Category Archives: Accumulated Knowledge

Back to the Future Sight

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Welcome back! Go ahead and pull out last week’s homework when you sit down, and we are gonna go over it together once the bell rings. Oh, and if you have the signed parent forms and check for the field trip, I’ll take those, too.

So last week, I asked you to compare some of the more expensive cards from Avacyn Restored and Rise of the Eldrazi with new cards from Dragons of Tarkir. Now, my findings are not the full extent of this exercise, nor are they likely all correct. This is not a binary “right or wrong” question, but more of an exploratory practice to grow your own skills.

Give a man a fish, and he’ll eat for a day. Teach a man to fish, and he’ll make money buying and selling Magic cards on the Internet. Uh, or something.

–Ross Lennon

The first thing I looked at were lands. None of these three sets had a cycle of rare lands that produced colored mana—but all three did have a marquee rare land1 (Eldrazi Temple, Cavern of Souls, and Haven of the Spirit Dragon). Cavern of Souls is clearly the most versatile of the three, and it’s priced accordingly (remember, this is a card that even sees some play in Vintage), but Haven certainly has real-world applications. Like Temple, it slots in with a very popular creature type, and presents a very low opportunity cost for deck-builders in EDH. Both have the opportunity to get better over time (as more Eldrazi/Dragons are printed), but Haven also benefits from future forms of Ugin. Foils are likely the safest, but at $8, I may be tempted to wait a while.

All three sets contain above-average mono-red cards at mythic: Vexing Devil, Kargan Dragonlord, and Dragon Whisperer. This is most likely just a coincidence, although Zurgo is in DTK also. All four of the cards I just mentioned are Cube and Modern-worthy playables, though.

The majority of the value of the older two sets is tied up in mythics. If any of the marquee mythics (the elder dragons, primarily) tank at rotation, I would consider them a decent long-term option.

Did you see something I didn’t? Let me know in the comment section!

Turn In Your Papers—It’s Time for This Week’s Lesson

This week, we are going to do a little something different. Magic sets all have different values determined by the cumulative values of all of the cards in a given set. This value is most often assessed immediately upon release, even though that value is guaranteed to change over time. Some sets have the majority of their value tied up in a single card, like Dragon’s Maze, while other sets are full of expensive cards. The print run also plays a factor here, which is why Alpha and Beta are the two highest ranked sets in terms of overall value. Before we get too far into this, let me show you the formulas we will be working with:

FOR SETS WITH MYTHIC RARES:

(2R + 1M)/X

R = Combined value of all Rares in set

M = Combined value of all Mythics in set

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X = Combined amount of mythics and twice number of all rares printed in set

FOR SETS WITHOUT MYTHIC RARES:

R/X

R = Combined value of all Rares in set

X = Amount of rares printed in set

These formulas may look familiar to you if you have an SCG Premium account, as they are the same that Ben uses for his preview articles. I hereby give him credit, although these formulas have existed for a very long time. You should write them down somewhere if you haven’t already. We are going to use these when we evaluate sets in the future, so expect to see them fairly often moving forward.

So anyway, as I was saying, obviously sets like Alpha and Beta occupy the top spots when you use these formulas to rank sets. But which Modern-era set has the highest value? The answer, of course, is Future Sight2.

Using some rough estimates based on TCGplayer median prices, we get a combined set value of  around $514. The set had 60 rares. Our formula tells us that the “average” Future Sight rare (and therefore booster pack) is therefore worth about $8.5. It is important to mention, however, that there is one giant, green, $200 outlier in this set, and its name is Tarmogoyf. Removing it from the equation drops the value to just over $5.25.

I cannot stress enough how important it is to always open a Tarmogoyf in a booster pack if at all possible.

–Ross Lennon

Future Sight, however, is more than just the Tarmogoyf lottery. The set was special in the sense that it precedes New World Order and the current era of design philosophy, and also features a ton of crazy cards that were designed to be unique. There are a lot of very good cards in this set. As a result, this set was very difficult to balance internally, and a lot of otherwise questionable effects got printed for the sake of being new and wild (hi, Bridge From Below!). Most of these cards (at rare, at least) have had some sort of Constructed-level impact, and have seen their prices develop accordingly. One of the important things to realize about Future Sight is that it’s “pre-mythic,” so every rare in the set is roughly as rare as ‘Goyf3. That’s a whole heap of potential.

