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Modeling Eternal Masters' Future with Modern Masters


In a typical week, I get a lot of questions on all kinds of Magic-related topics, but over the past week, one of the most common questions has been "I opened expensive card X in my Eternal Masters box / booster / draft. Should I sell it now or hold it?" Unfortunately, the question is a bit too in-depth for one catchall answer and is further complicated by currently weak buylist prices for most cards in the set, which make getting fair value for your shiny new Karakas, Maze of Ith, or Sinkhole fairly difficult at the moment. The good news is that we've had masters sets before, and breaking down these sets can give us a lot of information on what to expect for the future of Eternal Masters cards. So today, we are going to look back at the original Modern Masters, likely the best comparison for Eternal Masters, and see what it can teach us about the future of Eternal Masters

Right of the bat, there is one huge difference between Modern Masters and Eternal Masters; all of the cards in Modern Masters are Modern legal, while most of the chase cards in Eternal Masters are only legal in Legacy, Vintage, and Commander. This matters because Modern is far more popular than those other three formats put together (Commander is admittedly popular, but Commander players only need one copy of a card), especially now that the tournament scene has shifted away from Legacy and toward Modern. As a result, while Modern Masters can give us a good example of how the prices of specific types of cards move over time, it would be foolish to expect Eternal Masters cards to show the same percent gains as Modern Masters cards. 

Probably the best way to compare Eternal Masters with Modern Masters is to look at specific card groups, so today, we are going to focus on three groups of cards: chase Rares and Mythics, which are typically played as multiples in constructed decks; casual / Commander cards that are popular but more often one-ofs due to the nature of their formats; and chase Uncommons, which have the disadvantage of having significantly higher supply than Rares and Mythics. Let's start by looking at the chase constructed Rares and Mythics of Modern Masters

Chase Rares and Mythics

The above chart shows the Modern Masters cards that I would consider chase Rares and Mythics for constructed, with most seeing play as four-ofs in at least some archetypes in Modern, and many (like Blood Moon, Aether Vial, and Chalice of the Void) with additional demand from other formats. As you can see, most of these cards follow a similar trajectory. The first year is rather bland, with just about every card being worth less six months after Modern Masters was printed than they were when the set was released.

Then, most see a slight bump at about the one-year mark, although typically these increases just get the cards back to their presale price. This means that, assuming you opened your Aether Vial or Blood Moon in a Modern Masters pack, you really aren't benefiting by waiting an entire year; you would have made the same amount of money (everything else being equal) if you had sold immediately, as soon as you opened the card. On the other hand, if you were buying these cards at their low (six-ish months after the set released), you'd be posting a slight gain. 

On the other hand, if you are willing to hold the cards for one and a half to two years, the rewards can be significant. By this point, just about every single card in the group is worth double what it was when the set was released and, in some cases, multitudes more than what it was worth during its six-month post-release low. This is the point where you get to sell your $10 Blood Moons for $60 and your $10 Arcbound Ravagers for $40. 

This sounds awesome, right? When you open a chase constructed-staple Rare or Mythic in a masters set, you either sell it right away, or you hold it for about two years and cash in—simple as that. But not so fast. There's a reason behind the two-year spike, and the reason represents the risk in this plan. 

Based on the current release schedule, we get a new Modern Masters set every two years, and the cards that showed huge two-year spikes were the cards from Modern Masters that did not get reprinted in Modern Masters 2015. If you went on the two-year plan with Tarmogoyf, Vendilion Clique, or Blinkmoth Nexus, not only did you not make money, but you actually ended up selling for less than if you had sold immediately after Modern Masters was released, not to mention that you could have been spending your "I'm holding Tarmogoyf for two years" money on other cards in the meantime. So, the two-year plan would be great, simple, and easy if we had perfect information. The problem is that guessing reprints, especially years in advance, is essentially impossible. 

