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Insider: Modern Growth Continues

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The dust is finally settling from the Pro Tour last weekend, with one sweeping conclusion to be made: Modern cards are all getting more expensive.

Wait a second. That’s a major understatement. We’re talking major shifts here. We’re talking every playable card in the format (and some unplayable cards as well) continuously rising in price. We’re talking about deck lists rapidly approaching the price of their Legacy counterparts, with dual lands really being the only difference.

It’s madness.

Goyf

The Train Isn’t Stopping

Pre-registration for GP Richmond is through the roof. It is likely to be the largest Constructed Magic tournament ever.

There are two major factors driving this. First, Star City Games is hosting the event and offering many side event perks (Modern Masters packs!) including an awesome array of meet-and-greets, artist sightings, etc. Second, the format is Modern and after the Pro Tour, Modern is more popular than ever.

New players are entering the format every day. Anecdotally, I know for a fact that my LGS has greater turnouts for Modern Thursdays than for Friday Standard FNM! That’s definitely saying something! Standard’s staleness also helps to drive interest in Modern. Let’s see…play a format that’s already been solved or an ever-evolving format with tons of value to be earned in the process? No brainer.

The combination of an excellent, highly supported format, Standard stagnation, and the largest player base of all time have yielded astronomically high prices for the format.

I did not foresee this type of jump. To be fair, I have as many shocklands as the next guy hoping to make significant bank from the format. But if you had told me a year ago my Inkmoth Nexus would go from $4 to $10, I may have been a bit skeptical.

Inkmoth

It’s become too easy to profit on Modern. This in turn makes the market all the more ridiculous. Everyone is making money on this format. Thus, more people flock to speculate on Modern staples which only drives prices higher and higher.

I admit I have sold some Modern cards in the past couple weeks to test the waters. Mainly a set of Inkmoths here, a set of Splinter Twins there. And while risk mitigation was achieved by selling into some of this hype, I fear I have missed the Modern season peak. By a lot.

Nick Becvar’s recent tweet sums up my strategy going forward.

Tweet

When Should We Sell?

This is the million-dollar question on my mind. Wizards of the Coast wants Modern to be an “affordable” format. Modern Masters, Modern Event Decks, random reprints like Mutavault and Thoughtseize are all in line with this goal. In a few cases, they did manage to drive prices of Modern staples down.

Thoughtseize

For each Thoughtseize, however, there are ten new cards that shot up in price because they were not reprinted.

The problem for WOTC is that the format is growing in popularity far faster than they can react with reprints. Short of a massive printing of Modern Masters II, I don’t think they can do much to stop the Modern train. Even occasional reprints in major sets won’t offset the overall cost of entry into the format. Hence it’s best not to sell any Modern cards right now--even if some are reprinted.

My traditional speculation strategy would suggest I sell out of Modern come this summer, during the middle of PTQ season, and begin investing in the floundering Standard format. Standard staples like Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx are bottoming out now, but are poised to drive higher once Return to Ravnica block rotates out of Standard.

Nykthos

Devotion decks will likely become all the rage--in fact many devotion decks are already Tier 1 despite RTR’s guild theme. Yet Thassa, God of the Sea continues to flatline in price. This will eventually change--if blue devotion strategies remain powerful in Standard, copies of Theros block staples will eventually disappear from trade binders and prices will rise.

But my traditional thesis may not be correct this time. Modern has become very popular--even when the PTQ season ends, I don’t know how many players will bail on the format in favor of a stagnant Standard metagame. Modern may have become more like Legacy--a true eternal format with year-round interest.

If this is the case, normal price fluctuations will occur but the net value of the format will continue to rise and rise and rise again. Should this be the case, then there may not be a good time to sell Modern.

Even if WOTC inevitably announces a Modern Masters II, the overall impact on the format may still be net positive--more players will pick up Modern after drafting MMA2 and prices of non-reprinted cards will rise, offsetting small drops in reprinted staples.