I want to go through all of the low-end rares in Future Sight and see if we can find any diamonds in the temporal aether. Normally, I would say that I would do any card that is less than the price of a booster, but boosters of this set are… not $3. So we will stick to things that are largely $5 or under, but if I see any worthwhile exceptions, I’ll let you know.

Angel of Salvation.full

Angel of Salvation: Even before being reprinted, this card was not very popular. Foils are under $5, which is the only foil version currently available. The card isn’t great, but it’s a rare angel and the foils have room to go nuts.

Remember, if angel collectors only cared about their cards being good, they wouldn’t be collecting angels. #HotTake

–Ross Lennon

Barren Glory.full

Barren Glory: High ho, the dairy-o, The Cheese Stands Alone! And it’s obvious why. The best thing you can do with this card is get someone to draw Stinky Cheese Man on it—actually, that would be pretty cool. Foils are only about a buck, so I feel like that can’t be the worst way to spend a dollar.

Baru, Fist of Krosa.full

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Baru, Fist of Krosa: I actually think the grandeur legends would be pretty cool commanders, except that their best ability is literally blank in the format. Again, the foils are worth less than a pack of Fate Reforged, and the potential is infinitely higher. I don’t expect to see any of these guys again. Baru is competing with a slew of strong mono-green generals, however, and is probably never going to make the leap.

Bitter Ordeal.full

Bitter Ordeal: So this is the first card that’s above a dollar! It’s worth five of them! I’m not even sure where this sees play anymore—it’s definitely one of the weirdest cards in the set. I don’t think we will ever see enough demand for worse versions of Haunting Echoes and Cranial Extraction that this card ever surges past its current price. It’s a sorcery, which limits the upside a lot.

Darksteel Garrison.full

Darksteel Garrison: This card is really cool and evocative. Sadly, it’s only playable in Magic: The Gathering, which really doesn’t have a use for it right now. I’m starting to sound like a broken record, but the foils seem very cheap. I’m sure there’s a Commander deck that wouldn’t mind keeping its Eye of Ugin or something alive.

epochrasite

Epochrasite: Reprinted in MM1 (at uncommon!) and in Commander 2014. If every deck on Earth wanted four copies, that might be enough demand to pull it up over a dollar.

Force of Savagery.full

Force of Savagery: It… uhh… triggers Experiment One? This card has always been a trap for novice green mages, and there are so many better things you can do. I’d rather not make money off of these down the road than spend a dollar a piece on them. I have my pride.

Gibbering Descent.full

Gibbering Descent: This is a black enchantment that costs six (or four) and doesn’t win you the game. Oh, and it’s better if you have no cards in hand! Necrogen Mists and Bottomless Pit are both much better, and Braids isn’t even a legal commander.

Heartwood Storyteller.full

Heartwood Storyteller: The foils are roughly seven times the value of the non-foils. There’s potential, but it’s largely a Commander or Cube card, so they’re going to move much slower. It’s also only good in a small selection of decks, which limits potential. If you want some, get them in trade.

Imperial Mask.full

Imperial Mask: You know, there was a period of time when WOTC was really pushing Two-Headed Giant. I wouldn’t mind snatching up a couple of foils if they present themselves.

Intervention Pact.full

Intervention Pact: The range of quality in this cycle financially goes from bulk to more than $20. This is definitely the worst of the cycle, but it doesn’t target, and it requires double white to cast, so it’s always an option for Hive Mind. That doesn’t make it a smart buy, though.

Jhoira of the Ghitu.full

Jhoira of the Ghitu: Reprinted in MM1 and competing with a couple other RU commanders. Foils are already $20, so pass.

Korlash, Heir to Blackblade.full

Korlash, Heir to Blackblade: My heart breaks for this guy. He was actually pretty good in Standard for a little while! I’d play him in Commander. I still care about you, buddy. (Don’t waste your money buying any more than you want to play with, though—no potential here.)