Here's where the paths diverge. Let's say you somehow had a complete playset of Modern Masters. The two-year plan is great for you because only a small percentage of chase cards are going to be reprinted in Modern Masters 2015, and all in all, the gains in the non-reprinted cards will outweigh the losses you take from the reprinted cards. So, instead of trying to guess the impossible, you just sit on everything and trust that it will pay off in the end. On the other hand, say you opened a Modern Masters Tarmogoyf (for example; pick any chase Rare or Mythic). In this case, there's a strong argument that you might as well just sell. Sure, you could end up losing hypothetical profit two years down the road, but this profit is not guaranteed. Plus,  you spend two years without the $100 you could have gotten for your Tarmogoyf, and a lot of things can change in two years time. Your dog could chew up your binder, you could quit Magic, or your apartment could catch on fire. While I'm not saying it's wrong to hold onto a single card for years in hopes of making a profit, it may very well be the right call for your situation. Make sure you consider everything: the risk, the fact that you don't have the money to buy other cards for an extended period of time, and the possibility of another reprint crushing the value while you are waiting. 

Application to Eternal Masters

So, to apply this Modern Masters data to Eternal Masters, we need to answer two questions: do we expect another Eternal Masters in a couple years, and what cards from Eternal Masters fall into the chase constructed Rares and Mythics category? 

  1. Eternal Masters 2I'd be shocked it we didn't get Eternal Masters 2 for a few reasons. Most importantly, masters sets have to be one of the easiest ways for Wizards of the Coast to make money. Think about it: they don't have to build a new world, they don't have to design new cards, and they don't even have to commission new art for most cards. Masters sets are essentially glorified cubes. Not only are masters sets cheaper to make than a regular expert-level expansion, but they also have an MSRP of more than twice as much! Furthermore, masters sets are extremely popular and make the player base feel like something is being done to reduce the price of cards. The combination of these factors makes masters sets a win-win—they make players happy and make Wizards a ton of money. As for another Eternal Masters specifically, the best argument for the set is that there were some rather suspicious cards withheld from Eternal Masters, most notably Rishadan Port, which may mean that Wizards wants to make sure they have some big-money cards left sitting around for next time. As such, from my perspective, Eternal Masters 2 is a question of when, not if. Two years from now seems like the most probable time, but we can't really say for sure. 
  2. What EMA cards are chase constructed Rares? Wasteland and Force of Will are—by far—the most important, essentially being the Tarmogoyf and Dark Confidant of Eternal Masters (although this might be a reason not to hold these cards on the two-year plan, assuming you're expecting Eternal Masters 2, since Tarmogoyf and Dark Confidant are the type of cards that get reprinted multiple times in masters sets). Otherwise, we're looking at cards like Sneak Attack, Sensei's Divining Top, Shardless Agent, Baleful Strix, Heritage Druid, and Entomb. While all of these cards have potential on the two-year plan and I expect that most will be worth more in two years than they are today, there is always the risk of another reprinting, which could ruin the plan and lead to a lot of wasted time.

Chase Commander / Cube One-Ofs

Commander cards and cards that occasionally show up as one-ofs in constructed decks react much differently than constructed staples. With a card like Force of Will or Tarmogoyf, most people need four copies; on the other hand, Woodfall Primus, Doubling Season, and Stonehewer Giant are cards that most players only need one of (if they need any at all), whether for Commander, Cube, or perhaps a constructed deck. As a result, there's much less demand for these cards than there is for constructed staples. 

The comparative lack of demand is reflected in the price of the cards—most of the Commander cards in Modern Masters took three full years just to get back to their presale price, which means the equation was to sell in July 2013 for X dollars or wait three years to sell for the same amount of money. Given that choice, it's almost always best to sell these cards as soon as you open them. The one exception to this rule is extremely popular Commander cards on the level of Doubling Season and Sword of Fire and Ice. The absolute cream of the crop for casual cards actually act somewhat like constructed staples, but in a more gradual and less spiky manner. 

