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Insider: Vintage Masters Strikes Back

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This week we’ll take a look a bit at what’s going on with Vintage Masters and the Power 9. We’ll also peek in on some good values elsewhere in the market that you shouldn’t overlook.

What's Going on with Vintage Masters?

In my previous article, written last Friday night, I wrote that

The data “suggests that the Power 9 are currently underpriced, though it is too early to make that judgment since there are a lot of variables at play. There is very low supply on these cards and the market could decide overnight that they are worth more than current prices.” We looked at past release events in which there was a “mythic bounce” and predicted that we could see a “P9 bounce” and a “Mythic bounce” after a brief free fall.

That’s exactly what happened. As the weekend came to a close, VMA prices—which had dropped steeply Friday and Saturday—began to rise and continued to gain steam through Monday and Tuesday.

I bought a total of seven pieces of Power on Saturday and Sunday via classifieds and they went up 50% since then (making me a couple hundred tix.) I was cautious in my buying, but if you were aggressively targeting the P9 last weekend and sold early this week you did nicely.

Big gainers

[pullquote]Power nine and rares initially followed the same trends, but P9 recently diverged[/pullquote]Another trend we predicted has also materialized: a divergence in price trends between rares and mythics on the one hand, and the Power Nine on the other.

I was surprised that chase rares like Force of Will, Volcanic Island, and Tundra, as well as lesser rares like Flusterstorm, all saw significant gains on Sunday night and Monday. But while mythics and specials have held those gains, rares gave up the ground they gained by mid week. Volcanic Island went from 17 to 25 to 17 to 14 and seems headed down further.

Compare that to Mox Emerald, a typical special:

Mox Emerald and Volcanic Island followed a similar pattern until diverging a couple days ago.
Mox Emerald and Volcanic Island followed a similar pattern until diverging a couple days ago.

This is in line with our prediction that rares will be under tremendous price pressure as more and more VMA is opened. Remember, if you open enough packs to get one of each P9 you have opened, in the process, two of each mythic and four of each rare.

Note that that chart only takes us to June 19. On Thursday and Friday the prices of Power started to fall (especially Black Lotus, which went from 300 to 240 in under 24 hours.) If you were following the forums you were on alert and were able to sell off and preserve value.

The future for the P9 remains uncertain. In previous articles we estimated, with incomplete information, that a playset of the P9 should go for between 900 to 1350 tix based on the cost of acquisition via opening boosters.  Since then, the Goatbots buy price for the P9 went from 660 on Saturday to 940 Wednesday and back down to 750 on Friday.

That initial gain was driven by speculation, and I get the sense that a lot of potential players are sitting on the sideline waiting for prices to hit their target range. So while there is still room for growth, there are also a lot of packs being opened. I expect prices to go down before they go up, and we may not see another rise in P9 prices until VMA drafting is over.

Packs Are Being Opened—A Lot of Them

I have not been tracking the number of events that are firing in the various release rooms. Fortunately, others have been--including Casey Stewart, a QS member who runs TheCardNexus.

Casey estimates that 50-75 playsets of power are opened each weekday. The open rate was twice that last weekend, and I expect it will hit similar numbers this weekend (weekends have always been the time for the highest volume of drafting).

Based on his estimates, there are currently 500-600 playsets of Power in existence, which is not that many considering the demand for these cards. In a week, that number should roughly double. How many people will really want to hold Power at current prices?

In the long run I have no doubts that Power will be more expensive than it is today, but in the short run prices will probably go down. I have sold off several pieces of Power and will look to this weekend to see what market patterns emerge.

Are There Still Good Targets in VMA?

[pullquote]"These are not the cards you are looking for."[/pullquote]Right now I am waiting before purchasing any more cards in VMA. It's hard, because those prices on rares are so appealing. 15 tix for a Volcanic Island?

But this weekend should see another heavy round of drafting (remember, according to Casey, weekend draft and sealed events fired at twice the rate of weekday events.) Prices will start to fall and people, faced with the prospect of prices falling further, will start to sell.

This article runs on Saturday. From the time I started writing this article to the time I submitted, there was a drop in the price of Lotus from 300 to 240. If the fall is dramatic, this weekend might be a good opportunity to pick up some staples. But in general I would stay away from speculating on VMA right now. Rares are not attractive given their trajectory, and the P9 are risky at current prices.

The one place I would be looking is at mythics that have not yet seen a spike. A good example is Bazaar of Baghdad, a four-of in the most popular "budget" deck in Vintage.

Power is twice as rare as the mythic Bazaar but is restricted, whereas players need four Bazaar. It was first printed in ME3, which was not heavily opened. I think there is long-term value in Bazaar of Baghdad at 7-8 tix and below. Note that it is only played in Vintage, so growth is limited to the success of that format.

I would also take a look at Dack Fayden and Council's Judgment. These are powerful effects that have not been printed before, they are playable in both Legacy and Vintage, and could shoot up from their current cheap baseline. I wouldn't race to load up on these, but it prices drop further this weekend it may be time to stash some away.

Is there value to be found in VMA?

