Jordan Pollack: The Changing Face of MTG Finance

Magic: The Gathering has changed a lot recently.

Are you getting used to it? I’m not. Yet. I’m a 27-year-old millennial who can’t keep up with all the intense new video games, daily Snapchat updates, and computer hacking that every little kid is learning now. Heck I remember playing Oregon Trail in elementary school. I would always pick the Doctor because he can heal his family for free. I didn’t want to die so early in the game, so I adapted.

Let’s jump into Magic: the Gathering changes because that’s why we all wake up every day. Hope you like history.

OMG look everyone! We get ___ back in Standard!

If I had to pick a certain point in recent Magic history that started the trend of reprints, it would be Return to Ravnica. That’s when the red lights started going off in my head. Shocklands being reprinted in the next big set? Oh yeah, Return to Ravnica was a huge set.

Was it because the shock lands were very popular in Modern and the format was just starting up? Sure, these rare reprints made the barrier to entry easier, but is that all? Was Wizards making a statement? Obviously they wanted to sell packs because, well, money.

If you started hoarding sealed boxes during RTR block, you were actually too late. It was so heavily printed you can still get a box from 2012 for $90 today.

Those sealed boxes have plenty of juicy finance targets. Rest in Peace is played in every Modern sideboard ever. Abrupt Decay is amazing in all Eternal formats. EDH even got big cards such as Chromatic Lantern, Utvara Hellkite, Cyclonic Rift, Worldspine Wurm, and Trostani, Selesnya’s Voice. The Shock lands are still the top five most expensive cards in the set, mostly ranging from $8-10. Cheap.

At this point, Wizards had pivoted in their R&D department. In 2012, we also had M13, which had Garruk because planeswalkers are popular. It also had Gilded Lotus, buddy lands, Serra Avenger. Not the best, but still popular reprints in many formats. I couldn’t buy the Buddy lands fast enough for the standard crowd. Buy for $1, sell for $2-3, that’s the name of the finance game.

The Duel decks had plenty of targets too, such as Life from the Loam, Eternal Witness, Isochron Scepter, Golgari Grave-Troll, and Path to Exile. From the Vault: Realms had Grove of the Burnwillows, Ancient Tomb, Dryad Arbor, Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth, and Maze of Ith. Planechase 2012 had Kor Spiritdancer and Baleful Strix. The list goes on and on, and this was all in one year. Maybe it’s just me, but 2012 was overwhelming.

Modern Masters (MMA) was released in 2013 and we had some spoilers in 2012. If this wasn’t the best set ever printed I don’t know what it is. Wizards knew Modern was blossoming and they wanted to take full advantage. With a short print run, these boxes have doubled in price from $200 to $400 today.

It obviously had the top three marquee cards in Modern at the time in Tarmogoyf, Dark Confidant, and Vendilion Clique, but let’s not forget the rares. Chalice of the Void, Engineered Explosives, Doubling Season, swords, Aether Vial, pacts, Cryptic Command and plenty of others. Now we are cooking!

Wizards saw so much success that today we now have three Modern Masters sets, Modern event decks, Conspiracy, Eternal Masters, and Iconic Masters on its way sooner than you can blink an eye.

In 2016 alone, we had 13 different product releases. In 2012 (before the reprint boom), we had nine. In 2005 we had four. Wizards is clearly ramping up the reprints. Releasing many more sets certainly helps, as they can use supplemental products to get more reprints in circulation.

How has that changed MTG finance you say? Well, speculation has just become a different game. Now you have to buy Chalice of the Void after it is reprinted, when it hits the bottom on the price scale. Before MMA, Chalice was a solid $15-20 card; good, but not too pricey. After it was reprinted, you could pick them up for $8-10 easy. It was barely worth the price of a booster pack.

Now? It’s $75 for the MMA copy. Maybe that’s just one card that surged in popularity. But look at many others, too, such as Kokusho the Evening Star, Progenitus, and Yosei, the Morning Star. These were all bulk mythics in MMA. Now? Kokusho is $16. EDH driven and still on the rise. You have to pick and choose your speculation battles carefully.

I personally like to target the original foils of reprints. When the shock lands were reprinted in RTR, did you go back and buy the original Ravnica foils? You should have. Same with the Onslaught fetches when they were reprinted. Although those didn’t drop by a lot, they came down a bit.

Pro Tour Buyouts

In regards to Pro Tour speculation, the ship set sail on that at least 5-7 years ago. No more can you tune in to the Pro Tour, see a card wipe the floor day 1, and go online to buy a set or two for cheap. Now people buy out every Standard rare that might be played at the Pro Tour. Look in bulk rare boxes and I bet you will find plenty of Blood Baron of Vizkopa, Flame-Wreathed Phoenix, Crux of Fate, Rally the Ancestors, etc. Some spiked during Standard, but if you didn’t profit on them immediately, they are fire starters now.

Do people even still collect playmats? What about the finance side? Buying and selling old mats used to be awesome. Now, for a 1,500 person GP, they make 4,000 mats. Supply up with no change in demand — you figure out what to do.

You’re kicked out!

Bannings just started being a problem, and a huge Thorn of Amethyst in my side. Modern had plenty of shakeups with Golgari Grave-Troll coming off then back on. Bitterblossom came off, everyone bought copies, and it still hasn’t blossomed back. Dig through Time and Treasure Cruise were R&D errors, at least for older formats.

Eye of Ugin was banned because more Eldrazi cards were printed. Not the Eye’s fault, but something had to go, so it did. Legacy doesn’t go through a lot of bannings, but Sensei’s Divining Top was pretty huge. It fell a bit in price but is still played in EDH plenty, because it’s degenerate. Now we have to worry about Standard. Emrakul, the Promised End was banned. So was Reflector Mage, Aetherworks Marvel, and who knows what’s next. All those prices took a tumble. What was the last standard card to be banned? Jace, the Mind Sculptor way back in 2011! Now Standard bannings are happening more often too. So hard to keep track of when you have plenty of other things to do in life.

Core sets unite

After a very short stint in purgatory, core sets are returning. I don’t know about you, but when I first started drafting I wanted to stick to core sets. Why? Because it was easy and I knew I wasn’t making any big draft mistakes. Yes, I was a greenhorn, but isn’t that the point. Wizards wanted a set they can insert reprints in, but also attract the novices.

Core sets were a part of standard and gave players a break from the lore of blocks while letting them sling good ol’ Thragtusk with buddy lands. Planewalkers getting reprinted helped sell packs.

Don’t think I would leave out key reprints like Mutavault, Scavenging Ooze, and Chord of Calling. Nope, I didn’t forget. It will be interesting to see what Wizards has in store for us with this restarted Core Set. More reprints? Maybe. New lore? Yeah! Reserved list cards? Don’t get me started.

Jordan Pollack is a tax accountant and Magic player from suburban Chicago. He holds an accounting degree from the University of Kansas and is currently pursuing CPA certification. He enjoys watching the Blackhawks and doing manly things such as fixing a leaky sink, grilling, and making sure his girlfriend has everything she needs (and wants).

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Jordan Pollack