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Insider: What Not to Buy in this Market

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It would appear Modern Masters 2017 will be a tremendous hit. The amount of value Wizards of the Coast included in this set is phenomenal, and it seems like everything short of the Kitchen Finks was reprinted. We even finally got our Damnation reprint.


A successful MM17 set was one of my criteria when I shared my optimism for MTG finance a couple weeks ago. I can confidently say this box was checked—and then some! Players are going to be purchasing this product like mad, and this should drive at least modest resurgence in Modern interest across the board. If nothing else, knowing what was in the set enabled players to finally pick up the cards they needed, now knowing whether or not the price of those cards would tank from reprinting.

But while I do believe Magic is in a good place right now, I still wanted to share a caution or two. There are some major investment traps out there that I think need highlighting. There are plenty of good targets to acquire for investment or short-term flip, but there are also some land mines that could crater your portfolio if you’re not careful.

Masterpieces: A Value Trap

When Wizards announced the addition of Expeditions to Battle for Zendikar and Oath of the Gatewatch packs, this sparked a resurgence of hype in the Magic community. The move essentially made these packs like lottery tickets: get lucky, and you could be looking at a $100 or even $200 card. Not so lucky, and your rares and mythic rares just became worth significantly less. The idea was that these high-end premium cards would subsidize the cost of Standard for the average player—and the strategy certainly worked.

The result: only two cards in all of BFZ are worth more than $10. Gideon, Ally of Zendikar and Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger. Both are mythics, and they eat up most of the value that remains in the set.


Meanwhile, at first the Expeditions seemed like a slam dunk. In addition to the one I opened, I also bought a Flooded Strand, Misty Rainforest, and a couple Expedition shock lands as investments. I even distinctly remember at one point Star City Games was paying $70 for the Expedition version of Overgrown Tomb—this when the card was selling for less than that on eBay on a weekly basis! I took advantage of the arbitrage a couple of times.

SCG sale

Surely with Star City Games buying so aggressively, these cards were destined to rise in price, right? It seemed like many speculators were moving significant funds into these. I was in that camp as well, but then I realized something.

At first these premium cards were rising in price on a regular basis, with stock on some of the most desirable ones down to single digits. Then stock started to increase. At the first sign of a downtick in prices, I bailed. The move was rash, but I managed to break even on most of my Expeditions at the time. In hindsight, this was a brilliant move…


After peaking in December of 2015, these rarities have monotonically dropped in price (minus some noise in the data). Most of the original Expeditions are now cheaper than they were upon launch. You know how much Star City Games pays for Overgrown Tomb now? $30.

Some may start thinking this is the right time to buy. This is the value trap I want to warn you about. The thing is, Wizards of the Coast made some more amazing Masterpieces in the most recent block. And they’re going to do this again with Amonkhet. And then it will happen again in the next set, and then the next. In short, there are suddenly going to be a ton of high-end cards flooding the market.

While Zendikar Expeditions will always be first, and the fetch lands will always be desirable, I’m not so sure they can hold even these deflated prices. Players who enjoy the flashiest of cards will need to split their money to pick up all these incoming Masterpieces. They may not have enough money for the Expeditions. And as more come out, there will be more to acquire.

In my mind, you can bucket all of the Masterpiece Series into one giant lump of “supply.” The cards may vary, but there’s enough similarity between them that an increase in their supply will hurt the prices of the lot. And with Modern Masters 2017 bringing us reprints of Zendikar fetches, the premium multiplier will skyrocket between Expeditions and MM17 printings. As the MM17 printing tanks the price, I think this will cause Expedition fetches to tumble further.

Sealed Modern Masters Boxes

There aren’t many boxes of the first Modern Masters for sale on TCG Player. By my count there are 22 across the 11 vendors who have them in stock. The price starts at $425 and climbs from there. On eBay there are some around $400. Unfortunately there’s no good price chart for this product. But if I look at eBay completed listings and focus on boxes that sold longest ago, I see some go in the $375 range back in December 2016.

So these have climbed from $375 to $400 on eBay in three months—that’s not a bad return! That’s around 27% when you annualize. Modern Masters boxes were terrific investments because the set had such a low print run and contained such value. Then when Modern Masters 2015 was a disappointment, it kept prices of the first version higher because it was superior. Then as Modern prices rebounded, Modern Masters boxes became even more attractive.

If this is the thesis behind the MMA box investment, then I believe these are going to be at risk once MM17 is released. Modern Masters 2017 won’t be a flop like Modern Masters 2015 was. This set is going to sell extremely well, and it will lead to a major decline in staple prices across the board. As focus shifts to MM17, I believe the new set will detract from interest in MMA.

