Insider: Historical Data to Predict Modern Masters’ Impact

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I have a confession to make: I have a guilty, ancillary hobby to Magic: The Gathering. I collect issues of InQuest Magazine – you know, that entertaining gaming magazine with the murky-at-best card prices and mediocre constructed decks. Despite these weaknesses the nostalgia combined with my appreciation for silly, occasionally immature humor makes these magazines a delight to read.

I currently possess 62 of the 151 total issues (there was an issue 0, after all). Sadly, I made the decision to collect these magazines years after I had already thrown away dozens of issues. Still, my casual hobby must not be a popular one since they can still be readily acquired for pennies on the dollar.

I always find the price guide portion of the older issues particularly entertaining. Seeing cards like Black Lotus retail for $300 reminds me of how I used to feel that price was obscene, and now makes me feel like I’ve missed the investment opportunity of a lifetime. I could cite many more examples (Dual Lands at $10, Lions Eye Diamond at $3, etc.) but I would prefer to keep this article prospective and not retrospective.

In fact, this historical data can still be useful even 18 years later. I can use this data to help guide me in predicting what Modern Master’s impact will have on card prices. Allow me to explain…

Modern Is Expensive, Now

Have you noticed some of these huge price swings? I mean, everyone is aware of Thoughtseize blowing up, thanks to the forums. But did you know that even less-obvious choices such as Cryptic Command have also soared (chart from

In just four months this card has gone from its seasonal low to its newest high – an increase of over 40%.

It seems every week a new Modern card surprises me with its price increase. Serra Ascendant, Auriok Champion, Verdant Catacombs and all the Eldrazi creatures have increased dramatically in the past month. This very rapid rise has been fueled by Wizards’ pledged support of the format, Modern PTQ season and Modern FNMs around the country.

The stage is set. Everyone should just drop Legacy and buy Modern for guaranteed returns on even fringe-playable cards like Choice of Damnations, right? (chart from

Not exactly. Modern PTQ season will end in a couple months and, while players may want to keep some core cards for occasional FNM, Standard will once again dominate most topics of financial conversation. That is, until Modern Masters hits us in the summer, then that will be all anyone will be talking about.

So let me phrase it this way for the sake of this article’s point: Modern cards are at an all time high now due to a rapid increase in demand. In two months this demand will weaken as players shift their PTQ focus to Standard. In six months time demand should remain unchanged while an increase in supply occurs. Seems like we’re near a peak now and prices are almost guaranteed to drop, right?

The Inevitable?

I don’t think it’s a stretch to make the assumption that Modern cards will drop in price in a couple months, with potential for a larger drop in six months’ time. This is basic laws of supply and demand and not even a world of emotion will convince players to keep their Tarmogoyfs when $50 copies become available in Modern Masters.

Thus, a drop is inevitable. But how large of a drop? This is the primary point of contention in most debates. While predicting the movement on individual cards is very difficult, especially with only one card from Modern Masters spoiled so far, I feel historical data can be used to provide a ranged estimate for how much card prices will move in six months.

Worst Case Scenario – Chronicles

As Magic grew in popularity through 1994, some of the older cards became quite scarce. Even unplayable cards maintained some value to collectors. Then in July 1995, many card prices tumbled to a permanent low thanks to the release of Chronicles.

This 118-card set was made 100% of reprints from some of the most well-respected and coveted sets of Magic history: Arabian Nights, Legends, The Dark, and Antiquities. The concept can be appreciated by newer players who wanted to play with greats like Nicol Bolas without having to shell out serious dough. But Wizards of the Coast took the concept too far – they printed excess quantities of the set, prices tanked as demand could not keep up with huge supplies, and many stores lost significant amounts of money.

Just how much did cards tank? This all happened before the internet was everywhere, before people speculated heavily on cards, and before sites like Card Shark and TCGPlayer were very popular. However, there is one handy resource that can help us get a glimpse into what prices were pre-Chronicles…

That’s right – my InQuest collection may actually help in this analysis! This issue was released in September 1995, which means it was written and printed just a month or so after Chronicles’ release – before everyone realized what was happening.

Let’s take a look at some of the reprinted card values from Legends:

I chose this portion of the price guide to highlight some of the multi-colored Legendary Creatures everyone has grown to love (ignore the price on Mana Drain, you’ll just kick yourself again). Nicol Bolas: $25, Nebuchadnezzar: $15, Palladia-Mors: $20, and Vaevictis Asmadi: $25.

