Negotiating the Modern Masters 2017 Minefield

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With the latest spoilers revealed this morning, Modern Masters 2017 is officially the most exciting edition of the series, and one of the most exciting Magic sets of all time. Wizards of the Coast is clearly looking for a home run here and there is a lot to digest in terms of how the set will impact investments in the Modern format for players and speculators.

Let’s get up to speed on the mythics revealed thus far:

We now know 14 of the 15 mythic rares in Modern Masters 2017 [Update: Olivia Voldaren is the final mythic], and despite the inclusion of both Liliana of the Veil AND Tarmogoyf, with Snapcaster Mage and Cavern of Souls as a side dish, this offering is actually not that different than Modern Masters 2015.

Here are some figures on the MM15 Mythics, courtesy of number crunching that Saffron Olive did over on MTGGoldFish at the time.

As you can see mythics were on track to contribute just under $90 in EV (Estimated Value) to MM15 at launch.  Now take a look at the MM17 mythic offerings by comparison.

As you can see, the mythics may actually represent less value in this set than in MM15, largely because they are dazzling us with LoTV and Tarmogoyf, while offering up significantly less $25+ cards. That being said, the demand profile as persistent, multi-deck four-ofs for Tarmogoyf, Snapcaster Mage, and Cavern of Souls may help those cards hold value better and recover faster down the road.

Now let’s take a look at the rares that are on offer:

Prices as of noon Mar 2/17.

Clearly the biggest story here is the inclusion of the Zendikar fetch lands. Adding five high demand rares currently priced between $30-$60 (after immediate deflation upon the reveal) was the clearest flag that this set is intended to push the envelope on Estimated Value. But the rare value goes significantly deeper overall than it did with MM15. Have a look at the different in EV just based on the rares we know so far:

Numbers are rough here, but rares are clearly a much bigger contributor to EV this time.

If you squint, that’s a potentially whopping 50%+ increase in the EV being added by rares in this set, assuming a roughly equivalent value for the remaining rares, including likely bulk rares.

I haven’t run the numbers on uncommons yet, but with key cards like Path to Exile, Inquisition of Kozilek, Serum Visions, Terminate and Might of Old Krosa, my guess is these numbers will come in equal to or above even Modern Masters (2013), and significantly above the uncommon poor MM15.

If the set allocations were the same, these figures alone would make boxes a slam dunk, but beware, because there is more to this story.

A Word on Product Allocations

Early word from vendors was that Modern Masters 2017 featured an entirely different distribution pattern than the last two installments of the series. Previously, most vendors got some of their limited edition product from WoTC directly, and some of it via their distributors. This time around, distributors are controlling all of the inventory, making it much harder to get a handle on how much the print run has been increased (since you can’t simply measure WoTC case allocations). Many vendors reported that they had been offered “as much as they wanted” for MM17, which suggests that WoTC is fully aware of how juiced this set is and is looking to take advantage of the hype the kichen sink approach to set design will drive in order to achieve significantly greater sales. Solid information is still unfolding at this point but based on what I’ve heard so far I would estimate that the print run is at least 50-100% larger than previously, and possibly even beyond that. Massdrop.com sold over 1700 boxes in one drop the other day, and even more on a second one.

Interestingly, after the fiasco of Eternal Masters “limited” product being made available to vendors a full six months after it was first released (in Dec 2016), many players and speculators were looking gun shy at the prospect of pre-ordering this set and I managed to pick up my boxes at $175 without issue before most of the reveals went down. As of this morning, boxes are hovering around $210-$220 a box and they hype train could easily drive them back into the MSRP range of $240 or even beyond depending on what the forthcoming final EV calculation articles confirm about the expected value of a pack or box.

So should you be piling on to buy boxes with everyone else? I don’t think so. The Estimated Value on offer just so far, without the full set revealed, looks roughly equivalent for the mythics and significantly increased in the rare and uncommon slots. Paired with higher supply that suggests to me that nearly all of the cards included are going to take a large hit in the 20-50% range as we approach peak supply. Sure, a lot of cards recovered well from the last two Modern Masters sets, but they had less supply, and MM15 boxes appreciated much less than MM13 before them (partially due to lessened set value).

