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The Unwilling Speculators

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There has been a lot said and written about the spikes in Modern card prices over the past few months, and much of it has been aimed at speculators. I completely understand the frustration with ever-increasing Modern card prices—I am a player and I feel it too. Until last weekend, I would have told you that this was a normal side-effect of Magic’s popularity and that speculators were not at fault.

After the DCI Banned & Restricted List announcement on Monday, I am ready to lay some blame. Not on the speculators, but on the people who are ultimately responsible for the health of this game (which includes the secondary market). The rash of spikes may be a normal side-effect to some extent, but I’m convinced now that mishandling by Wizards of the Coast is making things far worse.

Setting the Record Straight

Before I go there, I want to talk about the “blame the speculators” movement that’s been gaining traction over the past few weeks. I don’t think it is fair.

Now, not everyone uses the term “speculator” the same way. For some, a speculator is a market-manipulator, artificially propping up prices through buyouts and then cashing in. I assure you that this type of “speculator” is looked upon fondly by no one, myself and the writers at Brainstorm Brewery included. I’m not convinced that there is as much of this going on as some people think, but if there is then “speculator” is the wrong term anyway. Market manipulation is just that, there is no speculation involved as far as I can tell. I have no defense of this group, though I don’t think they are much of a problem either. Maybe if you are big enough to run your own tournament series you could do some damage with this method. Otherwise, it’s just stupid and risky and not as profitable as it might seem.

Others use the term “speculator” in a broader sense. Just about anyone buying, selling, and trading cards with profit motive can be lumped in, and that covers quite a range of people. This is the group that is being criticized unduly, in my opinion. Stocked up on rotating staples ahead of Modern season? Speculator. Picked up some Standard cards because your testing showed a potential breakout deck? Speculator.

God forbid you buy into whatever Modern card is being hyped on Twitter. May the seven plagues descend on your home for your role in the destruction of Magic: The Gathering.

Yes, I’ve heard some pretty dumb things said about speculators. Some of them were said by people who usually say dumb things, some weren’t. All of them boil down to this: frustration with constantly increasing and unpredictable card prices. I get it.

The root cause of these spikes is the explosion in Magic’s popularity. New players are pumping dollars into the game like a Street Fighter II cabinet in the 90s, and spiking prices just represent these dollars finding a home. If you think this foreshadows the end of Magic somehow, then we need your help. Please save us from all the money.

I wasn’t upset with the Modern spikes when they were happening, unlike some others. I felt that, for the most part, those spikes happened to cards that were due for increases. Modern is becoming an incredibly popular format and the cards don’t rotate. That means that there will be constant upward pressure on prices barring reprints, so you can’t durdle when buying the cards you need. I can only feel so bad for someone because Primeval Titan didn’t wait around at $7 until he or she finally decided to pull the trigger on a set.

The fact is that speculators are not the cause, they are the symptom. The money rushing in is making it quite profitable to buy, sell, and trade Magic cards, and there is nothing wrong with taking advantage of that as long as you do it with integrity.

Unregulated Market?

The bigger question is: why do these opportunities exist? Magic has never cheap to play but it has never like this, either. The volatility in prices today is remarkable, especially in Modern.

I get a kick out of it when people call the Magic secondary market “unregulated.” This is a market where a single company has unilateral control over supply and heavy influence on demand. While it doesn’t oversee each transaction, this company—if it was paying attention—could do quite a bit to control prices in the secondary market. That could make buying out TCGplayer a much less attractive proposition.

Although it’s hard to see, someone is regulating this market. They are just doing a awful job. And so:

Thanks, Wizards. I’m not one of those guys who blames WotC for everything, but this is a problem.

Wizards lit a fire when they created Modern, and it is obvious to me now that it is burning out of control. The format is more popular than they imagined and they have fallen woefully short of matching this with new supply. I keep picturing the scene in Office Space where Peter, Michael, and Samir find out that their program dropped $300,000 in the bank account the first day. Whoops.

Markets hate uncertainty and instability. The Modern market is insane because Wizards has done nothing but create uncertainty and instability. The banned and restricted update is just the icing on the cake (or should I say, gasoline on the fire).

Let’s recap this DCI Banned & Restricted List change and the events that led up to it:

  1. Wizards decided when they created Modern that they would be heavy-handed with bans, creating uncertainty about how long any particular card would be playable in the format (assuming it was a good card).

