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Insider: The Modern Bubble Continues to Grow

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Want to hear a riddle? What do the Stock Market and the Modern format have in common? Give up? Let me show you…

(chart from mtgstocks.com)

This may not surprise some of you, but both the Dow and Modern have hit crazy five year highs! But the answer to the riddle goes one layer deeper. Wall Street has been ignoring the looming debt ceiling, troubles in Europe and uncertainty in China by sending the market higher and higher. Likewise, Magic players and speculators are sinking money into Modern staples despite the fact that Modern PTQ season will end in a couple months and Modern Masters will bring us ample reprints.

In both cases, I am trimming positions actively. Buy low and sell high, right? And if a five-year high (in the case of Wall Street) and an all-time high (in the case of Modern) isn’t compelling enough, what will be?

What Is Happening to Modern?!

Has anyone looked at the mtgstocks.com chart for Fulminator Mage recently?

I was concerned that the banning of Bloodbraid Elf and Seething Song would annoy players and hit the MTG Modern market. Instead, these bannings have merely given speculators additional targets to acquire. Apparently, Fulminator Mage was towards the top of the list.

But the ridiculousness doesn’t stop here. People have assumed that any Modern deck not hit by the B&R announcement will increase in popularity, and therefore value. For example, I was thrilled to unload my Karn Liberated in trade right before the colorless Planeswalker rotated out of Standard. Apparently that was just plain wrong…(chart from mtgstocks.com):

Other significant price jumps include Chord of Calling, Spellskite and Kitchen Finks. One playable Modern card after another has been jumping in turn. Each time, the only explanations I can come up with is “this card sees play in a good deck in Modern” or “this card is great in the sideboard against a good deck in Modern”.

With so many price jumps in Modern of late, I’m sensing we may be in the midst of a bubble and, at a minimum, a correction is likely. With this context, I want to explain how I am preparing for the coming months of Modern.

Buy, Sell, Hold

Rather than list dozens of cards on the move and expecting you to act upon all the recommendations, I’ll try something a little different. Let me break down the Modern landscape and place general categories into a buy, sell, or hold recommendation. I will also try to provide examples of each, with a brief sentence or two providing rationale as to why I feel this way.

Buy Buy Buy

I’ve stated on multiple occasions that I’m not an aggressive speculator. Some members of the Quiet Speculation community go very deep on a given target, purchasing dozens of copies. Just because I am claiming these cards are a “buy” doesn’t imply one should purchase a hundred of them. Instead, I’d encourage you to do some research, price compare, and then decide for yourself how many copies make sense.

With this in mind, my top targets are the cards legal in Modern, aren’t in Standard, and aren’t at risk for reprinting in Modern Masters. This will include cards from Zendikar to New Phyrexia. I am even consciously looking to favor cards printed in that elusive third set, which is often opened least in a block. Finally, the card has to be Modern playable (duh), but not already super-expensive.

My top example is Spellskite (chart from mtgstocks.com).

Spellskite has already seen an exponential increase in price, albeit small on the absolute scale. While this card may not hit $10 this Modern season, I love the long-term prospects of it. The card is geared toward strategy disruption like Fulminator Mage, so there is certainly upside to the Artifact Horror.

And he even sees main deck play in some cases, especially with the rise in popularity of enchantment-based decks (Splinter Twin being a huge one). This is currently my top pick, and I have purchased a dozen copies myself around $3.50 each on average.

Other cards in this category include Scars of Mirrodin Dual Lands (although there are more quantities), Birthing Pod (although it was in an Event Deck), and Worldwake Man-Lands. The latter is also a great target to trade into – players still have ample copies in their binders and the window to acquire these cheaply is closing. I don’t see them becoming irrelevant in Modern any time soon, either.

Hold

This category is difficult to nail down definitively, because cards worth holding are likely to maintain value while not increasing or decreasing significantly. In my opinion, the top cards worth holding (but not buying or selling) are the already-inflated cards in Modern which still are immune to reprinting in Modern Masters.

