Happy New Year, Magic financiers! With 2017 finally behind us, it’s time to spend a week thinking about the future. Not the unpredictable far future, with its robots and flying cars and three-dimensional super-platinum ultra-mythic Tarmogoyfs made from spun silver, but the immediate future of 2018.
As far as I can tell, these are the biggest questions that will be facing Magic finance over the next calendar year:
Will Anything Be Banned in Standard?
It’s crazy that Standard bannings are even worth speculating about, considering how few of them happened between 2000 and 2016. There were three separate banning waves in 2017, though, so it’s worth wondering if Wizards of the Coast is going to pull out the hammer again in 2018.
The real test should come early in the year, when Rivals of Ixalan will attempt to give some of Ixalan’s tribal strategies a much-needed boost. Three of the top five Standard decks right now are basically just Kaladesh block decks, and none of those cards are rotating until September. If Rivals can spawn a couple of new archetypes, things should be more or less okay, but I doubt the community will be fine with the entirety of Ixalan coming and going without affecting Standard much at all.
In fact, if Energy continues to dominate through the middle of February, people are going to be calling for at least one of its key cards to be banned. Attune with Aether is the most likely card to go, but if Wizards of the Coast picks up that hammer, I bet they’ll smack down at least two cards just to ensure that their actions aren’t taken in vain.
Regardless, this makes me wary of holding too many expensive Energy cards past mid-January. Either Rivals will shake up the format enough to minimize Energy’s dominance, or it won’t and people will start clamoring for a banning. I’m not sure how things will end, but I doubt it’ll be a world where the same three Energy variants win games all the way into the summer. Plan accordingly.
What Will Be in Masters 25?
I’ll devote an entire prediction article to Masters 25 at some point early in the new year, but it’ll be interesting to see how Wizards of the Coast approaches this set. If it’s anything like Iconic Masters, we’ll be getting an intriguing jumble of Legacy, Modern, and casual staples.
I also expect a full week of “What if this set coincides with the end of the Reserved List??” speculation. I still highly doubt that’s going to happen anytime soon, but it would obviously be the biggest Magic finance story of the year if it did.
My guess is that Masters 25 will contain at least one card from every Magic set, which would be pretty cool, honestly. Rishadan Port, Imperial Recruiter, Ensnaring Bridge, Crucible of Worlds, Demonic Tutor, and Doubling Season seem like some potential high-priced inclusions. Expect a lot of key historical commons and uncommons to come back, too—think Lightning Bolt, Counterspell, Path to Exile, and so on. Until March, I won’t be buying any Eternal cards unless they were reprinted at some point in 2016 or 2017 or they’re on the Reserved List.
Will There Be Any Other Supplemental Sets?
Right now, we know that Rivals of Ixalan drops in January, Masters 25 arrives in March, Dominaria shows up in April, Core Set 2019 releases in July, and we can almost certainly pencil in the next Standard set for late September. But what happens beyond that? 2017 gave us two Masters sets and Unstable in addition to the four normal yearly expansions. Will there be three supplemental sets in 2018, too?
Most people seem to want a return to fewer Magic sets each year, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Wizards of the Coast’s end goal is to have two sets—one Standard, one supplemental—every fiscal quarter. 2018 seems like a key year in terms of developing an understanding of their long-term release plans. Will they pull back to just one Masters set and something like Conspiracy 3, or will they double or triple down on reprint expansions?
If Wizards of the Coast continues releasing Masters sets at a fairly relentless pace, I think we’ll start to see the Modern market drop off and flatten a bit. People are going to be less eager to pay for any Modern cards unless they’ve just been reprinted. Players will also be less incentivized to keep large Modern collections kicking around and will instead look to move on from whatever they’re not currently playing. If your cards have a reasonable chance of tanking in price every few months, why keep anything that you don’t think you’ll need right away?
On the other hand, I expect that Modern prices will rise considerably if Wizards of the Coast announces that there won’t be any other Masters sets in 2018. That would create a fairly lengthy window between reprint sets, and some players and speculators will take advantage of that bubble of safety after so much relentlessness. It also might signal that they’re taking their foot off the reprint gas a bit going forward. That’s why I have no idea where the Modern market is going after May or so—it’s so dependent on what the second half of 2018’s Magic calendar looks like.
