Double Masters' release date has come and gone, but the set's financial impact is going to reverberate for years to come. Like I said in last week's Double Masters Financial Set Review, this is one of the best and most impactful Masters sets ever printed. Dozens of expensive cards are a lot cheaper today than they were last month, and some of those prices are going to keep dropping over the coming weeks. In fact, if Double Masters is anything like the past half-dozen Masters sets, the overall EV won't bottom out until late December. If you haven't bought in yet, it's not too late.
But those are the set's regular, non-premium cards. We had a long conversation about how and when to buy them last week, and I don't want to repeat myself too much today. Instead, I want to spend the week talking about something I didn't focus on in my set review: what about Double Masters' premium cards? Should you be buying those cards right now, or is it better to wait a few months until the hype dies down? Furthermore, are these premium cards good long-term investments, or are they at risk of seeing their value destroyed by future Masters-style sets?
That's what we're going to talk about today. Not only will this article serve as a buyers' guide to Double Masters' premium cards, but it'll take a relevant detour into how Wizards of the Coast's current batch of high-end promos behave over time. Should Double Masters box toppers and VIP borderless cards be at the top of your spec list, or should you stay far, far away from these super expensive promos? Let's find out.
There aren't very many cards like Mana Crypt. It's a top-tier Commander staple that every competitive deck needs, yet it has never been printed in a normal set. It was released as a paperback novel promo way back in 1995, and you had to tear a coupon out of your book and mail it to WotC if you wanted to claim your copy. I still remember how disappointed one of my friends was when he somehow talked our middle school librarian into buying a few of these novels for their collection, only to have some other kid tear out the mail-in coupons first.
Mana Crypt wasn't reprinted in its first decade and a half of life, but that has changed in recent years. Since 2011, Mana Crypt has been released as a judge foil, a Masterpiece Series foil, a Mystery Booster mythic, and the chase card in two separate Masters sets. I want to take a longer look at this card today precisely because it has so many high-level printings. In fact, between the Eternal Masters foil, the Double Masters borderless foil, the judge foil, and the Kaladesh masterpiece, there are at least four unique versions of the card that can conceivably lay claim to the title of Best Ever Mana Crypt.
This is important because I want to see what happens to older high-end promos when they become potentially outclassed by cooler, newer versions of the same card. Do people who bought the judge foil copy of Mana Crypt regret their decision now that the Double Masters borderless foil is available? Have the older copies seen a bunch of price erosion? Because if older versions of promos tank when they're "replaced" by this years' model, then buying these cards at all becomes a far riskier proposition. After all, who wants to spend $200 on a shiny piece of cardboard if it's going to feel ho-hum the next time WotC does a premium release?
Let's start by taking a look at the judge foil, which was released back in 2011. Here's the judge Mana Crypt's price chart since 2014:
Interesting. Mana Crypt's price chart is actually pretty stable, save a massive spike and drop during the first half of 2016. You can actually tie this plunge pretty directly to the release of Eternal Masters, as the judge foil settled back down as soon as Eternal Masters hit shelves and the available supply of Mana Crypt saw a marked increase. You would have been pretty disappointed if you'd bought Mana Crypt at its early-2016 spike price, but otherwise? This card is incredibly stable.
Speaking of Eternal Masters, here's Mana Crypt's set foil price tag. This card bottomed out roughly a year after Eternal Masters was released, before slowly rebounding over the coming months. This makes sense when you remember that Eternal Masters was famously over-printed for a Masters set, with multiple additional waves of product hitting stores months after release. A lot of these cards still haven't recovered, but Mana Crypt sure has. It just took a while.
Here's the Kaladesh masterpiece copy of Mana Crypt. Yet again, we can see the price slowly dropping over the first year or so before slowly starting to rebound again. As with the Eternal Masters foil copy, I can't see any evidence that the Mystery Booster or Double Masters release has affected the price of this card at all.
