I’ve been taking a look at a number of specs recently that I feel signal, if not display a turn in the tides. With the release of Modern Horizons 2 coming up soon, and in-store play’s return imminently approaching, a new dawn is upon us. With the general trends of a market, it is often a matter of cash flow. If a lot of money is flowing into a certain area, it likely is being shorted away from another area; if all areas are succeeding, then they all can show more growth, albeit at the expense of another sector.
With the fall of Modern card prices at the beginning of the pandemic, and the rise of Reserved List and Commander cards to unheard-of highs, the market experienced a massive shift in focus. Modern is already experiencing a massive resurgence, whether predicted or realized, the money is already shifting away from Reserved List cards, and into Modern. Commander cards seem to be holding steady for the most part, likely capitalizing on the same advantages that Modern will have when in-store play is reinstated. Let’s take a look at some of the movements and see if there are any good specs to keep an eye on while the market approaches an epoch.
Commander, a Self-Correcting Object
With changes in the world happening around us constantly, Commander is the one format that seems to have always stayed standing up. It gets tipped a bit, but it never falls completely, it simply corrects. Like the Gömböc, a self-correcting shape, that when tipped over, will always return to its point of stability, Commander, despite all the tips and turns, has found ways to survive, and thrive.
There are a number of Commander cards that have experienced very decent price drops, while still maintaining stability long term, and holding well as of now. One of the cards I’ve been looking at is a very interesting case. Atraxa, Praetors’ Voice has seen a very turbulent couple of years. I believe that Atraxa, Praetors’ Voice shows us a great analogy for Commander as a whole, and can be used to demonstrate the events of the previous years.
In order to further demonstrate the patterns we are seeing here, I have marked out some important points on this graph. You can probably tell from just looking at it, they are periods of changes, big, small, and almost unnoticeable, but important nonetheless. The first marker is an important period of market stagnation. No new information is being presented, and there is really no reason for this card to change much. You’ll have the normal demand of players; no one really needs to sell these too quickly, and players aren’t rushing to get them. This is important to note because it is the only period of time where a period of stagnant stability is present, as the rest of the last two years have not fit this classification. Point number 2 is a period of massive growth, this is simply player-driven, short-lived, and tells us something very important about that time.
The number of cards being sold was enough to satisfy the number of players buying them in point 1, however, when demand rose during spoiler season of War of the Spark, the demand was tipped ever so slightly, and the market could not keep up. Prices rose rapidly as sellers could not acquire enough inventory to catch up with new demand, and by the time supply was acquired, the period of horizontal decline began. Point 3 marks this period, all the way from the release of WAR until right after Theros: Beyond Death, when the market was slowly recurring to a correct valuation. The card was no longer needed as much as was perceived, and supply outweighed demand. Stores eager to generate liquidity and offload inventory lowered prices, encouraging hesitant players and sellers to “buy-in low”.
Point 4 begins a period of consolidation. The majority of players currently seeking a brand new Atraxa, Praetors’ Voice had already been sold, and the majority of these cards found their home for the time being, especially as lockdowns started across the country, more and more players turned to online play, and fewer players in store to trade in their cards. This diminishing supply shows its face in point number 5, as the lockdown had begun, and people started to realize that it was the long haul, players stocked up on cards needed to build their decks, looking for interesting, fun, and new decks to play through webcam Magic. The compound of a preceding consolidation allowed for the price to rise, in a stable fashion, before recurring to a further period of declining demand. This contrasts with point 2 in the mere reason for the increase. The ever speculative spoiler season does not make for sustainable prices and demand. A legitimate market force, now that’s something that I can get behind most of the time. Finally, in points 6, 7, and 8, we can see a similar pattern to 3, 4, and 5.
This pattern is pretty consistent in a lot of cards, and some cards simply have consistent upward growth. Take Smothering Tithe for example. This card has seen nothing but upward momentum since its inception. This is likely just due to the overall strength of the card regardless of setting, and the rise of Commander in the mainstream has done nothing but help this momentum.
