Typically I don't buy cards before a set is released — or buy cards at all for that matter — but for some reason $29.99 tempted me. I like to think that it's because somewhere in my subconscious mind I'm a Pro Magic player who can instantly assess the value of Magic cards on sight… But it's more likely due to both my love of old-school Venser and my affection for U/W decks. Nevertheless this whole exercise of agonizing over whether to buy a new mythic rare is common to all Magic players even ballers like me.
I hit the Twitterverse to see what other people thought about the card's value. Whenever a new card's value is in question I like to listen to what people think about it but there are three in particular I always pay attention to – Patrick Chapin Michael Flores and Conley Woods. These three are vocal and are major influences on the Magic community.
But there's a reason I like to hear what the common player has to say about the card in question: hearing lots of different opinions on a card gives you a sample of how the market will react. It doesn't matter if the opinions are true or not — the reaction is what manipulates the price. So “listening” is the key to understanding pricing because the people talking are the people who ultimately decide a card's pricing when they vote with their dollars.
Pricing doesn't exist in a vacuum — and contrary to what you might have heard StarCityGames.com does not decide the price of cards. Prices are determined by what the market will bear and then the prices are manipulated by supply and demand.
Now I don't pretend to be an economist. I hate it when people try to sound smarter than they are. But these concepts are very basic. I hear people say stuff like “Venser is not worth $50 dollars!”... And this statement doesn't make much sense when people are buying them for $50. The fact that someone would buy it for $50 is what makes it worth $50. If I had a Venser I could theoretically sell it for $50 — so how can someone say that it's not worth $50?
I posted this question on Twitter: “Do you think Venser is worth $30?” I immediately received a handful of negative responses. The player side of me was still struggling with the urge to pre-order them; $30 felt right to me and even if I ended up not needing them I could just trade or sell them.
After drawing out a debate (and invoking the collective lament of the Magic universe about the pricing of mythic rares) I went back to check on my Vensers: the price had gone up to $34.99. I taunted my Twitter followers with a follow-up question: “Do you think Venser is worth $35?”
This is where supply and demand enters the scene. Typically online retailers will post the spoiler cards for pre-order in waves. For example: forty Vensers were listed on SCG for $29.99 and within an hour all forty were sold out. This shows that there is a demand for the card. It also shows that the card may be underpriced — so the retailer will list another forty for pre-sale but with the adjusted price of $34.99. Without missing a beat the market responded by purchasing the next forty copies.
This “raise-and-sell” process continues until the card stops selling. When a card stops selling it means one of two things: Either the immediate demand is met or the price is too high.
Here is what happens when a card stops selling: the card will remain listed at the current price until the demand rises again or until the market refuses to bear the current price. You can spot these trends by watching different things. To spot a rise in demand you should look at these things:
- Is there is a recent Top 8 decklist featuring the card? You can see all the recent tournaments on the right column of StarCityGames.com.
- Is there an emergent combo that features the card? You can read about this in forums in articles or on Twitter.
- Has a deck featuring the card become dominant on Magic Online? You can check the Magic Online event coverage here .
If demand rises again then the pricing goes from “dormant” to “in flux.” The price could either rise or fall depending on whether the Top 8 deck fails at the next tournament; I call this pricing re-flux. Let's say the Soul Sisters deck doesn't put up solid tournament results. This could lead to people disassembling the deck and selling/trading their Serra Ascendants. This means that supply would increase and the demand would decrease and the price would inevitably be lowered.
You might be wondering “How does an online retailer know when to drop their price? Is it based on a time limit? Do they judge by how many copies of the card that they are buying? Or maybe they use a 'Jump to Conclusions' mat.”
There are many different processes and triggers that tell an online retailer when a price is dropping. I listed some above — but others are top-secret unknown to a civilian like me. Even without the top secret methods that are hidden at SCG headquarters we can still use the same data that online retailers use to lower the price after it's been determined that a price is falling — the source of that data is called eBay. (I bet you weren't expecting that one.)
Once most online retailers determine that a price is going down they check eBay data to find the price. It's important to understand this process because it reveals how much power we as consumers really have.
