Insider Trading – How Tarmogoyf Became a $50 Card

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Wednesday, August 20th – Tarmogoyf rose from bulk rare to $50 Standard powerhouse over the course of a few months, and stayed there for nearly a year. How did this Rare break all Standard-price records and end up the most expensive Standard-legal card in Magic’s history? Will there be another like it in the future? In the latest edition of Insider Trading, Ben examines the Tarmogoyf phenomenon from beginning to end.

Tarmogoyfthe most expensive Standard card in Magic’s history, charting in at a solid $50 at its peak. We began by preselling it at $3 each in April. It rose in price the first week of June to $8, then to $15 by the end of June. The top-tier Standard cards usually parked in the $20-$25 range, but this was not the case of Tarmogoyf. By July, it was $20. By August, $25. When we got our next last batch in stock, it was September, and we sold out at $32.50 within a week. We moved a ton more in October at $35 each. November brought a $40 price tag, and by the time the New Year hit, Tarmogoyf had hit $50 and we could not keep them in stock!

How did Tarmogoyf end up being the most expensive Standard-legal card in Magic’s history? How did it maintain its price for a solid six months? How did this affect the rest of the secondary market? And could any card in Standard hit this mark again?

Let’s take a look back at my Financial Values of Future Sight article from April 20th of 2007.

The Good:
Tarmogoyf ($2-3 or much, much higher): I’m of two minds about Tarmogoyf. Unassisted, it’ll be a 0/1, 1/2 or 2/3 for two mana. Assisted, and by assisted I mean with Dredge, discard, or shenanigans, it’ll be a 4/5 or 5/6 for two mana. I think this guy will initially be dismissed, and will be broken by the Japanese. Pick up a playset before Regionals — it has the potential to be broken.

And then the very next week, for my “Top 5 Overrated and Underrated Future Sight cards“:

I picked Aeon Chronicler as my “sleeper hit” of Planar Chaos. This time, I’m picking Tarmogoyf. He’s low on the radar right now, and some people have been talking about him, but I’m just going to say that he’s flat-out nuts.

What are the applications for Tarmogoyf? Well, he fits into Aggro-Loam in Extended. If you cast Devastating Dreams, you’re going to end up with at least a creature, a land, and a sorcery in your graveyard (3/4 for G1). Depending on your opponent or your hand, you might get an Instant or artifact as well (4/5 for G1). He fits into that deck.

Aside from Aggro-Loam, Tarmogoyf works wonders with dredge, fits like a glove in a deck that has burn to kill opposing creatures, and works just as well late-game as he does early (if built around). How often does your opponent cast turn 3 Compulsive Research, discarding a land, and follow it with turn 4 Wrath? That gives you a 3/4 creature for two mana (Sorcery, Land, Creature), which is nothing to laugh about — especially if you’re Blue/Green and can now counter against retaliation.

Will Friggorid run Tarmogoyf in Extended? It’s entirely possible to dredge up a first-turn Golgari Grave-Troll, and end up with an artifact, sorcery, enchantment, creature, and land in your graveyard on turn 2 — making for a 5/6 Tarmogoyf. Chances are you’ll at least end up with a creature, land and sorcery, and that’s discounting if your version reverts to playing Tolarian Winds for the explosive start (making the start even more explosive thanks to Tarmogoyf).

Pick up a playset of these while they’re cheap.

(Just as a side note, while I’m never 100% right on these articles, I am usually pretty good at picking the one-to-two sleeper cards that end up having the sharpest rise in value. Stillmoon Cavalier was the card I pushed the hardest in my Eventide Set review.)

So how did Tarmogoyf end up hitting the $50 mark?

1) Third Set Syndrome
When you’ve got a block of cards, the third set in the block traditionally is not opened as much as the previous two sets. The main reason for this is drafting. Let’s take Time Spiral Block – when Time Spiral first came out, all Time Spiral Block drafts were Time Spiral/Time Spiral/Time Spiral. Three months later, enter Planar Chaos. Drafts shifted to the Time Spiral/Time Spiral/Planar Chaos format. Once Future Sight hit in early May, we got Time Spiral/Planar Chaos/Future Sight draft. So over the course of a year, Time Spiral would be opened up for drafting much, much more heavily than both Planar Chaos and Future Sight combined, with Future Sight only around for a (realistic) three-to-five month window of drafting, at one-pack-a-draft-per-person.

2) Future Sight was Initially an Unpopular Set
Believe it or not, players initially did not like Future Sight. The new (new) card frames were divisive, the overwhelming number of new mechanics confused players, and the set was viewed as weak. This caused preorders for Future Sight to be below the previous two sets. It’s really hard to believe this in hindsight, because Future Sight ended up being one of the best constructed sets in years, which leads to…

3) Future Sight was an Especially Good Set for Singles
This is a post I made in the forums of The Ferrett article “In Defense of Rares” in October of 2007.

I hate to be the voice of reason, but your math is faulty. Future Sight is, in fact, the absolute best value-for-money set in over half-a-decade for cracking packs. The last time a set held as much value-per-pack is when the Japanese businessmen were going on a rampant buying streak during Invasion Block, pushing virtually every good card in that format $5 higher than it they might otherwise have been.

