Magic finance and speculation has undergone some pretty significant changes in the past four or five years. The predominance of online pricing and up-to-the-second information was a big one. However, I would argue that Wizards' transition to a much more radical position regarding reprints of format staple cards (Modern Masters, Eternal Masters, Commander decks) is the biggest game changer since the decision to uphold the Reserved List.
The fact of the matter is that if your card isn't on the Reserved List there is always a very good chance that somewhere down the line it will receive a reprint in some capacity. The odds improve tremendously if the cards is desirable for tournament or casual play. If a card is good, popular, and expensive, there's a good chance it will eventually become reprinted.
As Insiders, we already have a firm grasp on the economic concept of supply and demand. When a card is reprinted, and more copies are available for players to acquire, scarcity goes down and prices drop. Everyone knows that.
The real question becomes: How do we capitalize on what we know?
I have now speculated my way through two Modern Masters sets as well as an Eternal Masters printing. Today, I'll go over some of my most basic rules about speculating when it comes to dealing with a large-scale reprint set, and how it is likely to affect the overall value of your cards and your collection.
Every Card in the Set Goes Down at First
Here is the part that kind of sucks for collectors and players alike. Basic economics tells us that an increase in supply will lead to dropping prices (at least in the immediate future).
As of writing this article here on Monday afternoon we know that Goblin Guide, Damnation, and the Zendikar fetchlands are to be featured in MM17—all of these cards have undergone significant dips in price as a result. My Zendikar fetchland playsets were worth significantly more money on Friday afternoon than they are today.
I've written about my collection before and my basic strategy is as follows. I own playsets of the cards that I tend to play with and I view those cards as a "cost of doing business." I play all sorts of decks across all the formats and I need to own playsets of fetches to build my decks. My playsets are not a speculative venture, rather they are something I need to be a professional player. Sometimes these cards go up, sometimes they go down, but either way I'm not deeply invested in fluctuations and it tends to even out over time.
However, because I draft a lot and end up with store credit from tournaments, there are more opportunities to own cards than there are cards I need to play. It is an eventuality of playing a lot of Magic that I end up with extra cards.
So, at a certain point I'm going to cash that extra credit in and hope to get cards that are more likely to appreciate in value than tank. I always want to trade my cards that don't have a bright future into cards with potential upside.
If you were speculating on Scalding Tarns (something I didn't recommend as a rule across multiple articles), Monday's MM17 news has likely left you a little bit sad. Not to brag, but as a point of reference, outside of my 20 Zen fetches that I use for my playsets I own exactly zero extras in my trade portfolio—because the card is so good and so necessary for tournament players across the board, I saw an upcoming reprint as a 100% eventuality.
Good, expensive, popular tournament staples that are not on the eternal Reserved List are not safe long-term investments because they are so likely to see a reprint down the line.
Opportunities to Buy into the Market Crash
If we accept that the value of reprinted cards will wane off the bat, we can actually seize the moment to make some savvy picks that will hit their all-time low prices.
Another thing I noticed with each reprint set's release that correlates to diminished price, is that a lot of players crack packs of MMA or EMA for the thrill of chasing the chase mythics. Obviously, not every pack is going to yield a Tarmogoyf of Misty Rainforest, and there tend to be a lot of niche rares floating around without a home right off the bat.
Kira, Great Glass-Spinner and Engineered Explosives are great examples of the kind of opportunity I will be looking for this time around when MM17 hits the streets. These are both great cards that saw a fair amount of Modern and Legacy play that suddenly flooded the trade floors when MMA released.
In the moment surrounding the release of MMA, the supply of cards like these far outweighed actual demand, and the prices plummeted. Kira, Great Glass-Spinner was just a step above a junk rare for a few months and Engineered Explosives (now one of the most desirable and expensive Modern staples in the game) was hanging around the sub-$10 mark. Granted, changes in the metagame are also largely responsible for the gains of EE, but nonetheless it was a great pick-up that summer.
