MTGO: Speculating in the Wake of Pioneer

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Last week I discussed how Pioneer would be an overall boon to Magic Online and to Magic Online finance. Today I'd like to look at the fun stuff - how investors and speculators can take advantage of Pioneer's introduction to MTGO.

Before we begin, I should say that if you want to get into MTGO to play Pioneer, or if you are already on MTGO and are wondering whether now is a good time to jump in and play Pioneer, I would encourage you to go ahead and jump in and get a deck. Pioneer is going to be a supported and popular format. It fills a very real need in the Magic community and provides gameplay more reminiscent of Standard than of Modern or Legacy, so it will carve out a nice niche for itself. While prices will settle eventually as hype dies down, you should not expect a crash, so the investment you make now will be worth it.

I. Avoid Investing in Pioneer Staples

Within a few hours of Wizards' Pioneer announcement, many of the most powerful cards from Return to Ravnica forward experienced a major price spike that has been sustained by high demand. While these cards would have been good investments, they no longer are. Most Pioneer sets' values have more than doubled since the format's announcement, and most are still trending up as more and more people try out the format.

When investing, you never want to buy high, and this graph shows that that's what you'd be doing by investing into Pioneer staples. I think that these prices will hold or dip slightly (so it's okay to buy now if you want to play), but investors should steer clear.

Basically, avoid speculating on cards whose price graphs look like this; there are a lot of them:

That Khans of Tarkir is the only set legal in Pioneer to see a dip in value is itself telling. Because of the fetchlands, Khans of Tarkir's set value is more closely aligned to Modern than to Pioneer. The dip in value we see with Khans of Tarkir is happening to most Modern sets pre-Return to Ravnica. To capitalize on Pioneer's introduction to MTGO, then, we probably need to look to invest in Modern cards.

II. Why Invest in Modern Cards?

Fall is the Best Time to Buy Modern Cards

Modern is most popular as a format between March and August, when many grow tired of Standard and they want to play a different format. This is reflected in league participation numbers and card prices on MTGO, where Modern staples tend to be low during the fall and winter months and then rebound in the spring.

Prices on Modern cards already started dipping in September, especially once Throne of Eldraine was released. Even before Pioneer was announced, Modern prices were down about 10%. We might have seen a larger dip in Modern prices, but the historic terribleness of Standard has likely kept Modern demand higher than usual.

Players should look to buy their preferred Modern deck between now and Christmas. Investors should know that between now and Christmas is the ideal time to make your Modern specs. Investors will have to sit on these cards for several months, but these are relatively safe specs. As longtime QS readers know, I prefer investing in singles only if the underlying fundamentals will naturally push cards like it up in price; this is a great way to mitigate risk when investing in singles.

People are Selling Modern Cards to Buy Into Pioneer

All of the price charts for Modern sets make one thing clear. While prices were already declining thanks to seasonal renewed interest in Standard, it was the Pioneer announcement that really sent Modern prices plummeting. As the Goldfish price graphs show, Modern set values generally declined by an average of 15% to 20% after the Pioneer announcement. Here's a summary snapshot, which shows how the set values of various large Modern sets today compare to what they were the day before Pioneer was announced.

This significant dip across the board presents us with an opportunity, but also a risk. Will Modern not be as popular as it once was? Will Pioneer become the new Modern? Will we be seeing less Modern on Twitch than we have in the past?

This is a legitimate fear, but there are three big reasons to accept the risk and invest. (i) First is that Modern has always been an immensely popular format, and remains so to this day. It is still the #1 format on MTGO, it still garners the most twitch views at Pro Tours and other major tournaments. It was always more popular than Legacy. (ii) Perhaps even more importantly, all Modern cards can be reprinted, so Wizards can still make money off of the format.

As we saw in the SCG letter about why SCG is no longer supporting Legacy as a major format, one of the problems with Legacy is that the Legacy community couldn't really grow or expand because Reserved List cards got too expensive. Modern will not have that problem. (iii) Third is that Modern is a unique format that feels different both from Pioneer and from Legacy. Folks worried that Pioneer would feel like Modern can rest easy. Modern is fast and powerful. Pioneer is a grindy, powered-up version of Standard. And as we've seen from the first wave of bans, Wizards wants to keep it that way.

The reason for the Modern price drop, then, is likely more superficial and innocent. People were excited about playing Pioneer, and they needed to sell their Modern cards so that they could afford to play Pioneer. These people will buy back into Modern, as will many of the people who have returned to the MTGO platform over the past few months. Still others will buy in to test for major Modern tournaments.

III. Good Modern Speculation Targets

To be frank, there are too many to count. I've been investing broadly into various Pauper and Modern cards, and I will share a few of them here today. In general, I've been looking for cards that took a big dip alongside the Pioneer announcement, and those that have not been declining for years and suffering under the weight of treasure chests and reprints. If you want to see everything I've been investing in, hit me up on Discord.

Y'all are dead to me

1. Primeval Titan

Primetime is exactly the type of card I want to invest in. It is a tier-one staple with applications in lesser archetypes as well. It is a card that sometimes experiences spikes upwards to $10 and is currently sitting at $3. And it is a card that the price graph makes clear was obviously being sold to buy Pioneer cards.

2. Past in Flames

Past in Flames is one of many cards that lost 75% of its value in one day. This is a powerful card integral for a popular archetype (Storm). Expect Past in Flames to be at least $5 come Spring, with the potential to spike into the $8 to $10 range should Storm find itself atop the metagame pyramid for a time.

3. Dovin's Veto

This is one of the rare cards legal in both Pioneer and Modern that is currently a good investment opportunity. Dovin's Veto is just a superior Negate and sees play in Standard, Pioneer, and Modern. Its supply is low for an uncommon because War of the Spark was released during Arena's honeymoon period, and it already has experienced frequent spikes up to $0.40 or $0.50. I plan on buying at least 100 of them.

4. Ancient Ziggurat

Perhaps saving the best for last. Ancient Ziggurat is an ideal spec. It has shown the ability to maintain a price between $0.50 and $1.50 ever since Humans emerged as a tier one deck, yet right now its price is significantly lower than that. When scouring through Modern specs, the more it shares in common with Ancient Ziggurat's price history, the better a spec it will be. I'm a buyer.

IV. Signing Off

Thanks for reading! If you have any questions, leave a comment or hit me up on Discord. Consider these four speculation targets as examples of what to look for when looking at Modern cards; these are but four of many that would make smart investment choices. Next week I believe I'll be looking at Standard speculation opportunities in the future wake of an expected Oko ban. Stay tuned!

One thought on “MTGO: Speculating in the Wake of Pioneer

  1. Here’s an alternate take. I had been losing interest slowly in Modern as the format has evolved with newer sets. It was feeling like strategies were getting more powerful and the format was slowly warping.

    On top of that, Modern has seen substantial amount of change over the past year with the release of Modern Horizons, the banning of cards from the format as result of that set, and then the Stoneforge Mystic unban.

    Combine it all and I was ready to forget about Modern until things had settled down enough to establish a new metagame. But with Pioneer, I don’t have to do that as there’s this new format with a smaller card pool that doesn’t have all of these powerful strategies to account for.

    If I’m the only one who felt this way, then Modern should have plenty of life left and will be worth speculating on. But if a lot of players felt this way, then Modern will be in trouble as a format. I would be keeping track of league participation to see how things evolve.

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