By now, you've probably heard the news: shocklands will be back in Dragon's Maze.
Opening one won't even require you to give up your rare—they'll be making a special appearance in the basic land slot. Does this mean that the market is about to become flooded with a heaping pile of soon-to-be-worthless lands? Should you sell all of your shocklands right now and buy them back in a few months when they become yesterday's news?
Luckily, Wizards has made the math pretty easy to solve. They've told us that shocklands will appear in Dragon's Maze about half as often as they showed up in Return to Ravnica and Gatecrash. You have a one in eleven chance of opening a shockland in Return to Ravnica, so Dragon's Maze should pay out one shock every 22 packs. This means that the odds of opening any specific shockland in Dragon's Maze is roughly one in 220.
Just to give you a sense of what 1:220 looks like, here's a picture of a Z gauge model train. It is 1/220th the size of an actual train.
But I digress. If you go digging for a Hallowed Fountain in Dragon's Maze, you'd have to open an average of almost six and a half booster boxes to get there. In Return to Ravnica, you could expect a Hallowed Fountain every box and a half or so. That's a pretty big difference. Also, per the latest reports, Dragon's Maze will contain no foil shocklands.
Of course, even at a reduced rate, the fact that they are actually printing more shocks shouldn't be ignored. Let's delve into this a little deeper and explore a few factors that might lead to a decrease in the price.
How much Dragon's Maze will be opened? I suspect that the answer to this will be "higher than a normal spring set, but still lower than any recent fall or winter set." The Draft season for Dragon's Maze isn't going to be any longer than the average May expansion, and M14 will still show up to change the format in August. Dragon's Maze is going to be a smaller set than Avacyn Restored or Gatecrash, but each draft will still only feature one pack of the new cards. Honestly, the additional packs of Return to Ravnica and Gatecrash that will be cracked this spring will probably have more of an effect on shockland supply than Dragon's Maze will, and those were going to be drafted regardless.
Also, remember how much Scars of Mirrodin we drafted? Packs of that set were opened all year—there was no four-month break for the winter set like there was for Gatecrash. Even still, Darkslick Shores and Seachrome Coast both hit $20 the following season.
How much Dragon's Maze will be opened by competitive players? Sales numbers never tell the full story when it comes to card availability. Avacyn Restored was a home run set in the casual community, but competitive players generally disliked it. Because of that, a much higher percentage of Avacyn Restored chase cards from this set ended up out of circulation—they're sitting in closets or stuffed in kitchen table casual decks. These players generally don't come to FNM, trade with tournament grinders, or buylist their cards to online stores when they're done with them. Because of that, Avacyn Restored singles are priced as if the set was barely opened when the reverse was true.
Because competitive players tend to like complex Draft formats, I'd imagine that the latest RGD will be beloved with the tournament and casual crowd alike. Expect a larger number of these packs opened at FNM events than, say, New Phyrexia.
How much will the perception of shocklands change? Players like having a stable set of cards that are easily available, always desirable, and hold value. Shocklands now are treated identically to how Zendikar fetchlands were valued when that set was being opened. Everyone on the trading floor understands that they're worth between $8 and $12 retail, and everyone is generally of willing to trade a few of them in either direction on any given night. These cards have very strong price anchors, and moving the needle on them is hard. This stability wasn't there for, say, the Innistrad or Scars of Mirrodin lands, where the most played land at any given time could be worth twice as much as the least played land.
In the week since this announcement was made, the retail price of shocklands has moved…zero dollars. A quick look at eBay tells a similar tale—the average price of an Overgrown Tomb on there has probably dropped less than a buck. This doesn't mean the price won't drop a little further when Dragon's Maze hits shelves, but it does tell us that no one has started to panic yet. Shocklands are still the blue chip stocks of Standard Magic, and I expect they'll remain that way.
How much will the player base grow or shrink over the coming year? An increase in the player base is the largest part of why Magic card prices tend to go up over the long run. The demand for shocklands is larger and further reaching than it was for the Innistrad lands—they are better in Legacy, Modern, and all casual formats. The supply is also larger thanks to the cards having been printed in multiple sets. If many more people take up Magic next fall, the price will still rise, of course. If Magic wanes in popularity, though, the sheer number of these shocklands out there might start to become daunting.
Personally, I doubt the player base will drop off all that much. Magic is in a great place, and Return to Ravnica is the best-selling set ever. Of course, I don't know how much further the game can grow, either. This is certainly something worth monitoring, but it's not worth worrying about unless we start to receive unsettling news out of Renton.
Will these lands be hurt by seasonal price fluctuation? One of the biggest reasons that Standard cards drop in value over the summer is that the player base for the format shrinks considerably. Thanks to the economics of rotation, the set release schedule, summer vacation, and a slew of other factors, a lot of players simply take a break from the format during June, July, and August. In general, though, these seasonal price dips don't happen to cards as solid or desirable as the shocklands.
