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Insider: What’s Not Moving Lately

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It’s a well-known fact that Magic: The Gathering, once a relatively unknown and unpopular card game, has now become more popular than ever before. This is evidenced across multiple metrics. Most notably, the players have just set a record for largest Magic tournament ever.

This massive influx of players has driven many incredible pricing phenomena, from the inevitable such as the increase in Zendikar Fetch Lands to the bizarre, like the increase of Hall of the Bandit Lord (chart from mtgstocks.com). Price spikes are the norm and I come to expect one at least weekly, if not more often.

But this article isn’t intended to be a rehash of another Hall of the Bandit Lord discussion. Instead I want to look more broadly at shifting prices. My goal: to identify if any groups of cards or products have not participated in the recent MTG rally. This indicates to me that new players would not be flocking to those formats, strategies, etc., and that these categories are possibly going obsolete.

Rather than explaining further, I’ll illustrate with an example.

Force of Will

Here’s a card I have not talked about in quite some time and for good reason. Looking at the price chart from mtgstocks.com, we see that Force of Will doesn’t really shift notably in price. Instead the card remains in the $65 to $68 range, hardly a noteworthy percentage when you compare this with the likes of Hall of the Bandit Lord.

My proposed rationale should not come as a real surprise. New players are not joining the MTG community to play Legacy. The price of entry into the competitive format is at record highs, and this likely deters newer players from trying to play the format. What’s more, first hand accounts (including my own misconception years ago) suggest that new players assume games of Legacy are won within the first two or three turns. If that were true, the format would be much less enjoyable!

To me, this trend is rather alarming. Consider the facts: Wizards has created a new “eternal” format, Wizards says the new format is now a Pro Tour and PTQ format, Wizards explicitly states that Legacy cannot be a Pro Tour format due to lack of card availability, and Wizards announces release of Modern Masters to drive up the popularity of the format.

To me, this signals a time of stagnation for Legacy. Some cards that don’t have other homes will gradually decline in price – this is especially the case for cards currently out of favor, such as Natural Order.

Many will argue that Dual Lands will not see a price trend similar to the above. EDH, which has increased in popularity recently, should continue to keep those prices elevated. I’m not prepared to refute that, though I suspect a major event such as SCG Opens converting from Legacy to Modern at least part-time, will have a negative impact. Still, Legacy cards that don’t see significant play elsewhere are in line for a pull-back in price – especially those not on the reserved list.

Standard Booster Boxes

I absolutely love investing in sealed booster boxes. When a newish set is printed with many valuable cards, especially with eternal playability, I take notice and try to pick up a box or two at the right price. Boxes from smaller sets which are drafted least are also very attractive pickups.

Despite the massive influx of new Magic players, this hasn’t had an impact on booster boxes of current Standard sets yet. But the key word here is “yet”. Look just one block removed from Standard and you start to see what may become the future for current Standard booster box pricing. The following prices are retail from Star City Games, but are likely to only increase moving forward.

Here we see the trend I mentioned before – namely, that boxes from the smaller, less drafted sets tend to increase in price faster. Boxes of New Phyrexia have been on a rapid rise, and even Mirrodin Beseiged boxes have moved in price. Scars of Mirrodin, however, remains left in the dust.

The same trend exists in older blocks as well. Future Sight boxes are a fortune, and while Rise of the Eldrazi boxes are incredibly expensive, they don’t even compare to the way-underdrafted Worldwake (Okay, I suppose Jace didn’t help matters).

Even though more boxes are being printed and opened to meet increased demand, supplies of Standard booster boxes still dry up within a couple years. If we eye the trend indicated above, the best set to buy currently would be Avacyn Restored. The set has a ton of casual appeal, lots of Angels, some Legacy and Modern playable cards, and it was a third set. In fact, the retail price on Avacyn Restored has already separated itself from counterparts Innistrad and Dark Ascension – they are $109.99. Within two years I suspect they will be where New Phyrexia is today: sold out at $159.99.

Unlike Legacy, which seems to have stagnated, more players likely means good things for booster box investments to come. If a set is an utter failure, I could see this type of buy be unsuccessful. But with the homeruns Wizards of the Coast has been printing lately, I would be shocked to see booster boxes of Avacyn Restored retail for under $100 on Star City Games ever again.

Standard’s Next

Modern caused many crazy price spikes. As more players entered Magic, they too wanted a taste of PTQ glory. That combined with rampant speculation has led to a very profitable PTQ season. But just because Modern is coming to an end does not mean profitable days must too go on hold.

