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Insider: A Scrutinizing Look at Legacy

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I should have been at GP New Jersey. After all, my parents live there and it was my turn to visit them and not the other way around. Instead, to maximize irony, my father came to visit me in lovely Cincinnati, Ohio, where it snowed over the weekend.

No Legacy Grand Prix for me this time.

But my absence from this monumental event won’t deter me from providing some perspective on the health of Legacy. The third largest GP of all time, Legacy sure shows signs of a thriving player base. This is absolutely critical in order to ensure that our $300 Underground Seas and $80 Force of Wills maintain their value.

So with this kind of turnout, Legacy is sure to be as healthy as ever, right?

Well, not exactly. Rumor has it, a number of players actually submitted Standard decks for their entry just to get all the swag Star City Games offered for participating in the event. Between the playmate, promo card, and sleeves, you’re likely to recoup your entry fee just by showing up for round one.

Perhaps the turnout at this event isn’t a completely accurate reflection of Legacy’s health after all. Let’s dig a little deeper.

Legacy Cards

I have been tracking a number of Legacy staples lately, and their outlook has actually been a bit disappointing. Many cards are performing much like that of Standard staples – listlessly drifting in a downward direction.

Check out oft-favorite Show and Tell, which has done nothing but drift downward after peaking near $80.

Show and Tell

You may point out that the blue sorcery is extremely out of favor right now due to the fall in popularity of Sneak ‘n Show.

Fair enough, I suppose that’s a fair statement. Would you prefer we look at the chart for something more ubiquitous in Legacy, such as Force of Will?

Force

Yet another significant drop off highs. Though one could make the argument that the same thing happened in Winter 2013 as well, and after the winter passed we saw all time highs. But for now, the overall trajectory is negative.

You may point out that Force of Will isn’t always a 4-of anymore. It is quite sub-optimal in a mirror match between control decks, for example, because the card disadvantage becomes a significant drawback.

Very well, let’s see if Wasteland is any better.

Wasteland

Not even close – Wasteland has suffered one of the most severe drops after spiking back in early Spring. Perhaps the uncommon land got a little overextended during a hyped buyout. We appear to be leveling out at last, but I suspect the resultant price once stabilized will be only marginally higher than the pre-spike price. Perhaps $70 vs. $60--but that’s a far cry from the $125 peak!

You may say that Wasteland is also out of favor right now, and that RUG Delver--one of the most dominant strategies in Legacy--can’t afford to run a full set of Wastelands due to their greedy mana bases.

Fair enough. Let’s look at a critical piece of any U/R/x Delver deck – Volcanic Island, which received a good deal of press in MTG Finance world this past weekend.

Volc

Well, I suppose with this chart we’ve at least leveled out. But the card is still $50 off its peak of $300. The chart doesn’t do the recent drop justice because the Dual Land is still light years ahead of its $120 price point from less than a year ago.

Still, a 20% drop off highs is nothing to ignore.

IS Legacy Healthy?

The assumption heading into this article was that Grand Prix New Jersey’s stellar turnout was a testament to Legacy’s popularity and strength. But the price chart of many cards suggest this isn’t a sure thing. Perhaps there are some other forces at play here, influencing prices negatively.

For example, there is the invention of Modern. Perhaps would-be Legacy players are instead gravitating toward Modern’s lower cost of entry. The fact that Wizards has demonstrated their willingness to reprint cards primarily based on value (looking at you, Thoughtseize) could be a warming feeling to someone interested in building a deck for a non-rotating format.


Can’t afford those Tarmogoyfs? Don’t worry, Wizards will probably reprint them within a year or so. In the meantime you can play a budget deck like Burn or Robots to get you through the year. Besides, it’s not like we have traditional Modern PTQ’s anymore, as you’ll now have to convince your LGS to hold Modern PTQQ’s first. So a year’s wait isn’t so bad.

But I’m not sure if this thesis holds up when the data is scrutinized. For example, take note that Volcanic Island spiked back in April 2014. That trend is remarkably similar to Modern favorite Birthing Pod's at that time.