Sure, MMA has plenty of chase cards that won’t be reprinted yet. But MM17 has enough juice that I don’t think it will matter. While I don’t see MMA boxes dropping significantly, I think they may be dead money for quite a while, and that opportunity cost is huge.

With the frequency of Masters sets (just like with Expeditions), I can’t see these being worthwhile investments as Wizards pumps more and more supply into the market. There may be some lingering premium for MMA boxes being first, but if Wizards’ plan is to circle back around and reprint cards that have already been reprinted, then I have little interest in holding onto these for the long term.

Old School Spikes

The last thing I want to caution you about this week involves my favorite format: Old School. You may have noticed some fairly random spikes lately on cards you may not have even heard of. Stuff like this…


…or this…


Now, it’s true I haven’t played as much Old School as others in the Magic community. Having a couple young kids really cuts into my playing time. But I do follow many active Old School players on Twitter, and I have never seen them mention either of these cards. I’ve never seen decks using these cards either. Honestly, I have no clue what is causing these spikes outside of a shotgun speculation strategy or a gradual collector demand.

When spikes like these happen, I’m more inclined to sell than to buy. Some price increases are merited. For example, I know players have been attempting to cheat Colossus of Sardia into play with Transmute Artifact, untapping the creature with Twiddle.


But not all cards that spike are seeing Old School play. I’d emphasize caution when you’re checking MTG Stocks and reacting to price spikes. Before chasing or speculating on an older card, make sure you do your research first. Some spikes are warranted and will stick, while others could leave you with a dozen useless cards that no one is going to buy at the “new” price.

Wrapping It Up

There are still many reasons to be optimistic about MTG finance. Modern Masters 2017 will still generate hype for Modern players and will break down some barriers of entry for some. Amonkhet spoilers are just around the corner, and this will refresh Standard and generate a lot of buzz. And Old School cards are not getting any easier to find. All of these factors makes Magic an attractive investment for 2017.

But you can’t go out and buy everything. There needs to be order to your purchasing. Avoiding pitfalls such as the nonstop flood of Masterpieces and Modern Masters boxes will help you avoid parking funds in areas of little-to-no growth. And of course, not all Old School spikes should be treated equally. Some are certainly merited, but others may be poor attempts at market manipulation. Definitely do your research before picking up anything from 1993-1994.

Oh, and if anyone needs a Three Wishes let me know… I think I have one of those somewhere. I’d be happy to sell it—this is not a $4 card.


Sigbits

  • Did you get in on the Rite of Passage spike? Star City Games upped their price to $3.99, but they haven’t restocked any copies yet. I am actually surprised this one is staying well above bulk—I would have expected a more significant pullback by now. This may actually settle in the $2-$3 range when all is said and done.
  • I’ve noticed a good deal of movement on Argivian Archaeologist lately. The Antiquities card is an appreciated classic, and it’s one of the first cards to be worth good money in the early days of Magic. Artifacts are heavily utilized in Old School, and I can definitely see recurring something like Chaos Orb or Black Lotus as being attractive. Any increase in this card’s price is likely for real.
  • It seems like Beta Rock Hydra has some decent demand. This is probably from Old School players and collectors, though I’ll admit the card isn’t that exciting to play with. Take it from me: I have one in my budget red-green deck. That said I had a couple copies that sold on eBay so there is some slow, steady demand there. Star City Games is sold out at $59.99, though the fact they have Alpha copies in stock tells me the ceiling on this one can’t move until Alpha sells out.

17 thoughts on “Insider: What Not to Buy in this Market

  1. I disagree with your assertion that MMA boxes are dead money; if anything, I have gotten more interest for them after spoilers were announced for MM3 due to the lack of an overlap between the two sets. I would not advocate buying them for $400 as an investment, but as someone currently holding a box or two, I am now actually reluctant to sell until the post-MM3 economy develops more.

    Would they be dead money if hypothetical MM4 contained a ton of MMA reprints? They would probably be tougher to move, but given how easily I have been moving Heavenly Inferno decks for $180-200 over the past month despite common knowledge that it is being reprinted in Commander Anthology this year makes me wonder just how long it would take for it to have an impact.

    1. Patrick,

      I appreciate your counter-perspective! I guess if I’m a player who wants to buy some Modern Masters product and I have $400 to spend, I have to ask myself: would I prefer 1 box of MMA or 2 boxes of MM17? Given all the value in MM17, I think I’d rather spend the money there.