  2. Wizards then decided that they would keep the format fresh by regularly unbanning cards, creating uncertainty not only around what is leaving the format, but what is coming back in.

  3. Wizards scheduled the announcement for just a few weeks before the Modern Pro Tour. This created as much uncertainty as possible around what would be playable at the biggest Modern event of the year and then gave everyone a short window to acquire the new cards they would need.

  4. Wizards decided to unban a card that they knew was in short supply. This card was printed six years ago and left out of Modern Masters. Seems good.

Oh, and I don’t want to forget that Bitterblossom spiked 50% ten days before the announcement. I don’t know for sure if it leaked, but I do know that Jace, the Mind Sculptor didn’t spike. I know that Ancestral Vision didn’t spike. And I also remember Aluren.

What did they think was going to happen? They could not possibly have aggravated the market more if they tried.

The truth is that Wizards didn’t think about the market implications at all. They don’t seem to have a cohesive plan to make Modern an accessible format, and if they did, they certainly wouldn’t tell us. Maybe we can look forward to Modern Masters II next year and Tarmogoyf will drop from $250 to $200. Maybe they’ll just ban it. Who knows!? For their part, Wizards only needs a few more months of goldfishing Modern decks to figure out if Jace is safe to unban. Don’t worry, Starcitygames.com has them for only $400 each! Non-foil, of course.

If you are a Modern player, what are you supposed to do? New players and new money keep flowing in and Wizards keeps doing nothing about it (when they aren’t making it much worse). They have vaguely indicated that they don’t want constructed Magic to be “too expensive,” but what does that mean? The most played deck in Modern right now (Jund, according to mtggoldfish.com) is $1,700 in paper. Even if they wanted to reduce that, they have not shown the agility as an organization to keep up with demand.

Modern Masters gave us nothing more than a breather. Modern Masters II is a rumor and thought to be scheduled for 2015. It’s not enough. They aren’t getting the job done. What is a Misty Rainforest going to cost in June of 2015?

All of this leads Modern players to the following conclusions:

  1. There is a very good chance that any particular Modern-playable card will never be cheaper than it is right now. Money and players continue to pour in. Reprints are coming slowly and they may not even reduce the price (‘Goyf, Bob). The cards won’t rotate. Buy Modern playables now, otherwise you might not be able to afford them.

  2. Cards that are not Modern playable now but are powerful enough to be playable in the right deck will probably never be cheaper than right now. Wizards has shown a willingness to shake up the format dramatically and unpredictably with bans and unbans which can pop these cards overnight. Buy potential Modern playables now, otherwise you might not be able to afford them.

  3. Cards that are on the Modern banned list will probably never be cheaper than they are right now. Wizards has shown the willingness to unban cards in Modern and these cards tend to skyrocket overnight. Buy banned Modern cards now, otherwise you might not be able to afford them.

Wizards’s inability to scale supply means that if you want to play Modern, you really should buy everything you need or might need right now. I mean that. It is very difficult to justify waiting on buying any Modern card right now. Prices are going up, up, up and there is very little relief in sight. It is a constant struggle to avoid being priced out of this format.

In this way, Wizards has turned every Modern player into an Unwilling Speculator.

So please, don’t blame the speculators.

Thanks for reading.

 

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Anthony Capece

Anthony Capece

@acmtg   -    Articles
Anthony is your typical started-during-Revised-then-quit-then-came-back-years-later Magic player.He enjoys the financial aspect of the game the most, mainly because it lets him use his analytical side but also because it makes up for the money he hemorrhages drafting on MTGO.
Anthony Capece

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About the author

Anthony Capece

@acmtg   -    Articles
Anthony is your typical started-during-Revised-then-quit-then-came-back-years-later Magic player. He enjoys the financial aspect of the game the most, mainly because it lets him use his analytical side but also because it makes up for the money he hemorrhages drafting on MTGO.

41 comments

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  1. VivienZ

    Great article.

    100% my feeling also, and these recents spikes just proves you’re right. “Volatility” seems to be the word in Modern and the problem is that it will be extended to non-staples cards: so-so cards, playable cards, sideboard cards etc… won’t be cheap anymore. Future spike promise to be really insane, +200% overnight for a random unplayable card? Already happened.

    I fear for the format accesibility as you’ll see trade binder with 150 Liliana / Goyf / fetches , just waiting a further spike, people keeping staples waiting to sell them for even more, more even more. A format that is going straight to the image of the economy right now: 90% of the wellness gathered by 5% of the people. Modern, a format that is more open and accessible than legacy? Well, won’t last. And didn’t even talked about pimping Modern staples….