Nowadays some of these prices have recovered because players prefer these black-bordered versions over the Chronicles versions. Nicol Bolas from Legends retails for $20 while the Chronicles version retails for a smooth $2. That’s only 10%!!! And keep in mind, it took 18 years and a massively popular casual format to drive the Elder Dragon Legends back to their 1995 highs.

For a non-EDH example, we can consider what InQuest Magazine called “The Number 1 Hottest Chronicles Card”: Ancestral Recall. In this issue, InQuest shows a value range of $15-$25 for a Legends Ancestral Recall. While the card has gone through multiple printings since then, the Legends copy now retails for $5.99 18 years later! Not even the black border could save this card’s value, which dropped about two-thirds in price. (Chronicles versions are $0.49, by the way, once again about 10% of the original).

Other examples are aplenty, but for the sake of my point I’ll move on.

With this data, we can predict the worst case scenario for Modern Masters. Should Wizards not learn from their mistake (albeit this is unlikely) we could have $10 Tarmogoyfs, which is 10% of their current price. Sure, the original version from Future Sight may recover in price, but it may take a while. And the newer version would never be as close to financially relevant ever again. A bleak scenario indeed.

It should be kept in mind that Modern Masters will retail for $6.99 a pack as opposed to $3.99 a pack, which is likely a firewall in place to stymie the influx.

More Realistic Cases

This data are eye-opening, and it really highlights what Wizards needs to avoid like the plague. Printing too many quantities of Modern Masters will hurt many players and retailers alike. Less quantities must be printed to ensure Modern Masters is not Chronicles: Part II.

Perhaps the print run will be on the scale of a From the Vaults series. Surely this is a much better scenario as quantities were heavily restricted. After all, there’s a reason sealed boxes of these still retail for $70. As a case study, let’s consider a Modern-playable card relevant to the format: Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre. Looking at historical charts (, it doesn’t look like From the Vaults: Legends’ release in August 2011 really impacted the price much:

But there was been an impact – just a more subtle one. Set versions of Ulamog retail on Star City Games for $29.99. Meanwhile copies from the FTV series retail for $24.99. This is a 20% difference. A comparison to Ulamog’s partner-in-crime Kozilek, Butcher of Truth is even more interesting. The difference in foils is nothing less than drastic: set foils of Ulamog retail for $39.99 while foil versions of Kozilek retail for $79.99! That’s 100% higher!

Because the FTV: Legends version of Ulamog was foil, the impact on foil set copies was most drastic. Modern Masters (thankfully) won’t be all-foil, so this risk is mitigated drastically. Based on the case study above, we have a scenario where Modern Masters cards can be predicted to be valued around 80% of their original equivalents.

The Picture Is Unclear

I honestly feel Wizards will be printing more Modern Masters than they do FTV: Legends. Modern Masters will be designed for drafts, so unless Wizards wants hobby shops to charge $100 for drafts, they will have to print sufficient quantities to support this activity for at least a month or two. Additionally, there was no Grand Prix: FTV: Legends, but there will be a Grand Prix Limited Modern Masters in Las Vegas this year.

Therefore, I conclude Modern Masters cards will be worth between 10% and 80% of their original equivalent. This range isn't very useful, but it enables us to make some rough predictions based on an assumption. If we expect the print run of Modern Master to be exactly in between that of Chronicles and FTV: Legends, I would expect their values to be worth about 45% of their original counterparts. This means $45 Tarmogoyfs and $27 Thoughtseizes.

These predictions don’t seem too far-fetched, in fact. Keep in mind, original versions will maintain a reasonably higher price-point. But as for making Modern less cost-prohibitive, I’d say Wizards of the Coast would be pleased with these final prices. They are much more reasonable for newer players, who can trade their Standard cards into Modern more readily.

Thus, this is where my prediction for Modern Masters will lie: MM versions of cards will, at least at first, be worth roughly half their original equivalents. The advent of the Mythic Rare makes this less clear-cut. Perhaps cards printed at Mythic Rare will maintain 75% of their original value while cards printed at Uncommon will be closer to 25%.

The true effect is difficult to predict until more cards are spoiled. But the final message is clear: you probably want to sell your reprint-prone Modern cards soon. In addition to increase in supply, emotional reactions to reprints will drop prices of original versions as well, at least initially. And if a 50% drop is possible (which isn’t unreasonable to expect on rares and certainly commons/uncommons), we should have plenty of opportunity to acquire the cards we are unloading now at a reasonable discount.

Happy selling.

