I believe Magic is in a strong and healthy place right now. So when I say, "Dominaria will reignite Magic," I'm not coming at it from a position where Magic is near death and needs the paddles of life to bring it back. The hypothesis today's article is that Magic has been in a steady place for a while now – and that Dominaria will mark the start of a significant period of growth.
There are certain sets that seem to draw a crowd and have a way of drawing players back into the game. The original Ravnica was one of these watershed sets, as was Innistrad. These were sets that really engaged players of all ages and skill levels because they were so iconic and interesting. I think ultimately what draws people to Magic are a couple of factors: interesting set concepts, fun formats, and timing. Dominaria is poised to offer all these criteria in spades.
I'll provide five reasons why I think we are in for a block that grows Magic in a significant way, and then a few ways this will likely impact MTG finance.
1. Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder
It has been a legitimately long time since Magic has visited the original plane of Dominaria with a full expansion block. The last time we visited Dominaria was Time Spiral back in 2006. Has it really been 12 years?
Nothing owns Magical Nostalgia like Dominaria. It is the place where it all began. It holds the original characters, locations and lore. Dominaria has its fingerprints all over Magic. If there were ever a set that had the potential to draw people back into the game, it is this one.
2. "Return" Sets Have Historically Been Popular
I mentioned it has been 12 years since last we set foot on this plane. Since then, we've returned to Mirrodin, Ravnica, and Innistrad. Return sets have traditionally been big moments in the metagame, community and the overriding storyline.
Generally speaking, I think history is on my side when I say that Return sets have an advantage over new planes when it comes to getting people excited to play. There is a big advantage in selling people a repackaged version of something they already like. There are already positive feelings associated with Dominaria that will generate hype.
3. Standard Has Been Awful – But It Looks To Be Fixed
Of the Return sets, I would argue the least popular was Innistrad II. It was far from a bust, but I think it failed to capture the imagination of players in the way that RTR and Scars of Mirrodin did. My opinion is that it didn't live up to its potential.
A couple of factors may have caused this: first, there wasn't a huge amount of time between the original Innistrad and Innistrad II. Personally, I wasn't really to a point where I missed it and felt excited about returning. It also didn't feel innovative. It just felt like the original Innistrad. This is likely a function of the fact that Magic as a game hadn't changed so much since the original set.
I also think it was poorly designed. Nostalgia can only carry a block so far. Obviously, it needs to also provide fun and interesting games of Magic. A block full of cards and decks that obviously needed banning pushes more players away than draws them in. If the plan is to grow Magic by bringing people back into the fold, the engagement of those players at the LGS level (FNM, etc.) is important. Unplayable and unfun Standard is a terrible way to grow and retain players.
With that being said, Wizards has come off of a tw- year span of horrendous Standard formats. It was arguably the worst period of Standard design since Urza's Block. There were too many broken decks and too much stagnation, back to back to back to back.
Wizards appears to be on top of the problems (broken cards and decks) that have plagued Standard for the past few years. When I look at the spoiler, it isn't obvious to me that any particular thing is too broken, which is a welcome change. I see a lot more good cards and a far fewer cards that stand out as obnoxious. So here's to hoping that Dominaria creates a new golden age of Standard. It is on the table as a possibility.
4. Dominaria Is a Flavor Win
Let's pretend that Dominaria doesn't automatically get a huge bonus from nostalgia. The fact remains that the plane is a proven flavor winner already. Dominaria is everything that is the best about Magic, and for that reason alone, the set will be successful.
There are lots of players who look at a Pirates versus Dinosaurs block and think, "This is kind of goofy." The same can be said with an ancient Egypt or steampunk block. Dominaria takes us back to the basics of pure fantasy, which is a baseline that will unify the player base.
5. The Set Is Actually Good
Obviously, I can only eyeball test what I've seen from the spoilers, but the set is loaded with really cool cards. I'm certain that Dominaria will break the record for the number of Battle Box cards I add to my stack. It is ridiculous how accurate the "how many cards did I add to my Danger Room" test is a good measuring stick for how likable a set is.
There's a lot of fun cards, and I don't mean "fun" in the sense that they cost 11 mana and do something silly. There are a lot of nice, versatile, flexible, and playable cards in the one- to five-mana range. People are not terrible at Magic anymore and they want cards that reflect what people who actually know how to play enjoy doing.
The set also looks like not only a return to a beloved plane, but a return to a Limited format that won't be ruled by absurd bombs. I've noticed the baseline power level of cards is a little bit higher when it comes to commons and uncommons, but with fewer "run away with the game" rares. This should lead to more balanced Limited play which is another way to engage new or returning players.
What Does All of This Mean for Magic Finance?
Obviously, a set that grows Magic will impact the secondary market in a positive way. An increase in the player pool means more demand for your cards.
In particular, a new influx of players would be great for Modern staple prices. People like Modern. Even if Standard is good, I could see a trend toward newer players dipping into both formats from the get-go. The prices are lower across the board, which makes Modern just affordable enough that newer players can invest in it.
I also think that the demand for Revised cards may be linked to this return to Dominaria in some ways. Obviously, Old School and speculators are driving the value, but returning, nostalgic players may also want to pick up copies of old favorites like Royal Assassin, Shivan Dragon, Serra Angel, Force of Nature, and Vesuvan Doppelganger.
From a "picks" perspective, it makes a lot of sense that these beautiful and iconic cards would begin ticking upward leading up to a set that is bound to tug at the heartstrings of players being drawn back in. In some general sense, I'd suggest targeting cards that people would have really enjoyed playing with before the Modern era. Gaea's Cradle seems like a great fit, as it is on the Reserved List and was a casual all-star back in the day.
Goblins are also making a return in Dominaria, which makes them a potential market for returning tribal fans. Goblin Bidding was one of the staple decks during Onslaught block that I could see people wanting to rebuild for casual table play.
Another group of cards to think about are Commander standouts that appeared before the Modern era. These cards have already been steadily ticking up in price over the last six months. Returning players who "stick" are very likely to gravitate toward a format like Commander, and they are going to be looking for those powerful cards they distinctly remember playing in the past: Mana Vault, Decree of Pain, and Time Stretch come to mind.
Perhaps looking at old Commander lists (it was named EDH back then!) is a good place to find playable nostalgia cards that would be on returning players' wishlists. One thing is for sure: there's nothing like a nostalgia set to drive prices on nostalgia cards! What cards are you looking at in the final days before Dominaria's release?