  2. DesperateRaving

    Articles like this are why I return to Brainstorm Brewery every day. Fantastic, spot-on work.

    1. Anthony Capece

      Thanks for reading!

  3. e

    hi Anthony,

    What kind of price increases do you think Wizards will tolerate before beginning to reprint more aggressively? And if the average price of a top eight deck (or better metric) hit some threshold would Wizards say (a) forget it, we’ll just do Modern Chronicles or (b) scrap Modern for Modern 2.0?

    1. Anthony Capece

      I don’t even believe they think about it in those terms. I think they look at it as an opportunity to reprint some cards in already planned sets / supplemental product to increase sales. I think the popularity of the format got away from them before they knew what was going on.

      Modern Masters is a great example. What the player base was calling for was a reprint set that made Modern affordable. Instead, Wizards dumped their time and energy into making a great limited format and using it to promote a huge GP. they printed a bunch of stuff for casuals and EDH players (even at mythic), and kept distribution so low that the Modern playable mythics barely moved. The end result was fun for a lot of people, but nothing close to what we thought we were getting.

      They would never scrap Modern. It’s either going to be Legacy 2.0 here before long, or Wizards will get aggressive about reprints. If they do, they will still need quite a bit of time to ramp that up, so either way Modern is going to be very expensive to play for the foreseeable future.

      Thanks for the comment.

      1. shor

        “I don’t even believe they think about it in those terms. I think they look at it as an opportunity to reprint some cards in already planned sets / supplemental product to increase sales.”

        “The end result was fun for a lot of people, but nothing close to what we thought we were getting.”

        This is an important factor that most speculators don’t consider enough. Hasbro and WOTC are here to essentially print money, not to give players exactly what they want.

        The remarkable sustained annual growth in MTG revenue is something that Hasbro, analysts and shareholders certainly do not want see plateau, let alone go backwards.

        How important is the secondary market to WotC? Their primary concern by a long margin is to print sets to generate revenue. WotC know now that Modern Masters was an unprecedented success (at least from their PoV) – they printed a limited run product that generated a disproportionate amount of brand awareness and injected new customers into the Modern format. As long as the secondary market is not alienated, WotC will continue to print limited product like MMA.

        Two of the metrics WotC looks at is new customers (players) and the average revenue per customer (ARPU) in a year. They want to move both in the same direction (up and to the right duh) and from their Investor Day slides, they’ve been putting out the right product to accomplish that in the last few years…

        1. Anthony Capece

          Well said.

  4. hivemind

    You forgot Modern Player Conclusion #4: DON’T buy Tarmogoyf ($150), Misty Rainforest ($60), Dark Confidant ($100), or Liliana of the Veil ($50) now because at any time, Wizards might ban them.

    Personally, this is my biggest issue with Modern right now. There’s a very real chance that I could spend $600 on a playset of Tarmogoyf or $400 on a playset of Bob only to see it banned within a year. Think that’s crazy? Let me remind you that they previously banned Wild Nacatl, and they just unbanned Bitterblossom, so how’s that for crazy?

    I don’t play Legacy, so if I buy these cards and they get banned, I’m well and truly fucked.

    1. QED2

      No, that’s dumb. You don’t play legacy, but other people do, who will happily trade for or buy your now-banned Goyfs. You wouldn’t be “fucked”.

      1. Jason Alt

        > that’s dumb

        Stay classy

  5. Anonymous

    Great analysis!

    I apologize if the question I am about to ask has been addressed in a former piece, but I have not been able to find any article that has explained it yet or any one person that could adequately explain it to me.

    Given that we have been in an extended global recession, why has Magic’s sales continued to defy the economc downturn?
    I assumed due to how expensive Magic already was when the recession began, this kind of continual injection of money and players into the game was unsustainable. I also assumed that with the many other different kinds of games and gaming platforms available to us now through consoles, iOS, computer games and the like, many Magic players would have opted for entertainment without the same kind of massive reoccuring cost of actively participating in Magic’s formats. I know every type of gaming experience can have their own high buy-ins and maintenance costs (such as an xbox and then new games for it every so often), but when a 1-of card like Tarmogoyf is approaching the cost of an entire gaming console, it shows a kind of inelastic demand for the game that I find difficult to explain.

