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Insider: Price Inflation of EDH cards

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Welcome back readers! The past two weeks my articles have been more analytic than usual and seem to be getting some solid feedback. With that in mind, I'd love to continue the trend this week. The idea for this one was suggested by a fellow writer on the forums (Ksunda), who gave me permission to use it for my article.

Increasing Prices

Recently there has been an ongoing debate about the inflation of MTG cards and what impact the casual/EDH crowd has had on it.

If you look at Standard decks nowadays compared to just five years ago you'll notice a drastic increase in overall cost. A large part of that is due to a) better but more expensive mana bases and b) the mythic rarity. Wizard's original claim was that mythic cards would be more flavorful cards, but not tournament staples... Apparently that never got passed down to the designers or whoever dictated rarity because many tournament staples of the last few years have appeared at the mythic rarity. But I digress.

Back to the inflation of EDH cards (I will always call it EDH; Commander is merely the product Wizards released.) It seems the first thing to do is to create a list of EDH staples to determine what effect, if any, the casual/edh crowd has had on their prices. We might be able to define some trends which could be used to speculate on future card prices.

I did choose certain criteria for my list: a) the card should not be played in any other format (at least not in any high-tier decks), b) the card should not have any reprints, as this affects card value and could complicate analysis, and c) the card should be played by a wide variety of EDH decks in its colors (i.e. it's a true format staple).

I choose to avoid lands in general because they often fall into multiple categories and I wanted to isolate casual-only cards. With the exception of Avenger of Zendikar and Oracle of Mul Daya, which saw play in Valakut decks, all other cards were rarely or never seen in SCG Top 8 Results during their tenure in Standard.

For comparison we'll also make a similar chart of cards that might have been dubbed "staples" during their Standard tenure. This chart appears after the first one below.

So without further ado,

The Test Data

Card Name Rarity Price at Release ($) Price at Rotation ($) Current Price ($) Current Price as a % of Rotation Price
Apocalypse Hydra M 2.78 1.49 6.38 428%
Celestial Mantle R  0.51  0.88  3.36  375%
Nirkana Revenant M 4.04  4.12  6.85  166%
Avenger of Zendikar M  1.74  4.54  7.00  154%
Oracle of Mul Daya R  1.78  1.5  4.01  267%
Dragonmaster Outcast M  4.13  2.75  7.97  289%
Darksteel Plate R  0.96  1.44  4.59  318%
Magister Sphinx R  0.70  0.6  0.37  61.66%
It that Betrays R  2.22  1.27  6.00  472%
Felidar Sovereign M  2.31  2.51  5.62  223%
Dragon Broodmother M  3.48  2.67  8.00  299%
 Asceticism R  0.79  1.79  4.29  239%
 Beastmaster Ascension R  0.87  0.76  1.71  225%
Vicious Shadows R  0.31 0.55  0.25  45.45%
 Caged Sun R  1.1  1.31  2.4  183%

 

We can determine quite a few trends from the data above.

  1. Casual mythics almost always go up in value (the data show a strong price increase in all casual mythics, but I don't like to use absolutes). These are all shown highlighted in orange to emphasize this trend.
  2. Most cards saw saw drastic increases. The two that didn't decreased, but they never saw any positive price trends to indicate they were a good investment.
  3. The average price percentage (including the two "negatives") was 265.6%, meaning that if you had invested in equal shares of all 15 of these cards, you would have made over 2.5 times your investment. All these cards are from Shards block forward, so this is at most a five-year investment.
  4. This data implies that the casual crowd can have a drastic effect on cost increases of a card.

The Control Data

Now to turn to the Standard cards from the same era (Shards and after) to see if they have experienced similar phenomena.

Card Name Rarity Price at Release ($) Price at Rotation ($) Current Price ($) Current Price as a % of Rotation Price
Lotus Cobra M 24.67 7.77 4.90 63%
Batterskull M 18.42 6.6 9.88 149%
Black Sun's Zenith R 4.14 1.98 1.69 85%
Blade Splicer R 1.08 1.98 1.08 54%
Gideon Jura M 31.68 14.16 2.50 17.6%**
Goblin Guide R 4.17 4.14 5.56 134%
Hero of Bladehold M 8.01 4.27 3.78 88%
Hero of Oxid Ridge M 5.62 1.1 1.74 158%
Kalastria Highborn R 3.04 2.91 2.69 92%
Kargan Dragonlord M 7.67 3.73 4.5 120%

 

Gideon Jura's huge drop can be explained by his reprint, which as my previous article explained can pummel price. Excluding him, our control has an average gain of 104.77%. So if you had invested equally in your tournament staples you would have still made about 6% on your investment. This isn't terrible, but it's nowhere near as good as if you'd traded them at rotation for the casual cards (which was still far later than the optimal time to trade them away.)

