Magic Cards Too Expensive? Blame Greedy Old Nerds.

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You may have noticed that Magic cards are expensive.  Specifically, Modern-era cards.  It's no secret that cards like Scalding Tarn, Cryptic Command, Tarmogoyf and a slew of others have rocketed up in price lately.  This has led to a lot of questions about the sustainability of these prices.  I know QS is supposed to have All The Answers, but the answer is "we don't know".  There's no precedent for what's happening to Magic card prices in the wake of Modern's sudden boom.  What we know is that it's Fostered a ton of great discussion in our forums, on Twitter, and on /r/mtgfinance. A recent thread in Reddit's magic finance sub called attention to this specific fact.  The discussion took many tangents, but here are a few of the highlights:

From user Maxtortion:

The playerbase is getting older and a large portion (majority) of modern/legacy/vintage players have career-level jobs. Shelling out more money for cards is easier to justify when it's a smaller chunk of your disposable income.

Greed. The demand curve for magic cards looks to be less elastic than before (mostly due to factor #1). If I really want a playset of something, I'll go buy them.

Expectations. People are getting more used to these comparably high card prices. As these prices seem more normal, people become more inclined to buy cards again. This causes people to raise prices even more, likely hoping to create an impression of normalcy at an even higher price index. Rinse repeat.

We talk about price memory on QS a lot.  The fact that so many cards are rising in value together sets a new norm, one that is hard to clear out of the mind once it's happened.  The age of the player base is definitely growing as well, with the guys who started in their teens during the Revised era now entering that magical stage of their life.

You know, the one after they stop working minimum wage jobs and before their girlfriend becomes their wife and stops letting them go to FNM and spend their own money.

One of the replies elaborated a bit, and discussed emotional investing (another thing we talk about a lot on QS).  Understanding the irrationality behind the actions of MTG players is key to understanding what's going on in the game right now.

from sirolimusland:

So, the lack of elasticity in MTG cards has less to do with greed, and more to do with emotional attachment. I ran some informal surveys and it looks like people who own certain key staples are loathe to part with them because they like playing the decks those cards enable.

Take me, for instance. I know deep down, that holding my Tarns and Mistys is super risky, but I love playing Modern, and the decks I like tend to have blue in them. So I hold. That said, I can tell you now that if the blue fetches hit the ~$200 mark, I would immediately liquidate.

I think that if it ever gets that high, it would be followed by harsh correction, possibly an exploitable over-correction as "investors" overreact and panic sell. I think $100 fetchlands is the new reality (at least in the runup to Modern PTQ season), and I think anything WotC does to try and fix it (short of reprinting them in a Standard legal set) will not massively affect their price.

As for the age of people playing the game, I can only hope those of you who are parents or educators are passing on the game! I want Magic to still be around when I'm 50!

Emotional attachment to pieces of pretty colored cardboard sounds absurd to an outsider, but it's a reality of our game.  Don't believe me?  Try to explain why an Underground Sea is worth as much as it is to someone who knows nothing about Magic.  Then watch them look at you like they don't even know you anymore.

Seriously, it's that strange.  But in our world, it makes total sense.

I like the theory behind a massive market correction based on panic-selling.  Actually, I don't, but I like that there are people who recognize the fact that over-correction means "buy-in" time.  This happens to our friend BitCoin every few months;  something insane happens, the price is Shattered, but then recovers over a couple days.  Each time this happens, there is money to be made. Another user brings up a good point about the growth of Magic and the increasing frequency of boxed sets and reprint sets. Emphasis added by me.

from foldingcouch:

Magic is growing fast. More importantly, it's growing faster than WotC was prepared for, or faster than they are willing to support (meaning that to produce product that matches the demand and the pace of growth, they'd be in serious danger of collapsing the brand value with inflation.) The result of this is we have more people - and more importantly more people with substantial budgets - that are adding to demand faster than WotC is producing product to meet that demand.

On that basis, these jumps will be the new normal for the next year or two, and then things should return to normal. The action necessary to correct the volatility of the market is for WotC to release more product. This is difficult for them to do, given that the majority of the demand is in out of print cards, many of which can't be reprinted and the rest of which can only be reprinted sporadically. Their release schedule is going to make it difficult to put out the kind of product necessary to match the growth of the game, but they're going to get there. It's just going to take about two years for us to reach that point.

Two years from now we'll have two core sets, another 1.66 blocks, Conspiracy and (persumably) MM2 under our belts. That is a lot of opportunity for WotC to fix the supply of Modern staples and (more importantly) for the growth of the game to normalize.