    Again, thank you for your illuminating article. It wasnt very obvious to me prior to reading this article just how responsible Wizards is for jeapordizing the health of Modern by short-sightedness in managing the supply of the modern cardpool. I hope Wizards comes to accept its mistakes and take corrective action before too many players lose trust in the format or god-forbid trust in the company and leave the game completely.

    1. Smitty

      Generally, when times are good, the middle class’s leisure activities are more expensive experience type of outings like destination vacations and the like. When times are leaner, spending thousands (air, hotel, transportation, food, activities, etc…) for a vacation is a much harder sell than ‘nickel & diming” oneself with a $15 draft or $100 to finish out a Magic deck.

      An example of this from two generations ago was the fact that during the Great Depression, record numbers of Americans were going to the movies.

      http://facts.randomhistory.com/2009/04/12_great-depression.html
      18. During the Great Depression, a record 60-80 million Americans went to the movies every week. One of the biggest blockbusters was Merian C. Cooper’s 1933 King Kong. Other popular movies included The Wizard of Oz (1939) and Gone with the Wind (1939).

      There’s also the fact that may of the people paying these prices are die hard PTQ, Grand Prix goers who feel that they have a shot at recouping their costs with a big win… So Magic is relatively unique in that if your play skill is high enough, it becomes a more self-sustaining hobby, abet one that requires constant investment. The problem is that the time investment is usually so great that it’s something that only a college student without a career or someone working for one of the major vendors can really do well and even then variance gets the best of people and they fall off the “Gravy Train” of gold status.

  6. jp

    ‘Don’t hate the speculators…’

    Then tries to shift the blame game to Wizards, while still sneakily expounding/instilling fear that these Modern cards will always go up. Self serving article and I DO blame the speculators, and every article writer that just selfishly promotes even more speculating. Pox on you!

    1. Anthony Capece

      Busted! :)
      The worst part is that I’m the ONE guy that was playing BW Tokens online before this. I just got super excited when Theros came out because I could finally afford Thoughtseize. Now I need a set of Bitterblossoms. Ugh, the deck wasn’t even good, I don’t know what to do…

    2. Mike Fellman

      Wizards is not a central bank. Its objective is not price stability, but profit maximization. Apply for a job at wizards, and they will tell you that “ticket growth” is an explicit business goal and key performance metric for any team working on Magic Online. Of course they keep supply low, or barely allow it to grow quickly enough. It forces more “greater-fools” to buy more tickets and drive prices up further.

      Speculators are a small part of the market and can rarely keep prices too high for too long. The real “speculators” are large vendors who have the pricing power to hike prices on buy lists. This creates expectations in the broader market that prices always rise and therefore the company never actually has to buy to many cards at the hiked price. Wizards inability to accomadate enhanced demand with more supply is also a key factor in cementing these expectations.

  7. Anonymous

    Nice dig @ SCG there :P

  8. Adam

    If WoTC increased the supply of cards to reduce the price wouldn’t we just see articles written by people complaining about how the $400 worth of Tarmogoyfs they owned yesterday are worth a quarter of that now? I don’t see how WoTC makes this format accessible when they also have the goal of protecting the past investments that players have made. I don’t know if what you’re talking about is bad management on the part of WoTC as much as a conscious decision not to deflate the value of their product.

    1. Mike

      It all depends on your entry point, and as such I think Wizards should do a better job of over printing to keep costs down. I personally managed to pick up my playset of Goyfs when they were $25 each. As long as Wizards doesn’t print so many to crash the price below that then what do I care? On the other hand, I know a couple people who bought in around $75 a piece and $85 a piece and $100 a piece. So if it comes down to $50 each then they will all be miffed more than me to varying degrees. The longer Wizards waits to reprint cards and keep their prices down the more future players they will alienate when they do try to lower the price.

      One thing they could do is a yearly Modern Masters style reprinting. Make a set symbol similar to the core set (M12, M13, etc) symbol and release a Modern Set 1, Modern Set 2, Modern Set 3, etc every summer. 15 cards per pack, no basic lands, not designed for drafting. For the most part the Mythics would be format staples. Goyf, Bob, Liliana, Karn, etc., with Fetchlands at rare. The rest of the rares and uncommons would fluctuate based on the past year’s results as well as secondary market pricing. Say after MS1 comes out Splinter Twin decks move a bit more towards Restoration Angel and the price climbs…toss it into MS2. Say something in the Fall block is printed that helps keep Twin in check and Resto has settled back down in the $10 range, then kick it out of MS3 for another printing of Birthing Pod or Damnation.