The first cards that come to mind are the popular Eldrazi Mythic Rares: Emrakul, the Aeons Torn, Kozilek, Butcher of Truth, and Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre (chart from mtgstocks.com).

These have all jumped significantly during Modern season, but their upside from here is pretty limited. Tron is a strong deck, but it would likely have to reach Jund status (pre-banning of Bloodbraid Elf) in order for these Eldrazi to reach a significantly higher price point. Casual play should keep these prices stable, so they aren’t likely to drop much once Modern season ends. Come next Modern season, there should be another opportunity to unload these at a good price.

Inquisition of Kozilek and Karn Liberated are also likely a hold. I’ve sold my Inquistions personally, but I made that decision a bit too rashly. These may not double again in price, but they aren’t likely to drop either.

Deathrite Shaman is, of course, a hold, and I’m not that down on holding Snapcaster Mage either. The latter may drop a little upon rotation, but his Modern and Legacy playability won’t allow his price to deflate for long.

Sell Sell Sell

It may not surprise you that my sell category is the largest when it comes to Modern staples. With Modern PTQ season ending in two months, combined with the unknowns of Modern Masters, holding super-inflated Modern staples in the hopes they rise further in price is simply foolish. Wizards of the Coast has made it very clear they intend to keep Modern an affordable format. Tarmogoyfs at $100 does not meet this definition for two seconds (chart from mtgstocks.com):

If you are obsessed with the original artwork, then it’s not terrible to hold Tarmogoyf. The Future Sight version shouldn’t drop as much. But this is the one card we already know is going to be in Modern Masters. Demand will decrease slightly when Standard PTQ season begins and then an influx of supply will take place. These two events happening back-to-back will deflate the price of this long-beloved two drop.

I’ve already discussed other major Modern staples, including Thoughtseize, Dark Confidant, and Vendilion Clique. Additionally, I’m pretty bearish on many cards that have skyrocketed since Modern season began. That includes Kitchen Finks (uncommon with possible reprint in MM), Chord of Calling, Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker, and now we can add Fulminator Mage to the list.

There are many more cards I wouldn’t want to sit on right now. So many price spikes have taken place that I am very suspect of the sustainability of them. With the uncertainty of Modern Masters looming overhead, I simply cannot recommend buying vulnerable cards. If you want to take the risk, go on ahead. Everything can’t be in Modern Masters. But enough will be, so that the cards not reprinted that you kept won’t likely outweigh value lost from the ones that were.

Modern Is A Hit…Sort Of

Wizards of the Coast has managed to create a very important format. Modern isn’t as intimidating as Legacy, and it enables players to use their recently-rotated ex-Standard cards. If it weren’t for Modern, cards like Fulminator Mage would be just a couple bucks.

But there is a small problem with their approach. They intended to make this format affordable and ubiquitous. They want FNM Modern players, PTQ grinder Modern players, and Professional Modern players. It comes as no surprise this has caused a rapid inflation in Modern card prices – the opposite of what Wizards wants.

So what will happen next? I see two possible outcomes: if Modern Masters is under-printed, then prices will not drop significantly and Wizards will have to create additional reprints to maintain Modern as an affordable format. If Modern Masters does manage to shift prices down a bit, then they were successful… and the value of our collections all drop a bit.

Either way, Modern prices cannot rise forever. Some may have some time left in the sun, but many cards are likely going to be peaking… at least for the medium-term horizon. And with no reserved list holding anyone back, Wizards has the power to ensure there are ample quantities of Modern cards for years to come. Act accordingly.

