Happy New Year! It seems like 2016 was a particularly rocky year for MTG finance, and I am glad to bid it farewell in favor of ringing in 2017. Many cards suffered significant declines for one reason or another last year. Snapcaster Mage is my poster child for the Great Magic Recession of 2016.
My other favorite recession card of 2016 is Theros Thoughtseize, which hit an all-time low just a week ago on December 25th. I don’t think anyone would have predicted this card to dip towards $10 again without help of a reprint, but that’s exactly what happened.
Alongside cards like these, we also saw many cards take significant hits due to reprints in supplemental sets throughout the year. Mana Crypt suffered quite a bit upon reprinting twice: once in Eternal Masters and once as a Masterpiece. Both foils and non-foils will be facing pressure for years to come.
Force of Will was another reprinted card that saw its price drop quite a bit throughout 2016, from $100 to $78. Conspiracy 2 also wreaked its havoc on the secondary market, causing cards like Show and Tell to tank. Serum Visions and Burning Wish were hit particularly hard.
Looking Ahead to 2017
Focusing only on the cards mentioned above, one may develop a pretty bleak outlook on MTG finance going forward. But I believe 2017 will offer plenty of profitable opportunities. In fact, I have very recently been dabbling in purchases here and there as I look to pad my investments in certain areas after my recent liquidation of many cards.
I don’t think I’ll build inventory back to where it once was—most of my collection’s value will remain in Vintage and Old School. But there are a couple areas I can’t resist dabbling in carefully and strategically…
If Commander 2016 taught me anything, it’s that the Commander player base is healthy and strong. I probably shouldn’t be so surprised at how much market movement last year's Commander product catalyzed. The same happened with previous Commander sets, so it should have been anticipated. I admit my shortcoming here, as I failed to closely scrutinize the cards in last year’s Commander set to look for investable opportunities. Opportunities like this one:
It turns out Breya, Etherium Shaper is very popular. People love their artifact synergies, so it should come as no surprise that Breya’s printing has catalyzed much artifact price movement. It also explains much of Ashnod's Altar’s movement as well as Master Transmuter. These artifacts, along with a handful of others, all jumped in price thanks to the Commander 2016 Breya product.
Perhaps the one Commander deck that appeals more to players than an artifact-centric deck is a counter/token/planeswalker strategy. This is precisely what Atraxa, Praetors' Voice gives us, and it most definitely does not disappoint. It’s because of Atraxa that Doubling Season jumped even higher than its already-astronomical price. Contagion Engine is also an obvious include in the Atraxa deck for its proliferating ability.
In addition to the obvious, many popular planeswalkers have also seen sudden surges in demand thanks to Atraxa. Ajani Steadfast already had its spike, and I believe Tezzeret the Seeker is right behind. Elspeth, Sun's Champion and Ajani, Mentor of Heroes are two other popular planeswalkers in the deck.
Looking ahead, I will be applying this learning actively in 2017 for a two-pronged approach to MTG finance. First, I don’t think Commander 2016’s impact has run its course. There are probably a handful of cards primed to jump higher as the last couple dozen copies are picked off TCG Player. I would encourage you to monitor stock of the most popular Commander cards (EDHREC is a good resource for this).
Then, I will be looking ahead to 2017 as I plan a more active strategy for future speculation. One thing I learned from last year was that Commander and casual play is as healthy as ever. If Wizards of the Coast prints a Commander product next year that is as successful as the one from this year, I believe there will be another wave of growth for format support.
In addition, there are always obscure cards playable in Commander that have a shot to explode next year. Márton Stromgald and Koskun Falls are a couple of my favorite examples. And one day I dream of one of my favorite control cards, Portcullis, will have its day in the sun! (Not likely.)
The year 2016 was one of explosive growth for Old School cards. The format gained a lot of traction behind avid, vocal supporters in social media. Channel Fireball’s announcement of Old School events at all their Grand Prix events was another boon for Old School players.
More and more people are developing interest in a format uninfluenced by reprints and metagame shifts. An investment in an Old School deck is an investment in some of Magic’s most iconic and collectible cards, and many players are discovering their appreciation of the nostalgic.
Looking ahead to 2017, I’m not sure there’s any negative catalyst on the horizon for ‘93/’94. Chaos Orb exploded in price, then drifted back down to a steady (higher) plateau. I believe this plateau is the new ongoing price, but 2017 could certainly spark another leg higher.
