Modern Masters: The Early Returns

Modern Masters is here! We’re one week in, and it’s time to see if the reprints have quashed the value of Modern’s most expensive format staples. Read on to see all of Chas’ data!

Modern Masters is here! We’re one week in, and it’s time to see if the reprints have quashed the value of Modern’s most expensive format staples. With Tarmogoyf once again hiding in packs near you, surely his price has come down a little, right?

Tarmogoyf last week:

Last Week

Tarmogoyf this week:

This Week

Well crap. I suppose that having Tarmogoyfs in stock is a step in the right direction, but this is certainly not what Wizards of the Coast had in mind when they printed a set designed to bring Modern prices down. What a monumental failure.

All weekend, I heard variations on that theme from everyone I talked to. What was the point of Modern Masters if it was going to be so short printed that we’d barely get to play with it and it wouldn’t even bring card prices down?

It’s true that the Modern Masters release had issues—we’ll get to those in a bit—but first I want to quash the misconception that the cards haven’t gone down in price. They have. Here’s a chart of every rare and mythic in the set showing how much the card’s price has gained or lost since last week here on StarCityGames.com. Mythic rares in bold:


I’m comparing the current Modern Masters version to last week’s original set version, so the price drops aren’t perfect. That’s why Jugan and Auriok Salvagers both seemed to go up in price—thanks to the bump in rarity of both, the Modern Masters version of each card is worth slightly more.

Before we talk about this list, let’s take a look at it again. This time, I’ve reranked the cards based on percent of value lost. I think this is more indicative of what’s actually going on.


Tarmogoyf, Dark Confidant, and Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker are Modern Masters mythics in high demand. Many people are opening this set just to get at money cards like Tarmogoyf. This means that if they open one they’re not going to want to sell or trade it for less than the going rate. Since the supply of these cards is still pretty low due to their mythic rarity, it’s a seller’s market for the high-end mythics.

Cards with new art are doing better than average. Over time, I expect the Modern Masters versions of many of these cards to do even better than the set versions. Swords, I’m looking at you.

Affinity cards are holding their value at a better than average rate. Perhaps it’s because the archetype is so darn fun to play in Draft, but Arcbound Ravager, Glimmervoid, and Blinkmoth Nexus are all holding steady at 20% or less losses.

Vendilion Clique is starting to creep back up in price. It bottomed out and is starting to rise again. It will soon be back up at the top of the list with Tarmogoyf and Dark Confidant.

Legacy cards are getting hammered. Summoner’s Pact and Pact of Negation, for example, are two Legacy cards that don’t see much Modern play. They are among the biggest losers in Modern Masters so far. This speaks to my belief that new interest in this format has tapered off considerably. Most people who play Legacy are format diehards who have these cards already.

Casual cards are taking a huge loss as well. Grand Arbiter Agustin IV, Woodfall Primus, Jhoira of the Ghitu, and several other cards of that ilk were only expensive because they were printed before Commander had taken off as a format. I expect that some of these cards will take quite a long time to bounce back in price unlike the tournament staples.

In general, it seems that tournament mythics either didn’t drop in price or will recover immediately. Rares that are actually staples in Modern dropped about 20%. Casual mythics dropped about 25%. Fringier tournament cards and Legacy staples dropped between 33% and 40%. Casual rares lost about half their value.

Of course, the folks who create the prices on SCG are shrewd. They know that the prices for many of these cards will rebound. Instead of following the price all the way down to the bottom, they’ve decided to keep them a little bit higher than the current rate percentage-wise. Here’s the same chart again, this time using race-to-the-bottom online retailer data. I’ve edited the bulk rares out this time so we can look at average price drops without skewing our data set:


Modern Masters has caused SCG to lower their prices by 25% on the above singles. On the independent market, prices have dropped even further—a whopping 35% loss of value in just a single week! Thus, it is fallacious to say that Modern Masters did not at least partially achieve its intended impact. At least in the short term, whether you were able to buy a single pack of Modern Masters or not, the format has become significantly cheaper.

Comparing the indie market chart to the SCG chart, I’d guess that SCG will be raising their price on both Swords and Vendilion Clique within the next few days—probably by the time you read this. It’s clear that people value the new Sword art and the chase mythics quite highly.

On the low end, it’s mostly the same cards that have dropped precipitously, though the Affinity stuff doesn’t seem to fare as well away from SCG. I also love some of these cards as pickups. Engineered Explosives for half the price it was last week? Yes please!

What about the uncommons? Have those been spared the hit, or have they dropped even further? Let’s explore those as well, looking only at cards with a current SCG retail price of $3 and higher:


Huh. That’s just a 14% drop. Let’s check the non-SCG chart and see if it stacks up:


This is a 45% drop, which is much more in line with what I expected. Again, I think SCG is playing the long game here. Many of these uncommons have sweet new alternate art and all of them are quick sellers. Why part with cards at a steep discount when you know that the market will rebound sooner rather than later?

