Vintage Masters launches on June 13, giving us the chance to finally own some of the most iconic cards in Magic’s history. What’s more, this looks like an exciting set to draft. Wizards set the bar high with Modern Masters, but after seeing the card list I have faith they will deliver on Vintage Masters as well.
If you are looking to build a Vintage or a Legacy collection, VMA is an unprecedented opportunity. Unlike Modern Masters, this set is not a limited-run product—they recently announced, "After the downtime on July 2, a selection of Limited Events will continue for a period of time. You'll be able to purchase Vintage Masters boosters until the release of Khans of Tarkir."
It’s still not clear what that means in practice—for example, after the initial release will they continue to run on-demand draft queues? Or will they only offer VMA events on a more limited basis as DEs and PEs?
What we do know is that VMA will have a longer run than MMA but a shorter shelf life than a regular large set such as Theros (which is heavily drafted for a year).
When is the right time to purchase VMA cards? That depends on your goals—are you primarily a player who wants to hit the Vintage queues that are coming (which will include Vintage DEs, 2-Players, 8-Players, and PEs)? Or are you primarily a speculator, waiting to get the lowest possible price for future profits? Either way, we can learn a great deal from past set releases.
Learning from Modern Masters
Despite some differences which we'll discuss below, the closest analogue to Vintage Masters was the release of Modern Masters (MMA) last June. Both are limited-run sets that cost 25 tix to draft and offer high-value reprints. What patterns did we see during MMA release events?
Heavy Drafting Leads to Fast Drops
This is a pattern we see repeated with every set release. People want new cards and bots want full stock. As a result, prices start high, and drop extremely quickly over the first day. Here is the chart for the release of Modern Masters:
Wow, that was fast. Within 72 hours (June 14 to June 17), Modern Masters lost 33% of its value before leveling off. Remember, every card in Modern Masters was a reprint, so many of these cards had already seen anticipatory drops from sell-offs. That didn't stop the set from losing a third of its value in three days.
Rares Dropped Fastest
In the run-up to Modern Masters, the rares that were being reprinted had dropped in value. But it’s clear they didn’t drop enough.
Here's the chart for Cryptic Command, a core tournament staple:
Cryptic lost about 25% of its release-day value, and later rebounded strong. However, borderline cards were hit even harder. Take a look at Kira, Great Glass-Spinner:
Kira went from 3 tix to less than 1 tix in a week, and continued to drop below 0.5 tix. These, and many other borderline MMA cards were great pickups at that level. Kira gradually gained that value back and today sits at around 2 tix. Buying a couple hundred at 0.5 would have been pure gold. But the key was to wait a couple weeks.
Here are a few other MMA rares:
The take-away here is that if you own rares that are seeing a reprint, they have not yet seen their bottom. The market is going to be flooded.
In a previous article, I cited an estimate by Odin, an MTG Salvation poster, that it will take an average of 477 boosters of Vintage Masters to yield one set of Power Nine; "In addition these boosters will yield 1.99 sets of mythics, 3.98 sets of rares, 17.89 sets of uncommons and 47.23 sets of commons. The 477 boosters needed to open these cards cost $3334.23, and thus this is the maximum value of all these cards combined as long as Vintage Masters is in print.”
This is a good first approximation, but the equilibrium price will be lower than $3,334 because the "true" cost of a VMA pack is not $7 but $5.71. That's because nobody just cracks packs--we use them as entry fee for draft events which pay out in packs. $5.71 is the effective price per pack once you factor in all the entry fees paid in and the packs paid out for a VMA draft.
So equilibrium prices will approach $2725. Based on estimates I've read, I'm expecting power to account for between 1/3 to 1/2 of the total value of the set (900 to 1350 tix). That doesn't leave a lot of value left for all those mythics and rares, and prices will be hit hard if the set is popular among drafters. For those interested in a more detailed dive you should check out this Classic Quarter post here and Odin's original MTG Salvation post.
The key is patience. Cards are going to look too cheap to be true, but don’t buy in until they have hit a true bottom.
When will that bottom be? For Modern Masters, the key buying window was between June 17 to July 2. Prices basically leveled out during this period, which stretched from three days into MMA drafting until MMA drafts became unavailable on July 3.
