Welcome to the last Virtually Infinite article before the Modocalypse (aka the v3 shutdown.) This week was a crazy one for Vintage Masters--we will take a look at the peaks and valleys and discuss implications for the future. We’ll also do a pack giveaway, review potential booster specs, and highlight an opportunity for free money. Because hey, free money.
Update on Vintage Masters
As we have noted in previous articles, VMA is a boom or bust investment—there’s lots of potential upside but there also plenty of safer plays. That became especially clear this week. Here’s the chart for Black Lotus over the past five days:
What happened here?
The first dip was caused by heavy drafting over July 4th weekend, coupled with announcements by Wizards staff that VMA on-demand limited events would continue throughout the summer. This was something Wizards had been cagey about, and I for one had expected them to shut off VMA queues at some point in July.
I’ve described in previous articles why I thought this might happen: 1) they had been very careful not to commit to which events would be offered after July 2, leaving room for them to take away queues; 2) Wizards has avoided running events that conflict with their set releases; in this case, they did not want to detract attention from M15, their signature summer release.
But it didn't look like they were going to do that. Vintage Masters was being drafted heavily, demand had been satisfied, and there was no end in sight to Vintage Masters events bringing cards into the system. Supply had been satiated were in freefall with no end in sight to incoming supply.
Then, on Tuesday, Wizards shook everything up by announcing that “Vintage Masters Scheduled and Queue Events will retire on July 25” and “return for the Vintage Masters Championship Qualifiers Wednesday, August 13 to Tuesday, August 26.”
This meant that of the eight remaining weeks that VMA will be available in the store, there will be no limited events for four of them. They were cutting VMA drafting by 1/3 (from 12 weeks to 8 weeks) and thus heavily restricting the total number of cards that would enter the system.
Several weeks ago I wrote,
What could lead prices to go up is if Wizards announces a change to VMA events (or if the rate of VMA drafting slows because people have moved to other formats). If prices start to rise, there may be a rush to get in before it's too late, and prices could escalate quite quickly. People see this as a "one of a kind" opportunity and don't want to be left out (the way many of us were left out of paper Vintage...)
We saw this dynamic take place over the course of several hours. Prices spiked by 30% overnight, and there was a rush to buy in before it was too late. That is the uptick in the chart above.
Many planeswalkers were not pleased. Wizards had made misleading announcements, like the one from Alison here which implies VMA events would be available on demand throughout the summer.
Moreover, ORCs were reportedly telling anyone who asked that these events would continue.
Wizards got a ton of negative feedback. It must have been a deluge, since they made an almost unprecedented reversal of their Tuesday announcement. Drafting would continue for 8 more weeks. Within hours, prices dropped 20% or more, and are now back to their pre-spike levels.
Impact on the Value of VMA
So now we are back to where we were early in the week, with sustained pressure on VMA prices. Except one thing has changed: now we know for certain that Vintage Masters events will continue all summer. This should further damper our price expectations. One of the reasons I was not willing to write off Vintage Masters specs is that I expected a shutoff at some point; now we can be all but certain that’s not going to happen. In turn, we need to revise our assumptions about where the floor might be.
These cards could drop hard. That said, it's clear from watching discussions on Twitter and the Classic Quarter that there are many people who plan to buy into Vintage but have correctly observed that prices will continue to drop. Because there was no pressure to buy in, they stayed on the fence. Why buy today when I can buy tomorrow?
I am of the belief that supply will create demand by making this format more accessible and luring more people in. I also think that a lot of people will want to own Vintage even if they don't plan to play frequently in events. When the end of Vintage Masters events is in sight in late August we can expect the kind of price run-up that we saw this past week. You want to make sure you get in before the very end, when it could be too late.
VMA remains a risky proposition since demand for Vintage is not well established. Right now, Vintage and Legacy queues are the highest EV events out there and people are buying in, events are firing, etc. But will people still play them if they no longer award VMA packs?