When WotC has growth projections that they're confident in, they're going to be able to handle their reprint schedule better and prevent the kinds of spikes that we're seeing that are an unavoidable part of the unprecedented growth in the game over the past few years.

Modern Masters could have been Chronicles 2.0, but instead it seemed to do the opposite; it primed just enough people to care about modern without screwing up the supply. Just ask anyone who owned Carrion Ants in 1993 how they felt about reprints. Your mother would wash their mouth out with soap for what they'd say. We have no real idea what Conspiracy is about, but if it's something meant to support cube draft, it's a prime place to reprint all 5 fetch lands.

Redditor Polarbeer101 summed it all up nicely in one sentence, which I will leave you all to ponder.  There's more truth to this glib remark that meets the eye.

I guess the lesson we can take from this is that nerds make too much money, right?

16 thoughts on “Magic Cards Too Expensive? Blame Greedy Old Nerds.

  1. One solution WOTC should consider….if they stop printing the crappy ‘standard’ cards and actually introduce new ‘good’ cards into the pool that are more playable in the other formats it would take a lot of pressure of the ‘reprints’ and kill 2 birds with one stone…hmmm

    1. Some of the most played creatures in Legacy are from recent years. I doubt we’ll see many new, powerful spells but they’ve clearly been pushing the power curve when it comes to critters.

    2. The problem with this idea is inherent in the definition of good. In order to define what a “good” card is, we need to have a “bad” to compare it to. If they just made nothing but delvers and goyfs, creatures would all be somewhat balanced. If they made every burn spell a lightning bolt and every counterspell at 2 mana, the game would quickly stagnate. Without a “bad” card to compare to, you will marginalize how much better a “good” card is.

      As for “crappy standard cards” I assume you might not draft too much. Most of the mediocre cards printed are actually quite fun when played in a limited environment. For example, Charging Badger might not ever even see play in standard. He certainly won’t be in the next Legacy tournaments. But in draft, he can get to be very beastly with cards like bestow creatures or Aspect of Hydra. Basically WotC has a huge task of making Limited, Standard and Eternal playable cards mesh into the same set.

      While I agree that printing more powerful cards would make the game faster, would it make it more fun?

  2. I don’t know if I’m a bit of an oddity among MTG players. I’ve got duals, I’ve got fetches. I’ve spent literally thousands on them. If they got a huge reprint tomorrow and their price all crashed to $5 each, I’d celebrate. Yes, I’d be down a lot in cash terms, but I’d get to use the cards more. I love legacy, its the greatest format IMO, but here in the UK, good legacy tournaments aren’t much more common than vintage tournaments. We get maybe 1-2 a month, and most are £1 buy in, so the prizes are negligible, making it completely impractical to travel 2 hours to get to them. The next legacy tourney I can get to here which is actually worth the effort is June. I got into MtG as a game, and as much as I’d like to make it self sustaining, its a game first. I’m always happier playing it than using it for specs or shifting my draft winnings.

    1. Andrew, that is why for investment sake I sell legacy staples that are not played in modern and do not have visible print run numbers. To save the format Wizards needs to reprint dual lands and burn the reprint policy. If you invest because the game is popular, policies that retard player base growth are bad for business. If you invest for collectability info like printed copies in total are relevant.

    2. Andrew, I completely agree. I have started playing Legacy in a monthly tournament in Worcester, UK since November. It has taken me a few months to get my first deck together (Elves!) which cost me about £800 ($1200). I am running it with 3 shocks rather than 2 Bayou and 1 Taiga and I haven’t found that life relevant except against Burn because against fair decks I am combo. Now I’ve got my first deck together I am starting to pick up duals at a rate of about 2 per month. It will take me about 18 months but I love my Elves deck and will be happy playing it for quite a while yet. I would get a fuller Legacy collection more quickly if the reprint policy on duals etc changed (it won’t) but if I invest several thousand pounds over the next 2 years to see massive reprints soon after that I won’t be upset because I just want to play more Legacy. I would love to be able to play in weekly or fortnightly sanctioned Legacy without having to travel too far. Legacy is by far the most fun I have had playing Magic and if the cards were available loads of people would get into it after trying it.

      I am spending as much as I would keeping even halfway relevant with Standard and will have a substantial Legacy collection in two years. I used to play in 2006-7 for about 18 months then life changed radically and I have come back in the last 10 months. I’m the guy who has 4 ‘Goyfs which I paid about £35 for (ripped two from boosters then £15 each for the others) and have only cast them in one tournament that wasn’t standard/block.

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