Shortly after the spoiling of the Ultimate Masters box toppers, I panicked and buylisted my personal playset of Ancient Tombs to ABUGames. I netted around $42-$45 in store credit per copy, varying by condition, which I value at roughly $25 a copy in real money.
The next day, Ultimate Masters was announced and I celebrated my sage decision. Surely, I would be able to reacquire these at a serious discount to their previous market price, right? Don’t prices drop precipitously when cards are reprinted in a Masters set (especially the rares)?
Like everyone else, I began watching prices closely to try and time the bottom. I even received multiple inquiries on Twitter asking for my prediction for when the bottom in prices would occur. Not being a fortune teller, however, I could only provide a less-than-useful answer involving watching the market closely and knowing the time has come when I see it.
Ancient Tomb dropped to around $16.50 on TCGplayer. I considered buying back copies then but wanted to get them a little cheaper. Then it happened.
Now the cheapest copy on Ancient Tomb from Ultimate Masters is $21 shipped. That’s a nearly $5 rebound in less than ten days. What happened?!
It appears the most in-demand cards have already rebounded in price. When I look at the top movers over the past week on MTG Stocks, I see nearly 30 Ultimate Masters cards have gained at least 5%. We’re not just talking about the most in-demand mythic rares here, either. There are plenty of regular rares that have rebounded healthily since their initial declines. Back to Basics, which fell the furthest upon reprinting, has rebounded a whopping 49.5% off its lows.
Now I’m left scratching my head—weren’t prices supposed to drop steadily for at least a few weeks? Have we even found peak supply and passed it yet? These are questions I’m struggling to answer. When they released Iconic Masters in November 2017, a card like Horizon Canopy dropped in price for five consecutive months before rebounding. How could Ultimate Masters cards rebound after just a week and a half?
Even more extreme is a card like Rishadan Port. The Masters 25 reprint came out in March of this year and still hasn’t rebounded a penny after nine months on the market. In fact they’re just about at their all-time low (actually, now could be a great time to get your personal copies).
What in the world makes Ultimate Masters so special?!
As I rack my brain trying to understand how Ultimate Masters cards could rebound so quickly, I can come up with a couple (admittedly simple) hypotheses.
Hypothesis 1: This set is the original Modern Masters all over again.
When the initial Modern Masters set was released in 2013, demand far outstripped supply. There was also so much pent-up demand for reprinted cards like Tarmogoyf that reprints were immediately absorbed into the market. Thus prices on the most desirable cards did not have sufficient opportunity to retract.
Is Ultimate Masters such a hit that the same thing is happening yet again? I don’t think this explains 100% of what is going on because plenty of reprints in Modern Masters did see a notable drop. Cryptic Command stayed low for half a year before soaring back up in price, for example.
Hypothesis 2: This rebound is only temporary.
Could it be that players are rushing to get their copies now while cards are hot, forgetting that this kind of price rebound on Masters sets normally takes six months? In many cases, reprinted cards have been flat for about half a year before seeing a bounce in price again. Karn Liberated is a great example from Modern Masters 2015.
Karn’s reprint in Ultimate Masters appears to have bottomed at $55 and is now selling for $65 already. But maybe what we’re observing here is only noise? Maybe when this chart stretches out another six months, the Ultimate Masters copies will continue their downfall or, at worst, remain flat until February like we’ve seen in previous years.
Hypothesis 3: The Ultimate Box Toppers are skewing things.
This is the first Masters set that also contained Ultimate Box Toppers. That means when you buy a box, you get a bonus, valuable card along with the booster packs. I would have expected these box toppers to absorb some of the EV, causing prices on the regular copies to tank further. But this hasn’t happened. Instead, booster box prices have climbed.
Are these box toppers muddling things? Are players using their box toppers to trade for regular copies, keeping prices higher? I don’t fully understand what’s happening, but perhaps there are some confounding effects here.
My Plan Going Forward
I don’t know what to think at this point, honestly. I still want to reacquire a set of Ancient Tombs but at this point the price isn’t low enough to tempt me. Since I’m in no rush whatsoever, I think I’ll continue to wait it out.
