Modern Masters: Meeting Expectations

#2. Addressing Costs

Question: Does it address rising costs of cards in the Modern tournament format?

Verdict: NO


One  of the glaring things that occurred before the set ever came to market was the dissemination of three words: conservative print run. This means that it would not be the same size printing as a normal set. Of course, this set off a firestorm of concern because the last time they attempted to market a product for a specific group of people, it went very poorly.

Less than a year earlier, in fall of 2012, Wizards released a specialty product designed for the casual format, Commander. It contained a shiny foily set of 18 cards. Eighteen. Yet the MSRP was $75, which was already higher than what most people were hoping it would go for. Wizards intended it to be sold as a sort of “From The Vaults: Commander” promo set, but their continual promotion of it, and the incredible rise in the Commander style, led people to believe that it would be a readily available thing.

It wasn’t.

From The Vaults product are designed to be more for collectors and stores than for players writ large, hence their higher price tags, emphasis on tangential things like the packing, and hard-to-get circulation. Just like FTV product, the end result was that Commander’s Arsenal was limited to local stores only, and each would only get a small number of them. It was not uncommon to see the sets go for $200 or used as prizes in store events. In short, Wizards screwed up. They apologized, we grumbled, and everyone moved on.

With Modern Masters, they hoped to avoid the same issue. They acknowledged that the print run would be much higher than Commander’s Arsenal, but not as much as a normal set. They attested that it was because they want it to still feel special, but the reality is they limited prints because Modern Masters is a giant gamble. Remember the Chronicles thing? They sure do. And they weren’t looking to repeat that either.

They probably should have.

At least, they should have printed quite a bit more if they wanted to actually solve the cost issue. It’s simple economics.

Unfortunately, Wizards of the Coast has a bit of a split personality on the secondary market. They claim they don’t take it into account when making decisions, but we all know they do. While they don’t have direct control over setting the price of cards, this is an occasion where they can be influential enough to alter them. That they seemingly opted not to appears to justify that initial player concern.

Their goal here, after all, is to try to make Modern staple cards more affordable, but if they don’t print appropriate quantities to affect the market, then their efforts are largely wasted.

Why? Say the average market rate on a Tarmogoyf is $100, but you can’t get one for that price because it’s sold out. There are places you can get it for $125, but that’s not a great option. Your choice is essentially to not get it, or pay the higher price. If enough people cave to the higher price, then the average market rate rises, and the $100 option disappears entirely; $125 is the new normal. Supply and demand at work.

The inverse is also true – the only way to substantially drop a price is to get enough supply out there that places are willing to compete with one another by undercutting prices. (Now, we’re going on the theoretical assumption of fair market here and saving the argument that places like StarCity – intentionally or not – cause artificial prices due to various tactics. That’s another topic for another day.)

The limited print run is not going to produce enough of these desired cards to substantially drop the average in the long term. Instead, it’s mostly just going to stave off card inflation for awhile. If Wizards thinks that watching Vendilion Clique‘s average cost drop $5 is them being successful, well, the Magic community would like to have a talk with you.

Players don’t want a $100 Tarmogoyf, and getting it down to $90 isn’t a victory if they are serious about keeping Modern viable. Get it down to $40-50 and people will start praising Wizards for their efforts. But you’ll need a lot more copies in print to do that.

And it’s not like Wizards is above taking the wind out of inflated card prices at times. Let’s look at a perfect recent example: Mutavault

Mutavault Prices

This is a price tracker visual from Black Lotus Project, which compiles the average rate of cards sold on Ebay – a.k.a. what I feel is the best representation of a card’s market values since that’s what people are willing to pay without markup. (That said, BLP should not be relied on 100%, especially for non-rares, but it’s useful to see what certain cards are trending at.)

From what it shows, just the announcement that it’ll be in the Magic 2014 core set has caused Mutavault’s average selling price to drop ten dollars. That’s how you address cost correctly.

Maybe they want market data before attempting something of this nature again, or maybe they think that collectors, retailers and hoarders wouldn’t corner the market on a limited supply item to make a bigger buck (because capitalism is so benevolent). Whatever the case, the lower print run and higher cost to purchase will not help the Modern tournament players in the long run. All it will do is stay the bleeding for awhile.

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