Barrage of Boulders: The Consequences of Back-to-Back Spoiler Seasons

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Modern Horizons spoiler season concluded on May 31.  Yet, if you listen closely, the whistle of the next hype train about to pull into the station can be heard echoing in the distance. The first reveals from the upcoming Standard set Core 2020 are a three-stage planeswalker cycle featuring Chandra, dropped on June 11. That's two separate spoiler "seasons" with less than two weeks between them.

It has been quite some time since we've seen such a glut of products from Wizards release so close to each other. This short period of reprieve has me and many other players taking a step back to literally take inventory going into the next hype cycle. During this time, I think I'm starting to identify a potential problem.

2018 – A Recap

While the main period of releases I'm examining will be War of the Spark onward, it bears mentioning that 2018 had a ton of product releases too, setting a precedent for the year to follow. The spring release of Dominaria will go down as one of the most impactful Standard sets of all time, not only for player acquisition and retention but also marking a turning point in WotC's marketing style. Dominaria's release was incredibly significant to the health of the game today, and I believe we are still riding that wave.

Dominaria is a good starting point, but you must also consider that it was followed by Battlebond, Commander 2018, Commander Anthology: Volume II, Guilds of Ravnica, and finally the surprise release of Ultimate Masters to close out the year. That last one was something else, too. Printing extra full-art box toppers as apology promos for the Guilds of Ravnica: Mythic Edition ordering fiasco was an incredibly unique way to commence a spoiler season. Some may label Commander 2018 as a bit of a dud in terms of significant gains, sealed or otherwise. Despite that small hiccup, it is undeniable that 2018's release schedule was incredibly strong overall.

In fact, a lot of things went right for Magic in 2018, and it's not limited to just set releases. Magic Arena was a huge boon for the game, with its Open Beta launch doing wonders for getting new players into the game and creating opportunities for conversion into paper customers. More importantly, it put Magic in the spotlight on a wider scale than ever before.

These releases had strong hype cycles that felt very evenly doled out, but in my opinion, everything we saw last year has been far-eclipsed by what was offered during War of the Spark's spoiler season.

2019 – The Year of Rapid-Fire Spending

With such a strong previous year, it only makes sense for Wizards to stand firm on their tight release schedule and continue churning out products at a brisk clip. With a huge influx of players, both new and returning, it only makes sense to keep a steady stream of products for them to buy.

Ravnica Allegiance opened up the year strong, finishing the cycle of guilds and moving us toward the final chapter of Magic's latest story thread. Even here, it felt like there was not much time between the spoiler season of Ultimate Masters and Allegiance's release (about a month). Following that, the long, drawn-out hype cycle of War of the Spark began. This set was used as a vehicle for the game as a whole, even propelling MPL events like the Mythic Invitational to the front page of Twitch. We saw the release of a novel, War of the Spark: Ravnica by Greg Weisman, and one of the most hyped trailers of all time, helping propel Magic to heights previously unseen.

During War of the Spark's spoiler season, I took care to evaluate every spoiler and identify the relevant cards that would likely see some demand and got to witness (and even participate in) a lot of reactionary purchasing on a daily basis. Every day brought at least one card that created several opportunities to invest in spec cards that would quickly be on the rise, and it was easy to snap them up in time if you were active in the Insider Discord. If you were paying attention, you were probably spending resources.

So, back to that problem I mentioned earlier.

As the spoiler season was coming to a close, the announcement of the Japanese alternate-art planeswalkers came as a shocking finale. With a lot of funds tied up in specs, waiting to be sold or buylisted, it was difficult for many to justify spending even more money on Japanese War of the Spark boxes. The profits were there, either holding them sealed for a longer wait, or flipping them quickly for a nice margin. However, it simply came at an inopportune time. Right after a period of heavy spending, and before a point where most buylists and buyers were willing to catch up, it was rough keeping up.

Modern Horizons's spoiler season caused some of the deepest reactionary buying I have ever seen. Slight pressure was put on the price of most Modern staples across the board, but the introduction of new synergies in Modern, and more notably Commander was absolutely unprecedented. We're living in the timeline where people speculated on Bearscape. Let that sink in. As the days wore on, the lamentations grew louder and more frequent. Even today, several Insiders claim to be experiencing "hype fatigue and more importantly, wallet fatigue."

Once Core 2020's hype cycle starts up proper there will, of course, be plenty of cards to invest in. Hopefully, it comes at a time where buyers are ready to start purchasing again, for the sake of market health and more importantly, WotC's sales figures.

Bring it on Home

So what am I saying here? If the successes of this year's product lineup are any indication, 2019 will be one of the best years in Magic's history. It's a great time to be a Magic player, but, it's probably the worst time to be a Magic player's wallet. If you're looking to park your money somewhere during spoiler season for speculations, keep in mind that there is always another opportunity around the corner with a new product release.

Actively participating in this type of buying is certainly profitable, but it comes at a cost. Investing in cards during spoiler season can tie up a lot of your resources, and if you're not careful, you risk leaving a lot of big opportunities on the table.

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