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Facing Reality: A 2019 Look Back

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It’s the holiday season already, and 2019 has flown by. As the year comes to a close, I was looking back at my content from last year and I stumbled upon this prediction article, entitled “MTG Finance Predictions for 2019.” As a way to hold myself accountable, I’m going to review each of the predictions to see if they came to fruition or if I was a way off.

The results may surprise you…

Prediction 1: Box Topper Madness

Twelve months ago I discussed the scarcity and desirability of Ultimate Masters Box Toppers. After exploring their print run, I concluded these cards would take off, following their Masterpiece brethren. In all honesty, I hadn’t been tracking these prices closely, so I wasn’t sure what to expect when I look0ed them up.

Within the article, I shared some hot buy prices for key Ultimate Box Toppers. Let’s see how they compare with buylist prices one year later. Below are the hot buy pictures from an event that took place at the beginning of 2019.

I’ll use Card Kingdom’s buylist as reference, though prices may vary marginally from vendor to vendor.

Card: Today’s Buy Price (Last Year’s Buy Price In Picture), % Change
Liliana of the Veil: $120 ($210), -43%
Snapcaster Mage: $90 ($145), -38%
Cavern of Souls: $100 ($140), -29%
Tarmogoyf: $80 ($100), -20%
Karn Liberated: $80 ($110), -27%
Dark Depths: $39 ($80), -51%

The list goes on, but I think the point is clear. My prediction that “folks will catch on in 2019 and start to make moves” didn’t come to fruition. What’s more, I had expected the #MTGfinance crowd on social media to bang the drum on these rarities, catalyzing buyouts. That never happen, nor did tax return refunds funnel into these chase foils as I had anticipated.

In short, my prediction was a complete bust and any Ultimate Box Topper investment, with few if any exceptions, did not payout.

Grade: F

Prediction 2: Fewer Reprints = Rising Modern Prices

Wizards of the Coast is taking a break from Masters sets, and this was supposed to cut down on reprints. My hypothesis was simple: fewer reprint sets meant Modern cards had a runway to take off. After all, the format was arguably healthy and that momentum should have seen demand for Modern cards remain robust.

Two things happened that completely unraveled this thesis. First, Wizards found new ways to introduce reprints into the market. The Mystery Booster Packs were one avenue to bring reprints into the market, but there were a couple others. This included the Signature Spellbook series and Modern Horizons (no Modern reprints, but some older cards).

Granted, these reprints were relatively inconsequential when compared to the nonstop release of Masters sets from previous years. That’s where the second disrupting factor comes into play: the introduction of Pioneer, a new non-rotating Magic format.

Pioneer is going to cannibalize Modern; there’s no way around this. The nascent format has already generated a load of buzz, brewing, and excitement, and I don’t expect this to diminish in 2020. Just as Legacy suffered as Modern grew in popularity, the same will now take place between Modern and Pioneer. The result: a reduction in demand for Modern cards.

My number one target this time last year was Jace, the Mind Sculptor. According to Trader Tools, the best buylist for a Masters 25 Jace this time last year was $75 and retail was $124. Now the best buylist price is $71 and retail is $140.


In essence, any investment in Jace would have netted 0% returns for 2019—an abysmal performance, though better than all those Ultimate Box Toppers at least.

I also mentioned Mox Opal and Manamorphose as Modern cards with upside. Throughout 2019, the buylist on these two cards from $71 to $72 and $10 to $6, respectively. It’s worth noting that Mox Opal’s buy price did peak up near $100 at one point in 2019 and Manamorphose’s buy price was up near $13.50. So these buys may have paid out if you followed in 2019, but it would have depended on timing.

There was an error retrieving a chart for Mox Opal

Suffice to say, my second 2019 prediction was lukewarm at best.

In this section, I also called out Reserved List staples Yawgmoth's Will and Gaea's Cradle. Buylist on these two cards went from $57 to $50 and $270 to $230, respectively.


Even these two popular Urza’s Saga cards didn’t do much of anything throughout 2019—another disappointing result.

Grade: C-

Prediction 3: Stabilization in “The Four Horsemen” Sets

This was my biggest bet of the year: that after rampant buyouts of 2018, 2019 would be a year of stabilization for desirable cards from Arabian Nights, Antiquities, Legends, and The Dark.

Old School is still a lively format, and I often see its dedicated Discord channel abuzz with chatter. Cards are posted for sale on a daily basis, and often times anything well-priced is picked up quickly. The format is clearly still popular in certain pockets throughout the country.

