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Insider: Virtually Infinite – Eternal Masters & The Future of Legacy

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We’re here with our second article in this series on how Magic Online players, collectors, and speculators can position themselves for the arrival of Eternal Masters (EMA) to preserve and increase the value of their collection. You’ll can read the first in the series here, and see some of my past articles here.

Legacy Is Dead. Long Live Legacy.

The thing about Eternal Masters is that it might rejuvenate Legacy and kill it at the same time. Let me explain.

Paper Legacy is in an existential crisis. The Reserved List is a hard cap on the number of people who can participate in the format. Decks are expensive and all the money is in the secondary market, which means Wizards has no financial incentive to support the format.

Despite the appeal of the format---which is complex, diverse, nostalgic, and a lot of fun---it's only a matter of time, without support from Wizards or a retailer like Star City Games, before it enters a death spiral. In paper Magic, the future of Legacy is as a cool niche format like Vintage, beloved to a few die-hard adherents but inaccessible to mere mortals.

Online is a completely different story. With no Reserved List for digital cards, there is no ceiling to how many people can enjoy the format. Wizards controls the flow of cards and can print online-only sets that leverage their existing intellectual property to rake in cash. They have an incentive to keep the format alive.

As a result of recent reprints, Legacy staples are surprisingly affordable. In paper, a revised Tundra will run you $220. On MTGO, Tundra recently jumped in price…to 14 tix. For the cost of one paper Legacy deck you can buy a digital collection that allows you to play six or seven archetypes. Online there is a diverse metagame supported by the convenience of “anytime, anywhere” play---including via newly introduced Leagues.


Bottom line: Wizards has every incentive to support Legacy on MTGO, and virtually no incentive to support Legacy in cardboard. The future of Legacy on MTGO is bright. And there are a lot of cards with low supply that will rise in price as the format grows.

Let's be clear: now is not the time to go deep on Legacy. The uncertainty created by EMA reprints has kept a lid on prices, but has also created risk that anything you buy could plummet. And there are other lucrative investment opportunities available---in particular BFZ complete sets which should offer a safe and solid return over a 3-6 month timeline. Anything you buy right now has an opportunity cost that must be compared against these alternatives.

If you are a speculator you will want to be selective in the Legacy bets you place, but they can be a high-performing part of a balanced portfolio. If you are a player or casual collector I would steer clear of Legacy at the moment---with a few exceptions---and sell down cards that are at risk of reprint in EMA.

This article will look at what to sell. In the next article we will look at a few of those exceptions that we should be buying.

Is Legacy Underpriced?

Is Legacy underpriced right now? Today the Legacy index has been basically flat for 18 months and stands at 2150 tix for a basket of staples.

Legacy Index
Legacy Index, 2014-2016

Compared to past prices, Legacy is not expensive---the index is 20% lower than its peak 18 months ago, in September 2014. That suggests there is significant room for growth even if there were no other positive drivers. But there are other drivers, as we'll discuss below.

Right now, a lot of potential players are holding out for EMA, not wanting to buy cards until it drops. Of course, the index will drop when EMA hits the market, but the player base will increase, and any playable cards not reprinted will rise.

We saw this dynamic with Vintage Masters (VMA) in the summer of 2014. Over two months, the Legacy index rose 20%. That doesn't sound that impressive until you realize those gains were localized within only a dozen or so cards, which meant there were some big winners. We will be looking both to time the market right and to identify the right targets.

Factors Supporting Growth

Whether or not Legacy provides speculation opportunities hinges on the growth of the Legacy community on MTGO. What are the factors that may drive growth in Legacy prices?

  • Leagues - Right now it’s easier than ever to find a meaningful Legacy game, and if current leagues expand from 400 participants to 800 or 1000 that will be even more the case. I expect Legacy leagues to hit 1000 players this summer with the release of EMA, which would represent a significant growth in the player base. Leagues are not attractive to grinders, but for casual competitors they are perfect. We saw Pauper leagues revitalize the value of Pauper staples.
  • Fewer Barriers to Entry - Most people don’t realize that on MTGO Legacy decks cost less than Modern decks, and even less than most Standard decks. And that’s today, when Legacy still has some high-priced bottleneck cards that will be reprinted. When Eternal Masters comes, prices on a whole range of staples will drop. In particular, Wasteland is a bottleneck that keeps people from playing the format. So is Rishadan Port, which I expect to be reprinted in EMA.
  • Prize Support (TBD) - With the arrival of VMA, we saw high-profile Vintage events to highlight the format. They have already announced a monthly high-payout Legacy tournament (the first Legacy Challenge is March 12) and may have others in store once EMA hits. It's worth keeping an eye on these since MTGO activity is tied to major events and prize payouts.

