A Buyer’s Guide To Secret Lair

Early last week, Wizards of the Coast announced a new product line: Secret Lair. It’s the latest in a long line of products designed to monetize the premium card market and get Magic’s most engaged customers to shout, “Shut up and take my money!” In some ways, Secret Lair a spiritual successor of the Masterpiece series, Mythic Edition, and Collector Boosters. In others, Secret Lair is a whole new ballgame.

The idea is this: every day for seven straight days in December, you will have a chance to purchase a small bundle of premium, alt-art cards directly from Wizards of the Coast. The largest of these bundles contains seven cards, while the smallest bundle contains three (or, if you want to get pedantic, one actual card and four related tokens). The bundles each retail between $30 and $40, though you’ll have a chance to buy the entire lot for $200 if you want, which comes to just over $28.50 each.

Much like Mythic Edition, each bundle will only be available for a single day— then it will be gone forever. Unlike Mythic Edition, however, there will be no rush to eBay or the Hasbro Toy Shop to try to “win” one of 10,000 printed copies. This time, they will print however many copies are ordered that day, limit ten (!) per person. So even if you order ten full copies during the very last minute of the drop, you’re guaranteed to get your order fulfilled.

I like using Mythic Edition as a point of comparison for Secret Lair because this product seems to be the result of WotC listening to the community’s complaints about that product. The two biggest complaints about Mythic Edition were its price tag (Why were you forced to buy half a booster box just to get the cool foils?) and its availability (If you ordered a copy on eBay or the Hasbro Toy Shop 30 seconds after the listing went up, shouldn’t you be guaranteed a copy?). Pivoting to something like Secret Lair, which allows each card to be a lot more accessible, feels like a great way to address these issues.

Why Is Secret Lair Such a Big Deal for Magic Finance?

For almost two decades, Wizards of the Coast mostly ignored the secondary market. They were content to let the value of old cards prop up the sales of current sets, tacitly reminding folks that Magic cards are a good investment and that they should buy more booster packs.

That changed when WotC started producing sets like Modern Masters, which acknowledged that players are willing to play more for a chance to open cards that are worth more money on the secondary market. WotC still won’t openly talk about card values, but many of their products —Commander precons, Mystery Boosters, Collector Boosters, and more — feel finely tuned and calibrated around the current value of desirable reprints.

And then there’s Secret Lair, which is the closest that WotC has ever come to printing singles and selling them individually. One of the drops is just Bitterblossom and some tokens. Another is a playset of Serum Visions. A third is a trio of high-value Commander staples. WotC generally forces you to buy a bunch of booster packs or a full preconstructed deck in order to get at the cool stuff, but not this time. They’ve almost completely dropped their pretense with Secret Lair, acknowledging, for example, that a significant portion of their player-base is willing to drop $30 on a full-art copy of Bitterblossom.

It’s too early to say exactly what this might mean for the future. For one thing, Secret Lair feels like a product that’s deliberately designed to test the market and gauge community response to a bunch of different concepts. Consider how radically different each of the seven drops are:

  • A full-art marquee Commander card and four tokens
  • Three popular and expensive foil commanders
  • Five foil Snow-Covered basic lands
  • Three nonfoil Modern Dredge staples
  • Four foil copies of a single Modern staple, each with different art
  • Five nonfoil cards from a popular casual and semi-competitive tribe
  • Five foil cards and two tokens from a popular casual and not-at-all competitive tribe

I have to believe that WotC will be taking notes about which of these bundles sell well and which do not. Will the Commander cards sell better than the competitive cards? Will the foils out-sell the nonfoils? Do people prefer bundles with one to three expensive cards, or five to seven less expensive cards? Will folks really pay $30 for a set of basic lands? I’d imagine that any future Secret Lair drops will privilege the sorts of bundles that sell the best from this first lot.

Depending on which drops sell well, it’s possible that Secret Lair will make it a lot riskier to hold onto cards in the $10-$50 range for too long. These cards were already risky holds thanks to sets like the Masters series and Mystery Boosters, but Secret Lair could add a whole new way for WotC to reprint these cards. For example, why would you drop $50 (the current retail price) on a Bitterblossom from Morningtide when you can order a copy straight from WotC for $30? Sliver Overlord currently sells for $35, and that’s for the nonfoil. Wouldn’t you rather pay $40 for a bundle that also includes foil copies of Reaper King and The Ur-Dragon?

