To be perfectly honest, I was very surprised to see "No changes" to the B&R list on Monday morning. Furthermore, I think Wizards of the Coast missed a big opportunity to generate interest in Standard by not utilizing a ban on, at the very least, the Copy Cat combo. The last time around, Wizards banned three cards in Standard—Emrakul, the Promised End, Reflector Mage, and Smuggler's Copter—and that decision was met with basically widespread praise by the overwhelming majority of the Magic community.
The two-deck Standard metagame, Mardu vs. Saheeli, is unpopular. Implementing a change now would have revitalized interest in Standard over the next few months before Amonkhet. In reality, by not banning to shake things up, they gave us a few more months of a format people were already tired of.
It is unclear whether or not Wizards is waiting to collect more data before reaching a final consensus stance on Copy Cat in Standard. However, it would be nice to enter into spoiler season knowing whether or not the combo is still in or not. It is less interesting to have to evaluate new spoilers in a context where we can't be completely sure about what the other cards in the format even are!
Anyways, I'm disappointed for a multitude of reasons, but life goes on.
It would also have been a nice moment for avid speculators and financiers, since a new metagame means new demand for cards. Obviously, with no changes we are going to get more of the same when it comes to Standard. This likely means prices on the majority of Standard singles will continue to drop off as we approach spoilers for the next set.
As always, the safest money in Standard is in Modern and Commander playables. Cards that don't fit easily into this mold we should be looking to trade or transform into more lucrative investments.
Modern Masters of the Universe
In other, more exciting news, Modern Masters 2017 drops into stores this weekend. There has been a lot of talk about the set and how absurdly stacked it is. Personally, I'm looking forward to getting a chance to draft it at my LGS this weekend. I love these niche formats full of weird and wonderful cards. Obviously, I'm a huge Danger Room guy and I love being creative when it comes to selecting cards and making unfamiliar plays.
Based on how popular Modern Masters 2017 appears to be, I wouldn't be surprised to see it get drafted a lot. Why just crack packs when you can do a draft too? Amirite?
I've also noticed a lot of talk about the consequences of producing such an absurdly stacked set. I've been warning about the dangers of reprints, literally since I started writing this column, and I think MM17 is going to be a real watershed moment in the history of MTG finance.
I've been in a sell mentality when it comes to Magic for the past six months or so. I'm not getting out of the game or selling off my entire collection or anything—I have all the cards I could ever need to play with, going all the way back to the Power 9, and I hope to continue owning them indefinitely. I'm talking about my "extra" or "investment" cards. Stacks of shocks and fetches that I bundle my trade stock and store credit into. I've been selling it off or bundling it into Reserved List cards.
I worried that the prices on Modern and Standard cards were over-inflated in terms of actual demand. I mean, if there are always literally lines of players three or four deep waiting to sell cards to dealers at Grand Prix for a fraction of the retail price, then why is the retail price so high? Obviously, there is a convenience factor that we pay for when buying from a store or online seller, but there is a disconnect.
One of the biggest factors that has always helped bolster singles prices is the idea that they are an investment. As my cards get older and sit in my trade binder, they appreciate in value because they become more and more scarce. Well, reprints really throw a monkey wrench into thinking about Magic cards in this way.
When I started writing for QS a few years ago, I was much more interested in holding onto cards for three or four years and waiting for their value to bloom. It was a tried and true strategy that had worked for years and years. However, with each subsequent reprint set it becomes more and more obvious that as speculators we need to adjust to the changes.
Since the first Modern Masters, the reprint sets have gotten better and deeper, culminating with MM17. As the average price per pack surges well above the suggested retail price, it is clear that Wizards has recognized a potent formula for selling product. Load it to the teeth with goodies and let the market sort itself out.
One of two things are going to happen when it comes to MM17, and the outcome will heavily influence how MTG looks thereafter.
- The set is so valuable, and demand so great for the product, that the price per pack/box shoots up and stays well over MSRP.
- Players and collectors are less interested in paying a steep premium above MSRP for MM17, and the price of the actual singles drops down into equilibrium with the per price pack.
I know what you're thinking... The price has already risen to correct for how stacked the set is. I agree 100%. However, it is not completely unreasonable for new items that are perceived as scarce or valuable to come out of the game above MSRP. Regardless, the real question is whether the increased price is sustainable one, two, or three months after the set drops.
My gut reaction is that, as excitement for cracking packs of "Chronicles II" wears off (assuming supply doesn't completely run out), the price will return to MSRP. In which case, it will mean that the values of the cards in the set will have adjusted to be in keeping with the actual value people are willing to pay per pack.
The other forward-thinking question we should be asking ourselves is whether the stacked nature of MM17 is a one-time gift to players, or the new norm when it comes to reprint sets.
The answer to this question will heavily influence how MTG finance works down the road. If we get a stacked Eternal and/or Modern Masters edition every single time from here on out, it will significantly diminish the market for Modern staples. They become risky, volatile investments with a high probability of seeing a reprint that would drastically affect their value.
So, where do we go from here? Well, in a world where more reprints may be an inevitability, Reserved List cards are looking better and better. Reserved List cards have no chance of a reprinting, which makes them safer investments. This at the same time that every else has become much less safe.
Adapting Our Speculative Strategy
The biggest way I've adapted to this new landscape is to take "long-term hold" largely off the table when it comes to anything not on the Reserved List. I want to focus my portfolio almost exclusively on Reserved List cards or highly unique original pack foils.
Sure, the prices on the cards that weren't included in MM17 spiked up significantly in the past week. These are the kinds of cards that turned into big gainers. However, these are still not safe long-term investments. Just because they dodged a reprint this time around doesn't mean they will be so lucky the next time around!
The other tool that will give you a huge edge up on the rest of the competition in a changing marketplace is recognizing ways to sell into price spikes. Since reprints are inevitable, it is likely that in a majority of scenarios a price spike will always represent a high watermark on a majority of cards. Since I'm advocating moving away from long-term investments on Modern and Standard, I recognize that I want to flip cards at every good opportunity, for either cash or Reserved List investments.
Recognizing price spikes, and having the means and motivation to flip cards quickly when the price goes up, is a big game, and likely one of the best ways to maximize your value.
The other piece of the investing puzzle is to focus more on short gainers than long-term gainers. When I'm trading, I'll want to target cards that have a real chance to see an uptick in Constructed usage in the next few weeks or months, rather than cards that could be potentially useful down the road.
The Upside to the Changes
Lastly, while I'm concerned about possible negative consequences to the singles market in a post-reprint world, I don't specifically think what WoTC is doing is wrong or bad. It isn't WoTC's purpose or job to provide a monetarily lucrative means of revenue for the secondhand market.
There needs to be some amount of faith between collector and manufacturer—which may have been put on shakier ground by some of these moves—but Wizards' biggest responsibility is to the people who actually play the game, not to the people trying to make money off it. Modern needs to be an affordable format that everyone can enjoy without having to sell their blood to play. I'm willing to accept that the game may become more difficult to get value from, but that is okay because it means more people are able to enjoy it.
The best-case scenario is that the game continues to grow to include even more players. More players equals more demand, which equals more opportunity.
Either way, these are the strategies I'm looking at as I devise a plan to stay ahead of the curve and refocus my MTG collection in a way that is most profitable. It's a work in progress, but I think it has a lot of potential. I'm interested to hear what some of you guys think about how to adapt to these changes. Feel free to drop your thoughts into the comments.