I wish I could take credit for the following analogy, but it actually belongs to Matt Carper. He mentioned it in the comments section of a different article about Modern Masters, and I found it especially apt.
In Homer's Odyssey, Odysseus had a problem. In order to pass through the strait of Messina, he needed to sail his ship between Scylla and Charybdis. Scylla was a six-headed sea monster who lived on a rocky shoal. Charybdis was a whirlpool that would swallow his ship and drag it down to the bottom of the sea. The small size of the strait made threading the needle impossible—he either had to face Scylla or Charybdis straight on. Ultimately, he chose to sail by the monster, losing several of his sailors but saving his ship and allowing the voyage to continue.
Wizards of the Coast faced a similarly thorny problem in determining the print run for Modern Masters. On one side, the community will be upset if Modern Masters is underprinted. The entire point of the set is to get these cards into the hands of people who are otherwise priced out of the format, right? So why go to all of this trouble only to make this set impossible to get ahold of? Considering the secondary market prices of boxes, the only people who will be opening Modern Masters are those who have money to spend on Modern staples already.
On the other hand, if you print too many packs, you run the risk of oversaturating the market. Many people claim that they would be okay with this, but I don't think this would actually be the case. Players that had invested $500 or more in Modern would be angry that their investment had suddenly cratered in value, and everyone would become much less likely to drop $160 on a playset of Misty Rainforests in the future knowing that a speculative Modern Masters II could cause them to crater next spring.
Wizards of the Coast is very hands-off about the secondary market, but don't think they don't consider it. Having a healthy secondary market helps Wizards a lot—packs are much easier to sell when the consumer believes that several of the cards they could open will hold their value for years to come. Take that away and it's harder for players to justify buying boxes upon boxes of new product.
This, ultimately, is why Modern Masters will be underprinted. Wizards may lose a few sailors—people upset that getting the cards wasn't as easy as they had wanted—but they won't risk losing the entire ship and destroying consumer confidence in Magic as a whole. Risking the secondary market value of ten years' worth of singles is just too big a risk for this set to take. Modern Masters won't meet everyone's demand because that would put the game far too close to the whirlpool.
So what does that mean for the cards that are reprinted in Modern Masters? Will the set cause the price for any of these cards to drop at all?
Well, let's see if we can find any similar situations to compare this to. Hmm, when was the last time a desirable Eternal card was reprinted in a new set?
Oh, right. It happened last week when Scavenging Ooze was 98% confirmed as a reprint in M14.
What did this do to the price of the card?
According to the MTGStocks, the card dropped about 25% over the past week due to news of the reprint. StarCityGames.com took the drop even further, slashing the price 33% from $30 to $20.
Interestingly enough, a look at eBay completed listings shows a slightly different story. If you were relatively patient, you could pick up a copy of the card for about $20 on eBay last month. They're still closing for close to $20 today. The truth is that the card had fallen out of favor in Legacy in recent days and the reprint news means that it will have new life in both Standard and Modern. Thragtusk was a $25 card in M13, after all, so there's no reason to believe that Scavenging Ooze couldn't maintain a $20 price tag itself.
So maybe this isn't a fair comparison. First of all, Scavenging Ooze was spoiled in M14, but the supply hasn't actually increased yet. Scavenging Ooze is also gaining legality in the two most popular Constructed formats—the Modern Masters cards won't be changing format legalities at all. Lastly, M14 will be printed in far greater quantities than Modern Masters will be.
So let's look at limited quantity reprints for our next example. What about Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker? Did From the Vault: Legends affect its price at all?
That set came out in late August of 2011. Here's its Black Lotus Project chart from January through September of 2011. (The site stopped collecting data for a few months after that.)
Nope—it looks like From the Vaults: Legends didn't cause Kiki-Jiki's price to drop at all.
Of course, this reprinting was done before Kiki-Jiki became a Modern staple. What about Progenitus? At the time, the card was seeing a decent amount of Legacy play in Natural Order and Show and Tell decks.