High-End Reserved List
With a fairly predictable pattern of Commander cards, let’s take a look at some of the spicier sauces offered in some of our nation’s finest establishments. Reserved List. Specifically high-end EDH or CEDH staples on the Reserved List. Common inclusions are the dual lands, Wheel of Fortune, Timetwister, Gaea’s Cradle and Mox Diamond. These cards have seen a very consistent uptick over the past two years. I can say confidently that with the consistent interest, especially with the widespread growth of CEDH, more and more players are picking these up for the long haul. I expect to see a very major supply bottleneck in the near future, as the growth of CEDH has been an unstoppable beast, riding the wave of Commander’s success, and these players will be a bit more hesitant to sell their prized decks, in comparison to the cheaper Commander cards you can trade-in without too much thought.
Once the supply starts to run dry, some will rush to cash out, but I have confidence that after a couple of waves of overjoyed cashouts, these will find their long term homes, and since these are already very low supply in comparison to some CEDH staples, and they also will never see more supply than what we have now, the prices will rise consistently, pressuring players to sell. I can also see long-term HODLers cashing out at a certain point, causing a price recursion and likely a repeat of this cycle. In the short term, we have seen a lowered interest despite massive success, and while this is nowhere near a bad thing, we will not see quite as much interest in these types of cards in the near future, as a portion of that interest shifts.
Modern is a powerhouse. It’s a great way to play. It has always been a strong market. Until the pandemic hit, and Modern prices fell drastically. Cards that used to go for upwards of $100, dropped to a mere fraction in weeks, and in a lot of scenarios, that hasn’t quite healed yet. Some of these prices are starting to rise very quickly, while others are taking a bit more time. Let’s take a look at a couple of cards.
The first card I would like to talk about is Aether Vial. This is a great example of the pattern I am trying to highlight. It shows a steep devaluation at the start of the pandemic and moves very steeply up at the first sign of the pandemic ends. Makes great sense, as Modern did not see much online play during the pandemic, making Modern a largely in-person format.
Fiery Islet saw very little time between its first printing and the pandemic. It really didn’t have much of a chance to be played beforehand, and now that it is starting to get a chance, prices are rising. The valley of the mid-summer of 2020 has crested into the summer of 2021. This is honestly just a great card, and I can see a lot of room for positive growth.
Both Karns see play in Tron play equally important parts in the decks’ win conditions and removal strategies. Seeing that both cards are very important parts of a popular Modern deck, it makes sense it would follow this path.
Noble Hierarch is an interesting permutation of this pattern. While it has not retraced upwards, it also has had a downward spiral for a bit before the pandemic, but now is seeing the same benefits, if only slightly. Will Noble Hierarch achieve the same success as its other counterparts? Maybe. I can see that it may be a possibility, as the meta-game that existed in its decline, has long since changed. It may also bypass the problem of large-scale viability in play by a simple matter of price memory. Even if people aren’t playing it buy and large, people might still purchase at higher prices, simply because it seems cheap based on price memory. Time will tell.
It is very much comedic to me, that hundreds of speculators, investors, players, and collectors all the like, stated with such confidence that Force of Negation would not be reprinted in Modern Horizons 2, despite the clear lack of abundance of a reason for WotC not to. They have said more recently that MH2 is going to be pulling all the stops this time, and by golly there sure isn’t much like a reprint of a staple that only has one previous printing.
Overall, it follows a similar pattern of diagonal growth, a little slower, however, and then has recently experienced slightly more of a downward tick after the reprinting was announced. I think that this reprint, while isn’t going to be massively harmful to prices on certain high-demand cards like Force of Negation, I do believe that prices will lower substantially.
With the next phase of most of our lives unraveling before us, the possibilities are endless. The speculator and the planner within me are eager and excited for a new phase of existence, and I cannot wait for the new opportunities and scenarios that will play out in this changing world. I am very bullish on Modern, as most should be right now, and I believe that the best day to get in, is yesterday, and the day before.
If you haven’t taken advantage of these low prices, maybe take a look. Be skeptical about it, but really dig deep and try to find some good specs, cause with the changes that are coming, they will be somewhere. Have a great rest of your week, and I advise all of you to be smart, be responsible, be honest, and as the old adage goes, invest in cardboard.