Welcome back, readers!
Modern Masters 2017 spoilers are now completed and the sentiment from many players is pure ecstasy. With so many valuable reprints, it's easy for players who were struggling to get into Modern or playing lower-tier decks to look at this set as the greatest of all time. After all, the spoiler list is almost a checklist of every valuable Modern card.
Previous Modern Masters sets have added a decent number of Modern staples to the supply, but not enough to really crush prices (as evidenced by the fact that the top Modern Masters reprints have tended to rebound for the most part). The key factor, though, is that the previous MM sets had a lot of chaff in them. I did an article comparing the two previous sets before, and found that a good number of rares in those sets weren't heavily played (or even at all) in Modern. But this one is different.
We're seeing a much higher percentage of playable rares, but we're also seeing a much higher print run. The original Modern Masters set was extremely limited (many smaller stores only got eight boxes), and even the larger stores ran out very quickly. But Modern Masters 2017… My LGS alone is getting 120 boxes and I'm seeing lots of sellers/stores claiming 100-200 boxes. This doesn't even count the really big boys like Star City Games, Channel Fireball, Card Kingdom, etc.
Not to be Chicken Little here, but this set is looking a whole lot more like Chronicles than it is like Modern Masters 2013. For those who forgot or were too young to remember, Chronicles obliterated the prices of the cards included. It led to the creation of the Reserved List to calm fears from stores and collectors who had watched a lot of valuable cards they owned drop to worthlessness.
That isn't to say the markets are going to freak out and everything is doomed. Wizards certainly knows what they're doing, and they're unlikely to repeat a debacle on the level of Chronicles. But there are a lot of parallels between these two sets, and it's fair to to say we can expect a larger impact than what we saw with the first two Modern Masters sets.
Local Supply Increases
Let's do some math here. There are 53 rares and 15 mythics in the set. Say there are three LGSs within a 30-minute drive from you, and that each gets 100 boxes (on the low end here). We expect around three mythics per box (replacing the rare).
Thus in your area you'd see 300 boxes * 3 mythics per box = 900 mythics. Assuming an even distribution, this totals about 60 copies of each mythic, or 15 playsets each.
Now for the rares. Again assuming three mythics per box, that's 300 boxes * 21 packs per box = 6300 total rares. With an even distribution, that's 118, or a little under 30 playsets, of each rare.
That might not seem like a lot, but consider that each is a reprint, so there are already copies available in the local area. Now you're adding a whole lot more to that local supply.
Can your local playerbase absorb 30 playsets of Blood Moon or Goblin Guide? The reason this is important is because if a lot of areas answer no (which I think will be the case), we'll have a huge surplus on a lot of these cards. Surpluses mean price drops; huge surpluses mean huge price drops.
The overall Magic playerbase, while considerably larger than it was 10 years ago, is still a tiny fraction of the population. The current estimate for total number of Magic players is somewhere in the 21-23 million range. Per Hasbro's earning report in 2016 there are 1 million registered DCI players (these are the ones I would expect to spend more on the game, especially a high-ticket item like Modern Masters boosters).
Guestimating by population, if we assume half of these players are located in the North America, then we expect around 0.000086% of the population to be registered players. If your local population is 200,000 (a pretty decent-sized city), then you might have around 172 players.
So how many of those 172 players want to play Modern? How many don't already have the cards necessary? These questions will greatly affect what the prices of cards in this set will do.
The other factor that needs to be considered is that WoTC currently releases a Masters set every year (last year was Eternal Masters). We don't know if they'll be releasing a Modern-themed one specifically every year, but the next one isn't far away. This implies that, from here on out, Modern prices may be kept heavily deflated compared to previous highs.
So this begs the question: if I'm a store owner and my profit margin is much higher on singles than on sealed product, do I want Modern prices kept perpetually low? Obviously, no, I don't. It's less likely that these sudden cheaper prices bring in tons of new players buying cards.
If I have operating costs totaling $1200 a month and I make 45% profit margin on singles, then I would rather have to sell 100 $27 cards than 400 $6.75 cards. The effort required to sell (and buy) 400 cards is obviously much higher. That doesn't mean we'll see cards lose 75% of their value, though I honestly think it's possible for some of the more casual stuff like Basilisk Collar.
I'll also concede that it's likely easier to sell cheaper cards. However, the fact is that you have to sell a lot more of them to make the same total amount of money, and this may not work for many store owners.
In conclusion, this set seems to be a short-term home run, but long-term could have serious impacts on the format and community. While these reprint sets are great for newer players, they can harm stores (or people with large inventories).
There's a term in economics called "loss aversion." Lots of research has shown that people view the negative of losing something as more impactful than the positive of gaining the same thing. Basically, if the pain of losing something had a measurable scale, its number would be higher than the joy of gaining the same thing on the same scale.
A lot of players and stores lost a lot of money with this set. Previous Modern Masters sets included much fewer money reprints, so the loss you took on some cards getting reprinted was likely counteracted (and overshadowed) by the gains you took on acquiring new cards much cheaper than you could previously.
This set, however, was filled to the brim with valuable and semi-valuable reprints. If you read my last article comparing the previous two versions of Modern Masters, specifically at the rare spot, we had only 21 that had seen some Modern play in the original MMA set and only 15 in MM2. Compare that with this newest Modern Masters and my count is at 28—more importantly, many of those 28 were above $5 prior to this printing.