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Insider: Speculating on Unstable’s Launch

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The year was 1998. I had been playing Magic for about a year when I learned about a new set that was just released (likely from an InQuest Magazine at the local hobby shop). The set would be filled with joke cards, not allowed in tournaments, that mock some of the themes of Magic. The set was called Unglued.

“10 Bizarre and Broken Cards,” boasted the packaging. And who could forget that classic image of Jester's Sombrero on the packaging—a mockery of Jester's Cap, one of the most dominant cards in that time period.


Other highlights from the set included Chaos Confetti, Jack-in-the-Mox, and Blacker Lotus. They all carried such allure to me as a newcomer to the game. Sadly, the set was released when I was but a poor middle school student. Obtaining booster packs was a rare occurrence and I never had the joy of opening a pack of this set.

When Unhinged was released six years later, I was a college student still with limited funds. I managed to acquire a few packs and even enjoyed a draft of the set (I went all-in on Tainted Monkey and lost in the finals). The experience was an absolute delight.

Now in 2017 we are at last witnessing the completion of the “Un” block with the release of Unstable. At this stage in life I am excited for the release of this much-anticipated set for four reasons. First, I always appreciated these joke sets and enjoy the casual appeal they offer. Second, I have the resources available to acquire a satisfactory quantity of product for once. Third, I can enjoy the set with my five-year-old son, who will surely get plenty of laughs out of these cards.

And fourth, I can try and make some money with this set.

Hold Your Horses!

Before diving in and buying product left and right, let me first caution you on something. Between the release of Unglued and Unhinged, Magic grew exponentially in popularity. The number of players in 1998 had to be miniscule as compared to 2004. By the time Unhinged was released, Unglued boxes were a hot commodity and tough to come by. Now, 13 years later, Unhinged product is equally coveted due to its rarity. That’s because there was again explosive growth in the player base from 2004 to 2017.

Fast forward to today, and we see a different landscape for Magic. Unglued and Unhinged were printed in modest quantities for their time. But given the growth of Magic’s player base, the quantities are laughably small. This catalyzed explosive growth in the price for boxes from these sets.

One may draw a seemingly logical conclusion that Unstable boxes will move in the same way. A $90 investment appreciating to $530 in 13 years equates to around 15% annualized, compounding returns over the course of that time period—not half bad. But remember that explosive growth in player-base that occurred around the time of Innistrad and Return to Ravnica. These sets brought a ton of new players to the game, which made the relative supply of Unhinged boxes insignificant compared to the demand to experience this joke set.

In order for the same kind of return to be expected with Unstable boxes, we would need a comparable explosion in Magic players. This is because Wizards of the Coast is very likely to print much more of Unstable. Will the print run still be small compared to, say, Ixalan? Probably. But I suspect the growth on Unstable boxes will be tiny compared to the other two un-sets unless some catalyst can spike the growth in Magic players. Therefore, I do not advocate buying cases of Unstable and parking them in your closet. The opportunity cost will be too great.

Okay, So What Should I Buy Then?

Fortunately, there are plenty of other angles to speculate on the launch of Unstable. For instance, we’ve already seen some movement in Unhinged cards as the release of Unstable approaches. Just this morning on MTG Stocks I noticed a spike in Enter the Dungeon. Make sure you log into MTG Stocks and activate Unglued and Unhinged prices or you may miss these jumps!


Earlier in the week we also saw an even more meaningful spike in Frankie Peanuts.


These buyouts are only the tip of the iceberg, in my opinion. For instance, just browse all Unhinged rares on TCGplayer and note how few are truly in stock in LP or NM conditions. You can quickly see how few copies need to sell in order to spike prices on some of these cards. R&D's Secret Lair, Johnny, Combo Player, and Richard Garfield, Ph.D. are all on my radar due to their low stock, and there are plenty of others.

And these are the nonfoils I’m talking about here. Forget trying to find good prices on these in foil—these are exceptionally rare. Just look at foil copies of Richard Garfield, Ph.D., for example: good luck finding these for a reasonable price! I found only one copy under $200 in all my searching on the internet! With how expensive the foils have become, I actually think the nonfoils have plenty of upside potential thanks to the release of Unstable. The set’s release is very likely to catalyze newfound demand for older, fun un-cards and I want to make sure I follow this trend closely.