Linessa, Zephyr Mage.full

Linessa, Zephyr Mage: Mono-blue commanders are largely formalities. Don’t expect to get much out of this card.

maelstromdjinn

Maelstrom Djinn: Don’t make Fat Mhoti worse and expect people to pay more for it. That’s not how this works. Just take a second, compare this card on face to Delver of Secrets. Pass.

Magus of the Abyss.full

Magus of the Abyss: This is certainly the kind of card I could get behind. It’s good, but very fair for Commander. May be worth trading for a couple of foil copies, just because this feels like it could be in a Commander deck at some point.

Magus of the Future.full

Magus of the Future: I keep expecting to wake up someday and see these are super expensive, but it could also be in a pre-constructed deck at any point. There is a big spread between foils and non-foils, so there’s potential, but I’m not willing to stick my neck out on this one. If anything, this makes me like the other magi foils better.

Magus of the Moat.full

Magus of the Moat: So turns out that resilience to Lightning Bolt costs about $397. I’m not crazy about these where they are, and this card is not Modern-viable. Pass.

Magus of the Vineyard.full

Magus of the Vineyard: I won’t pretend to know enough about Tiny Leaders to say where this fits in that panoply. This could potentially fit in a number of formats, and I wouldn’t disapprove of trading for a couple of foils. I wouldn’t want to commit too much cash to getting them, though.

Molten Disaster.full

Molten Disaster: Reprinted and not very good. Pass.

Muraganda Petroglyphs.full

Muraganda Petroglyphs: This is a card that encourages playing bad cards, costs four mana, and doesn’t even keep Force of Savagery alive. The flavor is neat, but if I found some of these in my closet, I would be thrilled to get more than a quarter for them.

Nihilith.full

Nihilith: This is the kind of card that I like in Cube. That’s why the foils are worth $2 and the non-foils are largely worthless. Not a viable spec target, but I’m going to go add one to my cube.

Nimbus Maze.full

Nimbus Maze: This card took off right before Theros and hasn’t come back down. This is the type of cycle that I could see being printed someday, but is likely better in some of the other color combinations. If this card gets reprinted, I can see these actually holding or slightly increasing, because people might like the cool frame. That’s a small audience though.

nix

Nix: This effect is largely not worth a card in your deck. If Bloodbraid Elf gets unbanned, I could see this price going up as a knee-jerk reaction, but the price will crater back down quickly. If there is any kind of spike, get rid of any copies you have immediately.

Oriss, Samite Guardian.full

Oriss, Samite Guardian: Of this cycle, Oriss has the worst regular ability and probably the best granduer one (tied with Korlash). Pass.

Pact of the Titan.full

Pact of the Titan: Like Intervention Pact, it’s good, but only in one deck. Also has been reprinted.

Pyromancer's Swath.full

Pyromancer’s Swath: A trap and a reprint.

Quagnoth.full

Quagnoth: This card exists only to make people think for a brief second that they opened a Tarmogoyf and then quickly break their hearts. I vehemently hate this card. It is also very bad and dumb.

Rites of Flourishing.full

Rites of Flourishing: Reprinted in M12, and very fair. The only demand is in singleton formats, so there’s more than enough supply.

Scourge of Kher Ridges.full

Scourge of Kher Ridges: See my comments on Angel of Salvation, but replace “angel” with “dragon.” I never want to be in a situation where I cast this card.

Scout's Warning.full

Scout’s Warning: Did you know you can crack a Black Lotus on your opponent’s turn and cast this and Serra Avenger? If that’s your idea of fun, then buy these to your heart’s content, but you should probably look for a different hobby.

Seht's Tiger.full

Seht’s Tiger: A 3/3 for four at instant speed with a worse Angel’s Grace attached. It has its uses, but they are not strong enough to inspire financial upside.

Shah of Naar Isle.full

Shah of Naar Isle: This card lets your opponent draw three cards.

Shapeshifter's Marrow.full

Shapeshifter’s Marrow: This is neat, but swingy and risky. I think I want to own one foil copy, but that’s it.

Shimian Specter.full

Shimian Specter: My brain is falling asleep.

Spellweaver Volute.full

Spellweaver Volute: Zzzzz…

Steamflogger Boss.full

Steamflogger Boss: Don’t. Just don’t. WOTC knows this won’t happen, but nobody at the company has the heart to tell you.