Imagine for a moment that everyone on the Internet agreed not to buy any cards from online retailers and only purchased from eBay instead. Let's also pretend that everyone also agreed on a price for every card and that no one would make a bid higher than the agreed-upon price on eBay. This means that if anyone on eBay wanted to sell a card to the public they would have to list it below this imaginary agreed-upon price. It would probably be significantly lower since they'd be trying to appeal to our human nature by offering a better deal.
I conjured up this picture of a perfect world not to lead a movement of regulated Magic card pricing but instead to get you to think differently about the pre-order process. These concepts also give you a picture of the life cycle of card pricing. If you watch the trends in the metagame and eBay pricing then you can somewhat predict the price cycle of a card.
During spoiler season you can expect hype to drive demand up (and the price along with it). This means that it's smarter to wait until a few weeks after the set is released to buy your cards. Trying to catch lightning in a bottle will only lead to poor investment decisions. One of these statements is true:
All the planeswalkers in this set can sustain a $50+ price tag.
Fewer than all of the planeswalkers in this set can sustain a $50+ price tag.
If the first statement is true then the expected value of the set would be insane! Your best move would be to simply buy boxes or cases. Instead of dropping $600 on three play sets of cards you could buy six to eight boxes online and likely end up with a play set of each (at least or enough card to acquire a play set of each via trading). Plus you'd get all the extras from the set that the boxes or case would bring.
If the second statement is true then you are in a predicament: you either have to invest in all the planeswalkers so that you don't miss the one or two that will rise in price or you have to choose which planeswalkers to invest in.
If you buy all the planeswalkers then you will lose money on the ones that go down in value. If you chose one or two of the new planeswalkers to invest in then you risk losing money if you guessed wrong. In either situation it would be better to wait until you have data in hand to make the choice of what mythic rares to invest in.
You can apply this logic to all future cards. It seems like the smarter play is always to not pre-order any high dollar cards. I know that this is hard with the excitement of spoilers and a new set. It's natural that you want to prepare for your next year of Magic or that you would want to use this new information to get an edge in the market.
Here's my recommendation: buy (or trade) for older cards that that will become more desirable in the light of newer cards. I'm not talking about speculative trading or buying; I'm talking about cards that already have good supporting data and that become more relevant with the coming set. Want some examples?
This card has seen a reasonable amount of play in Mono-Red decks. It's also a card that Patrick Chapin spoke highly of when it was released. It's a mythic rare — and with the spoiling of Koth of the Hammer this card is poised to become even more relevant.
Linvala Keeper of Silence
This card has become a four-of in many decks because of the prevalence of Fauna Shaman. With an infinite mana combo (two Myr Galvanizers and one Palladium Myr) coming around the bend it seems like Linvala will become even more of a force in the coming metagame.
My first thought upon seeing this card was “That is the sickest Trinket Mage target that I've ever seen! I wish Trinket Mage was still in Standard.” Guess what? Trinket Mage is back and he's ready to kick cardboard and take names. This has already seen a small jump; I expect it to see another.
This card's already made its mark in Standard. It fits perfectly in the extended combo elves build. It's made a small splash in Legacy —and once people completely “test the raft” they are not only going to see that it's safe but it's also full of badassery.
I never did buy the Vensers; the Twitter debate raged on and the price continued to climb. I am happy that I didn't pull the trigger on them since I would rather give cardboard than money for them anyway.
Try to keep your head on straight through all the spoiler action. Keep in mind that you can see the endless cycle of cards and their prices; you don't have to blindly hit the “buy” button.
Before I get out of here I want to leave you with a new little section that I will work into my articles as I see fit.
The Magic Player Rewards Cards are landing in mailboxes everywhere. Sometimes it's hard to get a value on this stuff. I have done the work for you and calculated the average eBay price for each card. This should help you make informed decisions at the trade tables. Keep in mind since the MPR cards were just released these have very small sample sizes which can account for a high variance. In layman's terms this pricing data is supported by eBay completed auctions… but the price will drop in the coming weeks.
Thanks for reading! I'll see you next week.