There are much safer plays out there so I would not recommend P9 specs at present unless you are comfortable with the risks and have a relatively large portfolio (or are comfortable holding these cards for a long time.) Modern Masters and the M15 release will affect the rate of VMA drafting and will create a value vortex that continues to pull tix from the MTGO economy.
The EV of VMA
Right now the EV of VMA drafts is worse than tight slots at a roadside casino. These things sell for 7 tix each, but once you open them they are worth an average of 2.5 tix (and that's counting Power, which make up 45% of the total set value but which you'll only see once per 18 drafts). In 17 of 18 drafts you will pay 25 tix or equivalent to open an average of 5 tix in cards. Your win rate needs to be astronomical to break even playing this set.
What could you do with VMA packs that is better than drafting? The short answer is “anything”. But you don’t tune in each week for short answers, so if you want to sell your packs I've provided a few alternatives that give you more bang for your hard-earned buck:
- Theros block drafts: 10 tix (that packs plus entry!) gets you three matches of Swiss. Card prices are low but will rise as Return to Ravnica block rotates and people switch to drafting M15 and Khans.
- Holiday Cube drafts: Cube is low EV, but you'll burn much fewer tix than through VMA.
- Vintage or Legacy 8-man queues and Daily Events: As Adam Yurchick describes in his recent Insider article, “Due to the relatively high price of Vintage Masters boosters and the details of the payout structure, this entry fee and payout structure provides significantly greater value than comparable events in Standard, Modern, Pauper, and Block Constructed formats.” His article is a must read if you are planning to dip your toes into these waters.
Of course, playing Legacy or Vintage requires a deck. If you don’t have one locked and loaded, here are some options to get you started:
- Burn can be built for under 90 tix.
- 12-Post can be built for 300 tix.
- Belcher can be built for 270 tix.
- Goblins (without Wasteland/Port) can be built for 50 tix.
- Dredge, at 380 tix, is really the only option under 1,000 tix. But if you have Power, a variety of options open up to you.
None of these are top decks, but all have the potential to take down an 8-man or a Daily Event. Burn even won a Legacy Open a couple weeks ago.
If you are having fun drafting VMA, go for it. But recognize that you are bleeding value like a hemophiliac at a tattoo parlor.
We are in a bit of a dead zone for singles investments. VMA has already popped and I'm not convinced there is value there for another week or so. There will also be a lot of opportunities during MMA drafts and during the M15 release. There is a lot of uncertainty about the v4 switchover, which could cause price drops.
Until things are sorted out, a good place to store value is in Theros block boosters. Matt Lewis explains in this forum post that each of the three Theros block boosters should yield 30% gains by this winter--not bad for six months in a safe investment vehicle.
Finally, having a good bankroll for Modern Masters specs is important. We don’t know how popular these queues will be (they will be competing with Cube and, for a while, with Vintage Masters) but they should bring some new supply into the system. I went over some good targets last week, but basically anything that sees Modern play will do. This is not a short-term play, and may not be a high-margin play, but it’s quite safe.
Speaking of safe, what’s better than a 60% discount on something that you’re going to buy anyway? It's like when Groupon puts out a coupon on your favorite restaurant.
It isn’t every day that Wizards announces that it is going to be giving away free money. Here’s the quote from Worth:
"During the downtime before the Magic 2015 Prereleases begin, we will be granting every account that has logged in to Magic Online since April 2008 one each of the five M15 Prerelease objects and 35 phantom points. We will be setting up special Sealed Deck Prerelease queues over M15's first weekend that will accept one Prerelease object and 35 phantom points as entry, but which are played with real packs (you keep what you open/draft) and pay out in real prizes."
Does this really apply to new accounts formed after the announcement? People followed up with Wizards, who confirmed that all that had been announced is what Worth said. From my reading, "During the downtime before the Magic 2015 Prereleases begin, we will be granting every account that has logged in to Magic Online since April 2008" the items--seems pretty clear that any account opened by the downtime should qualify, right? Caveat emptor, of course, but I think we are pretty safe.
Release events are usually 25 tix. For $10 plus tax you get 5 tickets, some new player items, and entry into a Release event. Pretty good deal...