As recently discussed on the QS Podcast, Djinns and Efreets have all seen huge gains throughout 2016 and that could continue into 2017. And of course, any Reserved List playable card is worth grabbing for personal use sooner rather than later. I don’t see much reason why a card like Library of Alexandria will drop down from its current price in 2017 without systemic damage to Magic as a whole. Alpha and Beta Old School staples will likewise remain good investments next year.
So with that said, I believe my 2017 strategy will mirror my 2016 strategy very closely. I know I’ve been bouncing around the idea of cashing out of Old School and taking my profits. I still may sell some of the extra cards I own that have already jumped, but I don’t think my overall strategy will involve a massive sell-out of the format.
The cards offer so much upside potential as long as Magic remains healthy. And with the recent movement on MTG Stocks this past month, I am convinced there are still plenty of opportunities out there to invest in for profitable growth. Thus, 2017 will mean more buying of Old School collectibles for me, with Beta Demonic Tutor, Demonic Hordes, and Sol Ring towards the top of my list.
Frontier and Modern
For me, 2017 will bring with it many questions. Will Frontier continue to gain traction among the Magic playing (and more impactfully, speculating) community? What will be reprinted in Modern Masters 2017? Will Modern recapture some of its previous excitement to help prices rebound? Will Frontier gain enough popularity that it detracts from Modern altogether?
Due to all these uncertainties, my inclination is to remain on the sideline for 2017. Between Old School and Commander cards, along with a dabbling of other Reserved List investments, I’m not sure I see any need to expose myself to the risks associated with Modern and Frontier. If I do decide to buy in, it will be in minimal quantities with an extremely short-term horizon.
For example, I recently bought and flipped a handful of Anafenza, the Foremost, holding the cards for no more than 48 hours. I saw the opportunity and pounced, but I had no intention of holding for long-term Frontier growth. 2017 and Frontier will mean reckless speculation and sudden price spikes, and I hope to capitalize on a few where it is safe to do so.
For Modern specifically, my plan will be to hold on any Modern investing until I learn A) what is in Modern Masters 2017, and B) the format’s health without Pro Tour support. If Modern continues to taste stale and pale compared to a more exciting Frontier format, then I’ll be more inclined to ignore Modern staples altogether.
Or, better yet, I may strategically buy cards that have playability in both formats, thereby gaining exposure to potential upside on either side of the coin. Collected Company seems like a decent way of doing this.
I’ll continue to watch closely for other opportunities, but for now I don’t suspect there will be many Modern cards in my portfolio at any given time throughout 2017.
Wrapping It Up
2016 was a trying year for MTG investors for a multitude of reasons. Massive reprints, a record number of product releases, and dwindling Legacy/Modern support all contributed to price declines across the board. At its low point, I was strongly considering a massive exodus from MTG finance altogether. But some recent successes and noteworthy price jumps have re-inspired this disgruntled investor. Looking ahead to 2017, I’m far more optimistic than I once felt even a couple months ago.
My favorite places to play for 2017 will be Old School staples (surprise, surprise) and Commander cards. I will likely hold onto my Vintage deck as well, as I don’t think Power has much downside here. In fact, after pulling back slightly off the highs, these look to have stabilized reasonably well, offering another plateau from which to launch higher sometime in the future.
Speaking of Power, shout-out to Unlimited Timetwister. Thanks to its utility in Commander, the card is finally earning its status in the Power 9, worth as much as a played Mox or Time Walk. I think this piece of Power in particular is especially primed to jump higher in 2017.
As for the rest of the MTG market, I’ll likely sit on the sidelines. Outside of a few quick flips, I see little reason to take on unnecessary risk when there are so many other areas to put money to work. Despite my newfound optimism, 2017 will be far from reckless for me. I’ll continue to trim the fat of my collection and focus my investments strategically so that I don’t get carried away with buying.
With another year in the books, I’m one year closer to reckoning day, where I’ll have to turn over my gains to my son for his college education. While that’s still over ten years away, I need to keep focused because college tuition costs are eager to outpace even the most aggressive inflation targets. With my new focus and optimism, and a little luck, I will make yet another significant step closer to my goals in the New Year.