Modern on Sale
by SaffronOlive // Feb 27, 2017
Many people look at Modern Masters releases the wrong way. When a set like Modern Masters 2017 comes out, they look at the current prices of the card reprinted in the set; then, they check back in a year or two later, and if the prices of the cards aren't significantly cheaper than they were, they deem the set a failure and gnash their teeth about how Modern is too expensive. While it would be nice if reprinting a card decreased its price forever, this simply isn't how it works. Magic, the game, keeps growing (or at least, it has for the past eight years). As more new players join the game, these players need to buy cards to play the game, so over the course of time, as the player base grows, the supply of the reprinted card starts to dry up and prices once again begin to rise.
And this doesn't even include shifts in the metagame that drive existing players to buy different cards. Maybe the best recent example of this is Mox Opal. Before Modern Masters 2015 was released, Mox Opal cost as much as $60, based almost exclusively on its play in Modern Affinity, which has consistently been among the most played decks in Modern for pretty much as long as Modern has been a format. After Modern Masters 2015 released, copies fell as low as $35 in November of 2016—nearly half of its previous price! However, today Mox Opal is back over $50 and climbing, and it's a good bet to hit $60 (and more) again this year if it isn't reprinted in Modern Masters 2017 or banned. If we look back over the price chart of Mox Opal, we can see the story of new decks and a shifting metagame increasing demand and driving up prices.
So, here's the thing about Mox Opal: assuming the game continues to grow and the artifact doesn't get another reprinting, the price was going to rise eventually from that natural trickle of new players eating up copies that we talked about before, but this is a relatively long and slow process, especially for Modern cards (because many new players who enter the game start with Standard, and then some smaller percentage of these players eventually move on into older formats). However, Mox Opal got two big bumps in price, which suggests something other than normal slow growth tied to the growth of the game as a whole. The first of these bumps—from about $35 to $45—was about a year ago in January 2016, and the cause of this increase was twofold. First, we had the surprise banning of Splinter Twin, and many players were high on Affinity as the default best deck in the format (although these ideas were derailed by Eldrazi in Oath of the Gatewatch). Second, January 2016 was the coming of age of Lantern Control, with Sam Black's performance at Pro Tour Oath of the Gatewatch being a huge boost for the deck, which was new on the scene and had its first real finish with a win at a Grand Prix a few months earlier, in the hand of Zac Elsik. Lantern Control becoming a "real" deck meant that, instead of just being purchased by new Affinity players, there was an entirely different group of Modern players who needed copies of Mox Opal: players who wanted to try their hand at Lantern Control.
The second big increase from Mox Opal happened just recently and is mostly likely tied to the printing of Sram, Senior Edificer and hype for the Modern Puresteel Storm deck, which the new legend supports. In just the past two months, Mox Opal has jumped from around $40 to $53, as—much like with Lantern Control—Sram'O's gives a new group of players a reason to buy the card, eating up supply and increasing the price.
Back to the original reason for this Mox Opal discussion: if you checked the price on Mox Opal just before Modern Masters 2015 released (it was $60), waited two years, and checked the price again today ($53), you'd probably think that the reprinting had failed. Sure, it's slightly cheaper now, but not really enough to make a difference. If you weren't buying Mox Opal at $60, you probably still aren't buying at $53, and this seems to be the way that a lot of the Magic community looks at reprints, especially Masters series reprints, but this is a wrongheaded perspective.
Modern Masters Is a Sale
Let's say you're looking to buy a new laptop (or whatever you're looking to buy). You look around, price the item, and figure that it would be a smart move (financially speaking) to wait until Black Friday or Cyber Monday to pick up your new toy while it's on sale. Black Friday rolls around, and there are some insane deals—20% off, maybe 35% off, or even 50% off—but you're a busy person, and for whatever reason, you don't buy your laptop during the sale. You'd look pretty silly if you started writing angry letters and forum posts to Dell, Apple, or Lenovo about how their product was too expensive. Their product was just on sale; you simply decided to not take advantage of it.