What Will Happen to the Economy Outside of Magic?
2017 was a weird year for the economy at large. The stock market boomed, the real estate market soared, and cryptocurrencies are either the biggest technological game-changer since the original dot-com boom or are in the middle of the most obvious bubble ever. The investor class had a lot of money to throw around this year, and they did it with aplomb.
On the other hand, the economy has remained stagnant for everybody who doesn’t have a lot of money to throw around. The millennial generation—home to most of the world’s Magic players, I would wager—is still lagging far behind in terms of finding lucrative full-time employment, getting out from under their student loans, and making large adult purchases.
While the Magic economy doesn’t completely follow the U.S. economy—Magic was very successful in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, for example—it’s also not entirely separate. In fact, a look at Magic’s overall performance 2017 somewhat mirrors the U.S. economy, with the most expensive Reserved List cards booming in price while everything else has failed to gain much traction.
Since the Vintage and Old School markets are fairly small and are really only open to players with a lot of extra cash, I wouldn’t be surprised if some of that movement can be attributed to folks using some of their stock market or cryptocurrency positions in order to finally buy that set of Power 9 cards or Bazaars of Baghdad.
I’ll be interested to see what happens to the high end market if either the stock or cryptocurrency market crashes in 2018. I doubt too many of those cards will drop in price—the overall supply is just too small—but it will likely mean the (temporary) end of the Reserved List spikes. On the other hand, if Bitcoin doubles or triples again, it could mean that 2017 was just the beginning for cards like Lion’s Eye Diamond and Drop of Honey.
On the stock market side, a minor market crash probably wouldn’t affect your collection all that much. A major economic crisis certainly would, though, especially thanks to the current chaotic state of the U.S. government. At the end of the day, expensive Magic cards are a luxury commodity, and they’re only worth a lot of money if large numbers of people have the extra cash needed to buy them. I don’t think 2018 will have a massive international financial crisis, but thanks to our current government, it’s on the table in a way that it wasn’t during most of the 2010s.
How Will the Move to All Large Sets Impact Magic Finance?
Small sets are no more after Rivals of Ixalan, which means that 2018 is going to give us three large standalone expansions in the second part of the year. I don’t think the financial impact of that decision is going to be very visible this year, but we’re going to feel the difference by 2019, when we haven’t had any “small set breaks” and the Standard metagame changes significantly every three months or so. This probably won’t be so bad if Wizards of the Coast cools it on the supplemental sets, but increasing the size of two yearly expansions while also maintaining a loaded calendar of Masters sets sounds even more exhausting.
The move to all large sets impacts the market in a lot of subtle ways, though. For example, the increase in Standard’s overall card pool size means that the best Standard staples are likely to be worth a little bit more than they are now because they’ll be a little more scarce. Prices should be a little more even across sets, too. Right now, large sets are drafted a lot more than small ones due to the YYX small-set Draft structure. If all sets are drafted three packs at a time for three months and then never again, we won’t get as many of those $50 small-set mythics like The Scarab God this past summer. We also might not see prices from the latest large set collapse quite so hard near the end of their Draft period, since the Draft faucet will be turned off sooner.
What Impact Will MTG Arena Have on MTG and MTGO?
Magic: The Gathering Arena has the potential to be incredibly disruptive as well as an incredibly important part of Magic’s future. Right now, the Magic: The Gathering Online economy is chugging along as usual—as it should, considering the fact that it’s highly unlikely Arena will be a viable tournament testing option at any point in 2018. It might end up becoming the preferred way to play digital Standard at some point during the next twelve to eighteen months, though, which would cause at least something of a ripple in the MTGO economy. I’m not selling any of my Eternal staples on that program yet—in fact, I’m toying with the idea of buying further into MTGO Vintage—but I’m also making sure that I have a way out if those winds start to shift.
On the other hand, MTG Arena might start impacting the size of the player base as soon as late 2018. The original Duels of the Planeswalkers was a massive crossover hit that brought a ton of lapsed players back to the game in 2011, causing Eternal and Casual prices to soar. If Arena does something similar (especially with a nostalgia-based set like Dominaria on store shelves) then we could be looking at major increase of new players for the first time in years. This would drive paper prices up all across the board.