It's also important to notice that about one half of the Standard staples lost value and the overall average was bouyed by just a few cards. This is in contrast to the casual cards, which experienced increases across the board.

What to Do with the Data

Now that we have seen the trends, it would be wise to put them to use. We should isolate some casual cards that are nearing rotation (from Innistrad block), with an emphasis on mythics.

  • Angelic Overseer -- An angel with a useful ability that couples with another popular tribe
  • Army of the Damned -- Zombies + instant army + flashback
  • Drogskol Reaver -- Lifegain + card draw in popular colors
  • Elbrus, the Binding Blade // Withengar Unbound -- An equipment with a really cool ability (ignoring the cost) and a flip card, so it's unlikely to be reprinted
  • Essence of the Wild -- Token strategies are always popular
  • Grim-grin, Corpseborn -- Zombie + Commander appeal + good color combination
  • Havengul Lich -- His ability is amazing and fun to play
  • Malignus -- Powerful in Commander
  • Mikeaus, the Lunarch -- White weenie strategies are always popular
  • Mikeaus, the Unhallowed -- Undying is already a powerful mechanic; evasion and acting as a lord for nonhumans is gravy.
  • Reaper from the Abyss -- Demon + cool ability
  • Temporal Mastery -- The most overhyped card from AVR has dropped considerably and EDH players do like to take extra turns.
  • Tree of Redemption -- He can reset your life in Commander and has some nutty interactions (like with Doran).

All of these mythics have a low cost of entry and decent profit potential. I would focus on the cards whose abilities are thematic or especially powerful in the right shell (mainly Havengul Lich, Army of the Damned, both Mikaeaus', and Drogskol Reaver). These are the cards I will be picking up and holding onto for a couple years.

21 thoughts on “Insider: Price Inflation of EDH cards

  1. “This now leads us to the next question: How are cards split between rare and mythic rare? Or more to the point, what kind of cards are going to become mythic rares? We want the flavor of mythic rare to be something that feels very special and unique. Generally speaking we expect that to mean cards like Planeswalkers, most legends, and epic-feeling creatures and spells. They will not just be a list of each set’s most powerful tournament-level cards.

    We’ve also decided that there are certain things we specifically do not want to be mythic rares. The largest category is utility cards, what I’ll define as cards that fill a universal function. Some examples of this category would be cycles of dual lands and cards like Mutavault or Char. That also addresses a long-standing issue that some players have had with certain rares like dual lands. Because we’re making fewer cards per set, in the new world individual rares will be easier to acquire because each rare in a large set now appears 25% more often.”

    (http://www.wizards.com/Magic/Magazine/Article.aspx?x=mtgcom/daily/mr334)

    Nowhere is it claimed that Mythic rares can’t be tournament staples, just that they won’t all be and that there will be tournament level quality cards at other rarities too. What is claimed is that they will be “Planeswalkers, most legends, and epic-feeling creatures and spells”. I have a hard time coming up with a mythic that does not meet those criteria so it would seem they are doing what was promised.

    That aside, you’ve pretty much shown what people have been saying for a while. It’s great to see the actual numbers. I would also argue that Magister Sphinx really isn’t a fun casual card; cards with that effect tend to get a lot of backlash at the table, particularly in formats where you start at a higher life total than usual. To me it actually going down rather than up makes sense.

    I find that many of the cards listed are great cards to round out an order I am placing anyway. Many shops still underprice a few of them (at least in the EU they do), I have a prety big stack of Celestial Mantles by now that I am bound to trade in or sell at some point for a lot more than I got them at.

    As for the cards that are nearing rotation, I am in agreement on most, but I don’t think Temporal Mastery will produce very impressive gains. Its price is still fairly high and its effect is often frowned upon. The player itself will like taking extra turns, but the rest of the table is getting rather annoyed when one guy is just playing with himself. Peer pressure is going to keep people from going this route in many cases and as a result the card won’t move up as much. For comparison, look at Walk the Eons, which is arguable even better at taking extra turns in a casual game.

