Modern Times - Aftermath's Aftermath

26 Jul
by Corey Williams

Hello everyone! Today I’m going to finally address the aftermath of Aftermath… And by that, I mean the interesting financial implications of the Modern-legal set March of the Machine: The Aftermath

Why did I wait so long to discuss this? A few reasons. Firstly, it’s a new product category: Epilogue Set (I don’t know if that’s the official WOTC terminology as they described the product as simply being “a new kind of thing” or “not a normal expansion”). Given its novelty, speculation and commentary on these types of products are exceptionally difficult when there’s nothing (or very little) to compare them to. 

Secondly, the set size and rarity distribution is bizarre. It’s 50 cards, with 10 mythic rares, 35 rares, and 15 uncommons. 70% of the print-run being rare or mythic rare with 20% alone being mythics is a bizarre distribution choice that is worth discussion on its own, and that will certainly be touched on today. This distribution is further complicated by the product’s physical design: Five-card booster packs containing anywhere from one to three rares/mythics.

Finally, this set was released in the immediate aftermath of March of the Machine (MOM), which, in and of itself, takes time for the market to absorb. As a result, it wasn’t immediately apparent how the market would react to this set - if at all. Now that the dust has settled, and the market has had time to absorb it, perhaps discussing its long-run financial viability, and place in eternal formats, can be addressed with more clarity and precision. 

A Note On Modern Potential

Again, perhaps I’m stretching the scope of my articles by focusing on the financial implications of quirky products that just happen to be Modern-legal. Nevertheless, there are a few choice cards from this set that have had some interest in competitive Modern play. Let’s address these first and foremost prior to diving into the broader implications of this set, and the future of “epilogue” products.

Nissa, Resurgent Animist

Remember Lotus Cobra? Remember how many moons ago it used to be the chase mythic from Zendikar? Well, desparked Nissa is giving the king Cobra a run for its money. Not only does Nissa have the same baseline value Lotus Cobra provides, it rewards you for triggering it multiple times in a turn by allowing you to dig for an Elemental or Elf creature. Clearly, Elf-typal decks and Elementals get instant value from Nissa. In particular, 4-color Omnath decks are well-complemented by Nissa whose presence synergizes with their gameplan quite well while adding some additional consistency. 

Originally, the market valued this card anywhere between $10 and $15. Today, however, it's commanding (there’s a pun in there somewhere) around $30. What’s appealing about Nissa’s use in Modern is that she’s slowly changing the gears of 4-color Omnath from an Elemental-centric deck capitalizing on the Evocation cycle from Modern Horizons 2 to a 4-color good-stuffs deck that still uses cards like Grief and Fury, but also capitalizes on synergies from other objectively good cards, including Elesh Norn, Mother of Machines, and, yes, Nissa. 4-color Omnath has a solid place in the meta, and can compete with the best of what Modern has to offer. I expect what we’re seeing in Nissa right now is actually closer to a price floor than a price ceiling. She’s also seen some play in Commander, and Pioneer, too. The bigger question, of course, is why wasn’t she just in MOM? More on that later. 

Pia Nalaar, Consul of Revival

Pia is an interesting card. She sees some Modern play in fringe Izzet or Grixis (that also splash an occasional third or fourth color) shells that like playing Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer and Expressive Iteration. Pia synergizes exceptionally well with both of the aforementioned Modern staples, and can generate considerable value at a respectable cost. 

Currently, Pia sits at $1.50, which is around $1 more than she has been for most of her life since release. It should be stressed that the playability gap between Nissa and Pia is enormous. However, all things considered, Pia is a cheap and fun pick-up that synergizes well with two of the best cards in the format. That alone is worthy of some discussion. Where will she go in the future? Tough to say, but relative to the other rares in Aftermath, Pia has the most obvious upward potential. 

Training Grounds

Everyone loves Training Grounds…at least in Commander. Of all Modern-legal cards that Commander players were begging for, Training Grounds was at the top of the list. Prior to Aftermath, the Rise of the Eldrazi printing was fetching $30 a pop. Now, you can easily pick up a Training Grounds of your own for $5 from Aftermath.

This is a terrific reprint that found its way into an odd product. With Commander Masters on the horizon, there’s a non-trivial chance we see movement in Training Grounds in the future once more, making its current price closer to a floor, rather than a ceiling. 