      Perhaps you’re right that MMA boxes won’t drop, but I can’t see them gaining a ton of interest now that a comparably strong Modern Masters set is so readily available. You also bring up a valid point on MM4 – there’s a constant threat that Wizards recycles back to some older reprints as prices climb higher, and this would really hurt values. I guess there’s no harm in holding another year to see how things unfold, but I think there are better places to park $400.

      Thanks again for sharing! I hope others share their opinions as well!

      1. Do not get me wrong, I actually agree with your article’s message that it is unwise to purchase MMA boxes at this time as an investment; a great deal of the contents inside will likely be reprinted within the next 4 years and the interest gained per box is unlikely to overcome the buy/sell spreads of vendors or EBay platform fees by enough to justify the purchase.

        My counter-argument is simply about the lack of interest for the product beginning at this time. EBay has made it possible to reach a broad audience, and it does not take many bidders showing interest to push a product’s selling price towards its EV unless one commits a major listing error. Commander 2016 is being met by a level of acclaim from casuals that rivals the reception being given to Modern Masters 2017, yet I was still able to sell 2 dusty sealed Heavenly Inferno decks from Commander 2011 for over what they are worth despite full knowledge that the cards are being reprinted this year.

        Until the contents of MMA drop significantly, I will feel confident about the appreciation of the boxes…in the short-term. Three months from now, after the post MM3 hype cools and cards snubbed from the set finish spiking, I will likely continue the process of strategically selling MMA boxes just so I do not get caught with a ton of them in case they announce a “Modern Masters Anthology” or a similar product.

        Your article was a great read, thank you for taking the time to write it!

        1. My pleasure, I’m glad you appreciated the article.

          Regarding Heavenly Inferno, let’s see what happens to the price AFTER the release of the Anthology series. My Duel Deck Garruk vs. Liliana has dropped in price since the Duel Deck Anthology release (although I’ll admit I haven’t been tracking the price closely).

          I think demand for a reprint set of Modern should be analyzed differently from a Commander deck, but we’re both just making best guesses given the lack of data we have in this space. It’ll be interesting to see…I still would prefer to have funds parked elsewhere besides MMA boxes though.

  2. The silly spikes mentioned in your article, Falling Star, Goblin Wizard and Three Wishes, seem to coincide with the Crystal Commerce issues last week where those same cards were near the top of the charts. Quite likely people saw the spike, listed theirs pretty high to match and now they show a higher price even though there’s no actual demand.

    1. Goblin Wizard was actually trending up prior to the CC outage. I actually like this one longterm as an interesting casual tribal card 🙂

    2. That may be the case on Three Wishes, but as Tarkan pointed out Goblin Wizard has been trending upward for a while now. Also, the Falling Star spike happened before the CC issues as well – I know it was discussed on a podcast which took place before the issues. This is evidenced by the fact that stock of Falling Star remains extremely low on TCG Player despite the CC issues being resolved (I assume they were resolved, at least).

  3. About expeditions. It may depend on the area, but here, a pimp player has expeditions. Modern players have a mana base full of expeditions, and the treasures I open can still be sold very easy to legacy and vintage players.

    The last group is not a growing group, but there is still growth possible in the modern player base, so shocks and fetchland foil have growth in my opinion.

    Also, remember that those cards were printed recently. It’s obvious that you need some years before profit. The profit was so obvious that many short term investors jumped on it, and realized their money was locked, so they sold too soon already.

    The only thing that can go wrong is that they reprint the same expeditions. Which is still possible of course.

    1. Well they’re going to keep printing some form of Masterpieces…not sure how many iterations they’ll go through before returning to past ideas but I still think players will only spend so much on Masterpiece-type cards.

      1. Personally, I bought a set of mox opals. I paid on average 80€/card. Today I can already sell them for 100€/card.

        20€/ card profit on 2 months is very significant.

        I think there is a real demand and those prices will not go down easily.

        1. Mox Opal had many factors for it to cause it to go up. The regular copies also soared because of increased play in Modern and a lack of reprint.

          Compare this to something less tied to a Modern metagame, like Solemn Simulacrum, and you’ll see a completely different trend. You made money not because you bought a Masterpiece, but because you bought Mox Opal. (Still happy you did make profit though, nicely done :)).

  4. about Modern masters. MM15 was a hit too. Certainly with the triple GP. I don’t think you can call it a flop, because it sold very good. I would not be surprised if MM15 made more profit for WOTC than MMA.

    1. MM15 probably made more money for WOTC than MMA because WOTC printed much more of it. I just feel MM15, when compared to MMA (and certainly MM17), was less desirable.

      Put another way if we poll folks on whether they’d want to pay $10 for a pack of MMA, MM15, or MM17, I would wager MM15 would come in last place in that poll.

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