You're going to have to ignore that big blank spot in the graph—that's where data wasn't being collected. Overall, though, you can see that the reprint did seem to affect the price of the card—it stopped rising, fell a couple of dollars, and then stabilized close to its peak value. The reprint mattered, but not too much.
Of course, this sort of stabilization only happens if the reprint is limited to, say, From the Vault quantities. If supply doesn't mean demand, the price will stay fairly high. If, however, supply does meet demand, we end up with a chart like this:
I've posted the Sol Ring chart before because it's so darned fascinating. You see that giant drop-off? That's the release of the Commander precons. There was a Sol Ring in every single Commander deck, which caused the price of the card (which had been climbing for years) to drop and stabilize in the $5 range. If Modern Masters is overprinted, this is the sort of chart you can expect to start seeing for lots of the format's staples.
You see that little valley in August of 2010, though? The only one immediately followed by another peak? That was the release of the foil Sol Ring in From the Vault: Relics. That limited release did nothing to stem the growth of the card—the added supply of them didn't come close to meeting demand.
So. Will Modern Masters be comparable in print run to From the Vaults or the Commander decks?
I don't own a store, so I don't have access to a distributor with whom to discuss allocation. I was able to speak with a few local storeowners, and I was also able to use information collected by Magic retailer Dr. Jeebus in the article he wrote about Modern Masters. According to him, and the information checks out with my sources as well, each retailer will be getting approximately 40 boxes of the set assuming they order the maximum allowed and are allowed one small restock. Modern Masters has 53 rares and fifteen mythic rares, meaning that each store will get about eight of each mythic rare and sixteen of each rare. Another stack of cases will be opened at Grand Prix Las Vegas, but not enough to make the needle shift on these numbers all that much.
Considering the average store allocation for From the Vault sets is about sixteen, each Modern Masters rare is approximately as rare as a From the Vault rare. The mythics are about half as rare as a From the Vault rare. Chances are, then, that Modern Masters won't cause the prices on these cards to drop much at all.
What about the commons and uncommons? I predict that this is where we're more likely to see movement. Each store will see approximately 50 of each uncommon, making those cards approximately three times as common as From the Vaults cards would be. Each store will get about a hundred of each common, making them six times more common than a From the Vaults card.
Here are the commons and uncommons eligible to be in the set that retail for at least three dollars:
Chances are that not all of the above cards will see print in Modern Masters. However, of the ones that do, I expect the price to drop drastically. This should be good for the game as a whole—having to spend twelve dollars on a single Kitchen Finks is pretty rough. Hopefully Modern Masters will make this aspect of the game more accessible—even if the high-end cards don't budge.
If any of these cards do drop more than 50%, however, it will probably be time to buy. Even though these are all uncommons, the print run is small enough to mean that demand won't be entirely met. If Kitchen Finks is still just as good next year and the year after, the price will probably creep right back up to twelve dollars again.
It's also important to note that Zendikar onward isn't eligible for reprinting in Modern Masters. This means that $7 uncommon Inquisition of Kozilek will maintain its value, as will cards like Linvala and the fetchlands.
There will also be rares from Mirrodin through Alara Reborn that should be reprinted but won't be. Here are all of the eligible rares and mythics that retail for $25 or more:
- Arcbound Ravager - $25
- Sword of Fire and Ice - $35
- Sword of Light and Shadow - $30
- Crucible of Worlds - $30
- Glimpse of Nature - $25
- Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker - $30
- Umezawa's Jitte - $30
- Dark Confidant - $60
- Doubling Season - $35
- Damnation - $30
- Grove of the Burnwillows - $25
- Sliver Legion - $25
- Tarmogoyf - $130
- Cryptic Command - $35
- Thoughtseize - $60
- Mutavault - $30
- Vendilion Clique - $55
- Elspeth, Knight-Errant - $30
- Noble Hierarch - $30
Dark Depths, Glimpse of Nature, and Umezawa's Jitte are banned. Thus, I don't think we'll see any of those appearing in Modern Masters. That still leaves sixteen cards for fifteen mythic slots assuming they use rough secondary market prices (demand) to set the cards' new rarity. Of these, both Swords, Doubling Season, and Sliver Legion are most likely to be left out because they're primarily casual cards. I could also see Noble Hierarch staying in the set as a rare seeing as it's a one-mana elf. Those creatures have historically been rares.
