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I was intrigued by a recent article from CBR.com, which claimed that Magic is getting more expensive. The article called out last year's Magic 30 product and collector boosters for the forthcoming The Lord of the Rings: Tales of Middle-earth set as examples of an increasing onslaught of top-end products. While I am not a fan of all the high-end product releases that Wizards of the Coast is increasingly dumping into the market, I don't know if it's accurate to argue that this is actually making the game more expensive to the average player.
I decided to investigate this myself by examining the costs of decks for various constructed formats and comparing them to historical prices for decks in those formats. I did all this while trying to keep in mind what price control Wizards of the Coast actually has, if any, over the secondary market prices of their cards.
Format Price Comparison Methodology
I chose to limit the scope of my data pool to the two most popular sanctioned constructed formats: Standard, and Modern. I looked at these two formats specifically, rather than Magic's most popular format, Commander, for a few reasons. First, as sanctioned formats, decks for Standard and Modern are required to be composed of genuine Magic cards. Proxies of any kind, officially printed or not, are not allowed for sanctioned formats. This makes the prices of cards in these decks a legitimate factor, unlike in Commander, where a player can simply proxy up a copy of any card not within their means to own, and play it—barring any Rule 0 objections of course.
Second, the Standard and Modern formats both have long histories. Modern has been a sanctioned format since 2011. Standard has been a sanctioned format since almost the beginning of the game—originally called Type 2, as it was the second Magic format ever after Type 1, or what we now call Vintage.
because of their histories, there is plenty of historic pricing data we can look back on to compare the costs of decks for these formats, and determine if it's true or not that Magic is getting more expensive, or has gotten more expensive over time.
If current prices are the same or lower than in previous times then Magic is getting cheaper. If current prices are 15% higher or more than previous times then Magic is getting more expensive. I chose 15% because it is high enough that it would clearly discern a true deviation from previous prices, but is not so high that it would be untenable.
One could easily make the argument that Standard is the format Wizards has the most control over. The cards are by default all the newest ones. Nothing is on the reserved list or anything like that. There's also historical precedent for Wizards injecting previously valuable cards into event decks (added to the Thrive and Thrash Gatecrash Deck) to help regulate prices. The fact that new Standard-legal cards enter the market all the time thanks to both Limited play and people just opening packs for fun, means that the supply is constantly growing. This is what we see if we look at the top decks in Standard according to MTGGoldfish's metagame breakdown:
- Grixis Midrange - $411 (35% of which is due to running two copies of Sheoldred, the Apocalypse)
- Monowhite Midrange -$293 (33% of which is due to four copies of The Wandering Emperor)
- Monored Aggro - $107 (33% of which is for the three of Chandra, Dressed to Kills)
- Esper Legends -$583 (50% of which is due to four of Sheoldred, the Apocalypse)
These four decks make up roughly 51% of the metagame with an average deck cost of $348.50. While $350 is still a fair amount of money, there have been multiple times in Standard's history that decks cost close to $1,000. Decks like Caw-Blade (Zendikar-Scars Block Standard) and 5-Color Goodstuff (Khans of Tarkir-Battle for Zendikar Standard) were easily $1100+ in their heyday.
Mitigating Factors on Standard Prices
Now it is important to admit that for Standard, current prices have more factors affecting price than just card availability. Thanks to Magic: Arena, a lot of more casual players are likely shifting away from playing paper Magic to playing digital Magic. I have already dug into the pros and cons of Magic: Arena in a previous article. Suffice to say, it is my belief that Friday Night Magic and Weekly Booster Drafts have likely been, and continue to be, cannibalized by the monster that is Magic: Arena.
Unrelated to Arena, but equally as impactful, has been the dramatic drop in larger in-person events like Magic Fests/Grands Prix, Starcity Games Opens, and even Regional Qualifiers. This can be attributed partly to varying Pandemic-related restrictions on these types of mass gatherings by local governments.
The combination of the rise of Arena, and the decline in large in-person events, means there is less demand overall for paper cards. This is one factor that I believe is helping keep the average deck price down. Another factor that we must also consider is that the Standard format right now is quite varied. There is not one particular deck exerting a stranglehold over the format, thus driving the prices for its signature cards higher.
