Friday, July 28, 2017

Is Magic in a Speculative Bubble?

I will cut to the chase: I don't think so. You can read on if you want the world's longest possible answer to this question-in my humble opinion. First, my motive: I am a collector/online player, and expect every penny I spend on Magic to be an unrecoverable entertainment expense. I am interested in Magic Finance because it is an entertaining sub-game to watch that comes with the game of Magic. I would like the bottom-feeding I engage in to cost me as least as possible, and therefore I am looking forward to a time when there will be very little, if any speculation, which I expect will make an even larger number of Magic cards be in the under $20 per card range, which is my bottom-feeder collecting threshold.

I will use specific cards to show why I think the price increases we have seen in some cards are most likely the cause of a larger demand. This larger demand I think comes from a combination of a steady economy in the U.S-it looks like we cleared the Great Recession, at least as a group if not individually for some people; and a continually increasing player/collector base.

I will begin with Underground Sea, a key staple in Vintage and Legacy. I am only looking at paper cards. MTGO is it's own beast. Underground Sea has experienced several stable price increases since 2011. I am using data from MTG Goldfish (check it out, it's an awesome site: ) I use the Revised version, because its the go-to version for people buying into Legacy.

Needless to say, this card alone is the Apple stock of Magic speculation. It is on the Reserved List. It has also been forged, which is not good. The first higher plateau took place in April 2011, and the card went from $90 to $130, which is a whopping 45 percent increase.

The next new plateau took place April 2013, and the card went from $130 to $180, another whopping 40 percent increase.

The next new plateau took place April 2014, and the price increase leveled January 2016. The card went from $180 to $340 to $280, another whopping 60 percent increase plateau to plateau.

The next new plateau took place February 2016, and the card went from $260 to $340, another whopping 30 percent increase.

The latest bump, from $350 to $400 has been modest, at only 15 percent. Still, we are talking about $400 for a card people need to play many tournament-viable Legacy decks.

There are cards on the Reserved List that don't see a lot of tournament play, and these cards are in a small speculative bubble caused by the silly Reserved List buyouts. This bubble will pop, but the aftermath will not affect other aspects of Magic, such as the price of a Revised Underground Sea. Moat, for example, used to be $300, and now is $600. It is also a fact of supply and demand that as more people collect Magic, the price of Reserved List cards will steadily increase, yet some of these price spikes don't seem to be related to an increase in collecting, and seem to be related to the current speculating bubble for these specific cards.

And then there is the effect of steady reprinting, which is great for the hobby. Wasteland is a representative example for Legacy. The card was at $50 in 2013, and is at $35 today. Keep reprinting it, Wizards! Same with Force of Will from $50 to a lot more and then down to $75. We can have additional products like Eternal Masters with both of these cards for the foreseeable future.

The same is true for Liliana of the Veil and Tarmogoyf for Modern, and also Legacy.

A Magic deck is not a box of special-looking Teddy bears. It can used to play a game. I think the current prices that are paid for some of the game's staples, especially those on the Reserved List, are defining a new level of expense on a luxury item. It is possible that these higher prices will stick, just as people who want to have a really light racing bike are willing to spend thousands of dollars for that exclusive Italian model (look up Pinarello and you will see what I am referring to). I think the next economic down bump will be the defining moment for these prices. Prices will rise and fall with the size changes to the player base, and that's not a bubble, that's just supply and demand.