As soon as they closed down the queues, prices began to slowly rise. As we’ll discuss below, MMA is not a direct analogue, but I would wait until at least eight to twelve days in before picking up rares at retail prices. Beyond that, prices shouldn't fall much (but they also won't rise much either).
Chase Uncommons Dropped Hard But Recovered Within a Year
There will be money to be made on VMA uncommons, but not for while. Modern Masters featured a bunch of uncommons that were worth a couple tix or more: Kitchen Finks, Path to Exile, Spell Snare. All dropped to under a tix within a couple days of drafting. As long as MMA packs were being opened, too many uncommons were flooding the system for them to be absorbed.
Check the chart for Path to Exile:
In three days Path lost 75% of its value. Two weeks in, Path had leveled off at slightly above 1 tix. Buying at this price generated massive profits--in less than a year, Path would climb back above its previous high, achieving a high mark of 4.5 tix.
VMA uncommons that don't see extensive play will drop off a cliff and may never recover. Today there are about a dozen MMA uncommons that are worth more than 0.10, and the rest are complete chaff.
The bottom line is that if you load up on Vintage- and Legacy-playable uncommons at their lows (which we should see 8-10 days after release) you will most likely see excellent returns within a year. Just don't jump the gun on these.
Mythics Leveled Off Quickly, then Bounced Back
Even as the MMA index above shows a drop of 33%, almost all of these losses were shouldered by the rares. In fact, after an initial drop, MMA mythics saw almost no drop at all. Check out the following chart of the first two weeks of MMA:
So if mythics barely dropped at all over the first two weeks, what about over the first two months?
By mid-September, three months after the MMA release, MMA mythics had bounced back to 20% above their release day prices! And despite subsequent dips they are today worth more than ever.
Let's home in on Tarmogoyf, which led the charge:
After an initial quick drop below 50 tix, everyone's favorite lhurgoyf rallied to new heights of over 80 tix. It looks like supply created its own demand--by making Modern more affordable, more people began to assemble Modern collections. And all of them needed goyfs.
Bottom line: There may be some great buying opportunities on mythics and special rarity cards that drop sharply in the first 48 hours.
Arbitrage Opportunities Emerged
During the early days of MMA drafting, it was possible to buy cards at one price and immediate sell at a higher price. Sometimes you could get a lower price by posting in the classifieds than certain bot chains were buying at.
Drafters--cash poor and looking to unload their singles--will often snap sell to the highest offer in the classifieds rather than checking bots. Arbitrage opportunities will disappear as the prices become more established, but there may be some early opportunities to take advantage of price list discrepancies. This is not really my jam, but if you enjoy the rush of flipping cards it can be profitable.
Words of Caution
I will caution you once again that Modern Masters is not a direct analogue to Vintage Masters.
First, Modern Masters was announced as a very short-term three-week release (it was later “flashed back” five months later.) Vintage Masters will be around until September. More product will enter the market, and we are unlikely to see a true rebound in prices until VMA is cut off in September.
Second, Vintage Masters is a much larger set than Modern Masters. VMA has 30 mythics and 100 rares versus MMA's 15 mythics and 53 Rares. That means that your odds of opening any specific rare are much lower than they were in Modern Masters (in fact, the odds of pulling a specific rare in VMA are equivalent to pulling a specific mythic in MMA.)
However, I'm not sure how much this will influence prices since the special and mythic rarities is where the majority of the set's value will be located.
If the set is drafted heavily, singles prices will naturally approach the equilibrium described above by Odin. So even if the odds of opening a particular rare are low, a ton of playsets of rares will be entering the market. That said, we've never seen a set this large and with this rarity distribution, so there may be some unexpected market dynamics.
Third, Wizards really pushed demand for Modern; it's not clear they will do the same for Legacy and Vintage. Modern prices have gone through the roof since MMA launched--check the Modern Index and the MMA Index side by side:
Modern Index since June 2013:
MMA Index since June 2013:
Both have gained roughly 50% in a year. In that climate, it's hard to pick losers. Will Legacy and Vintage see similar growth over the next year? For Legacy I feel fairly confident it will. For Vintage I am not as sure.
Finally, the presence of ultra-rare special rarity for Power will change the market dynamics. Because of this, we may never see a “mythic rebound” and may instead see a "power rebound."
The other huge red flag is the looming shutdown of the current client (v3) and replacement with the wide beta client. Wizards has announced this switchover will occur in July, and has not modified that timeline.
