Determining Reprint Price Trajectories

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Reprints: they’re the new normal. I remember a time post-Chronicles when your average card was practically never reprinted. To show up as a reprint in a core set or a subsequent expansion was a big deal. I vividly remember visiting a local hobby shop with friends every weekend to buy booster packs (2006-2007). I would pick up a couple of booster packs of Ravnica, Dissension, and Saviors of Kamigawa because these boosters were slightly cheaper than those of the most recently released sets.

I knew that Shock Lands were valuable pulls from Ravnica block, and was always happy to pull one from a booster pack—not because I would play it, but because I knew I could trade it for other cards I really wanted. There was one card, in particular, I hoped to see in every Ravnica booster I opened: Birds of Paradise.

After being reprinted time and again in core sets up to Eighth Edition, the card disappeared in Ninth Edition. When it showed up in Ravnica, Birds of Paradise quickly became a chase rare from the set despite all of its previous reprints.

In other words, reprints were exciting and welcomed with open arms.

Fast Forward to 2023

Here we are in 2023, and we just saw the launch of the umpteenth set specifically designed to introduce reprints into the market: Dominaria Remastered.

Wait for a second, isn’t this supposed to be a specially crafted draft experience to help players re-live memories from the plane of Dominaria? I suppose so; that’s how it’s branded, after all. But the reality is this is really an excuse for Wizards of the Coast to reprint many high-dollar, chase cards to supply the community (and therefore increase revenues).

Don’t take my word for it, however. The Professor did a fantastic job on his YouTube channel explaining this in much greater detail.

Popular reprints include Vampiric Tutor, Urza, Lord High Artificer, Sylvan Library, No Mercy, and even Birds of Paradise! The chase card from the set, however, has to be Force of Will—the card (with new art by Donato Giancola) currently retails for $89.99. That’s even more than other, earlier printings of the card!

Wait a Second

Force of Will has been reprinted numerous times, yet the card still fetches nearly $100?! How could that possibly be? You would think the card would have seen some pricing pressure by now, especially when you compare it to other reprinted cards that saw price points plummet post-reprint.

Even Birds of Paradise, a perennial $10 card, is retailing for around $7 on Card Kingdom’s site. Remember when Sneak Attack was $70? Now you can order Dominaria Remastered copied for under $10. Have you always wanted a copy of Last Chance, but couldn’t justify the $50 or $100 price point (depending on when you were shopping)? Now you can have a copy for around $5!

Something strange is going on here. We can see that some prices seem to withstand the (re)printing press time and again, while others are far more fragile. What’s more, it seems to also depend on when/where the card was initially printed. A card like Last Chance, initially printed in Portal, seems more vulnerable, though the original printing maintains a significant premium over reprinted versions.

Another interesting example is Diaochan, Artful Beauty: the reprinted version is worth around $17. The original Portal: Three Kingdoms printing fetches over $100 despite there being a much cheaper reprint also available. Then there are cards like Mana Drain and Force of Will. These cards' prices barely seem to dip despite multiple reprints. Original Legends copies of Mana Drain still fetch around $130.

So what is going on? Why all these discrepancies?

Three Factors

To help simplify my thought process, I’ve boiled down the observations into three key factors. These factors are not necessarily all-inclusive but should give you a sense of whether or not a reprint will take a significant toll on a card’s price (especially the original printing) or if the impact will remain relatively muted.

Factor #1: The Set In Which The Original Appeared

Some cards only appeared in a single set printed decades ago. The print runs of some of these sets were tiny (e.g. Four Horsemen sets, Portal sets). Meanwhile, other cards appeared over a dozen times across Magic’s history. The impact of a new reprint will vary tremendously based on this variable.

To explore this further, let’s compare Imperial Recruiter and Rishadan Port. Both cards are from roughly the same era of Magic, but the first was printed in the extremely-rare Portal: Three Kingdoms set while the second was printed in a large set, Mercadian Masques. Both see (saw?) steady Legacy play, back when the format was in its heyday.

The newest printing of Imperial Recruiter, from Modern Horizons 2, is dirt cheap—copies retail for around $7. Meanwhile, the original printing of the card still retails for $160… and it’s sold out!

Once upon a time, before the era of reprints, Rishadan Port was a $100 card. Then the card saw a judge promo printing and a reprint in Masters 25.  Now the original printing has fallen by two-thirds. It retails for around $30.

The card is old and quite rare, but not as rare as a card from Portal: Three Kingdoms. Because of this factor (amongst others), Rishadan Port from Mercadian Masques saw a much larger sell-off from reprint than did the original Imperial Recruiter despite the fact that Recruiter has seen more and more recent reprints!

Factor #2: Is the Card a Commander Staple?

