinions on religion are not relevant here). Once again, 5 out of 5…failwhales.

  9. You gotta love a commenter who first makes a snide remark about formatting, and then transitions from one numbering format to another.

  10. Long story short…. shouldn’t fetch more than 3-4 bucks. WWW hurts it, but its not a bad card at all. Lil slow for control, too counterable for aggro. I dunno….we’ll see.

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  12. Let’s all pretend Grewe knows what he’s talking about. After all, without Magic, what does he have in life?

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