This discussion is especially relevant to Eternal Masters, since a lot of the cards in the set are focused on Commander and Cube, or are cards like Toxic Deluge, which are primarily played in Commander and Cube but occasionally show up in Legacy sideboards or as one-ofs in the main deck. The list here is long: Mana Crypt, Karakas, most of the tutor cycle, Dack Fayden, Maelstrom Wanderer, Eight-and-a-Half-Tails, Siege-Gang Commander, and a ton of other cards. Basically, if it isn't on the chase constructed Rare list and is a relevaant card, it falls into this group. 

So, what are the Sword of Fire and Ice / Doubling Season exceptions from this bunch? Most likely Mana Crypt and Karakas, but there's also an argument for Enlightened Tutor, Mystical Tutor, and Vampiric Tutor, which all rank highly on the list of most-played cards in Commander. Based on Modern Masters, these cards are relatively safe to hold over the long term, but I'd expect to be waiting two or three years to see any significant payoff. Is getting twice as much for your Enlightened Tutor worth waiting three years? It really depends on what you are doing with the card in the meantime. If it's just sitting in a binder collecting dust, then most likely not, but if you are playing with it, almost certainly. 

The Other Problem of Eternal Masters Casual Cards

We already talked about how a second reprinting can turn the plan of holding cards for two or three years from great to horrible, and this is doubly true of casual cards because if they do get reprinted, they are much less likely to pull a Tarmogoyf and maintain their value. Many of these cards are (or were) expensive primarily because their supply was incredibly low, not because the demand was high, and low-supply cards have an extremely hard time recovering from a reprint. That said, there's another reason why holding these cards is risky: they are more likely to be reprinted again in the near future. 

Expensive cards are relatively difficult to reprint effectively. Take Regal Force, for example: at $15, it's too expensive for most preconstructed supplemental products like Commander decks or Duel Decks, and since Standard-legal expert-level reprints have become increasingly rare with the end of core sets, there are very few places to reprint a card like Regal Force. Conspiracy is a possibility, along with masters sets, and that's about it. However, at $5, the equation for Regal Force changes significantly; all of a sudden, Duel Decks and Commander decks are on the table as potential reprint homes, along with pretty much every other supplemental product. 

Basically, for lower-tier cards, reprinting begets reprinting, which means these cards are incredibly risky to hold in the hopes that they will increase in value over time. Sure, if Regal Force avoided another reprinting for the next five years, it would likely double or triple in price, but a more likely outcome is that this year, next year, or the year after that, Regal Force ends up in a Commander deck and instead of being a $5 Rare ends up a $1 Rare. 

Take Modern Masters, for example. Of the 25 most-valuable Rares in the set, only two have been reprinted since Modern Masters was released (Blinkmoth Nexus and Cryptic Command in Modern Masters 2015), but of the 25 least-valuable Rares in the set, seven have been reprinted in the past three years, and all of these reprintings have been in supplemental products, which have a much larger impact on prices than a masters set reprinting. The bottom line is that not only do casual / Commander / Cube cards suffer more from reprinting because they have less demand, but they are more likely to get reprinted again, further destroying their value. 

Chase Constructed Uncommons

Last but not least, we have chase Uncommons, which are actually quite interesting. For one thing, most of the chase Uncommons from Modern Masters didn't do much of anything for the first two years. While the six-month point was still the floor, the difference between release prices and six-month prices is minimal. The same goes for the one-year mark and even the year and a half mark. After two years, all of the uncommons spiked (after being confirmed not to be in Modern Masters 2015) and then went back to doing nothing, with the exception of Path to Exile and Kitchen Finks (which spiked again thanks to the return of the infinite life combo, with the help of Collected Company). 

Is it fair to expect a similar trajectory from the big Uncommons in Eternal Masters like Cabal Therapy, Chain Lightning, Price of Progress, Wall of Omens, and Young Pyromancer? For the most part, I think the answer is yes. Not only are cards like Cabal Therapy and Chain Lightning true Legacy staples, but many of the best Uncommons in Eternal Masters are Modern legal, which should help with their eventual recovery. Again, you'll have to answer the question of whether getting $3 for your Price of Progress today is better or worse than getting $6 in two or three years, but I fully expect that you will be able to get twice as much for most of the chase Uncommons in Eternal Masters (assuming they don't get reprinted again) if you are willing to wait. 