Lastly, here's the borderless foil Double Masters VIP Mana Crypt price so far. It looks like the card bottomed out on Saturday—release day—before quickly rebounding after all the cheapest copies sold out. This tracks with the anecdotal evidence I've read from folks who tried to buy cards over the weekend. There were a few hours on Saturday where a lot of the best premium cards in the set hit bottom, but it all rebounded pretty fast as folks waiting for cards to drop below a certain threshold all pulled the trigger. I'd be shocked if we see this card below $200 again, but it's unclear whether or not it'll experience a year-long slow drop like Eternal Masters or the Kaladesh masterpiece versions did once it does rebound. At the very least, we know that premium versions of Mana Crypt tend to be fairly stable over the long haul, and it's pretty safe to buy in now as long as you're not planning to flip this card before 2023 or 2024.
Double Masters has a lot in common with Ultimate Masters, the last Masters set that WotC released before their brief Masters set hiatus. These are the only two Masters sets with box toppers, and both have roughly similar print runs.
There are some differences too, of course. For one thing, Double Masters packs have twice as many box toppers as Ultimate Masters boxes. For another, collector boosters weren't a thing back in 2018, so all the Ultimate Masters box toppers were foil. That means there are quite a few more copies of the Double Masters premium cards out there than there were Ultimate Masters' special box toppers.
That said, comparisons are always going to be imperfect. If we want to project what might happen with Double Masters' premium prices going forward, we need to spend some time talking about what happened to Ultimate Masters' box topper prices.
Ultimate Masters didn't have Mana Crypt, but it did have Mana Vault, a remarkably similar Commander staple. Let's take a look at that box topper's price chart:
Save a couple of outliers, the trajectory looks pretty clear. It bottomed out at $106 a few days after release, immediately spiked back to the $130-$140 range, and then slowly started dropping again. It hit a stable floor of $85 during the height of the COVID-19 price trough this April, and has since perked back it to its current average price of $125.
I don't want to clog up this article with 40 different charts, but I'm going to look up every Ultimate Masters box topper and lump their price trajectories into rough categories:
Slow continuous price drop, then rebounded later.
Mana Vault keeps strange bedfellows. Demonic Tutor is a similarly powerful Commander staple, but most of these other cards aren't even close to their level. They are all Commander cards, though—with the exception of Ancient Tomb and possibly Platinum Emperion, none of these cards see any competitive play.
When was the best time to buy cards like Lord of Extinction and Temporal Manipulation? This April, during the pandemic-driven market drop. If I'd been writing this article back in February or March, these cards would have looked dead in the water. Keep that in mind as we look at the rest of the box toppers from this set.
Price dropped fast, stabilized, then rebounded later.
You could lump these four cards in with Mana Crypt and friends if you wanted, but I decided to talk about them in a little more detail since they didn't really experience the same kind of continuous drop throughout most of 2019. Compare Mana Vault's price tag (above) to this chart from Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre:
Just like Mana Vault, Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre bottomed out hard on release weekend before spiking again and stabilizing pretty quickly. Unlike Mana Vault, Ulamog's price tag was relatively stable for over a year before finally spiking this spring. The best time to buy Ulamog was release weekend, and at this point it has a market price almost twice as high as during that initial supply glut.
What do these four cards all have in common? Much like our other rebounders, they're all primarily Commander staples. As you'll see in a few moments, it's the competitive staple box toppers that have fared the worst over the past few years.
Price stabilized quickly, then spiked, then dropped again.
These three cards are Modern staples that saw significant play in the months after Ultimate Masters' release. Because of that, they ended up spiking—at least a little—and anyone who bought in before that spike had a chance to sell their copies at a profit. For example, here's the price chart for Life from the Loam:
This card was $63 on release weekend, stabilized around $80 after that, and spiked as high as $109 in June of 2019. Then it started to fall, and fall hard. Right now, you can pick up a copy for less than $50.
What happened here? It's pretty simple. All three of these cards see less play in Modern now than they did in early 2019. Because of that, they've peaked and dropped. They might spike if the metagame changes again, but they're likely to disappoint until then.
Slow continuous price drop, no rebound.
These cards all have charts that look something like the Mana Vault category of cards, only the rebound simply hasn't happened. Check out Leovold, Emissary of Trest:
These cards seem to fall into two distinct categories. First are Legacy staples, like Reanimate and Leovold, Emissary of Trest. The second are Modern staples that were already on the outs before Ultimate Masters hit shelves, like Maelstrom Pulse and Gaddock Teeg.