Take Possession.full

Take Possession: This was also reprinted as an uncommon.

Tarox Bladewing.full

Tarox Bladewing: This is worse than Oriss.

Thunderblade Charge.full

Thunderblade Charge: This is worse than Hammer of Bogardan.

Tombstalker.full

Tombstalker: This is the safer version of Tarmogoyf. It has a price history that has been as high as $10, has evasion, is good in a lot of different types of decks, and is still respectable in Legacy. It was reprinted in MM1, and is the kind of card that I could see WOTC printing one or two more times, just because it is the kind of broken threat they want us playing with (as opposed to Griselbrand or Emrakul). It’s good in the mono-black Legacy decks that lots of players new to the format typically play at least once. It’s definitely worth owning a set.

Veilstone Amulet.full

Veilstone Amulet: Oh sweet, hexproof: everyone’s favorite mechanic. I could see this card being good in Tiny Leaders, since there are fewer board wipes in the format. I’m still going to pass, but I won’t think less of you for buying in.

Whetwheel.full

Whetwheel: Of all the ways to kill someone with infinite mana, this is technically one of them.

That’s It

So we didn’t find very much. There are a few things with niche potential, but this was also an important exercise to demonstrate. Magic finance has gotten to a point where there are very few hidden gems left, so it’s worth doing a detailed analysis of sets with opportunity.

Thanks as always for joining me, and I’ll see you here next week.

Best,

Ross

BONUS!

Here is the formula breakdown for Modern Masters, which actually has a higher value than Future Sight (but wasn’t ever a Standard-legal set).

Combined value of rares: 371.25 (x2 = 742.5)

Combined value of mythics: 537.75

Total number of rares in the set (x2) plus the number of mythics: 121

The average price of the rare slot: 10.58

The average price of the rare slot (excluding Tarmogoyf): 9.00

Even with Tarmogoyf, the rare slot is only about half the price of the market value of an MM1 pack. Of course, the guaranteed foil slot is nice, but it’s too risky to predict.

1 Avacyn Restored also had the last three pieces of the Innistrad block rare land cycle (Desolate Lighthouse, et al), but those don’t really matter here since there is no parallel between the other two sets.

2 As in, the set that was standard legal. Don’t worry, we’ll get to you-know-what soon.

3 Impossible to say without seeing the sheets, but it’s close enough.

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Mastery of the Invisible

Author’s note: Today’s article is not to be treated as a standalone piece, but rather a continuation of last week’s focus. If you have not already, please read last week’s article here.

Do you know why Homelands failed? Part of the reason was that the set was terrible, but most of the sets of that era were pretty bad. The set was also massively overprinted, and compounding this with the fact that, as I mentioned, the set was terrible, caused demand to drop off quickly. But why was it overprinted?

When Alpha was first sent off to print, Wizards made what it thought would be six months’ worth of product. To the company’s delight, it instead sold out in about six weeks. Based on that information, WOTC ran a second, larger printing (Beta), which was intended to last six months. It sold out in one week. Seriously.

Fast forward a year or so, and demand for Magic is surpassing the ability of its printers. Store owners and distributors learned quickly how to play the system: if you wanted six cases of Legends for your store, tell Wizards you want ten or twelve. You wouldn’t get what you actually requested, but you would end up getting the amount you secretly wanted the whole time. As more stores wanted more and more Magic, however, they had to get more aggressive in their estimations.

In between The Dark and Fallen Empires, however, Wizards gained the ability to print on a much larger scale. Fallen Empires had a printing of between 350 and 375 million cards, compared to only 75 million for The Dark. After Fallen Empires was Fourth Edition (when Wizards experimented with new US-based printing companies) and then Chronicles.

In October 1995, Homelands was only the second expert-level expansion to get the big-printing treatment, and stores were still overestimating what they needed to request to get what they wanted. This time, though, most of the stores got exactly what they asked for—unfortunately, what they got was Homelands. Homelands: the set so bad, WOTC had to force people at the pro tour to play cards from it.