Sigbits – Say what?! Modern edition

  • According to mtgstocks.com, Fulminator Mage has more than doubled in price. But there was one other non-Standard card that increased by a larger percentage: Marrow-Gnawer. Okay, so this isn’t a Modern card – it’s likely the new Gatecrash Rat King spurred interest in this one. But it’s still worth mentioning.
  • Celestial Colonnade is sold out at SCG at $5.99. Cheapest copies I could find were in the $5 range, though there were a few cheaper on Card Shark if you could combine shipping with other things you need. I don’t see this one dropping any time soon.
  • Relic of Progenitus is a $2 common now?! Incredible. I know it has Legacy and Modern playability, but it still seems rather recent to have already reached this price. If I were you, I would buy your LGS out of Nihil Spellbombs and sit on them for a while as well.

-Sigmund Ausfresser
@sigfig8

35 thoughts on “Insider: The Modern Bubble Continues to Grow

      1. Yes/No. I picked up an extra Vendilion Clique, but my local shop wanted one (so I can trade to them), I did unload my Fulminator Mage’s/Baneslayer Angels. The big thing on Saturday was Gatecrash Shocks, I was flipping them left and right (I honestly came down with only 7 (from my 2 boxes) probably traded a total of 14 and still have 4. My only regret was holding onto my Aurelia’s Fury…that and not having some sort of backup battery for my phone.

        1. Lol battery dying on the phone makes it awkward. Sounds like you did well overall though. I will be waiting a bit before picking up GTC Shock Lands. They will likely pull back some once ample quantities are opened.

          1. O I agree…I was trying to trade them all out. Most people were happy to offer 13 in trade per shock…I figured in about a month-2 months they’ll be the same as the RTR ones..which means I can buy them on ebay for 6-9 (depending) which is what I’ll be doing.

  1. In regards to the US debt ceiling, troubles in Europe, and uncertainty in China, what’s that old saying about a bull market and a wall of worry? =) I’m not so sure about your reasoning to trim your stock portfolio. This could be the case of selling too soon. I don’t see irrational exuberance out there, but there is evidence that money is moving from the sidelines into stocks.

    As for Modern Masters, I think the big impact will be seen in availability of staple commons and uncommons. Cards like Relic of Progenitus, Kitchen Finks, and Path to Exile should be easily found at reasonable prices.

    1. You think the Dow belongs at a 5 year high, above 14,000? I also know a saying, that goes something like: once the last doubter of the market gives up and buys in, that’s when the correction happens. This recent run we’ve had lately isn’t sustainable in the short term. There should be a correction coming and I’m just betting it happens sooner than later.

      I see impact across all rarities, just in varying percentages. If Tarmogoyf’s price doesn’t drop enough with Moder Masters, I guarantee more will be printed.

      1. Sig, shocklands are <10$. they'll be played in modern. everything modern isn't hot because people are short sighted and unwilling to differentiate between modern cards. thats great when you've a bunch of fringe playable cards on the cheap (see fulminator) 'cause you can make a killing selling here. that doesn't mean using cash raised to add shocklands is a mistake just 'cause modern pricing seems high.

      2. If the Dow ‘belongs’ at any level is a strange question to me. It’s applying a normative statement to a price, but the price is agreed upon in an open market by countless participants, so the price is exactly what it should be at any given moment. But I think I know what you mean. To me, it looks like the markets are coming out of an incredible period of extreme risk aversion. At the same time, the US economic recovery appears to be continuing. Taken together, it suggests to me that the balance of risk still favors the upside over the downside.

        1. You do know what I mean, but my word usage could have been clearer I agree. I feel the market is overbought. The economy as a whole isn’t significantly different now than it was a month ago yet stock prices rose continuously. I suspect investors are becoming complacent. Once the most risk averse person of all buys in, the market will drop.

          It’s down today, after all 😉 But that’s my opinion for the short term. Long term I think the market will continue to climb. But might as well trim back my positions in anticipation of what I expect will be a rocky couple months.