Pod

Clearly there were enough players and speculators alike to drive up prices of both Legacy and Modern staples simultaneously. Therefore I don’t think Modern competition is the answer.

Another possibility is that Legacy prices were simply overinflated from hype. This is a thesis I can get behind because so many card prices jumped up suddenly (Wasteland being the primary culprit). I’ve discussed how this is a very common trend on hyped cards due to the small delay in new supply after a surge in demand. The USPS has to do their job, after all, and shipments don’t happen overnight.

One final thesis worth considering is that Magic in general has shifted a bit downward in prices. Perhaps there are just too many cards worth owning, so there is not as much convergence on a single target.

This theory could explain why we’ve seen Standard, Modern, and Legacy cards all drift downward over the last few months. Maybe players are finally tapped out of cash and simply will not prioritize $300 Volcanic Islands, $125 Wastelands, $20 Birthing Pods, etc.

Something’s gotta give, and when Magic card prices can be readily converted into rent money, more and more people will be tempted to capitulate their extras. After all, it’s an economic truth that as prices go higher, supply will rise. The more expensive Dual Lands get, the more players will be tempted to sell them.

My Plan Going Forward

As for my own personal thesis? I like Legacy. It is a ton of fun. And despite my previous statements regarding Modern, I will always favor Legacy first and Modern second when deciding which format to play. With cards like Stifle, Wasteland, Force of Will and Brainstorm in Legacy, the number of decision points are endless. This is a complexity about the game that I absolutely love.


But we also have to recognize the recent reprint movement Wizards has embarked upon. They may not have outwardly declared their intentions, but it is readily clear that they hope to reprint many of Magic’s favorite spells.

Stifle is in fact a terrific case-in-point. I remember feeling distraught over selling my copies to dealers for around $12 when I originally cashed out of Legacy. The card rapidly spiked to $40, only to randomly show up in Conspiracy (was that really necessary?). Now the card is cheaper than they’ve been in years, and new copies could be had for under $8. Yay?

Stifle

This is great news if you’re hoping for lower barriers to entry. But if you’re a major speculator, this could be quite the deterrent.

If there were a spectrum of speculators measured based on their fear of reprints, I would likely be one of the most concerned out there. I’ve seen what reprints can do to cards like Thoughtseize, Stifle, Exploration, and Onslaught fetches. A significant investment in any of these assets could have been devastating if you held too long.

Therefore, my Legacy strategy boils down to one thing: the Reserved List.

As long as the Reserved List is strong and seamless, then cards like Dual Lands are safe. Sure, Duals will drift up and down based on the time of year and the Legacy metagame. But no matter what new commons and uncommons Wizards prints that break out in Legacy, players will always jam a multitude of Dual Lands. These really are the blue chip stock of Magic – they will always see play and they can never be reprinted.

And unless Wizards punishes the community by printing something heinous such as Snow Duals, the original ten Dual Lands should be incredibly safe with plenty of upside.

That’s what I will target from Legacy, with specific focus on the under-appreciated duals like Tropical Island and Savannah. These may be out of favor right now, but if I learned one thing playing Legacy over the years, it's that the metagame can move quite freely as Wizards prints new cards. Delver of Secrets and Treasure Cruise are just a couple examples.

As the metagame shifts, so will the popularity of each Dual Land. When dealing in blue chips, I try to focus on a buy low/sell high strategy, logically speaking. Hence my plan right now – to acquire well-priced under-appreciated duals. With any luck, we’ll get another spike in duals come April, just a few short months away.

Until then, tread carefully.

Sigbits

Not all Legacy staples are down in the dumps. Check out these hot targets, which have not suffered the same pullbacks as the cards mentioned throughout this article.

