Over the past year, I’ve written up numerous articles pertaining to COVID’s impact on the MTG finance market. Below are links to most of these articles, for reference:
Follow-up: COVID-19’s Further Impact on Magic (3/16/20)
Three Indicators of Paper Magic’s Health (4/6/20)
Continue to Buy and Sell Despite a Soft Market (4/13/20)
The Impact of No MagicFests in 2020 (6/1/20)
Looking Ahead to When the Pandemic Ends (11/30/20)
Throughout each of these write-ups, I do my best to remain optimistic, focusing on the resiliency of the game, the ability for Arena to keep Magic relevant, and the long-term prospects of holding physical cards.
At one point, I hypothesized that a pandemic would mute demand for cards, while a lack of large-scale events would really clamp down on supply. While the latter has definitely played out in this way, the former prediction was inaccurate, partly because the government stepped in with stimulus packages and partly because enough investors/speculators did not see income disruption. Those not worried about putting food on the table suddenly had excess cash with fewer ways of spending it.
Thus, we saw the rise in Reserved List, Old School, and largely “investible” cards.
Over a year after the initial shut-downs, COVID-19 vaccines are finally, slowly being rolled out across the country. With aggressive expectations, the government is prioritizing vaccination en masse. As far as the pandemic is concerned, this isn’t quite the end; it’s more likely this is the beginning of the end.
It’s only a matter of time before large Magic events resume. What happens then is up for debate, but I have some opinions on what to expect.
Let’s picture the first MagicFest in over a year. Numerous vendors purchase booths in high hopes of a desperate restock of cards—so many cards have been difficult to keep in stock and posting buylists online-only attracts a limited audience; only a fraction of Magic player utilize/trust online buylists. To accomplish the restock, vendors are going to bring stacks of cash. Older, rarer cards will be especially hot the first few events: Dual Lands, Mox Diamond, Power 9, Gaea's Cradle, Sliver Queen, Wheel of Fortune, and the like will all be topping vendor hotlists.
Because supply is so constrained and demand remains robust, this will be a seller’s market. That is to say, vendors will have to compete with each other and offer the most attractive buy prices in order to restock first. As they restock, vendors will of course post the cards for sale at the new, higher price point. As they restock (and use up their cash), vendor buy prices will then proceed to retrace. Sell prices, however, won’t pull back so quickly.
As these large card shops finally restock cards we Old School players/collectors have been hunting for months, I’m going to remain very careful with my purchases. Prices will be bloated, and there’s a good chance buying right away will lead to overpaying for these cards.
If you want a taste of what’s to come, just check out Card Kingdom’s pricing. They’ve been restocking older cards already thanks to an aggressive buylist algorithm, so there’s plenty to shop for on their site. But their pricing is so inflated, I wouldn’t consider spending cash on most their new inventory. For example, here are some prices that feel quite lofty to me:
With prices like these, it’s no wonder Card Kingdom has at least a few copies of each in stock! These may be “reasonable” prices in the current environment, but I strongly expect these all to come back down once at least a little more supply returns to the market. As other vendors restock these cards at MagicFests, they’ll probably price their inventory similarly—the balance will shift, and prices will have to retrace some as vendors will be forced to compete with each other to make the sale.
Will Any Cards Increase in Price?
Because I anticipate downward pressure on Old School and Reserved List cards, I’ve scaled back my buying significantly. The only cards I’ve been hunting for lately are Alpha cards—as I’ve written in the past, these are exceptionally rare and have plenty of upside potential as the game continues to remain popular. Alpha rares top my want list…if only I could find a few more for sale at competitive prices (no easy feat)!
Even though I don’t really speculate much on modern bordered cards anymore, I do wonder if that category of cards offers the best upside over the next 6-12 months. The re-opening play could apply demand pressure on tournament staples; tournaments being primarily Standard, Pioneer, or Modern formats. Given that Modern cards are the oldest of the three formats, it stands to reason that Modern staples not recently reprinted could offer the most upside as Magic events resume.