Nissa, Resurgent Animist
Pia Nalaar, Consul of Revival
Training Grounds

Low Demand is Reflected in Low[er] Supply

An unusual factor to consider with regards to speculating on Aftermath is that not much product has been opened (at least by comparison to The Lord of the Rings: Tales of Middle-earth, or even March of the Machine where set boosters and collector boosters are in much shorter supply). Go to any LGS or Amazon, and you’ll have no trouble finding Aftermath booster products at “generous” prices given the product design (on Amazon, a 12-pack collector booster display of Aftermath will run you $130 before shipping and taxes). Given that halo foils of the desparked planeswalkers are fetching as much as $70 in the case of Ob Nixilis, Captive Kingpin, $130 for 12 lottery tickets isn’t too bad. 

Ob Nixilis, Captive Kingpin (Halo Foil)

Unless WOTC releases an additional print-run of Aftermath, the supply is pretty fixed, and sitting in unopened sealed products. In terms of speculative value, there’s a lot of potential in the desparked planeswalkers that are simply waiting to be uncovered. Each and every desparked walker is innovative in its own right, and worth the pickup given how cheap they each are (save Nissa). 

That’s truly where the real value lies, much like the flip planeswalkers in Magic Origins that single-handedly carried the expected value of that set, the desparked walkers will carry the long-run expected value of Aftermath. In terms of speculative potential, investing in the non-foil desparked walkers is a great starting point. The showcase and halo foil variants are also worthwhile, too, albeit at a higher premium starting price. 

The low-demand state of Aftermath makes for enjoyable speculation, especially since the supply is fixed at this point. Right now is an ideal time to speculate on single cards in Aftermath, and also sealed product. If demand for even a couple more desparked walkers picks up across even one format, so too will the demand for the sealed product. As far as holding short-term positions of sealed product goes, Aftermath feels like a prime candidate for an easy flip within a year or two. 

Final Thoughts

March of the Machine: The Aftermath is more or less a thought experiment along the lines of “what would happen if we released a B-side to a normal set?” B-sides are interesting, but often underwhelming, and usually self-explanatory in the sense that the consumer can often tell why the B-side items weren’t released in the main product. For the majority of cards from Aftermath, this is absolutely true. However, there’s an exception to this: the desparked planeswalkers. These cards felt like genuine and intentional omissions from MOM that were designed in hopes of selling this ancillary product. 

If you don’t believe me, imagine this. What does Aftermath look like without the de-sparked planeswalkers? Well, it’s not a set at that rate. Just a pile of bulk, and Training Grounds. As discussed, one should absolutely capitalize on the low-demand state and establish a healthy position in the desparked planeswalkers - if only to avoid potentially paying more for them later. Picking up sealed products - collector, set, or otherwise - also carries low-risk with a nice potential upside in the short-run. Simply put, buy the single of the desparked walkers, and buy the product to flip in a year or two. 

What about the long-run, you might ask?  I’m not sold on this product’s long-run potential as a sealed product. My guess based on what’s moving in the current state of the market is that a few choice single cards will have some large acute effects on the expected value of the set, and demand for its sealed products (think buying old Mercadian Masques packs just for Rishadan Port over a decade ago). Halo foils of the showcase variants of the desparked walkers are the top end of the set’s financial potential, and will likely offer the best long-run potential relative to any other subset of cards in Aftermath. 

In the future, should we expect more “epilogue” sets? I’m going to say no. Unless Aftermath has a massive surge in retrospective popularity (the aftermath of Aftermath’s aftermath if you will), I can’t see WOTC wasting time and resources on a low-return product line. But who knows, with Wilds of Eldraine around the corner, perhaps there’s a B-side awaiting us once more!

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Corey Williams
Corey Williams

Corey Williams is an Assistant Professor of Economics at Shippensburg University in Shippensburg, Pennsylvania. He considers himself a macroeconometrician with his research body reflecting work in applied macroeconomics and econometrics. Corey is an L1 Judge who started playing Magic around Eighth Edition. He enjoys Modern, Commander, cEDH, and cube drafting. Outside of Magic, he loves running, teaching, and the occasional cult movie.

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