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Insider: The Last Ship to Rise?

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In recent months I have been pounding the table on acquiring high-end Vintage staples. The most noteworthy (and certainly most iconic) of these would be your set of Power Nine. Despite a little bit of pricing volatility during spikes and buyouts, these have all offered spectacular return on investment since the inception of the game.

Sapphire

But while these have always been steadfast investments, I have advocated picking up whatever Power you have on your radar as soon as possible because I’m noticing an interesting trend. What’s more, I have some secondhand accounts of interesting data consistent with what I’m seeing online. While I never enjoy spreading MTG speculation rumor, I have enough trust in my source to believe at least some of his story.

Intrigued? Good. Allow me to dive in.

Observation 1 - Other High-End Cards

By now, every MTG speculator should be familiar with the recent trends in Old School and Reserved List staples. Cards like Juzám Djinn, Nether Void and Moat have all soared to their all-time highs. Some of the more desirable high-end staples, such as The Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale, have had an especially aggressive run-up in price.

Tabernacle

At this moment, Tabernacle is sitting at around $1400---doubling its price from ten months ago! Not only is Tabernacle much more expensive relative to itself, it’s also becoming awfully expensive relative to other cards. Consider this: a Tabernacle can now be traded for a played Mox Sapphire. If that’s not the Power you’re after, Tabernacle is also convertible into other Moxen, Time Walk (with plenty left over), or Ancestral Recall. How did this legendary land become so valuable?!

Another example is Vintage favorite Mishra's Workshop. Here's a land from Antiquities that has also hit all-time highs lately.

Workshop

Three years ago this card was in the $300-$400 range. One year ago it was in the $600 range. Then the massive spike happened, sending it to four digits: $1000! While I firmly believe Eldrazi has made this card more popular than ever before in Vintage, I still have to do a double-take at the price.

I mean...at $1000 you could pick up really nice copies of most Moxen (sans Sapphire), a nice Time Walk, or even a sleeve-playable Ancestral Recall. This may be more of a Vintage metagame factor, but I have to imagine a couple people may be tempted to move their set of Workshops into the game's most iconic card: Black Lotus.

To a lesser extent, many other popular Legacy and Vintage cards are soaring to new heights. Underground Sea is at its all-time highs as we speak, notching the $350 mark according to MTG Stocks. It seems like only yesterday this card was hitting $100 at retail, causing a stir in the MTG community. Now we’re looking at a $400 card at retail, with playsets worth enough to trade into any piece of Power except for Black Lotus.

Sea

I often refer to the phrase, “a rising tide lifts all ships,” and in this case the last ships to rise will be Power. With other more “obtainable” cards so expensive, it is only a matter of time before Power gets the next spike higher.

Observation 2 - Retailer Stock

Since I have a large portion of my portfolio exposed to Power, I tend to monitor pricing and stock very closely. The other day I noticed a sudden shift in stock…

Mox Stock

Star City Games used to have a decent variety of played and minty Power across Alpha, Beta, and Unlimited sets. Now they have exactly zero copies available for purchase across all three sets. What’s more, the pricing is set at the highest ever.

Even Moderately Played Mox Emeralds and Mox Rubys are likely to sell in the $900 range seeing as Star City Games is paying $500 on their buylist for each. I recently made an observation that any sleeve-playable Moxen will no longer be found for under $600, and these aggressive buy prices are part of the reason why.

A quick scan of Channel Fireball’s site reveals an identical result: they’re completely sold out of all Moxen across all sets and conditions. I did notice that Card Kingdom had a few Near Mint copies for sale, but even their stock was clearly light with no “affordable” sleeve-playable copies available.

Would it kill a vendor to list an MP Mox?! I’m sure they’d be eager to…if only they had any! I’ve even been noticing that Moderately Played and Slightly Played Power has been selling fairly readily on the High End Facebook group---another sign of true demand.

Boil it down, and you have a rising tide, increasing collection values for players fortunate to have been in the game for a couple decades, and very thin stock across the world’s largest retailers. What more do we need?

Observation 3 - A Rumor

This isn’t the first time Star City Games has shown zero stock on Power. Not long ago I noticed their stock was nearly wiped out. But this wasn’t due to a massive run on these nine cards in particular---rather, stock was pulled for a major Grand Prix. This makes perfect sense. When a store brings unique, high-end cards to a major event they need to take down this stock in case some of the cards sell at said large event.

In this case, I initially thought the absence of Power was due to a temporary unstocking to bring Power to Gencon. And that may have been the case, at least at first.

Then on Friday I was talking with a good friend of mine when he mentioned an interesting anecdote. This friend, whom I wholeheartedly trust, said that a friend of his had observed a massive transaction take place at Gencon between a guy in a Star City Games shirt and a different vendor. The contents of the transaction: a stack of Power.

