The Modern Masters (MM) spoiler season continues to roll on with plenty of questions about how the product will impact prices, both in paper and digital form. The recent price increases on preorders of sealed booster boxes recalls an earlier era of Magic history, when expansions such as Legends had print runs vastly below the growing demand for the game. This fueled a lot of hype and drove anticipation for new set releases.
At the same time, a similar boom was happening in other collectible markets such as comic books and sports cards. At the time, gamers were happy to have their own hobby go through a gold rush period of high growth. In the case of Magic, the collectibles were game pieces to boot, some rarer than others. I remember trekking far and wide on my bicycle to locate packs of Legends, even going so far as to scour corner stores in case they had somehow received an allotment of booster boxes. The pre-internet era was a time of scarce information, where dreams of cracking an Arcades Sabboth or Chromium fuelled many a Magic fan's exploits.
Ultimately Wizards of the Coast (WoTC) responded to the high demand for their product by ramping up supply. This led to the the release of Chronicles and Fallen Empires. Both products were the first to be widely available and scarcity-driven demand cratered. While Fallen Empires was just a mediocre set, the size of the print run for Chronicles was recently cited on the mother ship as being a mistake and the impetus for the creation of the Reserved List. That list was necessary to calm secondary market fears of future large devaluations.
Modern as a constructed format can trace its history directly to the Reserved List, which is the barrier that keeps WoTC from growing older formats like Legacy. With no restrictions on printing, WoTC finally has a way to reproduce older cards at a profit and thus we have Modern Masters. MM could be viewed as an attempt to monetize the experience of Cube drafting, while at the same time expanding the availability of the Modern card pool. Being able to sell old product at a premium is a neat trick but if the anticipation around the release of MM is any indicator, it looks like WoTC has pulled it off.
Master's Editions I - IV
Usually MTGO is thought of as flowing directly from the paper version of Magic, however connections between digital and paper Magic are increasingly being made in both directions. The higher set redemption fee is a strong signal that product flows from MTGO were large and getting larger. On top of that, Erik Lauer cut his teeth developing limited formats patched together from reprints in the online-only Masters Edition (MED) series.
The MED sets were primarily purposed to bring old cards into MTGO and to monetize existing intellectual property. After all, with no added R&D costs for these cards, scanning the images and coding them for MTGO were the only steps necessary to bring them online.
But the first two sets largely flopped as product releases. MED was filled with tons of chaff, resulting in Force of Will (a rare from that set) becoming one of the most expensive cards online. For MED2, despite the presence of the allied dual lands, the limited format was badly received which resulted in low quantities being released. In fact, sealed queues had to be set up with such generous prizes and low entry fees in order to encourage more players to try it out. It appeared as if WoTC was doing its best to inject supply into the market, short of just giving product away.
After the first two sets came out, WoTC went back to the drawing board and put an emphasis on how the MED sets played out in draft and sealed. Erik Lauer was brought on board to oversee development of MED3 and MED4. More research and testing went into these sets which led to an improved limited experience and more popular releases. After successfully guiding the release of these sets, Lauer was handed the task of developing MM in order to support Modern as a constructed format.
Modern Masters Comes to MTGO
This week WoTC announced the way that MM would be released on MTGO. Although the product itself is priced at a premium, non-phantom drafts are going to be quite exclusive with a steep entry fee of 9 tix plus product, or a flat 30 tix. This steep price has put a serious chill in anticipation of this product. Unlike normal set releases which feature high-payout sealed events, there are no equivalent events at this time.
It appears as if the online MM release has been almost completely modeled after online Cube draft events, even going so far as to award Cube tickets and accept them an entry for phantom MM queues. If online players treat MM similar to Cube and the format is fun and draftable, then the phantom draft queues should prove to be quite popular. This will inject supply of MM boosters into the market, which will in turn lower the costs of non-phantom queues for players willing to buy boosters on the classifieds.
It remains to be seen how popular MM events will be. But with the short release window and phantom drafts soaking up some of the interest in draft, a sever price crash on Modern staples is unlikely. In fact, it looks like speculating on Modern staples will continue to be profitable. As Modern grows in popularity, in-season prices on staples should continue to see higher peaks. WoTC has shown in the past that it is willing to modify entry fees and payouts in order to pump product into the market, but in this case they appear to be highly reluctant to do that.
For speculators, current prices might turn out to be a good time to buy, particularly for cards reprinted at the mythic rarity. A card like Vendilion Clique has proven itself as a staple in both Modern and Legacy and has just dipped in price to around 20 tix. That price level is lower than the pre-season low of around 22 tix seen prior to the start of the last Modern season. Although taking a large speculative position just before the online release of MM could be foolish, if I was looking to pick up a play set of the faerie legend, current prices seem like good value.
Right now, taking a wait-and-see approach with MM seems prudent. Modern season is still many months away, and it's not clear how popular drafts will be. Still, prices on Modern staples have been coming down in recent weeks, presenting an interesting dilemma for speculators. More to come in the next couple of weeks!
This is a brief rundown of what I am buying, selling and watching in the market.
- Return to Ravnica boosters have settled into the 3.7 to 3.9 tix range and I've completely sold down my stock. This was a solid trade and a good learning experience for speculating on boosters.
- Mirrodin Besieged (MBS) offers some of the best value right now from a redemption perspective. The set has dropped significantly in price in the last six weeks. With this in mind, I've been buying all the MBS mythic rares, as well as Inkmoth Nexus. Redemption for Scars of Mirrodin block will close in November, which gives prices a number of months to recover. The infect manland got down to around 2 tix before it jumped back up to 3 tix. If it comes down in price to 2.5 tix or less I'll start buying again.
- Gatecrash (GTC) boosters have increased to a profitable level, but I will be holding for a few more weeks. The price has recovered from the lows seen at the start of Dragon's Maze events. With an uptrend in place and the fundamentals supporting the price of GTC boosters, I am content to let the trend continue before selling.
- Standard prices have stabilized and have started ticking upward for cards from Innistrad block and M13. With a few Standard PTQs on the horizon, prices should continue to rise in the coming weeks. Geist of Saint Traft has been a solid pick up, but Restoration Angel and Thragtusk are still a little depressed.