Can there really be too much of a good thing? Well, with the release of a second Masters set in 2017, we just may find out.
I loved the release of the first Modern Masters back in 2013—the Modern format was on a meteoric rise and card prices were getting out of hand. There was just no way original supply on key Modern staples would have kept up with rising demand without massive rises in price. And while I think the card selection in Modern Masters 2015 had flaws, the reality was that more reprints were still needed. This is evidenced by the peak in Tarmogoyf’s price to over $200!
But it was around this time that I think Wizards made a step-change in their reprint strategy. After 2015, it would have been logical that a new reprint set would come two years later, in 2017. Instead we were surprised by an announcement of yet another Masters set in 2016: Eternal Masters.
Okay, so maybe these would be annual events. I think a Masters set every year will drain the well far faster than every other year. But by expanding options beyond just Modern, it meant a much wider selection of cards could be reprinted. Perhaps it would be sustainable.
Now in 2017 we have two Masters sets! We just had the release of Modern Masters 2017 (a success, I would say) and Wizards announced the release of a new celebration set in Iconic Masters. This reprint set will follow formats of all the previous ones: $9.99 MSRP, only a couple of languages, limited printing, etc.
Can the market really withstand this many reprint sets? What can we expect from Iconic Masters? What are the safest investments to make in 2018 and beyond? These questions are the ones I will attempt to tackle this week.
Highest Risks for Iconic Masters
We already know these reprint sets can apply a lot of downward pricing pressure on the cards in the set. It doesn’t matter how in-demand these staples are, prices will inevitably drop when supply on the open market suddenly rises. Even the fetch lands haven’t been immune to their recent reprints in MM17.
Scalding Tarn is a perennial, multi-format all-star yet it has dropped from $80 to low $60s so far this year. I’m not sure if there’s more downside in store, but a 20-25% drop is quite the haircut. And that’s one of the most played cards in the reprint set. Something like Damnation, which never sees play as a full four-of, has dropped even further.
So when looking ahead to Iconic Masters, we need to once again consider what cards are prime targets for reprinting in the set. We all know classic favorites like Serra Angel and Shivan Dragon will show up, but these aren’t financially relevant. There are a few cards that do stand to lose significant value upon a probable reprinting in the set.
My top guess for a reprint would be Mana Drain.
This is one of the most expensive cards that’s not on the Reserved List. Given its age, I’d wager a handful of folks didn’t even realize this was an uncommon and not a rare. At $200, this would be an amazing chase mythic to include in Iconic Masters in order to boost sales of the product.
Given that this card sees play in Vintage and Old School—two formats with a minuscule player base compared to Modern and Standard—a reprint would really pull down this card’s price. While the original Legends printing will hold a premium, I’m not going near this card even though I’d really like to have a couple for my Old School deck.
I also see Umezawa's Jitte and Rishadan Port as attractive inclusions. Putting these both at mythic rare also makes sense. But again, any influx in supply of these cards is likely to outstrip demand fairly quickly. You may even consider selling these before Iconic Masters spoilers begin. They have a long way to fall.
Flight to Safety
A number of vocal members of the MTG community started spreading rumors that Iconic Masters could be a surprise way to unveil the repeal of the Reserved List. Wizards of the Coast quickly put that rumor to rest with a single, elegant tweet.
As an investor in MTG, I applaud this declaration and deem it necessary in order to maintain trust with the investing community. This article isn’t going to delve into whether or not the Reserved List is bad for Magic. I’m just sharing the tweet to emphasize the security of the Reserved List, and I want to strategize investments appropriately.
With a number of valuable, iconic cards likely to get a price chop, we could easily see a flight to safety. Folks with many high-dollar cards may choose to consolidate their collection further in order to avoid the risk of reprints. There’s no need to look far and wide for good targets; Wizards of the Coast already summarized the safest MTG investments in one convenient list.
Once again I’ll state that as long as the game of Magic remains healthy and growing, bets on Reserved List cards are about the safest investments you can make. The more iconic, the better. Power, duals, Old School, Vintage, and Legacy staples are all prime targets that offer plenty of upside with minimal risk. As the game ages, these cards will become ever more scarce.
