Insider: Measuring Risk vs. Reward in Eternal Staples

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"You can measure opportunity with the same yardstick that measures the risk involved. They go together."

- Earl Nightingale

Normally I don't like to start an article with anything besides a simple, "Welcome back readers!", but I felt this quote was the perfect way to start. (For those who have never heard of Earl Nightingale, I suggest you read up on him a bit as his life is pretty fascinating.)

Back to the subject at hand though. We have seen a huge rise in Reserved List card prices since Eternal Masters (EMA) was announced.

LED mox diamond

underground sea

volcanic island

The arrows in the dual land images above are the days I traded my extra copies on PucaTrade. So going by these graphs I made a terrible decision in retrospect.

Unfortunately, our decisions always look obvious in retrospect. At the time I saw a continuous negative price trend since before Star City Games (SCG) announced that Sundays would no longer always be Legacy Opens. At the time of these transactions, having bought in considerably lower than their current price, my mindset was to lock in my profits while I could.

I had no way of knowing that WotC would announce a set designed to increase interest in all eternal formats (including Legacy), though I had considered it a possibility. After all, MTGO has had four different Masters Editions sets. I just assumed the likelihood was low.

The point is that I made the decision at the time that the risk of them going back up was much lower than the reward of cashing out immediately. I came to this conclusion due to the following facts (which were accurate at the time):

  1. The price had been on a steady decline since March 2015 (well before SCG announced the change to the Open Series on 11/02/15).
  2. Local demand in Legacy cards had declined to almost nothing. Influenced by the SCG announcement, many of the Open grinders in our area decided to off their Legacy decks for Modern staples, with the high values allowing them to convert one Legacy deck into two Modern decks.
  3. My primary reason for having them was to trade them down at events for speculation targets and bulk rares. Unfortunately, due to their high prices it was actually quite difficult to find people who had enough to trade into them. I've also seen a major drop in casual traders attending the Opens (I still see plenty at GP's) and due to my geographic location most of the major events within driving distance are SCG Opens.

The reward side of the equation was this:

  1. If WotC released any form of Masters product promoting Legacy, demand will jump the same as it did when they announced Modern Masters.

When you look at the risk vs. reward you see it's heavily imbalanced towards risk and the clear decision was to move the cards when I could. The bigger challenge is actually not second-guessing yourself after the fact.

Now the real question is whether the new prices stick. The answer to this question can make some people a lot of money. There are two ways to view these new prices with regards to risk.

  1. The Reserved List remaining intact means that these cards can't be reprinted; therefore they are very low-risk bets.
  2. The current prices are a bubble caused by speculation from the EMA announcement and they will drop.

I'm honestly in camp #2 right now. As good as it feels to have all my Reserved List Legacy staples jump in price, the cards only have value if the demand is real and sustained. This demand can only remain sustained if the format is supported. Currently there is no big tournament series promoting the format (at least one that promotes it consistently) so continuous demand is unlikely to exist.

If you have extra copies of any of these cards that spiked recently I suggest outing them and locking in very solid profits. If you just picked them up, I'm sorry I wrote my article a bit too late...

Narrowing Down the Card List

Now, there's another interesting subject to cover with regards to Eternal Masters. The set is 249 cards. As I stated last week, that number coincides with Modern Masters 2015, so it's fairly reasonable to assume there will be 15 mythics, 53 rares, 80 uncommons, and 101 commons. With only 68 total rares/mythics, unless we see a lot of rarity downgrades a lot of eternal staples won't get reprinted.

As the set is spoiled we'll see drops in the cards announced. But once it's fully spoiled (or as people deduce certain cards can't be in the list due to the number crunch) we'll likely see spikes in staples that didn't make the cut. Again, if the Legacy mantle isn't picked up by a large tournament circuit series then this demand will likely wane and the prices will drop back down eventually.

The last big takeaway from EMA is understanding WotC's reasoning for the name. This isn't "Legacy Masters" or "Vintage Masters." It's "Eternal Masters." Which means they will likely try to include staples from all the big eternal formats:

  1. Vintage
  2. Legacy
  3. Modern
  4. Commander

Legacy and Vintage have a lot of crossover, whereas Modern has more cards that are only relevant in that format. Commander, on the other hand, shares very little with any of the others. That means the card pool of reprintable staples is pretty big. WotC will likely want to keep players of each format happy, so they'll need to diversify the rares and mythics.

To me this says the risk of picking up eternal staples that have seen a relatively recent reprint (in the past two years) is much lower than picking up ones that haven't been reprinted in a while. This is a much riskier play than the Reserved List, but looking at the recent price spikes that ship has sailed for the most part.

However, if we consider Mr. Nightingale's quote above, the value of the reward goes hand in hand with the risk involved. For those interested, here are a few staples that have been reprinted in the past two years and are pretty far off of their original high.


Originally printed in Scourge, this is a key card in the Legacy tempo decks like RUG. The Conspiracy reprint as well as the drop in Legacy demand has plummeted the price from an all-time high of $40 (Scourge version) to under $5 (Conspiracy version).

This is currently only Legacy-legal so the previously mentioned risks of Legacy demand continuing its pre-announcement decline is still a big concern. If this card were ever added to the Modern card pool it would skyrocket (likely to $15-$20). That's definitely a big "if," but one that I'm currently risking holding 22 copies on.


Originally in Avacyn Restored, the GP promo crushed the price of this card. It hit a high of $33 (before the GP promo was announced) and was one of the two fatties of choice in Sneak and Show and the main reanimation target in Reanimator and Tin Fins decks. It's near its all-time low currently with GP promos sitting at $12.

This card is so powerful it had to be banned in EDH and still has a lot of potential. I honestly feel this one is less risky than Stifle only because its current price is so deflated due to the GP promo (and now that we have Stoneforge Mystic as the new promo there will be no more Griselbrands entering the supply). I'm currently sitting on 11 copies of this one.

Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite

Originally in New Phyrexia, this is another huge target for Reanimator in Legacy (and Gifts decks in Modern) as it typically serves as both a nice fatty and a board wipe (and locking certain archetypes, like Infect, out completely).

She had a high of $33.50 before declining due to her Modern Masters 2015 reprint. Current copies can be had in the $12-$14 range and she's a house in EDH as well (for the same reasons she's so good in Reanimator decks). I'm currently sitting on 14 copies of this one as well.

2 thoughts on “Insider: Measuring Risk vs. Reward in Eternal Staples

  1. I think your spot on here. I sold into the hype related to blue duals and feel spike wont hold. I feel more confident that Mox diamond, Null rod, and lower end reserve speck will make some gains and hold, but not at the current price. I sold my reserves of these as well.

    1. Thanks. It’s difficult to view somethings without incorporating your own bias (whether on purpose or not) and despite my love of the legacy format I have to conclude that the prices won’t stick.

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