      With the lead time on getting cards to the printers they wouldn’t always be able to accurately determine what cards will be needed but a yearly schedule should be better than having to try and guess what you’ll need for the next two years.

  9. Aregand

    Everyone who owns more than a playset of a card that they aren’t actively playing is a speculator. SCG is the largest speculator but they get a pass. Most ‘speculators’ are players that got tired of missing cards at their low and having to buy from a retailer at inflated price. If you know a card is good and it is underpriced buy it and a few more and grow your collection so you don’t have to pay retail.

  10. TheTruth

    This is how secondary markets work (and a very elementary secondary market at that), prices move up and down based on supply and demand. Find me a market that has no volatility because I would love to be in that safe investment. Free markets 101, more supply (print more cards) means a decrease in prices, likewise a growing player base means more demand resulting in an increase in prices.

    You are on a pedestal claiming it is wizard’s duty to keep prices at some “arbitrary” level that you deem is reasonable, and they should print cards to achieve this. However, that “arbitrary” prices isn’t arbitrary at all, take everyone’s arbitrary levels are what they will sell at and what they will buy at and you will have created yourself a market.

    Moreover, your solution to just print more cards to keep prices down is not a solution for removing market volatility, that actually would create much more volatility as prices would sharply drop with the sudden increase of supply.

    The answer to your problem is, there is no problem. As with any market there is risk involved whether is it, gold, dollars, Picasso artwork, whatever. You buy magic cards and assume the risk that your card may drop is value, it is unreasonable to expect wizards (or anyone) will preserve your cards value. And I can promise you wizards feels the same way, they are most concerned with making the game accessible to new players, and look at the trend they have been wildly successful at this.

    As for speculators, isn’t it obvious that without speculators (sgc, your local store, anyone buying and selling) it would be very hard to buy and sell cards, due to the fact that there would be a tiny market to buy/sell cards and the spreads would be gigantic. The fact that scg and your local store are willing to buy your cards at any time creates a predictable price floor on what otherwise would be a completely illiquid item. If this market of people willing to buy your cards on demand didn’t exist, guess what you would be able to get for your most prized cards? Wayyyy less than what you can currently get. People should be thanking the speculators for making it possible to be able to buy/sell a card will total ease.

    1. Anthony Capece

      Disagree. I understand markets, but this market has some fundamental differences from the others you are thinking of.

      With stocks or commodities, the only thing the market cares about is finding the market clearing price. This is a market that Wizards has a lot of influence on and is a key part of their marketing strategy. Wizards creates formats like Legacy and Modern to keep players engaged in the game even when they are not buying new cards. They need the secondary market at a level that allows that. If they are going to take a completely hands-off approach (like you are calling for), I just want them to tell me so I can dump my Modern cards now and become a limited only player.

      1. TheTruth

        Central banks and large manufactures have great control on market prices too, think QE and the bank bailouts.

        I am not advocating a completely hands off approach, or a plea for more cards to be printed. I think what WOTC has been doing reprinting expensive cards and such as they see fit is fine, and I would be ok with them not doing that either. I am just saying there is no problem at all. Any market can see prices being volatile by things such as supply and demand, this is a normal thing. There is no problem here. It is just a market behaving as a market does.

        But if you cannot stomach the risk of your cards going up or down in value or the possibility you may not be able to play certain cards since you cannot afford them, then yes limited is a perfect solution. Card scarcity is what makes the game collectible, you flood the market and everyone has every card it is no longer collectible. Perception that you can open ‘value’ when cracking packs is 1 of the cornerstones of this game being successful for so long.

        1. Mike Fellman

          Actually, QE has down remarkably little to increase inflation. The biggest injections of liquidity into the financial system actually came in 2008 and early 2009 and general prices actually then proceeded to fall for 2009. Inflation has been well below the Fed’s explicit two percent target since then.

          I agree however than Wizards is not a central bank. It makes no guarantee to stop prices from falling or rising too quickly. “Speculators” also create a lot of liquidity, especially in high sought after cards and ensure tight spreads, especially online.