Sigbits – More Modern Hype

  • “What do you mean set versions of Cryptic Command are sold out at SCG at $24.99?!” This was my reaction yesterday, when my auction-style listing for a SP copy sold on eBay for $20. I set the starting bid at around $17, thinking this was a fair price I’d be pleased to get. I wasn’t expecting multiple bids higher! Despite never being playable in Jund, and there being a promotional printing of the card, this Lorwyn rare has risen in price significantly thanks to Modern.
  • Guess which card hasn’t gone up in price yet… Vengevine! Yep, this Modern-wannabe is still retailing at $17.99. This card is experiencing true Cryptic Command envy right now.
  • Despite being printed excessively higher as a pre-release card, set versions of Emrakul, the Aeons Torn has joined the Modern price-hike party. He retails for the same amount as his Mythic Rare counterparts, at $29.99. Cheapest buy it now listings on eBay for set versions are in the mid-$20’s. This goes to show that if demand is high enough, even multiple printings can be overcome to drive prices higher. Though, it’s worth noting that the pre-release versions still retail for $19.99, 33% lower. Perhaps this is where Mythic rare Modern Masters prices will end up – at about two-thirds the price of their original counterparts.

-Sigmund Ausfresser

28 thoughts on “Insider: Historical Data to Predict Modern Masters’ Impact

  1. Forget Mana Drain, how about that Moat price… Did you purposely leave The Abyss and The Tabernacle out of the picture? 😉

    Chronicles was way over printed. When I started in ’97 it was the oldest set readily available for purchase (at discounts even). I’ve seen it stay available well into the new millenium. In addition the set was white bordered and also contained a lot of crap. FtV sets are very under printed, generally contain highly desirable cards are black bordered and sometimes contain new art. Wizards has learned from releasing Chronicles is also something we should assume.

    Therefore, is it likely that we’d end up right in the middle of Chronicles and FtV? I would think not. I think we’d get a better estimate when we would assume it’s more rare than a normal set and less rare than FtV. At x2 MSRP it makes sense to estimate it’ll be x2 as rare. Normal recent reprints like the Shockduals don’t end up below 60% of the original price and generally are pretty close to the original, now add the higher rarity of the set and it would make a lot more sense to me if they would end in the 80-100% range.

    Of course then still the original might drop some if you add 50% more cards (assuming all set print volumes are the same). You’d probably figure this makes the price drop about 33%. However, the set will attract people to the format too. Let’s assume Wizards does there job well and Modern popularity rises (given the recent surge in Modern prices; not unlikely). Would it be too much to assume a 20% increase in Modern demand? This would result in the price of the original dropping to 80%.

    So basically, if I had to make an estimate, I think the originals drop to 80% of what they were on average and the reprints will be between 80 and 100% of what the originals end up at (64%-80%).

    I got into most of my Modern staples playsets at about 50% of current prices, so unless I see evidence that some of these guesses are wrong I don’t feel a real need to move out of them.

    1. I agree with you for the most part (I too don’t expect prices to drop nearly as much as Sigmund, but we’re all working with only partial information). Prices will drop more if the set is less “rare” than we anticipate, but given now is the beginning of modern season..unless you plan on playing lots of events, it’s still wise to unload some of the cards which have just skyrocketed recently (especially ones with a high probability of reprint). Buy them back when the season is in decline if you’d like…There might be a sweet spot between when Modern season is winding down and Modern Master’s gets released when players are unloading staples in anticipation of MM release and prices drop by a decent %.

      1. Certainly. I personally find it too much hassle to move in and out of cards with the seasons, but yes, that’d certainly be a valid strategy. It would also be interesting to see the response of the general public to MM. They might overestimate the impact causing a very serious drop in card value when everybody starts dumping.

    2. I honestly overlooked Moat! Sheesh, so depressing 😛

      You make a strong argument. One point I would disagree with is on the reprinted Shock Lands. Last I looked, RtR Hallowed Fountain retailed for $9.99 and original Dissension Hallowed Fountain retailed for $24.99! For Blood Crypt: $9.99 for RtR and $19.99 for the original. This is only 50%!

      So with a larger printing but increased demand, the reprinted versions are 50% of the originals, which also dropped a little. If Modern Masters has 1/2 the print run of Return to Ravnica, then perhaps the difference is smaller – 25%. This would mean $75 Tarmogoyfs and $45 Thoughtseizes. This is still pretty high, but 25% is not irrelevant. Plus when emotions are factored in, there will be some opportunities to buy from panic-sellers.