What to do:
- Set up some new accounts: here’s the link.
- Make sure you log in: It’s not enough to set up the account, you need to make sure you log in to earn the credit.
- Dig up your old accounts (if you forget your username, search your email account for "firstname.lastname@example.org"). Again, make sure you log in...
- Tell your friends to dig up their old accounts: They might even find a Graveborn or Fire and Ice duel deck in there…
OK, you’ve got your new account all set up and are ready for the M15 release.
Making Use of Extra Accounts
Are these accounts useless once you've gotten in your free pre-release? On the contrary. Here are a few good uses of extra accounts:
- Stashing: Have you ever searched up the name of a card that you bought with a particular goal in mind—for example, selling during Modern season—only to discover that it wasn’t there anymore? I was sure I had a playset…where did it go? Perhaps you accidentally made it tradable during a bot trade. Or maybe you sold it impulsively to fuel a weekend of release-week binge drafts. Either way, your spec hit but you are none the richer. One way to get around this is to set up a bot to specifically hold specs of a particular category. Just make sure to keep good track of what you are putting where or you will miss opportunities. Kelly Reid wrote a few years ago about using multiple accounts as a form of life hacking to make sure you have all your cards in order--still as relevant today as when it was written.
- Botting: This is not for dabblers. It looks like free money, and if you are technically minded and enjoy this particular type of challenge it can be. But there are significant upfront time costs, and even once you are rolling it can also be stressful and time consuming. For one thing, you must be “always on” or risk losing your investment to reprints. You are also beholden to whatever bot software you are using (most likely MTGOLibrary.) Like any software service, there are glitches to deal with even in the best of times, and with v4 approaching you could be spending your time troubleshooting rather than playing Magic. I would not recommend starting a bot unless you have a large portfolio of cards and tickets. If you do go this route there are some good resources for you on QS. And who knows, there may be future innovations that make botting easier--having a few good bot names stashed away can't hurt!
- Drop box for cards: Let’s say you want to lend some cards to a friend but you are in different time zones and have a different schedule. The easiest solution is to trade your cards with one of your drop box accounts and then send them the password. They can pick the cards up whenever it’s convenient.
- Pauper account for friends to play on: Do you have friends who love Magic but don’t play MTGO? A great introduction is to set up an account and load it up with a bunch of Pauper staples. You could buy three or four competitive Pauper decks for the cost of one VMA draft. Then give them the password and let them tool around. Presumably you can trust your friends, but if you use Pauper or Block cards the loss will be minimal even if something goes wrong.
- Getting around bot bans/bot taxes/bot limits: Some bots take measures to prohibit speculators from buying cards from them, or place a cost increase (e.g. a percentage tax) on certain buyers to discourage them, or restrict buyers to a certain number of cards over a certain period. When faced with these bans, I usually take my business elsewhere. However, at times these bots offer the best price on a particular card and I will use a different account to make that purchase. I try not to abuse this practice, but it can be helpful.
- Cube account: Did you know you can run your own Cube drafts on MTGO? The Limited Resources cube page has a good primer here. Having an extra account helps since you can store a bunch of cards on a separate account and use it to trade with players to build their decks. For security purposes you probably want to do this with Cubes that don’t contain high-value cards.
- Multiple Classified listings: When you’re buying and selling cards in the Classifieds, your classified posting is scarce real estate. Having an extra account logged in gives you twice the space to list buy and sell offers.
Some of these take significant time and energy to manage and may not be worth it to all users. But these accounts are cheaper than free, so you might as well nab a few. What’s more, Wizards has run these types of giveaways in the past—one day you might just wake up to find you have three new duel decks in your dummy account!
If you have any other uses for extra accounts, be sure to let us know in the comments.
Vintage Masters Booster Giveaway
To win our giveaway just open a new account this week and post the name in the comments below. I will select one of the comments at random and if it contains an account opened his week it will win a pack of Vintage Masters. (Just be sure to think twice before drafting with it!) Be forewarned, the username "The Wolpert Gambit" is taken (I tried...)