The wide beta is widely detested, and if Wizards proceeds with the forced switchover it is going to lose a lot of players. MTGO Traders and TheCardNexus have already reported sell-offs in anticipation, and Heath Newton predicted several weeks ago that card prices could drop by 20% across the board if the switch is forced upon us.
The smartest play with Vintage Masters may be to wait until mid-July. If the switchover occurs, widespread panic will set in. Everyone will talk about the death of MTGO, popular pros will take to Twitter, petitions will circulate, the sky will be falling, and people will sell their collections. That sounds to me like a good time to have capital ready to deploy.
What to Do When VMA Launches
Draft as much of the set as you can: For the first couple days, the EV of drafting VMA will be extremely high, and you are likely to make tix even with a 50% or lower win rate. This “release window” is one of the few times you could justify playing 4-3-2-2 queues instead of Swiss since the opportunities to rare draft and to play more drafts outweigh the extra prize pack that you get in Swiss. Even better is to play 8-4s if you think you have a good feel for the format.
Rare draft like a mofo: When drafting a new set, I always keep open a browser window with a price list. My preference is GoatBots because they show both buy and sell prices and include money uncommons in addition to rares (Supernova shows buy and sell prices but only stocks rares.) When I have a question about a card’s price, the answer is but a Ctrl-F away.
I am often surprised by how much random rares are worth during the first few days of drafting, and you are bleeding value if you don’t pick them up.
Sell everything immediately: Basically, you want to unload any commons, uncommons and rares as soon as they hit your binder. These cards are a wasting asset and will continue to drop as long as VMA is drafted. (Mythics and Power 9 are a different case; as discussed above, we may see a “mythic bounce”.)
You can use MTGOWikiprice to find the best seller, but an alternative is to just make everything tradeable and open up a trade with one of the major buyers. I usually start with the three Aboshan bots since they have the highest average sell prices across the board. They only stock four of each card, so they usually won’t buy a lot from you. But what they do buy, you can be confident you are getting the best (or nearly the best) price.
Other good options that won't show up on MTGOWikiprice include MTGOTraders, TheCardNexus, Cardfiend, AcademyBots, Clanteam, and Dojo bots. Remember, time is money during the early stages, so don't spend too much time shopping your cards around--prices will drop hour by hour.
Arbitrage opportunities: This is not a game I usually play, but there are lots of opportunities for arbitrage during a set release. Keep a Classified post open with cards you are seeking at aggressive prices and you might score some free tix.
Have fun: I can’t stress this enough. Magic should be fun, right? If you are stressing about every dime then you are doing it wrong. This is a unique opportunity to play a Powered Cube and keep the cards. (Not to mention that Doug Linn has a great article on some of the crazy combos you'll be able to draft in the new set.) Enjoy the ride.
Picks of the Week
The past month I have focused heavily on Vintage Masters and haven't talked much about good pickups for Modern and Standard. So as a bonus I wanted to offer a few pickups.
- Theros Boosters: As discussed in the forums, these are on the rise and could go as high as 3.3. They are highly liquid and low risk. A few days ago they were 2.5 tix, and have since risen to 2.7 tix, but are still a buy at that price.
- Summoner's Pact is down from a high of 4 tix in February to 1 tix today. It should see a nice bounce back eventually.
- Temples: Theros Temples are all under 1 tix but won't stay there forever. These have gone up a bit since Anthony Caprece's recent article on "Bargain Hunting On MTGO" over at Brainstorm Brewery. As Anthony notes, “The Temples will either be the best or second best set of duals in the new Standard, and either one of those things means it is too cheap.” BNG Temples have better long term value, so any that go below 1 tix are a snap buy.
- Geist of Saint Traft: Innistrad Flashbacks has brought this friendly ghost to 18 tix. It's a great time to pick up a playset, given that he fluctuated between 25-30 tix from Feb to May. Past in Flames is also down from a peak of 27 to 16 tix and represents good value.
- Thalia, Guardian of Thraben at 2.75 is another good deal. Should see 3.5 to 4 tix again before long since she also has Vintage and Legacy appeal.
- Keeping with the Innistrad theme, the ISD duals are back at their floor, and should see nice gains in the future. Might have some reprint risk in M15 but they are already so cheap.
- Manamorphose: Currently at 0.17, this card was at 0.8 in March. Very low risk and moderate reward.