Insider: No More Modern Pro Tour – Financial Outcomes

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At the close of Pro Tour Shadows Over Innistrad, while everyone else was going crazy over Seasons Past and Dark Petition, Aaron Forsythe dropped a bomb. Not a Standard bomb, although we'd had plenty of those over the past two days of rollercoaster new decks and top finishes. Not a Limited one either, although it felt as big as a first-pick Archangel Avacyn. This one was all Modern.

"2017 is when we move Modern away from being a Pro Tour format." Wizards announced it, Aaron Forsythe discussed it, and the Modern world will never be the same again. Talk about Seasons Past!

Saturday morning, I had two different articles lined up both for Quiet Speculation and for Modern Nexus. Then I read Forsythe's piece and the related Wizards decision on Sunday, and that threw my whole morning into disarray.

At the risk of stealing my own thunder from the upcoming Nexus publication, I am cautiously optimistic, excited, and hopeful about this change. I am even more pumped by what it represents: a return to Modern's beginnings, improvement of Wizards' communication, and better relations with players.

If you want to talk about the nuances of Forsythe's argument, the decision's metagame implications, or how this makes you more or less likely to keep supporting Modern in the future, either head over to Modern Nexus for my upcoming feature, or take it down to the comments. This article will focus solely on the financial takeaways from this monumental decision, although it will be impossible to talk dollars without also touching on some of those other topics.

Whether you're as optimistic as I am or whether you have already returned to Legacy in a skeptical rage, Sunday's announcement will have big consequences for the Modern metagame and market. Today we'll tackle some of the most important short- and long-term financial effects this change will likely have on our beloved format.

The New Modern Demand Cycle

Before the recent Pro Tour Oath of the Gatewatch, Eye of Ugin was a card you could get for around $5-$10 from online and local vendors alike. By the Sunday of the Pro Tour, it was up to $30 (sustaining prices around $40 for a time) and never crashed until people realized how inevitable its banning was.

With the removal of Modern Pro Tours, we will lose the January-February demand spike which has been such an important price driver for so many years.

Of course, both buyouts and spikes will continue to characterize (or plague) Modern finance to some extent. It doesn't take a Pro Tour to catapult a card's prices into the stratosphere---just look at Ensnaring Bridge and other Lantern Control staples in the wake of Zac Elsik's Grand Prix Oklahoma City win. We'll just a) see them less and b) see them on a different timeline than we are accustomed to.

Assuming Wizards makes good on its promise to keep Modern "a big part of [their] Organized Play offerings, both at the premier level and otherwise," we are likely to see even more Modern Grand Prix in 2017 and beyond. Perhaps even one in the January-March date range where the Pro Tour might have otherwise fallen.

This should push Modern prices into a more predictable ebb and flow. It should also normalize the magnitude of the price changes we do experience. Pro Tour spikes tend to be massive because Pro Tour-level success is a surefire endorsement of a deck's power. Not so with Grand Prix. Although some gems like Bridge can blow up after a Grand Prix, other rises tend to be much less dramatic.

Take Michael Malone's Grand Prix Charlotte victory with Elves last June, or Zach Jesse's Grishoalbrand run to the Top 8 at the same event. Both decks led to spikes in key cards (notably Heritage Druid and Nourishing Shoal), but the spikes were both short-lived and not too steep. Neither deck even went on to do much after their Grand Prix performances, with both bouncing between Tier 3 and Tier 2 for much of 2015.

Modest Grand Prix gainers

Most Modern players and investors take a Grand Prix finish less seriously than a Pro Tour performance, and price changes tend to reflect that. We should see this play out as buyers and sellers adapt to a stabler cycle of Modern highs and lows.

The Pro Tour and Banning Connection

As we've seen for years, most alarmingly in the Splinter Twin ban, Pro Tours were a decisive impetus in the seemingly endless cycle of Modern bans. Before Forsythe's recent article, we had ample suggestive evidence about this connection, but nothing definitive.

On Sunday, Forsythe confirmed the link before making sure that link would never again affect Modern:

"In order to try to present the players with a new environment to explore, we'd implement the changes to the banned list that we had identified throughout the previous year right before the Pro Tour, which often cast a shadow of dread over the impending Pro Tour for many of the format's fans, as the spotlight of a Pro Tour accelerated the rate at which we'd ban problematic cards in the format."

Aaron Forsythe, "Where Modern Goes From Here" (April 24, 2016)

In divorcing Modern from the Pro Tour circuit, Wizards has also doubled down on a whole new lifecycle and timeline for banlist changes. Because bans and unbans are some of the biggest financial drivers in Modern, this will have a huge impact on how you spend your money around this format.

For one, with the exception of logistical nightmares like Second Sunrise, every other banlist change starting in 2012 happened immediately before a Pro Tour. This gave players, speculators and vendors a predictable timeframe in which to move money and product around an upcoming change. No Pro Tour in sight? Hold fast. Pro Tour coming soon? Get ready for those Sword of the Meek spikes!

Now, with Pro Tours no longer dictating banlist changes, bans and unbans can happen in any of the four updates throughout the year. Indeed, we already saw a preview of this new policy in the surprising and exciting April 4 update, which saw two cards unbanned and one banned without so much as a Grand Prix for over a month.