Based on these factors, I expect continued growth of the Legacy player base, fueled by leagues and by an influx of cheap staples, which will in turn drive demand for cards that aren’t reprinted. We put that theory to good use last week when we nabbed a bunch of Reserved List staples on their way up.

Here are some of the picks from last article:

Reserved List Picks

I initially suggested this basket in a forum post. I have to admit that by the time the article came out these were not the best buys, since we were too late. That said, even if you bought at the time of the article there have been some gains.

City of Traitors has been the only especially strong pick on this list, doubling in price. Mox Diamond, Shallow Grave, and Gaea's Cradle have done well too. These are all safe medium-term bets, but there are probably better places for your capital. I am not recommending additional Legacy buys at this point.

Timing

In Sylvain’s article he stated, “I’m closely monitoring my Legacy positions and I might sell these very soon. I’ll discuss this more in detail below, but I didn’t intend to keep my Legacy positions for the long run.”

Sylvain has a stellar track record and his advice makes perfect sense. My take differs a bit because of I’m on different timeline. As I discussed in the previous article, I don’t have much time on MTGO and am not looking to buy and sell a lot of short-term positions. Rather, I am seeking strong passive investments in the three-to-six-month time frame.

There are opportunity costs to this, but I believe Legacy will offer several targets in the coming weeks and months that are worth buying and holding. In contrast, Sylvain will take his Legacy earnings and put them to work. Because buying and selling is relatively seamless on MTGO, that kind of velocity can provide very strong returns, if you have time to actively manage your portfolio.

Sylvain also offers a useful caution concerning the Reserved List:

“There is no such a thing on MTGO… Anything and everything can be printed and reprinted at will in the form of special sets, promos or flashback drafts. Cards from the Reserved List won’t be in EMA and dual lands and the like may have a better chance to sustain the price hike they recorded these past two weeks… However you should not think that’s a safe investment in the long run.”

This is valuable advice. There is nothing stopping Wizards from producing any and every card online. And there is no escape valve of redemption for eternal cards, so once a card is in the system it's there forever. Only demand from players, bots, and speculators puts upward pressure on prices of eternal cards. A lot of cards entered the system during VMA so there is still some slack.

That said, I think the risk of Vintage-set flashback drafts is low in the short term. The fact that we have a steady stream of Modern flashbacks scheduled for every non-release week makes me wonder where they would fit in Vintage flashbacks.

A promo or two seems more likely, since it offers a tie-in with their emphasis on Legacy. It does present a risk. But even then, they are unlikely to promo more than a couple of the cards on the Reserved List.

Our Investment Timeline

Even if Legacy does expand its player base, these cards are risky long-term bets. That’s why we will sell our Reserved List specs before the threat of promos and flashbacks.

I anticipate that in the end there will have been four opportunities to profit:

  1. The first bump was when Legacy leagues were announced.
  2. A second bump was when it was announced the Reserved List would not be included in EMA. That was a good time to buy RL cards, but is now in the rearview window.
  3. I expect a third bump when the full EMA list is released and people rush to pick up everything that wasn’t reprinted. (Those who weren’t paying close attention will have missed key Reserved List cards that are important parts of the decks they want to build.) The biggest spike will be from cards that everyone expected to be in the set but are not…if we could predict those we would be golden.
  4. Finally, I’d expect a fourth bump for all non-reprinted staples (including our Reserved List specs) in June and July, when EMA cards enter circulation and Legacy becomes a more accessible format. If EMA is popular there will be a liquidity crunch around that time, but soon after I’d expect the Legacy index to start a long, slow climb. There will also be some speculative activity in the week immediately before EMA hits the stores.

My plan is to sell some copies after each of these spikes in order to free capital for new specs. This is a 3-6 month play, not a long term buy and hold strategy. I am first and foremost a player, so I am willing to assume some reprint risk on my playsets. But I don’t want to be holding investment targets after July (though I will hold my playsets).

I still think some Reserved List cards offer good value. I’ll go into more detail in my next article. But in the meantime, let’s take on one of the frequently asked questions: what Legacy cards should I be selling right now?

Refining the Watch List

Last article I generated a broad watch list based on what people suspect might be reprinted. Let’s try to refine that list a bit.

