Welcome back, everyone who still reads my articles (or are just starting to read my articles!). I’d like to start out this week by clearing up a misconception that many people have about what I (and other Magic financiers) do in the community. I do not own a Crystal Ball. Well, I probably do somewhere in my bulk 1,000 count boxes, but I’m saying that I’m not a fortune teller. I can’t predict the future with 100 percent accuracy. When someone asks me a question along the lines of “What should I do with the foil copy of Soulfire Grand Master that I opened at the prerelease?” I’m going to look back at similar, previous trends in price graphs and make an educated guess as to where that card is going to go.
However, there are always going to be curveballs and new products thrown our way. We’ve seen products such as Duel Deck: Jace vs. Chandra, the original Commander sets, San Diego Comic Con planeswalkers, and Commander’s Arsenal reach absurd prices that were much higher than their MSRPs. While the Duel Deck series and Commander products have calmed down significantly once WOTC got a handle on how much they needed to put into circulation to satisfy a large amount of demand, the company still throws us the occasional product that it wants to feel special and unprecedented. Today, I want to go over wild cards like the promo Ugin, and what you should do the next time something like this comes out.
Ugin, the Money Dragon
Ugin has been the first planeswalker in a long time to break the “Planeswalker Tax” trend. For those of you who haven’t been playing very long, Jace the Mind Sculptor presold for $20 for a short period of time. Yep, that one. $20. Yeah. Once he skyrocketed to more than $100, vendors realized their mistake, and saw just how format-warping, iconic, and valuable planeswalker cards could be. Ever since that era, planeswalker cards have historically presold for ridiculously overpriced values, trying to capitalize on the hype and “wow” factor that the new walker might happen to have. If you check out the graph, you’ll see that “normal” Ugin dipped by a couple of dollars in week one, then quickly climbed out of that gutter to a hefty $35 price tag.
As for the Ugin’s Fate Ugin… I certainly didn’t predict that he’d double in price from $100 to almost $200 in less than a month. In fact, I predicted the opposite, and encouraged the players who opened them to dump them while they had the chance. Whoops:
As you can see in my comment, I felt that the card not being foil would put a huge dent in demand. That in addition to presale planeswalker hype were my main reasons for suggesting to get rid of the card. Where did I go wrong?
First of all, I underestimated the worldwide demand for these Ugins. If you listen to the Brainstorm Brewery podcast, Kyle Lopez recently hinted towards a massive demand from outside the United States for these promo Ugins. They’re only available in English, and weren’t given away outside of the USA. [Editor’s note: European readers have informed us this is not, in fact, the case, and that these were given out in German and other EU languages at the very least.] The second reason, which will look extremely obvious in hindsight, was that these were a brand new, experimental product with a very low print run. I’m not talking about a From the Vault print run where every store got a couple cases; I heard about stores who went the entire weekend without anyone opening an alternate art Ugin.
While Ugin’s Fate packs were an unprecedented thing, let’s try and see if we can examine some of the other unprecedented product releases in Magic’s recent history, and try to establish a pattern as to whether or not we should buy in immediately upon release, or wait it out. Some of the recent examples that come to mind include the “Book Jace” from the Agents of Artifice planeswalker novel, Commander’s Arsenal, the San Diego Comic Con Planeswalker sets (2013 and 2014), and the experimental “Jace Coin” from the New Zealand Mint.
It doesn’t really seem like 2009 was six years ago, because I was still a freshman in high school at the time. Back when WOTC still released paperback copies of the planeswalker novels to keep us up to date on the lore of the story, the company announced this promotional copy of Jace Beleren in order to hype up the book sales. Considering that this was before the massive player base increase of Innistrad and Return to Ravnica, there weren’t many people hyped about the book. That’s what flavor texts are for, right? As a casual player who never played blue, I didn’t really care either. I can remember the promo selling for well under $100 when it came out, and those who did get it were unloading them as soon as possible.
It took less than a couple years after release for the promo to shoot up to above $150, and it tapered down after that before growing and approaching the $200 mark in 2014. What makes this Jace more special than a heavily played M10 version that I found in a snowbank in a parking lot? Well, it’s foil, and alternate art. Big deal, though: a copy of foil promo Emrakul, the Aeons Torn is cheaper than the booster pack version by a good $10.
The bigger draw is how few copies of this “Book Jace” exist. The physical copies of the planeswalker books weren’t exactly a home run anymore compared to internet versions, so nobody cared about the book. Do you see anyone banging on WOTC’s front door to bring back the novels? I didn’t think so. And because the reception on the books was so low, it led the company to try something different next time. There aren’t any more Book Jaces entering the market. They get to sit at the bar with Savannah and Granite Gargoyle, and drink away their sorrows of never being reprinted ever in the history of ever. If you buy one of these today, it’s not going down.
Let’s fast forward a few years to 2012, around the time when Return to Ravnica was being released. The year after the first Commander products, Wizards announces Commander’s Arsenal, with a $75 MSRP. This was more of a, “If you’re already heavily invested into Commander, this is your chance to get a foil Sylvan Library,” but players were still wary of preordering at the $150 eBay tag until they knew for sure what was in it.
Brief aside: If you keep up to date on your MTGstocks, you’ll know that the Commander’s Arsenal version of Library recently jumped to over $100, and was pretty clearly an intentional buyout. Kaalia of the Vast experienced something similar, sitting at around $80. One interesting thing to note is that Scroll Rack has just as low of a supply, but the foil CA copy is less than twice the copy of a Tempest version. While I recognize that Library sees more Legacy play and Kaalia sees more EDH play, I don’t think a 1.5 multiplier on Rack is going to last very long. Full disclosure: I own zero copies here.