I have no way of verifying the veracity of this story, but the evidence is pretty compelling. There are definitely a couple of vendors out there who could afford to make such a move on Power, so both the buying and selling ends of this hypothetical transaction are 100% plausible.

Unfortunately when I asked for more specifics, my friend was unable to provide updates as he was already hearing the story secondhand. The only other comment he made was that the Star City Games party alluded to difficulty in moving graded Power (which of course makes sense).

Wrapping It Up

I’m not sure if we’re on the verge of another spike in Power or if we’re still going to remain flat-lined for years to come. But if I had to guess, I’d wager prices are due for another bump in the near future. As stock in the high-end cards dwindle on major websites, eventually they’ll need to increase their buy and sell prices to restock.

Until then, you can rest assured that a position in Power is equivalent to one of the safest investments the hobby can offer. A bet on Power is essentially equivalent to a bet on Magic as a whole. As long as the game remains strong, values will gradually trickle higher in the high end and the collectible, promising rising prices.

Recall

You may not double up over a weekend like more recent cards can sometimes offer. But given enough patience, these high-end items are a great way to park funds into this hobby for a long, safe return. Since my primary objective with Magic is to gradually build up resources to help fund my son’s college education, I couldn’t ask for a more attractive investment. Plus there’s an added bonus: I get to play Vintage! I just started trying it out recently and it’s a crazy format of brokenness! It’s been a blast.

If you’re on the fence about making a significant investment in a single card, let me offer up two last points to try and help you decide.

First, remember how rare these older cards are---not just Power, but all the older high-end stuff. There are so few Mishra's Workshops, Library of Alexandrias, and Bazaar of Baghdads in existence. Any bump in demand---even from one or two players---is enough to move the needle on these rarities. Add in the fact that these twenty-something-year-old cards are only becoming older, rarer, and harder to find, and you have yourself an attractive investment vehicle.

Throw in the fact that Wizards of the Coast has promised they’ll never print these cards again? How can you not like these investments? In a world where interest rates are near zero (negative for much of the world) and it’s difficult to find safe returns, rare and collectible Magic cards offer up a sound alternative. The playability on the side is just an added bonus...

...

Sigbits

  • According to MTG Stocks’ All-time High list, my favorite card ever printed just hit its highest price ever: Shahrazad. It may be banned in every format, but who can argue with the flavor and uniqueness of the Arabian Nights card. Being on the Reserved List means WoTC will never print this card again. It may surprise you that Star City Games is sold out at $89.99 now, but a year from now I suspect we’ll be used to the higher price.
  • Zombies, zombies, and more zombies! Shadows over Innistrad and Eldritch Moon have rekindled interest in the moribund archetype. That’s probably the reason for Ghoulcaller Gisa’s recent surge in price. While it continues to hit fresh highs, Star City Games is gradually running out of stock. They have just nine SP copies currently, with a $6.79 price tag. I don’t see any reason she can’t hit $10 in the next 12 months.
  • If you’re interested in tracking Old School cards like I am, then take note: Star City Games restocked a couple copies of multiple Arabian Nights cards. Stuff like Island of Wak-Wak, Diamond Valley, Library of Alexandria, Elephant Graveyard and Juzám Djinn have all been restocked with just a couple copies. The prices are all higher---now we just need to wait and see if copies sell at these new prices. It may take a while, but I don’t think we can anticipate price drops any time soon.

6 thoughts on “Insider: The Last Ship to Rise?

    1. If I may take that one:

      – Graded Power is useless to players, they need to crack, which is a waste of the grading premium. They’ll probably just get a cheaper ungraded copy.
      – Lower graded Power is useless to collectors: why settle for something less pretty? Usually collectors aim for a 9 or 9.5.
      – Higher graded Power only has a limited audience, namely collectors who can afford it who also don’t already have it. If you’re one of those people, why didn’t you buy say 1-2 years ago when prices were significantly lower? (Most of them have likely been around for a very long time).

      Basically the only audience for graded Power is people who are worried about authenticity, people who pick up underpriced graded cards when they spike or people who are just getting into the collecting game. The first group is likely to trust a big store like SCG on ungraded Power, the second group tends to rarely exist and the third group is probably limited to a few people per year (at the Power level of collecting).

      I personally own a single graded piece of Power (a Beta Twister) and picking it up was mostly a matter of opportunity where the price seemed fair, I could use credit to get it and I was still missing the card for my full set of Power. I wouldn’t hesitate to crack it if I have a use for the card and at 8.5 it’s probably not a big loss to collectors (it’s got 8, 9, 9, 9.5, I’m not too bothered by centering issues but do like my cards to look pretty).

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