One of the biggest trends over the past few weeks has been a surge in price on high-end Vintage staples such as Mishra's Workshop, Bazaar of Baghdad, and Time Vault. These are all cards that are not quite on the top tier of Power Nine but on the very next rung down.
It makes sense that after Power jumped up over the winter that the next batch of good cards wouldn't be too far behind in playing catch-up. The interesting thing is that I don't actually believe this price jump has much to do with people wanting the cards for Vintage, but simply that people are hoarding these cards up as collector's items. Sure, they are Vintage-playable--but it doesn't seem like the majority of the people buying these cards have any real intention to sleeve them up anytime soon.
If it is the case that cards like P9 and high-end Alpha, Beta, Unlimited, Arabian Nights, and Antiquities cards are going up simply because they are "old and rare" and not because they are Eternal staples, I think that makes investing in basically any iconic, collectible card a pretty safe place to get our money in.
Let's face it, the old cards are really cool to look at. Many have gorgeous and iconic artwork, and to own these cards is to literally own a piece of history.
More Rare With Time
The cards from the first few sets of Magic were difficult to get a hold of even when they were new. Back in 1994 there was not sufficient supply to satisfy the demand even at the time. Now think about the fact that there are millions more players than there were back then.
I think it's safe to say that these cards are sufficiently rare, which accounts for how an individual card like Black Lotus can command a $6,000 price tag.
Obviously, there is a huge demand for Black Lotus as it is the best card ever printed and the most iconic card in the history of the game, which accounts for the astronomical price tag.
However, I would also argue that if the next tier of great old cards has just nearly doubled in price due to their rarity and age, then more cards are soon to follow. I think the key here is to whether or not you buy the idea that these old cards are attaining such high value not because they are ever going to be played with but because collectors and investors want them simply to have.
The category of card that I'm talking about are more than 20 years old now, which is pretty darn old for a collectible. I played against a kid at a Magic Origins prerelease yesterday who asked me how long I've been playing Magic for. I said, "20 years." He was like, "Wow, that's four years older than I am." It is not that uncommon to play against opponents who were not even born when Magic started.
To some 16-year-old kid a Black Lotus might as well be Grecian urn or a Mickey Mantle RC. It is a relic that exists from a time before him. It is a really expensive, highly desirable, rare, old object.
My argument here is that basically any "old" Magic card that is desirable is going to be able to cash in on this phenomenon in the future and that simply collecting cool old cards may have a very high payoff in the not-so-distant future.
I don't know how many of you have noticed, but the "Old-School Magic" or "1995 Magic" format has been picking up a lot of steam lately.
The basic premise of the format is that players can only use old cards to build their decks. There are lots of different banned and restricted lists and disagreement about which sets exactly should be legal depending upon geographic region. Some groups won't allow players to use Revised versions of cards (meaning that you have to get at least Unlimited dual lands), some groups allow Alliances and Fallen Empires, and some groups even allow Collector and International Edition cards.
I also think that the type of card that is good in a format like Old-School is exactly the type of card that would be likely to go up in value next.
Most of the "iconic" cards are iconic for good reason--they used to be really, really good at some point in the history of Magic.
I'll give a few examples of the kind of card that is from an old set, iconic, and could be poised for a price jump in the future.
With Unlimited copies in the $10-20 range I'm pretty sure this card cannot possibly ever be worth less than it is right now.
Icy Manipulator has been printed a ton of times which has kept its value relatively low over time. However, I remember when I was a kid this card was the absolute bees knees. Before it got reprinted in Ice Age, "Icy" was believed to be one of the best cards in the game. Unlimited versions of this card were like $30-40 each which was a lot considering it was an uncommon and Moxen were only like $60.
The card also has fantastic, iconic art. It looks great in a binder.
Also, it is extremely good in Old-School Magic. Some versions don't allow Ice Age cards which means that this is the only legal version of this popular staple. And let's be honest, anybody who is going to play Old-School is going to pay the extra money to get a sweet Icy.
Mishra's Factory has seen a ton of reprints over the years but honestly the only "cool" versions of this card are the ones from Antiquities.
The laws of supply and demand have long kept the price of the old version of this card in a relative limbo stasis. Since it has been reprinted so many times anybody who wants to acquire a copy or four of the card to play with can do so with relative ease. This has obviously affected the price of the original versions.
However, if we begin to operate under my hypothesis assumption that prices of old cards no longer necessarily need to correlate to player's demand maybe it is time for this card to see a jump in price.
The card is already straight-up iconic. It is one of the most played cards of all time. It is a staple card for multiple decks in Vintage and Legacy and don't even get me started on how good this card is in Old-School. Basically, every deck wants to field this card and 4th Edition versions are not legal.
The Winter Factory is about $100 which is a lot. However, all of the other versions are substantially less right now with the cheapest version being only about $20. The price on this card has held solid for a pretty long time now and I wouldn't be surprised to see the price go up at some point in the near future.
There is also the possibility that changes to the B&R Legacy list could see Mishra's Factory getting more play next year which would also further demand.
Transmute Artifact is a really weird Magic card with even weirder artwork. Nonetheless, it is a staple card in one of the best decks in Old-School and a card that sees fringe play in both Vintage and Legacy. However, a future printing could really push this card over the top at some point in real Eternal play.
I also like the fact that this card has some pretty serious applications in Commander. It is a cheap and powerful tutor effect and very strong in artifact-themed decks. Obviously, the card suffers from the "bad Tinker" hype. I would argue that since Tinker is basically banned from everything that it benefits from being a "legal card similar to Tinker."
It is also the original Tinker which adds to the iconic historical attribute of the card. At $50 I feel like this card is really undervalued.
I don't actually know how this is only a $5 card. I have a pretty big stack of them that I've traded for over the years because I basically can't help myself. The card is so cool looking that I'm always willing to trade something to pick up another copy of this monkey.
It is an Arabian Nights card that is one of the most iconic creatures in the history of the game. Taiga plus Kird Ape was the great combo of the every man for a long, long time. And to be fair, Stomping Ground, Kird Ape is still a very real line in current Modern. Personally, I find Arabian Nights Apes way cooler than foil ones.
Arabian Nights Kird Ape is simply an iconic Magic card that once again seems too cheap to ever go down in value.
Another awesome old Arabian Nights card that will command a higher price at some point in the not-too-distant future.
The card is really cool, has fantastic artwork, and is actually a very good Magic card. I have sleeved this card up in Vintage and Legacy on more than one occasion in my life. It is also worth noting that this card is absolutely insane in Tiny Leaders.
It goes without saying that this card is pretty excellent in Old-School Magic as well. I picked up a couple recently for my sideboard.
Mostly, the card has that epic "coolness factor" that I think is one of the big intangibles driving the prices of many old cards way up.
As you can see there are a lot of different ways to qualify old cards that are likely good investments. In general, I think that pretty much any old card that you can get your hands on is worth holding onto at this point in time.
However, I don't think that it is actually crazy to be targeting "mediocre" old cards as items to actively pick up. Just because an old card isn't a Mox or a Moat doesn't mean it isn't worth having. There is a lot of collecting going on right now that revolves primarily around what is rare and what looks really cool.
Just because nobody is actually casting Elder Dragon Legends, Two-Headed Giant of Foriys or Hazezon Tamar doesn't mean that demand for these cards (simply because they are old, rare, beautiful and cool) isn't rising.