Modern is interesting for a number of reasons. Again, as in Standard, none of the cards are on the reserved list. In fact, Wizards has actually frequently reprinted some of the most in-demand ones. Despite this, Modern decks are still quite expensive compared to Standard. One very noticeable trend when looking at the top lists of the format is how many cards in the decks are from Modern Horizons 1 or Modern Horizons 2.
- Izzet Murktide - $1038 tops the metagame with a 12.6% share. Almost 30% of the deck cost is in the four copies of Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer a Modern Horizons 2 card.
- 5 Color Creativity - $1236 which accounts for another 10.2% of the metagame. Around 22% of the cost is tied up in Wrenn and Six and Archon of Cruelty, cards from Modern Horizons 1 and Modern Horizons 2 respectively.
- Hammer Time - comes in at $967 and accounts for around 7.2% of the metagame. Urza's Saga and Esper Sentinel take up around 25% of the cost of the decks, both of which are from Modern Horizons 2.
- Temur Rhinos - $1214 and accounts for around 6.8% of the metagame. We have 23% of the deck cost tied up in a playset of Force of Negation and Fury which again are from Modern Horizons 1 and Modern Horizons 2 respectively.
These four decks make up around 37% of the metagame. This means you are likely to play against at least one if not several of these decks in any larger tournament setting. While these decks cost a good bit of money, they are arguably in line, if not cheaper, than many decks throughout Modern's history. For example, back in early 2015, Modern Jund played:
- 4x Tarmogoyf ($150+ each)
- 4x Liliana of the Veil ($75+ each)
- 4x Dark Confidant ($70+ each)
- 4x Verdant Catacombs ($35+ each)
This doesn't even include numerous $10-$15 cards rounding out the deck. 2015 Jund easily topped out at $1500 at the time.
While not all top-tier Modern decks approach Jund price levels, many have often been upward of $1000-$1400. Current prices appear perfectly in line with this.
Aggravating Factors On Modern Prices
I wanted to call out the more expensive Modern Horizons cards in current decks specifically, because of Wizards of the Coast's penchant for Secret Lair drops and the general consensus from players that these cards need a reprint to lower their prices. I could easily see many of them getting reprinted in the near future. This isn't to say go and sell your personal copies now, but I see very little upside to their current prices and significant risk.
I will be the first to admit, that I own none of them and a large part of that reasoning was that I don't play a lot of Modern anymore and I can wait to pick up copies for our local Legacy tournaments when prices drop.
When looking at Modern, or really any non-rotating format, the deck price is typically a one-time expense. Most players pick up a Modern deck and either try to master it or trade the cards off towards building a deck they do like. Either way, deck costs aren't really a recurring factor like they are in Standard. Thus, it's acceptable, and almost expected, for the overall cost to be higher. This is partly because these cards are typically the best of the best, and there's a sentiment among players that they should be more valuable for that reason.
Accessibility vs Collectability
Accessibility and Collectability are two sides of the same coin. You can't have both. For cards to be accessible they must be readily available and thus cheap. For cards to be collectible they need to be rare and hard to find. I must admit that as a store, I find Wizards of the Coast's push towards numerous variants of differing availabilities to be annoying to monitor and maintain. However, as a player, it is abundantly clear that this avenue allows the "more common" versions of cards to be pushed into the marketplace by the collectors looking to recoup some of their costs of chasing the extremely rare variants. This then lowers the price of the normal versions and allows players to get their necessary cards for less than they might have in the past.
My Final Verdict
No disrespect to the writers at CBR.com, but after looking at the numbers, I think they got it very wrong. While it's true that the rarest of the rare cards are ballooning in price, the game as a whole appears to be getting less expensive. This is especially true of the Standard format. It's definitely nice to know that if a player wants to play paper Standard competitively, they no longer have to fork over suitcases full of money to play.
One could argue that the price of Modern appears relatively stable at around $1000 for a top-tier competitive deck, but at least the prices are stable. Indeed, with the potential for reprints at any time, as we discussed, they could even get cheaper.
That's my perspective, what's yours? Do you think Magic is getting more expensive? Let me know your thoughts in the comments.