Will Any New Formats Emerge?
Nothing could jump-start a bull market in MTG finance quite like the advent of a new format. While I don’t expect Wizards of the Coast to create an official one this year, it’s worth remembering that both Modern and Commander started as fan-created formats. Just because neither Tiny Leaders nor Frontier was successful doesn’t mean that 2018’s creation will be a bust. Heck, even Tiny Leaders was profitable for a couple of months there. If you hear any new format rumblings over the next few months, the smart money is to buy in early just in case.
Will There Be Any Big Surprises for Magic’s 25th Anniversary?
It’s going to be a big year for Magic, and I doubt that Dominaria and Masters 25 will be the end of it. I have no idea what rabbits Wizards of the Coast is going to pull out of their hat, but whatever it is might have a relatively major financial impact. Obviously, scrapping the Reserved List in order to reprint the Power 9 would be the biggest move they could pull, but it’s also the least likely. Old-bordered Masterpieces in Dominaria seems more realistic, and that could lead to some crazy expensive cards. Or maybe they’ll release some kind of new “retrospective” box product or temporary competitive format designed to showcase some interesting aspect of Magic’s history. I don’t feel like I can really predict what Wizards of the Coast is going to do at this point, but I bet it’ll be pretty exciting.
Predicting 2018 by the Numbers
I make a bunch of predictions at the end of every year, but I’ve never had a good way of explaining which ones I’m making because I think they’re likely and which ones I’m making because they’re weird or bold or just for fun.
This time, I’m introducing a confidence scale to fix that problem. The result is that these predictions are less about me guessing what’s going to happen and more about me assigning odds to different outcomes. Let me know in the comments if you like it more or less than what I usually do!
Bans and Unbans
- At least one card will be unbanned in Modern in 2018. (Confidence: 80%)
- It will be Bloodbraid Elf. (Confidence: 70%)
- One of Green Sun’s Zenith, Stoneforge Mystic, Jace, the Mind Sculptor, Umezawa’s Jitte, or Splinter Twin will be unbanned as well. (Confidence: 10%)
- At least one card will be banned in Modern in 2018. (Confidence: 20%)
- It will be related to Storm or Lantern Control. (Confidence: 5%)
- It will be related to the Eldrazi or the Tron lands. (Confidence: 5%)
- At least one card will be banned in Standard in 2018. (Confidence: 35%)
- It will be related to the Kaladesh energy mechanic. (Confidence: 30%)
- It will be Attune with Aether (Confidence: 20%)
- An older, Hall of Fame-bound quarterback (Brady, Brees, Roethlisberger, Rivers, Eli Manning) will retire after the 2018 season. (Confidence: 65%)
- The New England Patriots will not play in the Super Bowl. (Confidence: 60%)
- The Jacksonville Jaguars will play in the Super Bowl. (Confidence: 20%)
- ….where they’ll beat the Minnesota Vikings. (Confidence: 5%)
- The Miami Marlins will finish with the worst record in the MLB. There will be at least one public protest of their new ownership. (Confidence: 80%)
- The Los Angeles Angels, St. Louis Cardinals, and Minnesota Twins will outperform expectations. (Confidence: 70%)
- The New York Yankees will win the World Series. (Confidence: 25%)
- They’ll do it by beating the Washington Nationals. (Confidence: 5%)
- The American League MVP will be Mike Trout in a landslide, thanks to Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge splitting the Yankees votes. (Confidence: 25%)
- The National League MVP will be Bryce Harper. (Confidence: 20%)
Set Releases and Reprint Policies
- The Reserved List will remain in place through 2018. (Confidence: 90%)
- The community will like Masters 25 more than Iconic Masters, albeit for mostly superficial reasons like a slightly more cohesive list of cards, and no 3 month delay between previews and release. (Confidence: 80%)
- Dominaria will have masterpieces… (Confidence: 80%)
- …and they’ll feature Alpha (Confidence: 50%)
- Dominaria will have something else unusual, like Priceless Treasures or full-art lands. (Confidence: 75%)