If Wizards of the Coast only reprinted cards with relevance in the Magic game of today (i.e. playable in Commander), it would be fantastic. Commander drives a significant amount of demand for cards nowadays. Since the format is usually about community and fun play, it would be ideal if it remained affordable to the majority of players.

Here’s a small case study to highlight the importance of this factor. Consider Commander staple (and occasional Legacy card) Sylvan Library, originally printed in Legends.

Because the card shows up in Legends, it’s also Old School legal. This card has been reprinted at least six times already, including in Dominaria Remastered. New printings of this card can be found for under $30, while original Legends copies retail for over $100 more. There are many reasons why the original printing has held its value, including the card’s age, rarity, and Old School legality.

The biggest reason, however, is the card’s popularity in Commander. This is a great card to reprint because it doesn’t damage original card printing very much (if at all) while also introducing new, cheaper copies to the market for Commander players.

Let’s contrast this with another card from the same set: Nicol Bolas.

This is another card that was originally printed in Legends. The Elder Dragon Legend also saw a white-bordered reprint back in the day, but Legends copies maintained their steeper price point of around $100. What is a newly-reprinted version of this card worth? About a buck.

The key difference between Sylvan Library and Nicol Bolas: the former still sees a ton of play while the latter is more an icon of the game than a key player. The former should see occasional reprints to keep the card affordable for players. The latter should not.

This theory is supported by many examples. Vampiric Tutor has been reprinted again and again and is still worth a good bit because it sees significant play. Sneak Attack isn’t the chase card it once was back during its Legacy heyday, so it logically has a lower price point.

Factor #3: The Effect of Power Creep

This factor is related to the previous one, but carries an additional, important component. Power creep has obsoleted many older cards. Even if an old card is in short supply and carries a steep price tag, it’s probably best off not being reprinted because new copies of the card won’t carry much demand.  

Remember Legacy and Modern all-star Tarmogoyf? When the first Modern Masters was announced, I promptly sold my playset of Future Sight copies for around $400 on eBay because I feared a significant price drop. Awkwardly, the release of Modern Masters in 2013 did not drive the precipitous price drop I had predicted—the card actually climbed further in price!

What did ultimately drive the price drop isn’t that the card had been reprinted a few times, though that certainly didn’t help. What drove the drop was the fact that the card stopped seeing as much play in competitive formats. In fact, if I navigate to MTG Stocks’ webpage with the most played cards, Tarmogoyf doesn’t crack the top 50 in any format.

You also can’t find Jace, the Mind Sculptor, Vendilion Clique, or Dark Confidant. These all used to be major Modern staples. I distinctly remember when Jace, the Mind Sculptor was unbanned in Modern and the price spiked due to the surge in demand. That didn’t last long when players realized the four-mana Planeswalker simply didn’t hold water in Modern.

Nowadays, you have cards like Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer and Urza's Saga as Modern staples. These are the cards that can be reprinted a few times now, and their values should hold up quite well. Force of Will remains the number one most played card in both Legacy and Vintage; hopefully, the counterspell variant will never be outclassed. It’s no wonder the card remains so expensive despite its numerous reprints! One-time Legacy staple Maze of Ith, on the other hand… not so much.

Wrapping It Up

I’m sure there are other factors at play that I didn’t get a chance to discuss, but I firmly believe these three are some of the most important when determining the impact of a reprint on a card’s price (both the new version’s and the original's).

As long as reprints remain a core part of Wizards of the Coast’s business strategy, then we as collectors will need to remain vigilant about each of these factors: the card’s original printing, its playability in Commander, its overall utility in the 2023 version of Magic, power creep and all. To look at reprint prices in a vacuum without considering these factors will lead to missed predictions and lost money.

As a once-collector, but now play-focused individual, I welcome these reprints with open arms. Where before I used to dread seeing my card prices drop, now I'm excited to be able to pick up cards for my Commander deck at a steep discount. I’m still delighted I was able to get a Liliana of the Veil for just $25 in store credit! I just need to be careful that the card isn’t power crept… I hope it’ll see enough Commander play to also buoy its price. Either way, it’s much better than having to pay $70 for the card!

Reprints really can be a good thing, but only when done deliberately and with care. Do Wizards of the Coast put the right amount of care into choosing what to reprint in sets like Dominaria Remastered? I can’t say. Reprints like Force of Will and the cycle of Mirage tutors are very welcome. Others, like Nantuko Shade (hasn’t been relevant in years) and Lieutenant Kirtar (in only 18 decks on EDH REC), not so much.

We can only hope they print more winners than losers going forward. With careful planning and proper management, reprints can be a huge boon for the game. If things get out of hand and reprints are chosen without care, it could continue to damage the game’s integrity from a collectability standpoint. Let’s hope for the former.

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