      My 50% assumption was just that – a calculation based upon an assumption. Realistically, I can see Mythic Rares in MM being worth 75% of original printings and regular rares in MM to be closer to 50%.

      1. What was Tabernacle in that issue? Think that’s going to be as depressing, if not more.

        Actually they are much closer in NL, RtR Fountains are 70% of originals here, same for Crypts (though maybe just looking at the wrong shop). Also I think everybody agrees the RtR shockduals are due to rise again when they become more scarse. I did talk about the “end price”, obviously prices will bounce around much more at first. Let’s say a year after release, when they’re done bouncing around.

        50% off for regular rares seems very low, especially as some of what they reprint will be just regular rares. While the set should have many high end cards I doubt it will be all high end. I doubt a previously $2 rare will drop to $1 by a reprint in a set that is 2x as rare and 2x as expensive to buy. Of course, if they reprint something like Thoughtseize as a rare I could possibly see it at 50%, however, something like Snapcaster Mage still does about $20, so if this set is 2x as rare, would you not Thoughtseize from MM to end above $30?

        I’m also not entirely convinced Thoughtseize will remain at its current peak (though it remaining $40+ seems a pretty safe bet).

        1. Fair enough – there will be short term and long term impacts, and they may be different.

          The 50% number is more targeted towards the expensive cards – after all, these are the cards one should consider selling in the current Modern season. Selling a $2 card in anticipation of a drop to $1 is irrelevant regardless of how likely the event is.

          If Thoughtseize is printed as a rare in Modern Masters, I don’t think a 50% price tag ($30, currently) is unreasonable. The original version can stay at $40+, but the new version will be chaper immediately and in the long term. I suppose if there’s a new artwork which is absolutely better, I could see the prices being closer to equal.

          And don’t forget Snapcaster Mage won’t be in Modern Masters I, so it doesn’t apply. It’s also still in Standard, so price dynamics are different.

          1. Snapcaster is not a fair direct comparison, I give you that, however it is an indication of what a recent rare in the Mythic age can sustain.

            Sure, not being Standard playable will hurt Modern rares, but on the other hand, there are many factors contributing to higher prices too. As I mention below, increased rarity, increased pack cost and then there’s also increased interest in Modern. To me that’s several things contributing to a higher price than Standard rares and only one thing contributing to a lower price than Standard rares.

            To me the double price alone indicates rares should be priced double what rares are normally priced. I figure Thoughtseize and Snapcaster are in the same ballpark strength wise, so a Thoughtseize reprint at rare should be double Snapcaster based on packprize alone.

  2. I agree with your points, but it’s also worth noting why foil Kozilek’s go for $79.99. Ulamog has a foil version in the FTV printing, with Emrakul having a “foil” version as a prerelease promo. The only way to get a foil Kozilek for your Commander deck is to own a pack copy from ROE. If Kozilek was giving a foil printing (in another FTV or whatever) you would see that price plummet as well.

    1. You’re absolutely right. I think I mentioned that somewhere – that the FTV version of Ulamog was foil (as was the prerelease Emrakul, as you noted). That is why the price difference on foils was so huge. This comparison isn’t as relevant for the Modern Masters discussion, but it is very much worth noting!

  3. I don’t think wotc is quite as concerned with the prices as they are with the availability. The amount of MM they print will release probably 30-50% more tarmogoyfs out into the system. Couple that with rising demand and I think the change in prices on the mythics will be neglible.

    It’s not wotc’s obligation to allow everyone to own a playset of every chase card in modern. They need to increase supply of commons and uncommons to reduce player frustration though – players shouldn’t have to go online to get cards they need.

    Uncommons, commons are going to drop a lot. This is an availability issue.

    1. Availability is directly tied to price, though. If every Magic player suddenly came into significant money, then perhaps availability would be different from prices. But as long as Magic players have limited funds, the two really are synonymous. After all, there are always copies of Modern staples online somewhere – they are just getting really expensive.

      The demand for Modern cards has already risen drastically. Introducing Modern Masters may increase demand further, but certainly not as much as the increase we’ve already seen. Change in the ORIGINAL printings of cards, printed at the Mythic Rare level in Modern Masters, should be small. But Tarmogoyfs from Modern Masters will be worth less than Future Sight. How much less is the question I tackled here. My guess: 25% – 50% less, at least at first.

      1. How do you figure in a limited increase in the amount of cards added (I assumed 50%, Karthik figures 30-50%) combined with that these packs are priced double what normal packs are priced? Both work together to make these cards more expensive than you’d normale expect. The packs may even be sold over MSRP if they spoil many expensive cards.

