As Eternal Weekend approaches, I anticipate much of the Old School card hype will reach a climax. After the event is over, there will be a subtle decline in the format as players disperse. This may create some slight downward pressure on card prices, although I fully expect most of the movement to stick on any playable card in the format.
Meanwhile, Standard hype is peaking—you may not have noticed because it still feels like Ramunap Red and Temur Energy continue to dominate the playing field despite the rotation that occurred. While I haven’t seen too many novel, inspiring builds, the shift in the format has generated sufficient opportunity to profit on cards like Deathgorge Scavenger and Hostage Taker. And of course the Pro Tour will highlight any new innovations from the pros.
At the same time, Commander has recently become one of the most popular formats. Wizards has hit home runs with their recent Commander product offerings and it has been a bedrock for profit. Speculators have enjoyed buying up foils that were once considered bulk but now have a reason to be owned thanks to the rise in Commander’s popularity. This will continue to be a mainstay going forward.
But do you know what format has been largely irrelevant in the world of MTG finance lately? Modern. It seems that the format has gotten rather stale in terms of financial opportunity. And while many still swear by the merits of the format, one cannot argue with recent price stagnation as seen on many of its key staples like Snapcaster Mage.
What’s going on with Modern? Could this be the investment opportunity of winter 2017? Or will Modern cards continue to decay in value as the format ages? Let’s investigate!
Recent Price Trends
As I mentioned, many critical Modern staples have seen their prices flatline. Take a look at one of the most played rares in the format: Wooded Foothills.
The card has been rangebound between $16 and $17 for over a year and there’s no indication this will change in the immediate term. What’s more, there are 319 vendors as of Sunday morning for the Khans of Tarkir printing of this card. Without some major speculative buying, there may not be sufficient natural format growth to absorb so many copies of this card—even if purchased two or three at a time.
This will likely be the case for other fetch lands, as well as Thoughtseize, another format staple. The reprinting of Thoughtseize in particular will present yet another headwind for one of the format’s defining cards.
Browsing through Modern’s other top played cards, it’s difficult to find something that hasn’t recently been reprinted. All the fetches, Snapcaster Mage, Stony Silence, Inquisition of Kozilek, Liliana of the Veil, etc. have all been reprinted in some capacity. This applies continuous pressure on prices and prevents them from breaking to new highs without significant rise in demand.
Then as you reach even deeper into the Modern pool, you do start to uncover cards that haven’t been reprinted in a while. But these cards carry with them additional risk of being reprinted again in a subsequent Masters product.
Chalice of the Void hasn’t been printed since the first Modern Masters set, but it is worth around $80 so can there really be additional upside? Likely any upside potential is far outweighed by downside risk at another reprint. Celestial Colonnade cracks the top 50 cards in Modern and it has never been reprinted. But do you really want to take the risk on this near-$40 card when you know it has to be on Wizards’s radar? Again, the upside doesn’t seem worth the downside risk.
Modern’s Near-Term Catalysts
It’s not all doom and gloom for Modern, however. Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan is coming up in less than four months and will be the first Modern Pro Tour in quite some time. If there is any room to innovate in the format, professional players will surely find it.
Perhaps the major event coverage will remind some Modern fans of why they enjoy the format so much. More importantly, any players who recently got into competitive Magic may see what Modern has to offer on a grander scale and start to build up a Modern collection of their own. This would be the required outcome to catalyze Modern prices.
We also know that Masters 25, which releases in March 2018, will have a different theme than the traditional Modern Masters sets. Perhaps this will put more focus on reprints of Commander, Legacy and Vintage staples and less on Modern cards. Cards that dodge reprint in this set should have smoother sailing for at least half a year and this could buoy prices a bit.
Lastly, if Standard does go stale quickly as it has in recent history, this could also drive more interest in other formats. Modern being more accessible than Legacy and Vintage makes it a natural choice for players who are tired of seeing their decks rotate. Again, the only way Modern prices will rise from here is if new players enter the format. Otherwise prices will stagnate on anything that doesn’t have supplemental demand from other formats.
Looking Ahead: My Take
There enters my strategy. For all of 2017 I have basically ignored Modern speculation altogether. I missed a few spikes when the Death's Shadow strategy broke out, but all in all I find there has been more opportunity to profit elsewhere.
This has been the year of the Reserved List and Old School cards, and I have been riding this wave as much as possible. When looking at a chart for, say, Polluted Delta, and comparing it to the chart of Guardian Beast, it’s clear why I have chosen to invest in the latter and not the former.