It's possible that these cards will rebound at some point over the next few months, like the cards in the first category, but demand is still quite a bit lower. One thing I noticed was that almost all of the cards in the first category had fast post-release weekend bounce-backs, while almost all the cards in this category did not. This is something to keep in mind as we take a look at Double Masters a bit later on.
Price stabilized quickly, then dropped later on. Price is currently at historic low.
Yikes. A whopping 17(!) of the Ultimate Masters box toppers fit this category, and their price charts look something like this, courtesy of Liliana of the Veil:
You can see the release weekend drop here, followed by a quick rebound and stability for the next several months. After that? A massive drop-off, followed by another stable plateau. What happens next is hard to say.
What caused this drop? It was the massive Modern dip that happened last fall. Almost every staple in the format lost value from September through January, as a result of the wildly-shifting metagame, the addition of some truly broken cards, and the constant drumbeat of bannings. A lot of players decided that they didn't want to spend hundreds of dollars on Modern staples if the format was going to be flipped on its head every three weeks, and I can't really blame them. Things have recovered somewhat since then, but we haven't seen the expected market rebound yet—in part because trust in WotC is still fairly low, and in part because of the pandemic cancelling all tabletop events for the year.
I'm tempted to write this off as a one-time thing that won't affect Double Masters box topper prices, but it's still a sobering reminder that nothing is certain when it comes to Magic card speculation. If a previously hot card no longer sees any play, the price will go down. If a format loses popularity for any reason, a lot of prices will go down. Magic finance is tricky business, especially since a lot of the biggest market forces are completely unpredictable.
So. When was the best time to buy Ultimate Masters box toppers? For the set's friskiest cards, it was release weekend. For most of the other cards, it was during the height of the April 2020 market drop. For the rest of them, it's right now.
Now that we've got a sense of what happened to the box toppers in Ultimate Masters, it's time to make some predictions about what'll happen next to the premium cards from Double Masters.
Based on what we know from Ultimate Masters, it seems like Commander cards are safer bets for a long-term rebound than Modern cards. It's also possible that Modern cards are artificially low right now because of the pandemic and that they'll spike hard once paper events resume, but even if that's true, I'd suggest waiting until that announcement before buying in. It's impossible to know what Modern will look like when tournaments do return, and it doesn't make sense to heavily invest in the format until we get some sort of timeline for a return to normalcy.
Another thing we know: cards that rebound right after release weekend tend to stabilize fast and have a better shot of making further gains later on. If a card drops and keeps dropping, something else usually has to change before the rebound happens—a metagame shift, perhaps, or the creation of a popular new format.
With this in mind. I'm going to divide the Double Masters premium cards into four categories, and we'll talk about each of them in turn.
Commander Staple, Rebound
One thing that's clear from the start: the number of Double Masters premium cards that have experienced a price rebound since the start of last weekend vastly outnumbers the cards that did not. This wasn't true with Ultimate Masters, and it tells me that these cards might all end up doing a little better than their box topper counterparts from two years ago.
In terms of the Commander staples, the foils did a lot better than the non-foils. In fact, the only non-foils on this list are Stoneforge Mystic, Crop Rotation, Doubling Season, Exploration, Blightsteel Colossus, Sword of Feast and Famine and Wurmcoil Engine. These are among the most versatile Commander staples in the set, and Crop Rotation is the only real surprise here. It probably saw a rebound because it's a lot cheaper than the others and therefore more capable of nimble price movement. Anyway, if you're betting on a set of cards to rebound fast over the next couple of years, this isn't a bad list. My shopping list starts here.
Commander Staple, No Rebound
Most of the non-foils haven't seen any kind of rebound yet, while only two Commander-focused foils didn't make the top list: Avacyn, Angel of Hope and Sword of Light and Shadow. I'm not sure why these two cards have bucked the trend, and it's likely that they'll edge up a little over the coming days, too. That said, it's worth noting that demand has been lower for these two cards than for most of the other Commander-focused foils, and we should respect that going forward.
As for the non-foils on this list, it's pretty clear to me that the VIP foil box toppers have been the focus of community attention for a while now. It's possible that this will continue, and the non-foil box toppers will always lag behind, but it's also possible that they'll see a bit of a resurgence at some point once the hype cycle moves on from the VIP cards. Regardless, Commander players love their foils, so it's no surprise to see a split there.