Looking at cards that are $10+ is not an accurate representation of value opened per pack on any given set. You basically discount any number of cards from Future Sight that are in the $5-$9 range that people would be willing to open. Your argument implies that people do not get value out of opening Nimbus Maze, Graven Cairns, or Coalition Relic. Common sense dictates otherwise.

Let’s try this math another way. Right now, we (StarCityGames.com) sell Future Sight Booster Boxes for $84.99. There are 36 cards in a pack, so the average value of a pack, unopened is $2.36. Let’s make a list of the Rares in Future Sight that are worth both more than $2.50, and have demand (are fast sellers right now):

Akroma’s Memorial: $4.50
Bridge From Below: $6.00
Coalition Relic: $7.50
Epochrasite: $5.00
Glittering Wish: $4.00
Graven Cairns: $7.50
Grove of the Burnwillows: $7.50
Horizon Canopy: $12.50
Korlash: $12.50
Magus of the Moon: $4.00
Nimbus Maze: $7.50
Pact of Negation: $6.00
River of Tears: $7.50
Slaughter Pact: $7.00
Tarmogoyf: $35.00
Tarox Bladewing: $2.50
Tombstalker: $7.50
Venser: $10.00

Total: $154.00

Now, there are 60 Rares in Future Sight. 60 into 154 is $2.56, which times 36 is $92.16. This means that, if we (StarCityGames.com) opened a statistically significant number of Future Sight boxes for singles, we would be making (just factoring in the GOOD rares) $7.16 more per box than selling them sealed. This does NOT include the other Rares we’d get from any given box we opened, plus foils, plus Uncommons (Of which there are quite a few good ones: Delay, Dryad Arbor, Keldon Megaliths, Narcomoeba, Riftsweeper, Street Wraith, Tolaria West, and Yixilid Jailer are all tournament-savvy Uncommons) plus Commons (almost all of which, admittedly, would be bulked).

Well, you might ask, if Future Sight is worth $92.16 a box opened, and $84.99 a box sealed, why are you keeping any sealed boxes in stock? First, any given box can come out with a wild variance from that $92.16 price. If we opened a huge number of boxes at once, I’m sure we would hit that average of $92.16 a box. Two cases? Not so much – there’s a lot more luck when you open a fewer number of boxes. We might get twelve Tarmogoyfs out of twelve boxes, we might get two. So it’s a big money investment to buy a large number of boxes at once.

In addition, there’s the cost of manpower. It takes time and employees to open boxes. The boxes need to be taken out of the cases, the packs out of the boxes, the packs opened, the cards sorted, the cards entered into the system, and the cards filed into inventory. If we sell the box sealed, the labor involved is minimal. If we sell the box opened, the labor costs skyrocket.

This is not to say that I’m opposed to opening Future Sight boxes for stock – we did so right before States to have a good inventory on cards for people ordering their States decks. By the end of that time, we were sold out of half the cards on the above list, and threatening to be sold out on almost all of the others. We might open more Future Sight boxes if demand for the cards continues to outstrip our ability to pick up cards through our buy list.

What does this all mean?

When somebody says something like “I find it interesting that Future Sight may not even be the best standard-legal set to crack if just looking for money rares,”, I need to come onto the boards and say that this statement is beyond false. Future Sight is not only the best Standard-legal set to crack if just looking for money rares, it’s the best set to crack if just looking for money rares in nearly a decade.

Ben Bleiweiss
General Manager, StarCityGames.com

A lot of those prices ended up coming down, but it was only because people were going nuts opening boxes trying to find the elusive Tarmogoyf (which quickly rose to $50, as opposed to the $35 listed above). This list didn’t include a lot of high-selling lower-dollar cards such as Shimian Specter, Bitter Ordeal, Molten Disaster, Nihilith, Pyromancer’s Swath, Quagnoth, Rites of Flourishing, Sliver Legion, Summoner’s Pact, or Take Possession. As the value of an opened Future Sight pack rose, more and more people (players and dealers alike) started cracking boosters, causing the demand to exceed supply, as distributors ran out of Future Sight Boxes entirely. The price on Future Sight booster boxes began to rise, and distributors began having problems keeping Future Sight boxes in stock. These all contributed to the price increase and sustained high price tag on Tarmogoyf.

4) The Dollar was Weak Against Global Currencies
Over the past year-and-a-half, the dollar has taken a bit of a tumble against several foreign currencies, most notably the Euro. Magic, though a very global game, has a majority of the sales from the secondary market (read: singles sales, dealers) coming from the United States. As the Euro (and other non-U.S. currencies) gained against the dollar, it became more and more feasible for foreign (read: non-U.S.) players to start buying out singles from U.S. dealers.