During the summer after Zendikar block, for example, the fetchlands actually rose a dollar or two in value as all of the seasonal players held on to their playsets. The Innistrad lands didn't really drop last summer, either. Players understand that they're going to need tier 1 lands to compete no matter what the next block has in store for them. Because of that, I think people will likely spend the summer trading for these cards in the hopes of completing a playset of them by the start of the new season.
Could the market become saturated with shocklands? In economic terms, market saturation is what happens when over 97% of consumers in a given market have a specific product. For example, the market for televisions in the United States is saturated. The market for Z gauge model trains is not.
In Magic, saturating the market is very difficult. What we call "saturation" is really just a very high ease of availability. The market for a card like Search the City, for example, has been saturated because you can walk into any FNM and be fairly certain of walking away with a set or two of them at or near bulk pricing. It would require a pretty epic deck to emerge for the demand on that card to start outstripping supply. That's why cards with narrow demand, even if they're very good, stay low in price.
Can saturation occur for rares that see a ton of play? Well, the market for the M10/11/12/13 dual lands had been saturated for quite a while. By the time M12 was released, things were at the point where these cards would retail between $1 and $2 despite seeing regular play in tier 1 decks. While this isn't the same level of saturation as a bulk rare, these lands sold for the lowest possible price considering how much play they saw. With the player base having grown over the past two years and core sets being less popular, however, these cards have increased in value and demand to their current $4-$5 price point.
I do not believe shocklands are at risk for a similar type of saturation. For one, they're better cards. There are also ten of them—not five—and they haven't been reprinted for several years in a row like the M10 lands were.
If we assume each competitive Magic player wants a full set of shocklands and is planning on getting them from Return to Ravnica, Gatecrash, and Dragon's Maze in equal quantities, they will need to open more than sixteen boxes in order to get them all.
Clearly, most people are going to open far less product than this. I believe it is safe to assume that the shockland demand will continue to outstrip supply.
Could shocklands drop to $5, though? It's certainly possible that they will, but I think it's unlikely. Players who were around the last time shocklands were lower than $10 will be hesitant to sell at that price. Ditto for the people who remember what happened to fetchlands a few years after they went out of print. In addition, I guarantee you that a whole slew of speculators are drooling at the thought of being able to pick up shocklands at $5. If they do get that low, I'll probably drop a thousand dollars or so of my own money on them as a long-term investment.
The more likely fallout of shocklands in Dragon's Maze isn't a reduction in the card's price floor—it's a reduction in the card's price ceiling. Before this announcement, I fully expected even the cheapest shocklands to hit $15 next season as demand exploded among the players who hadn't yet collected a full set of 40. With more of these lands on the market, I suspect this rise in price to be far more modest.
I don't have many shocklands currently, but I am not going to bother selling the ones I do have. I will be trading any of the Gatecrash ones that I open—they'll drop from $15 to $10 soon enough—but I still believe $8 or so is the bottom of the market on all of these. The addition of Dragon's Maze shocklands might suppress the price jump everyone is expecting for these next autumn, but the floor is still very high. If you can get people to panic trade you their shocklands for less than retail, I would do it.
Short-Term Price Prediction: $7-$10 (Same.)
Long-Term Price Prediction: $12-$18 (Revised down from $15-$25.)
This spring is going to be funny. Modern season is about to end, and an entire set filled with reprinted staples is going to hit the market right when it does. It doesn't take an expert to see that if you plan on selling any Modern staples over the next year, now is the time.
I'm not suggesting that you have to put your favorite deck or personal collection on eBay tonight, of course. Any cards that you are planning on keeping for multiple seasons should be safe enough to hold on to. We all have a few extra staples socked away in drawers or in trade binders, though. If you want to cash those extra Modern cards out for maximum value, I believe that they are at or near their twelve-month high. I am a seller on all expensive Modern cards from Mirrodin through Alara Reborn with no exceptions.
In addition to Modern Masters, Wizards' aggressive use of bans continues to prove that they are paying very close attention to the format. They do not want players to be priced out of Modern or frustrated by losing to "unfair" cards. While this keeps the format more exciting in some ways, it makes it very hard for more casual players to commit to Modern. You know what happens to the guy who saves up for months, drops $600 on a deck, and then has it become unplayable overnight thanks to a ban? He switches to Draft.
Due to both of these factors, I dislike Modern as a venue for long-term investment. It's great for seasonal or short term speculation, but it's too risky to hold the pricier Modern cards for long periods of time—the imminent threat of a ban or reprint should continue to keep pushing these staples down.
If you have a long-term Modern collection, make sure you are maintaining it because you want to play the format—not to use as an investment. Modern will never grow to ludicrous heights like Legacy, and that is probably a good thing for the game of Magic as a whole.