The Secret Lair drops are also likely to devalue foils and promo cards across the board. While many early-set foils and promotional cards will maintain very high price tags due to scarcity, most Magic players simply want to have something cool in their deck. For a card like Reaper King, the only foil option used to be the Shadowmoor set foil for $70. Now there’s going to be an additional choice available to everyone. The Shadowmoor foil Reaper King won’t tank — it’s still incredibly scarce — but I’d be shocked if the price doesn’t soften up a little, especially for played copies.

Ultimately, though, I can’t predict the effect that Secret Lair will have on the marketplace until we get a sense of how often WotC adds new drops to the series. If Secret Lair happens once a year, it won’t do much. If Secret Lair happens every month, it’ll have a major impact on the Magic market for years to come. My best guess right now is that WotC will run it out quarterly, but I doubt they’ll actually make that call until they see how the first drop does. A lot is going to be determined by how many copies of each bundle they sell this week.

 Is Secret Lair a Good Spec Buy?

Let’s get the obvious out of the way first: Secret Lair is not the slam-dunk buy that Mythic Edition was. Because Mythic Edition was so strictly allocated, supply never even had a chance to match demand. You could buy a copy (if you were lucky) and instantly sell it for two to three times what you paid.

This won’t be the case with Secret Lair. Anyone who wants a copy at MSRP can buy up to ten of each drop straight from WotC, preventing these collectors from having to approach the secondary market at all. If you’re hoping to make money by speculating on Secret Lair, you’re going to have to hold onto them for a while.

Here’s the good news, though: a lot of speculators are going to skip Secret Lair for this exact reason. Mythic Edition was such an obvious spec that literally everyone in the Magic community with an extra $300 in their bank account attempted to buy a copy whether they wanted one or not. Since Secret Lair is available to everyone, fewer people are going to be buying in for the explicit purposes of resale. Most copies of Secret Lair will end up in private collections and will only re-enter the market once those collectors are done with them.

I also believe that most people are underrating just how restrictive the “available for one day only, then gone forever” model actually is. How many Magic players are going to miss the drop they want simply because they forgot what day it was? How many are unaware of Secret Lair altogether because they’re not fully plugged into the news cycle? How many want a copy but don’t have the extra cash to drop on it right now? How many are uninterested right now, but will want the cards later on once they decide to build a five-color Commander deck or start playing Modern Dredge? Heck, how many folks simply haven’t started playing Magic yet, but will want these cards really badly once they discover our wonderful game? There will be no shortage of people to sell your extra Secret Lairs to in the future.

Here’s another way to look at it. There are three ways that so-called “collectibles” end up being worth a fraction of their original cost, and I don’t think any of them will apply to Secret Lair:

  1. A limited edition run of something is massively over-printed, causing it to languish on the market for months or even years at MSRP or lower. I’m sure you can walk over to the discount shelf at your LGS and see dozens of these products: comics and figurines that are “limited to 20,000” despite never really having much demand at all. This cannot happen with Secret Lair, because WotC is printing each set to match demand.
  2. The entire market collapses, like baseball cards did in the nineties. This is not going to happen to Magic any time soon. The overall Magic market is doing quite well, and there are no signs of an impending crash, especially for alt-art Commander staples.
  3. The only real demand comes from folks who want to hold onto the product “as an investment,” leading to a situation where nobody actually wants to own the dang thing. This is why the Franklin Mint plates and little statuettes that your grandparents bought on QVC are close to worthless now. This isn’t going to apply to Secret Lair either, at least not for the first round of drops. WotC isn’t pitching the set as an investment, and the #mtgfinance community doesn’t seem to be super-interested in the product. It’s possible that future rounds of Secret Lair will make for worse investments once people see that it’s a good long-term hold and more speculators decide to go in, but for now, most of these drops are going to be going straight to players and collectors.

Secret Lair might not have a super-high return on investment, but it’s actually quite a safe buy that’s very unlikely to go terribly wrong for you. If you’ve got a bunch of extra cash and you like safe, long-term investments, you might want to consider grabbing several full sets of drops. Just stick them in your closet and wait it out. I bet it’ll outperform most other low-risk investments over the next year or two.

