Insider: Return to Redemption

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In the world of MTGO speculating, certain factors have a larger influence on the digital economy than others. One of these highly influential factors is set redemption.

In a previous article, I outlined how set redemption affects the MTGO economy. If you need a refresher I'd recommend starting there. Today I'm going to analyze some price data to illustrate some of these principles in action.

Comparing MTGO and Paper Prices

Presented below is a chart with set prices from the last 4 years, both from supernova bots and Star City Games. A simple ratio is calculated using these two values to show how an online set is priced relative to its paper counterpart. Also presented are the ratios from the previous time this metric was used. This illustrates how the relative value of sets can change over time and informs what broader trends can be expected in the MTGO market.

Set MTGO to Paper Ratio (Aug 12th) MTGO to Paper Ratio (Nov 14th) Supernova SCG Trend
Shards of Alara 0.23 0.17 $29 $175 Down
Conflux 0.33 0.28 $39 $140 Down
Alara Reborn 0.27 0.27 $30 $110 Flat
Magic 2010 0.23 0.18 $27 $150 Down
Zendikar 0.56 0.6 $135 $225 Up
Worldwake 0.74 0.64 $96 $150 Down
Rise of the Eldrazi 0.77 0.65 $130 $200 Down
Magic 2011 0.41 0.26 $39 $150 Down
Scars of Mirrodin 0.38 0.45 $56 $125 Up
Mirrodin Besieged 0.4 0.39 $39 $100 Flat
New Phyrexia 0.61 0.57 $63 $110 Down
Magic 2012 0.37 0.36 $54 $150 Flat
Innistrad 0.54 0.51 $141 $275 Down
Dark Ascension 0.46 0.64 $96 $150 Up
Avacyn Restored 0.53 0.76 $190 $250 Up
Magic 2013 0.33 0.5 $125 $250 Up
Return to Ravnica N/A 0.39 $138 $350 N/A


The Non-Redeemable Sets

Shards of Alara block and Magic 2010 have seen further price declines overall. Without redemption to support prices, these sets are priced according to the presence of tournament staples. Eternal play is still dwarfed by Standard, so the down trend in these ratios is not unexpected.

Zendikar block and Magic 2011 just went offline for redemption. This means there is no longer a strong connection between digital and paper prices for these sets. In the table, the trend for these sets as well as other non-redeemable sets is mostly down, with Zendikar being the exception. The price of online sets are falling relative to paper prices. Expect this trend to continue so avoid speculating on cards that are not format staples as the long term trend for these sets is down. Any reprints or Zen block draft queues will make a large impact on prices without redemption to sop up extra supply.

Opportunities in Scars Block

Scars block and Magic 2012 just rotated out of Standard and the price on these sets has fallen for both digital and paper versions. New Phyrexia (NPH) has the highest ratio of these sets, and the other three all have a ratio about 2/3 the value of NPH. On a relative basis, this suggests that redeemers will have more incentive to convert the first two Scars block sets rather than NPH to capture the greater price differential.

With reprints in the core set muddying the waters somewhat, the recommended course of action is to focus on mythics from Mirrodin Besieged (MBS) and Scars of Mirrodin (SOM), in that order. From MBS, cards like Hero of Oxid Ridge and Consecrated Sphinx are good medium term targets and both have bounced off of their post rotation lows. Longer term, both Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas and Sword of Feast and Famine will benefit from being both redeemable and playable in Eternal formats.

Nissa Revane as a Guide

Nissa Revane saw a steady price increase after Zendikar rotated. The trajectory of this card can inform an approach to potential speculation targets from SOM. The presence of the fetch lands in Zendikar no doubt increased demand from redeemers for all ZEN mythics, so lower price targets are more realistic for SOM mythics.

In the chart below, the price bottom of Nissa Revane is clearly visible just prior to rotation in October 2011, followed by a steady up trend over the course of the year. A price peak is observed just prior to the end of Zendikar redemption, followed by a sharp decline.

The trio of planeswalkers from SOM have all found their post rotation lows. Elspeth Tirel, Koth of the Hammer and Venser, the Sojourner should all see steady increases in prices over the following year.