If you got in on boxes under $190 when those were available in the last few weeks, you may get a chance to flip them for +$40/box at peak hype, and cracking them will be unlikely to cost you much if you need the cards. Boxes over $240 however are not somewhere I want to be with this set, as the EV today is very unlikely to resemble the EV in a few months. Couple that with the specter of another holiday season surprise re-release and even Japanese boxes around $300 look scary.

Play it Smart

Speculation with Modern Masters 2017 cards is not going to be easy. Once we know more about total supply, and we’ve seen inventory levels of key cards and mapped their likely peak supply pricing, we can start to probe for potential targets.

Generally speaking you are going to want to look for desperation sales from folks who snapped up boxes looking to crack and flip, only to find that everyone else is doing the same thing and driving prices into the ground.

Rares especially are going to be tough to keep afloat, and sales on Twitter and Facebook are likely to abound by early April. With a foil in every pack you should get a chance at some good deals on sparkly things for your cube or EDH deck.

When picking targets you will want to pair your patience with data on which cards are actually being played in multiple archetypes, usually as a 4-of, and in multiple formats. Fetchlands, Snapcaster Mage, Goyf, Cavern of Souls, etc fit this profile.

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The other group of cards you will want to take a hard look (prioritizing on the same basis) at are the ones that definitely won’t be in MM17, including:

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  • Blinkmoth Nexus
  • Cryptic Command
  • Engineered Explosives
  • Glimmervoid
  • Grove of the Burnwillows
  • Horizon Canopy
  • Inkmoth Nexus
  • Karn Liberated
  • Mishra’s Bauble
  • Saffi, Eriksdotter
  • Valakut

Priority Exits (If You Can)

Damnation

Given how much of this set is going to be bought and cracked in the next two months, you have already missed out on some key opportunities to sell off staples like Cavern of Souls and Liliana of the Veil.

Given current pricing, which is collapsing by the minute, there are still a few overpriced cards that should be exited in a hurry, if you have the chance:

  • Zendikar Fetchlands: These are going to lose another 20-30% of their value as rares. There is too much going on in this set, supply is higher and dealers aren’t going to be motivated to prop up prices via aggressive buylisting. Same art too, so you can safely ditch and get back in with holograms a bit down the road if you have extras lying around.
  • Tarmogoyf: I think Goyf could get as low as $60-70 this time if supply is high enough. Remember this is his third printing in 5 years, and supply wasn’t draining after the last time.
  • Damnation: This card’s price was propped up largely by the number of years it dodged a mainstream reprint. At $40-45, it might have held most of that value as a mythic, but as a rare, this thing will be far, far more common in six weeks. It’s really only run in Jund and Abzan in Modern, and usually then as a 1-of in the sideboard. Stony Silence is played more, and it’s $5. I think the price will get cut in half or worse, so if you can exit over $30, that should be a solid move.
  • Cratehoof Behemoth: This will drop from $20 to $10. Get out.
  • Linvala, Keeper of Silence: $10-15 card by the time this is over.

Looking Forward

It is worth noting that in removing Modern as a Pro Tour format, a reduction in Modern tournament support throughout the competitive ecosystem, and the continued LGS-only distribution of Modern Masters products, WoTC is signally strongly that Modern (and other Eternal formats) are Tier 2 priorities for them and are not the core drivers of revenue and user growth.

That being said, there is no reason to believe that Modern won’t carry on much as it has been over the last twelve months or so, as a largish niche for competitive players that have been around for a while and have the collections to support it. Modern Masters 2017 represents a strong shift towards accessibility and away from prioritizing collection value, in Modern in specific, and Magic as a game, as represented by the evolving set design strategy of Wizards of the Coast. With so many key staples being reprinted here, and with expansive print runs on deck, there is every reason to believe that some new players will pick up a Modern deck, and that Modern players will diversify their options by expanding their staples collection. (Hilariously, cognitive dissonance will likely enable many players to ignore the drop in their collection value as they happily run out to scoop up cheaper staples.)

