Another week, another crazy round of Modern price hikes. It seems like everywhere you look, you see another ca…
Wait, what is this? I’m sorry, I need to interrupt this article quickly for a pretty important update.
MERFOLK WON GRAND PRIX COPENHAGEN!!!
If you didn’t know, I’m the world’s biggest Fish fan. I just finished my set of Champs Mutavaults and I’m the proud owner of this custom playmat. My entire Modern Merfolk deck is foiled out, and acquiring every card in it through trading is one of my proudest Magic accomplishments.
So to see Merfolk put two decks into the top eight of a Grand Prix and then win the entire thing is a huge moment for me. I’ve been telling people for years it’s the best deck in the format, and while that’s mostly been a joke, suddenly it doesn’t seem quite like it anymore. Basically, this is awesome.
Anyway, back to your regularly-scheduled article.
It’s All About the Climb
Let’s be honest: it wasn’t exactly hard to see this explosion in Modern popularity coming. We’ve seen steady growth on a bunch of format staples over the past two years, and despite all the complaints about Modern Masters 2015, the fact is more people have cards to play Modern, and (go figure) that means more people are playing Modern.
That’s one large piece of the puzzle. The other is the return of “seasons.” Some of you may not have been around four or five years ago, but banking on Extended season used to be the easiest money there was. People didn’t care about Extended until the Extended PTQ season came around, at which point everyone suddenly needed cards. You could pick up staples for absurdly cheap in the spring and cash them out at double in the fall every year, like clockwork.
Then, Extended died. Modern, a non-rotating format, took its place. This lessened the impact of the PTQ season, but it didn’t eliminate it.
Until, that is, Wizards of the Coast decided to nuke seasons entirely. The PPTQ system and leaving the option up to the stores running tournaments meant basically everything was Standard, all the time. While Modern still existed as a popular format, there wasn’t really any urgency to picking up particular cards.
This year brought back the return of seasons, and the fact lost in all of the Modern Masters 2015 hoopla is that we’re actually right in the middle of Modern season right now. It’s not just Grand Prix Charlotte and Copenhagen leading people to pick up Modern cards, it’s the fact that they need them for that PPTQ next week.
Of course, this doesn’t account for all of the spikes we’ve seen. Nourishing Shoal and Lantern of Insight were clearly buyouts, and that’s just kind of what it is. But when it comes to the real cards, like Snapcaster Mage and Liliana of the Veil and even smaller stuff like Terminate or Raging Ravine, I believe it’s real demand that’s pushed these cards. Snapcaster hasn’t just risen steadily—it’s held its price every step of the way, as has Liliana after spiking earlier this year. That doesn’t happen unless it’s real demand from people biting the bullet and pulling the trigger on buying in. And they’re doing that because of Modern season.
Those two factors account for most of the gains we’ve seen this year. Truthfully, now is not a bad time to cash out of many specs. After all, a lot of the stuff that’s risen has been stuff we’ve been talking about for at least six months here, so in all likelihood you got into some of these specs on the cheap. There’s nothing wrong with locking in some profits, especially given what I’m going to posit next.
…Until It’s About the Fall
Travis Allen and Sigmund Ausfresser, both great writers here and whose opinions I respect, have voiced similar concerns to mine. Travis, in particular, knocked it out of the park with his comparison of Snapcaster Mage this year and Scalding Tarn last year. While there are certainly some factors that make them different (namely, people anticipating a Tarn reprint in MM2 and then in Battle for Zendikar) the point is very well taken: further growth is not a given.
In fact, there’s historical evidence to suggest that prices may not continue to grow. Even if we discount Scalding Tarn, the fact remains that the most growth—as an overall index—that non-Standard cards experience comes in the first six months of the year. Go look at the price charts of staples over the past few years (dual lands spring to mind): you see price hikes in the first half of the year, with small dips in the second half before rising again come the turn of the calendar.
There’s a lot of theories I’ve put together for this: holidays strapping cash, tax day providing a lift, summer doldrums pushing people outside and away from Magic, etc. Whatever the reason, the facts remain: cards perform better in the first half of the year than the second.
So then, what about all these shiny new Modern cards that have spiked like crazy? There’s a lot of reasons to believe prices will stay steady or even continue rising. After all, the format is very healthy right now, the current spiked prices have mostly held, Snapcaster and Liliana of the Veil aren’t getting any worse or facing an immediate reprint.
But as Travis pointed out, that’s been true of other cards before, and it hasn’t panned out that way.
All of this, of course, leads to a very basic question: is now the time to sell out?
The answer to that question depends on where you fall on the line of prices. Will this growth continue? Will Magic: Origins and the latest Duels of the Planeswalkers bring enough new players in to bring on further growth? There are reasons to believe these things are the case, and if so, you may want to hold onto your Modern specs.
Or are you on the other side? Will the historical reasons to be concerned repeat themselves and make the best decision to sell cards now? Will people care about Modern after its PTQ season is over? Will Standard rotation take enough attention away from the eternal format to send people’s money that way? If so, selling out now isn’t a bad choice.
Personally, I fall somewhere in the middle, and the fact that I’m in for so many of these cards at such good prices does sway me. I know that “technically” my buy-in price shouldn’t affect my decision-making here, but the fact is I’m not opposed to locking in money. Profit is profit, after all, and the Myth of Making Money™ tells me it doesn’t matter what TCGplayer says if I never sell my cards.
So I’m hedging. I’m moving some cards but holding a few copies. For instance, I have a few dozen Snapcaster Mages, and while some of them have come in since the price spiked a great many were acquired in the $20 to $25 range. That’s a lot of profit waiting to be realized, so rather than hold two dozen Snaps I’ll never sell through, I’m going to buylist some number of them to lock in profits while still exposing myself to additional upside.
As for the in-season spikes we’ve been ahead on, like Nettle Sentinel, Heritage Druid, Wanderwine Hub, Glimmervoid, Arcbound Ravager, etc? I’m happy to move them at a profit. If there’s one thing this game has taught me, it’s that there’s always another target. Sure, some of the cards that have spiked this year will likely spike more next year. But some of them won’t. Something will be surprise-reprinted. Something will fall out of favor. Something could be banned.
So I don’t mind selling out of many of them, and happily walking away with my profits. After all, there’s plenty of targets already on the horizon for next season. Glistener Elf, Blighted Agent, Thought Scour, Silvergill Adept, Gavony Township, and more may not hit this season, but I can already start stocking up on them cheaply in anticipation of movement a year from now. Why chase down another 10 to 20 percent on this year’s specs when I can stock up on cards that could turn a 500-percent profit in 2016? I’m happy taking my own advice and leaving the last 10 percent to the next guy.
Of course, that’s my usually-conservative take. What will you do?
Thanks for reading,
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