Standard PTQ season is next, and the format is currently well balanced. This will likely lead to a healthy season with increasing demand of many staples. If the player base continues to grow, even cards from Return to Ravnica will appear short in supply, causing the price of some cards like Sphinxs Revelation to increase appreciably (chart from mtgstocks.com).

I would encourage readers to re-evaluate their Standard portfolio and shift focus towards that direction for the coming months. Many profitable opportunities will present themselves, and remaining focused and engaged within the MTG community will maximize chance for success.

Just don’t forget about Modern altogether. If there is a massive sell-off in anticipation of Modern Masters, be sure to have your mouse ready to click and purchase all the bargains that may present themselves. You’ve been warned.

Sigbits

This past weekend I attended a PTQ, and some buy prices from the vendors were quite surprising. While Standard buy prices were abysmal, dealers were still crazy for Modern cards, despite nearing the end of Modern season, Modern Masters looming, etc. Here were some noteworthy ones:

  • Even though I had already sold them, I saw one vendor paying $45 on Dark Confidant and $50 on Thoughtseize. Either that vendor had a major Modern scene or they were looking for a world of hurt. Many were snap-selling at these prices and with high risk of reprint in Modern Masters, who can blame them?
  • It continues to amaze me how much I can get on Umezawas Jitte. These frequently sell for between $17 and $20 on eBay, and yet some dealers will pay me $18 on them. While this doesn’t mean there’s serious profit to be had, it does indicate that trading for Jittes may provide you with an outlet of ridding other cards for cash without losing too much on your margins.
  • One dealer offered me $5 each on my moderately played Spell Snares. I accepted in a heartbeat. While slightly more may be possible selling online, I know that a possible reprint in Modern Masters could be devastating to the card’s price. And after fees, shipping, and condition are taken into account, I felt the price offered was perfectly acceptable.
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Sigmund Ausfresser

Sigmund first started playing Magic when Visions was the newest set, back in 1997. Things were simpler back then. After playing casual Magic for about ten years, he tried his hand at competitive play. It took about two years before Sigmund starting taking down drafts. Since then, he moved his focus towards Legacy and MTG finance. Now that he's married and works full-time, Sigmund enjoys the game by reading up on trends and using this knowledge in buying/selling cards.

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27 thoughts on “Insider: What’s Not Moving Lately

  1. I feel it might have been more fair to look at entry level Legacy cards if you want to say something about new players and Legacy. Neither Force nor Order would be found in an entry level deck. Check out components from Goblins, Elves, Burn, etc. They lead to the same results as Force if the few spot checks I did are to be believe, but I think they are more valid sources to draw your conclusions from.

    1. Fair enough – though Force of Will is one of the most widespread cards in Legacy. So many decks aren’t functional without Force. So if a new player wants to try Legacy and pick up Goblins, I suppose Force and Natural Order are bad examples you are right. But if Force of Will isn’t moving, then it’s likely that Legacy as a whole isn’t moving.

      1. It’s also very important to remember that while Legacy has a high “up front” cost over a 3-4 year span it’s cheaper than playing competitive standard.

        1. This is true, and it’s the reason I don’t play Standard. Keeping up with the format is just too expensive!

          But if Legacy does stagnate a bit and staple prices stop appreciating in value, the opportunity cost of not investing elsewhere may become expensive.

      2. Sure, just saying that there is likely little connection to new players if you use Force as a sample. If new players would be getting into Legacy you might see something like Flame Rift go up (not that that is happening, but that card would be more likely to show it, I’m sure there are better examples).

  2. “Unlike Legacy, which seems to have stagnated, more players likely means good things for booster box investments to come. If a set is an utter failure, I could see this type of buy be unsuccessful. But with the homeruns Wizards of the Coast has been printing lately, I would be shocked to see booster boxes of Avacyn Restored retail for under $100 on Star City Games ever again.”‘

    But Avacyn is big set and new phyrexia was small one (if i remember corecly).

    1. Avacyn is a “big” set, but it was a 3rd set and drafted for only a few months. Also, it wasn’t a popular draft set, so supply may be less. It’s probably best to compare Avacyn to Rize of the Eldrazi, which is also incredibly expensive (although it was a bit more fun to draft).

      Good catch though, the comparison to New Phyrexia wasn’t ideal. But I stand by my statement that boxes of AVR are good investments.

      1. A big set means that more packs need to be cracked to have the same amount of certain rares/mythics in the market… So it might even be “better” than New Phyrexia?