The Big Lesson

Looking back to the August ratios, one of the lowest for in-print sets was Magic 2013. In retrospect there turned out to be a ton of value in Magic 2013 back in August. We've seen Thundermaw Hellkite, Sublime Archangel and Thragtusk drag the ratio much higher in the last six weeks. It's foolish to suggest the ratio predicted price increases on these cards, but it definitely pointed to the online set being priced too low.

Looking at the highest ratios, the old high was held by Rise of the Eldrazi, and the current high is held by Avacyn Restored. At this point, this ratio metric is not very well developed, but it suggests that Avacyn Restored is close to being fully priced and does not present much value overall. On the other hand, despite the recent price increase on the cards from Magic 2013, it looks like there is still some value in this set as its ratio is currently in the middle of the pack.

In particular, both Ajani, Caller of the Pride and Liliana of the Dark Realms have seen slightly higher prices in the last month, which can be attributed mostly to redemption and the slowdown in core set drafting. Both of these planeswalkers could see more play in Standard than they do currently, and with Gatecrash looming expect the format to be shaken up.


Aggressive mono red decks are the current beatdown deck of choice on MTGO. Its rock solid mana base is a part of the reason. Once Sacred Foundry is available, along with any Boros goodies, aggressive R/W builds will become more viable and Ajani looks well suited to appear in decks that enjoy the attack step. In particular, the interaction between Precinct Captain and Ajani seems currently underexploited. For those with only a few tix, Precinct Captain appears well positioned to join the Boros guild.


Liliana of the Dark Realms's +1 Loyalty ability is only functioning at half power in the current Standard environment. When Watery Grave and Godless Shrine are printed in Gatecrash, the cycle of swamp shocklands will be complete, reducing deck building restrictions on this card. Liliana of the Dark Realms might fit into an Esper control deck at that time, so currently this card represents good value to the patient speculator.

Both the new Ajani and new Liliana currently present low-risk opportunities as they are near their respective price floors, and redemption will support prices for M13 mythics. The prices on the other mythic rares that have broken out give a good indicator for potential gains.

Dark Ascension (DKA) has one of the higher ratios of the redeemable sets, which suggests that DKA presents less value to redeemers and should be avoided by speculators. Without demand due to redemption, prices are more volatile and thus present riskier opportunities. This is not to suggest there are no gains to be had from speculating on cards from DKA, but that speculators tread cautiously when assessing cards from this set.

Return to Ravnica

Interestingly enough, Return to Ravnica (RtR) presents the best opportunity for speculators, as indicated by the ratio. Redemption for RtR begins after the downtime today, Wednesday November 14th 2012, which means the ratio will start to rise. The start of redemption will push a steady supply of physical sets into the real world, bringing down IRL prices.

Also although it's not known whether redemption consumes all the packs that are currently opened in draft, it seems unlikely that that is the case. This suggests that that online prices for cards from RtR should continue to fall over the coming weeks. It's expected that IRL prices fall faster than digital prices. Keeping an eye on the ratio will inform us which effect is dominating.

Also, a low RtR ratio in the New Year would suggest a good speculative opportunity. Once Gatecrash is released online, RtR drafting will slow down considerably. This will reduce new supply. If the ratio stays low, demand from redeemers should be unchanged as they seek to capture the difference between digital and paper prices. This would indicate that RtR could offer exceptional value as a speculation target in the weeks leading up to the release of Gatecrash.

13 thoughts on “Insider: Return to Redemption

    1. Thanks! I really think this redemption ratio will be a good tool for identifying trends in online set prices, and from that the underlying value. I will be returning to it to on a more regular basis to give updates.

  1. With Zen redemption officially finished, do you think the fetch lands will come down a little? They are obviously great specs for when Modern seasons hit. Without Starcity prematurely bumping their prices it seems like there are still opportunities out there to invest in them.

    1. The Zen fetch land prices are currently quite a bit above previous in season highs on modo, so I am cautious. I will be paying attention to their prices during the season in order to gauge how to approach them next year. It’s entirely possible that the fetch lands are good investments right now, but I have no experience in how their prices will act over the coming months. With no guide, I prefer to look elsewhere.

