Normally I don’t pay attention to new sets. Cards from new Standard sets follow a predictable price trajectory, starting too high and rapidly plummeting post-release. The exceptions are the few cards that suddenly break out in Standard, but I lack the foresight to predict the winners and the losers.
All this said, a couple of Magic’s newest sets have really piqued my interest—not necessarily from an MTG finance standpoint, but from an interested collector’s standpoint. It began with Dominaria, returning us to my favorite plane. I loved all the nostalgia within the set, and I found much of the artwork to be fantastic.
While I had absolutely zero interest in returning to Ravnica for a third go, I did appreciate War of the Spark when that set released. There wasn’t anything particularly nostalgic about this set, but the unique characteristic of having a Planeswalker in every pack was gimmicky enough to convince me to buy some packs. Modern Horizons was a walk down memory lane all over again, and now Core Set 2020 is shaping up to be a really interesting addition to the game.
Observations About Newer Sets
I’ll begin this section stating that it’s been a while since I paid any attention to the financial relevance of Standard cards. While I have my finger on the pulse of cards from Magic’s earliest sets, I tend to ignore trends of Magic’s latest. So my observations may strike you as obvious, but I’d wager there are a number of newcomers to MTG finance who may be wondering the same things as I.
As I skimmed pricing data, I found a few perplexing trends involving new sets. They seem to deviate from observations I’ve made in the past, back when I paid closer attention to Standard.
Observation 1: For being such a success, War of the Spark buylists prices seem soft.
Is it just me, or are there very few cards worth opening in a War of the Spark booster box? Sure, Japanese boxes have the alternate art Planeswalkers, but the best an English box can yield (nonfoil) is Liliana, Dreadhorde General: $13.50 from Miniature Market. And that high buylist surely can’t last, considering there are plenty of copies for sale just a couple bucks above that. I pulled a Liliana from my a Bundle back in May and immediately buylisted it to Card Kingdom for $22 + 30% trade credit. Even this most desirable card from the set has plummeted since then.
Maybe this shouldn’t have come as a surprise to me, as Standard cards frequently tank in price after supply floods the market. But for being such a successful set, I’m surprised by how inexpensive its most valuable card is. By the way, Teferi, Time Raveler is the only other card that buylists for at least $10, with Miniature Market paying highest ($10). Card Kingdom’s highest nonfoil buy price for English War of the Spark cards is $8.75, for Finale of Devastation.
Observation 2: Despite the lack of high-value cards, War of the Spark’s box EV is very high.
According to Dawnglare, War of the Spark’s booster box EV is $94.42. This number feels high considering the lack of big-money cards in the set. Besides Core Set 2020, which still needs to shake off new-release inflation, War of the Spark’s EV is higher than any other Standard-legal set. How does this math work?
I suspect it has to do with the large volume of non-bulk cards in the set. A number of the uncommon Planeswalkers are worth a buck or two, which surely boosts the EV a bit. Many of the rares are also worth a few bucks, decreasing the likelihood of opening an absolutely worthless booster pack. Perhaps this is why War of the Spark’s box EV is so strong?
Observation 3: Dominaria’s box EV is miserable.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, Dominaria’s booster boxes are horrible to crack right now. According to Dawnglare, Dominaria’s booster box EV is $57.39. I know the set is going to leave Standard soon, but are there no eternal-playable cards that will hold value post rotation? The EV of Dominaria boxes is on par with Amonkhet, but I would have guessed Dominaria was far more successful.
When I examine the top buylists for Dominaria, I quickly see why this set’s EV is so pitiful. The value of the set appears to be concentrated in the top few mythic rares. Teferi, Hero of Dominaria buylists for $25 and Karn, Scion of Urza is next at $10. The top rare is Hinterland Harbor, buylisting for a pitiful $4. This tells me that unless you open a top mythic, you’re likely not to get your money back from opening a Dominaria booster pack.
Looking Ahead to Core Set 2020
Next, I want to pause briefly on Core Set 2020 to study its release EV. I just recently ordered a bundle from this set and I was wondering what the best cards to open were. How likely would I recoup my buy-in if I crack the bundle?