  3. The only factor that I would add to the New Phyrexia / Avacyn Restored discussion is that New Phyrexia might not be the best comparison due to the fact that New Phyrexia has multiple cards sought after in eternal formats at all rarities, such as Karn, Batterskull, phyrexian mana cards, infect pieces, etc.

    Avacyn Restored will have Restoration Angel, possibly miracles, and a couple of casual pieces, buty so far I can’t imagine that it will have the same appeal after rotation.

    1. Fair challenge. I love New Phyrexia too, and it’s probably not too late to buy a box to make a few bucks.

      AVR has Restoration Angel, miracles, Cavern of Souls, probably a Planeswalker I’m forgetting, amazing EDH Angels…so I think there will be demand.

      1. Griselbrand, you think? Hmmmm….isn’t it just a reanimator target though? I don’t remember Iona ever hitting $30 and she was the premier reanimation target for a while. Is it strictly because he’s from a 3rd set?

      1. Thanks, this means so much to me! I love writing about Magic and I love finance – this is the best of both worlds. 🙂 I also enjoy all the discussion in the comments on my articles, so please feel free to voice your thoughts each week.

  4. I apologize if this is a double-post, but I can’t see what I thought I just posted.

    With regards to sealed booster boxes: obviously the baseline for the price of a booster box is the EV of the opened cards; however, boosters are more expensive than that, so there is also obviously a “sealed premium”. Has anyone done any analysis into the sealed premiums for different old sets, above and beyond the EVs of those sets? What I’d be very curious about is whether sets with a good draft reputation, like Ravnica and Rise of the Eldrazi, have a high sealed premium, or whether they just have the same premium everything else has and it’s all based on EV. This would indicate who’s BUYING old booster boxes: casual players? Drafters with nostalgia? Surely not people just looking for competitive singles.

  5. Wouldn’t DKA be the buy for investing in booster boxes in the current Standard? It was a short set that was only drafted as one of three packs (ISD-ISD-DKA) when it was the main limited format. The big three or five cards that in that set are starting to see play in Modern, and being a short set you’re going to get the same number of those money cards by opening fewer packs.

    To tag on to that… I don’t dispute that AVR is a good buy. Lots of big cards in there, too, that are starting to see more Modern/Legacy play, along with a handful of legendary angels that the casuals love.

    1. I’m afraid of DKA boxes, primarily because I don’t think there are many eternal cards in the set that are worth pursuing. You’re absolutely right that the set was opened little (just look at Worldwake) but I have little desire in opening packs of this set from an EV standpoint. Huntmaster is the all-star. But Sorin is in a Duel Deck as is Lingering Souls, and Falkenrath Aristocrat is mostly a Standard card so far. So I don’t know what Eternal cards will support DKA moving forward.

      It could end out paying huge, and I couldn’t fault you for buying these. I just feel like AVR is a safer bet because the set has already broken through to Legacy and Modern in a meaningful way. Plus, I may be a tiny bit biased because I’m an Angel collector. 🙂

      Great comment, I like these builds because they challenge me to think deeper on these subjects. If we put our minds together we can identify the optimal strategy!

  6. This last weekend I received the following from a dealer. 27 for thundermaw, 9 for Thragtusk, 14 for Tamiyo, 10 for Aurelia’s fury, and 6 for gideon (gatecrash). I proceded to pick up fetch lands. Do you think I received solid value for my trade in? I went with the thinking that these cards aside from the few gatecrash cards are at the height of their value and will soon depreciate post rotation. I would also like to hear your position on Huntmaster… I have a play set and I want to know what you think the best strategy is for the coming months with these. Can they maintain 30 + after rotation? THANKS!

    1. Sounds like you sold a good combination of expensive Standard cards. Thragtusk may see some Modern play, but being a core set rare in event decks I think even that sale was a sound choice.

      Fetch lands are expensive. You could probably have done a little better by picking up stuff like Abrupt Decay and Scars of Mirrodin Dual Lands, but at least Fetch Lands are immune from Modern Masters reprints. But they make me nervous – Wizards has shown us what they can do to the price of Modern lands (Shock Lands), and I don’t doubt for a second they will reprint Fetches somehow.

      Huntmaster is a tough call because it’s a strong card in a weak set. I’d keep them if you plan on using them in Modern. If not, trading them away now probably isn’t terrible.

  7. Thanks! I wanted cards to start playing modern so I missed out of some value for sure 🙁 I have a theory the friend color fetches will be reprinted in 2014. Lol

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