Lately I’ve become enamored with the potential of a particular speculative idea. With the prerelease of Born of the Gods (BNG) set for this weekend, we’ll also see a Banned and Restricted (B&R) announcement on Sunday night at Midnight EST.
These announcements can shake up formats considerably, creating instant winners and losers in the secondary market. Sitting on a bunch of cards that become more playable due to the announcement can be a huge windfall. One of my first big wins as a speculator was the result of a previous B&R announcement.
After I got interested in MTGO finance, one particular opportunity did more to shape me as a speculator than any other: the banning of Stoneforge Mystic and Jace, the Mind Sculptor in Standard. This event was widely predicted and talked about for weeks before hand, but the MTGO market reacted to the event with hysteria.
Fortunately I had decided to take the plunge on a bunch of Primeval Titans in the days prior. I don't usually wait for the overnight announcement and then try to buy out the bots of their cards. That works for some people, but it's not my style. In this case the signals were so clear that a banning was coming that I had the time and the wherewithal to act before the announcement.
This was a big deal for me. The play was obvious in hindsight, but actually going through with it and witnessing its success was a huge boost in confidence as I was a novice speculator at the time. You can read over the thread on QS as I talked about what I was doing and then the aftermath in the forums.
This Sunday's B&R Announcement
This time around, there’s no strong consensus on what might happen to the banned list. With Pro Tour BNG in Valencia coming up in February, Modern is the most relevant competitive format at the moment so I'm going to stick to considering this format only.
There’s talk for the unbanning of Wild Nacatl. People point to it being unjustly banned in the first place, so why not unban it? Bitterblossom has seen a speculative boost in recent weeks, so the market is pricing in a good possibility of it being removed from the banned list in Modern.
On these two cards, I think we might see Nacatl unbanned, but Bitterblossom seems a stretch as it slots well into Jund, an already powerful archetype.
There’s one unbanning possibility that hasn’t been widely discussed that I think might have some legs. How about Jace, the Mind Sculptor? WoTC might want to shake up the format, and give a boost to control decks. Unbanning Jace would be one way to push the format away from the Liliana/Bob/Deathrite Shaman/Tarmogoyf contingent. I'm no expert on what this might do to the format, but it's fun to consider the possibility as a speculator.
The Ups and Downs
To further flesh out the potential for speculating on Jace, let’s make sure we cover all our bases. In the short run, if Jace is unbanned it will clearly be a great spec. But we need to plan for the worst-case scenario. Suppose Jace remains banned in Modern; what’s the potential for this spec to work out in the medium or long term?
Well, to start with, we’ve recently come off of Zendikar-Zendikar-Worldwake (ZZW) flashback queues. This means that Jace is somewhat depressed in price as a few copies have come onto the market in the past ten days. Prices have bounced back a little since Wednesday, but historically speaking Jace is still quite cheap at around 30 tix.
The main reason that Jace is priced so low is that there was a reprint of this powerful card in From the Vault: 20 (FTV20). MTGO players could buy this set for $40, which put a price cap on the price of the Worldwake version. FTV20 is no longer being sold in the store, removing the price cap, so now it’s only limited by demand relative to supply.
I highly doubt there is an excess of supply of Jace from FTV20. In my mind, the people who were buying this set were not buying it for the expected value.
The resale value of the set didn’t start out much higher than $40 and currently Supernova has a buy price of 30 tix and a sell price of 44 tix. Patient players were buying this set in order to get relatively cheap copies of Jace and Tangle Wire with an eye to playing Legacy and/or Vintage.
With that in mind, the medium-term prospects for Jace are determined by demand from players looking to get into Legacy, Classic (an online-only format) and Vintage.
The last format is the key to this spec. Vintage Masters will be released this summer as an online-only set and within that set will be the iconic Power 9. Six months from now, there will be a large amount of anticipation for this set, and demand for Jace will ramp up at the same time.
Vintage Masters will also probably reduce the cost of getting into Legacy on MTGO. I suspect we’ll see cards like Wasteland reprinted as a rare, among other staples. Lion's Eye Diamond is basically a lock to be reprinted as well due to its high price tag. WoTC has effectively come out and said that Lion's Eye Diamond on MTGO will not be more expensive than a digital Black Lotus.
Legacy also continues to grow in popularity as a format, both online and off. The outlook for further growth is bolstered by an expected price drop in some Legacy staples with the release of Vintage Masters.
Potentially higher demand for Jace in the medium term then seems pretty good! A bump up in supply could scuttle the potential, such as seeing ZZW queues return in the next six months. However, this would be a surprise as we just finished up a week of them. WoTC has made return trips to formats in less time, but I think they'd rather revisit different formats in the coming year.
Lastly, WoTC has never shown any interest in re-releasing From the Vault sets. Once they leave the store, they are gone. There won’t be any extra supply of Jace coming from the store.
There is a chance a large number of copies of FTV20 have been sold and are currently sitting in bot inventories or in players collections. This is a bit of an unknown factor, but I don’t attribute much likelihood to this. The bot chains work on turning over volume. It doesn't make much sense for them to tie up capital in a speculative purchase with such a long-time horizon.
Taking into account the medium-term outlook for Jace, the Mind Sculptor and the current price reveals that it has excellent potential. Combine this with the slim chance of an unbanning this weekend, and you've got the perfect spec.
You can't count on it being unbanned, but being in a position to benefit from such an event is a nice bonus to buying today. What you do want to count on is that players will be looking to buy Jace as Vintage comes to MTGO this summer.