But as I mentioned at the top, I think some of this Old School interest could finally settle down once Eternal Weekend passes. I do believe there will be a shifted focus towards Modern as the Modern Pro Tour approaches. Therefore, I wouldn’t be opposed to acquiring some key Modern staples that are unlikely to show up in Masters 25. Ideally, you find the cards that have overlap in other formats as well, as that gives you the most robust demand profile.
As for specific ideas, I have a few. But they all carry the giant caveat that these need to dodge Masters 25 to be worth pursuing.
What do you all think about The Dark printings of Blood Moon?
Blood Moon is the 42nd most played card in Modern according to MTG Stocks, and it was just reprinted not long ago in Modern Masters 2017. This suggests to me the card isn’t likely to be reprinted again so quickly. Since being reprinted the Modern Masters 2017 copy has dropped from $30 to $20, however, The Dark’s printing has remained largely flat.
There might be just enough demand from Old School to keep this card afloat regardless of reprinting anyway, which is why I particularly like this target. The only downside is that there are a ton of copies in stock at TCGplayer, so it may be a while before this card sees another pop. Still, LP and NM copies are a bit more sparse, and Channel Fireball has thrown a floor in the market by offering a $40 buy price. This should help make this investment very low risk with plenty of upside.
Another target I like for similar reasons are the Antiquities printings of the Tron lands.
These lands are 33-35 in rank of most played Modern cards. Just like with Blood Moon, no amount of reprinting will take away from the original cards’ value. While Tron isn’t a major Old School strategy, the nostalgia and appeal of original printings should help keep the classic lands afloat and give you gradual upside over time.
Lastly, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that shock lands—particularly popular ones like Stomping Ground—may finally have their day in the sun.
Despite the massive printing of Return to Ravnica block, we’re getting to a point now where these lands are approaching five years in age. I don’t think they make any sense as Masters 25 reprints, so I could definitely see upward movement come the Modern Pro Tour. These lands define the format in many ways, and so many decks rely on them for their mana bases.
The desirable shock lands had been bottoming for a year or two, but they have finally shown movement over the past two years. In early 2016 Stomping Ground was $10 and now it is approaching $15. While hardly worth the return, the right catalyst could certainly send these higher if the Pro Tour causes enough movement.
Wrapping It Up
After writing this article and researching the data, I honestly have a tough time getting excited about any Modern specs. The format has been rather stagnant in its player base, and this has really stunted any financial growth. The booming years of Modern’s profitability are behind us now, which means we need to be very strategic in our investing.
I tried to present a few options for those who insist on having Modern exposure as we head into the Pro Tour. But in the end, I think if you want to invest in a non-rotating format you have two options. You can either buy into fringe Modern cards you think will break out in the Pro Tour, or you can put your money into formats that are experiencing actual growth.
Commander and Old School are the two thriving formats that come to mind. As new players get in (or build more decks), the available cards on the market dwindles—this gives you that pop in price. Without a growing player base, a non-rotating format will really have a tough time generating profits for speculators.
This is a major reason why I’ve focused so much on Old School in my writings. It’s the format I am most familiar with at this point, and I recognized the growth combined with limited card pools that can generate massive price movements. That used to be Modern, but those days are long gone.
If you ask me, Modern speculation should be accidental (via speculation on Old School or Commander) rather than deliberate, except for niche cards that aren’t on people’s radars yet. Anything more is a bet on further Modern growth. This is possible with the upcoming Modern Pro Tour, but I find it unlikely. Thus, I’ll stick with what I know.
- I’m a bit confused by this one: I have now sold a handful of Varchild's War-Riders on eBay for around $3.50 a copy. This is below TCGplayer, so the sales make sense, right? Except Star City Games has 32 copies in stock between NM and PL conditions with a price tag of $1.19 to $1.49. This is less than half the price I’ve been moving copies at and it’s in line with Card Kingdom’s buy price. This is a rare store-to-store bit of arbitrage that someone can jump on if they’re so inclined.
- It’s no surprise that Erhnam Djinn spiked as it’s a major Old School staple. The price won’t stick this high, but I can see a $200 price tag quite easily going forward. For now Star City Games is sold out at $149.99, but I am fairly confident their price will be higher when they restock.
- Now that we’ve seen Serendib Efreet and Erhnam Djinn pop, I think Arabian Nights City of Brass could be next. I have gone out of my way to pick up a couple copies I want for Old School, but these have gotten fairly sparse and expensive. I do see Star City Games has three NM copies in stock, but their $199.99 price tag is a bit staggering at this point in time. Still, I am confident these will sell eventually—it’s a matter of when, not if!