8/15/2005: 1 Euro = $1.25 USD
8/15/2006: 1 Euro = $1.27 USD
8/15/2007: 1 Euro = $1.36 USD
10/15/2007: 1 Euro = $1.42 USD
3/08-7/08: 1 Euro = $1.55 to $1.60 USD

A 25% increase in buying power certainly helps in buying a card – so if Tarmogoyf was destined to be a card worth $25 USD in previous markets, a concentrated buyout by the European Magic market would account for the price pushing just over $30 on its own.

5) Tarmogoyf was Played in Every Major Constructed Format
Block, Standard, Extended, Legacy, Vintage – every major Constructed format in Magic had top-tier decks which employed Tarmogoyf as part of its arsenal. Only a select few cards affect this many formats and metagames, and usually they are artifacts – Sensei’s Diving Top, Umezawa’s Jitte, Affinity (Arcbound Ravager). Demand from Tarmogoyf wasn’t just coming from Standard players – it was coming equally from Extended and Legacy players, with some lesser demand from Vintage players.

6) Tarmogoyf was Eminently Splashable
7) Tarmogoyf was a Base 0/1 Creature
8) Tarmogoyf Counted Both Graveyards
9) Tarmogoyf Cost only Two Mana
10) Planeswalker and Tribal were Included on Tarmogoyf

I lump these together, because these are all design issues that explain why Tarmogoyf was so powerful. Because Tarmogoyf cost only two mana, it was very undercosted as a creature, in general. Because it cost only a single Green to cast, it could be played in virtually any deck that wanted to have it as a single-four-of-splash. Had Tarmogoyf cost GG, it would have been half-to-a-third of its $50 price. Because Tarmogoyf was a 0/1 creature (and not a 0/0) with empty graveyards, it was hard to disrupt purely with graveyard hate. And because it counted both graveyards, Tormod’s Crypt was not the be-all solution to Tarmogoyf that it might have been. Adding Tribal and Planeswalkers as two additional card types in the very next set (Lorwyn) also helped boost the power level of Tarmogoyf to a degree as well.

Imagine the following creature:

Tarmogoyf – GG1
Creature – Lhurgoyf
Tarmogoyf’s power and toughness are equal to the number of card types among cards in your graveyard. (The card types are artifact, creature, enchantment, instant, land, and sorcery.)

Would this card still have had a Constructed impact? Hell yes! It wouldn’t have been Vintage or Legacy playable, but it would have been a fringe Extended card, and a solid Standard (and block) player. By weakening five facets of the card (Cost, mana-Cost, Power/Toughness, Graveyard Counting, and Card Types), we’re still looking at a rare that would probably have hit the $10-$15 mark, and given players fits in Standard. This speaks to just how overpowered Tarmogoyf truly was!

The price on Goyf is now coming down to more manageable levels, as Standard players (the ones who don’t play older formats) are offloading their copies of the card. Still, players are worried that there might be another Tarmogoyf in the future (Mutavault and Bitterblossom flitted around this range), especially given Mythic Rares. And to this, I say that Wizards is pretty paranoid about not making this sort of card (which is admittedly, by Wizards, much more powerful than they intended) into a Mythic. If it were Rare, the change in Rare frequency (see my Mythic Rares column) would help belay the price as well.

As a side note – I believe that Umezawa’s Jitte would likely have been the first card to hit the $35-$40 range in Standard, had it not been printed in the Rats’ Nest theme deck. It has many attributes in common with Tarmogoyf (splashable, played in all formats, from an unpopular set, in the middle-of-a-block, plus it’s an artifact which is even more of a boost), but having them readily available in MSRP-ready Theme Decks at Wal Mart helped to suppress the price until the supply of Rats’ Nest Betrayers decks dried up.

As another side note, threads popped up all over the internet (including on our own boards) complaining about the high price of Tarmogoyf. All the while, Future Sight kept selling better and better as Tarmogoyf rose in value. This is also the case with Morningtide, which initially had sluggish sales; as Bitterblossom and Mutavault started a fast ascent, sales on Morningtide picked up notably. If there’s a lesson learned by this from Wizards, it’s that putting a card that ends up in the $30-$50 range in a set will tangibly increase sales and interest in the sealed product of that set.

And one last aside – we (at StarCityGames.com) read many, many discussions about the price of Tarmogoyf over the past year, both on our boards and on the forums of other sites. Players wondered where the ceiling of Tarmogoyf might be (I believed $35 myself, once it hit the $20 mark), and complained as the price on Tarmogoyf kept going up and up. I can tell you without reservation that Tarmogoyf was worth $50, because we kept selling out of them at that price! Believe me, I personally think it’s bad to have a single rare worth $50 in Standard, because that’s $200 you need to invest just in a single playset of one card. In the long run, it’s more beneficial for us to have Standard be affordable to the majority of players, then to have players get priced out of the format, driving customers away from the game. On the flip side, if we’re selling out of Goyf at $50, lowering the price would basically do one thing – have us lose money unnecessarily. Lowering the price to $30 wouldn’t have made Tarmogoyf worth $30 – it would have made us lose $20 on the selling price, and made us be out of stock on Tarmogoyf in minutes, instead of in hours.

See you in six days!

Ben Bleiweiss
– General Manager, StarCityGames.com