  2. modern demand is still ramping up. until you see a dedicated modern core at your local FNM i think you are ok to hold most staples. that said, nothing wrong with rebalanceing. selling a fixed percentage of winners for new specs makes sense.

    general thoughts on a modern bubble: where else do you want to be? i think its much easier to just pick up cards during rotation that are hot in Standard and playable elsewhere. specing on Standard stuff is worthwhile but risky as your investments all come with an expiration date.

    1. It’s a double-edged sword a bubble. By selling a bunch of stuff, I am sitting on the sideline not participating in additional rallies. But I do see things dropping eventually. Wizards wants this format to be affordable. If it becomes expensive, they will fix that. Will they fix it overnight? No. So there are still opportunities. But I try to maintain a mid-long term view on my non-rotating formats. If a card may be worth less a year from now, I don’t really want it.

      I realize I’m being bold here. I made a New Years’ resolution to myself that I’d be bolder in my trades (both stock market and in MTG speculation). I am bearish on Modern cards prone to be reprinted in MM, so I am acting upon that.

      1. it’s a brave call for sure. modern decks are not more expensive than standard decks though. that is why i still see plenty of upside. that said selling tarmagoyf and fulminator into MM is a good idea. the mage may not see a reprint but +10$ is 400% increase in a coupe of months.

  3. Yeeeeah, Trollskite! I love that spec.

    I am just curious, because I have 2 foil copies of Chord of Calling in my secret stash binder. Would that be a sell now? I just need a few more opinions.

    I also hope Birthing Pod won’t get banned. It’s an engine and the enabler of a deck, but it’s not too degenerate, right? :D?

    1. I love Birthing Pod. It’s so much fun to play with and it’s fairly balanced (especially compared to Survival of the Fittest). I sure hope it remains safe!

      Foil Chord of Callings….hmmmmmm….that’s tricky. I could always take the cop-out answer which I give to my friend every time he asks if he should sell a stock for profit – sell half. 🙂 It banks you some gains but you also get to ride out what happens next.

      1. This is always a prime EDH card, so the foil part really helps. However, it’s certainly a possible reprint for Modern Master’s (I guess the lack of information from Wizards is really fueling a LOT of this speculation). I would expect any staples that DON’T show up in MM will probably go up by 25-50%, whereas, the mythics in MM will maybe drop 10% and the regular rares will probably drop 20% or so. The Uncommons/commons, however, will probably drop 50% or so.

        1. Agree on the sentiment, disagree on the numbers. If Tarmogoyf drops to $90 from $100 I don’t expect Wizards to be content with that adjustment. It’s negligible in terms of making the format more penetrable. Having $3 Kitch Finks instead of $10 helps, but it’s not the Uncommons and Commons that are creating the barrier to entry. It’s Tarmogoyf, Thoughtseize, Vendilion Clique, Fetch Lands, etc.

          I stand by my prediction from my article a couple weeks ago. 20-30% drop on Mythics, 40-50% drop on rares, more on Uncommons/Commons. Time will tell I suppose.

          1. I don’t disagree that such a minor drop on the staples will satiate Wizards, my numbers stem from the fact that they Wizards claims this is a limited run product and the higher cost of entry WILL dissuade a lot of casual players from opening it. I don’t foresee MM being a 3 month draft set (as it could interfere with regular standard set draft)..I can honestly see MM being a 2 month product line. The math shows that the odds of opening any specific mythic requires cracking 6 boxes for just a 75% chance, to get up to 90% you have to crack 12 boxes. This is the reason behind the limited price drop…Wizards wanted to make sure the bottom didn’t fall out of the staples, but the short print run of MM coupled with the difficulty of pulling a mythic means that the supply will most likely not see a drastic increase.

            1. I agree that prices will drop significantly for reprints in MM, but how large the ‘significantly’ part is, I’m not sure. 20% sounds pretty significant enough, but it could be more.

              Those 2 foil Chord of Calling are the last of my extras from an original collection of 8, so. 😀 I have two more in two separate EDH decks. I think I will keep. Thanks, muchly!