  • Emrakul, the Aeons Torn was banned from Commander, yet that didn’t seem to phase the card’s price one bit. The Eldrazi is still the most efficient creature win condition in the game. As a result, Star City Games has just 5 NM copies in stock with a price tag of $59.99! Set foils are $249.99!
  • Back in March, Gitaxian Probe spiked significantly, rising from $0.50 to over $2 in just a couple months. That price stuck, and while SCG has plenty in stock, their $2.49 price tag is a testament to this card’s popularity. Set foils retail for $24.99!
  • As much as I hate the card, it’s hard to ignore the price resilience of Sensei's Divining Top. The card is relatively safe from reprint simply because Wizards recognizes that many players also hate the time-waster. Therefore it’s not likely to show up in a Commander deck. Being banned from Modern only helps its immunity to reprinting. Perhaps that’s why the card has maintained it’s retail price of $29.99 and set foil price of $119.99. By the way, Star City Games is sold out of all English copies of both!

10 thoughts on “Insider: A Scrutinizing Look at Legacy

  1. I think the problem in those price charts is not the drop off in price that we’ve seen consistently over the last six months. The problem is the run up in price we saw between March and May. We could put together a thesis that jumps in Modern prices in the Winter allowed a lot of people to trade up from Modern to Legacy causing a slightly lagging price spike across the board in Legacy in the Spring but what I think the declines demonstrate is that the May prices were false, driven by speculation not real demand.

    I remember as Volcanic and U Sea were spiking this column was advocating an aggressive (relatively aggressive anyway. you are always a cautious voice) buy strategy on Tropicals and other un-spiked dual lands. The belief was that May was a time of price correction for Legacy staples but I think the last six months have given the lie to that and what we saw was a massive over-correction and a speculative bubble which needed to correct back to a real price.

    1. Indeed, I did advocate Tropical Islands during the hype of the spring, when Dual Lands all jumped handily. And the bet could have paid out, if we had sold into those peaks. Trick is, people don’t tend to look at Dual Lands as short term speculative plays. The reserved list, while strong enough to lock in limited supply, cannot influence demand nearly as much. We tend to get lulled into a sense of security when owning reserved list cards, only to see trends shift in metagames. Or, as you pointed out, bubbles burst and we return to normalcy.

      Now I see SCG is jacking up their prices on Power. I wonder if this will halo other cards as well, and we’ll enter another spike?

      Thanks for your insightful comment!

      1. Always focus on the under represented! I picked up a ton of trops and mox rubys in the March to May timeframe since they we’re the cheapest (via buylisting). Most places had a retail price on sp trops for under 125 and sp un. mox rubys under 550. I’ve since been slowly converting them to other duals and moxen.

        You’re point about the favorability of different dual lands swinging is spot on (with a few exceptions like plateau or taiga). If bayou can be 150 there is no reason savannah should be 65. Same with u. seas and volcanics being 200+ and trops (and tundras?!?) being under 150.

        1. That is exactly what I am getting at. Trops and Tundras under $150 is insane when Seas and Volcanics are $200+! Volcanic Island has every right to be this expensive, but Tundra was also well-represented at the GP via decks like Esper Blade, Jeskai Blade, and Counter-Top builds. The pairing of Stoneforge Mystic and Jace, the Mind Sculptor / Force of Will has been a dominant strategy for years.

          Maverick is quiet now, but it could come back at any time! Thanks for the supportive comment!

  2. One important point to note is that reserved list cards are not only safe from reprint, but functional reprints (like snow duals) are also not allowed (by their current policy)….hence why I like picking up/holding onto reserved list cards.

    1. David,

      Thanks for adding this fact to the conversation. That makes me feel 10000x better buying into Duals. We can be fairly confident that snow duals and the like are not going to happen. Great build!

  3. I think it’s pretty important to compare these year-over-year, not six months ago to now. General trends are downward late in the year and rising in the spring, for a variety of reasons. I like year-over-year trends much more for these type of comparisons.

    1. YES!!!! Dual Lands behave cyclically, and each spring they seem to jump. I’ve pointed this out before, but I seem to recall getting some heat for making the conclusion that these behaved cyclically. I’m going to steal this quote of yours 🙂 Thanks, Corbin!

      1. Regarding downward and rising trends, it’s probably due to the holidays and the need for cash to spend elsewhere on gifts and such, and then getting back tax refunds in the spring, respectively.

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