Which Secret Lair Drops Are the Best Buys?

This is actually a harder question to answer than it looks.

Let’s assume for a moment that Kaleidoscope Killers, the set with the three-color Commanders, sells ten times as many copies as OMG KITTIES, the Cat Tribal drop. This would mean that demand for Kaleidoscope Killers is significantly higher than it is for OMG KITTIES, a trend that is likely to continue in the future. On the other hand, it also means that there will be ten times as many copies of each Kaleidoscope Killers card out there, making each card from OMG KITTIES a heck of a lot more scarce.

This is completely unprecedented in the world of Magic finance, where supply is usually flat across a given product line. If each Secret Lair drop had a flat limited printing number like with Mythic Edition, it would have been easy to say that Kaleidoscope Killers would hold its value a lot better than OMG KITTIES because of significantly increased demand for the former compared to the latter. Instead, we’ve got an inverse relationship between supply and demand. The better the drop, the more copies will be out there. The worse the drop, the more scarce it’ll be going forward.

Big picture, I feel like demand is what matters most. It’s a lot easier to find a buyer for a $50 Modern staple that’s expensive due to demand than it is to find a buyer for a $50 Old School card that’s expensive because it hasn’t been printed since Arabian Nights. If you’re only going to buy a couple of Secret Lair drops, I’d err on the side of the popular ones.

That said, the best Secret Lair drops are going to be the ones that see a surge in future popularity due to some other factor. For example, if WotC releases a new “Cats Matter” Commander that quickly becomes a major fan favorite, the contents of OMG KITTIES will spike quite a bit harder than the more popular Kaleidoscope Killers cards ever will due to the overall lack of supply. Because of this, I think it’s worth looking at each of the seven drops one at a time in search for the best overall buys.

Tuesday, December 3rd: Bitterblossom Dreams ($30)

  • 1 Alt-Art, Full Art Bitterblossom
  • 4 Alt-Art Faerie Rogue Tokens

Even though the Faerie Rogue tokens are gorgeous, this is essentially a one-card drop. That actually makes Bitterblossom Dreams one of the easier bundles to evaluate. Right now, the Bitterblossom market looks like this:

  • Morningtide Nonfoil – $50
  • Modern Masters 2015 Nonfoil – $50
  • Ultimate Masters Nonfoil – $50
  • Modern Masters 2015 Foil – $60
  • Ultimate Masters Foil – $70
  • Ultimate Masters Foil Full-Art Box Topper – $110
  • Judge Foil – $130
  • Morningtide Foil – $140

It’s possible that Bitterblossom Dreams will pull the entire market down a bit, at least temporarily, though I doubt that any of these versions will end up dropping as low as $30. Instead, I expect the new version of Bitterblossom to debut at $40 or so before eventually settling in somewhere closer to $60-$70. This will happen slowly if Bitterblossom remains almost solely a Commander staple, but the rise of a Bitterblossom deck in Modern could accelerate the process significantly. Regardless, Bitterblossom Dreams is one of the safer drops to pick up this week.

Wednesday, December 4th: Eldraine Wonderland ($30)

  • 5 Alt-Art Foil Snow-Covered basic lands: one of each.

Eldraine Wonderland is probably going to be one of the least-popular drops this week, but it could end up having the most long-term value. Unlike most of the other Secret Lair drops, where most people will only end up wanting one to four copies of each card, the folks who are want these Snow-Covered lands are going to need somewhere between eight and several dozen copies of each.

Right now, the market for Snow-Covered Island looks like this:

  • Modern Horizons Full-Art Snow-Covered Island – $0.75
  • Coldsnap Snow-Covered Island – $2.50
  • Ice Age Snow-Covered Island – $3.50
  • Modern Horizons Foil Full-Art Snow-Covered Island – $13
  • Coldsnap Foil Snow-Covered Island – $20

Granted, Snow-Covered Island is the best of the five, but these Secret Lair foils are probably going to end up being more scarce than their Coldsnap counterparts and I wouldn’t be shocked to see the Mountain and the Island selling somewhere in the $20-$30 range individually, especially if we get another “Snow Matters” set in the future. Premium basic lands are some of the safest long-term holds in Magic, and there simply aren’t that many options to foil out your Snow-Covered basics. This set is gorgeous, and it’s also one of the safer drops to pick up.