Modern Masters releases are exactly the same way. Reprinting Mox Opal isn't a way to make it half price forever, but it does give players a window to get the card at a steep discount—and a rather long window, at that. In fact, for about six months after the release of Modern Masters 2015, you could purchase Mox Opal for around $35, which represents at 41% discount off of its previous price. Forty-one percent is a huge discount, and with pretty much any other product in existence, consumers would be thrilled to get such a great deal. And it's not just Mox Opal—let's look over the "sale prices" of some of the other chase cards from the Masters series.
|Card||Normal Price||Sale Price||Current Price||Percent Off|
|Pact of Negation||$18||$7||$28||61%|
|Tooth and Nail||$12||$6||$18||50%|
|Bridge from Below||$14||$4||$12||71%|
|Leyline of Sanctity||$31||$10||$15||69%|
As you can see, most of the chase cards from Modern Masters and Modern Masters 2015 didn't end up being significantly cheaper over the long haul (although many of the lower-tier casual cards did), with most returning to near, at, or even above their pre-reprinting price. However, nearly all of the cards from both Modern Masters and Modern Masters 2015 went on sale for a fairly long stretch of time, at a significant discount. Even the cards that declined the least, like Spellskite and Karn Liberated, were still between 25% and 30% off, which would be a staggering discount in the real world, and many other chase cards hit sale prices of 50% or even 70% off their previous price, which is an absurd discount. In fact, if I see a website offering 70% off a phone, laptop, or other item, my immediate reaction is "this has to be either fake or stolen," but these Modern Masters reprint discounts are all real.
In the long run, the fact that nearly all of these chase cards get expensive again doesn't really matter. No sale lasts forever. As a result, from the perspective of a player who is trying to play Magic for as little money as possible, the key is taking advantage of these sales when they happen.
Taking Advantage of the Modern Sale
When it comes right down to it, you always have to pay something. Saving actual money costs time and effort—if you want to get $0.10 off your ramen noodles, you spend time clipping the coupon. Saving money by taking advantage of the sale on Modern cards that Modern Masters sets bring is the same way. By spending some time acquiring knowledge and some effort in buying cards at the right time, you can save yourself real dollars. It's also worth mentioning that there is absolutely nothing wrong with saving up money to take advantage of the sales. The best part of Modern Masters sales is that we know when they are coming, so instead of spending our money on another booster box of Aether Revolt or that Masterpiece Series Sol Ring, we can save our resources to really take advantage of the sales when they happen. Thankfully, there are some general rules that make taking advantage of the Modern sale a lot easier.
#1: The time frame is typically months two through six or seven
By looking back over the last two Modern Masters releases, we can get a pretty good sense of just how long the typical Modern sale lasts, and as a general rule, the sale runs from the month after a Modern Masters set releases and continues for four or five months. While buying cards as soon as the set releases will save you some money, the absolute floor on chase cards typically comes about a month after release, since it takes some amount of time for people to actually open the set and start selling the cards. About six or seven months after a set is released is when some prices usually start to tick up. This later date isn't a hard and fast rule—some cards stay on sale for much longer (we'll talk more about this in a minute), but if you buy sometime between one month and six months after the set release, you are very unlikely to miss the sale window.
#2: If a card you want is 40–50% off, buy it!
While there are a handful of exceptions, for most Modern Masters cards, the typical sale price is somewhere between 40% and 50% off their pre-reprinting price. As a result, when you see Mox Opal drop to $35 from $60 (a 41% discount), you might as well just buy your copies. While you could hold out, hoping that the price drops even further and the discount increases to 45%, this strategy is risky. If you wait too long, the price will start to increase, and as we have seen, many of the chase reprints return to near their pre-reprinting price, so you are risking a 41% savings to save an extra 4%. While we are all about saving money, at some point, trying to eke out every last penny actually costs more in the end than just being happy with the discount that's in front of us.
#3: Once a card is reprinted in Modern Masters twice, you have tons of time.
While there are only a small handful of cards that have been reprinted in both Modern Masters and Modern Masters 2015 (Tarmogoyf, Vendilion Clique, Dark Confidant, Cryptic Command), none of these cards have even shown the slightest sign of increasing, and many of them are still trending downward, even though their last reprinting was nearly two years ago. With Modern Masters 2017, it seems likely that we'll see more "second-time Masters series cards" by default, because there are only so many chase reprints to fill out the set. As such, when you see a second-timer in Modern Masters 2017, don't feel like you need to rush to buy in the six-month sale window. While you'll still get a deep discount if you do buy between months two and six, chances are these cards will continue to decline over the next year (at least), so there is really no hurry.
Along the same lines, most of the low-end casual rares and mythic in Masters series sets don't recover. This is in part because there is less demand for these cards than for tournament staples, and in part because once a "casual" rare is reprinted, it's likely to be reprinted again and again (for more on this, check out How Wizards Manages Their Savings Account and the theory of reprint equity). As such, if you are looking to pick up cards like Creakwood Liege, Apocalypse Hydra, or Necroskitter (all of which were actually pretty expensive before their Modern Masters 2015 reprinting), you have all the time in the world to take advantage of the sale.
