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Insider: A Five-Year Lookback at Modern Masters

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Well, it took four years but it may finally happen. At last. Just as I expected, although I didn’t think it would take this long.

Goyfs

I had many doubts if my plan would work. In the back of my head I had this haunting feeling that I was making a terrible mistake. If this was the wrong decision, it could have had a profound impact on how I played Magic, with possibly irreversible consequences.

But let me rewind this story before getting into the details. It all started on October 22, 2012…

Announcing…

On October 22, 2012 Wizards of the Coast published their website announcement for the coming of a brand new type of product: a Modern Masters set filled with reprints at limited print run. The card they chose to spoil alongside the announcement was none other than Tarmogoyf.


This announcement had the most significant impact on how I viewed MTG finance since I started the speculation game. Up until this announcement, MTG finance consisted of trading out of Standard cards and acquiring any and all Modern or Legacy cards. The older cards that were staples in non-rotating formats were nearly guaranteed to appreciate in value as supply dwindled. Additionally, Modern was a booming format at this time and rampant growth was on the horizon.

But when it became apparent Wizards would be reprinting to resupply older cards into the market, I had to make a choice. Was I to hold my Legacy and Modern staples that were vulnerable to this reprint, or was it time to cash out? What would the price drop to? Was I sitting on a ticking time bomb in my portfolio?

Ultimately I made the tough decision to bail. This probably doesn’t come as a surprise to my loyal readers because I have a tendency to get cold feet when it comes to MTG investing. After all, I’m “gambling” with my son’s college education fund, so my inclination is to keep risk under control. 2012 was no different from today, and I proceeded to list, and promptly sell, my personal copies of four key staples:

My logic at the time was that these Modern staples had all increased in price dramatically throughout 2011-2012 and I was happy to cash out. Then after their inevitable reprints, I’d be able to repurchase these cards to end my temporary hiatus from using them in Legacy/Modern.

Let’s look at how this played out.

Price Trends

Looking strictly at the numbers, it would appear that I made a financially correct decision. All the cards I sold I can now reacquire for less money (albeit with different art). But I question whether or not this was the right decision holistically speaking.

For example, let’s look at Vendilion Clique’s chart.


I sold my copies in late 2012 at a price in the low $30s. Then the card was spoiled in Modern Masters. Surely, this was going to be the “I-told-you-so” moment, right? Apparently not. The card increased to nearly $50 when it was reprinted at mythic rare in MMA. Its price did taper down, but then it spiked hard in 2014, peaking in the $70 range! A second reprint came in Modern Masters 2015 and still the card was worth more than where I sold.

In the end, it took a major shift in Legacy and Modern as formats in order to move the price of Vendilion Clique downward. Now in 2017, four and a half years later, I can finally purchase the card for around $25.

Let’s shift gears to Dark Confidant next.


This was another card I sold when Modern Masters was announced because I anticipated a reprint. I was 100% correct in my prediction. In fact just like with Clique, we got reprints of Bob in both MMA and MM2. After selling copies for $40 in 2012, the card was reprinted at mythic rare and again spiked to $70. Then in 2014 Modern exploded and copies peaked over $80! Finally they came tumbling down through 2016 and 2017 and copies can now be bought for around $36.

Let’s look at Tarmogoyf next. The story will be very similar.


Once again we see the spike upon reprinting, another larger jump (to $200!) in 2014-2015, another reprint in MM2, and finally a taper downward. The thing with Tarmogoyf is, this card would have still been more expensive than where I sold if it weren’t for the third reprinting in MM3. It took that many reprints to get the card back under $100.

The only card I sold that really helped me avoid a sizable loss was Thoughtseize. That’s because this reprint didn’t come in MMA or MM2. Instead, it came in a large Standard set: Theros.


After spiking to over $60 in 2013, the card tanked hard through 2014 after its reprint in Standard. It is worth pointing out that the original printing did maintain more value than what Theros copies sold for.

A Five-Year Lookback

Hindsight is 20-20. Had I known Modern would have been so successful upon printing of Modern Masters, I would have surely kept all the cards I sold in anticipation of the set. In my mind, an increase in supply should cause a drop in prices, but many of the reprints drove such interest in Modern that prices increased. Even a second printing in Modern Masters 2015 wasn’t enough to hurt prices significantly. It took threat of a third reprint—along with a stagnating Modern format—to finally drive prices below their 2012 levels.

As I look back, I ask myself whether or not it was worth cashing out. On the plus side, I avoided a great deal of risk that I perceived in the market at that time. I also freed up cash for speculation on other cards, so it’s not like I kept cash idle throughout those five years. And when you look at overall ROI, selling in 2012 would have been a mathematically superior decision to selling in March 2017.

But there were multiple negatives to my decision as well. For one, I completely missed selling at peaks on these cards. My itchy finger caused me to sell well below 2014 prices, when demand was at an all-time high. I also forwent my ability to play these cards which had nonzero intangible value. (Although this was just seven months after my son was born, so I wasn’t playing much Magic anyway).