        2. Anonymous

          You could actually use sports cards as an inherent example as to what he’s referring to. Back in the eighties and nineties, it became common knowledge that certain cards were extremely valuable, and people bought a ton of packs to try to “gain value”. The problem with that is that they were printing them at an enormous rate, and ended up flooding the market. Nowadays those cards people bought are essentially worthless, creating the opposite issue. Standard cards, being used, and then rotating and lowering price is the example of what happens to keep the formats healthier. With a sudden influx of players into the eternal formats, and buying the more rare cards that are no longer in print, they drive the pricing on those cards up. Simple math. I have x card, I wanted to play with x card. You want x card, and in order for me to want to give it to you, I will need something to make me give it up. That’s what’s driving the train on duals, fetches, and other eternal staples. In addition, the average age is actually increasing, and older means more access to real money.

  11. Sieben

    It’s also possible that WOTC controls the price of older cards like goyf by just printing newer better cards to compete with them. They don’t necessarily need to ban or reprint older cards.

    Also, one thing that everyone takes for granted is you can always hop on TCG player and buy any card you want at the right price. If somehow “speculating” were cracked down on and it became impossible to sell cards at the “unregulated market price”, all of the sudden you can’t buy-on-demand because no one is willing to sell you a goyf for $50. “Regular” dudes just hold onto it (which is a speculative move as well…) but instead of the cards eventually getting into the hands of people who really want to play that deck, they sit in some dude’s trade binder because maybe maybe one day he’ll build the deck its for, the end result being that there are fewer rare cards in circulation.

    That’s what we all wanted, right?

  12. Smitty

    As a player with disposable income, I love speculators when they’re performing the service of making the market more liquid, and loath the ones who don’t.

    This is accomplished by them scouring the casual and semi-casual trade binders for cards that could break out and collecting them in one spot. So if Speculator Joe trades with ten Timmy-casual players for Nightveil Specter’s at the market rate of $2, he’s helped the market by getting those cards consolidated so that he can either trade them later at events or buy list them to save himself time, which generally gets the cards to a known vendor, making the market more liquid – particularly if that vendor is online. That is a service to the community as a whole because both the casual and competitive players win by getting the cards they want at close to the current market rate.

    Now “buy-out artist speculators” can rot in a pile of Disrupting Shoals and Fist of the Suns… Buying up every potentially playable card that’s available via both local and internet vendors in the hopes of making a killing makes the market ill-liquid because those cards go from being publicly available to rotting in some jackass’s trade binder while said jack-ass awaits the greater fool…

    Personally, I’d like it if the online vendors just adopted a blanked policy that they can limit any purchase to just one playset to create a road block for this type of activity because I’d rather the guy that’s invested in the infrastructure to support Magic the Gathering full-time and has paid an opportunity cost of holding inventory reap the rewards of increased demand vice some random jackass who’s making it more difficult to find cards. If one intends on using the cards, then being limited to the maximum number that can be placed in a deck seems to serve the greatest number of players.

    In so far as WotC’s policy goes – WotC has been doing things to ease the market pressures, so they’re not oblivious; they’re just not wholesale correcting the entirety of the secondary market in one fell swoop… They’ve been doing something every set to get a staple back into play starting with Return to Ravnica.

    Out of the possible reprints in Modern Masters, given the 8th Edition to Alara Block restriction, they missed Thoughseize, Mutavault, and Remand. Thoughtseize is now a $15 rare vice a $60 one thanks to being in Theros. Mutavault halved in price before they shot back up due to a change in the standard meta-game; thankfully it will either rotate out or be reprinted in the next core set – either of which will lower demand side price pressures. Remand… well, there was no excuse to leave Remand out of Modern Masters, so we’ll call that a legitimate mistake.

    Yes, the Modern Masters Mythics that were both Modern and Legacy staples, Tarmagoyf, Dark Confidant, and Vendillion Clique, actually went up in price.

    Reprinting Shock Lands has definitely helped with prices as they were all over $20 and climbing. The problem with the Shock Lands is that they didn’t want two years of perfect mana for three color decks in Standard, ergo they effectively prevented themselves from reprinting those until M15 or the next Block at the earliest.

    That’s the thing with Magic, ever since the Chronicles debacle, WotC has steered the market like a battleship to avoid upsetting value driven collectors. A fact which is frustrating when players want cards right damned now.

    And honestly, I find the lumping in anyone who builds a collection as speculators to be a bit disingenuous. While I watch Magic Finance, I do so because I’m a player-collector. I purchase staples because I may want to play them, with no intention of treating them as a liquid asset, ergo I’m not speculating – I’m collecting so that I have options to play in the future.