  4. Relic of Progenitus might also be expensive because of EDH. Most players I know play it as the graveyard hate of choice for non-black decks (can’t play Bojuka Bog). Since it slots in so many EDH decks, that might inflate the price some as well.

  5. I would like to point out again how refreshing it is to see these kinds of calls, relatively brave for MtG finance, but as Sigmund points out, he is just listening to WotC’s stated intention and applying logic.

    Given the level of aggression we are seeing in the market, even though Modern ptq season will probably be over, it would not be surprising to see spikes in the eligible cards that aren’t included in MM whenever that is announced. Insofar as the prices on ineligible (Zendikar-) MM cards have been driven by “hot money”, at that point there might be some rotation out of Zendikar etc into the spared pre-Zendikar cards.

    But like Sigmund, I suspect that most of the cards you think might get reprinted, will be. I’m less sure about this than I am about price declines that will happen in reprinted cards, but that’s what I would do if I were WotC. If a staple is above $10-15, I would almost need a compelling reason to not include it, at least as a Mythic.

    I’ve been toying with the idea that Kiki-Jiki is such a card that might not make it in. It was not a huge problem price-wise when MM was put together. It had already been reprinted in FTV and while the card is slow, it basically exists to do unfair things, not the style of play WotC usually promotes.

    Just an example.. Sigmund and others, if you had to guess at such cards, which ones would the be and why? Maybe an idea for a column..

    1. Thanks Jason for the well-thought out comment! You have summarized my position fairly well. I do like your argument for Kiki-Jiki. It may not show up. By that same token, Fulminator Mage may also not show up because it was a $3 card just a couple weeks ago.

      Like your column idea, too. Worth thinking about, but tricky to come up with other such cards.

      1. In terms of cards left out of MM, I guess it comes down to a few categories.

        There’s the relatively uninteresting category of pricey stuff that isn’t very relevant, say Glimpse the Unthinkable, Kokusho or Kira.

        There are cards belonging to unpopular (if not currently rampant) strategies like Bridge from Below. Chalice of the Void could be another one, a fringey feel-bad card that smells a little like Mental Misstep and a little like Counterbalance. (I love it though. If the stupid errata did not exist, it would work like it should with Power Conduit, which could be a sick deck with Tezzeret, persist, Engineered Explosives)

        In general I don’t expect a big boost from being left out, but would not be surprised to see disgusting moves in stuff that may have been off the radar like Serra Ascendant or Threads of Disloyalty.

        With stocks, they’re benefiting a lot at this point simply because they aren’t bonds! They are the Zendikar to pre-Zendikar, for now.

        1. I guess Serra Ascendant was first printed in M11 but you get the idea. Insert any number of fringe-played Lorwyn/Shadowmoor creatures for example. Those filter lands need to go though..

  6. Nice to see that most of the cards that I was investing more aggressively 2/3 months ago were good calls and that I do not regret any :). Mox Opal, Spellskite, Eteched Champion, Inquisition of Kozilek, Inkmoth Nexus (not great increase but also not loosing) and Fastlands (beside the r/b not a great increase, but also no loosing in here). Being this said, I accept that might still be money to make in Spellskite, karn, etc…but I feel like the train on those is already on its way.. With the modern reprints that are to outcome…it was just too obvious which set to invest on (Scars of mirrodin). Right now, I am looking more to Ravnica. We are already on the modern season…and standard is the future, and like to be one step away. Nevertheless, contrary to the past I am not so sure in what to target (you have the shocks…but oh well, I am also not completely sure this is the best time to invest in them). If you could feature this issue in a future article it would be nice.

    1. Those are all solid targets. I forgot to mention Inkmoth! But at least I talked about it not long ago.

      The train on Spellskite and Karn are definitely on its way out of the station. Just looking at the recent jump in Spellskite seems to indicate as much. I still feel Spellskite can go higher, but possibly not until next year.