I suppose you could make an argument for putting a few of the others at rare, but even still at a certain point you're going to be running into a certain number of Modern staples that simply won't fit neatly into the set. Maybe they won't want to print a color-shifted card like Damnation. Maybe they'll leave Crucible of Worlds out since it was just a judge foil. Maybe they're holding Cryptic Command off for this summer's From the Vaults set. Maybe they're holding Thoughtseize off for a reprint in the fall set.
My point is that there will be some number of cards that you think are slam-dunk inclusions right now that won't make the cut. If I know the Magic finance community, someone will attempt to exploit this fact by buying up all available copies of this card on the day the full spoiler hits in an attempt to cause a run. This will probably work, so stay sharp—the run will likely lead to a new baseline price on the card that's at least 40-50% higher than the card is worth now.
On the flip side, Modern Masters will likely contain several cards that have values primarily propped up by age, rarity, and price memory instead of demand. Consider Vampire Nocturnus:
You see that giant ker-splat last summer? That was thanks to the card being reprinted in M13. Vampire Nocturnus initially rose in value thanks to Standard, and it stayed fairly high due to casual play. By last summer, though, Vampire decks had stopped being popular in every format—including 60-card casual. The price probably would have kept coasting along at $10-$15 for years if a reprint hadn't occurred, but an influx of new copies caused people to realize that the demand was never all that strong in the first place. The market became saturated, and the price cratered.
While no card in Modern Masters is getting even a tenth as many new copies entering the market as Vampire Nocturnus—it was a Duels of the Planeswalkers promo as well—some past-their-prime casual reprints might see their prices stumble anyway. Think cards like Phage the Untouchable; Reya, Dawnbringer; Figure of Destiny; and Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir.
The big question that everyone is asking, of course, is this: how much is too much to pay for a box of Modern Masters? Let's see if we can figure that out.
Boxes of Modern Masters will have 24 packs. On average, that means three mythic rares and 21 regular rares. Assuming each mythic rare will have a secondary market value of at least $25 and a few will be worth $50-$100, we can assign a rough early value of $110 to the three mythic rare slots. Unfortunately, these slots are very high variance—some boxes will have six or seven mythic rares, and some will have none.
It's too early to say what the rares will be worth. If we're all very lucky and most of the cards we want are reprinted, the rare slot will be worth $5-$6 each. Let's assign a retail value of $110 to these slots as well. That puts us at a retail value of roughly $220/box before we factor in foils, commons, and uncommons. Even if we assume that about half the uncommons in the set end up being disappointing Limited chaff, you'll get around 40 decent uncommons in a box. If we value half of them at $1 and the other half at $3, that's another $80 just in those. Now we're at the $300 that StarCityGames.com is charging per box, and we haven't even gotten to the most intriguing part.
Each pack in Modern Masters is going to have a foil card. That means 24 foils per box, giving you a really good shot at two foil rares and at least one great foil common or uncommon. What are these 24 blind Modern Masters foils worth on average? I'd guess at least $20-$30 in retail. This puts the retail value of each box's singles at around $340.
Of course, this is a best-case scenario that assumes all the mythics are hits, the rares are spicy, and many of the staple uncommons are reprinted. If this comes to pass, I would expect StarCityGames.com to actually raise their price on these boxes and still have no problem selling out. If the set ends up being a bust, the boxes might be worth closer to $250. Of course, that doesn't count the entertainment value of a draft.
People place a very high premium on the chance to open an absurdly expensive card. Worldwake booster boxes are sold out at $500 despite the fact that even in a small set you're not likely to open a Jace, the Mind Sculptor in it. If that set is worth $500 several years after going out of print, what is a box of Modern Masters going to be worth in three or four years? $600? $700?