While it seems Ultimate Masters prices are deviating somewhat from history, I still rely on past data to help me strategize going forward. In most cases of the past, when a Masters set is released it takes about six months for prices to rebound. Out of my hypotheses presented above, I’m inclined to believe in hypothesis 2 the most. That is, I think the “rebounds” we’re seeing now are mostly noise and will soon cease.
Perhaps over the holidays there will be more opportunity to buy at better prices. But what most likely will happen is that prices will stop moving and flatline for a few months before returning higher. This may mean I missed the absolute bottom, but should have plenty of time to buy at somewhat lower prices. It pains me to think my timing was bad, but I’ll take solace in the fact that I don’t necessarily have to rush going forward.
Now if it’s the box toppers you’re after, I have different advice. These are getting all kinds of attention from MTG financiers on social media. Remember when everyone in MTG finance told you to buy Masterpieces and buyouts ensued daily? Something like that could easily happen again with the box toppers. For this reason, you need to remain extremely vigilant, perhaps prioritizing their acquisition over other cards if you desire them.
Personally, I detest foils and have little interest in these box toppers. I’ll probably use this quiet season to acquire more Beta cards for my collection. But if you want these box toppers, you may want to look at buying them very soon. There are only a couple dozen of each in stock on TCGplayer (some have even less)—sound familiar?
These are very desirable and it’ll only take one MTG finance personality on a podcast to tell people to buy these to cause a buyout. Card Kingdom has a bunch of these on their hotlist, and they are probably struggling to keep them in stock. These may be great targets with trade credit for a long-term hold. Just make sure you stick to the most in-demand ones and avoid the chaff.
Wrapping It Up
Because I focus on Old School and Reserved List cards in my portfolio, I detest nothing more than getting hosed by a reprint. This is why I cashed out of my personal playset of Ancient Tombs once their reprint was announced. I thought I was being clever for this move.
It turns out my move was barely portfolio-accretive because these cards have not dropped nearly as much as I had hoped. My goal was to reacquire a playset for around $50—about half what I got for trading them in (with adjustment factor for ABUGames’s inflated credit numbers). Now it looks like I may barely make $20 in this endeavor.
But at this point, there is little reason to panic-buy. We may have missed the absolute bottom, but I don’t think prices will rebound much more from this point. Looking at historical data, it looks like it takes about six months for real rebounds in price to occur. It could certainly happen faster given how hot Ultimate Masters is, but I think it’s perfectly reasonable for me to wait for the next eBay coupon at this point.
The exception would be if you want box toppers or sealed product. These are still quite sparse, and if the right MTG finance personality starts hyping them up you could see sporadic buyouts. Since I don’t care for them, I’m going to ignore them. But if you want cards for cubes or Commander, I’d suggest making these a priority right away.
Lastly, I leave you with a word of caution: we don’t know what the print run on these are and we don’t know if WotC will suddenly announce a second wave like they had with some previous Masters sets. Should that occur, it could punish those making purchases now rather than waiting. Given how popular this set is and how eager Hasbro is for profits, it wouldn’t surprise me if there was a new wave announced. Either way, I’m going to sit on the sidelines a little longer.
Even if these cards rebound another couple bucks, the majority of the profits won’t be made until the reprints are completely absorbed a few months from now. In the meantime, I see no reason to rush. Given how many Reserved List and Old School cards have retracted in price these past few months, I’d much rather put my money to work there anyway.
- There are a dozen Ultimate Box Toppers on the first page of Card Kingdom’s hotlist. I imagine there are more further back. As I said, these are very hot right now—that could mean buyouts to come and many profits to be made, or it could be prices are inflated right now and they will retract once the hype subsides. I believe MTG finance personalities will ensure it’s the former and not the latter.
- For the first time in a while, I see dual lands on Card Kingdom’s hotlist. But it’s not the Revised versions. Instead, Card Kingdom seems to be aggressively after copies from Collectors’ Edition. They’re paying $105, $95, and $95 for Savannah, Plateau, and Taiga, respectively.
- Erhnam Djinn from Arabian Nights has been on Card Kingdom’s hotlist for a couple weeks now, and their buy number is up to $170. It was lower than this for the longest time, though I think we are far from its peak numbers back when the Old School buyouts were rampant. Still, this is a legitimately desirable card from Arabian Nights, and I expect it to rise in price further come this spring.