One strategy to consider is to specifically target the cards from MM17 that lose the most value as millions of packs getting cracked over a short period of time floods the market. It is counterintuitive but it makes a lot of sense. You'd be trading for all of the cards everybody is looking to unload, in anticipation of a time down the road when the demand eventually catches up and surpasses the easy supply of available cards.
Popular Cards That Dodge Reprint Will Spike Hard
About a month ago I wrote an article about my experience repricing the entire singles case at RIW Hobbies. I noticed straight away that Modern singles had undergone a significant decline in retail price over the previous months. I postulated, in that article, that one potential reason for this decrease in Modern singles was a loss of faith in the ability of these cards to consistently gain value in the long-term because of the constant possibility of reprintings.
One thing I was hinting at, but didn't fully grasp until I started thinking about it today, is that the fear was likely caused more specifically by the looming MM17 spoilers. In particular, retailers might be willing to sell Modern staples at a slightly discounted price in the three or four months before a Masters release, in order to move product before the inevitable price drops. This makes a lot of sense from the retail perspective.
The other side of the coin is that the cards that don't end up on the MM17 spoiler list are likely to increase in price once the set is fully spoiled. These are cards that will continue to have decreasing availability in the here and now.
Let's think about possible trajectories for a card like Scapeshift. It was printed in an old, short-printed set and has never been issued a reprint. The card is featured in a few strong Modern decks, but the majority of this card's value is derived from its scarcity.
As an aside, imagine what the value of a card like Lightning Bolt would be if the available supply in the MTG marketplace was exactly the same as that of Scapeshift. I don't have the numbers on hand, but I'd guess that Lightning Bolt is roughly 5000 times more common in terms of the number of copies available.
Lightning Bolt, because it goes into so many decks and so many people would need them compared to Scapeshift, would likely be worth $1000.00. Seriously, that is my estimation. It would be like Power 9! Luckily Bolt is a common and that isn't the case.
Anyways, back to Scapeshift. Based on similar trends I've observed in comparable cards from MMA and MM2, I would expect a 50% decrease (or more) from a reprint at rare, and a 33% decrease at mythic. However, if Scapeshift is not included in MM17, I would expect the card to see some immediate gains in price because it will continue to be scarce.
Inkmoth Nexus was a big winner last time around because it wasn't reprinted and was a high-demand staple. Inkmoth eventually tripled in price over the past few years because of these supply and demand dynamics.
My assumption now is that the 10% decrease in Modern staples across the MTG singles case at my LGS is related to a marketplace suppression of prices, in anticipation of the coming price dips associated with reprints.
Summary of the Strategy
- Expect the value of every card featured in MM17 to undergo losses at the start.
- Cards that are expensive, highly desirable, and popular for tournament play are much more likely to be reprinted than cards that don't meet these qualifications. The better a card is, the less safe it is from a reprint.
- The month after release will represent the bottom-basement prices for lots of MM17 reprints. Because of the basic supply/demand factor, it will be a great time to pick up stuff as an investment.
- Cards that don't get reprinted are most likely to see immediate price gains as the spoiler nears completion. If you're speculating right now, you should be betting on cards you think will dodge reprint for one reason or another.
At this moment, the smart money is betting on cards that will be left off the MM17 roster for one reason or another. There are some good educated guesses we can make, but at the end of the day they are just guesses.
I like the line of thinking that if a card was in MM2 it is less likely than other cards to be in MM17. However, this is not completely sound because there were cards like Tarmogoyf that were in both MMA and MM2.
Another category one might bet on are those that are scarce but don't currently have a high price tag because of a lack of demand. Cards that I'd qualify in this category are things like Swarmyard or Garruk, Primal Hunter. Neither sees a ton of tournament play, but both are big hits with the casual crowd and have been steadily trending upward for years.
These are the trends I've observed in the past three reprint sets, and they've felt pretty consistent over all three. Each set has its own set of circumstances and unique nuances that are context-driven, but today's article outlines the overarching narrative that I've observed. I hope it helps you all make the most of the opportunity.
Hopefully, we'll hit on our picks to dodge reprints and our collections won't take too much of a beating as a result. Best of luck all!