What Happens July 1?

One open question is what kind of Vintage Masters events will be available after Release Events are over. We know that VMA packs will be available in stores. But will events be available on demand? Will we be stuck with scheduled events (Daily Events and Premier Events) or will there be drafts? I haven't seen good information on this (if I missed it somewhere, please post it in the comments.)

The other big question is whether we are on track for the v3 shutdown. I sound like a broken record here, but this is going to be a massive market disruption.

Soon Worth's Version 4 Death Star will be fully operational and could annihilate your portfolio with the flip of a switch.

Where Should We Look for Value?

[pullquote]It’s bargain season on MTGO[/pullquote]Right now VMA is too volatile and uncertain for reliable speculation. Fortunately there are plenty of other venues available to us. It’s a good time to have event tickets. Aren’t you glad you kept your powder dry?

It’s bargain season on MTGO right now.

Many staples are priced to move.

Blue chip Modern staples are a good place to store value. The cancellation of the Modern PTQ season on MTGO, coupled with an insatiable demand for tickets from VMA drafters, has led to price drops. We know these cards will bounce back so this is a safe play. (The one risk factor is of course the v3 shutdown, but this will effect the value of everything, even event tickets.)

[pullquote]Redemption is a viable path to extract profit if you have the time and inclination[/pullquote]Theros cards are at an all-time low (83 tix gets a full set). Redemption is a viable path to extract profit, and if you have the time and inclination to deal in paper you should check this forum thread here.

But even if you are not a redeemer, it’s a great time to buy into THS block and post-rotation Standard. The summer Pro Tour format will be Standard, which means that there will be breakout cards from Theros that are currently underpriced. Will it be Ashiok? Elspeth? Xenagos? Mana Confluence? Prophetic Flamespeaker? Who knows. But right now the index is so low that if you buy a balanced portfolio you can’t really miss.

Theros Index
Theros is at it's all-time low.
RTR hit a floor at Modern Masters but bounced back during the summer.
RTR hit a floor at Modern Masters but bounced back during the summer.

Which will bounce back?

If you, like me, believe that Legacy is going to become a real format on MTGO, be sure to keep an eye on “bottleneck” Legacy staples that were not reprinted in VMA. Right now, a full playset of 40 original dual lands costs about 300 tix--roughly one third of what it did a few months ago. A playset of Force of Will plus Lion’s Eye Diamond costs 150 tix. The barriers to entry are way down.

I would look to target the following cards:

Some good pickups

Check the forums for other tips--there is no shortage of value for those with liquidity.

The Wisdom of Crowds

A lot of research has been done about the wisdom of crowds. If you ask a large number of people to make a prediction or estimate and then take the average from that list you are likely to get a better estimate than from any single expert.

The famous example is when 19th-Century polymath Francis Galton observed that the crowd at a county fair accurately guessed the weight of an ox once their individual guesses were averaged--in fact, they did better than the separate estimates made by cattle experts. It’s a counter-intuitive finding that has proven robust.

Can it shed some light on the future price of a Black Lotus? Our contest last week allowed us to canvass the predictions of 29 informed observers of the MTGO market about what the value of a Black Lotus would be on July 1.

The Predictions

Theuseless/systemic: 75
R P                   82
Charles Fey          90
mattlewis:           99
Matt                 100
Bramster:            105
Robert Osborne   106
Dustin Sorel        109
Jeppe                111
Slack                 113
Susann :             119
Javier Cebrian     121
Mark Nicoletti   125
Todd Stevens    142
Matt Glass          142
Mike Lanigan     151
koen_knx            153
Justin M             165
Jonathan             162
Paul Nemeth     170
Chance               175
Matthew Ronco    180
Chris                 200
Dustin               210
Sylvain lehoux   220
Simon M             240
Philippe Diaz:     251
Jamie/Flez:         280
WeQu                318

Our crowd predicts that a Lotus will be between 140-150 tix on July 1. (Interestingly, that’s around the price of a Lotus when this article went to press, so there may be some status quo bias at work.)

[NOTE: If you really want to draw on the wisdom of crowds we would have used a different methodology. The fact that all these estimates were made in a public forum where predictors could see each other’s guesses is going to result in biases. If we had done a blind contest the result would have had greater predictive power. But let's see how we do...]

Interestingly, one expert hit the nail directly on the head: Heath Newton. In my interview with Heath last month, he guessed that a Black Lotus would be 250 tix eight days after VMA drafting starts. That’s today. How did he do?

"My guess for Black Lotus would be around $250 at that point, but I see it dropping to $200ish later. The big thing I’m uncertain of is how much it’s going to be drafted. Mox Sapphire I would guess around $180 and dropping to $150ish later. Force I think will drop all the way to $20ish and Tundra could easily hit $15."

Damn, Heath--right on the money. You should go into business doing this or something...

When You Run Good…

I don’t know about you but I have had a blast drafting VMA this past week (if you missed my preview article you can check it out here).

It is a hard format. The fast decks are fast, and every archetype can do ridiculous things. If you are not decisive in your drafting and end up in a “generic” deck without synergies you are going to get crushed.