Things look pretty different down in the tournament staples section, where foils are less of a concern and many players prefer non-foils due to issues with warped cards and deck checks:
Tournament Staple, Rebound
Wow. Most of the premium tournament staples in Double Masters have rebounded somewhat over the past few days, both the foil VIP versions and the non-foil box toppers alike. Again, this isn't what happened with Ultimate Masters, and it bodes well for the set's future value.
Of course, we saw similar things happen with at least a dozen cards in Ultimate Masters, and most of those cards are worth quite a bit less now than they were during their release weekend lull. Honestly, at this point, I'd wait on most of these cards until late December at the earliest. Some of them will stabilize and others will drop, but only three(!) of the tournament staple box toppers in Ultimate Masters ended up spiking a few months after the set released, and all three of those cards dropped pretty far after that. Also, that was back when people were actually playing these cards in tournaments, which isn't happening right now.
Tournament Staple, No Rebound
These are the five tournament staples that seem to be in the biggest trouble right now. Shifts in the metagame could help any of them at any point, but they're not showing signs of life right now.
If I had to buy any premium cards from Double Masters at the moment, it's going to be foil Commander staples from the list up top. Time and time again, those cards have shown the most resilience and come with the least amount of risk attached.
I'm mostly staying away, though. There were a few days late last week and over the weekend where buying in was somewhat justifiable, but it's a lot less so now that so many of these prices have already rebounded. While a handful of these cards are going to be worth more than they are right now in 12-18 months, they're probably going to bottom out at some point this winter or next spring, when the hype cycle has moved on. Unless you get a killer deal right now, that's when I'd look to strike.
It's worth having a brief conversation about what is going on with the USPS, because it's relevant to anyone who wants to buy and sell cards right now.
I've sold thousands of cards on TCGplayer over the years, and my shipping method has been the same for over a decade. If an order is over a certain dollar amount (usually between $10 and $20), I'll ship it with USPS first class parcel in a bubble mailer with a tracking number. If an order is cheaper than that, it'll go into a flexible top-loader inside a plain white envelope and ship with a regular stamp.
Figuring out when to use tracking and when to just throw a card in an envelope is a matter of personal preference. Tracked packages usually cost around $3 to ship, while a PWE (plain white envelope) costs less than a dollar. Add in the cost of bubble mailers, and it just doesn't make sense to ship a $5 card in a tracked package.
Unfortunately, sellers absorb 100% of the risk on untracked envelopes. If the buyer messages you and tells you that their card never arrived, you have to refund them and eat the costs. It's frustrating, no doubt, but most TCGplayer buyers are honest and I've had to refund less than 1% of my lifetime PWE orders. It simply wouldn't be economical to sell cheap cards on TCGplayer without that option.
Enter 2020. The USPS was stretched to its breaking point due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has created a massive surge in online shopping. At some distribution centers, they are processing the same number of daily packages that they see in November and December—the holiday shipping months. That's unheard of for mid-summer.
The USPS can handle holiday-sized loads, though, and they were doing a great job despite the adverse conditions until early June, when a new Trump-appointed postmaster took over and began implementing severe cost-cutting measures. I'm not going to get into the politics of the situation here—you can hit me up on Twitter if you want to talk more about that—but the massive increase in postal delays is undeniable. Approximately 20% of the parcels I send out are delayed, and some of them are taking weeks to arrive when they would otherwise take days.
This is a big enough problem with tracked packages, and it requires a lot of customer service work on the part of the seller to reassure buyers that, yes, their card was shipped on time and it is still on the way. If you buy a lot of cards on TCGplayer, I would ask you to be as mindful as you can of these delays until the situation is resolved. It is likely not the seller's fault, and there's really not anything that anyone can do other than to be patient and wait for things to show up.
These delays cause an even bigger problem with untracked packages, though. If 20% of your PWE sales aren't showing up for weeks at a time, it leads to a situation where you're giving out refunds on orders that are simply being delayed by the USPS. Neither the buyer nor the seller is at fault here—the buyer is right to be upset that their order hasn't arrived, while the seller is right to be upset about having to refund an order that they mailed out in good faith—but the burden is going to fall on the seller no matter what, so if that's you, make sure you take some steps to protect yourself.