What about Foils? 

Unfortunately, the foil data here on MTGGoldfish doesn't go all the way back to the release of Modern Masters, which keeps us from doing a full breakdown of Modern Masters foils. However, I will say that, based on Modern Masters 2015, I wouldn't be expecting huge price increases over the next year. Apart from a few outliers like Spellskite and Fulminator Mage, all of the chase foils from Modern Masters 2015 are about the same price today as they were when the set was released. Looking at the partial data from the original Modern Masters, it's hard to say much for sure. Some popular Commander cards have actually decreased over the past 18 months, while others have shown significant gains. 

That said, some Eternal Masters foils have a huge benefit over the foils from Modern Masters, since the Eternal Masters printing is their first foil printing ever. For these cards, the long-term future seems bright, assuming there isn't another reprinting. Legacy and Commander players love their foils, so cards like Toxic Deluge, Control Magic, and Pyroblast should be in high demand and low supply, which is the recipe for upward price movement. While not quite as appealing as first-time foils, cards that only had one previous foil printing as a judge promo should still have some potential. 

All in all, I'd lean toward moving most cards that had previous foil printings, I'd consider holding cards with only a judge foil printing and almost certainly hold cards that had no foil printings before Eternal Masters.

TLDR

  • Whether you should hold or sell your Eternal Masters cards has been a popular topic over the past week. 
  • The original Modern Masters is likely the best comparison, and by looking at the trajectories of the cards from that set, we should be able to get a good sense of what the future might look like for cards from Eternal Masters
  • For chase constructed Rares and Mythics, your best path forward is either to sell the cards immediately or to plan on waiting two years, at which time many of the cards will be more expensive. However, there is a risk that some of these cards will be reprinted in Eternal Masters 2 (which I believe is extremely likely to happen, based on how profitable masters sets are for Wizards), and if you happen to hold onto a card that does get another reprinting, you end up a big loser, not only in opportunity costs but in real money as well. 
  • For Commander / Cube / causal Rares, selling immediately is almost always the right plan. It will likely take three years for these cards just to get back to their release-day prices, and low-end reprints are most likely to get reprinted again in the near future, driving down their value even further. 
  • The only exception to this rule is extremely popular Commander cards, which for Eternal Masters means Mana Crypt and the tutor cycle (also Karakas, which isn't technically a Commander card but has similar demand as a one-of in every format it's played in). While I would feel safe holding these cards over the long term, I don't think it's a bad idea to move them right away either, assuming you can get fair value. 
  • As for chase Uncommons, they will very likely double in price, but it will probably take at least two years for this to happen. This group benefits from the fact that many are Modern legal, which means additional demand and a easier path to recovery. 
  • Finally, my advice on foils is to hold cards that are on their first foil printing and possible cards with only a judge foil printing before Eternal Masters, but to sell cards that have previous pack foil printings (or plan on a long, long wait). 

The bottom line is this: barring another reprinting, most of the "good" cards in Eternal Masters will be worth significantly more in two or three years than they are today, but whether it is worth holding these cards for three years to see a double-up is debatable and depends on your scenario. Personally, I'm moving everything I opened from my Eternal Masters boxes, with the possible exception of a couple of foils, because the flexibility to sink that money into buying collections and other cards is more valuable to me than a potential double-up from Chain Lightning three years from now. On the other hand, I don't really have use for these cards—if you are a Commander / Legacy player and will actually play with your Eternal Masters cards, then the value of holding the cards goes up a lot while you are waiting for prices to increase, because the opportunity cost is much lower. 

Conclusion

Anyway, that's all for today. If you have any questions, make sure to let me know in the comments, and you'll do my best to answer! As always, you can reach me on Twitter @SaffronOlive, or at SaffronOlive@MTGGoldfish.com. 


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