Insider: MTGO Finance Update: Chests and Ikoria Redemption

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With the release of Ikoria, a lot is going on in the MTGO Finance community. Treasure chests have received a major update, one more significant than any since War of the Spark. And with the paper release of Ikoria delayed due to COVID-19, how is that affecting redemption and the value of Ikoria cards online? Let's dig in!

I. Treasure Chest Update

As always happens, the value of treasure chests has rebounded after the latest update. Today a treasure chest is worth $2.28, up 13% from $2.01 in March. If you have been holding treasure chests from the end of last season, now is the time to sell them. For those who play a lot and would value the playpoints that the chests contain, it is worth it to open them rather than sell, as the EV of a chest is $2.41 if you include playpoints as part of your calculus (one of the changes to the chests over the past year was to include more playpoints, which makes the value of chests more even and reliable, and safer to open).

II. Treasure Update: Modern Horizons

At long last, Modern Horizons has come to the treasure chests! Before the set received a small reprint in the form of a flashback draft in March, Modern Horizons had skyrocketed to $500, up 100% from its $250 price point at the end of last year. Prices have now settled at $300, so there is once again room for growth, and strong consideration should be given to including Modern Horizons cards in your investment portfolios. If you are a player, it is the time to pick up staples from this set that you need now and in the future.

But how will the Treasure Chests affect Modern Horizons prices going forward? As you can see from the table above, nearly every Modern Horizons card of value has made its way onto the Treasure Chest curated list. The most valuable card not included in the chests is the $3.19 Echo of Eons. Before this update, by contrast, only a few Modern Horizons cards were included. The key number to focus on here is 6, as that is the new inclusion frequency for all of these Modern Horizons cards, no matter the current price or rarity. A frequency of 6 for cards legal in Modern is significant but not crushing. This inclusion frequency will exert a modest downward pressure on these cards, more than usual given that Modern Horizons is a set that had a low initial print run.

In practical terms, I expect this to slow the rate of growth on these cards, but the upward pressure of demand and scarcity will still outweigh this supply infusion. Expect Modern Horizons as a set to be worth at least $350 by the end of the summer, and likely north of $400. I will, of course, keep the QS community abreast of further changes, as chest frequencies of 12 or 20 would be a real reason to sell. But for now I am a buyer of Modern Horizons cards; I think these are among the safer speculations available to the MTGO community at this time.

III. Treasure Update: Standard Promos

Wizards has had a new focus on promos and premium versions of cards, a focus I explored in my last article, and these alternate versions of cards have entered the MTGO marketplace exclusively through treasure chests. Now that we have seen how MTGO has handled these versions in Throne of Eldraine, Theros Beyond Death, and Ikoria, we now know what to expect and can use that knowledge to our advantage when making buying decisions. With this update, all of the alternate versions from Throne of Eldraine and Theros Beyond Death have been removed from the chests, and all the alternate premium versions of Ikoria cards have been inserted. We can expect these Ikoria promos to remain in chests until the release of Core 2021, and likewise for future sets.

The existence of these promos inclines me to change my investment behavior in one key way: for cards in the current set with premium versions, unless I'm investing really early on in the set's life cycle with an eye toward selling into the initial redemption rush, it's likely better to wait to invest until a bit closer to the next set's release. This became apparent to me this past cycle with Theros mythics Thassa, Deep-Dwelling, Heliod, Sun-Crowned, and Ox of Agonas.

Instead of investing in late March, I should have waited until April.

It is still too early to tell whether these promos are worth investing in, but expect an article on the subject this summer, analyzing Throne of Eldraine, Theros Beyond Death, and Ikoria promos. Examples like Shadowspear incline me to pay more attention to the promos. I invested in the regular version of Shadowspear (blue line), but the premium borderless version (orange line) would have given me a higher rate of return.

IV. Treasure Update: Important Cards

This treasure update makes many tweaks to the curated list, increasing the frequency of many Pioneer, Modern, Legacy, and Commander staples and decreasing the frequency of others. Most of the miscellaneous changes were relatively small, increasing or decreasing frequencies by 6.

The above list is by no means exhaustive, but it does highlight some of the important changes made in this latest update. There are some cards here that are worth looking into now that their chest frequencies have been lowered. Liliana, the Last Hope in particular looks very appealing. She had been in chests for a long time, including a promo printing as part of the Japanese planeswalker series in War of the Spark. Even though she sees less play than she used to, she still sees extensive play, and now is no longer a curated card. If she continues to dip lower, I might become a buyer.

We also see that Commander has become increasingly popular on MTGO, a trend that has accelerated in response to COVID-19. Sol Ring has spiked on MTGO to about $12, and Commander staples have increased in price more than usual. No doubt this is why Sol Ring is being included in the chests now, and no doubt this is why Deathbellow Warcry has maintained a surprisingly high price. Now that Deathbellow Warcry is no longer in chests, expect its price to rise.

V. Signing Off -- Ikoria and Redemption

In the QS Discord, I expressed joy that Magic Arena was finally getting human drafting. I assumed that less people would draft on Magic Online, keeping card prices high. I was mistaken. It was surprising to see Ikoria drop below $100 so quickly. It took Theros Beyond Death over two months to dip below $100; it took Ikoria one week!

There are probably numerous factors at play here. The pandemic has kept people home. Drafting on MTGO has continued to be a compelling alternative to drafting on Arena, as the league numbers are very healthy and I still see so many of the Limited personalities sharing their MTGO trophy decks on Twitter. Perhaps above all, the disruption to paper Magic caused by the pandemic has likely decreased demand for redemption.

I think that now is the time for paper stores and collectors who redeem sets from MTGO to buy their redemption sets. Ikoria has stabilized and slowly inched back toward $100. And there is great opportunity here -- this will be the first time in Magic's history where MTGO Redemption (May 13th) begins before the paper release (May 15th). Digital sets will thus be redeemable when paper prices are at their peak, giving redeemers a chance to sell physical sets with high margins.

Thanks for reading, and I'll be back next time with my favorite spring speculation picks!

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