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I have a confession; I'm a big fan of a few things that are not Magic: The Gathering. In particular, I am a big fan of Warhammer 40k, and I'm anxiously awaiting the Warhammer 40k Commander release in August. However, I believe I have noticed a trend that I want to share. A disturbingly low amount of Secret Lair Universes Beyond product seems to be making its way to what I call "actual gameplay tables." Where did all these cards go? To Magic players and collectors? Maybe not.
A Tale of Street Fighter and Stranger Things
A lot of the Secret Lair product line is not for me. There are many reprints of cards I already own and I'm not interested in most of the new artwork. However, when the Stranger Things cards were spoiled one caught my eye, Mind Flayer, The Shadow. I have played mono-black Commander decks often, I love theft effects and, I happened to love the artwork too. My hesitance to immediately pre-order for $40 or $50 was based on the fact that I knew the cards would be re-printed as "ordinary" MTG cards in the future and it was a pretty steep price to pay for the single card I wanted. I decided to hold off. How did that go for me?
Let's compare this to the regular Magic Card.
To me, I could not legitimize spending so much money for just one card and I was willing to hold off until the reprint. Arvinox quickly dropped in price. I recently purchased mine for 99 cents with another order. The rest of the Universes Within (SLX) prints are all under a dollar each bringing the entire set with tax and shipping to around $10. Is it worth it to spend quadruple for the same cards just because you're a Stranger Things fan? Definitely not for me and, it appears, not for most Magic players either.
Do You Have A Source For That?
Here, I fully state that this is empirical data from my observations at two local game stores (LGSs) and from many hundreds of games on SpellTable. With the sole exception of a Rick, Steadfast Leader in a Winota, Joiner of Forces deck on SpellTable, I have not seen any Secret Lair Universes Beyond cards in play. On the opposite end, I have seen plenty of Universes Within versions of the same cards. Commander is where you expect people to show off their cards and it's telling to not see them.
I have a second data point though, courtesy of TCGplayer, Cardkingdom, and Starcitygames. Each of these vendors or their sellers has many copies of each card available. It stands to reason, then, that a lot of this product was purchased for resale. eBay completed auctions agree with my assessment.
Finally, reading the Wizards FAQ has led me to this gem. "Quantity limits vary by drop, though usually, customers can purchase up to 60 of each drop." Does this sound like a "limited" product to you?
So What About Street Fighter?
Here, I had the same decision to make. I was not impressed with the artwork or power of the Street Fighter cards except for Chun-Li, Countless Kicks. I'm significantly more of a Street Fighter fan than a Stranger Things fan and I think this is the stand-out card from the set in exactly the same way as The Shadow. Am I willing to pay $40 for a single card? I cannot legitimize it. I'm just not a big enough fan to pay a forty times markup when a Universes Within card is on the way.
But You Get More Than One Card!
Sure I get other cards but few of them are desirable or valuable. Based on my ratings of the Stranger Things cards I have made a similar value judgment for the Street Fighter set. In my estimation, none of the cards are uniquely powerful enough to be deck-defining commanders outside of Chun-Li (Ken, Burning Brawler comes close but no cigar.) The actual Stranger Things prices rapidly decreased and, outside of The Shadow, are worth less than what you paid per card. This means you could have waited, purchased the couple of cards you wanted from the secondary market, and saved money. Or, you could have waited even longer for when these cards were reprinted and picked them up for pennies.
Overpaying Now Or Overpaying Later Is Still Overpaying
Patience is a virtue. Even so, just a tiny bit of patience saved potential Secret Lair buyers up to $30. For me that $30 represents more Magic cards I can buy later.
The 500 Pound Zombie In The Room
Does this same strategy apply to the first Universes Beyond set, The Walking Dead? Rick has blown it out of the park in value. Daryl, Hunter of Walkers? Not so much. The same goes for Glenn, the Voice of Calm and Michonne, Ruthless Survivor. Negan, the Cold-Blooded and Lucille are more valuable than the others but not by much. So yes, this is exactly the same. One card is a tremendous overperformer. The rest? Bulk, near bulk, and soon to be bulk. In five years I wonder which Walking Dead card will be more valuable?
Didn't You Mention Warhammer 40K?
Yes, I did and that is where I am in trouble. I'm a much bigger fan of 40K than all of the other crossover releases and they are selling entire Commander decks. Buying a handful of cards is entirely different than purchasing a unique gameplay experience. I know several people local to me have already pre-ordered their decks. Unlike Arcane or Fortnight which I have absolutely zero interest in, I really do want to possess the complete Warhammer decks. By the time the inevitable reprints come I will have already enjoyed playing many games with the in-universe cards.
FOMO, Fun, Or Funds? You Be The Judge
It could be that FOMO is driving my pre-order decision. The facts show that ordering these cards is likely a poor long-term investment. The exception? You can definitely make money on sealed Secret Lair products. Singles? A bit more difficult there. It takes a long time to sell every individual card and if it takes too long you will get hosed by reprints. One vendor has dozens of copies of The Shadow for sale right now. There is zero chance they will sell that many in a year, let alone sell all of them at full price. They have a commensurate number of the other cards as well which are all losing value.
So Keep It Sealed
For me, holding on to this type of sealed product for too long represents a bit of risk because of the reprint clock. There's also a significant opportunity cost to holding too much of one type of product. Right now especially there is a lot of economic uncertainty. I want to profit off of that uncertainty by buying at bargain prices. It's hard to do that with cash tied up in products printed in the last year. Buying some Secret Lairs and keeping them sealed is a pretty surefire way to make a decent but not stratospheric profit. Getting a huge number and cracking them? A verifiably terrible idea.
The Inevitable Conclusion
If you are a super fan of course you should pre-order a single Secret Lair drop from your favorite universe. But that must mean you want every single card even if, functionally, they are not very powerful. If you are a more discerning player, it's better to purchase only the singles you want. For those who are even more patient, holding out offers maximum savings. This is the key. There are, simply put, very few newly minted fans of Magic that absolutely must go back and purchase an entire Secret Lair without considering less expensive options. They do exist, they will exist, but it's not many.
On the reverse side of the equation, sellers need to be extremely wary of losing value by cracking open sealed product and taking too long selling the singles. Data is your best defense against FOMO, don't get caught up in emotional exuberance on either side of the equation.
3 thoughts on “Universes Beyond, FOMO, And You”
I also collect Star Wats vintage figures. It’s an extremely complex collection with many different cardback versions within each edition. With a great deal of research and a good eye for value, it’s also a very profitable market. I’m all for finding what else is out there and see if it makes a good investment. Magic still has the advantage of being cardboard. Easier to carry and in many ways easier to protect.
Star Wars vintage action figures (correction)
In the collectible action figures market it’s much the same in the sense that a sealed NRFB figure is always worth money but a loose figure, even in pristine condition with all the accessories, is always worth less, right? Just seems like keeping this type of product sealed is a lot better way to make money short, mid and long term.