Homelands Constructed

Now, in the twenty years since, Wizards has gotten much better at both understanding demand and scheduling printing. Homelands was a failure in many ways and along several metrics. Players hated it because the best card in the entire set was probably Serrated Arrows. Wizards hated it because it didn’t sell well enough, and that’s a key point to understand. There have been cases like Avacyn Restored, where Wizards loved the set because it sold well, but enfranchised1 players hated it. There has also been one case of the opposite happening, which lead to the discovery of the primary focus of our article.

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The Invisibles

Here is Mark Rosewater from Drive to Work episode 96:

“…Future Sight had come out. Time Spiral block had come out. And for the first time, we had this weird statistic. Up until Time Spiral came out, we would look at sales and we’d look at tournament organization, like how many people were playing in tournaments, and they tended to be lockstep. Meaning if tournaments were doing well, sales were doing well, and it showed this tight-knit bond between the two.

But Time Spiral did this weird thing that we’d never seen before, in which sales were down but tournament attendance was doing fine. I don’t know if “up” is the correct term, but they were not trending on the same line. And that was very different. We’d never seen that before.

And that’s when we realized—at the time we called them The Invisibles, but the idea was, there are people who play who don’t participate in organized play, that are hard for us to see because they’re not somewhere that we can easily monitor.

But for the first time, because there wasn’t a lockstep between tournament play and sales, we knew that there’s this group that wasn’t being reflected in tournament organization, but was obviously being reflected in sales.”


It’s jarring at first to realize how significant these “Invisibles” are to Magic’s overall sales. Time Spiral, to the enfranchised players, was considered a tremendous success. I know I was personally buying a lot of sealed product and singles during that time, and playing in tournaments at least two to three times a week. If we assume that “Invisibles” are spending less money on Magic per person than enfranchised players, then there have to be so many more of them in existence that they are still able to guide the course of a format’s fiscal success.

tarmogoyf

In my (brief) time working behind a game store counter, I have encountered some of these “Invisibles.” These are the people who will come to a game store but not bring decks or trades. If you ask them what formats they play (as a kind way to guide and hopefully grow sales), they will either politely or brusquely state some iteration of “We just play for fun” or “We only play at home.”


BRIEF ANECDOTAL ASIDE: I had this interaction with some customers once, and their response was “Oh, we just play Legacy.” “You do?!” My heart skipped a beat—Legacy players are extremely rare in Florida. “Yeah, but just at home, we don’t play in tournaments or with tournament decks.”. My heart LITERALLY shattered.


These are, again in the small sample size of my personal experience, not the players likely to spend serious money at your local game store. They aren’t buying more than enfranchised players in singles, they aren’t paying tournament entry fees, but they love Fat Packs. I think the last time I bought a fat pack it came with a book2. I see people who I’ve never seen at my store before come in, buy some number of Fat Packs, and then leave.

I have to also think a sizable portion of Invisibles are kids. If you first got into Magic when you were young, you or someone you knew likely bought packs from a major retailer and then played some strange interpretation of Magic at school or on the bus. Even though my first exposure to Magic was in grade school, I wasn’t lighting the tournament scene on fire until high school. Oh no: I was an Invisible!

Applying Knowledge

So how can we profit off these rubes? Well, the honest answer is that we probably can’t. However, the more we can learn about them, the better we can predict how their preferences can and will affect the market. When you encounter Invisibles, make sure to present your game store as a friendly and accommodating environment. Offer events or game nights that cater to all types of players, not just the tournament-grinding Spikes. Put a tracking tag on their ears, like endangered species or that computer Professor Xavier has (note: please don’t actually do this). 

The truth is, a lot of the presuppositions we apply to “casual players” ought to be more correctly applied to Invisibles. Not every Commander player is going to rush out and build a dragon tribal deck today just because Dragons of Tarkir is available. However, dragons have for a long time been considered a “prestige” creature class, in the sense that inexperienced and disenfranchised players are likely to seek out dragons more than Lhurgoyfs or Splinter Twins. “Dragon” holds a captivating allure to players that are slowly familiarizing themselves with the game, which is why Shivan Dragon was the first real chase rare (that, and creatures were terrible pretty much up until Y2K).

I mentioned Avacyn Restored before, and almost every finance writer on the planet has made some comparative correlation between AVR and DTK.