I ran a similar exercise with Unglued cards to see what’s been selling on TCGplayer and oddly enough there wasn’t much that caught my eye. In fact, many of the rare Unglued cards had more stock than the popular Unhinged cards. I’m not sure if this is because Unhinged was released after EDH and Cube became formats or if it just reflects Wizards’ growing ability to make fun cards. In any event, there was only one Unglued card that really caught my eye—but it’s a great one:


There are only six copies of this card on TCGplayer and only one on eBay. I scrounged the internet for other copies and didn’t find much outside of Card Shark (which is where I bought a few copies). I can see this card making it into Cubes and the like, and the randomness keeps it very well-balanced. I think this card can climb higher.

But Silver Borders are Gross…

There is one major drawback with Unglued and Unhinged cards: they have silver borders and are therefore not tournament-legal. While some Commander playgroups will allow certain silver-bordered cards, the reality is they will never have the same demand profile as black-bordered and white-bordered cards. If you fall in this category as well, do not despair! I have some tournament-legal suggestions as well!

One of my favorites is actually not a card, but a sealed product. I’m referring to Legions booster packs, which have seen a recent jump in price thanks to the spoiling of Summon the Pack, the mythic rare that lets you crack a booster pack and put all its creatures into play.

Younger players may not be aware with what makes Legions packs so interesting with this card. But the reason is very simple: Legions is the only set that contained 100% creature cards! As a result, Legions booster packs have been selling briskly and have increased from $7 to $10 in price over the past couple weeks. I’ve grabbed a couple to use with Unstable play and a few more to speculate on with the hopes of outing them at around $15 each.

Digging a bit deeper, there are also some black-bordered singles that may be worth pursuing upon release of Unstable. Specifically, the rarer squirrel cards may see a surge in demand due to the inclusion of a squirrel theme in Unstable. Squirrel tokens, Squirrel Nest, Squirrel Mob, and Squirrel Wrangler all seem like viable options.


Foils are probably more attractive, as there appear to be a decent supply of nonfoils available for sale. But I would keep an eye on the stock of nonfoils as well to see if sales accelerate after Unstable’s launch. These may not be as compelling, but they offer a tournament-legal alternative to speculate on the latest “Un” set.

Wrapping It Up

This is a very exciting time for casual fans of Magic’s joke sets: Unglued, Unhinged, and Unstable. I didn’t have sufficient resources to truly appreciate the first two sets in this block, and I will not let finances be a barrier for the third and final installment. I’ve already pre-ordered my box and I am awaiting another $15-off coupon from eBay to acquire a second. One will be to enjoy with friends around the holidays and one will be for a rainy day a few years from now.

While I don’t expect that spare box to appreciate much in value over the coming years, I do think there are some other cards worth acquiring in light of Unstable’s release.

Since I don’t play much Commander or Cube, I’d recommend using TCGplayer as a guide in identifying what should be acquired. Cards that get low in stock and consistently rank highly on the “Best Selling” list are surely worth speculating upon. I’ve already noticed some specific cards getting low in stock, such as Enter the Dungeon and Frankie Peanuts; two cards that already show up on MTG Stocks’ Interests page.

I hope other people are as excited as I am to cast some of the silliest cards ever to see print in Magic’s 25-year history. It took a long time for Mark Rosewater to convince Hasbro that another joke set could be sold, and there’s no telling if and when a fourth will ever be released. In case it’s not, make sure you hop on the bandwagon and try an Unstable draft at least once to get a once-a-decade experience. You never know what that same experience may cost ten years from now!

Sigbits

  • I browsed through Star City Games’ Unhinged foils stock and I saw a number that were sold out. A few of particular interest were Gleemax, Frankie Peanuts, Johnny, Combo Player, and Letter Bomb. The prices were $34.99, $12.99, $19.99, and $9.99 respectively. It wouldn’t surprise me to see these all move higher once Unstable is released and interest in these older joke cards spike.
  • Star City Games certainly seems behind on re-pricing their Legions booster packs. They still have a listed price of $5.99, but of course they’re sold out. I’m not sure how eager they are to restock this item, but I have to imagine that once they eventually do, the price tag will be double its current number.
  • As mentioned before, one of the reasons I like Jack-in-the-Mox from Unglued so much is that its online stock is extremely low. I couldn’t find more than a few copies across the internet, and Star City Games had zero in stock with a $2.99 price tag. While I don’t think this doubles overnight, I do think a $5 price tag is a next logical stepping stone, since a spike is virtually inevitable once someone lists a single copy on TCGplayer for some silly price tag.

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