- There will be a second Masters set in 2018. (Confidence: 75%)
- It will have either pre-Modern cards that are now Modern-legal, Commander cards that are now Modern-legal, or brand new Modern-only cards. (Confidence: 25%)
- There will be a third supplemental release in 2018. (Confidence: 65%)
- There will be some exciting new twist on Core Sets, and we’ll all be pleasantly surprised with the 2018 Core Set. (Confidence: 60%)
- It will be a special set related to Magic’s 25th anniversary (Confidence: 30%)
- It will be a new Conspiracy (Confidence: 30%)
- The From the Vault series will be discontinued (Confidence: 30%)
- There will be a fourth supplemental release in 2018. (Confidence: 20%)
- Force of Will will be printed in a Standard-legal set. (Confidence: 5%)
- Lady Bird will be my personal favorite movie of the year, no matter what else I see from 2017. (Confidence: 99%)
- The internet will hate Ready Player One, despite the fact that it will get a fresh score (somewhere in the low eighties, probably) on Rotten Tomatoes. (Confidence: 80%)
- Jordan Peele will win a major Academy Award for Get Out (Confidence: 80%)
- Avengers: Infinity War will be better-regarded than Age of Ultron, but not as well regarded as Black Panther. (Confidence: 70%)
- Aquaman will be reviewed as the second-best film in the DCU after Wonder Woman. (Confidence: 60%)
- The Post will win the Academy Award for Best Picture (Confidence: 55%)
- Solo: A Star Wars Story will be a critical flop but a financial success. (Confidence: 50%)
- The Magic: The Gathering movie we’ve been hearing about for years will finally enter production in 2018. (Confidence: 30%)
The Metagame and Individual Card Prices
- The Reserved List buyouts will continue in 2018. (Confidence: 90%)
- At least three Legacy-legal cards will break the $1,000 mark. (Confidence: 35%)
- None of Ixalan’s mythics or rares will break $40 retail at any point in 2018. (Confidence: 70%)
- At least one of Ixalan’s tribes will emerge as a Tier 1 deck following the release of Rivals of Ixalan… (Confidence: 65%)
- …and it will be Pirates. (Confidence: 30%)
- Search for Azcanta will be the most expensive card in Ixalan at some point in 2018. (Confidence: 30%)
- At least four of Dominaria’s mythics will see time over $30, not counting the pre-order period. (Confidence: 50%)
- Snapcaster Mage breaks $75 retail. (Confidence: 75%)
- The Khans of Tarkir fetchlands will gain an average of $8 between now and the end of 2018. (Confidence: 70%)
- Mox Opal breaks $100 retail. (Confidence: 60%)
- Emrakul, the Aeons Torn breaks $75 retail. (Confidence: 50%)
- Tarmogoyf breaks $100 retail. (Confidence: 30%)
- Chalice of the Void drops below $50. (Confidence: 65%)
- Engineered Explosives drops below $40. (Confidence: 65%)
Social and Cultural Predictions
- A single Bitcoin will be worth less than $10,000 at the end of 2018. (Confidence: 60%)
- A single Bitcoin will be worth less than $1,000 at the end of 2018. (Confidence: 30%)
- The Democrats will eke out narrow margins in both the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives. (Confidence: 70%)
- A “smoking gun” will be found linking Donald Trump to Russian collusion, but he’ll remain in office and will not face any significant pressure from his party to resign. (Confidence: 60%)
- We’ll all bail on Twitter for some cool new alternative that’s way better. (Confidence: 5%)
- I will spend a good portion of 2018 dreaming about an alternative to Twitter while constantly refreshing Twitter. (Confidence: 100%)
- I successfully defend my master’s thesis and graduate with my MFA. (Confidence: 98%)
- Emma and I move out of Wilmington, North Carolina… (Confidence: 95%)
- …to Denver, Colorado (Confidence: 90%)
- I am at least 100 pages into a new novel by the end of 2018. (Confidence: 75%)
- I’m able to get three of my essays or short stories published in 2018. (Confidence: 60%)
Thanks for sticking with me in 2017, friends. It was a tough year in a lot of ways for a lot of us, and your kind words on my social media feeds and in the comments section really do make all the difference. I’m lucky to have such a kind, intelligent, and engaged group of readers.
Here’s hoping your Magical journeys take you to all sorts of exciting places in 2018!