Years ago, a Pro Tour would catalyze massive movement in the Magic market. I would cover all the major movers and shakers, possibly review the metagame and share my reactions. I would also include a screenshot of the MTG Stocks Interests page to highlight the disruptiveness to the financial world that is the Pro Tour.
Not so much this time.
That’s it. The entire Interests page for nonfoils from Sunday, November 9th. Let’s count the Standard cards that appear on the list: zero. In fact, I see three cards moving due to Pioneer, and then the usual noise that is the Old School market (prices fluctuate, but never go anywhere).
Clearly, there’s no news here, other than Oko’s impending banning. But there is news from last week, with important implications. Allow me to elaborate.
Mystery Packs: The Good News and Bad News
The Mystery Booster Packs generated more hype than any set in recent memory, and the mysteriousness of it was rivaled only by Ultimate Masters. The production WOTC put on in revealing the product was even well-thought-out and elaborate.
Unfortunately, the greater the hype, the greater potential for disappointment. And that’s precisely how the Magic community reacted (as if there was any other possibility?). I’ve gone from never using memes in my articles to now using one in back to back columns, but this was so fitting I could not resist its inclusion.
This pretty much sums up the experience that is the Mystery Booster Packs. They’re “like a box of chocolates…you never know what you’re gonna get,” as Forest Gump so eloquently put it. That also means the set is clearly designed for a one-time, entertaining sealed event. Finance was not a consideration (other than the obvious Reserved List exclusion).
The community is so focused on value that a cold reaction to this product release was inevitable. While it’s possible to open value from these boosters (I saw one person open a Mana Crypt), more often than not a pack will contain a hodgepodge of inexpensive cards. Since the set is so large I have no clue what the EV of the set is. But at first glance, it looks meager.
But it’s not all doom and gloom. There’s one component to this set that has me seeing dollar signs:
It seems the playtest cards included in the Mystery Boosters will only appear in conventions. Local game shops will have different versions of the boosters. While we won’t know what the replacement will be until Monday, it leaves me wondering just how rare these playtest cards will be. Considering there are at least 121 one of them (the number listed on Scryfall), it’s extremely difficult to open a particular card.
Even though these cards aren’t legal in constructed events, the most hilarious, iconic, or playable playtest cards will inevitably find their ways into Commander decks and cubes. The result: some of these playtest cards will be very valuable!
Of course the less desirable playtest cards will remain inexpensive, but these may be rare and novel enough that even the least interesting ones will be worth a few bucks. I don’t know how many conventions will have this tournament, but the overall market supply for these will have to be fairly small. If there are 121 unique playtest cards, a 2400 player convention would introduce about 20 copies of each per convention. Assuming this will last even 50 conventions means total supply numbers around 1000. That’s rarer than an Alpha rare card.
I’ll be watching these closely, and will definitely hope to acquire a few that are most interesting to me. I think these will have some potential to appreciate. Supply will continue to bombard the market over the course of these events, but a time will come when the supply faucet will be turned off. That’ll be it, then. No more copies of One with Death, or any of the other playtest cards. And even beforehand, there will likely be an opportunity to buy and sell these playtest cards while the market tries to figure out the appropriate value.
These playtest cards (and, possibly, their replacement in the LGS boosters) are going to be what makes these packs worth opening for value!
Legacy Is Dead, Long Live Legacy
On November 7th, Star City Games announced the end to Legacy tournaments on the SCG Tour. SCG gave life to Legacy many years ago when they started their SCG Tour. The result was an explosion in values for Dual Lands, Mox Diamond, Lion's Eye Diamond, and an array of other Reserved List Legacy cards.
Naturally, people are concluding that this announcement spells doom for Legacy. Jim Davis wrote an article on Cool Stuff Inc’s site pronouncing Legacy dead, going as far as to say “good riddance” to the format.
While this announcement certainly bodes poorly for the format, I’m not sure if Legacy prices rely that heavily on demand for SCG Open play anymore. Star City Games hosted very few Legacy Opens in 2019 anyway. I see they had a couple legacy Opens in Syracuse, NY and they may have included Legacy in the Team Opens. But I can’t imagine this catalyzed much demand for cards.