    Note though that this is from a casual perspective, the card has some potential for seeing tournament play and that just might push its price up when some new interaction is found.

    1. I don’t disagree with your statements, however, how do cards like Lotus Cobra feel “Epic”? My point was not that I have an issue based solely on the mythic rarity. It just seems that their decision process for determining if a card is a “mythic” seems a lot more arbitrary than what they originally claimed. I would be happier if they stuck to their own formula for determining rarity rather than sometimes use it to just put in something they didn’t want to show up in a lot of limited games.

      1. To be clear, I am only claiming that this statement in your article is factually incorrect:

        “Wizard’s original claim was that mythic cards would be more flavorful cards, but not tournament staples…”

        Unless you have some source I haven’t seen? The quote from the article originally announcing mythics shows us that apparently they should be special and unique and nowhere is mythics being tournament staples ruled out entirely (something they could never claim as sometimes real world tournament Magic shapes up different compared to their future league).

        I’ll grant you that maybe Lotus Cobra doesn’t feel special or unique enough, I know many people argued that at the time of its printing, but on the whole a very high percentage of the mythics does seem to meet that criteria at least to some degree.

  2. Hey David, thanks for your article. Aren’t you mentioning Avacyn, Angel of Hope solely because its price is already pretty high?

    1. The reason Avacyn, Angel of Hope isn’t on my list is because it’s price has been surprisingly stable (and high) for a card that has seen 0 real tournament play, which leads me to believe that while the casual demand has set the price on this one, I don’t see it making significant gains (nor dropping) much.

      1. Targeting Avacyns is probably still a profitable move, since its price is very stable, so still a good way to out your rotating Standard staples. I never see them in trade binders, and when I do, no one seems to want to let them go easily. It is probably just one of those iconic cards that will have value with casuals for a long time to come.

  3. David, of all the targets you listed which do you predict will generate the highest return? What waiting period must be endured to see such returns?

    1. Well from the test data shards block seemed to have the highest return on investment..which was several years ago..so as mentioned these aren’t really meant for quick flips, but instead solid investments with a low point of entry.

  4. There are more players driving up the cost but with each newer set outselling the previous -more copies are printed than ever. To achieve similar long term results you then expect the player base to keep growing at the same rate which is possible but unlikely. I wouldn’t expect exceptional results 5 years from now if growth evens out but still good returns.

    1. That’s a very valid point. I did consider that, but unfortunately I don’t know where to get data (or if we can) to help factor this into the anaylsis. That being said, you are correct it is more likely to see solid gains, but less likely to see massive gains across the board the way we have here.

  5. “Wizard’s original claim was that mythic cards would be more flavorful cards, but not tournament staples… ”

    This is a lie, quit repeating it.

    Wizards said that mythics “will not JUST be a list of each set’s most powerful tournament-level cards.” (emphasis mine). Which has held true: in any set, the powerful, format-altering cards are distributed across every rarity.

  6. Be careful with your numbers. You are using “Current Price as a % of Rotation Price” rather than gain or loss, so the original investment is still included. If your numbers show 265%, you did not make over 2.5 times your investment as you state. You actually made a 150% gain or 1.5 times your original investment. You would not count your original investment as return.

    Similarly, you state that the control group has seen an average gain of 105%, which is not accurate. That would mean that the average card doubled.

    1. You are correct on the 2.5x mistake. It was indeed more like 150% profit, I did bring up your point with the control group though “Excluding him, our control has an average gain of 104.77%. So if you had invested equally in your tournament staples you would have still made about 6% on your investment.”

    1. That’s a good point, however, Apocalypse hydra and Dragon Broodmother are also from Alara block, but DID show a solid return (though they were mythics, so that could very well be why they didn’t get hit so badly with those packs).

    1. All numbers are pulled from Black Lotus Project (for consistency), while they might not reflect the current price on TCG player, they are all from the same source, which I deem quite critical as we’ve all noticed that the numbers can very quite a lot due to the source, so I’d rather have data from one source than pick and choose which sites to pull from where (then there’d be variance caused by my decisions as well).

        1. MTG stocks does tend to be closer to the current “sell” value, however, their data only goes back to 2012..and unfortunately I tend to need more data than that…in a year or two I’ll probably switchover to MTG stocks for data…but until then I have to use BLP.

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