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.
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…
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.
- 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.