The Big Things - Everything is Priced In
What happens when a Magic card gets reprinted?
Well, chances are very good that it’ll go down in price. Supply goes up faster than demand, and the market gets full.
So, if that’s the case, then why do prices crash before cards actually hit the market? Sure, some stores will offer presale items, but that isn’t reflective of the actual market stock. And yet, cards will still wind up crashing down. Going back to Commander Masters, we saw this immediately when
The answer to this question is actually a pretty interesting one, one which I hope will prove helpful in navigating the markets during preview season – something which seems to be just about every day of the year now, considering the pace of Magic releases.
Information and the Market
The Magic market – just like every other market – isn’t just about real supply and demand. It’s about information and probabilities. The moment Jeweled Lotus was announced as a reprint, even though the market supply didn’t shift, consumers and distributors were now able to make decisions not just based on the market as it was, but as it would be. Supply was static, but the information about where we were headed was vastly different, and behaviors adjusted accordingly. People flocked to offload their copies off Jeweled Lotus in hopes of recouping some of the pre-reprint value, which simulated an injection of new supply. Simultaneously, buyers dried up, as players waited for cheaper copies coinciding with the new release. In short, imaginary supply became real supply, thanks to a change in information.
This is all well and good, but where things get really interesting is when we leave the world of certainties and enter the world of speculation.
First off, let’s look at a positive case – a card which wasn’t officially revealed to be receiving a Commander Masters reprint until much closer to release, but which had a price movement when Commander Masters was announced due to speculation of a reprint. For this, we’ll turn to
Commander Masters was announced on February 21, and on that same day Deflecting Swat saw a near-15% price reduction. Curiously enough, this wasn’t among the cards revealed in the announcement preview, meaning that, unlike Jeweled Lotus, this move in price was an uncertain one. A guaranteed reprint for Jeweled Lotus was worth a 25% reduction on announcement, while a speculative reprint was worth 15% for Deflecting Swat.
So, what can we learn from these two cases? Well, a guarantee is certainly worth more than a hope, especially when it comes to reprints. Beyond just that, however, we can also take away that the market moves fast. Timing things is always difficult, if not impossible, but the efficiency at which speculation influences the price of a card is substantial enough to make waves before a new set ever even hits shelves.
The two cards we’ve looked at, however, both had happy endings – they ended up being reprinted. What about the flipside – the negative case – where a card was speculated to receive a reprint, but we didn’t get one? For this, we’ll shift away from the Commander Masters main set contents and towards one of its ancillary products: the preconstructed deck Sliver Swarm. The card under consideration?
When the Sliver theme was announced for one of the preconstructed decks, Sliver Hive felt like an auto-include, so much so that people barely even thought about it. The card was around $12 at the time of the announcement, then fell by around 10% in the days that followed, but quickly rebounded. Reprints via precons never receive the same degree of supply as that of main sets, so a smaller and shorter-lived price reduction was perfectly understandable. The market anticipated some more copies of the card, but really only enough to counterbalance the increased demand which it would see thanks to players now rushing to complete their new Sliver decks.
But then, tragedy struck – the decklist was released and there was no Sliver Hive in sight. Within hours, Sliver Hive had tripled in price, settling in the mid-$30s where it now rests. Speculation was wrong, and the market rebounded violently.
While it may feel a bit counterintuitive at first, the end result for Sliver Hive is exactly the same as that of Jeweled Lotus. Information suddenly changed, and we went from the realm of possibilities to a world of certainties. This time, however, it wasn’t a pleasant surprise of new supply for a staple, but rather the opposite. The price dynamics of these two cards couldn’t be more different, but the underlying mechanism – an efficient market for information – is what caused it. Deflecting Swat showed us what happens when the combined guess of the market turns out to be right, but that isn’t always the case.
Certainty brings with it a degree of finality – cards settle at their new prices, and any guesses from before become locked in. It’s the period between a set’s announcement and the unleashing of preview season when everything is up in the air. Some cards will end up cheaper, some more expensive, but if you feel like rolling the dice it can pay off to keep your eyes on the market.
Check out these other articles:
History, Restapled - In Full Swing by Steve Heisler
New Horizons - Commander Masters by Matt Grzechnik
New Tool Alert! by Jason Alt
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.