Perhaps the worst part is that I had to pay so much in eBay and PayPal fees that I still probably can’t reacquire most of these sold cards for less than what I netted back in 2012. Not to mention the effort involved in selling and shipping out the cards in the first place.

While I have no regrets about the decisions I made, I can confidently conclude that selling out in anticipation of the MMA reprints was a suboptimal choice. Holding onto the staples would have been a superior move—both in terms of enjoyment as well as financially. I could have pretty much sold any time between 2013 and 2016 and netted more cash than what I received in 2012.

Wrapping It Up & Looking Ahead

This experience has taught me a valuable lesson worth summarizing. I made a gut decision to sell out of cards due to fear of price impact of reprints. What I neglected to consider was the hype around Modern as a format during that time frame. I focused solely on the supply side of the classic supply-demand economic curve.

Curve

I completely overlooked the demand portion of the curve. So when I heard “reprints,” I assumed the supply curve would shift right and the point of intersection between supply and demand would result in a lower price. But this reprint set drove so much Modern hype that the demand curve moved up far more than the supply curve, resulting in even higher prices as the new supply was rapidly soaked up in the market.

So as I look ahead, I need to consider both the micro (what’s being reprinted) as well as the macro (the state of the format and the game as a whole) before making big decisions. Had I seen the signs of Modern’s explosive growth in 2012 I surely would not have cashed out.

You may ask me what I’d do today. Let’s say I had those same cards now in 2017 and were faced with a Modern Masters 2017 reprint. You know what I’d say? I’d probably say “sell” despite all the lessons I learned from five years ago. My reasoning is fairly simple: this new set is coming out during a time when Modern is fully matured as a format. Growth in the format is slow or nonexistent and Wizards of the Coast cut support for the format at the professional level. Therefore I believe the increase in supply will overcome demand, and prices will drop significantly throughout the year.

I could be wrong again. But I’m fairly confident in this call because I’m considering the macroeconomic environment for Modern this time. That was the missing piece in my decision-making process, and I don’t plan on making this error again. When I consider this part of the equation, it makes for a fairly bearish outlook on Modern prices of cards reprinted in MM3. I have no clue where prices will be five years from now, but I believe it’s extremely unlikely that selling now will be worse than selling in 2018. Without that exponential Modern growth, I just can’t see these prices taking off like they did in 2013-2014.

Once again, time will tell. Since I no longer own the cards, my decision this time is much easier. I can buy in now in the hopes of another substantial jump in Modern popularity. Or I can hold off and wait for prices to tumble lower. I pick the latter.

Sigbits

  • We already saw Eidolon of the Great Revel spike when it became apparent that Modern Burn decks were about to become much cheaper. But I also have my eye on Mana Confluence, which is currently sold out at SCG with a $6.99 price tag. This isn’t really a Modern staple, but I do see utility in Commander and even Vintage. I expect slow growth for this one as long as it dodges reprint for a while longer.
  • Aura Shards is an Invasion uncommon that was reprinted in a 2011 Commander deck. Apparently the two printings haven’t created enough supply as copies hit all-time highs. SCG is sold out of the Commander printing ($9.99) and they have just a few SP Invasion copies in stock at $6.79.
  • Speaking of expensive enchantments, Aura Shards has nothing on Rhystic Study. The blue card from Prophecy has been a Commander staple for years. Despite being a common, the card still retails for $7.99! At least there are plenty in stock at Star City Games, so I don’t think the price will jump higher in the near term.

12 thoughts on “Insider: A Five-Year Lookback at Modern Masters

  1. Mana Confluence is in a weird place when it comes to Commander. Assuming you have the needed funds you wouldn’t want to play it in a 3-color deck as between shocks, fetches (including the Mirage ones), duals and a few specific lands you are probably going to be fine on your colors without taking the extra life loss. Your choices will be even better in 4-color and 5-color decks.

    Obviously the card makes little sense when you play a single color, so this just leaves the 2-color decks. At this point you will find that there are still a lot of 2-color lands, in fact you could easily play your deck fully highlander and have a good mana base if you are in 2 allied colors without having to go down to Mana Confluence unless you absolutely positively need to play as many lands as you can that don’t come into play tapped (AKA playing a combo deck). Your choices in enemy colors are a bit worse, but the card would hardly be a top pick unless, again, your lands should absolutely come into play untapped.

    Obviously this is assuming you have the funds. When you don’t the card moves up as a reasonably affordable option to give you multiple colors. However, for such players, if they know how to build, they can reach better decks bij simply playing fewer colors or by focussing on land searchers that worse case can just fetch the right basics. You also get to a point where the card is beaten by more affordable options (Rupture Spire is a fine replacement in many decks) or beaten by slightly more expensive options (fetches, shocks and BFZ duals). As Commander players they probably like to build several decks, but in how many of them would Mana Confluence be in exactly the right spot for their needs?

    Basically your Commander audience for Mana Confluence is players who want to build a mana base with 3+ colors on a medium budget or who want to combo. These players will not likely build many decks in which it fits. I don’t think your Commander audience for this card is going to cause significant increases.