Right now, SCG has five copies of the Commander’s Arsenal product in stock for $325, and that’s probably one of the better deals you’ll find at this point if you were interested in multiple cards in the package like the Library and Kaalia. If you were hoping to get either of these cards in foil on the cheap, I’m afraid you’ve missed the boat. The ship sailed back when the product was first available, and you had to either be the first one calling your LGS, or you had to know someone who could hook you up upon release. Even if Wizards decides to release a Commander’s Arsenal 2016, I don’t think the company will be wasting any of the 18 slots with reprints from the first set.
San Diego Comic Con (2013 and 2014)
When the San Diego Comic Con walkers were announced, there was a massive amount of people rushing to buy them. I heard stories of people who attended the event and waited more than eight hours to even get a chance at purchasing them (and didn’t end up getting their sets). The initial online buy-in was around $250, and I almost pulled the trigger for a set myself. Within about a day and a half, the price had skyrocketed to more than $400, and Hasbro made it clear that they were done printing. That was all, everyone could go home.
Currently, a sealed set of the SDCC 2013 walkers goes for anywhere from $500 to $600 on eBay, and it doesn’t look like it will drop anytime soon. Your chance to buy in was the weekend of the event, not a day later. We can see the same factors that popped up in Book Jace and Commander’s Arsenal: buying in early on will yield the best results.
However, we can see a much different trend with last year’s repeat performance. Hasbro still showcased the year’s Core Set walkers in stylish black artwork, but a lot of the magic was gone. They were still exciting, but their current eBay status reflects a significantly lower price than the first time around. The set even came with a giant NERF Garruk Axe, that currently retails for less than the price of a normal Snapcaster Mage. Either Hasbro increased the supply this time around, or people cared a lot less about the product because it wasn’t “special” enough anymore. Either way, the big takeaway here is that Wizards tends to learn from their mistakes (even if it’s little by little), and the demand for the follow-up products will be judged more accurately. We saw this with the progression of Duel Decks. Divine vs Demonic, Jace vs Chandra, and Elves vs Goblins were growing extremely valuable as the years went by, compared to Speed vs Cunning and Elspeth vs Kiora not being promising collectors items. The Commander sets also learned this lesson, going from $100 Heavenly Infernos to every deck being readily available for under MSRP two years later. The first product in the series will always be the most desired, the one with the lowest supply, or both.
Now, let’s take a look at something specific to the 2014 set, that was added onto the SDCC package. A NERF Garruk Axe was given away, in addition to the five other Planeswalkers. While one might initially think that this adds to the value of the product, it certainly isn’t worth a whole lot of money right now. We can check eBay’s completed listings page to learn that the Axe itself only sells for about $30 total
Why is that? Wizards made a one-of-a-kind collector’s item that was only available for a short period of time, and it’s certainly not going to get “reprinted” anytime soon. Well, the answer is probably simpler than you might expect at first.
It’s not actually a Magic card. While I assume there won’t be a whole ton of people playing with their SDCC walkers either, they at least have the ability to be cracked open and jammed into cubes or EDH decks. This Axe can do nothing other than provide novelty fun by whacking friends on the head for a few minutes, and then sit on your shelf forever. If we’re looking to invest in unprecedented Magic products, I don’t think we should be looking towards novelty toys, and I have anotherexample to back that up.
No, not that Jace….
This Jace. Back in January of 2014, Wizards announced a special silver coin with an image of Jace, the Mind Sculptor on the front. While it’s labeled as being worth $2 in legal tender in New Zealand, I don’t recommend flying out there to spend this on a cup of coffee, because it’s not even considered legal tender. Once they were announced, the going eBay price was around $100, and there was a bit of a discussion as to whether or not these would go up in value over time. After all, it’s literally Jace’s face on money, and not even photoshopped over Benjamin Franklin’s face on a $100 bill this time around. But if we look at the market value today…
Right now, it sits at basically the same price as it was a year ago. You could have bought
almost 1000 copies of Seance with that kind of money Glittering Wish back in January, and you would have been able to reap huge profits back in the fall. So why didn’t the price on the coin budge? It’s certainly special, limited-edition, and was an experimental marketing attempt that WOTC tried to make work. Just like the axe, it’s not a Magic card. You can’t sleeve it up and pay 2UU to cast it in Legacy. In addition to that, there wasn’t the same hype or excitement about it. It seemed extremely out of place, and even Evan Erwin (who gets hyped about pretty much every single announcement Wizards makes), was confused and chewed out Wizards for pulling such a dumb move. If I’m agreeing with Evan Erwin in the world of Magic Finance, something has gone horribly wrong.
Put a Bow On It, DJ
So where do we wrap this up? I think there are a few takeaways when dealing with the next “super amazing limited print run Magic product” that Wizards farts out.
First of all, if it’s not an actual Magic card(s) that can be sleeved up, traded out of binders, or sold to a vendor at a Grand Prix, stay the hell away from it. Wizards tries weird things, and sometimes they work, but sometimes they don’t. While the little Funko planeswalker figures have been selling pretty well from what I hear, you don’t want to be the guy investing in them for the long term when there are other real cards that can be bought. Stick to the Book Jaces, Commander’s Arsenals, and promo Ugins.
Second, if you get the chance to buy the next promo Ugin, Commander’s Aresnal, or Book Jace, and you can afford it, you should probably buy it, immediately. It hasn’t been announced yet, but Wizards is sure to do some sort of weird, unique, and unprecedented promo or product release. Gauge the initial demand, figure out how many copies that stores and players will be receiving, and act accordingly.
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