    Thou’ as an aside and in the interests of full disclosure, I did get lucky in my timing in that I decided to start building a Legacy Collection right when extended was killed before Modern was announced. Between the Revised Duals and number of cross format staples I acquired, I could sell out and have a decent return & I had Zendikar Fetches from Standard play as well… While I’d rather them not drop down to pennies, I’d be fine with them being brought down into the sub $50 for MMA worthy Mythics, sub $20 range for rare mana. (Which the latter happened with Shocklands in Return to Ravnica, though it could be argued that Fetches would have been better for Modern as a format if fetches had seen reprinting instead.)

    I appreciate the input provided by authors like yourself so I can tell when I’m buying into hype and making the decision whether it’s worth it to acquire or wait for the hype to die down prior to a purchase. In this case thou’, I think that it would be better to focus on ethical speculation vice market manipulation over asking WotC to change it’s business practices and remove the “Collectible” from Collectible Card Game.

    1. Colin

      Smitty is correct: to the extent “speculators” are taking cards available locally and putting them online for sale worldwide, they are actually performing a service. More power to them.

      That’s not the whole story, though. We see the dark side of speculation with, for example, Mind Seize. People rushing to buy out Target and Walmart so they could try to re-sell the sets to people on eBay at a massive mark up. Since the big box stores are fairly ubiquitous, these guys are doing little other than increase everyone’s transaction costs and charge players for the privilege. This happens online, too, if someone buys many copies of a card already freely available online simply with the intent of re-selling them online in the near future; it’s profiting from transaction costs.

      I have no idea whether or to what extent this behavior contributes to card price increases. Likely there are also contributions from people who read the “financial advice” the Brewery folks and Quietspeculation and whoever pump out and are playing me-too. Might also be plenty of players trying to avoid getting priced out by a spike. Who knows.

      The point is, not all speculating activity is defensible from a value-added standpoint; sometimes it’s just “jumping in line.”

    2. Anthony Capece

      Good insight, thanks for posting.

      I agree with you that speculators help to create liquidity in the market. I think people might actually miss them if they were gone. Prices might be overall slightly lower, but tracking down cards would be a lot more work.

  13. Thelaughingman

    Great article. Wizards is doing a shittastic job with modern right now. The only reason it’s noticeably cheaper than legacy is because they super flooded the market with shocklands. If RTR hadn’t been reprinted we would probably be looking at $80+ shocklands. Modern Masters was a freaking disaster, they probably could have printed 10x as much as they did and it still wouldn’t have been too much, but the biggest mistake of MM is that they put 2 most played and rarest cards at mythic.

    1. Anthony Capece

      Thanks for reading! Agree totally on MMA. Not close to enough.

  14. Michael

    Not a bad article. It echoes several things I’ve said for a long time about Magic. One thin I disagree with is the refusal to place blame on speculators. Collectors aren’t speculators. They are collectors. I play EDH, and need several copies of key cards like Sol Ring and Sensei’s Divining Top. Does that make me a speculator when I buy several? No. However, when I buy them solely for the purpose of making a profit off of other players, that does make me a speculator. Any given speculator can hold 3 or more playsets of any given staple card, none of which are in use, nor will they be used until someone feeds the speculator. That is 3 or more playsets out of the hands of actual players. Speculators hoard these cards ON PURPOSE. They know that they can charge whatever price they want when they are the only jerk in town with the cards. Reprints (especially limited ones like modern masters) help NOTHING here in the real world. The only people oh could afford tarmogoyfs were the people already sitting on a hoard! Sure, wizards is ultimately responsible for their game, and insuring accessibility. Speculators should NOT be left blameless, however, as they are intentionally keeping people out of the game for personal profit.

  15. Tyler

    Nice article. I loved how you pointed out that cards like Jace didn’t spike prior to the ban list update.

    I think it is completely clear at this point that Wizards (or an employee(s) there) leaked info to people who are affiliated with certain organizations (SCG maybe?). This is not only going to be devastating to the health of Modern, but these practices are scummy.

    Oh its all fair though, right? These companies just need to make money. If only all of us had inside information from being so buddy buddy with Wizards.

    Disgusting.

    1. Colin

      Says who? I mean, seriously, this was the opinion of Jason over at Quietspeculation, too. “Huh, the panicked masses were right about Bitterblossom? MUST BE INSIDER TRADING.” (Specifically, he said: “I think what’s clear here is that the buyout of Bitterblossom “felt” different than the preparation for any past Banned and Restricted list announcement, and that is attributable to someone acting on on inside information”)

      Says who? Wizards’ banned and restricted policies are NOT entirely predictable. Is it hard to imagine that the same panicked market that bid up Aluren and Fist of Suns is simply doing the same thing over the CHANCE that Bitterblossom gets reprinted? Seems like the same darn thing to me!