Thursday, December 5th: Restless in Peace ($30)

  • 1 Alt-Art Bloodghast
  • 1 Alt-Art Life from the Loam
  • 1 Alt-Art Golgari Thug

All three of these cards still see play in Modern Dredge, though the deck has a much smaller share of the metagame than it used to. This would have been a pretty epic bundle back during the Hogaak days, but it’s certainly possible that Dredge will see a resurgence at some point in 2020. We still don’t know what WotC will ban next year, nor do we know if there will be a second Modern Horizons set. Betting on powerful cards like this rarely ends up being a bad decision.

Right now, the market for these three cards looks like this:

Life from the Loam

  • Ultimate Masters Nonfoil – $13
  • Modern Masters 2013 Nonfoil – $13
  • Duel Decks: Izzet vs. Golgari Nonfoil – $13
  • Ravnica: City of Guilds Nonfoil – $18
  • Ultimate Masters Foil – $23
  • Modern Masters 2013 Foil – $30
  • Ultimate Masters Box Topper Full-Art Foil – $85
  • Ravnica: City of Guilds Foil – $100

Bloodghast

  • Iconic Masters Nonfoil – $12
  • Zendikar Nonfoil – $12
  • Iconic Masters Foil – $20
  • Zendikar Foil – $30

Golgari Thug

  • Ultimate Masters Nonfoil – $2.50
  • Duel Decks: Izzet vs. Golgari Nonfoil – $2
  • Ravnica: City of Guilds Nonfoil – $2
  • Ultimate Masters Foil – $3
  • Ravnica: City of Guilds Foil – $15

That puts the current retail value for the cheapest non-foil versions of all three of these cards combined at $27.50, which is just a little bit less than the $30 you’d have to pay WotC for the Secret Lair drop. This may not seem significant considering how awesome these cards look with alternate art, but I suspect it’ll mean they sell a lot fewer copies of this bundle than, say, Bitterblossom Dreams. If you’re in the market for a Bitterblossom, snagging that bundle for $30 is a no-brainer. If you’re in the market for these three cards, you at least have to stop and consider whether it’s worth paying a little more for the alternate art.

Ultimately, I suspect these three promotional cards will end up being worth about as much as the lower-end set foils, with the potential for Life from the Loam to be worth double that since it’s such a good Commander card. Just remember that Modern players aren’t nearly as interested in paying extra for premium cards as Commander players are, so betting on this bundle is similar to betting on a Dredge rebound in general. Again, this seems like solid value to me at $30, especially since Life from the Loam is still so desirable after four reprints. I don’t like it quite as much as the previous two bundles, though.

Friday, December 6th: Seeing Visions ($30)

  • 4 Foil Alt-Art copies of Serum Visions, each by a different artist.

Seeing Visions is the drop I’ve seen the least amount of excitement about, though it might be my personal favorite. The biggest problem here is that Serum Visions is still a pretty cheap card that doesn’t see much play outside of Modern. Here’s what the market looks like right now:

  • Conspiracy: Take the Crown Nonfoil – $4
  • Fifth Dawn Nonfoil – $4
  • Modern Masters 2017 Nonfoil – $4
  • FNM Promo Foil – $6
  • Modern Masters 2017 Foil – $8
  • Conspiracy: Take the Crown Foil – $10
  • Fifth Dawn Foil – $18
  • Arena Promo Foil – $20

Much like with the Snow-Covered Land and Dredge Staple bundle, you can easily pick up cheap versions of these cards for a lot less than $30. If you’re buying this drop, you’re doing it because you want the cool alt-art promos. And since there are already three different pieces of art out there for Serum Visions, I’m not sure how much demand there’s going to be for these.

That said, these are some of the most distinctive cards that WotC has ever commissioned. Magic has never really had any sort of punk, outsider, or street art before, and I wouldn’t be surprised if demand for these goes up as soon as folks actually get their hands on them. I also wouldn’t be surprised if one or two of these (my bet is on the Lauren YS version) end up being worth two to three times as much as the others, as people will be looking to complete playsets of their favorite iteration.