  2. I’m very disappointed about the Precinct captain call, brings back very bad memories of instigator gang, kessig cagebreakers and other very nice looking rares that i bought in on after QS hyped them, but those never made any money. Weren’t you the guy saying mythics are the only place to go in standard ?

    That doesn’t mean I’m not a big fan of your articles, several hundreds of my tix are going the right way thanks to your suggestions (ISD-land, old ravlands, gifts ungiven).

    Although I’m not happy with the ongoing drop of the rtr-mythics, i bought in on them after your article on them, but perhaps it was too soon (no bottom reached yet it seems, except for necropolis regent).

    1. I can’t take any credit or blame for calls I haven’t made, but as a writer for QS I am doing my best to deliver good analysis. The Precinct Captain call is a card I think that has potential, and for players just starting out in speculating or who don’t have a lot of tix, I think it’s a reasonable bet.

      I do believe that mythics are the way to go on MTGO, but speculating on a 5+ tix card might not be for everyone. Please take this into account whenever I make a recommendation for new or smaller bank roll speculators.

      As for the RtR recommendations, I stand behind my analysis. I am looking for value and thinking about the medium to long term (6+ months). I think my calls in that article are pretty good. The two top value picks I offered, Vraska and Necropolis Regent, are both priced above the range I recommended buying them. If you want to unload any of these two, and you bought them in the recommended range, I will happily buy them from you at the price you paid.

      Thanks for the comment! I appreciate any and all criticism, as I don’t think I’ve got MTG Finance completely figured out. Holding me accountable for what I’ve written and recommended is exactly what I want from my readers.

      1. It’s just that precinct captain reminds me so much of elite inquisitor, and we know where that stands now (0,1 tic). I think people without a lot of tic will be even more disappointed when this misses the jump. I must say i started out with only 50 tix for speculating myself and all those first steps into speculating went wrong just because i bought exclusively cards that weren’t worth much more then 0,3 tic (instigator gang, kessig cagebreakers, elite inquisitor, high priest…). None of these went up, ever. I only started making some tix going into the ISD-lands, and with these tix went to the other medium price cards you mentioned (mostly you because you play the online field almost solo).

        So I think people with only a few tix should better buy those low mythics like Ulvara of Regent, because they will never disappeap totally in value (liek those rares did).

        But thx for all the tips, always looking forward to your articles.

        1. This is a good point! It’s generally true that mythics will hold more value over time. But in comparing ISD to RtR, rares from RtR might turn out to be better speculative targets due to how long each was drafted for. ISD will have been opened for a much longer time than RtR, which severely depresses the price of it’s rares.

          Thus, we get a card like Stromkirk Noble at 2 tix. Compare that to something like Hellrider at 7 tix. Both appear as a 4 of in a particular deck, but prices are drastically different because ISD was opened so much more than DKA.

          With RtR, drafting will slow up considerably oncee Gatecrash is released, and so rares from RtR should see higher prices and larger price spikes than rares from ISD. In fact, I expect a very good buying opportunity in RtR to come up soon. The unusual block structure of this Ravnica block is something the modo economy has no experience with, but we can make some educated guesses on how it will affect prices.

          Although you have have a bad experience speculating on rares in the past, be sure to keep an open mind to how things might be different this time around. Understanding how underlying factors have changed allows us to anticipate how the market might move differently this time.

          1. I have a question about RtR-drafting : first i thought there would be NO more RtR once Gatecrash is released. That it would be shut down for 4 months (till Dragon’s Maze). That would drastically impact those rareprices. But from your answer i feel you mean something else, that RtR drafts will still be there but their numbers will just be outclassed by the new set. Is that the case ?

            1. I expect there will be both RRR and GGG draft queues simultaneously. DII was still available to be drafted when AVR was released, and I think we’ll see RtR still available for drafting as well. This is not confirmed, just what I think will happen. Even with RRR available, GGG will be the draft queue of choice.

            1. I like Champion. It’s the right colour and tribe for Boros, and has held a higher floor than something comparable, like Stromkirk Noble. Here’s hoping!

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