While I’ve historically been very risk-averse, this may be a gamble I’m willing to make. I bought into Legacy just before the Legacy boom, which yielded me significant, unexpected profits. Similarly I bought into Modern over the past couple years just as the format gained traction. While I incorrectly sold out of some staples, I still maintain a decent Modern collection. I may let it ride this time, only selling into obvious hype like Amulet of Vigor.

If I go this route, selling some Modern this summer would be okay, but I’d largely continue to sit on the collection.

Time Will Tell

I wish I had the answer. I wish I could predict the exact peak of Modern. But if Modern continues current trends and evolves into Legacy 2: Another Expensive Format, there may not be a peak. The reality is that this format may become as expensive as Legacy, but with many, many more players able to enter the format. Quantities are much higher.

Modern can support a much larger player base, and it is being tested right now. If players enjoy the format enough, they’ll maintain their Modern collections year-round just like Legacy. Reprints will only enable more players to enter the format. This may have short-term effects on price, but the end results will be that prices inevitably go higher.

In this scenario, prices continue to rise indefinitely. Wizards will do what they can to reprint cards a few at a time, but new cards will take their place. Reprint Thoughtseize? Now fetchlands get expensive. They’ll reprint fetches. But then shocklands and manlands will jump up in price.

This vicious cycle may be the future for Modern. I sure hope it's the case, because it means significant opportunities to profit by jumping from one set of Modern staples to another depending on which ones dodge reprints.

Either way, I suspect the Modern boom is only beginning. If true, prices are nowhere near their ceilings. Invest correctly, and you’ll be profiting on the greatest format boom since Legacy.

Sigbits

I’ve noticed some wild price jumps on Modern stuff lately. Have you?

  • Remember when Modern Masters booster boxes seemed plentiful, and could be purchased for sub-$250 even from retailers? No more. Try $350 and rising. The chance at opening a $200 (yes, retail is $199.99) Tarmogoyf is very enticing. And even if you open a “boring” rare like Cryptic Command, you’re still doing quite well. Even Cryptic is nearly sold out at $49.99!
  • Jund was weakened by the banning of Deathrite Shaman in Modern. Guess what. Liliana of the Veil doesn’t care. She’s still $79.99 at retail, and SCG has one foil copy in stock for $249.99!
  • Star City Games is sold out of many other Modern staples. Inkmoth Nexus: sold out at $9.99. Past in Flames: sold out at $5.99. Scalding Tarn: sold out at $79.99. Noble Hierarch: almost sold out at $59.99. The list goes on. If you think Modern staples are done rising, just look at how low SCG is on their stock and think about how they’ll restock on these cards. By raising their buy prices, much as they did on Legacy staples a few years ago.

39 thoughts on “Insider: Modern Growth Continues

  1. Another great and eye opening article. So it’s never a safe time or there’s no reason to dump modern cards at all in the forseeable future?, I was contemplating on dumping my excess fetches sometime within the next 4 months, however they just keep booming. Even the event deck doesn’t scare me anymore because of your article. What’s your feeling towards my reaction is it fair based on your theory?, event deck and conspiracy having modern staples?

    1. It’s always wise to take profits on occasion, but I don’t expect Modern prices to drop much in the future. The contrary is more likely. Just be careful about reprints – they can hurt prices on SOME cards. Modern as a whole probably won’t be getting cheaper going forward though.

      Fetches in particular I am uncomfortable holding because they could easily be reprinted in significant quantity. Even in a Standard block or core set. Quantities like that will definitely drag prices down significantly. The Event deck doesn’t scare me though. A significant print run is required to make a true dent in Fetch Land pricing.

  2. The next wave is foiling of modern decks. It’s coming, get ready to see some insane foil prices in modern.

    The cost of regular decks will drop, but that won’t stop people from wanting “pimp” decks.

        1. But can Wizards reprint enough staples to actually make the format cheaper? Feels like each time they’ve tried, they just created more demand for the format driving most prices higher (save those specifically reprinted cards).

            1. Modern Masters helped more so than reprinting of Mutavault or Thoughtseize. That’s for sure.

              Similarly, Commander decks also helped drive interest in the format…far more than Doubling Season’s reprint in MMA.