The safe approach is to sell everything that could be reprinted. There are two problems with this. First, it limits your ability to play decks that use these cards. Second, buying these cards back will be much more expensive if they aren’t reprinted. Take Lotus Petal, a card that was widely expected to be reprinted in VMA---the moment it did not appear on the list its price shot up.

Lotus Petal dropped when it was assumed to be in VMA, then quickly spiked when the set list was announced
Lotus Petal dropped when it was assumed to be in VMA, then quickly spiked when the set list was announced.

For anything you sell, you may end up buying your playsets at a premium.

Vintage Masters contained reprints of virtually everything of value. That won’t be the case with Eternal Masters because it's a paper set as well. Wizards will not want to pack it too full of value or they risk having stores, dealers, and collectors hoarding unopened product rather than getting it into the hands of players.

Saffron Olive has some good articles where he crunches the numbers based on the EV of a box; it’s a good principle even though I think he has some of the details wrong.

Paper cards will be limited by how much product is printed. For MTGO we don’t have the same problem, since people will be able to draft the set as long as it’s available (three weeks). We know from previous Masters sets that the value of the set will drop precipitously.

So, what's on our watch list?

Cards Specifically Named by the Source

Zendikar Fetchlands - These were specifically named by the source of the EMA leak. They have already lost much of their value. But if reprinted (as is expected) they will drop to under 10 tix each. I’d recommend selling everything but your playsets, and considering selling any playsets you aren’t playing with regularly.

Just be aware that if these are not reprinted their price will spike in a matter of hours, so be prepared to act quickly.

My advice is to gradually sell down to playsets, and consider selling those. Consider switching to Expeditions, which are not much higher than the price of ZEN versions but are more likely to retain their value after a reprint.

Rishadan Port - Also named in the leak. I do not want to be holding Ports. A reprint seems inevitable as part of EMA. This will likely be printed at mythic, given how obnoxious it is in Limited and the fact that Wasteland is at rare.

Mother of Runes - a 2 ticket uncommon, this seems a likely reprint.

Lotus Petal - the Pauper and Legacy staple is 4-6 tix depending on the version. I'd expect this to be worth under 25 cents if reprinted at common in EMA.

Infernal Tutor - At 46 tix, this is a high-risk hold as a reprint seems quite possible. It's one of the cards that is more expensive online than in paper, which means that it can be reprinted without raising the paper EV too high.

“Piece of Elf Deck” - My guess is that Elves will be one of the archetypes available in EMA, though whether it is a heavy or light touch remains to be seen. One card we are likely to see is Natural Order since it plays really well in a Cube environment. It's at 10 tix and would drop to a ticket or less if reprinted at rare.

Judgment Wishes - Cunning Wish is at 6 tix, Living Wish is at 2 tix, and Burning Wish is under a ticket because it was reprinted in VMA. All will drop to pennies if reprinted at rare.

Other Likely Inclusions

Dark Depths - Banned in Modern so a reprint here makes sense since it can't show up in Modern Masters sets. It's 25 tix online.

Cabal Therapy - At 18 tix for an uncommon, the risk is high. If you want to maintain playsets, I'd recommend switching to the Premium Deck Series: Graveborn version, which is a third of the price.

Sneak Attack and Show and Tell - As I mentioned in the forums, I can see a reanimator/graveyard abuse theme being one of the main things you'll be doing as a black/Dimir drafter. Then once in a while you'll open a Sneak Attack which will pull you into Grixis or a Show and Tell which will improve your deck. This benefits the draft format by providing a role for the flashy and hard-to-cast Legacy and Commander creatures they surely want in the set.

Some other cards on my radar that would support this (they won't print them all, but they're on the watch list for me):

I don't expect "Sneak and Show" as a dominant draft archetype, but as a cool thing that you'll have a chance at once every eight drafts or so. They've tried to keep some of these sub-archetypes in every MMA/VMA set.

Daze - Seems a very likely reprint as a “mythic common” worth 27 tix. It’s worth unburdening yourself since this will drop to pennies on the dollar.

Hydroblast (9 tix), Red Elemental Blast and Pyroblast (5 tix each), could all see reprints.

Exploration is at 30 tix and is a risky hold.

Submerge seems likely to me at uncommon, since it is playable in Limited, at 20 tix, and in low supply.

Quirion Ranger is at 3 tix and seems a likely reprint. Heritage Druid at 5.5 tix could also join the crew if an elf deck is in the works for Limited.

Finally, Containment Priest at 21 tix is a possible inclusion.

That's it for now---I'll keep a running list of these as we go. Stay tuned for my article next week on cards to target as EMA approaches.

- Alexander Carl

@thoughtlaced on Twitter

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