The Big Things: World Championship Decks

03 Apr
by Harvey McGuinness

This time last month I dissected the origins of Magic’s gold border, with a deep dive into the original Collector's Edition, both as sealed and individual cards. In a bit of a follow-up to that edition of The Big Things, this time around we’ll be continuing the story of Magic’s gold border with a since-retired line of products: the World Championship Decks. So let’s get into it, shall we?

 

Origins

Launching in 1997 and continuing through to 2004, the World Championship Decks were an interesting, if a bit odd, product. While the Collector’s Edition had the distinction of carrying with it a Collector’s Edition stamp on the cardback, as well as rectangular corners on each card, the cards within the World Championship retained their traditional rounded corners, in exchange for having a card back completely different from the traditional Magic card back design (offering a bit of a portent for things to come with Magic 30th Anniversary Edition ). This made the World Championship Decks the second non-tournament legal product to hit shelves, a distinction which mattered significantly more for their release as opposed to that of Collector’s Edition, as by this point the Reserved List was in full effect. While not all lists would contain Reserved List cards, this tournament illegality was crucial to making the decklists printable in the first place, as plenty of World Championship Decks would contain such cards - a key feature we’ll get to later on in the singles discussion.

Each deck contained the sixty card mainboard, a fifteen card sideboard, a decklist insert card, a player biography insert card, a World Championship review insert card, and twelve blank playtest cards, for a total of ninety cards within each World Championship Deck. These were marketed in a complete reversal from that of their gold border predecessors, the Collector’s Edition, in that the print run was relatively accessible and - given that these were ready-to-play decks - the emphasis was more on the general Magic market than collectors. This would come as a bit of a hindrance in the long-run survivability of the product line, as demand from players for tournament-illegal cards dwindled over the years, resulting in the product’s discontinuation in 2005.

Where They Are Now?

As a sealed product, each of the World Championship Decks have gradually drifted upwards in price, although this is primarily due to market supply attrition and not a substantial increase in demand. There have been some outliers, however.

In the 1997 iteration of the World Championship decks, two of the four released that year contained a playset of Force of Will, launching their current prices closer to the $400-$500 mark. Similarly, two decks from 1998 contain playsets of Survival of the Fittest, while 1999’s releases contain such gems as a playset of Gaea's Cradle, three copies of Yawgmoth's Will, and a plethora of other reserved list hits, pushing some sealed decks to sell for as much as $900. After this peak, however, the World Championship Decks hit a bit of a snag.

 

Yawgmoth's Will - 1999 Jakub Slemr (USG)

 

As we’ve seen from the prices of the best-performing decks, the World Championship Decks are buoyed up primarily by their single card contents, something which rarely bodes well for sealed products. Traditionally, the arc of time brings with it a divergence in single-contents price vs sealed product price, as the allure of a sealed product begins to tilt towards its gradual market attrition. While this has happened to some extent with the World Championship decks, they have overall been relatively unsuccessful in this regard, as the price of decks which do not contain any notable singles has plateaued over the years with little market activity signaling any change in the near future. This is primarily due to two reasons:

One - given that these products are known entities, that is, their contents are fixed, the price of the singles comprising each list has a heavier sway on the overall price of the product. In sealed booster products, there is always the allure of an outperformance in the product’s opening - a randomness premium. No such premium exists here, tying the World Championship Deck’s performance that much closer to that of the underlying contents.

Two - given that these products were marketed specifically towards players, and that their contents are non-tournament viable, there is little reason for many of their target audience to interact with them. Many of the most noteworthy reprints in these decks are expensive reserved list cards which players acquire for tournament purposes, as opposed to casual play, which is the only purpose these decks can serve. As such, the ceiling on the price of these decks remains low, as neither investors nor players have much interest in purchasing old decks at a premium.

 

Single Gems

Gaea's Cradle - 1999 Matt Linde (USG)

 

Given the illegality of the cards printed throughout the World Championship Deck’s run, most singles within are currently priced at a significant discount relative to their tournament legal counterparts, with the average single card from any given deck selling for around 15% of the price of its legal counterpart. For a handful of cards however, this is still a notable sum of money.

Gaea’s Cradle from the 1999 series is the most prominent example of this trend, with the card averaging nearly $180 as of writing. This is a lot to ask for an unusable card, but even so both the market and average prices for it have been steadily increasing over the past few years, signifying real demand for it. Similar to that of the sealed product, however, this trend is a reflection of market attrition less so than it is one of increased demand, making the Gaea’s Cradle (and other hidden gems within, such as Yawgmoth’s Will) behave like more traditional collectible products offered by Magic - less support than sealed product, but with enough support to sustain long-term growth.

Yawgmoth's Will - 1999 Jakub Slemr (USG)
Survival of the Fittest - 1998 Brian Selden (EXO)
Gaea's Cradle - 1999 Matt Linde (USG)

 

Wrap Up

The World Championship Decks provide an interesting look at when collectibles and known-contents sealed product can plateau over time, as opposed to continually trend upwards as is traditional for most sealed products. Even so, there are hidden gems within which are bolstering the prices of some decks, enough to warrant inspection as to the value of cards which can’t be played in tournaments.

Check out these other articles:

On Small Sample Anomalies by Corey Williams  

The Big Things: Foil Multipliers by Harvey McGuinness

Harvey McGuinness
Harvey McGuinness

Harvey McGuinness is a student at Johns Hopkins University who has been playing Magic since the release of Return to Ravnica. After spending a few years in the Legacy arena bouncing between Miracles and other blue-white control shells, he now spends his time enjoying Magic through CEDH games and understanding the finance perspective. He also writes for the Commander's Herald.


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