My hunch is that Legacy has gone the way of Vintage. There don’t need to be large events—the players who love the format will find ways to play. There will continue to be smaller-scale Legacy events all around the world. And since the Legacy metagame evolves so slowly, I suspect prices will remain largely unimpacted by this news.
However, to avoid risk of a pullback, I would recommend ensuring your Legacy exposure (beyond a deck you play) is limited to cards that see play in other formats. Dual Lands likely see more demand from Commander than from Legacy nowadays given the difference in the player base. Grim Monolith is another example of a card with utility outside Legacy.
On the other hand, Sneak Attack and Exploration would be two cards I wouldn’t want to own right now. The same goes for any Legacy cards not on the Reserved List that see the most demand coming out of Legacy play. This is indeed a relatively small pool of cards. All the more reason I don’t think the end of Legacy SCG Opens is all that important to the speculator/investor. Legacy cards have been rather uninteresting investments for years already, anyways.
And again, the end of SCG Legacy Opens will not mean the end of Legacy altogether. It will still exist, there will still be events with hundreds of players, but it’ll happen a little less often. This difference just doesn’t matter all that much, financially.
The last headline I want to touch upon is the recent Pioneer bannings.
The most important line in the announcement isn’t the banning of any cards. It isn’t that it’s effective online before it’s effective in tabletop play. The most important line of that announcement, in my opinion, is the very last one: another B&R announcement to come one week later.
Wizards is clearly taking a “wait and see” approach when it comes to managing Pioneer. Rather than beginning with a huge ban-list, they prefer to let the metagame unfold, tweaking along the way. This approach has its pros and cons. But if I had any interest in playing this format, I’d be inclined to wait a month or two before committing to a deck. There’s just too much uncertainty about what will be legal and illegal in the coming weeks.
This could hamper the growth of Pioneer out the gate, and it makes me want to remain hands-off as a speculator (I already got burned on a few Oath of Nissas. I’m not in the business of buying popular cards only to have their utility squelched during a weekly banning. I expect this will leave some sour tastes in players’ mouths, and it’ll be interesting to see if there are any longer-lasting implications.
Wrapping It Up
While Standard continues to languish under Oko’s dominance, there’s plenty of other news to keep Magic interesting. Pioneer is going through rapid changes as it finds footing in the tournament world. Legacy is under attack in its exclusion from the SCG Tour. And Mystery Boosters do in fact have financially relevant cards…albeit only in convention packs.
These three headlines are plenty to keep me engaged in the hobby for the time being. Even though my focus remains on Old School and Reserved List cards, I still have an appreciation for the ever-changing environment the game offers. It’s what makes the hobby so fresh and different, day in and day out. Without such changes, the game really would stagnate.
So even though some of these changes/releases may frustrate us, it’s important to appreciate that the dynamic environment is critical in keeping the game refreshed. To stagnate is to die in this environment. Magic may have been inducted into the Toy Hall of Fame, but it’s not because of Alpha. It’s because of the consistent reinvention the game has been able to undergo over the course of 26 successful years. That’s what makes Magic one of the greatest games ever created, and it’s what will keep me interested in the hobby, hopefully for years to come.
- I just submitted a new buylist order to Card Kingdom when I noticed they were offering $305 on Guardian Beast. This is a stellar price considering the softness in the Old School market. I don’t suspect this high of a buy price will last long.
- I thought Sword of Fire and Ice’s price would have dropped with the introduction of Pioneer. The unbanning of Stoneforge Mystic in Modern catalyzed a jump in price, but Modern is expected to be a bit soft in coming months as Pioneer receives an overweight amount of attention. But Card Kingdom must still be selling copies because they have a $70 buy price for Modern Masters copies of the card.
- Card Kingdom also has Iconic Masters and Legends copies of Mana Drain on their hotlist. They’re only offering $80 for the Legends copies, well off their highest offer to-date. But that $60 buy price on the reprinted version seems to be relatively good, and climbing! Since this card is banned in Legacy, it’s safe to say none of the recent headlines will be negatively impacting this card’s value, and it should offer upside for the foreseeable future (barring a new reprint).