Avacyn Restored, to players, sucked. However, the set was a huge success to both Wizards and game stores, and the set is considered in finance to be a slam dunk. You know what set Invisibles also liked? Rise of the Eldrazi. I noticed this trend a while ago: my store was selling out of Intro Packs and all the weird pre-con stuff that usually just collects dust. That set has a lot of value tied up in Emrakul and Ulamog, sure, but It That Betrays is also more than $10. That card saw absolutely no legitimate Constructed play, interacts poorly with formats that have singleton restrictions, and is still expensive! Khalni Hydra and Nirkana Revenant are each $15, Lighthouse Chronologist is $10 and freaking Bear Umbra is almost $5! While the value of that set is largely tied to its three headliners (and Linvala), there are plenty of, “No way, really?” prices in there that are based on eclectic demand.

I haven’t done a set review, and a part of the reason why is because so many people do a better job than I could ever hope to. I will, however, be going deep into my thoughts on the set next week.

Here’s a little homework assignment until then (don’t worry, I’ll be doing it too): look at the cards that are valuable in Rise and Avacyn that aren’t the obvious headliners (Emrakul, Avacyn, etc.). Do you see any cards in DTK that resemble them? What kind of effects seem to be popular? Nirkana Revenant feeds a very particular type of strategy with an effect that is not terribly common, but is always popular. See anything like that in Dragons? I’ll report my findings next week, feel free to share yours in the comments below.

Best,

Ross

1 I say “enfranchised” here rather than “competitive” or “casual” because either of those demographics is likely more connected to the game than the “Invisibles.” EDH players will never be on the pro tour, but the enfranchised ones are still moderately to very cognizant of what is going on in the rest of the Magic world.

2 Actually, the last Fat Pack I bought was with my best friend Byron. We opened a Tarmogoyf!

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Accumulated Knowledge 1 – Intro to History of Magic Finance

Hello! For those of you who don’t know me already, my name is Ross. Before we begin, I’d like to share my philosophy on Magic finance. I am not a store owner or vendor (although I have worked in the business before), and I have more than a decade of tournament experience. I have observed firsthand all of the changes that have influenced the course of Magic finance in the last ten years, and I prioritize teaching over telling. If I am able to give my readers a more firm understanding of what to look for and why, then they will be able to have continued success over the course of their gaming careers.

I believe strongly in long-term speculation rather than short-term targets (which is something we will discuss today), as well as catering your targets to your best fit, rather than attempting to mimic the successes of others. I also believe that the key to educating someone is by entertaining them as well, so I try to approach my writing with a light and approachable manner. Professionally, my work is in commercial insurance and risk assessment/management, so I typically identify loss potential as a major (if not the primary) factor in determining the potential of an investment. But enough about me, let’s get to work.

Magic writing (any kind of content on it, really) is often very ephemeral in nature. Cards rotate, formats phase in and out of popularity, players (and even writers) come into and out of phases of their life where the game is a priority. The reason why I personally enjoy the writing (and podcasting) of Mike Flores is that he has a wealth of background knowledge to help make comparisons between Magic‘s present and its past. Being able to anchor your present mindset with past experience makes for more structured and informed decision making. That is, of course, just one piece of the puzzle. Magic has changed drastically in the last several years, both in how the game is played, and who is playing it.


KEY CONCEPT: THE ZENDIKAR BOOM

I’d like to quickly explain what is perhaps the most important factor in Magic finance in the last several years. Beginning in 2009 (around the release of Magic 2010 and Zendikar), the active Magic player population began to grow at extraordinary numbers. This dynamic increase has continued ever since, and has created both increased demand for cards, as well as higher print runs for newer releases. We will synthesize this information later, but I wanted to get the definition out of the way now, because this is a crucial topic for financiers.


Even though Magic is over 20 years old, Magic finance is largely a new phenomenon. The early days of Magic writing were a mix of fascinating, if imperfect, ideas (“The Schools of Magic” is a personal favorite) and extremely rudimentary grasps of what was actually good (Do you realize Giant Trap Door Spider won a pro tour?!).