To paraphrase one streamer, “Don’t be fooled--this is not Cube where you can mess around and do cool things.” The designers and developers did a great job of balancing the set between control, aggro and combo while providing enough build-around strategies that no two drafts feel the same.

The set is fun to draft, but can get really expensive. The EV has dropped through the floor so don't chain-draft. And play smart. I've seen a lot of streamers double-queued, which doesn't make sense in a format where EV is this negative. I've seen (gasp!) people crack packs outside of events, just hemorrhaging value right in front of me.

I've also seen people get byes in Swiss drafts because someone dropped. Why would you ever drop out of a tournament when the cost is so high? Winning one round of VMA swiss draft is equivalent to going 3-0 in a swiss Theros draft. At least stay in and see if you can be the one getting the bye.

I was going to provide a follow-on from last week's article and examine some successful examples of different VMA archetypes, but Tom Martell beat me to the punch with this excellent article. Lots of examples of different routes to victory.

My strategy has been to try to remain open and see what’s open. Unfortunately, I've found the signals murky and my lack of decisiveness has generally put me in three- or four-color control decks that can do broken things but lack consistency.

However, I did have a flash of success the other day when pack one pick one I opened this:

Timetwister

It was a mix of elation and disappointment. I opened Power! But it’s Timetwister, one-third as valuable as any other! But hey, free draft.

Pack two rolled around and I opened this:

Time Walk

Holy shipitholla!

The odds of opening a pack of power is 1 in 53. The odds of opening two power in a row is 1 in 2800. Guess I should stop while I’m ahead.

One thing worth noting is that when you have a windfall like that there is an inclination to sell the card and not worry about getting maximum value. After all, it’s free money, right? But you need to resist and treat the cards you crack as you would the cards you buy. Don’t accept less from yourself.

Until next time, may the Power be with you.

-Alexander Carl (@thoughtlaced)

7 thoughts on “Insider: Vintage Masters Strikes Back

  1. The last point is very important. No matter the reason, if you’ve got a card, you have it. You have to think from the present perspective of whether it will go up or down from here. Ideally, you should be able to make the same sell or buy decision whether you’ve lost 50% since you’ve got the card or have gained 100% since you’ve had it.

  2. I’ve dropped about $400 on VMA drafts and I agree with everything you’ve said here. The format is ridiculously powerful and every person drafting should end up with more playable cards then they need in their pool. I’ve also been completely perplexed trying to read signals, for instance opening P1, P1 and having a library of alexandria (which I took for EV) along with 2 dauhti marauders, tyrant’s choice, paralyze, and assorted “other” colors of cards that weren’t on my first or 2nd pick radar. I figure that the people to my right are going to probably end up fighting over some black with those 2 shadow creatures out there, but ALL 4 CARDS CAME BACK. Okay, easy enough, black is probably going to be available right? Over the next 2 packs, I got passed so much ridiculous white and blue stuff that I ended up in White blue flyers that I thought was amazing (a bunch of flyers, removal, and 2 radiant archangels) and STILL got stomped out by a focused storm deck, a 4 color ramp goodstuff deck, and a focused blue green madness deck. I have also noticed that nearly every pick goes the entire time limit, which means people are either thinking really hard or someone is Bobby Fishering Drafts. I have received the random byes in swiss and I have had opponents run themselves down on time. I have also accidentally ended up in 2 swiss tourneys at once and been incredibly challenged with time on playing my games when they manage to pop at the same time.

    This format is fun, the lottery is fun, but man does it hurt the wallet. I am still a good -$150 if I had just purchased the cards I’ve received instead of drafting for them. I am following the advice of the other QSers on here and have slowed my drafting WAAAAAY down and stocked up on tickets to try to target individual cards over the next 2 weeks.

    1. Thanks Matthew. I’ve switched from 8-4s to Swiss as the EV has decreased as a way to slow the bleed and enjoy myself more (by getting a guaranteed 3 matches.) It’s almost always cheaper to acquire cards through purchases than through drafts, so it’s got to be a fun experience or its not worth doing. Of course it’s never fun when you draft what you think is a sweet deck and then it gets stomped…I am still learning with every draft.

  3. HI, I am on vacation and I can’t follow the market, but I’ve left 1000 tix in my account for VIntage Masters. I’m not interested in P9. When should I purchase everything else?

    Thanks

    1. To really answer this question we would need to know what will happen after Release Events end on July 2. On the WOTC site they note that “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.”

      Does this mean drafting will be available? Of just occasional Sealed DEs and PEs?

      If they shut off drafting on July 2 prices should rise, and could do so quickly. If this is the case, then it’s a good time to start stocking up on VMA rares right now. If we hear that drafting will stop after July 2, prices will start to climb in the last week before events end, which could start happening very soon.

      If on-demand drafts continue after July 2, the prices of rares and mythics will continue to slide and there is no rush to buy in.

      If I had to make a prediction, I would say its safe to start stocking up now and that most rares and mythics are near their bottom. But keep an eye out for announcements about what happens after July 1.

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