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Insider: Holding on for Dear Life

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It’s really hard to know what to do as a casual player of Modern in this crazy marketplace.

Birthing Pod is a card I’ve been touting since before I even started writing for Quiet Speculation. I bought in at $3 ages ago and have patiently waited for my target selling point of $15. As of this writing, the top buylist price is $14. This more or less meets my goal, so it may be time to take the profit and run.

[cardimage cardname='Birthing Pod'][cardimage cardname='Splinter Twin']

But here’s the thing: it’s not even Modern PTQ season yet. That doesn’t start until June 7, almost three months away! And yet Fervor over the format has led to crazy prices on just about everything that’s received any attention in the last several months. We definitely have the Reddit effect contributing to spikes on randomly bought-out cards of which very few people are even aware (I did not know Fracturing Gust was a card, for example), but cards like Splinter Twin and Birthing Pod were foreseeable price corrections based on consistent play in the format.

So I’ve hit my target for Birthing Pod, and I’m with Corbin on leaving the last 10% for the next guy. But is selling now leaving only 10%? If a few big Modern events can lead to price spikes like we’ve never seen before, what will an entire season of constant Modern events do? Without more copies hitting the market, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to think that Pod hits $30 this summer, and I’d be extremely surprised if Wizards has a reprint lined up before then. Of course, the other big risk is a banning, and after five Pod decks making the top eight of Grand Prix Richmond, that’s a real possibility. A very reasonable argument could be made that cards for Birthing Pod decks should be outed before the next banned and restricted list update.

In the meantime, I have sold a few Modern cards over the last several months and made tangible profit on them. Then I’ve watched as prices went even higher, and in many cases the difference between the current buy price and my sell price is higher than the profit I made. It’s hard to be mad at making money, but it sure doesn’t feel good to realize I’ve left quite a bit on the table.

My short-term reaction has been to pull all of my Modern cards out of my trade/sell binder and put them into a box for holding. I may reconsider some cards on an individual basis, but I’m finding myself unwilling to part with any Modern cards at this time, with the exception of cards seeing hype-fueled temporary spikes. Except for a few scattered reprints in Conspiracy and Magic 2015 I don’t think we’re going to see any major printings to quell these out-of-control prices. I don’t think Wizards foresaw this situation, and I know they don’t work fast enough to address it yet. If they had a plan, they would have told us by now.

Don’t Worry, Be Happy

Lots of people are upset about the current situation in Modern. Here was a format that was supposed to be accessible to the average player, one where Wizards can reprint literally anything. But now prices are out of control, with $100 fetch lands and $200 Tarmogoyfs. The masses are angry, and I see a constant stream of Twitter rants railing against Wizards for not doing enough to help the format.

Of course, it’s unfair to say that Wizards hasn’t done anything to help Modern. R&D has shown a consistent willingness to reprint certain needed cards in Standard: remember $30 shock lands, $40 Mutavaults, and $70 Thoughtseizes? And before you point out that Mutavault is back up to its pre-reprint price, remember that 1) it was available for $10 for a lengthy period, and 2) it sees all the Standard play. R&D has reprinted some necessary cards where it has had the opportunity, and will continue to do so.

[cardimage cardname='Mutavault'][cardimage cardname='Thoughtseize']

There’s also Modern Masters. You could make the correct argument that it didn’t do enough to help the format, but it did drop prices on almost everything reprinted for a time. Wizards was walking a tightrope of trying to avoid Chronicles 2.0 and trying to help Modern, and they may have leaned a little too far to the former. On the flipside, the product couldn’t be considered anything other than an enormous success, and you can be sure that Wizards heard the complaints about it being underprinted.

But here’s the thing: everyone knows that Wizards works well ahead of schedule. We saw some serious Modern spikes last year, but the last six months have been nothing like anything we’ve ever seen before. Six months just isn’t enough time for R&D to respond appropriately. Whether or not that’s good business practice isn’t really the question. The fact is that the infrastructure and systems in place at Wizards are not prepared to react that quickly to card availability problems. We have to assume that because it is fact. It’s also unreasonable to expect Wizards to quickly change its procedures that have been developed literally over decades —that’s not how large organizations work.