Modern Masters Foils

With a foil in every single pack, are the foils in Modern Masters worth considerably less than the original set foils? It depends on the card. Here’s a list of all the foils where the Modern Masters version actually sells higher than the set version:


All four of these cards have alternate art for Modern Masters. Interestingly enough, two of these new pictures—Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker and Dark Confidant—have been panned by online echo chamber division of the Magic community! I’m kind of surprised these versions are worth more.

Here are the foils worth the same no matter which version you have:


It’s interesting how some of these cards are on the list for opposite reasons. ‘Goyf is on here because it doesn’t matter which version you have: a foil Tarmogoyf is a foil Tarmogoyf. Meanwhile, Demigod of Revenge is on here because the foil market has already been saturated by the Prerelease foil. There’s just not that much lower a foil Demigod can go. Also of note are two more new alternate art cards, both of which have been well received.

Here are the foils with a small difference between the two, slightly favoring the set foil:


There are a lot of cards on this list that have already seen a foil printing, either in a From the Vault list or as a Judge foil. This has already brought down the foil price of the card somewhat, making the gulf between the new and old foil on here much flatter.

Lastly, the cards with major gaps between the new foil price and the old:


In most cases, this gulf is due to the old foil being massively high to begin with thanks to the fact that there’s never been a promo version. In other cases, the promo was very different from the set foil (Elspeth vs. Tezzeret Elspeth, textless Cryptic Command), keeping the original price very high. 

Is there money to be made by picking up these foils? Perhaps, but it wouldn’t be my priority. If you’re a foil cube builder, however, this is your chance to make that final push. Remember that Modern Masters foils are more common than normal foils, but they’re still very rare with approximately two foil rares appearing in each box. Value them appropriately.

What Comes Next

We’ve established that Modern Masters has had a major effect on the retail prices of the cards in the set. Tarmogoyf might not have come down in price much, but almost everything else has. Nearly every single deck in the format is cheaper today than it was yesterday. What does that mean for you?

From a player’s perspective, this is terrific news. The set has worked as intended. Now—today—is your chance to buy into Modern at a discounted rate. If I were a new Modern player looking to establish a portfolio, I would pick up playsets of every Modern Masters card I could as soon as possible. The prices will never be this low again.

As a speculator, however, you want to expect at least a 25%-30% gain before potential profits start to outweigh your seller’s fees and shipping costs. That said, there is still some money to be made buying singles if you can correctly identify the cards most likely to hit their previous value again quickly.

I personally like a lot of the alternate art stuff as well as cards that are established tournament powerhouses—think Knight of the Reliquary, Engineered Explosives, and Path to Exile. I would be more wary of casual cards that may have hit the tipping point—Jhoira of the Ghitu, for example.

Regardless, you might ask, how am I so sure that Modern Masters singles will go up in value at all? What if Modern Masters has permanently depressed the market for these singles? After all, that’s what Wizards of the Coast was hoping for, right?

Keep that question in your mind and bear with me for a minute or two. This is where we get to the gripe most people had with Modern Masters: getting a box for yourself last weekend was both hard and expensive.

The price for sealed boxes of Modern Masters has followed an interesting trajectory actually. MSRP for a box is around $170, but I’d wager less than 50% of all Modern Masters boxes were sold that cheaply. Before the contents were known, boxes were selling on eBay in the $200-$220 range. Once the set was spoiled, the price surged to $250-$260. On the day of release, the price briefly dropped to $230-$240 before climbing right back up to $250, which is currently the going rate. Modern Masters singles have been dropping in price while boxes have been rising.

Many local stores, unwilling to leave money on the table, cancelled their preorders or raised the price on packs in order to take full advantage of the set’s popularity. The stores that didn’t were inundated with players trying to buy as many packs as possible because it was basically just free money for them. Still others ran very popular drafts. Several of my friends and I did one on Saturday at our local store, but we had to show up at 3:30 for a 7 PM start time to insure that we would land a spot. It was crazy—and awesome.

In fact, one of the best things about Modern Masters is that it’s an absolute blast to draft. Untethered from the New World Order, the format is boiling over with power and complexity. It’s a mostly linear format, but one with more strategies available than there are drafters at the table. Everyone I spoke to last weekend loved Modern Masters as a Limited set. After we burned through our boxes, I started thinking about where our next score was coming from. I’m even building a Modern Masters Cube.

While a lot of people are holding out hope for a large second wave of boxes, I have yet to speak to anyone who is getting more than two additional boxes from their distributor. It’s possible that there are a bunch of Modern Masters cases hiding in a WotC warehouse somewhere, but short of that I’m pretty sure that 95% of all the Modern Masters there’s ever going to be has already been distributed. And most of that was opened in a single glorious weekend. Most of the rest of it will be cracked in Las Vegas next weekend. (And if you’re going, say hi to me! I’ll be there and will happily chat or trade with any of you.)