Getting back to reality, though, the truth is that only three cards have been spoiled for the set as of now: Tarmogoyf, City of Brass, and Aether Spellbomb. Two of these cards don't actually see any play in Modern, and the third was always going to be the obvious flagship of this set. If this is anything like Master's Edition was online, there are going to be a heck of a lot more blank packs than you're going to want. It's easy to wish-cast Modern Masters, but we have to temper our expectations until we actually start seeing the cards.
Demand for Modern is also still spotty. People seem to like the format more now, but it still isn't fully supported at the FNM level or at StarCityGames.com Open Series. Even though it can actually be a cheaper format to play than Standard, people opt for the latter because it's more universal, less intimidating, easier to trade for, more dynamic, and easier to follow. People are also a little scared off by how heavily the ban hammer has been swung in Modern since the format's inception—players hate having their deck neutered out from under them.
Something that is being underestimated here is the impact Modern Masters is going to have on Magic Online. I don't know how they're planning to enforce limited product allocation—my guess is that it won't be available to purchase from the store, just by playing certain events for a limited time—but I suspect the price of singles will drop a lot more online.
In paper Magic, a ton of Modern Masters' supply will go right into casual and Commander decks. Online, where there will likely be more supply and there won't be any redemption, most of these cards will go to tournament players. This should drive the price of Modern down online even if paper Magic doesn't experience the same drop. If this does happen, I suspect that more people will try out the format online—reduced cost of entry plus always-available tournaments might make it more intriguing in this venue.
All of that said, here are my overall predictions for the set:
- The big four (Tarmogoyf, Thoughtseize, Dark Confidant, and Vendilion Clique) will all be reprinted in Modern Masters at mythic rarity. This will not cause their prices to come down.
- In fact, the prices on 80% of Modern Masters rare and mythic reprints will not come down due to the set being underprinted. They'll drop a little upon being spoiled and come right back up again when everyone realizes just how low the print run is.
- A few months from now, when the fall set is being spoiled and the eye of Magic is turned away from Modern, the prices on many of these cards will drop a bit—not due to reprinting, but simply due to the normal seasonal movement of prices. If you want to buy into Modern, do so this August.
- Several cards at the $15-$20 level will not be reprinted, causing a "run on the banks" and subsequent price spike.
- People paying $250 or less for a box of Modern Masters will be happy enough with their purchase. If you don't need the cards right now, feel free to buy a few boxes and hold them for several years. You will be able to double your money quite easily.
- The community will find a new and exciting way to complain about this product that I haven't even thought of yet.
We'll know soon which of these predictions ends up being true. Pay close attention to how the prices move when cards start getting spoiled. If prices start to tank on some of these higher end staples, you should pounce—the values will likely rebound quickly.
Furthermore, you're about to have one of the only chances you'll ever have to trade your Standard stuff en masse for Modern cards at your local shop. Take advantage of this as much as you can, especially for people overestimating the print run. Long term, most of these cards are going to stabilize exactly where they are now. Trading in during the week when supply is the highest is your best bet to increase the value of your collection by a large amount.
This Week's Trends
- Rumors abound that Chandra's Phoenix will also be back in M14. If so, this is a must-buy at the current retail price of $2. It peaked at $8 the last time it was legal in Standard, and it's still a very good card.
- Lightning Angel saw some play in Modern last weekend, but that doesn't make the card worth picking up as a speculation target. It's currently out of stock at $2 on StarCityGames.com, but I see it dropping again from here. It's cute but not ideal outside of one matchup, and it's been printed twice.
- Someone tried to run up the price on Rishadan Port last week. They were reasonably successful too—the card is actually selling at $50 after a previous retail price of $35. StarCityGames.com is sold out at $60. I think it may drop a bit, but $50 could be the new baseline for this card.
Until next time –
@ChasAndres on Twitter
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