This is Part five of our series on getting more from your MTGO dollar by speculating and playing wisely. Parts two and three covered why Constructed provides the best value for your dollar. All else equal, you might as well buy into a format where your cards will appreciate in value.
Our last installation highlighted some competitive Modern decks you can buy for less than a Standard or Block deck. You’ll never be sorry if you buy into Modern now, since the long-term trajectory is strong. But if you have a larger bankroll there’s an even greater opportunity on the horizon: Vintage Masters.
Vintage Masters releases on June 16 and will feature over 200 reprints, including the Power 9. For many of us, this will be our first chance to own the most iconic cards in Magic’s history.
As someone who has played since 1995 without resolving Black Lotus in a tournament I am pretty stoked. Having the full Vintage pool online is sweet, and will for the first time bring Legacy into the mainstream of Magic Online.
Wait, what? Legacy?
Here’s my hypothesis: with Vintage Masters we are on the verge of a renaissance in Legacy that will see increasingly higher prices. It’s already starting. Last week the Master’s Edition original dual lands increased by an average of 15-20%. The first order play is to invest in Vintage staples; the second order play is investing in Legacy staples, and I think that’s where the smart money is at.
The Impact of Vintage Masters on Legacy
Legacy is one of the most popular formats ever, with a dedicated fan base that will travel hundreds of miles to play in tournaments. But Legacy has never been big on MTGO because of two barriers.
The first obstacle is community. There aren’t as many Legacy events, they draw fewer players, and the vast majority of online players don’t have a Legacy deck.
There is a small core of Legacy enthusiasts online, but they are mostly relegated to the two- and eight-man queues. For a long time the Legacy Daily events would not even fire (though these have become much more reliable over the past year.) That said, the lack of a large player base is holding the format back from its potential popularity.
The second obstacle is card availability. Until last month, Force of Will cost 100 tix and Lion's Eye Diamond 130 tix. Wasteland is 70 tix, Show and Tell is 65 tix, Rishadan Port is 105 tix and Misdirection is 70 tix. The mana base of duals and fetches is expensive.
These upfront costs create a major barrier to entry. One of the reasons Legacy thrives in paper is that many players were grandfathered in, acquiring their dual lands for $30 or less. But these Legacy enthusiasts are daunted by the prospects of acquiring the same deck online, and of spending so much money on a digital object, which “doesn’t even exist.” (Of course, there is value to many things that “don’t exist”—from bitcoins to audio files to your PayPal account...)
These two obstacles are not separate but intrinsically linked. A lack of card availability has impeded the growth of a health Legacy community on MTGO.
Vintage Masters could change the equation. The primary goal of Vintage Masters is to introduce the Power 9 online and establish Vintage as a full format on MTGO. That’s all well and good, but card availability will keep Vintage from taking off on MTGO. Most people will not want to play in sanctioned tournaments unless they can buy a fully competitive deck—which will probably mean $1,000 or more in power.
If a “budget” alternative without power emerges, the key pieces will spike in value as people flock to the deck. Lots of players will want a piece of Vintage, but few will stick with the major investment needed to build a Tier 1 deck. Those who don’t invest will get tired of losing to those who do.
Printed power has always been a good investment; if you treat it right you can pass it down to your kids (who will be able to sell it one day to buy a car.) But will virtual cards carry the same durable value, especially when there is no reprint policy?
I think they will retain value, but it takes a lot of cash and a leap of faith to buy in. Most people won’t. In the end, Vintage will be a fun format online, but will fire a lot more two-man queues that Daily Events.
While Vintage won’t become a real format, the influx of cards from Vintage Masters may well push Legacy over the top.
There’s another driver at work: the exorbitant cost of Legacy in paper. Dual lands just doubled again, which means that buying into a cardboard Sneak and Show deck will cost you $3,600, BUG Delver will cost you $4,500, and even a budget deck like Death and Taxes now costs $1,800.
In the medium to long run, Legacy players will migrate online, which is the natural long-term home for the format. As the cost of decks rise, players will turn to Magic Online to test new decks. Most players won’t be able to jump between decks or builds without investing a lot of cash, but MTGO will provide a cheaper and more convenient alternative (each of the decks above costs about one third as much online.)
