This past week, Lee Sharpe unveiled new updates to treasure chests for MTGO. These changes are more important than most treasure chest updates because they offer hints about how Wizards plans to make treasure chests more sustainable and stable going forward. As has been plainly manifest for some time now, treasure chests have been declining in value, and in September, they even dipped below the price point at which playing in Constructed Leagues was profitable. Ensuring that Constructed events are profitable for players generates demand for the cards on MTGO, so they don't like it when treasure chests' value dips below 2.15 tix, and they grow alarmed if treasure chests' value threatens to dip below 2.00 tix. What is their solution? I'm here to break it down for you!
I. An Increasing Share of Treasure Chest Value is Being placed in Standard Cards
Treasure chests now contain complete sets of every set legal in Standard. Every set from Kaladesh to Ixalan now has its own curated card slot. Every non-foil complete set has a curated card frequency of three, and every foil complete set has a curated card frequency of one. A year ago, you could open a treasure chest and "win the lottery" by opening a Rishadan Port or Wasteland. These lottery cards once helped to buttress the value of treasure chests, but now that their prices have plummeted as their supplies have increased, so they no longer have the same effect on treasure chest value. Complete sets of Standard are the new lottery cards intended to keep the value of treasure chests from falling close to 2.00 tix.
Treasure chests now contain cards from the most recently printed set. Every treasure chest update brings with it a greater focus on Standard cards. Early this summer, Wizards began introducing older, non-redeemable Standard cards into treasure chests. Then, with the Ixalan update, Amonkhet block cards still eligible for redemption were introduced to the treasure chests. With the November 15th update, treasure chests will for the first time contain cards from the current draft format, Ixalan.
I believe that these changes will have the beneficial and intended consequences of halting the decline in treasure chest value. Demand for Standard staples is higher than demand for Eternal staples, and so infusing the market with Standard staples instead of Eternal staples should not affect those cards' prices as much as what we've seen from Eternal staples. To be sure, this will limit the potential growth of your Standard investments, because there will be a steady stream of supply of those cards entering the marketplace long after the set has ceased being drafted. On the other hand, we could see this as merely replacing the increased supply that used to come from sets being drafted for far longer than they are now. I do not think that you should worry about investing into Standard, and I still think that investing in Standard should constitute the largest part of your investment portfolios.
II. A Closer Look at Standard Cards inside Treasure Chests
Below are tables (click the link to expand) showing all the Standard-legal cards that are on the curated list, sorted by set and then by price. I think it's important to have a sense for how Wizards is managing the release of Standard staples into the market through treasure chests.
I think what stands out from this data is how standardized it is. We are getting a clear model from Hour of Devastation and Ixalan for how we can expect the curated frequencies to work moving forward – 12 for cards over $5.00 and 6 for the others. There are some oddities in the frequencies of the prior Standard sets (Glorybringer and Approach of the Second Sun with frequencies of 12), but I think the reason for the higher frequencies of Kaladesh block cards is that Wizards is trying to play catch up with them, to get their supplies up to where they would have been had they been in treasure chests for the entire duration of their Standard life.
Why are some expensive cards not on the list and some cheap cards on the list?
These cards are just some of the cards that are not on the curated list yet are more expensive than many of the cards that are on the list. What gives? Different explanations work for different cards, but it is hard to come up with a rule that works in all these cases. It seems clear that there is a real human element in choosing which cards are put on the list, as various potential economic rules aren't being applied universally.
I wonder, then, whether this human element makes it exploitable, whether we are able to glean certain things about future Standard seasons that we wouldn't otherwise be privy to. The inclusion of Approach from the Second Sun and Regal Caracal and the exclusion of Rhonas the Indomitable, for example, make me wonder whether the curated inclusions and their frequencies are taking into account data gained from the Future Future League (FFL), among other sources. Only time will tell.
Should we make investment decisions based upon which Ixalan cards were added to, or kept off, the list?
This is a very interesting question, and one that I anticipate has come to the mind of many readers. I know it certainly has come to my mind.
These three cards in particular were not added to the list despite cheaper cards like Legion's Landing // Adanto, the First Fort and Treasure Map // Treasure Cove being added to the list. It is possible that Lee Sharpe had already determined which cards would be on the list prior to Ixalan's release (which would be a vote of confidence in favor of all those cards). It is also possible that the pool of Ixalan cards and their curated frequencies were determined more recently and with an awareness of what Standard might look like after the release of Rivals of Ixalan (which, again, would be a vote of confidence in favor of all these cards).
We definitely need more sets under our belt before determining how much predicative power the curated list has for the future success of new Standard cards, but it is something that we should revisit in six months. If Jace, Cunning Castaway does well while Huatli, Warrior Poet languishes, or if Treasure Map // Treasure Cove sees a lot of play while Settle the Wreckage sits on the sidelines, using this list to inform our investment decisions might become a really useful weapon in our speculative arsenal.
On the flip side, some might feel squeamish about investing in cards put onto the curated list. Settle the Wreckage and Rampaging Ferocidon not being on the list might be seen as a reason to invest in them. My advice is to not allow exclusion from the curated list to impact your investment decisions too much at this time. As I noted earlier in this article, I think that Standard demand is so high that a card's inclusion in treasure chests should not dramatically affect its speculative potential. I wouldn't actively avoid the cards being put in treasure chests, and in fact I'm quite interested in exploring the potential for the curated list to predict future success. With that said, I'm not going to hesitate to invest in cards like Settle the Wreckage if the price is right – I think we need to still trust our intuitive judgments regarding the potential of cards to rise in price.
III. Signing Off
A copy of my investment portfolio can be found here. I've done a little more selling of late than I would have liked, but I needed to free up capital to launch my first foray into Legacy, which has been a blast. It's been a goal of mine to be able to play an Eternal format, and I'm happy that the investments I've made have enabled me to do it.
Also, fellow QS Writer Matt Lewis proved to be correct, and I wrong, about the trajectory of Ixalan's set value. After having stabilized and shown slight continual growth for weeks, the set's value seemed to have already bottomed out, but ever since the Pro Tour the overall value of the set has declined markedly. Much of that has to do with Vraska, Relic Seeker's crashing fall, but prices across the board have decreased. It seems that uncertainty and respect for the Pro Tour was holding up prices, even after Ixalan's abysmal showing at Worlds.
I'm happy to have written the articles on Ixalan finance already, as that will arm you with some knowledge and perspective heading into December, which will be an optimal month to invest in Ixalan. I definitely wish I had held off on some of my investments, but lesson learned! I'm still happy with my overall position, and will use December to increase my holdings of cards like Glacial Fortress, Captain Lannery Storm and Chart a Course.
Wishing each of you a Happy Thanksgiving!