We’ve already begun seeing this trend unfold in Khans of Tarkir and Onslaught Fetch Lands. Check out the price chart on Bloodstained Mire, the fifth most played card in Modern. The card’s price bottomed in April of last year, rebounded some throughout the summer and fall, and recently spiked to new highs. The other fetches have followed a similar trend.
Another popular Modern card, Veil of Summer, barely saw any price softening throughout this pandemic, and continues to march to new highs. Another compelling one is Aether Vial—this tournament staple cooled off dramatically throughout 2020, probably because there were no paper tournaments in which to play this card. But over the past few months, this card’s price has accelerated to the upside and is once again $60.
Modern Horizons cards may finally have their day in the sun—Force of Negation is one of the most played card from the under-opened set, and is approaching $100! I saw that Mox Tantalite spiked recently, although I’m not exactly sure why. Either way, Modern Horizons cards are especially poised to pop (but be careful of reprints in Modern Horizons 2, coming out in just two months). Any card you want from Modern Horizons should be prioritized immediately once it’s confirmed that card is not being reprinted in Modern Horizons 2.
Now it’s true that all of these cards will also see an influx of supply once events resume and vendors are able to purchase cards at MagicFests. Vendors will be able to restock all these cards, too, and will post higher prices to reflect recent market trends. But the difference here is that the return of large-scale paper Magic tournaments should reinvigorate demand, keeping pace with newly listed supply.
It’s basically the inverse of what happened over the past year. Over the last twelve months, there was a softness in supply and demand. But now there will be a resurgence in both supply and demand; this should accelerate liquidity and help cash flow smoothly throughout the Magic economy. Such action will be very healthy for the market—any pricing corrections necessary will happen quickly, and we should see a return to normalcy within a couple months.
This keeps me optimistic, overall, about the Magic economy and motivates me to remain invested in a stable collection.
Wrapping It Up
I’ve written numerous pieces attempting to first predict, then explain the market trends driven by the COVID-19 pandemic. The name of the game thus far has been lower supply due to a stoppage of events, combined with stimulus money and excess cash to spend on hobbies, leading to new highs in prices (particularly on Reserved List cards, which are most investible).
Now that people across the country are getting vaccinated, we have to imagine that Wizards is closely monitoring the situation, strategizing when it’s appropriate to resume large-scale paper Magic events. At this point, we are closer to the end of the pandemic than we are to the beginning, so this has to be on WOTC’s radar. More importantly, this is also likely on vendors’ radar as they anticipate the ability to host a booth and finally restock some cards.
I predict that this trend will lead to a massive restocking of cards throughout the market (perhaps besides the truly rare, such as Alpha). Such a resurgence of supply will put pressure on pricing, probably driving a retracement in card values in the coming months. This kind of pullback will be perfectly healthy, and over time normal market conditions will prevail.
But the one wild card here is what will happen to tournament staples, particularly cards in Modern that haven’t been reprinted recently. These should be restocked alongside everything else, but with the return of paper Magic events, we may see a newfound surge in demand for cards. This could be why we’re already seeing some Modern staples, such as Fetch Lands, climb to new all-time highs. Force of Negation and other Modern Horizons playable seem particularly attractive given their limited print run…just be careful to avoid reprints in Modern Horizons 2.
Will new tournament demand outpace re-supply? Or will Modern Horizons 2 create a surge in Modern interest, driving non-reprinted cards even higher? It’s impossible to predict definitively, but if forced to make a prediction, I would say Modern staples will be worth more six months from now than they are today.
This doesn’t mean I’m going to rush out and buy—not because I think it’s an unattractive opportunity, though. I’m just offering full transparency that I still prefer to sink my resources into the cards I love most: those printed before 1995. That’s just personal preference, though. From my point of view, the collector in me is looking forward to a price cool-off in the Old School market so I can upgrade my decks a little more. But if too many players are of the same mindset…well perhaps we won’t see quite the pullback in prices I’m hoping for. If everyone is eagerly waiting to buy Old School cards the moment prices drop, perhaps we won’t see much cool off after all. Only time will tell.