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Insider: The Temptations of Legacy

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Despite nonstop coverage throughout the weekend, I only managed to spend a short bit of time watching the Legacy Grand Prix. But it only took an hour of watching people play dual lands and cast Ad Nauseam before the nostalgia kicked in.

It’s been 133 days since I sold my Legacy collection at GP Providence, and starting this weekend I officially miss the format. Legacy continues to be both the most exciting and expensive GP format, with decks clocking in well over $2,000 in many cases. And after watching some of the pros rock black-bordered duals and foiled-out decks, it’s obvious this number can easily increase in an order of magnitude if the deck pilot so desires.

But the high cost of entry for this thrilling format is both a blessing and a curse. On the plus side, the rapid increase in Legacy’s popularity has generated a lot of value for players and LGS’s around the world. I myself was absolutely astounded at the cash I was able to generate by selling out of Legacy--a decision I refuse to regret.

But on the negative side, Wizards has gradually reduced their support of this aging format, and now the number of Legacy Grand Prix is being reduced from three (one in Europe, two in the US) to two (one each in Europe and the US). Let’s face it--if you’re not in Paris for Valentine’s day or in New Jersey one year from now, you’re not playing in a Legacy GP next year. And since there are no Legacy Pro Tours or PTQ’s, don’t expect to be doing much premier play outside these two events.

Legacy1

Legacy2

No need to panic however. After all, for the eternal fix we all frequently seek out, there’s always six Modern GP’s and a full Modern PTQ and Pro Tour season next year! That should be awesome, right?

A Loud and Clear Message

Wizards of the Coast has identified their priorities loudly and clearly. Legacy is becoming old news while Modern becomes a center of focus. After all, Modern has loads of income potential since the format involves many newer cards. The ability to reprint everything via a Masters Edition is also a brilliant revenue stream. Quite frankly, a Legacy Masters series would be quite lame without dual lands and many other Reserve List staples.

It’s important to note that Legacy will not cease to exist altogether. As long as Star City Games continues to support Legacy on their circuit, the format will remain healthy and card prices sustainably high. But if Legacy and Modern were two horses in a race, I’d wager my money on the Modern one.

Hence my theme for this article--which format should we invest in?

Modern vs. Legacy

Legacy staples have seen amazing returns in the past few years. We’re talking triple digit percentages in many cases (blacklotusproject.com chart shown to capture historical prices).

LED

This rapid rise in price is not uncommon for Legacy staples. The results were spectacular profits for anyone who entered the format when it began to heat up back in 2009. I was especially fortunate in that the first deck I pursued when I entered Legacy four years ago was AnT. This means I acquired LED’s for $20 and Underground Seas for between $30 and $40. Profits for everybody!!!

Times may be changing. While there are always natural fluctuations for Legacy cards depending on the season, recent trends still seem concerning. Take a look at the mtgstocks.com chart for LED now.

LED2

The drop is substantial here. It feels like the card tried to break into a new price tear ($99.99 retail) but failed. The result: a drop down to Spring 2013 prices, with trajectory still in the negative direction.

This is not unique to this niche Legacy card.

Force

In the Force of Will chart above we see the rapid rise and decline of a major Legacy staple. After a summer of blissfully high prices, this card has also dropped back down to April 2013 pricing.

My prediction: Legacy has become fully integrated and saturated. In other words, it feels like everyone wanting to play Legacy is now on board. Newcomers are opting to eschew this expensive format in favor of a less expensive and intimidating one: Modern.

Legacy prices may stagnate as a result. We will continue to see seasonal price fluctuations, and there will be a slow upward trend. But returns on Legacy investments may be much more modest. I don’t expect 100% gains on such cards as Force of Will any longer.

In other words, your money could work harder for you elsewhere.

Modern – The New Legacy?

Not quite. Without the Reserved List, there will always be drawbacks to investing deeply in Modern. Wizards could choose to reprint key staples as they see fit.

Fortunately the reaction time for such an endeavor is quite lengthy. Therefore Modern still offers a multitude of profitable opportunities in the future. With triple the number of Grand Prix and a PTQ schedule, the demand for Modern cards will rapidly rise while the demand for Legacy cards will become cyclical at best, retracting at worst.

This leads me to a fundamental point worth stating explicitly. No matter how grand the returns have been for an investment, it is always wise to consider future upside when allocating funds. Just because you made 200% gains on an investment before does not mean it’s a superior investment today. Opportunity cost is a real thing.

A real life example I’m facing today is an investment I made in Utilities in the form of an Externally Traded Fund (ETF).

During the first half of this year the fund performed exceptionally well, beating the market when the solid 4% dividend is added into the returns. I continued to ride this train into the second half of 2013 only to be somewhat disappointed by the stagnated numbers.

XLU

It turns out this investment was superior to the average market in early 2013 but the money was better off in other places during the back half. Just because I am up 19% on this fund this year (15% in gains + 4% dividend) doesn’t mean this was a wise investment. In fact, if I had placed more money into other stocks I already owned I would have been better off by a significant amount.