    Don’t forget that fetches don’t have a color for color identity purposes, you would be allowed to put a Flooded Stand in a B/R/G deck if you wanted to, more realistically, you may very wel want to play a Polluted Delta in such a deck if it can fetch Swamps that also give other colors (AKA duals and variants). This makes the 3+ color mana bases even easier.

    1. Setting aside whether it should be played in commander, it certainly appears to be. EDHREC shows it as the third-most played card from Theros block.

      1. EDHREC is a really bad source for EDH playability information from our finance perspective. This is a very good example of why. It bases itself on online decklists, which do not accurately reflect the EDH community as a whole.

        The problem is that most EDH players don’t bother with discussing or posting their decks online. Those who do tend to fall at the more fanatical end of the spectrum and more fanatical players tend to be those trying to win. This leads to the EDHREC data being very skewed by competitive EDH players who actually form a small minority among EDH players.

        It’s no surprise that more competitive players play Mana Confluence as it allows them to combo earlier. As a group they are too small to have a significant price influence though.

        1. While I certainly wouldn’t argue that EDHREC is perfect, I do think it is the best available source (as compared to anecdotal evidence based on local metas, or theory-crafting). I also think that even if EDHREC is not particularly representative, the fact that the competitive subset that posts list online has 12k copies of the card in decks is actually enough to move the needle all by itself — especially since that subset is likely to care less about cost than the casuals do.

          And the needle is in fact moving — the card is trending up, and will eventually spike when the online supply dwindles some more (assuming it avoids a mass reprint). This is a third-set card, so there aren’t a ton of them. Even now, there aren’t actually that many listed on tcgplayer. SCG and coolstuff are sold out, although the other majors seem to have plenty.

          Lastly, the price of this is still too close to the floor set by city of brass, which is 4-5 bucks despite a load of printings.

          1. I see no indication that EDHREC filters out duplicates, we may be seeing different versions of the same deck by the same player or different decks by the same player who just happens to like Confluence. It may be the best source, but if your best source is actually a poor source it may very well lead you to the wrong conclusions.

            I’m not denying it being an interesting card from a finance perspective, however, I just don’t believe in the Commander interest (especially not just because EDHREC says so).

      2. I have to say I disagree with you on this one, pi. I do put stock in EDH REC. It has correlated fairly well recently on some of the hot Atraxa and Breya cards that have seen price movement. If there’s a random card that jumped and I suspect Commander was the culprit EDH REC is where I check first. It may not be 100% perfect, but it is the best resource we have for EDH card play.

        I believe Mana Confluence is a fine card for 4-color and 5-color decks. It’s a logical include, even on top of fetches and shocks. If you need four colors by turn 4 for your Commander, you may not draw multiple fetches to help you get there. It’s about maximizing flexibility – there may be BETTER ways to do it, but Mana Confluence (and City of Brass) increase consistency drastically.

        So to each their own :). Hope the rest of the column was useful at least.

        Sig

        1. Assuming you don’t have the money for real Duals and 4-color:

          5 ONS Fetches

          5 ZEN Fetches

          5 MIR Fetches

          6 Shocks

          3 BFZ Duals

          2-3 SHM lands with basic land type, Murmering Bosk and/or Dryad Arbor if appropriate (the B, G and W SHM lands are very good)

          Any number of (Snow) Basics

          6 Man Lands (plus mono-colored ones if appropriate)

          6 Filter lands (possibly the original 3 too)

          X Utility lands

          Etcetera etcetera etcetera.

          You just don’t have the room for it.

          1. The VAST majority of lands you listed above cost more than Mana Confluence. And those above are mostly restricted to 2 colors (fetches are an exception, but also most expensive). Mana Confluence gives you all 5 colors and is $5.

            1. You were the one to say “fetches and shocks”?

              I covered the more budget minded people in my first comment and did accept that there were people who would play it.

              Also isn’t your hope that it increases from $5 so you can sell with profit?

              The 2 colors are not a problem because you use the large number of fetches to get exactly what you need. You’ll likely play a few Command Tower / Rupture Spire / Vivid lands / Mirrodin’s Core / Gemstone Mine / Shard lands and other multicolored lands if you are worried about getting color screwed, but you wouldn’t really need many if any. Your average casual player is going to prefer many things over losing a life every time you tap a City or Confluence.

              1. Both are wrong,

                the average casual player plays whatever he has. Some care about the life loss, others don’t. My guess is that most realize that losing 1 life is worth it when you start with 40 life, certainly if it allows you to cast whatever you have in your hands.

                Mana confluence and city of brass are not worth their value from competitive play alone. I assume casual has a big share in this too.

                1. Sure, but that doesn’t suddenly make it move significantly up from $5 because casual players are actually picking it up, in fact now months later it’s still in roughly the same place.

                  Was just re-reading my comments here to research an article.

  2. I agree you did the right thing at that time. you can’t blame yourself for not taking rising demand into account. Nobody did.

    You took a decision at that time with the knowledge and insight you had at that moment. With that information, it was the right decision and there were no signs that the first MM set was going to make the mythics more expensive instead of cheaper. I’m sure even WOTC was surprised by that effect.

    When evaluating decisions in the past, context is very important.

    good article!

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