How does that translate into prices? Well, last year I mentioned that The Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale’s buy price at Card Kingdom spiked to over $2,000, and had since reduced to $1,150. Let’s see how this compares with today’s buy price:


Currently, Card Kingdom is paying $1,065 for the Legendary Land from Legends (Channel Fireball is paying $1,100). After dropping over 50%, I’d say this modest decrease throughout 2019 is minimal, and does reflect stabilizing market prices.

Another example I specifically referenced is Singing Tree. Last year, I buylisted a copy to Card Kingdom for $95, then purchased another copy at $68. How has that purchase shaken out?


Not so hot: Card Kingdom currently pays $46. That said, they used to pay even less, so perhaps this one has also finally bottomed out. Other cards I discussed included Haunting Wind, Recall, Citanul Druid, and Pyramids. Haunting Wind and Citanul Druid pulled back hard, but Recall has held up fairly well. Pyramids is a whole separate situation given its buyout by a single individual.

I was right in predicting there wouldn’t be “massive buyouts in 2019,” I believe my call that “prices will stabilize and slowly grind higher throughout the year” wasn’t too far off. We’ve seen a bit more stabilization and less grinding higher than I would have liked, but I think we’re on track for that come 2020. I’m still optimistic about these cards’ prospects and I continue to buy, sell, and trade them on a weekly basis as I attempt to optimize my collection for a strong year ahead.

Grade: C+

Wrapping It Up

Taking an estimated average of my three grades, I have concluded that the grade for my overall predictions of 2019 is a D. That’s pretty horrendous, honestly, and it brings into question where I went wrong. I mean, at the time of writing last year’s article I was so confident in my predictions. For none of them to play out as I had expected is embarrassing.

I have no real excuse for these poor predictions. All I can say is that Wizards did drop a few surprises on me last year (Pioneer being the biggest one). The hype around Ultimate Box Toppers did not maintain its momentum as I had predicted. Old School cards didn’t begin their grind higher in 2019, but I truly believe prices have stabilized and should be healthy come 2020.

My biggest takeaway here is that predicting the direction of the Magic market in a broader sense is extremely difficult. Rather than try to anticipate what events will unfold over the course of a year, it’s best to react to trends on a daily or weekly timeline. This is the best way to minimize risk while taking advantage of market fluctuations.

Often times, we see card prices take off as they become the “story of the day”, only to drop right back down again days later. These are perhaps the best opportunities to profit from the hobby, rather than taking Magic as a broad investment strategy. I genuinely believe holding a basket of Reserved List cards will offer positive returns over the long run. But any other cards not on the Reserved List are not worth holding for long periods of time as investments (of course if you’re playing with the cards, then holding cards makes sense).

This is my biggest takeaway from 2019: that card prices will fluctuate and I need to remain agile day in and day out. Buying a bunch of cards and throwing them in a closet for a few years isn’t an actionable strategy to make money like it used to be. Sure, you may get lucky. But any profits from such an approach is just that: luck. I don’t plan on following that strategy, and I expect my activity in 2020 will eclipse that of 2019 as a result.

No more 12-month predictions for me. From now on, I’m going to make transactional decisions day-to-day or, at most, week-to-week. Trying to look out beyond that horizon is akin to trying to predict stock market movement—it is a fool’s errand to try and time the market.

Sigbits

  • Many Old School cards have indeed seen recovery as 2019 comes to a close. I was perhaps a little harsh on myself in giving that C+ grade. For example, Serendib Efreet is on Card Kingdom’s hotlist, and recently its buy price jumped from $230 to $280. This one is seeing its recovery take shape.
  • Even though Gaea's Cradle is well off its high, it is on Card Kingdom’s hotlist with a robust $230 buy price. This is another one that is fine to hold long term. But if you choose to do so, be fully aware that its price will fluctuate from week to week and month to month. That said, I do think the general direction for this card over a multi-year timeframe is upward.
  • Another Old School card that has recently made its return to Card Kingdom’s hotlist is Erhnam Djinn. Currently, they are offering $130 for near mint copies. During Old School’s peak, I once declared that if this card’s buy price would get near $200, I’d cash out of my copies and play budget Chronicles copies in their place. It got close, but never got there. I don’t think we’re near a $200 buy price today, but I could see a steady grind higher in 2020 (then again, don’t count on it…my 12-month predictive capability is questionable at best).

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