Much of the discussion related to finance for the past few years have been related to the number of products that Wizards of the Coast has produced in 2017. Even last week's article discussed the three products that Wizards came out with within the span of a month. While Unstable was entirely brand-new cards, several of the aforementioned products have been entirely reprints, causing a bunch of prices to drop across the board. It's been awhile since we've seen $5 Mishra's Baubles, $6 Primeval Titans and $1.50 Lightning Helix. While the first two cards are relatively niche in their Modern applications (they only see play in one, maybe two decks), Helix has always been viable in a multitude of archetypes. From casual to Modern, it's always just been a good card that hovered around $3-5.
That hovering is what I want to talk about today. This entire article isn't going to be dedicated to Lightning Helix alone, but general staples that frequently receive reprints and whose prices are affected cyclically.
"Cyclically? Do you mean like Cyclonic Rift?"
Well, yeah actually. In both name and pricing data, Cyclonic Rift is pretty cyclical. If we look at the MTGstocks graph, the price for this blue Commander staple has looked like a roller coaster. Its price has risen and fallen in time with reprints, in addition to seeing a little bit of Standard playing 2014. Rift's first reprint happened in late 2014, cementing its fall from grace in Standard while injecting a ton of supply into the market with the mono-blue Commander 2014 deck. It stayed at a low for a couple of years, until going a couple more years without reprints in the 2015 and 2016 decks. When a bunch of players built Atraxa and Breya, they needed Rifts as well, so the price rapidly climbed to $7 before Modern Masters 2017 gave it a Swift Kick back into the $4 price range.
But what have we seen since then? With the release of tribal Commander 2017 decks that lack Cyclonic Rift, demand for the card has predictably picked up once more, and the market price has crested $7 once again for the third time in the past couple of years. If you're building The Ur-Dragon, Kess or Ramos, you probably want a Cyclonic Rift. It's just the best blue card – it's efficient at multiple stages of the game, unprejudiced in what it removes, and flexible by being instant speed. If this card gets reprinted again in a supplemental product, it's safe to assume it will regrow and climb back to $7. Barring an extremely unlikely printing in a Standard-legal set that would devastate the price longterm, the card is effectively "immortal," always regrowing to the $6-7 price range after reprints try to push it down to $4.
Cyclonic Rift is not the only card that has experienced this type of repeated reprinting and growth. As I mentioned earlier, Lightning Helix gave me the spark for this article idea because it gets put into so many supplemental products, and shrugs them off months later to climb back to $4-5. The most recent reprints in Iconic Masters and Explorers of Ixalan leaves you being able to scoop Lightning Helix off TCGplayer for around $1.50-$2. While this isn't the first time you've been able to find the card at $2 (it was available for $2.50-3 after Duel Deck: Speed vs Cunning), it's the latest in a bunch of cyclical reprints that allow you to buy into Helix at the floor, instead of having to drop $20 on a set right before an event.
As a vendor, this is my favorite time to buy Helix and my favorite time to sell Cyclonic Rift. I want to maximize on the crest of the Rift graph while hoping for another reprint, while scooping up all the Helix at the low before it regenerates its price tag back up to $4-5. If you have a keen eye and put your ear to the ground, you can track the constant ebb and flow of reprints for other "immortal" staples as well. Let's talk about another card coming off a yearly low because of a reprint: Lightning Greaves.
This is an equipment that can fit into most Commander decks, fills offensive and defensive roles in the deck and was hit in the Commander 2017 decks with a reprint. Prior to this 9000th printing, the C16 version was cresting $5-6, but now they're easy pickings on TCGplayer at $3. If you're someone who builds multiple Commander decks and doesn't like to take decks apart, you might want to consider stocking up on several copies of the card for the coming months when the price will inevitably slide back up to $4-5. Even if you have no intention to sell cards for profit or set up a TCGplayer seller account, you can save yourself some extra money if you buy in at the correct time instead of at the peak of the roller coaster graph.
That last sentence is a pretty big takeaway for the point of this article. There are a lot of people out there looking for finance content for different reasons. Some people want to use it to build their collections, and that's fine. Others want to make some side money to pay for their other hobbies. Others just want to save money and learn when to buy in at the right time, even if they have no intention of selling the cards down the road.
We know that "immortal" cards (in terms of recovering their prices after being reprinted in a supplemental product, not "immortal" like Squee, Goblin Nabob) are highly sought-after staples in their respective or multiple formats. Their demand is so great that Wizards of the Coast can insert them when needed to increase the desirability of a supplementary product like a Commander preconstructed deck, or a Modern Masters set. One question that first comes to mind for a reader like you might be whether there's a Breaking Point for those staples. Is there a point where a reprint becomes too much for the demand to bear, and crushes the price long term in addition to the short term?
I think there is, and one of the better examples to demonstrate this is Vampire Nighthawk. Long heralded as one of the best common/uncommon picks that competitive players leave in bulk, Nighthawk maintained its $1 retail price for several years until it started to get hammered with reprint after reprint. While almost all of these were supplemental products, one reprint re-introduced the card to Standard when it was printed in Magic 2013. Even after that, the card's been printed literally four times this year; once in Modern Masters 2017, once in Archenemy: Nicol Bolas, once in Commander 2017, and finally in Explorers of Ixalan. Yeah. While Nighthawk used to be a guaranteed 40 cents on a store's buylist while they flipped it at $1, the market price for this casual tribal favorite has crept down to $.31 on the Explorers version.
Nighthawk is still an awesome pick to find in commons and uncommons, don't get me wrong. I still pull every single copy I find, and there's always a buylist that pays a dime apiece. But I'm expecting its price to stay depressed far beneath a dollar for at least a year, maybe two. In that time span, how many times can we expect it to get hit again in a supplemental product reprint? I wouldn't be stockpiling Nighthawks while wringing your hands, waiting for that price point to slowly creep back up to $1.
If you're reading this article as a Commander player, there may have been a couple cards that came to your mind that I've suspiciously left out of this discussion; let's bring those up as we start to wrap up; Command Tower and Sol Ring have pretty much been $1 and $2-3 respectively for the past six or seven years, even though every single one of them has gotten at least one reprint a year (Okay, Command Tower was omitted in 2014 because the decks were mono-colored. My point stands). When a card is reprinted in a Commander preconstructed deck, it's often not actually added to the market supply immediately.
When someone goes on TCGplayer and buys the Invent Superiority deck in order to upgrade it to their liking, the Command Tower and Sol Ring almost always stay in the deck. Because of this, the supply doesn't increase as much as you might initially think. Us vendors will buy product and crack it to make sure we have certain singles in stock like Kindred Discovery and Teferi's Protection, and the Sol Rings and Command Towers will get added to our inventory just the same. However, the majority of decks that get purchased for play don't see those Rings and Towers get added to the TCGplayer marketplace until someone buys the deck, upgrades it, plays with it for a while, decides they don't like it, then sell it back to a vendor like me so I can list the cards in my storefront. Even through Ring and Tower have gotten six years of straight reprints, there are still tons of copies that just immediately get soaked up into new Commander decks instead of dropping the price of the cards.
Can you think of any other "immortal" cards that can't seem to be beaten down by supplemental reprints? Lightning Bolt and Path to Exile are definitely staples that will always survive the test of time until they get reprinted, and I feel like Fatal Push will act similarly if they ever decide to throw it into a Duel Deck or Modern Masters set. If Sleight of Hand gets put into Masters 25, it'll be the time to pick them up on the cheap before they begin their slow climb back to their current $4-5 pricetag. Thanks for sticking around! I'll see you next Tuesday when my content comes out here on TCGplayer!
- DJ Johnson