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Insider: An Analysis of Rotational Price Drops

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With Shadows over Innistrad fast approaching, now seems like a great time to analyze the price drops of Standard staples after rotation.

In the Magic finance community it's an unwritten rule that Standard cards drop in price after they rotate out of the format. The reason is that Standard is the most popular format by a lot, and thus the biggest driver of demand for any given card. As sets rotate out, the "Standard-based demand" drops to zero. Sometimes this is replaced by demand based on Legacy, Modern, Vintage, Commander or even casual, but not always.

Today we'll look at some historical data to get an idea of the magnitude of this phenomenon.

For our analysis we want to focus primarily on Standard staples that never made the jump to eternal formats or Commander. These will typically be roleplayers in their respective Standard archetypes. Some fringe playability or experimentation in other formats is fine, so long as they don't qualify as staples or major roleplayers.

By doing this we eliminate additional demand potential and can focus solely on Standard impact. We also want to avoid cards that were reprinted as reprinting almost always drops prices, usually pretty dramatically.

Using these criteria, I've compiled the following list of cards:

Initially I had some additional cards on the list, but unfortunately my pricing guide didn't have data far enough back to cover them. So for this article we're stuck with cards from Innistrad forward.

The Data

Card Name Value 9 Months Before Rotation Date of Rotation Value 1 Month After Rotation Drop Comparison
Stormbreath Dragon $13.00 10/02/15 $2.78 78.62%
Nightveil Specter $10.00 09/26/14 $1.90 81.00%
Obzedat, Ghost Council $8.50 09/26/14 $2.65 68.82%
Bonfire of the Damned $27.00 09/27/13 $6.50 75.93%
Falkenrath Aristocrat $20.30 09/27/13 $3.78 81.38%
Goblin Rabblemaster $14.13 10/02/15 $3.46 75.51%
Stromkirk Noble $3.42 09/27/13 $1.02 70.18%
Geralf's Messenger $6.32 09/27/13 $1.99 68.51%
Desecration Demon $9.76 09/26/14 $1.89 80.64%
Pack Rat $5.60 09/26/14 $2.50 55.36%
Lifebane Zombie $6.79 09/26/14 $1.81 73.34%
Boros Reckoner $11.94 09/26/14 $2.56 78.56%
Rakdos's Return $4.97 09/26/14 $1.52 69.42%
Moorland Haunt $0.60 09/27/13 $0.32 46.67%

 

From nine months before rotation to one month after, the average drop for these cards was 71.71%. This implies that if you're holding any Standard staples nine months prior to rotation, you can expect them to lose almost 72% of their value after rotating out.

That is a pretty dramatic number. After doing this research I'm personally going to review my practice of picking up most playsets of Standard-legal cards. Previously I've done this as I like being able to play anything, but it represents a huge loss of value pretty consistently.

Luckily, not all cards follow this trend. I had to specifically come up with a list of cards that were only good in Standard and don't see significant play anywhere else.

For comparison, let's look at some Standard staples that did retain significance in eternal formats.

Card Name Highest Value Value 9 Months Before Rotation Date of Rotation Value 1 Month After Rotation Drop Comparison
Supreme Verdict 6.69 $5.01 09/26/14 $2.85 43.11%
Thundermaw Hellkite 38.75 $36.50 09/27/13 $11.54 68.38%
Restoration Angel 18 $16.13 09/27/13 $5.17 67.95%
Sphinx's Revelation 27.5 $20.12 09/26/14 $6.69 66.75%
Huntmaster of the Fells // Ravager of the Fells 33.25 $27.10 09/27/13 $6.52 75.94%
Olivia Voldaren 18.65 $12.74 09/27/13 $5.08 60.13%
Snapcaster Mage 85.25 $22.48 09/27/13 $19.98 11.12%
Liliana of the Veil 114 $24.28 09/27/13 $43.55 -79.37%
Sulfur Falls 11.45 $7.73 09/27/13 $3.99 48.38%
Woodland Cemetery 15 $8.95 09/27/13 $3.49 61.01%
Average 42.34%

 

Note that Liliana of the Veil is something of an outlier here and buoys the average significantly. If we remove her our average drop jumps to 55.86%. That's still significantly less than 71.71%. Looking at the individual cards, we see only one (Huntmaster of the Fells) actually exceeded the 72% drop seen in the Standard-only cards.

What It Means

Anyone who plays Standard competitively is aware of this drop in prices, but I hope that this data really hits home its significance. We're talking about a massive dip in value.

Note that I didn't choose the nine-month mark arbitrarily. Our current rule of thumb is to start trading off rotating Standard staples six months before rotation. The problem with that is since everyone follows the same advice, it can be tough to get in ahead of the crowd. Looking at the price graphs of these cards it was pretty clear that they started to drop at the six-month-out mark and just continued to fall up until rotation.

Now this isn't to say we want to establish a new rule of thumb because people might just shift the six months to nine months and we'd be stuck in the same position again.

But it is important to understand the losses associated with playing Standard competitively and to determine whether a card really has a chance of being eternal-playable (so it doesn't take this kind of loss). When a card seems like it's only going to be a Standard staple then it's best to move out whenever the price is high and maybe not wait for a little more.

While the price trends on Standard staples, with or without eternal playability, are still very negative, this obviously shows that one can reduce their losses by moving out of Standard-only cards whenever possible (even if it's for other Standard staples that might be eternally playable).

Some of this might seem obvious, but looking at the numbers you get a greater sense of urgency to move stuff before rotation hits. Nobody wants to be left holding a pile of cards that used to be worth 3-4 times as much as they currently are. But those of us who are big traders do still end up with a lot of these cards because we haven't tied the drop to actual numbers---and 72% is ridiculous.

The only factor I haven't discussed yet is your own personal assessment of play value. If you enjoy playing in Standard tournaments---whether they be SCG Opens, GP's or even just FNM's---it's important to understand the true costs of playing the format.

For many, this loss in value is simply a cost they want to bear so they can spend time with friends and family playing a game they love. And that's perfectly okay.

But for those who would rather trade than play, these numbers should emphasize and reinforce what we've always known. When your trading partner needs that hot Standard staple but falls a little short on their side, it still may be better in the long run to go ahead and lose a bit of value to acquire something more stable. After all, it's better to lose 10% now than 72% later.

3 thoughts on “Insider: An Analysis of Rotational Price Drops

  1. I think this is a great article but I just want to caution readers not to overreact to this particular rotation.

    This rotation is a bit different in my opinion because many of the primo-cards in Fate & Khans are staples in Modern and beyond. Sure, every card will see some decline; there’s no denying that. But I think you’ll be hard-pressed to find Fetches dropping 40-50% in value, or Sorin (already only worth $4-5) going much lower. If they do, it will happen for a small window making the investment opportunity that much greater. The best time to buy-into Modern is during the Standard rotation season. That’s my $0.02.

    1. Ok, but this is the drop in price from 9 months before rotation to rotation, so cards like Sorin have already seen their drop. I think the argument here is to further solidify that the majority of standard cards will drop during that period of time. I don’t think the article seeks to make any statement on standard cards at rotation, which is a different topic entirely.

      Unless if I am missing something.

      1. I did 9 months before rotation and 1 month after rotation. I picked 1 month after because we tend to see a steady decline in prices as we get nearer rotation but some cards continue to decline after rotation. 1 month, while somewhat arbitrarily chosen was picked to account for the continual decline to hopefully find a commonish price “bottom”.

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