From the speculators perspective, this paradigm shift towards accessibility suggests that holding Modern staples for more than a few years after release is going to be a very risky game. I didn’t get caught out on much with this set list, but cards like Abupt Decay and Scavenging Ooze now likely represent failed specs that I would be happy to sell at or near cost, given how long they might take to recover past potential.  Moving forward, opportunities related to Modern are much more likely to involve three specific categories of targets:

  • High demand recovering reprints, eg: LoTV, Tarmogoyf, Snapcaster Mage, Cavern of Souls
  • Recent reprint dodgers, eg: Ancestral Visions, Inkmoth Nexus, Engineered Explosives, Grove of the Burnwillows, Mishra’s Bauble
  • Newly unlocked/underestimated cards, eg: Rite of Passage, Death’s Shadow, Amulet of Vigor, etc.

Good luck out there…it’s getting tougher!

CEO of ShelfLife.net, The Future of Collecting, Senior Partner at Advoca, a designer, adventurer, toy fanatic and an avid Magic player and collector since 1994.

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17 thoughts on “Negotiating the Modern Masters 2017 Minefield”

  1. Death Shadow got reprinted here so doubtful there’s any value even with the uptick in profile and demand.

    1. That card was mentioned as an example of a card that was bulk for ages before it was activated.

      1. Savage land is 243, verdant catacombs is 249. We have scalding tarn, seaside citadel, selesnya Guildgate and simic guildgate revealed. 5 slots 4 cards. Valakut and swampyard are still live.

      2. Still watching crucible and chalice, number 218 is interesting. There is also the multi color (non-gold) cards, we could see fulminator mage, kitchen finds or lightning helix.

      3. No, only one slot between 240 and 249 unknown. Misty, Orzhov, Rakdos, Savage, Scalding, Seaside, Selesnya, Unknown, Simic, Verdant.

      4. Thanks for the info. I’m using the Mythic Spoiler page, it does not have numbers 244 thru 248 just the card photos with no numbers.

      5. The missing land is number 247 – between Selesnya Guildgate and Simic Guildgate. Therefore, the name of the card will have to start with S.

        So yes, Valakut is out.

        I’d guess for something as unexciting as Shimmering Grotto to help with the mana fixing in limited.

  2. Hey James, I want to argue with u regarding the price of a lot of these cards but I can’t fault your math and your work for this article is excellent. There has been a lot of discussion that without a Vegas MM GP there will be a lot more cards in the hands of players and less in the hands of dealers, how do you think not having an MM based GP will affect prices of cards?

    Are Arc bound Ravager and Inkmoth nexus going top $100?!?

    The only thing i’m really concerned with from an investment standpoint is if either Snapcaster or Cavern foils from MM 2017 pull a EMA foil Force impersonation and skyrocket in value. I’m shocked that Star City dropped the price of foil Innistrad Snapcaster to $80, I feel like that’s a bargain and that Snap could be the new Chalice or Noble Hierarch. Any thoughts James?

    1. The lack of GPs has allowed WoTC to redirect that inventory to the distributor pipeline. The question then is whether it is an equivalent amount of inventory, or whether the MM17 print run goes far beyond the previous runs, regardless of GP inventory. We won’t know this for sure until more vendor data is acquired and we see how long the set is available to stores, but I’ll say this: good business practices dictate they print what they think they can sell, and given the juice in this set, they likely printed a lot more than we’re used to seeing in the market.

      Ravager and Nexus are solid targets for the short to mid term, but their destinies are mostly tied to Affinity until the Scales decks put in some camera time.

      71% of people I polled preferred the original Snapcaster art, but the bigger issue is whether MM17 will feature FTV or regular foiling. If it’s high gloss again, I wouldn’t touch the foils.

  3. Good article. My opinion is that Modern is waaaay too cutthroat to be worth speculating in any way. I honestly believe that Legacy would be safer now to focus on opportunities, since the eternal masters effects have largely dissipated. I don’t even focus on modern too much now, and am looking to secure stuff like Jace and perhaps duals now. What are your thoughts on legacy staples as a whole?

    1. I think the Legacy community is stalled and you want to be putting funds in places that are exhibiting growth.

  4. When you visualize the data, you get a much clearer
    picture of value when you remove all the hype &
    speculation from the “chase rare” lottery system.
    Ten dollar packs with $ 4 rares & a $2 mythic. No ty.

    Funny how they reprint Inquisition of Kozilek when
    there are absolutely zero Eldrazi in the set, after stating
    why they wouldn’t do this, same with the color shifted
    Damnation. Logic, reason, lies & the era of $10 core sets.

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