Unpredictable ban and unban schedules

In the future, this means we can see bans and unbans any time throughout the year depending on how the metagame looks. Investors will need to be much more nimble in this environment and much more attuned to metagame changes. That's bad news for lazy speculators who would just move product whenever a Pro Tour was coming, and good news for the Modern veteran who stays in the loop on format changes.

Of course, the second implication of this banlist change involves the severity of the changes themselves. We are significantly less likely to see crippling, top-tier bans just for the sake of shaking up a single event. In fact, we hopefully won't see those ever again! As long as the format remains diverse and no turn four rule violators exist, no changes will be needed.

Off the chopping block

If the depiction of any of those above cards alarms you, you're not alone. Wizards' ban-first, ask-questions-later mentality had us all living in perpetual fear of upcoming Pro Tour banlist changes. Forsythe even explicitly references this "shadow of dread" in his article. That fear is now much more unfounded, which is a net win for anyone who has monetary or emotional stock tied up in Modern.

Looking ahead, we should see far fewer bans and unbans alike. This means decks will probably hold value much longer than we would otherwise predict, and it means unbanning speculation becomes much less certain and potentially lucrative than it was before. On the flipside, it also suggests Modern cards will stay valuable longer because bans aren't regulating an established metagame.

Bring on the Reprints

Moderners love complaining. Heck, people love complaining (spend two minutes watching CNN to get a sense of that), but as a Modern writer and player I can't help but call out my fellow Magic-kind. One of the biggest Modern complaints I hear is about prices, and despite two Modern Masters runs and the all-but-certain promise of more Modern-relevant reprints in Eternal Masters, the din never dies.

In his Sunday article, Forsythe reinforced Wizards' commitment to Modern reprints, stating one of Wizards' goals: Modern should "consist of cards that we are willing and able to reprint." This ties directly with the importance of reprints.

In part, Forsythe's quote can be read as a jab at the Reserved List and the formats chained to it. In another part, it shows how important reprints are to Modern's future, which quite intentionally ties back to Modern's founding promise as "a non-rotating format that doesn't have the card availability problems of Legacy."

Reprints to do and prices to drop

Based on this commitment, I expect we'll see more at least a handful of important Modern reprints every year on top of a Modern Masters set every two years. This will keep prices low in the long run while not tanking card value. Moreover, it's a way for Wizards to keep making money off a format that is no longer linked to the sales-driving Pro Tour.

If you're a speculator, investor, or deck owner, you should expect your holdings to stay roughly where they are now but also to experience drops. For instance, when Jund is buoyed on a $400-$600 playset of Tarmogoyfs, repeated reprintings are going to bite into your bottom line.

If you're hoarding cards because they are Modern staples, they shouldn't drop too much. But if you're hoarding cards because you are trying to capitalize on low circulation, Wizards has you in their crosshairs. Inkmoth Nexus buyers, beware!

For those of you waiting to buy into a certain deck because it's too pricey, expect prices to fall but don't expect them to crash. Jund isn't suddenly going to become an $800 strategy after a burst of reprints. If past Modern Masters changes are any indication, decks will dip around 25%, maybe a bit more if a card price is totally unjustifiable to begin with (e.g. when the low-print Ensnaring Bridge gets released at rare in Modern Masters 2017).

Hope and Uncertainties for Modern's Future

As I caution in my Modern Nexus article on this same topic, all my optimism assumes Wizards follows through with their promises and keeps moving Modern towards the goals Forsythe outlined in his article. Personally, I think this is likely. The last month has already represented a major improvement to Wizards' transparency, communication and efficacy, and if it's a sign of things to come then we should all get excited.

As a whole, this update represents a push for more stability: stable metagames, stable prices, stable expectations. If you bought into Modern's promise as a successor to Legacy, then this kind of stabilizing influence should have you as pumped as I am. If you wanted Modern to be something else like a dynamic Pro Tour format or an artificially-rotating metagame with lots of Wizards intervention, then this update is going to be a disappointment.

I always wanted Modern to be a format where you could keep your deck for years. With Forsythe repeating the promise for Modern to "not rotate, allowing you to keep a deck for a long period of time," consider me a happy Magic camper.

Calm Modern waters going forward

Before we close, I want to address one lingering concern many of you likely fear: does this change signal a slow death for Modern? Some players will allege Modern is now going the way of Legacy, which would have huge implications for both the format's long-term viability and the economy supported by the format.

I'm not worried. Between reprints, tournament offerings, and third-party venues, there is a lot of money to be made in Modern that can't be made in the other non-rotating formats. So long as that money is there, Wizards and its affiliates will continue to support Modern as much as they can, pushing for this format to take over where Legacy and other constructed formats have faltered or can't fulfill.

Of course, there are more idealistic reasons to be optimistic about Modern's future, but this is a finance article and the financial incentives speak more strongly to its prospects.

Thanks for joining me today as we walked through the big takeaways of this formative change. Let me know in the comments if you have any thoughts, feedback or worries. Change is always hard and it's easier to identify dangers and risks in any major shift than it is to stay hopeful. For now, let's be as cautiously optimistic about these changes as we were about the recent April 4 banlist update. Modern is finally returning back to its core mission, and players should rejoice.

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