#4: For chase uncommons and commons, the sale usually lasts about a year.
Chase uncommons and commons are actually interesting. They have a long history of recovering in price, but they usually take a while to do so. Then, once they finally start to recover, they usually see big increases all at once, rather than the slow trickle of many rares and mythics. Generally speaking, uncommons and commons don't really show much movement (or any movement) for at least a year, but then sometime between year one and year two, they see a meaningful price spike (assuming they don't see another reprinting, like what happened to Remand). The other interesting part of uncommons and commons is they usually start at or near their floor (unlike rares and mythics, which are much more likely to be overpriced during spoiler season and the first weeks after a set is released). As such, if you're into trading, one of the smartest moves you can make is to trade the flashy Modern Masters 2017 rare you just opened (which is likely overpriced and will drop more in value) for the Lightning Bolt and Path to Exile other people at your LGS just opened (because they will likely be near their floor, so even though the prices will match up to facilitate the trade, you're trading a likely-to-decline asset for a likely-to-increase asset). Beyond trading, feel free to pick up your commons and uncommons early, even just a week or two after the set releases, because even though most don't increase over the short term, they are unlikely to decrease any further in price.
While it would be nice if sets like Modern Masters 2017 made cards cheaper forever, since our game is continuing to grow (which is a great problem to have), this isn't likely to happen. The good news is that every time a Modern Masters set is released, current players are rewarded with what essentially amounts to a massive sale on many important Modern cards. As such, one of the best things budget-conscious players can do it take advantage of these sales as much as possible. While I know that delaying gratification is hard, especially when it comes to playing a game like Magic, by taking advantage of these sales, playing a format like Modern is a lot cheaper than it actually looks at first glance. Take, for example, the current most played deck in Modern: Affinity.
As you can see above, buying the list that made it to the Top 8 of GP Brisbane last weekend in the hands of Chris Grimshaw will currently set you back $772, which is a massive chunk of money to put out for a small stack of cardboard. But what happens if we put our rules for buying during Modern sales into action during the months following Modern Masters and Modern Masters 2015? The picture looks a lot different.
While many of the cheaper cards in the deck aren't relevant to our discussion, the deck becomes significantly cheaper simply by buying the key pieces of Affinity during Masters set sale periods. For example, today a playset of Arcbound Ravagers will set you back $148.60, but you could have picked up the set for $56 back during the Modern Masters sale, knocking $92.60 off the price of the deck. The Mox Opal playset is currently $212 but was only $140 during the Modern Masters 2015 sale—another $72 savings. The three copies of Glimmervoid will currently cost you $79 but were just $22.50 during the original Modern Masters sale (good for another $56.50 saved), not to mention the two sideboard Blood Moons (currently $73, formerly $15 during the MMA sale).
Taken as a whole, just buying these four cards while they were on sale would have saved a massive $279.10, bringing your actual cost of the deck from $772 to $492—a 36% discount off the cost of the most played deck in Modern (also, while we aren't really focusing on selling cards today, you could sell any of your Affinity pieces for a handsome profit and then use that money to buy a different Modern deck, if you were so inclined)! And this isn't even taking the concept to the extreme by considering other supplemental products, buying cards while they are in Standard, or anything else. Basically, this is "I don't care about MTG finance one bit, but I am willing to clip a few coupons to get a cheap Modern deck" mode. There are no spreads, or selling, or any of the other more complex finance lingo you here people throwing around. This is, "Hmmm, I was planning on buying a this anyone, so I might as well take a minute to clip out this 36% off coupon."
I'm not trying to talk anyone into the MTG finance world. While there's a small number of people that love buying and selling cards, most people just want to play Magic and not worry about the prices. The problem is, if you don't consider prices at all, Magic in general (specifically older formats like Modern) is expensive. Thankfully, there's a middle ground between "I'm the crazy MTG finance person who is analyzing the spread of every card in Modern and trying to make 3% extra in arbitrage by purchasing cards from a small Finnish site no one else knows about" and "I don't even want to think about it, so I'll just put out $800 for Modern Affinity." For a very small amount of effort invested into taking advantage of things like the Modern sale (using the rules we talked about), you can save a ton of real money putting together your Modern deck and still not care about MTG finance!
Anyway, that's all for today. If you've been waiting to get into Modern or to finish one of your Modern decks, make sure to take advantage of the Modern sale that will be coming up shortly with the release of Modern Masters 2017! As always, leave your thoughts, ideas, opinions, and suggestions in the comments, and you can reach me on Twitter @SaffronOlive or at SaffronOlive@MTGGoldfish.com.