The Impact of ZZW Queues
The latest round of cube drafting is accompanied by Zendikar-Zendikar-Worldwake (ZZW) draft queues. This is a format I drafted a ton of when it was first available. It is fast and aggressive, which encourages quick drafts and double queuing by experienced drafters. The other thing that encourages drafting is the expected value of these packs, which is high due to the Zendikar (ZEN) fetchlands and a few high-priced mythic rares, most notably Jace, the Mind Sculptor from Worldwake (WWK).
The buy/sell prices for a set of ZEN and WWK rares on supernovabots is quoted at $117/134 and $101/114 respectively, all prices in tix and current as of Jan 31st, 2013. These prices will be coming down with the amount of drafting that will occur. At a rough estimate, there were about 80 drafts fired between 5 pm and midnight last night. Let's call it roughly 10 drafts per hour. In off-peak hours this morning, the rate was very similar.
Extrapolating from these observations and being a bit conservative, the number of drafts that will fire this week can be estimated at around 1500 drafts. This means that 24,000 packs of ZEN will be cracked and half that amount of WWK. For any given ZEN mythic, this is about 200 copies of each, and about 400 copies of every rare. Similar calculations for WWK suggest about 160 copies of every mythic and about 300 copies of every rare. For more recent sets, redemption acts to support prices, particularly for mythic rares. But for ZEN and WWK, redemption is no longer available so the market will fully price in the increase of supply.
The raw numbers of additional copies are important. 40 playsets of Jace is not a small amount for a card that is basically only played in Legacy on MTGO. Typically prices on Legacy staples have fluctuated based on the presence of a tournament worth playing, and the Magic Online Championship Series (MOCS) event this weekend is one such tournament. Jace has gone from just under 50 tix at the start of December to about 70 tix today. After the MOCS wraps up, unless Legacy starts sustaining itself as a format, the prices on Legacy staples will drift down.
For example, the price of Force of Will spiked last summer to over 140+ tix at a time that coincided with the last Legacy MOCS championship. Three months later the price dipped to about 110 tix before further drops in price occurred due to the MED events and then, more recently, from the promos awarded for MOCS play. This suggests that Jace will take a short-term hit from the ZZW queues and then see a steady drift down as interest in Legacy subsides. Sell any copies of Jace, the Mind Sculptor you are holding for speculative purposes right now as this influx in supply will take a little time to work through the system.
Keep an eye on the price of Jace over the next 2-3 months. It will be a good opportunity to buy into this Legacy staple if it hits 50-55 tix. Sometime in 2013, WoTC has said they will be bringing the Power Nine to MTGO. This will create a lot of hype, and I imagine WoTC will try to do it in the summer to coincide with the 20th anniversary of Magic. When that happens, it's probable there will be a speculative buying binge of any and all Vintage staples. Prepare for this moment by purchasing your cards in advance.
Last year, buying up fetchlands such as Marsh Flats and Arid Mesa for about 2 tix was possible in the month after Avacyn Restored was released. Scalding Tarn got to around 3 tix. Needless to say this was a great buying opportunity, and something like this will occur again over the coming six months. However, with the increase in Modern play observed this season, new price floors and price ceilings have to be figured out.
If you ever wondered what an influx of 100 playsets of Scalding Tarn would do to its price on MTGO, just check the price in about three weeks. At that point, most of the increased supply of the ZEN fetchlands will be accounted for in the market. This will be the approximate in-season price on these cards, which accounts for this influx in supply. Take those numbers, and then figure on an out-of-season price floor of around 50%. This will be a good approximate starting point for a price to buy into the fetchlands.
So, if Scalding Tarn ends up around 10 tix in a few weeks, this suggests a 5 ticket price floor. I'll be keeping an eye on the price of ZEN fetchlands over the coming months, and if Scalding Tarn approaches 5 tix I'll be ready to stock up on these staples.
The announcement this week that the basic land slot in Dragon's Maze boosters would in fact be a nonbasic land slot was a tempest in a teacup in the end. WoTC announced that each of the shocklands would appear in this slot, as well as a mythic land from Dragon's Maze and all of the guildgates. For speculators depending on the scarcity of these cards, this looked like a big deal. However, the original announcement was revised, and now it looks like for every 36 boosters cracked, about 1.5 shocklands will show up. The shocklands will have the RTR or GTC symbol, so I'm going to assume they will be indistinguishable from normal RTR or GTC shocklands and thus legal for redemption for those sets. See the QS forum thread for more.
This is a small amount of additional product overall, and due the nature of the MTGO economy, cracking packs mostly happens in draft. There is no bulk discount that can be had for purchasing a box or a case of product, so any extra value which accrues in packs of Dragon's Maze due to these inserts will be returned to drafters. This will encourage more drafting, but at a rate of 1.5 shocklands per 36 packs, that amounts to just about 5 tix at current prices.
At around 12 tix to draft (10 tix for product and 2 tix for entry), about 86 packs of Dragon's Maze will have to be cracked to accrue enough extra value for a free draft. In other words, every 11 DGR drafts or so will allow one person to afford a draft they otherwise could not have. Note that this assumes that the other cards in the nonbasic land slot, namely the mythic land from Dragon's Maze and the gates, do not add any additional value.
Long story short, this seems like a negligible effect. Real estate has been a consistently low-risk speculative vehicle on MTGO, and I don't anticipate the extra shocklands coming from Dragon's Maze packs to significantly affect this. I am holding onto my MTGO RtR shocklands and I will look at buying more if the opportunity presents itself.
WoTC has shown a willingness to reprint cards in novel ways, so a good speculator must be prepared for the occasional nasty shock of an unexpected reprint. The MED events at the end of November brought the price of Force of Will down into the 80-90 tix range, and historically this would have been a good time to invest in those. I bought 12 copies myself. But the promo awarded from the first MOCS season of 2013 destroyed any short-term value from buying Force of Will in December, and I took about a 200 tix hit.
Keep this in mind when speculating on high-priced items like Jace, the Mind Sculptor. A future Jace released as a MOCS promo would trigger a lot of interest in acquiring MOCS qualifying points. The price on original copies of Jace would be set to fall as a result of a MOCS promo reprint. This possibility has to be factored into any speculative decision on Jace, the Mind Sculptor or other high-priced out-of-print cards.
The Zendikar fetchlands seem much less likely to be awarded as a promo in my opinion. The cube draft payouts have been observed to rotate through various out-of-print sets, so it would be unusual to see ZZW return as a cube draft prize in the short- to medium-term. Fetchlands have shown to be good speculative vehicles due to the seasonality of both Modern and Legacy, so keep your eyes peeled for buying opportunities on these in the coming months. Buying now, with the hopes of profiting on the current in-season demand, is a much riskier strategy that should only be employed by those who are prepared to act quickly.