With no reserve list, Wizards has the ability to keep format prices in check (and a financial incentive to keep the format viable so that it can extract revenues from online reprints.) Wizards makes no direct income from secondary sales in paper Legacy, but can extract value from keeping the format alive online. WOTC doesn't really care about Legacy in paper, but has a direct financial stake in making Legacy a successful format online, because this will allow it to monetize it.
There’s a lot of speculation about what will be reprinted in Vintage Masters, and my next article will take a stab at some predictions. What’s safe to assume is that a number of Legacy cards will enter circulation in the next six months.
That includes two of the big players that have already hit the Classifieds: Force of Will and Lion's Eye Diamond. The recent MOCS profile cut the price of LED by 70% and Force of Will by 30%. Moreover, they enfranchised a whole new set of players into Legacy.
If you have four Force of Will, you are not far from building a competitive Merfolk deck. If you have four Lion's Eye Diamond, you’re halfway to a Storm deck. If you have two Force of Will, you’ll want two more. In the perverse world of MTG economics, supply creates demand.
Fast forward a month. What happens when Rishadan Port and Wasteland hit the market, bringing Death and Taxes and Goblins within the reach of most players? There’s no guarantee that both will be reprinted, but I’d wager we’ll see at least one.
We don’t know what’s in Vintage Masters, but there are some good theories out there. I’ll cover them in my next article. I expect the set will contain many desirable Legacy staples that could not easily see a reprint in a future Modern Masters edition. WOTC wants to sell packs, and the Power 9 alone are not going to maximize their revenue. Which means a lot of Legacy staples are going to enter the market alongside the Vintage-specific cards.
Here’s what I think will happen. Vintage Masters will depress the prices of whatever Legacy staples are reprinted, but it will simultaneously stimulate demand for whichever Legacy staples are not reprinted. We’re going to see, on a massive scale, the LED effect.
The Buoyancy of LED
What, you ask, is the LED effect? When Lion's Eye Diamond was given out as a MOCS promo in March its price plummeted overnight. Mirage copies when from 150 tix to 80 tix in a flash, and the promo copies could be acquired for 50-60 tickets.
In retrospect, the dynamic is clear: once you removed the bottleneck that was keeping people from building Legacy Storm and Dredge decks, people started moving in on those decks, stimulating demand for the other 71 cards. All of a sudden, people found themselves with four copies of a card that had previously been out of their range, and wanted to give them a spin.
Last year we saw a similar affect shortly after Force of Will was given as a MOCS promo in January 2013. In the wake of the reprint, you might have expected the Legacy index to go down. Instead, other Legacy cards rose appreciably as the format became more accessible and drew in new buyers. The forums were alight with people saying "Now I can finally buy into Legacy online." And they did:
There’s a good chance we’ll see this dynamic at play this summer. We already have the LED promos and the FoW promos. Both these cards could even see another reprint in VMA, though this seems increasingly unlikely to me.
But even under current conditions, the recent influx of new FoWs and LEDs, coupled with new cards in Vintage Masters (think Wasteland, Rishadan Port, Misdirection, Show and Tell, etc) is going to stimulate interest in Legacy, and prices of the other cards in those decks will rise.
What’s the Play?
Buy every Legacy staple that’s not reprinted in Vintage Masters. And if you have a hunch something won't be reprinted, don't wait for the official card list. Keep an eye on the forums as previews and spoilers emerge, which could happen any day now.
Am I willing to bet the farm on these predictions? Not yet. We are in uncharted territory, and player preferences are hard to predict. And they could decide to lay the groundwork for a “Legacy Masters’ down the line by not printing Legacy staples in Vintage Masters.
But the sure play is to acquire whatever Legacy staples are not spoiled as part of Vintage Masters as soon as the set list is out (if not sooner). Then I’ll be looking to pick up the ones that are reprinted during the Vintage Masters release events, when prices of the reprints will be at their low point.
VMA hits the online store in June, and we'll probably see first previews at Pro Tour Journey Into Nyx. Keep your tank full and your tires inflated. It’s going to be a wild ride.
-Alexander Carl (@thoughtlaced)