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Insider: Is the Reserved List Buyout Bubble Breaking?

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2020 has been an exciting time to be involved in the Magic market, with widespread price increases across huge swaths of cards, including plenty of massive spikes.

  • Magic has been moving upwards along with the wider collectible market, including the meteoric rise of Pokemon, and a renewed interest in sports cards. The oldest and most iconic Magic cards are being seen for their collectible value and appreciation along with these other assets.
  • A lack of in-person tournaments has helped Commander, with its small, personal playgroups, some already accustomed to playing through webcam, surge to new heights of popularity. Its staples have been steadily rising in price, some astronomically so.
  • Many of these old collectible cards and Commander staples intersect with the Reserved List of cards that are promised to never be printed again. These and other more useless reserved list cards have been targeted in buyouts spiking their price.

While Magic prices have been steadily rising this year, I have been seeing some signs that things are slowing down.

My main strategy for playing price spikes has been the tried and true method of finding cheap copies of cards after they spike and profiting from the arbitrage. My inventory is almost entirely made up of these cards that I’ve bought for a quick flip. Selling cards on TCGplayer means constantly updating prices, and that provides me frequent feedback on what’s going on in the market.

This sort of strategy puts me right into a “race to the bottom” against other sellers as we all compete on price and eventually drive the spiked price back down. So my entire experience is seeing each card in my inventory slowly depreciate; it’s rare that something increases. But not every card has decreased in the same way, and it provides some insight into what’s going in the market.

The Four Horsemen

One class of cards I’ve bought many of are some old collectible reserved list cards from Magic’s first expansions: Arabian Nights, Legends, Antiquities, and The Dark. Cards from these sets specifically have seen buyouts and spikes as some of Magic’s oldest and coolest cards but that were still relatively overlooked, and are more accessible than the top-tier like the Power Nine.

This year it was a frequent occurrence to look at the top price moving cards of the day and see one of these at the top with enormous gains. The reality is that these prices only truly reflect near-mint cards, which demand a premium as collectibles and especially because of their desirability for grading. Grading cards has never been more popular, with services like BGS and PSA reportedly backlogged for months and with new companies appearing,  and that includes an ever-broadening range of Magic cards like these.

The more played cards do follow the increase of mint cards, whether it’s by people wanting to not miss out and at least own a copy, or people hoping to make a buck by selling at the inflated price. I’ve been a bit of both, and have scoured for cheap copies of these spiked cards, some which I’ve always found cool and suddenly want to own, a FOMO feeling many others must feel too, and some to flip.

My efforts in flipping them have been mostly successful, and my eyes would light up with dollar signs when I saw I sold a card at the new price that I had bought on the cheap. But I’ve also been stuck with some that didn’t sell, and recently I’ve seen some fall considerably.


A great example is Golgothian Sylex, which in August was a $17 card but on paper showed a price spike to $200. A month later it was down to $100, and it’s now $75. Played copies are faring worse - I sold a Lightly Played copy at $54 on November 8th, but today I could buy one for under $34. That’s still much higher than the price under $10 some played copies were available for just a few months ago, but I do expect it to continue falling further.

There’s some real value and demand in these old cards, but prices are obviously inflated. The best mint copies were bought out to be graded, and the rest came along for the ride, but played cards can’t sustain these super high prices.


Saga Block Commander Staples on Reserved List

Another class of cards that spiked seem to be faring better, and while have naturally retraced a bit lower, have still maintained relatively strong prices. Rather than being desired almost solely for collectibility like the previous cards, these are reserved list cards with in-game applications, especially in Commander. The prime example is Gaea's Cradle (a card that's been stable around $350 for nearly two years now) grew to $500 this spring before showing a spike to nearly $1000, more realistically around $800, and then settling for a while at around $700.


Of course, most of the action around the card was with played copies, as can be expected for a card that derives most of its demand from playability. At the end of August I sold an HP copy for $640, but a week later sold a second for just $545. There was certainly a fast race to the bottom on the card initially, but it stabilized quickly; today it would still bring me around $500.

It’s a similar story with cards like Replenish and Yavimaya Hollow. I bought and sold multiples of each, and still have some left. At the peak I sold multiple LP Replenish for $95, but I sold some this week for $75, but still twice as much as it cost earlier this year.


After the spike of Yavimaya Hollow I sold a near-mint copy for nearly $80 and LP for $63. Last week I sold an MP copy for $48. Still, a strong price compared to the $30 a Near-Mint would have cost this spring. My NM copies all sold this week for $65 so they are definitely still in demand. In fact, the price graph actually shows them trending upwards this past week. I expect demand will be strong for it and similar cards through 2021.

The Power 9+

I expect all of the very playable Reserved List cards that spiked this year to at least maintain their current prices, and more likely grow through the next year. Their demand isn’t tied to condition, but playability, and are safe to hold because of their spot on the Reserved List. This also applies to the Power 9 and other related cards like The Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale. These cards have high demand at all conditions as iconic and playable cards, and have seen their own price increases.


Bulk Reserved List Rares

On the other hand, the other Reserved List cards that are neither iconic nor very playable have the weakest price outlook. There’s a large number of “bulk” Reserved List cards that have been the targets of speculators buying them out. These cards with little value as collectors or to players seem to have more value as pawns for speculators than anything else, so anything that spikes will soon fall as they flood the market.


In some cases, these cards do intersect with more obscure potential Commander playables that have been brought to light. These hold the most promise for finding a diamond in the rough that could be popularized by something like a new card that it works well with or popular figures in the community discussing it. Still, these too have seen their prices fall considerably. At its height in September I sold an MP Carrion for $10, up from around $3, but last month a near-mint was only $6.


Looking Forward to 2021

Keep in mind that prices tend to be at their lowest at this time of year, so it’s not surprising we’ve seen the big spikes of the year fall back. We typically see big increases in the spring, so now is a great time to buy cheap cards in anticipation.

 

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