Soft Ikoria Prices Could Mean Opportunity

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I’m usually focusing my MTG resources on Old School and Reserved List cards, but every once in a while, a new set is interesting enough to give me the itch. I crave the experience of opening sealed product, wondering what lies within. When the set is brand new, I’m guaranteed to open cards I’ve never owned before. New sets also tend to have inflated EV because enough supply hasn’t hit the market yet.

With this backdrop, I recently opened a couple prerelease packs and one bundle of Ikoria—the product netted me around 20 booster packs. As I tore through all the boosters, I marveled at the alternate arts, the cool companions, and the exciting new mythic rares.

The highlight was definitely the alternate art Lukka, Coppercoat Outcast I opened. I’ve seen that card plague Standard now on Arena, in combination with Yorion, Sky Nomad and Agent of Treachery. Clearly I hit big, right?

These Cards Are Worth How Much?

Card Kingdom is known for paying aggressively on their buylist for hot cards. I opened a 4-of, in alternate art, of a new mythic rare, in the best tier 1 deck in Standard. This thing should have paid for my bundle, right?

I rush to their website and search for the card, only to find that Card Kingdom is paying a measly $6.50 for this card. So much for hot new Planeswalkers selling for $30!

At first, I wondered if this reflected softness at Card Kingdom (they had been dropping their buy prices on many cards due to COVID-19, after all). So I checked TCGplayer and Trader Tools. Nope, this card really is only worth about $11 despite the alternate art.

Disappointed, I checked another awesome card I opened: a foil Umori, the Collector. While not a four-of in any deck, this companion does see Standard play in some tier 2 decks. It has a lot of potential.

A quick search on Card Kingdom’s website and…wait a second. They don’t buy this card? Did they open a bunch or something, what’s going on?

I rush over to Trader Tools and find out it is actually a bulk foil rare—the top buy price is literally $0.10.

Ok, clearly I didn’t do as well as I thought with my pack opening. If these cards are worth so little, what cards are worth opening in this set?!

I revisited Card Kingdom’s buylist for Ikoria cards (focusing on only standard printings for the moment) and sorted by buy price, high to low. Anyone have a guess at the top card as of yesterday morning (May 24th, 2020)?

Eight bucks. Eight bucks for the top foil mythic rare in the set! The top nonfoil is just $7.

Now, if I switch over to the alternate art cards, I see Card Kingdom does pay more for some of these rarities. But given just how rare these cards actually are, these prices still seem extremely deflated.

I can’t remember the last time a Standard set had so few cards worth opening from a money standpoint.

Possible Reasons for Ikoria’s Awful EV

Usually when a new set is released, its EV (the estimated value of opening a booster box) is inflated—supply hasn’t adequately emanated throughout the player base yet. Therefore, we see the newest set have a higher EV than previous Standard sets, which have been out long enough to equilibrate.

This trend has inverted with Ikoria. According to Dawnglare, the EV of Ikoria is $68.64.

Compare that to the EV of the other Standard-legal sets:

Theros: Beyond Death: $74.33
Throne of Eldraine: $71.33
War of the Spark: $81.66
Ravnica Allegiance: $91.11
Guilds of Ravnica: $84.48
Core Set 2020: $87.62

The newest set is also the worst one to open from a value standpoint, in some cases by a large margin! What gives?

I believe the explanation lies in COVID-19 and the current stay-at-home restrictions in place across the country (and globe). Think about it: the newest set usually shakes up the Standard metagame, and players need to scramble to obtain the newest cards for their next FNM, SCG Open, or MagicFest they want to play. With constrained supply, prices inflate.

But what happens if there is no MagicFest, SCG Open, or weekly Standard event for players to compete? Then there’s no real rush in acquiring the newest cards.

I doubt Hasbro will release precise numbers, but if I had to guess I’d say the number of active Magic Arena players has skyrocketed, just as it has for other online platforms like Zoom, Slack, and Microsoft Teams. Paper Magic, on the other hand, is likely at decade-lows. People can play through webcam, or in very small groups at kitchen tables. But large Standard events, often the bread and butter for Magic tournaments, are practically nonexistent.