The biggest risk here is Serum Visions’s continued playability. The card doesn’t really show up in Legacy or Commander, and it’s not legal for play in Standard or Pioneer. If Serum Visions ends up being banned in Modern, or if it falls out of favor in the metagame for any reason, most of your long-term gains will be wiped out. On the other hand, the more this card shows up in competitive settings, the more sought-after the chase printings from this drop will get. Seeing Visions is one of the riskier Secret Lair drops, but the upside might just make up for it.

Saturday, December 7th: Explosion Sounds ($30)

  • Nonfoil Alt-Art copies of Goblin King, Goblin Lackey, Goblin Piledriver, Goblin Bushwhacker, and Goblin Sharpshooter.

Explosion Sounds exists at a pretty interesting intersection between the competitive and the casual markets. All Goblins derive at least some value from being a popular casual tribe, and you’re probably not putting Goblin King in any sort of competitive deck, but Goblin Piledriver sees play in Modern and Pioneer while Goblin Bushwhacker is a Pauper staple. It’s nice to know that at any point, these cards might see an uptick in value either due to a surge of competitive playability or the advent of a popular new Commander.

I’m not going to list the price tags of every version of all five of these cards, especially because Goblin King goes back to Alpha and Beta. Here’s a slightly slimmed-down version of their current market value, though:

Goblin King

  • Nonfoil – $3
  • Foil – $17

Goblin Lackey

  • Nonfoil – $9
  • From the Vault: Exiled Foil – $20

Goblin Piledriver

  • Magic Origins Nonfoil – $3
  • Magic Origins Foil – $7
  • Judge Foil – $30

Goblin Bushwhacker

  • Nonfoil – $1.50
  • Foil – $12

Goblin Sharpshooter

  • Nonfoil – $6
  • Foil – $45

If you wanted to buy the cheapest Near Mint nonfoil copies of all five of these cards, you’d be looking at spending $22.50. That makes this a slightly worse bundle than Restless in Peace from a pure playability perspective, though it’s likely that there’s more upside here simply due to how unique these cards are as well as the fact that they’re Goblins. Put simply, you’re far more likely to find interested future buyers for the Restless in Peace staples at an SCG Tour event next year, but these cards are going to be total show-stoppers in the right casual circle.

Overall, Explosion Sounds is a pretty safe buy. It even has a decent amount of upside depending on how Goblins or Mono-Red Aggro ends up doing in Pioneer over the next few years. It’s not my favorite drop on this list, but I doubt it goes horribly wrong for anyone who buys in, either.

Sunday, December 8th: Kaleidoscope Killers ($40)

  • Foil Alt-Art copies of The Ur-Dragon, Sliver Overlord, and Reaper King.

Kaleidoscope Killers is the most anticipated Secret Lair bundle, and it’s not particularly close. To learn why, all you have to do is check the market for these three cards:

The Ur-Dragon

  • Nonfoil – None
  • Foil – $12

Sliver Overlord

  • Nonfoil – $35
  • Premium Deck Series: Slivers Foil – $40
  • Scourge Foil – $90

Reaper King

  • Nonfoil – $15
  • Foil – $70

Yowza. Even though Kaleidoscope Killers is $40 instead of $30, the value is obvious. The cheapest nonfoil copies of these three cards would cost you a total of $62, putting this bundle roughly in line with Bitterblossom Dreams in terms of overall savings. Factor in the massive foil premiums here — Commander demand and serious scarcity both play a role — and you’re looking at a heck of a deal.

Reaper King is likely to suffer the biggest long-term hit in price since it was only printed once before, way back in Shadowmoor, which means that the overall supply of these is likely to increase by a lot. The set foil is also going to drop since there’s now a new foil that folks have access to for building Commander decks.

Sliver Overlord might drop the most over the short-term, but its price is going to rebound. The Premium Deck Series: Slivers collection was wildly overprinted back in the day, and the fact that Sliver Overlord is currently worth so much anyway is a great reminder of what happens whenever a new generation of Magic players discovers the power of Slivers.