Imagine the state of these cards should Magic be around for another 25 years. Can you predict how expensive some of these cards would be? Of course, it’s impossible to project that far out. But it’s not completely out of the realm of possibility given Magic’s existence has already lasted nearly 25 years. And I suspect it won’t take that long to see significant gains in this subset of the MTG market. Even five years will bring with it appreciable returns.
A Related Observation
You don’t have to stop your search at the Reserved List. Any cards from around the time of Magic’s inception (namely Alpha and Beta) will continue to be attractive investments. It’s baffling to think about how few of these cards exist among the entire population of MTG players. Just 1,100 copies of every Alpha rare exists in the universe. That’s just 275 playsets!
Beta prospects aren’t much better, with only about three times the print run. Indeed, even the least desirable bulk rare from Alpha will probably be more expensive five years from now simply due to its rarity and collectibility.
Want even more compelling data? Well, check this out. I created an account with MTG Stocks a while ago so I could track some of the “noisier” prices—these are prices that fluctuate drastically due to lower stock on TCG Player. While the data is indeed bouncy, there’s one trend that does hold. Just see for yourself: the below picture is the weekly “Interests” for last week when you activate Alpha and Beta cards on the site.
Need I say more? Everyone is so fixated on new cards, Modern cards, and even mainstream Old School cards that they forget about the classics. Since Alpha and Beta don’t show up on the Interests page by default, I bet many people don’t even realize how expensive these classics are becoming. Is Beta Contract from Below really $60? If Near Mint, then absolutely—SCG is sold out at $49.99. Not sure I can explain Uthden Troll, but I’m sure there’s a good reason for the move.
Granted, when I scroll down to the bottom of the list, I see many Alpha and Beta cards dropping by more than 10% over the past week. This is normal volatility for these cards given their small stock. But this emphasizes my point more than it detracts from it: Alpha and Beta cards are extremely rare and there are surprisingly few for sale on the open market. This trend will only magnify over the next umpteen years that Magic exists. These will always be some of the most investible cards from the hobby.
Wrapping It Up
Massive reprint sets are here to stay. It’s clear that Wizards of the Coast has seen positive financial results from creating them, hence why they’re becoming an annual event. Now with an excuse to launch a second reprint set in Iconic Masters in 2017, Wizards is pulling out all the stops on reprints. They recognize the value of the player base who enjoys the older cards, and they are striving to sell us as much of this product as they can.
However one general truth remains: the Reserved List. It’s not going anywhere. That means as the game ages and prices on reprinted cards drop, more value will flood into the un-reprintable market. The more useful the cards, the higher their price ceiling.
Beyond the Reserved List, other classic cards continue to offer low-risk returns as collectors pick up the remaining copies on the open market. I fully expect there will come a time when many Alpha and Beta cards simply won’t be available for sale at a reasonable price. This trend has in fact already begun: I count six cards from Alpha that are completely out of stock on TCG Player. I’m sure there are also another handful of cards where there is stock, but pricing is significantly higher than what the market is willing to pay at this time. Five years from now, expect this gap to worsen. It’s inevitable.
To prepare yourselves for another 25 years of Magic, I highly suggest you include a couple key Alpha and Beta cards in your portfolio. It doesn’t have to be the four-figure cards; any reasonable rare will do. If you don’t get them soon, there may come a time in the future when it will be much more difficult to acquire them at a fair price. This is the trajectory I see—you’ve been warned.
- Alpha Nevinyrral's Disk was one of the cards completely gone from TCG Player. A quick search at Star City Games reveals zero copies as well, with a price tag of $499.99. I guess if you’re willing to shell out $370 you can buy an SP copy from eBay. But pretty soon sellers will be able to dictate whatever price they choose on these cards due to their rarity.
- It seems there are fewer dual lands on Star City’s site than there once was. I remember seeing dozens of copies unsold at inflated prices. Now something like Underground Sea is very low in stock. Right now SCG has 11 SP copies ($299.99) and 6 MP copies ($249.99). Volcanic Island is even sparser.
- I saw Star City Games had restocked a single copy of Three Wishes for $0.49. This is that random Visions rare that spiked on MTG Stocks not long ago. I think the next copy they relist will be at a higher price, but time will tell. It seems like the price on this one is sticking. And why shouldn’t it? It’s a Reserved List card, after all!