Insider Trading – What Happens When M10 Rotates?

StarCityGames.com Open Series: Indianapolis on March 13-14
Thursday, March 11th – Rise of the Eldrazi is right around the corner, but M11 isn’t far behind! In today’s edition of Insider Trading, Ben looks at the traditional cycle of values for Standard-legal cards, and gives his insight into the future values of cards from Magic 2010!

Hey everyone, and welcome back to Insider Trading! This week’s column will look at the value of cards in Magic 2010, pending the arrival of Magic 2011. While nobody knows for sure (outside of Wizards) what’s going to be in Magic 2011, we can take a look at past trends of the core set, and see where the value of certain cards in Magic 2010 will end up, depending on whether they are reprinted or not reprinted.

Set rotations in Standard typically occur in the fall (early October) when the first large set of the year is released. This set knocks the previous block out of Standard — so for instance, when the fall set (return to Mirrodin) comes out in October of 2010, all of Shards block (Shards of Alara, Conflux, and Alara Reborn) will rotate out of Standard.

These are not the only sets that will rotate, however! Previously, the core set (7th Edition/8th Edition/9th Edition/10th Edition-type sets) appeared once every two years, and rotated the previous core set. With the advent of M10 (and a yearly core set release), this method has changed drastically! Magic 2011 (M11) comes out on July 16th, 2010 — and rotates nothing. For three months, both M10 and M11 will be Standard-legal. Upon the release of the large fall set, M10 will finally rotate out of Standard.

This rotation is unprecedented, but then again most everything financially associated with M10 has been unprecedented. Typically, the last big party for Standard is Regionals (April-Mayish), with a last hurrah at Nationals (June-July). Because the cards are not needed for large tournaments outside of FNM (traditionally) from that point forward, the depreciation of about-to-rotate cards begins hitting right after Regionals, and accelerates after Nationals.

This isn’t to say that the rotating cards become worthless! But almost across the board, rotating cards take a dip in value in the short term. In the long term, as formats with older cards roll around (read: Extended in January through April), playable Extended cards that are no longer Standard legal typically reach, or outgrow, their peaks in Standard. It may take a couple of seasons, but this pattern has repeated for years now, and examples include Dark Confidant, the Ravnica block Dual lands, Engineered Explosives, Chrome Mox, and Thoughtseize — not to mention cards that become winners due to newer releases (Dark Depths) or cards heavily influenced by Legacy/Vintage (Tarmogoyf).

For every big Standard Tournament card that eventually reclaims (or exceeds) its pre-rotation value, there’s another that tails off, and never really reclaims former glory. Cards in this category include Ajani Goldmane, Demigod of Revenge, and Cryptic Command. That is not to say that these cards will never be played heavily in Extended — just that for now, they are not, and can be had for much cheaper than when they were Standard legal.

So in addition to the natural ebb and flow of Standard rotation, you also have the issue of reprints to factor in for M11. Facts are, I (and many other dealers) misread how the market would go for cards reprinted from 10th Edition into M10 — cards like Birds of Paradise, Pithing Needle, Platinum Angel, Underworld Dreams, Twincast, Traumatize, and the like. For previous base sets, where people generally weren’t interested in buying mass-amounts (or drafting mass-amounts) of fully-reprinted material, the cards reprinted from year-to-year generally maintained their same value. If a 7th Edition Elvish Piper was worth $3-$4, so was an 8th Edition, 9th Edition, and 10th Edition Elvish Piper.

M10 was purchased in amounts much, much higher than previous base sets, and I am comfortable in saying that this is mainly due to it including around 50% “new” cards. This really pushed a glut of reprinted cards onto the market, and the low-demand among these had a drastic downturn in value. Birds of Paradise and Pithing Needle were virtual $10 bills pre-M10 — now they are both in the $3-$5 range. Shivan Dragon is a bulk rare, Royal Assassin is a bulk rare, and the kings of the set are generally the cards that have seen print for the first time.

That is not to say that every reprinted cards in M10 tanked in value — those that have seen Standard play over the past year have maintained value (Garruk Wildspeaker, Time Warp, Earthquake, Jace Beleren in particular). The value of M10 reprints, moreso than any core set before, was directly tied to the amount of competitive play that card saw over the course of the past year.

The key word here is competitive play — previous core sets were driven in value by both casual and competitive players. Since competitive players had no needs to open large quantities of the core set (being all reprints), they usually opted to buy singles from that set, as needed. That meant that the overall supply of the core set was very low (compared to a normal set), so there wasn’t a glut of supply against demand on, say, an Underworld Dreams.

Magic 2010 was opened in huge volume by competitive players, both to get their hands on large quantities of new cards, and to draft. Because there was so much product opened, the cards that had their value tied more to casual play (Twincast, Underworld Dreams, Elvish Piper, Coat of Arms, Platinum Angel) had a sharp decline, because the supply available from the competitive players was much more than the needs of the casual market.

I have no doubts that Birds of Paradise would be hovering much closer to $10 still if there were no Noble Hierarch, but facts are that the majority of Standard decks that could run either Birds of Paradise or Noble Hierarch, given the choice, will run Noble Hierarch over Birds of Paradise. So the decline of Birds of Paradise in value is not only a glut of the M10 version on the market, but the declined use of Birds of Paradise in tournament play.

Now here comes the tricky part — there are 15 Mythics and 53 Rares in Magic 2010, and I’ll assume there is an identical number of Mythics and Rares in Magic 2011, based on the set sizes being identical (according to the product announcement page). It stands to reason about around 50% of these cards will be reprints — and some of them will certainly be reprints of cards that first debuted in Magic 2010!