This same lesson is applicable in Magic. Many players grasp their Legacy staples tightly to their chest insisting on a continuous uptrend. You know what?--they’re right. Legacy staples like dual lands will continuously rise. But they will most assuredly be like the blue curve in the chart above while Modern staples resemble the red curve as long as they’re not reprinted.

In other words, my longing to play Legacy does not outweigh the fact that I’ll make more money from Modern in 2014. I have no regrets in my decision because I believe it will be the most lucrative one. Since my primary goal of this hobby is to make profit for my son’s college education, I feel I am making the optimal choices.

A Small Aside – Contradictions

As I've learned more about investing, I’ve uncovered a contradiction in one of my recent decisions. While I emphasize above the importance of opportunity cost and understanding goals, I also encourage reduction of risk. This seems contradictory because reducing risk often means less potential reward.

My investment in Innistrad booster boxes is a prime example. Downside on this investment is small, and I will eventually profit. But it may take years. As long as sellers continue to list these for less than what I paid, I’ll have to play the waiting game.

INN

Clearly I did not place opportunity cost at the forefront of my mind while deciding on this investment. The funds I have sunk in INN boxes could have been much better spent in the likes of Modern staples or better yet, Wall Street.

But hindsight is 20/20 and the best I can do is learn from the past and move on. Long ahead from today, I believe there is still enough upside on this investment to justify holding. I could sell for a loss and have access to more cash, but I cannot identify an alternative investment opportunity that justifies such a move. I’ll be content to stay put, especially since the fees from selling now would lead me to a 15-20% loss on this investment.

Life’s All About Choices

It is absolutely critical that you decide what you are seeking to gain from MTG finance. If you’re in it for the profits like I am, then you may want to consider trimming down on Legacy during the next seasonal price spike so that you can focus on the growing Modern format.

On the other hand if you still enjoy playing Legacy on a local level I cannot fault you for holding. Just make sure you are conscious about the opportunity cost of such a decision.

The more I think about MTG finance and compare it to real life investing, the more decisions I’ve come to regret from the past. My priorities were not well defined in my mind, and this led to sub-optimal plays. All I can do now is learn from these mistakes and put my best foot forward next time around.

I strongly encourage you all to identify what your goals are with this hobby and then make decisions in accordance with these goals. You may surprise yourself with your decisions moving forward. I know I did.

Sigbits

  • Threads of Disloyalty is on the move. The card has gone up 33% during the past week according to mtgstocks.com and SCG is sold out of NM copies at $7.99 (although they have 32 MP copies in stock). This is one card I will have my eye on and likely acquire this holiday season in anticipation of a spike during Modern season. If a spike doesn’t happen, downside should remain small barring reprint.
  • Do not react emotionally to the rapid rise in True-Name Nemesis’ price. Supply is slow to ramp up and demand is significant, but once this Legacy GP is over I see demand leveling off while supply continues to increase. I’m not saying this card is destined to become $20, but a $30 to $35 price tag feels appropriate.
  • Not all Modern cards have been immune to the winter cold. Chord of Calling has pulled back substantially from its highs. Star City Games finally has ample in stock at $34.99 (NM) and $29.99 (MP). This card’s price is going nowhere but flat to down in the next couple months, but if it dodges reprint successfully it will rise once more in the summer.
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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.

View More By Sigmund Ausfresser

Posted in Finance, Free Insider, Legacy, Magic Card Market Theory, ModernTagged , , , , ,

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16 thoughts on “Insider: The Temptations of Legacy

  1. I searched briefly for the reasoning behind that huge spike in Legacy prices in May 2013, but I didn’t find any reason for it. Do you know what caused this?

    Directly after the charts for FoW and LED you make the prediction that Legacy is “fully saturated”. This makes it seem that your prediction follows from the charts – is that the case? One interpretation of the charts could be that the spike brought the prices to unsustainable levels, and they are falling back to their baseline levels over the course of the last 6+ months. This doesn’t necessarily imply saturation, although Legacy may indeed be saturated!

    Any further expansion on this topic would be very interesting 😀

    1. I believe this spike happened when SCG decided to arbitrarily raise their prices, which caused buyers to “panic buy” into the cards below what SCG was selling for, but for more than what they should have actually been valued at “in real life”. It was an SCG price hike that didn’t stabilize at the new prices IIRC.

      1. Probably true. I remember about a year ago. I was helping a friend with a trade between him and someone else we know. As the trade progressed, a couple of Zen fetches were involved. They were using SCG prices for the cards, and both I and the person my friend was trading with said “SCG prices except for the fetches. SCG are just pushing them up artificially, they should be at least a third lower than what they’re chargine”.

      2. I remember when SCG upped their prices on Force of Will and LED to $99.99. The prices didn’t stick, and they’re back down to a reasonable level now…for retail.