      And why not? Havn’t the player base been burned enough by the new 2-hour price window on hot cards? Hasn’t technology and the tools available to check tournament results, check prices, and buy cards gotten so good that everyone SHOULD be paranoid?

  16. Colin

    Regarding Anthony’s article: First off, it’s a good, well-written article. Didn’t agree with all of it — just because WotC originally created the profit motive for speculators does not imply they are merely “symptoms” and do nothing to aggravate the problem, biggest examples being the Reserved List and WotC being so timid with the print run on MM — but over all, I enjoyed it.

    Here’s a thought that I think would do people a lot of good in these kind of discussions: A speculator is good when he or she can pinpoint the maximum amount the public are willing to pay for a given card at a given time. The problem for Magic at the moment is not necessarily that people are being “forced” to pay more for cards. The problem is that this maximum price point is being discovered very quickly and accurately, and once discovered, is being communicated to sellers (largely by the major retailers) so others follow suit.

    The result? To a large degree, cards cost the maximum they can cost.

    Speculators may not make Magic more expensive in an absolute sense. But, isn’t it the retailer and speculators goal their goal to make Magic as expensive as it can reasonably be?

    1. Anthony Capece

      I think this is a good way to look at it. Certainly, nobody is being forced to buy cards, every transaction is between two willing participants. And yes, speculators are in it to make money.

      Thanks for reading and for the comments.

      1. C

        Sure, long time listener to the podcast. And for one, I enjoyed the rant about Chromanticore immensely.

  17. Reader

    Check your grammar

    1. Colin

      Who, me? Grammar? There’s a typo in my post, and I don’t know how to edit my post here.

  18. jason

    As far as prices goes, WotC could adopt a “watch list” policy similar to that of the Fed. At each banning announcement they announce banned cards that may be unbanned and/or cards currently legal that they may ban. Actual bannings/unbannings could only happen to cards already on this list. It would give the players some degree of notice. Players would know what to test and might mitigate the issue of the banning so close to the pro-tour. Buyers could gobble up cards but tying up their cash in them for 6+ months would make it far less attractive. Even if cards do spike/crash after getting placed on the Watch List, it’s not so bitter b/c there will be a degree of time where it will be business as usual.

    As far as supply goes, WotC needs an online storefront. I should be able to buy direct from them at the MSRP. Apple pioneered direct retail and Games Workshop has proven it can work in a gaming market. It’s ridiculous that WotC will put out a product at some reasonable price but I can’t find it for less than 3x that amount.

    I’m also surprised that WotC doesn’t do printings of strictly worse cards. Fetches at crazy prices? Print Fetches for 2 life instead of 1. Thoughtseize for 3 life instead of 2. Sadly, as has been said before, WotC just doesn’t pay enough attention to the secondary market. They’ve also gone on the record has making distinctions between card prices and card availability:
    http://www.wizards.com/Magic/Magazine/Article.aspx?x=mtgcom/daily/mr29
    They may not care if Card X is $100 if you can buy one (or 4 or 40). They care very much if Card X is $100 but sold out everywhere. I’m wondering how much of the “Tarmagoyph Issue” from MM is the fault of the players. Random Player A cracks a Goyph in a MM pack. From everything I’ve read, that player’s first reaction was to run to the nearest dealer to unload it for $60-70 dollars. Random Player B is looking for Goyphs to trade for and wondering why there aren’t any. What would it have been like if Player A had just put that Goyph into their trade binder?

    1. Mike

      Wizards has actually tried a watch list approach before. 14 years ago when memory jar got banned in standard and players to had spent big money on play sets rioted, wizards attempted to “warn” markets. As far as central banking goes, forward guidance is very overrated. It turns every word the central bank utters into a policy decision.

  19. tragicslip

    Well done piece of work here. I’d rather nibble people to death then gouge them because I want them to keep selling/buying/trading with me. This mtg market is seeing increasing demand while supply is tightly controlled by a single retailer. The only real threat to SCG online is TCG, and the harder it is to sell there (or sell on ebay) the easier it is for SCG to collect profits. See recent failed attempt at gaining market control.

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