  3. Rhetorical question for everyone to ponder….what is preventing WOTC from printing more MMA to drive prices down? Oversaturation of sets? (Journey, Conspiracy, M15) Overcrowded printers?

    I also took some profits on some extra fetches given the higher probability of reprint. I don’t feel bad about this as I still have some to sell more if they rise but also mitigate my reprint risk and give myself some needed cash to buy other cards that have yet to rise.

    1. Selling Fetches feels OK to me. I am talking more about my premature selling of Goyf, Bob, Clique, Splinter Twin, a few Inkmoth Nexus, etc. These won’t go down without a reprint, and even then the reprint would have to be in significant quantity.

      So really it becomes a game of chicken. Hold all your Modern staples as long as they won’t be reprinted. Sell ones you fear may be reprinted…but I don’t suspect prices will just drop on their own.

  4. I’ve been selling Nykthos at $8 for a month, because most of the good devotion enablers will be gone –

    Frostburn Weird, Tidebinder, Nightveil Specter, Ash Zealot, Burning-Tree, Boros Reckoner. Try building a Thassa deck out of only Theros and BotG, and you’ll find that it’s almost impossible.

    As for Modern, I’m thinking to myself, I did not know Birthing Pod was a pick up at $5. Now I know it WAS a good pick up at $5 (simply because it reached $10), but is it a good pick up at $10? Maybe, but I’m really not sure. Think of it more holistically. If we didn’t buy at $5 but we buy in at $10, we were wrong at some point that’s for sure. I’m not saying we shouldn’t buy it at $10 because we did not buy at $5 – after all, maybe it will reach $20. What I’m saying is that it’s good food for thought in retrospect, once the season is over.

    I would buy some Thoughtseize though, if it’s low enough.

    1. That’s exactly what I was thinking as I read that part of the article. The best devotion cards all rotate out in October….you lose Nightveil Specter, Tidebinder Mage, Boros Reckoner, Underworld Connections, Desecration Demon, basically a large portion of the enablers. The devotion mechanic itself is best when the card pool is largest so I actually expect Nykthos to dip with rotation because devotion will be a worse strategy (unless the loss of shocklands (and the current poor mana fixing doesn’t get better) pushes 3 color decks out the door)..

      1. Interesting point. I didn’t take this perspective – the traditional approach of assessing powerful cards going into rotation may not function correctly here due to Theros block’s dependence on a larger card pool.

        I’ll think on this some more. Thanks for the observations!!

    2. I do have my eye on Thoughtseize. It’ll get there eventually even with the reprint in Theros. But more copies are still being opened in force via drafts. Need to wait.

  5. Think in terms of stoneforge mystic. It was a two of in an event deck, so it kept the price suppressed past normal means. Birthing pod was that way as well. Pod will start growing at a very fast rate when it hits the second spike, imo, price memory on pod is what currently is hurting it. Once modern ptq season hits, it and melira are going to blow up.

    1. I sure hope so. But Pod is a tricky deck to play, so maybe demand won’t be as high as an easier deck, like Splinter Twin?

      Melira is only a 1-of or 2-of in Pod lists now. I don’t think she’ll blow up. $5 feels OK but no higher.

        1. Yeah, I wouldn’t count on it this year. $5 retail…possibly. But eBay prices more likely to be in the $3-$4 range. Still pretty good for you I bet.

  6. Great article Sig. One question I have though is about shocklands. We all have been hoarding these things for awhile, in anticipation of a jump. Should we offload these now and pick them up again at rotation, or do you think the price isn’t going to drop, only go up?

    1. Thanks for the comment! Your question is worth a lot of money to many subscribers to this site, including myself. I don’t have a definite answer. It FEELS like Shock Land prices are buoyed at least somewhat by Modern. They do see some Standard play as well, however, so there will be additional copies hitting the market come rotation. Supply is quite high, too, so the price may drop a little bit. But I think we’re looking at minor fluctuations overall – I don’t know if I want to go through the effort of selling all of my Shocks only to buy them back for a buck or two cheaper in six months. It will be easier and more efficient to just sit on them longer.