        Net I agree with your assessment.

    2. Thanks for your comment!

      I personally feel that with no Legacy PTQ season and a reduction of Legacy GP’s, the Legacy market is indeed at a maximum. That is, nearly all players who are eager to play this format is already involved. For those who are interested, they may be willing to try Modern first due to the lower cost of entry.

      This is why I feel Legacy price appreciation will be driven mostly by inflation but not demand moving forward. Anything could change this outcome of course, but as of today that’s where I’m sitting.

      Do you disagree with this assessment? What are your thoughts?

      1. I disagree to some degree. People leave the game all the time, but they don’t always put their cards back on the market. Cards get lost when mom throws them out with the garbage, houses burn down, beers get spilled, etc. On the other hand there is likely to always be a small amount of players getting into Legacy, though admittedly that might just be enough to balance out the number of people leaving. It is possible that for Legacy we are currently at an equilibrium, but, the player base is increasing and I think a rising tide does indeed lift all ships in this case, so I do feel that at some point there will be another increase.

        EDH has quite a bit of overlap with Legacy and I think that should at least in the foreseeable future push up those cards that overlap. As Magic reaches a broader fan base it’s also bound to attract more collectors. There will be some among them who will want to collect old cards and also have the means to do so. I think there might even come a point where most of the value of reserved list cards will be decided by collectors, particularly the older cards. (I see parallels to baseball cards collecting).

        You might be right for Legacy in a vacuum, but because these cards have broader appeal it can’t be looked at from only the Legacy perspective. As such I see many of these cards outdo inflation in the long run.

  2. I agree with everything in this article. Legacy has been following an unsustainable trend, especially with WotC pushing modern harder and harder.

    So from an investment PoV, I see modern as probably the better one to choose.

    However, what aspects of MTG do I use those gains to fund? Legacy, Cube, EDH, then draft, then modern comes in a close 5th after draft. Its not a bad format, but its just a bit when you compare it to the sheer variety in Legacy and EDH, and cube is cube, for a group that’s driven by Drafting, cubes are our best way to keep our costs down.

    1. I can’t argue with you here. Modern will make me more money in 2014 but Legacy is definitely more enjoyable. EDH as well. That’s why I encourage everyone to think critically about their priorities and goals for this hobby. If money is the top priority, then Modern is where you should be. But if you enjoy Legacy locally and have fun with this diverse format, then by all means you should hold and have fun!

        1. This is not true for the months that lead up to Modern PTQ season. I could eat my words come this summer, but for now Modern is where my money is going.

          1. It might depend on how many Modern players are in your area: maybe on every Standard card you can make 5% profit and on every Modern card you can make 20%, but if it takes you 1 day to move the Standard card, repurchase and repeat and 1 week to move, repurchase and repeat for the Modern card it’s still better for you to be in Standard cards.

            Considering your particular situation you’re right to focus on Modern, but that doesn’t mean it’s what everyone should be doing.

  3. I am in it to keep my hobby affordable. I want to be aware before spikes happen so I can get into cards like abyss or chains before they become very expensive. I might dabble a little in speccing and trading but in the end I’m maintaining a collection, not trying to make a profit. Having gotten in low I don’t mind seeing prices bounce around a little, don’t really want to move in and out of cards over and over again even if that could lead to interesting gains because that would be too time consuming.

    1. You remind me of the savvy Wall St. investors who seek to buy and hold a stock for decades. This strategy is a proven one and I cannot fault you for it.

      It’s easy for me to say: “invest in Modern instead of Legacy to maximize returns” because in 2014 this will likely be the case. But in the long run, spanning multiple decades, I cannot fault you for this buy-and-hold approach.

      1. Yeah, we’ve spoken about it before. I am very long term orientated, I don’t care much for 2014 (unless I’d needed to sell part of my collection as an emergency perhaps, but not going to assume that will happen). As I want to own the cards most of the time it’s better to get in now rather than in the future. Unfortunately I don’t have unlimited funds, so I can’t get into everything now. What I do is get in when I see a good deal, or when I have to (when a card is spiking or when I expect a spike shortly). I all but ignore Standard, only make sure to be able to build Modern decks, rarely getting more copies than I need, but EDH/Legacy are my main focus. My approach to Vintage is the same as to Modern, but, I need to work on the basis (Power and the expensive lands) before I can really consider keeping up.

        When I do eventually get out of these cards they are very likely to be worth considerably more than what I got in at. Duals for example were €15 or lower when I got in, already showing what I expect from other cards (in absolute terms). If I still had to get into them I might expect to see a similar absolute gain in 5-10 years, though I doubt Revised Duals will ever see the same relative gain again. One can do the same with newer cards, but there is always the reprint threat. I got my Goys and Jaces at around €30-€40. I don’t think they’ll ever get that low again, but, it would not be absolutely impossible. As such I prefer the older (reserved list) and rarer cards (P3K), Wizards’ recent batch of P3K reprints has been scary though.

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