      I, too, am looking at RtR speculation. I am selling so much Modern cards to free up cash for some Standard. I like Ash Zealot a lot, Abrupt Decay, Supreme Verdict, etc. These will become harder to find in people’s binders in 6 months’ time.

      Thanks for commenting!

      1. The Abrupt Decay is one of the few RTR cards I am investing in (despite not too aggressively). Regarding Supreme Verdict I am undecided… It seems a nice call, but I would rather prefer it at a lower price than what it is currently since you have also the buy a box promo and the boros charm. Ash Zealot…well that has being out of my radar, I do not take it into great consideration…but now that you talked about it, I might take a closer look.

        Sorry for my English, specially in the previous message (and thanks for not complaining :D)…I am not a native English speaker and wrote the previous message in a rush…like 1 minute…the boat was arriving :D. I was on my way to work ;).

        1. I would encourage you to do some further research into Standard and make your own conclusions. I just try to provide some ideas with accompanying rationale.

          Your English is fine, no worries there! Much better than my attempts to speak you rnative language, I assure you of that. 🙂

  7. So I was wondering how reliable mtgstocks is. I can see from eBay prices that it seems accurate when it comes to pricing but where does it get it’s data from? Checking other places like Tcgplayer, it shows you the prices of the sellers and gives you an average cost from that information. From this you can easily emmit any discrepancies in pricing to get a more accurate average cost. An example from Tcgplayer is Karn Liberated. It shows an average cost today of 30.61 but if you take away the one vendor selling his LP Karn At about 8$ less than the others you would get a more accurate average price. From looking at mtgstocks, I would like to use it as a tool to become more framIliar with the infinitely changing card prices so I was just wondering where it was getting data from, how accurate it was, and if it was emmiting price discrepancies from its data pool to get the best possible price.

    On another note, great job on your article. I found what you had to say about picking up and holding onto modern cards that would not meet the Modern Masters set quota to be very inspiring. With Modern Masters comming soon and the influx of older staples it will bring to those who couldn’t play modern due to card availability, I expect that it will be almost impossible to find those great modern cards from Zendikar and Scars block.

    Thanks again for an excellent article.

    1. Thanks so much for your comment!! Glad you are on board with my rationale – it is a way for me to ensure I am still in touch with the game and the market when others view the dynamics similarly.

      As for mtgstocks.com, I believe it is using TCG pricing in some way. I think there’s at least one person in the forums who knows the guy behind mtgstocks.com (pi), so maybe that person can shed some additional light onto how the site functions. You can also try tweeting @mtgstocks – they are usually responsive and very open to constructive feedback :).

      Thanks again for your comment!

  8. Stocking up on Modern card a year ago has been so profitable it’s crazy. Of course, it leaves me wishing I had gone deeper, but I went plenty deep, so I’m not going to be too upset. Calls in this article are spot-on.

    1. Thanks for the support, Corbin! It always looks so obvious in hindsight. Of course Modern cards would go up! But at the time, the format’s future was unclear. Try not to dwell on lost opportunities and turn towards what’s to come.

      If only I could “short” Tarmogoyf and Thoughtseize. Sigh….

  9. Sigmund I feel sometimes I try to squeeze every last dollar out of a call. Sometimes I hold too long and that can be a downside as well. I went to a modern PTQ this weekend and sold a pretty reasonable amount of modern stuff and don’t regret it at all. I think your statement about 1/2 makes a lot of sense. I moved stuff I had been hoarding and still kept my personal play sets of pretty much everything. A piece of me feels like with MM coming out I should move some of my own personal sets and cash out now, buy back later, but I am apprehensive about shops doing what they do with all limited product and pricing it above retail which would really kill that idea. I have about 50 Zendikar fetch lands and QS seems very divided about selling now verses next season. If WOTC wants modern to be affordable they will reprint these in the next 3-4 years. I’m torn. In this situation I don’t want to hold 1/2 and sell 1/2. I want to go all in one way or another. Advise guys?

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