Given that Magic 2010 caused a lot of mid-range cards to halve in value, but spawned a lot of new money cards that were debuting for the first time, would I expect reprints in Magic 2011 to operate any differently? Nope, I expect the same to happen – the majority of reprints in the set will cause the older versions to go down in value, though some will maintain a higher level than the M10 cards did (through proved sustained tournament play).

What about the cards that rotate? They will all dip in value in the short term, but there are several gems that I expect to hold value over the longer (1-2 years, Extended play) term. For the rest of the article, let me take a look at some select cards and cycles from Magic 2010, and let me give my thoughts about what happens to these card values if they are reprinted, or if they rotate.

Magic 2010 Dual Lands (Dragonskull Summit, Drowned Catacomb, Glacial Fortress, Rootbound Crag, Sunpetal Grove)
I’m starting with the worst-case scenario here, because I don’t think that the M10 dual lands are a good choice for sustained value. If they are reprinted, I see them going the way of Pain Lands when they were in Standard – $2.50-$5 cards that don’t have much use in older formats, due to being outclassed. If they aren’t reprinted, I see them going the way of Pain Lands once they rotated out of Standard: $2-$3 each across the board, and with limited casual appeal. I hope I’m wrong, but I don’t see a winning scenario in the short or long term for this cycle of cards.

Magic 2010 Planeswalkers (Ajani Goldmane, Chandra Nalaar, Garruk Wildspeaker, Jace Beleren, Liliana Vess)
Ajani has taken the largest hit in value over the Lorwyn rotation of this cycle, but that is more in due to the absence of token decks post-Lorwyn, than any other factor. Garruk (despite being in a Dual deck, being an XBox promo, and being in both Lorwyn and M10) continues to be a solid bet, because he is seeing a lot of play. Jace is a control favorite (yes, the old version), and shows up even now in fringe Turbo-Fog builds. The other two — Liliana and Chandra – are both at the same $4-$6 mark where they were for the Lorwyn Versions.

I think that if these guys get reprinted as a cycle (which I don’t think will happen, personally), then Ajani/Chandra/Liliana will all hit the $3-$4 mark, and that Garruk/Jace will take a slight hit (to the $8-$10 range), but will be stable. I think what is more likely to happen is that some of the newer planeswalkers will be rotated into the set — so we might see Elspeth in place of Ajani Goldmane, or Sorin Markov in place of Liliana Vess. I think it would be entirely possible to have the M11 lineup of Planeswalkers be White: Elspeth, Blue: Tezzeret the Seeker (to coincide with new Mirrodin block), Green: Garruk Wildspeaker (Sorry Nissa!), Red: Chandra Ablaze, and Black: Sorin Markov. I could be completely off here. Either way, I think that due to high casual appeal, this cycle might end up being better off with some time off from Standard than if more copies were put into circulation.

Baneslayer Angel (and Vampire Nocturnus)
I’m going to lump these two together, because if Vampire Nocturnus weren’t the prerelease card for M10, we’d probably be looking at a $40-$50 Mythic rare to keep Baneslayer Angel company. There is no doubt that both of these cards will go down some in value with a reprinting — but that is helped by both of them being Mythic in status. If both were reprinted in M11, my best guess (and don’t hold me to this 100%, but it’s an educated guess) is that Vampire Nocturnus drops to the $12.50 range, and Baneslayer Angel hits around $30 initially — but both would rise in value if they were still played over the course of the next year (I’d expect a recovery to about $15 for the Vampire, and $40-$45 for Baneslayer Angel, once the initial M11 rush is over).

If neither is reprinted, we’ve got a bit of a pickle on our hands. Vampire Nocturnus (and Vampires, as a tribe) haven’t shown much promise outside of Standard — so I’d have to believe that Nocturnus would take a big nosedive to Demigod of Revenge territory ($5-$10ish). Baneslayer Angel, on the other hand, has seen play in Extended, is probably the most iconic creature in Magic right now, and has seen a slight amount of Legacy play. Would Baneslayer Angel tank in value? I’d say no — I’d expect Baneslayer to hit around $25-$30 if it weren’t reprinted, and people would rush to dump copies onto the market. I do think that there is a huge segment of the Magic population who previously couldn’t afford Baneslayer Angel who would welcome being able to more readily afford the card. I’d see Baneslayer at a solid $25-$30 post-rotation, and at an eventual $40-$45 if it didn’t rotate.

Elvish Archdruid
One of the most played M10 “new” cards in older formats (a key part of most Elf Extended builds), Elvish Archdruid is one of those cards that would maintain value in the long term, post-rotation — it has a pedigree to draw from (Priest of Titania, Wirewood Channeler), so there’s a precedent for this. If it were reprinted, it’d probably drop to around $5ish. In this case, the long-term value of Elvish Archdruid would be higher if it were not reprinted, rather than if it were!

Goblin Chieftain

Never quite used, this card has a large amount of potential upside. If it rotates, it will drop to the $1-$2 range — at which point I would suggest picking them up as a long-term “eventually this card will be used” bet. If it doesn’t rotate, it’ll probably stick in the $3 range for the time being.

It’ll be interesting to see how the market reacts to M11, because of the high volume of M11 that will be opened, the overlap in rotation between M10 and M11, and the rotation of cards that were in print for the first (and only) time in M10. Only time will tell how accurate I am on predicting this new frontier, but at the least it will be exciting to see if M11 continues the devaluation of reprints that M10 started, or if the printing of more tournament-playable cards from M10 will help the cards maintain a higher value.

Before I head out for this week, just one announcement. Insider Trading is going on hiatus for a month, and will return when I do my Rise of the Eldrazi financial values article, the week of the Rise prerelease. I’m going to try to get ahead on my writing between now and then (I’ve travelled more than originally scheduled, and preparing for a May baby is a lot of work!), so thank you for the last few weeks, and I’ll see you in just four more!

Ben Bleiweiss