      This is where I’m currently at. I don’t want to sell these and get burned like I was with Zen fetches. I’d encourage you to take this question to the forums (there’s a thread about Shock Lands) and see what others are planning to do.

      1. Historically, cards that are clearly eternal playable do not drop at rotation. Liliana, Snapcaster, and fetchlands, none of them dropped one bit at rotation, and I don’t expect shocklands to dip either.

        1. No, historically they DO drop. Even fetches dropped a smidgen. That’s why INN block was so shocking to a lot of people. They didn’t realize the change in mass consciousness: people finally caught on not to dump their rotating staples, either because they finally had enough examples of see eternal cards hit huge heights post-rotation to wise up, or because Modern implanted itself enough that they decided to “hold them for modern”.

          1. Agree with QED2 here, though my observations are anecdotal. i.e. I found many more fetch lands in trade binders post-rotation than pre-rotation. Additionally, people were happy to sell their Zen fetches for sub $10 after rotation. No matter how you cut it, there are still players who live and die by Standard and want nothing to do with older cards they can’t use.

            Once that supply dries up, prices rebound. Modern has likely helped accelerate that rebound. But even just a couple years ago, there was a nice gap in opportunity to grab rotated cards. Heck, look at Scars of Mirrodin Fast Lands. We knew they would see play in Modern, yet even retailers dropped prices down to $1.49 for Razorverge Thicket and $2.99 for Seachrome Coast / Darkslick Shores.

  7. It’s impossible for Wizards to keep Modern prices low:

    – They print new sets and ever set is going to have some number of Modern relevant cards, as such the number of allowed and relevant cards keeps growing (not all new cards will make older ones obsolete).

    – Magic is growing, more people want to obtain the same cards that have a finite supply

    – Older cards get lost, wear, accidental washing, mother cleaning your room, etc. reducing the supply

    – Wizards can’t keep reprinting the same cards or people won’t buy them (see core sets), there has to be variation in the reprint sets

    Give it enough time and the format will always grow too large to take a reasonable sized chunk out of the cost of the average deck by reprinting. The question is of course how long it will take before reprints no longer work. It could be 5 years, 10, 20, who knows, but it will happen as card age, playerbase grows and the number of cards int he format grows.

    I think for Wizards to keep deck costs under control they will at some point in the distant future be forced to introduce a more modern Modern format, let’s say perhaps from RTR forward. If that format becomes too expensive they might start from whatever set they release in 2020 forward, etc. I doubt much can be done based on this today, but, I would certainly like Sig’s suggesting expect Modern to behave a lot like Legacy.

    1. Thanks for the comment! Great explanation on growth of Modern. Gosh, another format – you think it’s possible??? Not for many years I’d imagine, but I can see it happening. Maybe bring something Extended-like back as a new format? Something with a much larger card pool, but with rotation once/year? Of course that just creates another format to drive higher demand on multi-format all-stars.

      Imagine if Wizards created Modern 2.0, RTR forward – stuff like Abrupt Decay, Thoughtseize would go through the roof because of their cross-format playability.

      Either way, as Magic grows prices grow. Prices on older Modern cards grow more quickly. Especially as interest in this format explodes.

      1. I think it will be many years yet, but I see no other way they can keep up with the growth. This is of course assuming the player base keeps increasing, aka, they keep doing their job.

        I have no idea how they’ll approach it, though I like to think it will be another “Eternal” format. I just took RTR as a starting point because many seem to think a lot of it was printed, a later point is probably more likely.

  8. On new printings and thier effects on price: see modern masters, watch remand. Demand for these cards isn’t waining. Shocklands are an interesting study in demand supply dynamics. Plenty of supply but enough demand to make shocks the most liquid part of my inventory.

    Modern is not going anywhere, but magic is seasonal. Taking money today is not going to prevent anyone from being able to profit later. Spikes are something I sell into, for example. I am currently selling/trading into alpha rares. Izzet charm is still cheap and easy to aquire so I am hoarding those.

    I am a contrarian by nature, so as people pile into a sure thing (modern), I start to get anxious.

