Strange Pricing Trends in the Market

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While there are still pockets of buyouts here and there, I think the “Reserved List Hysteria of 2020” is nearly behind us. There’s still an occasional move, but for the most part I think prices are going to start to settle soon. Copies will gradually come back into stock, sellers will undercut themselves as they realize not many people are willing to pay $250 for a North Star, and things (at least in this market) will return to some sort of new normal.

There was an error retrieving a chart for North Star

As I look at where prices are ending up, I noticed a few head-scratching trends. I’m referring to situations where two different printings of a card have relative prices that don’t make a whole lot of sense. This week I’ll flag these trends and speculate on how the market may correct this temporary, bizarre state.

Revised vs. Unlimited Dual Lands

Dual Lands were hit very hard during this year’s buyout craze; they were also some of the first Reserved List cards to jump. Unlike random unplayables like Gosta Dirk, Dual Lands are seeing significant demand from the Commander community. Because of the explosion in Commander, I honestly can’t say I’m surprised that Tropical Islands start at $376 on TCGplayer. Until large events take place again, and vendors can buy cards from more of the player base, I suspect this trend won’t reverse itself much.

But what doesn’t make much sense at all is the cost of Unlimited Dual Lands relative to their Revised counterparts.

There was an error retrieving a chart for Tropical Island
There was an error retrieving a chart for Tropical Island

You see, the price I cited above was for the Revised printing of Tropical Island. You could pay $376 on TCGplayer for a Revised Trop. Or you could pay $388—just $12 more—for an Unlimited copy. Since when were the two printings that close in price?!

This trend also manifests itself at Card Kingdom’s site, where they buy/sell heavily played Alpha, Beta, and Unlimited cards at a significant discount to their near mint pricing. They don’t do the same severe downgrading in price for Revised cards. The result: while Card Kingdom sells near mint and EX/VG Unlimited Tropical Islands for more than Revised, their “Good” pricing is flipped! If you can catch a restock, you could pay $320 for a “Good” Unlimited Trop, whereas a “Good” Revised Trop will run you $377.99!

Now, the discrepancy between Revised and Unlimited Dual Lands isn’t so tiny with the others. For example, the cheapest Unlimited Tundra is damaged and $376, whereas the cheapest Revised on TCGplayer is damaged and $210. Card Kingdom sells “Good” Revised Tundras for $293.99 and “Good” Unlimited Tundras (if you can ever catch a restock) for $320. This makes a little more sense at least.

So what’s going on with Tropical Island in particular? I honestly don’t have a clue on this one, but this gap can’t remain so tiny forever. Remember, there are approximately 289,000 of each Revised rare printed, but only 18,500 of each Unlimited rare. That alone should propel the Unlimited copy’s price upward.

I fully expect the Unlimited printing to climb eventually. But more importantly, there are two things I have gleaned from this odd pricing trend. First, these Dual Lands (and for some reason, especially Trop) are being bought by Commander players wanting the cheapest legal versions they can find. If this was driven by collectors, or even Old School players, the Unlimited copies would move more.

Second, if the Reserved List was removed and Wizards announced a Dual Land reprint tomorrow, these would tank in price (depending on the magnitude of the reprint). Why? Because it’s clear players are looking to acquire the cheapest versions possible of these cards. Any meaningful reprint would introduce cheaper copies of Dual Lands into the market, and Revised and Unlimited copies would suffer. But this isn’t a Reserved List article, so I’ll end the chatter here.

Timetwisters are How Much?!

When’s the last time you shopped around for a Timetwister? At one point, the card had virtually disappeared from the market.

There was an error retrieving a chart for Timetwister

Even now, there are so few copies available for sale that sellers are able to name their price. TCGplayer is completely sold out, and the market price (reflecting some of the last copies sold) is up to $2771. The cheapest “Buy It Now” listing on eBay is a staggeringly high $4500. The last copy to have sold on eBay was $3250, with near mint copies selling over $4000.

I have to imagine that, just like Dual Lands, Timetwister is moving due to Commander. It’s the only piece of Power legal in Commander, and it has very little relevance in other formats (even Old School and Vintage).

Once again, Commander players are swarming over the cheapest copies they can find. Thus, the white-bordered Unlimited printing is climbing the most. If you wanted to buy a Timetwister right now, for immediate use, you’d be stuck paying up for that $4500 copy on eBay. But why spend that much for an Unlimited copy when you could spend $5555, about 22% more, for a Beta copy?!

In fact, the last two Beta copies to have sold on eBay cost $5000 and $4000. The delta between Unlimited and Beta printings has gotten relatively small. Other Power has followed a similar trend, with nicer Unlimited copies fetching nearly the same price as beat-up Beta copies. Don’t just take my word for it—check out this tweet from Tales of Adventure President Michael Caffrey:

As I’ve done some collection clean-up during wild Reserved List buyouts, I’ve reached a threshold where I could effectively trade up into a piece of Power. When I made a comment about this on Twitter, Michael chimed in and cited how close Unlimited and Beta were in price at the moment. He even mentions how Black Lotus is following this same trend.