        To me that all adds up to the potential for cards that might become more expensive than the originals rather than less (say when the new art is much better).

        1. There is an alternative you may be overlooking. You say that MSRP on the packs are double, so prices will be double. This assumes the same type of distribution of playable and nonplayable cards. How do you know there just won’t be MORE playable cards in the set, and that’s what justifies higher MSRP? Thoughtseize can still be $20, but there will just be more $20 rares in the set, as opposed to Thoughtseize being $40 and then there being some comparably crappy rare in the set.

          Modern player base may increase with MM’s release, but that increase won’t be as large as the increase we’ve already seen. It certainly won’t be enough to keep up with the increased supply.

            1. Wouldn’t $80 Tarmogoyfs also increase MSRP? Maybe we can just agree it is a combination of both?

              If Wizards really wants this set to be drafted for at least a month, they’ll need to produce enough quantities to keep up with demand. Otherwise drafts will be way too expensive. But this means there will also be enough quantities to bring some prices down. It just can’t be both I don’t believe.

  4. i do not expect modern masters to negatively impact modern prices overall. i do think something like tarmagoyf could get cheaper, but more demand for cards will keep most appreciating on the steady.

    so, count me out of consensus

  5. Availability correlated to price is true to some degree, but I’ve been having difficulty even finding uncommons/commons that go into modern decks. Try looking for a kitchen finks at your local LGS. Or sleight of hand. These aren’t “expensive” rares, but they are hard to find.

    The other thing people seem to completely forget is that if WOTC wants MM to be repeatable they shouldn’t be going crazy on their initial print run. They need to include just enough to entice buyers but not much more.

    1. This is a valid argument. But would Wizards put overlapping cards in MM I and MM II? Or would it just be newer cards, like from Zendikar forward?

      My LGS may not have Kitchen Finks, but it’s not like I’m you’re looking for a Blue Hurricane or foil Russian Jace, here. There are dozens of Finks available online for sale.

      1. I consider MM to be a continuation of the ME series that MTGO has experienced. In those sets (other than revised duals) no reprints exist between ME sets. However, ME was designed to address a different problem, that being how do you get Fallen Empires cards into the card pool without releasing Fallen Empires.

        MM I will be reprinting cards from the first 8 years of modern. While it’s way too soon to be speculating about MM II, I would expect at least a 5 year window before such a set were to be released, and I wouldn’t rule out MM I reprints, but I think the backlash would be enough that I wouldn’t rule out at that time an expansion of the reserved list.

  6. Chronicles is a complete joke to look at. Modern masters is a good thing. Reprinting is a good thing. You have failed completely to note the FACT that chronicles came out 18 months after magic started and the FACT that chronicles was in print for over a year.

    If you’re so worried about cards being reprinted, then why don’t you cause an uproar every time something is reprinted in M14.

    It’s funny, I didn’t hear anyone complain about Vampire Nocturnus going down to $3 (from $15) when it was reprinted, nor did I hear anyone complain when Nicol Bolas Planeswalker went from $15 to 3, or Gilded lotus going from $8 to $2.

    Let me clue you on the little fact, if magic ever gets to a point where it gets too expensive, wizards WILL reprint everything (lol @ “reserved list”) to get money into the game. Wizards is a business first hand and they make money hand over fist right now. Once that stops being the case, every single card on the market will tank.

    Investing/trading cards to turn a profit is fine. Using it to hold the game ransom IS NOT FINE.

    1. I feel like you’re being unnecessarily hostile here.

      Sig isn’t say that reprinting is evil. He’s looking at what the future price of these cards may be in order to assess the value of holding vs selling and rebuying.

    2. Tyler is absolutely right. My intent was not to claim the sky was falling. Rather, I was merely anticipating some of the effects and thus recommending people consider selling some of their excess Modern staples during this PTQ season.

      Wizards has been very cautious with out they disperse reprints in the past. Sure, some cards dropped severely in value from reprints but when was the last time a $100 card was reprinted in a draftable set? Yet, Tarmogoyf will be there and this is unprecedented. So we need to consider the implications.

      Sounds like you’re pretty frustrated with card price increases though, and for that there’s not much consolation I could offer.

    1. This seems more and more inevitable. I will likely be selling out of Legacy in the foreseeable future, though it will be with a slight pang of guilt. Still, I promised myself that I’d try to make money from Magic to help pay for my son’s college education. This must be the priority I keep my sights on.

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