    1. I am normally somewhat contrarian in strategy as well. I try to invest in the stock market when others are jumping ship, for example. In my opinion if you pick a solid stock (card) even if out of favor, the price will recover long term. Birds of Paradise is an excellent example. That card has been printed 100 times and is still a $3.50 card. Or how about Blood Moon, which just spiked after being $6 for years.

      That being said, I think momentum cannot be ignored in this case. Modern has all the momentum, and I don’t see that growth slowing down in the coming months. That’s why I’m content with recommending a hold – at least until the summer. Modern prices have no reason to drop in the near term, except for the few reprinted cards….which no one can predict.

  9. I agree with you 100%. The “Out of Stock” likely does not mean they truly have 0 in inventory. I’m inclined to believe the latter of your two scenarios – that SCG has some in stock but is waiting to see where the market price settles before repricing and relisting stock.

  10. Guys? Aren’t we getting a little too enthused about this?

    Think about shocklands. Everyone knew they were good investments. Everyone hoarded them. And due to the hoarding, they suddenly became (relatively) bad investments.

    Now, correct me if I’m wrong, but every time shockland prices tried to go up, the market suddenly flooded as tons and tons of people unloaded their stock. Prices dropped right back to where they were.

    Now…if Modern becomes the new investment vehicle of choice, it seems likely that the same thing will happen. Prices spike, everyone unloads, and then we’re back where we’re started.

    But lets assume that doesn’t happen. Maybe Reddit has a collective stroke and has to drop out of investing. We’ve still got a problem.

    Modern is in something of a bubble. People see prices going up and up and want to buy their cards before it goes higher. This makes prices go higher. But…prices can’t rise forever.

    I remember something from an economics class I’ve taken. Its a concept called substitution, or something along those lines.

    The basic idea is that after a good reaches far enough above the price of similar goods, people start looking for substitutes for that expensive good. Instead of a car, they buy a motorcycle, or a bicycle, or maybe they just stop going places.

    We’re okay as long as Magic players are buying the metaphorical motorcycles and bicycles. Those are still Magic cards. But when they stop going places (known as quitting the game or finding a new card game that doesn’t require you to sell organs to play it) we run into a problem.

    I’m not saying there isn’t an opportunity for profit here, but…don’t assume the well is bottomless.

    1. I don’t see the well as bottomless. But I also recognize that the train is still going.

      But your substitution argument may not be without flaws. Consider how successful and popular Legacy is despite the even HIGHER cost of entry. Obviously there are enough people who do prefer to play Magic with $4,000 worth of cards rather than buy a metaphorical (or real, for that matter) motorcycle. There is a certain joy that comes from playing competitive, engaging games of Magic that isn’t easily substituted. Let’s face it: there were attempts at replacements in this sector and WOTC went after them all legally. This really is the only cat in town right now. And with GP and PT payouts going higher, there’s even financial incentive to keep pushing in the world of MTG.

      Is Modern in a bubble (implying a major correction ahead) or are prices just catching up to the new reality. That many players want Tarmogoyf and Scalding Tarn in their Modern deck to be competitive with and there just aren’t as many of these cards as there are Shock Lands because print runs were much smaller 2+ years ago.

    1. Selling Modern cards during Modern season seems perfectly fine. I was mainly trying to be provocative with the comaprison to Legacy. If the format is truly Eternal, seasonality will matter less in the future. Prices will fluctuate, but in a less meaningful way. Of course this time around it may be different.

  11. @Andrew Adams: word. I see this all the time, everyone playing catchup. I don’t care, I sell when others are buying. There are plenty of substitute plays in mtg, including undervalued modern playables. Buylisting my snaps now.

    SCG is playing a dangerous game when it sells out of card a or b. I read comics as a kid in the same store I learned to play competitive mtg. Special editions, store owners hiding supply, blew the bottom out of a market with high level artists and writers. Shocks are a great example. I recommended them, they have done nothing and I lost no money. Because I let them go when I have interested buyers at modest gains. Volume allows me to do that, if I wanted to make bigger returns I’d buy stuff that is actually rare (hard to do without printrun #s)…

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