At this point, I can't really suggest speculating on lower-end cards unless you think you'll be able to buylist them in bulk or you want to hold onto them for a couple of years. I'm holding out hope that the political will for keeping the USPS afloat exists in this country, and I dearly hope things get fixed before the USPS is privatized or dismantled, but I simply can't recommend selling cards via PWE right now. I'm still sending out cards via tracked bubble mailers, but untracked packages are just too risky in the current climate. If you're still doing this on your TCGplayer store, consider changing tactics until things improve.
Muxus, Goblin Grandee
As for price spikes and other movements, take a look at Muxus, Goblin Grandee. Muxus has been a known quantity in Historic since the beginning, but that's not really a paper format yet so it hasn't really seen much in the way of price movement in the world of tabletop finance. That began to change a few weeks ago, however, with the resurgence of Goblin decks in Legacy after many, many years of competitive irrelevance:
Muxus, Goblin Grandee seems to have hit a peak around the $35 mark and has ticked down again over the past few days, so don't expect this thing to keep surging up the charts or anything. I just wanted to make a note of this card, because it has almost doubled in price since it hit its release weekend low of just $18. If Historic does make the jump to paper (and Muxus, Goblin Grandee isn't banned in the process), we could be looking at a pretty elite Eternal staple once the pandemic ends. I'm not buying yet—I think there will be another shot to snag copies at or around $20 at some point in 2020—but it's on my radar for sure.
Interested in a more extreme spike? Take a look at Retrofitter Foundry since the start of June:
This card is worth almost $20 because it sees play in Legacy—in Dimir Ninjas, to be precise—and it actually spiked as high as $14 back in late January before bottoming out below $4 in early April. Was this latest spike caused by player demand, or buyouts? Both, probably. If you take a look at the orange columns, you can see the days where buyouts happened—they're the tall columns—but you can also see that the average column height has increased over the past couple of weeks. That's because Dimir Ninjas has put up a few decent finishes in recent days, and more people are looking at buying into the deck. My guess is that this card settles in somewhere in the $8-$10 range: higher than before the card started seeing play again this summer, but lower than its current speculator-driven price point.
Lastly, it looks like some Reserved List cards are spiking again. This happens every few months, usually after a heavy batch of reprints because speculators want to park their money somewhere safe after a long period of instability. Every time, it causes a social media tizzy despite most players of most formats having the luxury of being able to avoid the Reserved List entirely. But yeah, here's what the price chart for Hatred looks like since the start of 2020:
There's been a recent flurry of demand for Hatred, but none of it appears to be buyout-driven—nearly every order was just a single copy. It seems like a pretty safe long-term hold too. It's a reserved list card that's good in Commander, so it should be worth at least $30 right now. Other cards spiking right now include Transmute Artifact, Helm of Obedience, City of Traitors and Ancestral Knowledge. Remember: these sorts of buyouts nearly always lead to long, sloping downward trends, so don't get caught up in the FOMO and buy your extra copies now. If you want to buy Reserved List cards, pick something that hasn't spiked yet this summer. Otherwise, it seems like a pretty solid time to sell. I couldn't get $2 for my copies of Ancestral Knowledge three months ago and now it's a $15 card? I highly doubt it.
It's also worth remembering that the price charts used by the public aren't always telling the full story about a card. For example, the MTGGoldfish price chart for Gaea's Cradle shows a massive spike this week, from $560 to $762. A whole lot of people saw that big arrow pointing straight up and got really, really mad about the Reserved List again. But did Gaea's Cradle actually spike? Sort of. Take a look:
Gaea's Cradle has definitely gone up in price this year, but the latest spike seems to be an outlier based on one sale of a really nice copy of the card for $750. The copy that sold before it was $620, and the copy that sold after was $510. This is still pretty high for a card that was under $300 at the start of 2020, but it's nothing like the public perception of what's happening to Gaea's Cradle right now.
But as Liz Lynn pointed out on Twitter yesterday, the perception that Cradle is surging toward the $1,000 mark might actually cause something like that to happen. People have a lot of FOMO and very little patience when it comes to Reserved List cards, and there aren't that many Cradles to go around. My suggestion? If you've got one of these to move, give it a week and see if it spikes. If so, that's gonna be a great window to sell.