So the way I see it, we’re inevitably getting Modern Masters II in 2015, and there’s going to be a much larger print run than there was for the original Modern Masters. Wizards may be slow to act, but act they will, and much more aggressively than in the trial run of 2013. We’ll probably get some big-deal reprints in Standard and supplemental products between now and then, but I’m just accepting the fact that real help for the format is going to take some time.

To Everything There is a Season

Where does this leave us? The current situation is that Modern prices are out of control. I did not think I would ever be able to swap my Scalding Tarns and Misty Rainforests fetches one-for-one for Flooded Strands and Polluted Deltas, but that appears to be the world we live in now. It’s more than a little crazy. It’s pretty obvious that the time to get out of Modern staples is during this summer’s PTQ season, when prices are likely to be their highest. There may be a couple of individual cards to hold for future seasons, but I expect to be largely sold out of the format by summer’s end. But what about my personal playsets of staples?

[cardimage cardname='Scalding Tarn'][cardimage cardname='Flooded Strand']

As prices continue to grow, it makes staying in the Modern format significantly harder for the average player. Many players bought into the format early. The price difference between a full set of fetch lands today ($1,422.40) and a full set of fetch lands one year ago ($554) is $868.40 (all prices from MTG Goldfish). And that’s just one of the format staples. Anyone who got into Modern a year or more ago has made a lot of virtual profit just by playing the format.

The problem is, of course, that cards from your deck can be reprinted or banned. In either case, the value of those cards will be negatively impacted, but a banning can have collateral damage on other cards that were only good in certain decks. As players’ Modern decks near the value of top-tier Legacy decks or even a nice used car, players are going to have to worry about the bottom dropping out and losing a lot of value due to action by Wizards.

[cardimage cardname='Misty Rainforest'][cardimage cardname='Polluted Delta']

Of course, if you bought into the format cheaply, you may just be getting your value from being able to play a format which you otherwise would have been priced out of. But as a financially-minded player, more and more I feel like selling my personal playsets of format staples is inevitable. I strongly believe Wizards is going to address the availability issue in 2015, and as opportunities to play at other times are limited, the end of this summer’s Modern PTQ season is likely to be the best time to sell out of my format staples.

At the current rate, we’re either going to be seeing fewer Modern events (for the same reasons we see fewer Legacy events—people can’t afford to play) or we’re going to see mass reprints to make the format accessible again. In either case, do you really want to be holding on to your Modern cards through 2014 into 2015? Let me know what you plan to do in the comments!

7 thoughts on “Insider: Holding on for Dear Life

  1. Great article! I like your comment regarding how it is difficult to be angry at making profits. This is a concept I continuously remind myself of.

    The goal isn’t to make more money than everyone else. The goal is to make money.

    Therefore it is OK if I sell to soon some of the time. It’s OK to leave some money on the table. Everyone would love to sell at the peak, but timing that moment is incredibly difficult. We are our own worse critics. Perhaps we should ease off the self-criticism a bit and rejoice in all the moneys we’re making. I ran through this same mental exercise with Legacy. I got into the format when Seas were $40 and Forces were $25. I thoroughly enjoyed playing Legacy for a couple yeas, and then decided having $5000 was more important to me than having a Legacy collection. While I occasionally pine for the days when I could cast Force of Will pitching Jace 2.0, I also appreciate the fact that I am $5000 closer to having my 2-year-old’s college education covered.

    Life’s all about choices.

  2. i will be trading out my fetches for onslaught fetches in june. Even if onslaught fetches become legal in modern the old boarder originals will hold a hefty premium

    1. Same with me, but I’m not keeping any copies aside from the ones that are sitting in EDH decks, and I’ll probably snap buylist them as soon as I hear of a reprint.

      Or I’ll try and trade them for duals.

  3. great article. I’m in the same boat, i just outed 2 playsets of fetches (catacombs and marsh flats) for 2 underground seas. I think I’m ok with holding on to some personal playsets like goyfs and snapcasters but I wouldn’t on cards that desperately need a reprint

  4. My concern with modern is it feels like you need tools for multiple decks on hand – otherwise you risk your deck of choice getting banned or hated out, then being left behind. This greatly increases the cost of the format, and is the single biggest scare factor for keeping a lot of high value modern cards!

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