Currently, a booster box from this set has an EV of $111.77. Of course, this is artificially high since the set just came out, and singles haven’t flooded the market yet. But what’s driving the high EV upon release? What’s worth opening and what should my action be if I do open the most valuable cards in the set?
The most valuable nonfoil card in the set so far is Chandra, Awakened Inferno. At time of writing, Card Kingdom offers $23 for the mythic rare. Next is Omnath, Locus of the Roil and Sorin, Imperious Bloodlord at $11.75. The fourth most valuable card in the set is currently a rare reprint, Leyline of the Void ($9).
What will I do if I open any of these cards in a booster pack? It’s 99.9% likely I will sell them immediately. Look at what happened to my Liliana, Dreadhorde General transaction—I opened one in a booster and got almost $30 in store credit for it, and now it would barely get me $10 at that same store. That’s a dramatic plummet. Of course, there’s a nonzero chance something I open breaks out in Standard and jumps in price. But nowadays, I don’t even bother playing the Standard speculation game. It seems completely unnecessary to gamble on new cards when there are so many more predictable trends worth acting upon.
For starters, there’s still that Modern Horizons phenomenon out there. This one-of-a-kind set is about to fade into the background, allowing its most playable cards to slowly increase in price over time. While some purchases I made may have been premature, I haven’t regretted acquiring Modern Horizons playables. Foils have been especially strong.
Looking back a little further, it seems Ultimate Masters cards have completely bottomed. While a given card from the set may not suddenly double overnight, it seems like we can safely acquire Ultimate Masters cards now without threat of further price declines. The most playable cards have already been on an uptrend.
If I were going to put money to work in newer cards, these are the two sets I would focus upon.
Wrapping It Up
It’s not often I pay attention to new sets. With very few exceptions, cards in new sets follow a predictable trend: they start high and quickly sell off as new supply hits the market. There’s little to explore from an MTG finance standpoint unless you’re talented at picking the sleepers of the set. I am not.
All that said, I do notice some perplexing trends in new set pricing of late. Perhaps this is the new norm, and my absence from Standard MTG finance explains why I find these trends so interesting. But even if this is the case, I suspect others out there may be equally inexperienced, and would also benefit from the same musings.
Either way, my overall message track remains the same: there are so many high-probability high-reward plays out there that betting on Standard seems ill-placed. If its profits you seek, you needn’t mess with Standard sets at all. There’s enough strength in sets like Modern Horizons and Ultimate Masters to be worth buying into. Of course, if you want to get into sets even older, there’s plenty more worth acquiring.
Besides picking up some Modern Horizons cards with store credit, I’ve been focusing recently on Beta rares. Any rares. There are only a couple thousand of each one and there will never be any more. But that’s my style; you need to figure out what interests you most. If you can find ways to make a little money from Magic while also enjoying the cards in the meantime, you’ve discovered the one way to have your cake while eating it too!
- I never would have predicted the buylist on foil Wrenn and Six to rise so quickly. Card Kingdom now offers $140 for near mint copies, and that card’s price doesn’t seem to be slowing down. Because this set is somewhat unprecedented, I can’t predict the ceiling on its most desirable foils. But if I were forced to guess, I’d say this card could reach $300, and it wouldn't surprise me.
- Urza, Lord High Artificer is the next most valuable foil from Modern Horizons, with a buylist of $115. Force of Negation foils are next at $90. Both of these also have robust demand, and I don’t expect these prices to drop. New supply probably won’t be hitting the market quickly enough to overcome demand at this point, and that’s precisely why Modern Horizons foils interest me so much.
- Can I pause for a moment and dwell on my favorite set, Arabian Nights? At one point, the top three cards from the set buylisted to Card Kingdom for well over $1000. But their buy prices on Library of Alexandria, Bazaar of Baghdad, and Juzám Djinn have slowly been dropping as they continue to take in supply. Now they’re paying $1010 for Bazaar, $900 for Juzam, and just $770 for Library. There does appear to be some softness in this market, but I suspect it won’t last forever.