In the short term, I can't wait to see what the bans to Bloodbraid Elf and Seething Song do to the format. Most players I know don't expect this to be the end of Jund, but it is probably the end of Storm—at least for now. Thanks to the bannings, there are a few cards currently making waves that are worth discussing:
Fulminator Mage – Every week, it seems like some crazy Modern card experiences a weird price bubble. This time, it's Fulminator Mage. For a few days, every available copy of this card over $20 disappeared from the Internet. It's down from that high and is currently back in the $12 range, but even that is very high. I've asked people why this card has gone up now, and everyone has told me something different. In order:
1. It was good in Jund, and it's going up now because the supply finally ran out.
2. It was better in Jund before the ban, but it's still good now because the deck has four spots up for grabs.
4. A few greedy speculators have bought out the market and are trying to force a bubble for no reason.
5. Speculation as a hate card against the new mythic land teased out of Dragon's Maze.
6. Speculation because the decks it is good against are better without Jund around.
7. People have starting running it in Living End decks.
Huntmaster of the Fells & Other Jund Four-Drops – What if Bloodbraid Elf didn't have haste but did always flip into a Wolf that gained you some life and sometimes did some other cool stuff? Okay, so maybe Huntmaster of the Fells isn't quite the same card, but does that mean it isn't good enough?
I do expect some combination of Huntmaster, Hellrider, Thrun, Olivia, and Falkenrath Aristocrat to act as the new four-drop meanie in Jund, but we'll have to wait and see which one makes the grade. Regardless, I don't think there's much money to be made here unless Thrun really starts to show up—Standard drives the prices more than Modern on all the others.
Thrun is a moderately intriguing play, though. The Troll is currently just $3.50, is a mythic, and has seen play in Legacy before. I wouldn't mind having a playset or two going forward.
Vendilion Clique & Other Blue Staples – The early money is on blue decks to start dominating the format now that Jund has been taken down a notch. Vendillion Clique and Cryptic Command are both selling incredibly well as people look for the next big thing. I expect both of these cards (and most of the other blue stuff people have been hyping up) to see a reprint in Modern Masters, though, so I am a seller in the short term.
Nivmagus Elemental – Far be it from me to tell people to buy copies of this card again. I still have a pile of them from the last time I thought it would be good. This little dude does have a lot of potential, though, and Jund was its worst matchup by far. This is a reasonable card to start asking for as a throw-in and socking away. At some point in the future, it might pay off.
Doran, the Siege Tower & Scapeshift – These are two other strategies that seem to have benefited greatly from the loss of Bloodbraid Elf. Jund was a bad matchup for Valakut, and Doran might help push the green/black decks toward white instead of red. Both of these cards have a little room to grow if they're not in Modern Masters, so it's worth monitoring that list closely when we learn what is and is not going to be reprinted.
Even though I am bearish on Modern in terms of long-term investing, there are a few cards I really like as speculation targets. The below cards are from sets that will not be reprinted in Modern Masters. They also don't have a high likelihood of being banned any time soon. Because of that, all of these cards are worth socking away for next season:
Spellskite – This is still retailing for just $4 somehow despite seeing a ton of play everywhere. How is that even possible? This card could go as high as $10 or even $15 at some point, and it's guaranteed not to be in Modern Masters. I am a buyer—and by that, I mean I bought a bunch myself. A slam-dunk spec.
The Scars of Mirrodin Fastlands – Ranging from $3 to $6, these suckers could double in price and still be quite affordable. I expect this will happen at some point soon.
Celestial Colonnade – This is another Modern staple retailing for just $3. It began to rise over the past week, too, so people are starting to catch on. A great FNM trade target.
Birthing Pod – A marquee Modern card that casual players also love? This is another no-brainer card that should double at some point soon unless it sees a reprint. Considering how wonky Phyrexian mana is, I doubt we'll get a new influx of these until Modern Masters II. Buy.
Z Gauge Model Trains – I found some working Z gauge engines on eBay for like 150 bucks. Assuming that price scales linearly along with the size of the train, that's like getting a full-sized train engine for just $33,000! Clearly, trains cost more than that. Unless my math is wrong, this is the greatest investment opportunity of them all.
I'm writing this on Friday, so the first weekend of Gatecrash tournaments hasn't occurred yet. Since you're reading this in the future, feel free to make fun of my dated information. At any rate, here's what I know so far:
Aurelia, the Warleader is the only mythic to have moved in price, going from $15 to $20. I expected the Boros cards to rise first since new Constructed formats are almost always kindest to aggressive decks. I would still wait and see if Aurelia actually shows up at the top tables before moving in—casual demand alone won't sustain a $20 price tag.
Boros Reckoner is the other big gainer, jumping to a ludicrous price of $10. I liked this card in my set review, but I didn't expect such a quick climb. At $10, I'd be a seller until I see it actually do anything.
Otherwise, Gatecrash cards have started to get much easier to acquire as retailers have cracked their cases and begun selling singles. Unless a card start showing up in winning decks, chances are the price will continue to drop over the next few weeks.