This has me scratching my head. For Timetwister, I assumed the trend was driven by Commander play. But Commander players can’t use any of the other pieces of Power. Maybe Old School players and collectors are similarly cashing out of Reserved List buyouts and using the proceeds to trade up to Power? That’s certainly what I’m doing, so it stands to reason others are looking for the same opportunities. But for every 100 Unlimited Timetwisters printed, only 17 Beta copies were printed. Thus, I expect the delta between the two printings will widen eventually, perhaps as holders of Unlimited copies start seeking the opportunity to trade up to Beta.

The Cheapest Wheel of Fortune Is…

Wheel of Fortune holds synergies with so many newly-printed Commander cards. It’s no surprise that this card is hot. Since it’s on the Reserved List, we can expect it to continue climbing in price with every new card that takes advantage of the card-drawing machine.

There was an error retrieving a chart for Wheel Of Fortune

Based on the trend with Dual Lands and Timetwister, we’d expect that Revised copies, being the cheapest, would have climbed the most lately. Perhaps Unlimited copies would be priced closely to Revised since Commander players are more interested in acquiring the cheapest legal printing they could find, rather than a rarer, more collectible (and more vibrantly colored) Unlimited version.

But a quick search on TCGplayer yields an interesting find. Here’s a quick breakdown of cheapest copies available for multiple versions of Wheel of Fortune on TCGplayer:

Revised: $180 (Damaged)
Unlimited: $260 (HP)
Collectors’ Edition: $224.99 (LP)
Foreign White Border: Out of Stock
Foreign Black Border: $283
International Edition: Out of Stock

A few things surprise me with the pricing above. First, the cheapest Unlimited copy is significantly more expensive than the cheapest Revised copy. If the demand for Wheel of Fortune was mostly coming from Commander players, I would have expected the two to be more closely priced like with Tropical Island.

Second, and more surprisingly, the non-tournament legal Collectors’ Edition copies are more expensive than their Revised counterpart! In fact, Foreign Black Border copies, which are tournament legal, are selling for only a tiny premium relative to Unlimited and Collectors’ Edition copies. Why is that? Why are Collectors’ Edition copies so expensive relatively speaking?

I would reference Card Kingdom’s pricing here to support this strange observation, but their CE/IE prices are a bit outdated (currently $149.99 and sold out). ABUGames has a couple near mint FBB copies in stock—their pricing for FBB is just $50 more than near mint Revised and $115 less than Unlimited. This trend is reversed from TCGplayer, currently. For this card, in particular, it’ll be interesting to observe how pricing unfolds.

No matter how you slice it, Wheel of Fortune is hot. But before rushing to buy the cheapest Revised copy on TCGplayer, remember to browse other versions/sets—you may be surprised what just a few bucks more can get you!

Wrapping It Up

The Reserved List buyouts will never fully go away. But just like the summer, I also think the days of massive buyouts are behind us—at least for now. I’m sure we’ll have another round of Reserved List buyouts in a couple years, as this tends to be a cyclical trend.

As the dust settles, some bizarre trends remain behind. The most perplexing ones to me are occurring with Tropical Island, Timetwister, and Wheel of Fortune. Similar observations can be made with other Dual Lands and pieces of Power, but these three cards seem to stand out the most.

In each of these cases, the delta between the cheapest printing and next-cheapest printing is tiny. For Tropical Island, I’m surprised by how closely Unlimited copies are priced with Revised copies. For Timetwister, I’m surprised by the delta between Unlimited copies and Beta copies. And for Wheel of Fortune, I’m surprised that FBB copies are not too much higher than Revised copies and that Collectors’ Edition copies are more expensive than Revised! It’s a strange market indeed.

I don’t think these bizarre trends will last forever—eventually, the market will correct. In the meantime, just be aware of them and make sure you do some research before rushing out to buy. If you’re in the market for one of these cards, or a card in a similar category, do some research and shop around before you pull the trigger. You just may be able to get a rarer, more desirable copy for just a little more than you were originally planning to spend!

3 thoughts on “Strange Pricing Trends in the Market

  1. I have been seeing lots of academy rector being moved recently and hasn’t caught on news yet.. interesting why these are still so cheap as compared to other reserved list cards… it’s a tutor that’s pretty busted…

    1. I don’t know why Academy Rector is being held back. I suppose the print run on Urza’s sets were much larger than the “Four Horsemen”. It’s also a little more niche, being a white enchantment card, though I’m not sure that matters in crazy buyout world of 2020.

    2. I don’t think that the trend started in 2020, but in 2019 with the official release of card variants with Throne of Eldraine, which likely sparked a renewed interest for card collecting based on aesthetics, not only playability. Cards like Shahrazad are now selling for $450 up from its earlier price of $250 not that long ago. The card is banned in every format. Earlier this year Cardkingdom was completely packed with hundreds of Alpha and Beta. It’s all mostly gone now. Also it seems that collectors are not putting much stock into the fact that Unlimited and Revised are two different sets. To them they’re just white bordered. There’s Alpha, then Beta, and then there’s the white bordered. That’s what the prices seem to reflect.

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