Insider: How Metagames Affect Price Shifts

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Hello, Magic players, and welcome back!

Every three months, we live in a new world of Magic.  New sets mean new cards, new options, new decks, and most importantly, an entirely new metagame to analyze.  With this new metagame comes heavy changes, both in competitive tournament Magic as well as in the sales of any card store.

First Thing’s First: Banned & Restricted Changes

The Standard format took another hit going into this new set release, as Attune with Aether, Rogue Refiner, Ramunap Ruins, and Rampaging Ferocidon all got banned.  During the majority of the past three months, Temur Energy and Ramunap Red were completely dominant over the metagame, ultimately leading to these changes. Temur Energy got hit the hardest, and Ramunap Red got a small hit so that it wouldn’t take over fully with the Rogue Refiner and Attune with Aether bans.

During the time period before the ban, cards in the Temur Energy and Ramunap Red decks stayed at higher price levels, and other cards that were legal in Standard (but seeing virtually no play) dropped down to negligible prices.  Now that we have Rivals of Ixalan legal in Standard, it is possible to see price increases across the board in the Standard format.

Rollercoaster Prices & You: An Explanation

We are all currently living in an undefined metagame world.  While Rivals of Ixalan did not have heavy implications on the Modern format outside of (possibly) Blue-Green Merfolk, every one of the cards in the set currently has potential in this new Standard format.  Add this to the price drops of several playable cards from Kaladesh all the way to Ixalan that were overshadowed by Temur Energy and Ramunap Red, and suddenly there is open season on the market.

So what does that mean for you?  Well, the most recent Standard Classic in Dallas showcased 11 different new archetypes in the Top 16.  The only multiple deck showings were Mardu Vehicles, which was at the very top of a previous Standard metagame six months ago, and Grixis Energy, which is essentially the new placeholder for most Energy strategies.

That is a great deal of possibilities!

Now, if you want to try to force any kind of archetype, you have the opportunity to give it a shot, and be reasonably competitive too!  Additionally, the entry cost is quite low.  Sticking with Dallas, here are some examples of the average prices of decks that were played:

  • First Place – Mono-Red Aggro – $185.13
  • Top 4 – Blue-White Auras – $64.48
  • Top 16 – Black-White Tokens – $153.12
  • Top 16 – Blue-Red Flyers – $168.12

Having multiple Standard decks that hold an average price tag of under $200 is fairly rare.  Also, quite uniquely, not a single card in Blue-White Auras or Black-White Tokens is over $8.  The only cards in Mono-Red Aggro that are over $8 are Hazoret the Fervent and Chandra, Torch of Defiance.  Even Glorybringer, a staple in both Temur Energy and Ramunap Red that is still seeing a great deal of play in other new decks, is under $5 currently.

Overall, card prices are particularly welcoming at the moment.  Almost any rare from Kaladesh to Ixalan that is under $5 is likely worth picking up or trading for if you want to try a new strategy.  These cards simply can’t get much lower than they currently are now.

Alternatively, several new strategies means that unloading cards at the top end can also be a good idea.  A metagame requires several tournaments to fully formulate.  Cards from the new set such as Rekindling Phoenix (currently $16) and Jadelight Ranger (currently $11) could be the real deal, but they have no long-term implications and the risk is likely too high to hold on to them for more than a month.

What Does This Mean for My Local Game Store?

When a metagame shifts, price spikes become commonplace.  This is not just for the Standard metagame, but all potential changes in Eternal formats as well.  Depending on how well-stocked your LGS is able to keep their inventory, there are two possible scenarios:

  • Your LGS does very well by selling many new types of cards within a new metagame
  • Your LGS has issues getting cards to its customers due to lack of inventory

When a store has good inventory, it creates possibility across the board. Sales get made on both small transactions of commons and uncommons, and large transactions of potentially hundreds of dollars for competitive and casual customers alike.  Players can implement new ideas, enjoy more possibilities, and even go as far as creating a new archetype.  It is a win-win scenario for both the LGS and the players.

When a store has difficulty maintaining inventory numbers, players will have less opportunity to try new things.  Often times, this translates to lost sales for stores.  However, there is a potential bright side – the sale of packs.  More casual player bases are not shy about purchasing packs in large quantities to get the cards they are looking for, which can be beneficial to the stores as well, because these players might also turn around and sell their personally unwanted extra cards.

Shifting metagames are necessary for the overall success of an LGS with any form of competitive player base.  Businesses need to continue to generate sales in order to function, and the need for different cards creates more overall business.  Of the two aforementioned examples, all LGS locations should strive to be the first option, because the second option could spell disaster.

How Does an LGS Improve Its Inventory?

This is the quintessential “million dollar question” for every LGS.  Maintaining not just an influx of cards from the local community, but also procuring additional inventory from outside of your particular area, is a tall order and difficult to accomplish.

Different stores have come up with different answers to this problem.  Some stores will have an individual drive around the country looking to pick up collections on various back-end websites.  Others will take the financial plunge into getting a booth at a Grand Prix or another large local tournament.  These two examples are the only ways I’ve personally seen stores maintain varying Eternal-format inventory.

Casual players are often times the key to maintaining inventory from current time periods.  Many competitive players will simply buy single individual cards, but casual players have a higher tendency to open packs with their loose capital.  Every time a pack is opened, the possibility for more cards in a store’s inventory is created.  If a casual player opens a good card, and they do not want it, they will sometimes wheel it back into the store…and if it is worth a decent value, they might get even more packs!

How Long Does a Metagame Take to Stabilize?

This depends specifically on the number of tournaments played, as opposed to a determined length of time.  If we get a new Standard set during a point in time where there is a Modern Pro Tour event, the focus is taken off of Standard for a little while, and the new Standard metagame takes a bit longer to formulate.

On average, about a month into any new format, players begin to pick up on heavy trends.  Early speculation into this current new Standard would point at Mono-Red Aggro and Mardu Vehicles as the early favorites, as they are very consistent, but there are a lot of deck possibilities to answer these, so nothing is quite yet determined.  Around late February, it will be evident what the best decks in the format are.

For a format to become “solved,” it usually takes about three months on average, which is the duration of any Standard format.  When a format is “healthy,” the metagame constantly shifts even without the introduction of new cards, and never fully becomes “solved.”

The eight-set Standard of Return to Ravnica through M14 is a perfect example of an unsolved format, which had up to 10 different decks consistently placing in the top eights of big tournaments.  The Lorwyn Standard is an example of a fully solved format, which had Faeries running wild and taking up over 70 percent of all competitive decks, and was possibly the highest percentage of a metagame domination in history without having a card banned from the deck.

Where Are We Now?

We are currently in a very unsolved, unstable spot in multiple formats.  While Standard is brand new, Modern also has several competitive decks, frequently having the Top 8 of a large tournament having eight different archetypes.  It may be the healthiest format, statistically speaking, in Magic history.

As new decks pop up in both formats, it might be a good time to take some financial risks and invest in cheap cards.  This is especially true if decks appear more than once with difficult-to-find cards that cost anywhere under $5 for Standard and $10 for Modern.  The potential for price spikes is much higher than usual in an unsolved metagame.

The most current example of a Modern price spike on a difficult-to-find card is Goblin Lore.  The current numbers don’t reflect the actual selling price as of now.  If you have any of these lying around, now might be the time to unload.

It’s time for the financial community to truly tune into the metagame.  You never know what the next Goblin Lore will be.

As always, thanks for reading!

@smash_pacman on Twitter

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