The New Rule of Three

Cliff Daigle • May 27, 2023

A couple of weeks ago, Wizards dropped a huge piece of news on an unsuspecting public. Standard, which had been two years’ worth of cards ever since the ‘Metamorphosis’ experiment six years ago, was changing again. Now, Standard is going into a three year rotation, with banning announcements scheduled to happen once a year, right before preview season for the big Fall set.

They left themselves a little leeway on this, with emergency bannings as an option for three weeks after a set’s release, in case they break a format. This ought to be known as the ‘Hogaak window’ but we’ll see if that catches on.

For our purposes, the previews for Wilds of Eldraine are going to start August 15, so the yearly announcement should take place sometime before then. Likely they will tell us when, so we can prepare.

The early betting is focused on a wide swath of bannings, meant to contain the value menace that is Rakdos in the current Standard. Really, it comes down to the efficiency of Invoke Despair, a potent tool that decks work toward, and how it’s fueled by fantastic mana and the consistency of Fable of the Mirror-Breaker.

I’m 100% expecting Fable to get banned. Question is, what else goes with it? Reckoner Bankbuster is all over the place as a mana/draw engine, but as an artifact it goes into any deck. Sheoldred, the Apocalypse is a creature, and dies to all sorts of things, but wow can it win a game and prevent your opponent from getting ahead.

After Fable, I don’t know what’s next, and it’s tricky to figure out. There’s reanimator strategies, several aggro decks, some control shells… I’m not prescient enough to know what’s going to be good, but having the second banning shortly after the first might be just what they need to make more adjustments.

Let’s move to a bigger picture, and what a three-year period means for card values.

Mostly, cards hit their cheapest cost within three to six months after printing. Supply reaches maximum, and everyone who needs one for a Commander/Standard/Whatever deck has gotten what they need. Once that low point has been reached, unless it takes over a format, the card starts climbing. This pattern is especially evident when it comes to staples like lands:

Haunted Ridge is popular in Rakdos, and this is the only time it’s been printed. Less popular lands might not show any growth, such as Rockfall Vale:

A three-year Standard means that there will be extra sets of nonbasic lands, making mana that much more efficient. I won’t be shocked if there are sets which skip a cycle of lands, or cycles that take longer to be printed, because you can’t have that many ways to have perfect mana in a four-color deck.

Wizards’ stated goal is also to enable niches, or one-set strategies. For example, we’ve been given a range of Knight tools recently, and that’s a generic enough creature type that other sets can play along. From the sound of the article, they’ve been worried about making set mechanics/cards too good, so now we can expect to see those things pushed in power by a notch or two.

One pattern this might enable is that instead of a card spiking as it’s added to a deck, we might see a whole deck spike as it’s the answer to a format or gets a new toy. Imagine if right now, a card was printed that said ‘attacking creatures have hexproof’. This might unlock every Ninja from Neon Kamigawa, causing a rampage of cards to catch fire.

Unspoken in this announcement, but one more thing to consider: I strongly expect Challenger decks, or some new analog, to be a big part of the equation. Wizards has figured out that they can sell us reprints directly via Secret Lair, and they will expand this policy for Standard cards. They would be able to make significant money from Standard reprints, no matter if they did complete decks (Want to buy a Rakdos deck with 2x Fable, 1x Sheoldred?) or something like Aftermath, a small set with a few chase cards.

There will be some form of reprints, and as a result, the rollercoaster will be real. I’m much more likely to sell as soon as a card gets hot, rather than wait for what the potential gains might be. The banner card for this is new Sheoldred, who’s trying very hard to be the first $100 card in Standard since Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy so long ago.