This means Ikoria prices may be depressed for some time.

Opportunity Knocking?

When was the last time I wrote an article strictly focused on Standard speculation? I’m sure it has been a long time ago! But with prices so depressed on this very powerful set, I can’t help but see opportunities abound.

First, the disclaimer: I haven’t purchased many Ikoria singles as of the writing of this article. But I have my eye on certain cards—since I play Standard on Arena regularly, I have observed some of the more powerful, in-demand Ikoria singles. This, I feel, gives me enough data to make reasonable recommendations for paper speculation.

First and foremost, there are the Triomes.

These are absolute staples in the new Standard. I love that they offer three colors, can cycle late in the game, and are fetchable with three land types! They are the first of their kind, and I suspect they’ll be popular in other formats where having lands come into play tapped is acceptable (Pioneer, maybe Modern?). They should also be very popular in Commander.

These are all worth between $5 and $9 currently, making them some of the most valuable non-showcase cards in the set. But what really interests me are the showcase version of these cards. Obviously their supply is much less than their regular counterparts, yet the showcase prices are not that much higher. I bought 1 copy of each so far, with eyes on their prices in case they drop further.

Next on my watch list are the companions—specifically, Umori, the Collector, Obosh, the Preypiercer, Kaheera, the Orphanguard, and Yorion, Sky Nomad. I like these in particular because they see plenty of Standard play, yet are only worth about a buck! Yes yes, it’s true they’re often played as a 1-of. I get that. But Lurrus of the Dream-Den, the most powerful companion in older formats, is worth $6 (extended art is near $10). If Standard play resumes post-COVID, I believe some of these companions could move closer to the $5 range.

If you want more upside, you could pursue the foils (which are also super cheap) or the extended art versions. These are so cheap that it seems like there’s little to lose. Trust me when I saw that Yorion, Sky Nomad is everywhere on Arena’s mythic ladder. Adding 20 cards to a deck is not a huge constraint, so I expect this card to be played throughout its life in standard and into Pioneer and Modern.

The last group of cards I like from Ikoria are the Planeswalkers: Narset of the Ancient Way, Lukka, Coppercoat Outcast, and Vivien, Monsters' Advocate.

I have seen the first two in Standard play many times on Arena. I haven’t seen Vivien as much, but it must see some play because it’s the most valuable of the three! Typically, the best Planeswalkers of a new set retail for $20-$30, yet these are all under $10. What is this, War of the Spark, with its sub-$10 Planeswalkers? These could pop once Standard events begin again and normal demand for paper Magic resumes.

Wrapping It Up

I can’t remember the last time a set’s EV was so poor just a week after its launch. Ikoria does not deserve to be so inexpensive—it’s power level is extremely high! So high, in fact, that one of its cards had to be banned from Vintage for its power level. It’s the first card banned for this reason since the mid 90’s (Mind Twist was the last one). Lurrus of the Dream-Den is on par with Mind Twist…think about that!

Despite its power and its profound impact to Standard, these cards just don’t fetch a lot of money. If you open one of the showcase foils, then you’re in business. But outside of those, you will really struggle to make money cracking boxes of this set. And if stores don’t make money cracking boxes, they won’t crack boxes. And if players aren’t playing paper Magic, prices will continue to soften.

Until they don’t.

I predict that sometime before Ikoria leaves Standard, there will be a vaccine for COVID-19 and large Magic events will return. At this point, though, we’ll already be onto the next sets. Ikoria may be severely underopened as a result, meaning these can have some real growth potential down the line. You don’t even have to look ahead to 5+ years out, either. Even one year could be just long enough for these to suddenly rise in demand without the supply to keep pace.

This is precisely what I’m betting on, and it’s why I’m speculating on Standard cards for the first time in many years.

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