"Are you buying into Modern?"
On the surface, this is a fairly simple question with a lot of complicated answers. Both literally and figuratively speaking there is a lot at stake when one examines how players appear to approach the format.
In today's article I'm going to make the argument for why players who are on the fence about Modern ought to seriously consider moving in and taking the plunge.
Last week I had a really interesting conversation about Magic with my good friend and former Vintage World Champion, Mark Biller. Mark has largely reinvented his relationship to Magic cards from being an old school Vintage player to a collector and finance guy on the local Michigan Magic scene.
When we hang out, one of the common topics of conversation that always comes up at some point is always to swap notes on which cards are good to be picking up and which ones are good to be trading away. Obviously, the announcement and speculation about Modern Masters (and which cards would be included in that upcoming release) was a big part of our discussion regarding Magic finance.
At one point in the conversation, Mark made a statement that I thought was incredibly insightful:
"A lot of players are afraid to buy into Modern…"
I've been a competitive Magic player for well over a decade now, and I own everything that I could ever want to play. Aside from owning most of the cards and decks that I'd ever want to play, the fact that I've played for so long has allowed me to develop relationships and connections with other players to the point where if I want to play with a card for a tournament, I can get it.
Sometimes it's easy to forget (or at least overlook) that every single person at a Grand Prix or Open Series event doesn't have two decades of experience and collecting under their belt and a large collection of cards to work with. With that in mind, dropping a large amount of cash to build a competitive Modern deck might be a significant financial investment for a large percentage of the Magic community.
Generally speaking, one aspect that I have liked about Wizards of the Coast's treatment of Modern is that they have gone to great lengths to make it reasonably affordable. When I say reasonably affordable, I of course mean comparatively speaking relative to Legacy or Vintage.
The fact that Modern includes no cards or sets that are on the infamous Reserved List, coupled with their transparency in their intention to reprint expensive format staples like Tarmogoyf, Vendilion Clique, and Dark Confidant in releases like Modern Masters, makes it clear that they have some idea of how expensive they want the format to be.
Modern will never be a format full of cards that cost $300. In fact there is only one card (that I can think of, at least) in Modern that costs more than $100.00:
If we look at the precedent set by the first Modern Masters set, it would appear that Wizards specifically targeted the most expensive cards in the format and reprinted them in an effort to put more copies of those cards into the hands of players. For all intents and purposes, what continuing to reprint the most popular and expensive cards in the format does is keep the prices from continuing to spiral out of control.
One thing we learned from the first time around is that being reprinted as a Modern Masters mythic rare did not tank the price of the mighty Tarmogoyf or Dark Confidant. If anything, it merely mitigated the rising prices of popular cards in an economy where the demand for these cards was rapidly increasing.
Let's get back to Mark's point:
I think he is right to have identified that many players are afraid to buy into Modern because they fear reprint sets like the Modern Masters sets, Commander decks, and Event Decks could devalue the cards. It would certainly be annoying to spend $50.00 on a card for a deck only to have that card reprinted a month later, plummeting in value.
However, I think that using that as an argument to not play Modern ultimately ends up being a rather poor one. First of all, the trajectory of most of the cards that were included in Modern Masters appears to continue to be upward (despite an initial dip) because the demand for the cards is ultimately so high.
The demand for Modern cards is actually much higher than the amount of cards that are added to the card pool via the reprint sets. If anything, the point of the reprints is more likely to slow the growth of the prices (or keep the prices relatively steady) rather than to lower the prices of the cards.
Wizards of the Coast is pretty smart, and they have proven time and again that they know how to manage the relationship between printing cards and not completely destabilizing the secondary market. They understand that the collectible aspect of the game is important to their ability to make money and need to be careful not to upset the balance that keeps people happy.
For instance, if they were just about "printing money" as quickly as possible, why wouldn't they just print Tarmogoyfs and sell them for $50.00 each? The answer is that they are basically already printing money in the form of product, and the less they upset the established balance, the better it is for the status quo.
The actual problem that Modern Masters seeks to avoid is for Modern staples to become as elusive and expensive as Legacy staples. Card availability and price is a gigantic constraint for Legacy as a format because of the existence of the no reprint policy on important staples like dual lands.
In the same manner that there are not enough Volcanic Islands floating around that everybody who plays Magic can own a playset of four, the same thing is true about Modern staples that are now ten years old. There are simply way more players than there were when Mirrodin and Champions of Kamigawa were released and more demand than existing cards.
I'd strongly suggest that 'fear of dropping or tanking prices' is a really poor reason to not jump into Modern right now. Overall, I think that Modern cards are probably still among the best non-Reserved List investments in all of Magic. While it may be true that the prices of Modern staples will likely dip right in the wake of Modern Masters being released, I also think it is reasonable to assume that the prices will ultimately go back up and even continue to rise as time goes on.
I would much rather invest my money or cards into having a large collection of Modern cards than Standard cards, that much is for sure…
The other reason that I think it is a great time to move in on Modern is that it's pretty clear the format is going to be here to stay. More Modern Masters sets, more Open Series tournaments, and more Modern tournaments in general seems to suggest that the format is going to be a big part of Magic for years and years to come.
There is something to be said for getting your chips in early and getting experience now rather than later. Last week I wrote about sticking with a deck and getting experience with it, and I think that learning about Modern and how it works and what the format is like is an extension of that ideology.
Another thing to remember is that the printing of the first Modern Masters didn't tank the value of important tournament staples. Most of the actual tournament staples have stabilized at the same or greater prices than they were before Modern Masters.
If you are the kind of person who sees their relationship to Magic as one where you will still be playing this game in five or ten years, then it stands to reason that at some point you'll be playing in a Modern tournament!