In the years since, Magic writing has improved exponentially, but much of Magic finance remains woefully underdeveloped by comparison. My goal over these next few weeks is to help explain and develop upon things that may not be overly apparent to those who are new to the game, as well as solidify the understanding of the more advanced.

I want to spend the rest of today discussing the Zendikar Boom, so that you can broaden out the scope of it to inform your decisions. It should be mentioned upfront that Wizards very rarely releases any type of solid numbers on things like player population or print run— the latter for various reasons, and the former because even their internal figures are rough at best (DCI numbers track active tournament players, but what percentage are they of the Magic-buying public1?). When numbers are released, they are typically percentages, showing the increase or decrease in measurable metrics like sales or event participation.

Most of the population figures prior to Zendikar hover around the six million range. This number was thrown out in advertisements (and likely in early Hasbro acquisitions talks) as, “Join the game with over six million players worldwide!” Sometimes the number is seven million, sometimes five million, but the impression was that it was largely a static total number. Beginning in 2009, however, Magic suddenly began to show double digit growth, with percentages increasing around 25 percent annually. This means that by 2010, there were 7.5 million Magic players, definitely on the higher end of the fluctuations from 2000 until then. A 25 percent increase from there brought the population to roughly 9.375 million, the highest it has ever been.

It is important to understand how much of WOTC’s work is done in advance. Things like a set’s design begin more than two years in advance of its release, and even though printing happens much closer to getting the product on shelves, it is often determined on numbers arrived at much earlier. Many stores ran out of Zendikar product between the first and second printings. This indicates that there was insufficient quantity at the distributor level, not that a bunch of stores did really well.

Once can be a fluke, but twice and thrice may indicate a potential trend. In the Hasbro shareholder conference call for 2012 (fiscal year), they indicated that Magic had 25 percent growth for the last four years (2009, 2010, 2011, 2012). By just doing the same math we were doing before, we can guesstimate that Magic was at 11.7 million players in 2011, and beyond 14.6 million in 2012. In four years, the player population has added nearly ten million new people. Even if these numbers are fuzzy, the impact is not. If Zendikar was printed for six or seven million people, but now there are almost 15 million (other sources show “only” 12 million), what does that do to demand?

Now, when a set is in print, Wizards can always run more off the presses—even though the entire process is outsourced, the company is still able to get a few extra waves of product out after the official release. Any set that was no longer in print at the release of Zendikar, however, was done. Those sets, by the standards of the next few years, were extremely under-printed. Return to Ravnica, which had a much higher printing than Zendikar, had the same problem with running out of product before the release of the second wave (although not to as noticeable a degree). The annual percentage Hasbro has shown have all remained positive (showing growth), although if I recall correctly, this year’s was below double digits for the first time (six percent). That percentage increase is small, but the overall number behind it is still a massive amount of new players.

The most immediate impact this has is pressuring on the supply-side of any card printed before the Boom. Even if the percentage of demand stays the same (say, nine percent of all Magic players want a playset of Guttural Response), the actual number behind that percentage may have doubled. Not all of those players are going to transition into Legacy (or even sanctioned play), but how many of them want Underground Seas? The before and after on popular commons and uncommons from Modern Masters shows the impact an increase in supply can have on cards that fit our interests. It’s also why cards like Sleight of Hand (which had multiple printings!) are able to get high prices even at common. If you are looking for smart buys, they should most likely be from before the Boom impacted printing. Of course, unlike Guttural Response, which I mentioned just a minute ago, it should be a card people actually want.

The flip side, of course, is understanding what things to actively stay away from. While I would not say that newer cards are worth avoiding all together, you have to have a good reason and a better price. My personal baseline is $3 (the price of an in-print booster pack at my LGS). I like Rest in Peace as a card that sees play in both Modern and Legacy (as well as Commander, Vintage, Cube, Tiny Leaders, and whatever weird format has been invented since I sent this to my editor), and I can get two for the price of a booster. When considering cards from the last two or three years, you really have to have a clear idea of future potential to offset the huge amount of supply compared to cards from six or more years ago.

That’s all we are going to have time for today. Let me know what your thoughts are in the comments or on the forums. and I’m excited to be a member of MTGPrice!

Best,

Ross

1We will definitely talk about what Rosewater and company call “The Invisibles” next week.

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