Disclaimer: The following is part speculation, and part theory. I have collected a lot of prerelease eBay sales data over the last few years, but not enough to be conclusive. I changed the amount of data I was collecting between Zendikar and Worldwake, so I have not included the Zendikar information. Also, I have M11 data, but not M10, so I can’t really point to speculative trends on core sets. Please also note that the charts and graphs below may need to be viewed in Chrome or Firefox to be formatted correctly on your screen.
I don’t remember what first got me interested in tracking the prerelease sales data of new sets. I might have been just trying to get a good price sheet together for some friends to aid in trading, or some other curiosity might have struck me. As more sets came out my data collection and analysis bloomed into other and deeper areas. Eventually I started to see some trends and develop some ideas about how card prices work and what affects and constrains values. This article deals with one of those specific ideas.
I see card prices not on an individual basis, but instead on the whole. If a single card price is a drop of water, I’m looking at the ocean. No magic card price stands alone. As one value rises (like an ocean wave, to continue the metaphor) cards near it, in the same set, or an adjoining playable pairing, rise with it. The Swords are a great example of this. Sword of Body and Mind raised the price of the playably nearby Stoneforge Mystic. Sword of Feast and Famine raised it further. Sword of Fire and Ice got caught up in the same wave as the synergistic card combination was adopted into older formats and as a result the price on Darksteel rose a bit. Though hard to track, cards in in-print sets that go up actually drive down the price of other cards in the same set. There is a flexible but hard ceiling as to the total maximum value a given set can obtain and one card taking up a lot of that value (Jace, the Mind Sculptor) automatically drives down the cost of other playables (the Worldwake manlands). I’m sure there are rules to all this, but all I have worked out so far are the guidelines, and Worldwake makes a particularly interesting study of the whole thing. I could go on and on, but I’ll switch back over to the main point of this article, and that is the symbiotic affects catalyzed by New Phyrexia-gate.
There has been a lot of commentary on the subject, and a lot of it is either wrong or short sited. It’s absurd to think that pro players are given heads up on sets like this. Certainly not systematically or by policy. Given the nature and timelines of physical publications, it’s easy to see how a legacy policy of releasing set details to a magazine for review far in advance makes sense. Anyone claiming a larger conspiracy is very simply an idiot. (For what it’s worth I have to say that I think the publically known punishment was calculated very well and will do what it was intended to. Less would seem trivial, more could cause large scale backlash and law suits. WotC could probably kill that publication all together if they were to refuse future assistance, and they may still. Can you imagine though, as a US company, trying to legally enforce a non-disclosure agreement with a business or individuals in a foreign country? The millions of dollars it would take couldn’t possibly be worth it. At best, a French division of Hasbro suing a small magazine and private citizens? What kind of damages could they possibly collect? But I digress…)
Several months ago I started thinking about how the spoiler season affects the secondary market. Large sets have an official time frame of about three weeks prior to the prerelease, and small sets have about two weeks. I started to wonder how the secondary market could benefit from earlier spoilers. WotC absolutely requires the secondary market in order to move product, and the secondary market thrives on the sales of singles. They are typically higher margin and critical to the survival of most shops, small and large. The more shops Wizards can put its product in the better its sales are, and the more singles are sold… it’s very symbiotic, and I think fairly delicate. The early leak of the Japanese cards followed by the full set leak can serve as an unintentional test of some of these ideas, and may affect a change in the timing used going forward.
So far the numbers have been trending in the exact direction I had imagines they would. Below you can see that there has been a distinct difference between the money spent on large and small sets.
The figures in that graph are averages taken on a daily basis from Worldwake, Mirrodin Besieged, Rise of the Eldrazi, and Scars of Mirrodin. You may also notice that though there are some sales before the major seasons begin, there are very distinct inclines at the times the official spoilers start to go out. Now let’s look at the same chart, but with New Phyrexia accounted for.
You can see that the total money spent on New Phyrexia so far doesn’t quite equal the sales that go into the larger sets, and that makes a lot of sense since there are less cards in the set and less total set value. It does however far exceed the historical presales of the small sets. This leak represents a lot of extra money going into the pockets of the shops we all need in order to survive. It’s interesting to note that the NPH leak came about one day after what would normally be the start of the large set spoiler season and the sales trail the large set average by about a day.
The following chart shows the sales by volume of cards (with NPH).
Obviously there are a lot more of the inexpensive cards being sold since the volumes are significantly higher than in either the large or small sets. You can also see the effects of the early spoiled Japanese cards very clearly in both of the above charts.
Below are some more specific graphs detailing the trends I’m examining…
Here is a link to all the graphs in a larger but somewhat disorganized form.
So what does this all mean? I can say that any retailer in a position to collect prerelease sales is in a pretty good spot due to New Phyrexia. It would be reactionary to then conclude that this boon to the secondary market, and increased stability in the prepared shops is a clear sign that the spoilers should come out earlier. It’s probably where a lot of thought on the subject would end. However, as the NPH wave rises, we have to consider the consequences.
The booster box and case allocations aren’t likely to be larger than previously planned. Even if WotC wanted to increase allocations due to the increased sales and demand we are probably far too close to release for them to do so, and it would be an unnecessary gamble anyway. All those extra cards sold means that even more product is going to have to be cracked to fill the preorders. More product of a set that’s place in the block traditionally means that there is a lower production amount anyway. Drafts will only be a single pack, the life of these packs in drafts is only a few months. Even with Mirrodin Besieged being a single pack, it’s shelf life is twice as long. If for some reason the produced amounts are identical, the drain on the first printing run due to more and more packs needing to be cracked will probably bleed into the second and third distribution rounds. It may be difficult to find NPH on the shelves. We might even see packs being sold above retail relatively soon due to the shortages. As the pack prices increase so will the cards values. If you are the betting type, and can see where this is going, you might want to rush to complete those playsets. It could very well be harder than normal, and if lots of people react the same way it will be all the more difficult and possibly skyrocket the values of anything that sees even a little tournament play. We’ll just have to wait see how this one pans out in the real world, but the possible damages will be nearly impossible to calculate.
How does this affect the sales of Mirrodin Besieged (or even Scars of Mirrodin)? Does the early hype mean that less of MBS was sold then planned? If so, that could result in more MBS packs in surplus for longer than expected. That being the case it’s easy to see how the boosters might end up being discounted in order to free up the working capital of large and small shops. If that happens then the value of the cards in the set will fall right in line with those discounts. This ill timed NPH leak could cause the MBS card values to plummet for years to come.
There are some other possible ripples in this pond as well. Some of them I’m just now thinking of and others can’t yet be predicted. Consider this possibility. The increased presales of singles increases demand for packs, both to be sold intact and cracked for the sales of singles. As a result the product sells out in record breaking time. These sales figures then go on to reinforce the themes and validate the chances that the Dev teams took with the set (color breaking zero mana spells for example). This then leads to even more revolutionary ideas being given the go ahead and the game changes for us all even more. I doubt it would ever become unplayable, but to anyone who is upset about the color pie bending, the NPH leak could be very bad news indeed.
That’s about all I have for this article, but feel free to speculate more below in the comments. Just try to keep in mind the consequences if your theories and ideas come to pass.
Level 1 Judge
@fatecreatr on Twitter