Now, when a normal set is released, it takes a few weeks for supply to catch up to demand. Every player in the world wants the new cards, but there haven’t been enough packs opened to serve everyone. Stores crack boxes, players draft and trade, and eventually an equilibrium is reached. This is the point where the combined total value of cards in a set cannot outpace the wholesale cost of packs by all that much. People will just keep cracking packs until this number evens out and the price will be bound by this number until the set goes out of print. With a limited release like Modern Masters, however, that isn’t the case.

Demand for singles is usually never higher than release day, but the opposite is true with Modern Masters. This time around, all of the packs were opened at once by everyone who could get their hands on them. Not just Modern players, but dealers, speculators, drafters, Standard players, casual players, Cube builders, and everyone else. All at once, everyone dumped the cards they didn’t want onto the marketplace in the hopes of selling to those who actually look at the set as a way to supplement their Modern collection.

Well, Magic doesn’t work quite like that. Some people need to save up for weeks in order to afford a few new cards for their collection. Others play seasonally, only thinking about Modern during its PTQ season—which is months away. Most people don’t strive to own every card, instead buying singles on a need-to-own basis.

So the only market for the Modern Masters singles right now are people looking to build a large collection or those who are currently brewing up Modern decks. The supply—nearly the entire print run of Modern Masters—is greatly outpacing demand. In fact, supply is outpacing demand by enough to cause the price of those singles to drop about 33% in a week.

This is why you should buy in now. It’s going to be a while before supply increases again —I bet they’ll do another Modern Masters set, but I wouldn’t count on it coming before summer 2015 at the earliest—and demand will increase steadily as Modern season approaches. This is the time to strike.

Sealed Boxes

These are another story entirely. In general, here’s what you want in a sealed product that you’re speculating on:

1) The ability to open stupidly powerful cards.
2) The ability to open foils of said stupidly powerful cards.
3) A number of expensive commons and uncommons you might also open.
4) A quality of Draft format.

Think of it this way. Which would you rather have: a set of Future Sight or a box of Future Sight? Remember that Future Sight had sixty rares, meaning a sealed box likely has only about a 60% chance of having a Tarmogoyf inside. The set guarantees you a Tarmogoyf along with a Sliver Legion, Horizon Canopy, and all of the Pacts. Personally, I’d take the set.

I’m in the minority, though. You can pick up a Future Sight set for about $240. If you want a sealed booster box, however, you’d have to pay at least $400. And that’s a good price—if I had a box for sale right now, I’d ask $500 and expect to get it.

This isn’t just true for Future Sight. An Innistrad booster box will easily sell higher than a full set of Innistrad. You can buy two complete sets of Worldwake for the price of a sealed box of that.

Why are those boxes so pricey? Mostly, it’s the thrill of the unknown. Humans are irrational when it comes to luck—we always prefer the untapped potential of something to the blandness of a known quantity. It’s why I overrate prospects in fantasy sports, it’s why you overrate that sweet new combo card in the recently spoiled set, and it’s why everyone goes nuts for sealed product that might have a valuable foil inside.

Well, Modern Masters is the archetypal box of expensive boosters. It’s an amazing Draft format, it has a mythic quality to it, it’s short printed, and it’s chock full of expensive cards at all rarities. There’s even a foil in every pack. It’s so darned exciting to open in fact that I’d wager very few sealed boxes will be available in a few months much less a few years.

Should you keep your boxes sealed? Only if you can get a lot of them. We play Magic for fun first and foremost, and the fun you’ll get out of a Modern Masters draft outweighs the monetary gain of keeping the packs sealed over the long haul. If you do open your packs, though, hold on to the singles. Cracking packs (that will be more expensive later on) only to sell singles (that will be more expensive later on) seems quite foolish to me.

I know many will disagree with me, but at the end of the day I have to give Modern Masters an A- grade. It does stink that not everyone was able to get all the packs they had wanted, but a limited release kept the cards feeling special and it didn’t crash the secondary market. It did manage to bring prices down on many expensive Modern, Legacy, and casual cards while stimulating interest in the format.

While I would love to draft Modern Masters ten or twenty more times at least, I really do feel that making Modern Masters a wide release would have cheapened many of the cards in it—Tarmogoyf would have still been $60+, but many of those causal cards would have seen their value destroyed. People would have become outraged at the $6.99 retail cost of the packs, and with the lower value rares dropping below a buck, it would have started to feel like a lottery ticket.

I know some of you feel that this set was a cash grab on Wizards’ behalf, and all I can say is that I wish more companies grabbed cash like this. It’s a win for people who got their packs at MSRP, a win for anyone who got to draft the set, a win for anyone who wants to buy in to Modern, and a win for anyone who was worried about the value of their collection.

The minus is for Jugan and Ryusei. I’m still convinced they were in there specifically to troll people who care about how much their little pieces of cardboard are worth.

Until next week –

– Chas Andres