Ultimately, this is what leads me to believe that Kaleidoscope Killers is probably the best bundle to pick up this week despite the hype. Not only is it already underpriced relative to the current retail cost of these cards, but it’s got one of the safest long-term spec targets in all of Secret Lair. This bundle should pay dividends fairly quickly, and I recommend snagging a copy or two.

Monday, December 9th: OMG KITTIES! ($40)

  • Foil Alt-Art copies of Arahbo, Roar of the World; Leonin Warleader, Mirri, Weatherlight Duelist; Qasali Slingers, and Regal Caracal
  • 2 Nonfoil Alt-Art Cat tokens

The art for OMG KITTIES! is amazing, and as a cat lover I adore this bundle to death. That said, I think it’s going to be the worst-selling bundle of the lot. Not only is it the last of the drops, which should lead to price fatigue, but it has a $40 price point despite not giving back much of that value in return. Consider the current market for these five nontoken cards:

Arahbo, Roar of the World

  • Nonfoil – None
  • Foil – $1.50

Mirri, Weatherlight Duelist

  • Nonfoil – None
  • Foil – $9

Leonin Warleader

  • Nonfoil – $1.50
  • Foil – $3

Qasali Slingers

  • Nonfoil – $0.50
  • Foil – None

Regal Caracal

  • Nonfoil – $0.50
  • Foil – $2

Mirri, Weatherlight Duelist is clearly still in demand, but all of these cards are pretty close to bulk rares or mythics. If you just want to own the cheapest copy of each, you can do so for a total of $13 — a far cry from $40. This also shows us how soft the demand is for Cats right now, since many of these cards would be more expensive if this was a more popular tribe.

There’s a chance that OMG KITTIES! will end up being one of the best bundles long-term since the art is incredibly cute and the supply will be super-low, but it’s also the bundle with the largest chance of never returning your $40 investment. I’ll be happy to pick it up if I end up grabbing the entire set for $200, and you can definitely feel good about ordering a copy if you really want to own it for your collection, but I’d rather just snag another Kaleidoscope Killers if I’m speculating on these.

Wrapping It Up

Like I mentioned earlier, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of speculation heat surrounding Secret Lair right now. A lot of the folks who drive the #mtgfinance hype cycle don’t really understand the casual market, there’s some new product fatigue after the Mystery Boosters, and people are somewhat scared off by the whole “we’ll print as many copies of each as we can sell in a day” thing.

Personally, I think Secret Lair is fertile ground for those of us who really like low-effort, low-risk, moderate-reward spec targets. I’m probably going to snag a set of all seven drops (those are on sale today!) and hold onto them for a while. My bet is that at least one or two of these drops ends up being worth significantly more than retail by the time the next wave of Secret Lair drops are announced, causing a flurry of financial speculation next time. Paradoxically, that’ll make the next wave of Secret Lair drops far worse spec targets, since more people will be hoarding them. Instead of waiting for that cycle to play out, I’d rather just go in now on the first round of drops. Worst case, you’ll be able to cash out at or above MSRP by selling boxes to folks who missed the drop date.

This Week’s Trends

It wasn’t a big week for movers and shakers, as most American Magic players were busy celebrating Thanksgiving and kicking off the holiday season. In Standard, Brazen Borrower was the biggest winner of the week as it continues to show up in Modern, Pioneer, and even Legacy. It is currently on the rise, and I expect that rise to continue over the next week or two.

Oko, Thief of Crowns is also continuing to king around in the $40 to $60 range. After surging in value post-ban, its price spent about a week and a half slowly dropping off. Then, late last week, it spiked again. At this point, I’m starting to worry about Oko’s future in Modern, where it is significantly warping the metagame. I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s banned at some point in January, which would cause the price to drop yet again. I’m still fading Oko long term, and I wouldn’t mind selling out at current retail.

Over in Pioneer, Nicol Bolas, the Ravager was the biggest gainer of the week. Grixis Midrange and Control decks are starting to show up more in the format, and folks want to try them out. These decks haven’t put up a lot of numbers aside from some 5-0 finishes on MTGO, but Nicol Bolas has a ton of room to grow if that changes. I wouldn’t be shocked if this card breaks $40 at some point soon, and you should snag your set ASAP if you’re interested.