There's a lot going on with Eternity Code.
For one, the set's awesome. Most of the discussion surrounding ETCO revolves around the fact that not only is the card quality high, but there's a balance of solid stuff for newer themes, strong generic cards, and great legacy support. We've seen those three categories represented in previous releases, but the sheer volume of playable cards across all three fields is higher than we're used to and that's made Eternity Code a hot release.
At the same time, the situation surrounding COVID-19 also made ETCO pretty strange on a global basis. Here in the Americas Eternity Code's officially releasing tomorrow, over a month after its original May 1 release date. Meanwhile in European territories ETCO launched according to schedule on April 30. Secret Slayers was the reverse: it dropped on time here, but was delayed for two weeks in Europe.
Nobody's really to blame for that; the pandemic had an immediate impact on supply chains worldwide, disrupting production and distribution of countless products; Yu-Gi-Oh just happened to be one of the many. You can't print cards if the printing facility's closed, and you can't ship them to your distributors if borders are locked up and your product's non-essential. That's cool, and the relatively tight two-week delay of Secret Slayers didn't make much of an impression: anyone in KDE-E territories who thought of importing Adamancipator Researcher and Eldlich the Golden Lord probably figured it would take about two weeks for those cards to cross the pond anyways.
Eternity Code's a little different: a handful of players, collectors and ambitious hustle-types took advantage of that five-week window between the European and North American launch dates to order their cards from European sources. If there were locals to go to it would've been a weird scene. As it stands, it's just another footnote in the history books of Yu-Gi-Oh in 2020, and another factor making Eternity Code so unique. Add the fact that ETCO shipped early to stores, and we have a situation where Friday June 5 feels a little like a suggestion than a hard and fast release date.
And that's all pretty interesting. But to me, the biggest thing making Eternity Code so different isn't the individual cards, or the pandemic, or the e-backpack dealers hustling Euro prints. It's the fact that for the first time ever, a quarterly "core" booster set won't have Rare cards; the silver-print non-foils we've all come to have mixed feelings about.
Good question. The answer's a little more complicated than "Rares are gone, life moves on." That's because the overall set size hasn't changed to compensate for the lack of normal Rares. In fact sets are getting bigger, not smaller. While the 100-card core set model's actually been 104 cards lately due to Starlight Rares, the introduction of a reprint slot at the Starlight level means ETCO has 105 different cards in booster packs, 5 of which aren't acknowledged in ad copy.
I mean. Kinda?
So where did all the Rares go? Take a peek at Ignition Assault: that set had 48 Commons, 20 Rares, 14 Super Rares, 10 Ultra Rares and 8 Secret Rares. Compare it to Eternity Code and you can see that ETCO has 50 Commons, 26 Super Rares, 14 Ultra Rares and 10 Secret Rares.
"THAT'S NO SURPRISE TO ME," you shout, your disappointment with the word count of this article growing, as it fails to deliver a perspective you hadn't considered yourself. After all, you're fully capable of reading product pages, right? "TALK FASTER, PUNY CARD MAN," you shout, as you heft a chair leg and wave it in a gesture of threat.
I know. I see you. I see your bludgeoning instrument, mighty reader. Rest assured, I'm going places with all of this. Don't head off to Youtube just yet.
So instead of Rares we got more "other stuff." All of it, including commons but mostly foils. In napkin math that's about an 85% increase for Super Rares, a 40% increase in Ultras, and a 25% increase in Secrets. The number of Supers, Ultras and Secrets you'll pull from a single box hasn't really changed. But suddenly it's harder to find that one specific foil you're looking for, because of all the other foils getting in the way.
Assuming everybody opens up roughly the same amount of sealed product – stores, vendors, players, collectors – that means fewer copies of each individual foil out there in the wild. Which means less supply. Which put against equal demand, probably means higher prices for the specific cards you want. And if you just tightened your grip on that chair leg a little bit reading that, well, you're probably not alone. On the surface, "it's tougher to pull the cards you want," coupled with "singles might be more expensive" is a bit frustrating, sure. But there's more to it than just that.
Let's start by asking why this probably happened in the first place, and then circle back around to the real impact.
Rares Cost Money To Print
Some of you in the chair leg camp probably just gave a, "Well, duh, everything costs money to print because paper isn't free" under your breath. Or in like, the part of your brain that remembers sarcastic zingers for later use on social media. But bear with me. When I say that Rares cost money to print I mean something a little deeper: what I actually want to convey is that each rarity in a set creates a unique extra cost.
If you've been around the TCG and CCG block a bit you probably have some idea of how cards are printed: in fact, even if you're new you might've seen pieces of the process yourself, because Konami gives out uncut sheets of cards as prizes at major events. Hit up a YCS or a WCQ and you'll routinely find them awarded for 3v3 team tournaments in Public Events, and they're often on the Prize Wall for ticket redemption.
Look closely at those uncut sheets and you'll notice two things: each sheet's from a single release, usually a booster set; and each sheet consists entirely of one rarity, with no overlap. Your prize might actually be cut from a larger full sheet of cards, and it could be from a corner, or the center, or even just a strip, but the one thing that's consistent is that Super Rares appear on one sheet, Secret Rares appear on another and so on.
That's because that's how cards are printed: each rarity in each set gets its own unique printing sheet that includes every card at that rarity. Usually multiples of each card in fact, because the sheets are big. It's a pretty standard process in our niche of the printing industry: each sheet's laid out digitally weeks before it goes to print, a process that includes whatever a company's review and approval processes require. Approvals are usually a big deal for any licensed product like Yu-Gi-Oh; Konami doesn't "own" Yu-Gi-Oh as a brand, and there are probably more parties concerned with the process than you might guess.
Once it's decided what each sheet will look like the digital files go to print to turn them into real life paper cards, usually at a printing facility that contracts with the company officially producing them – these kinds of facilities are highly specialized and often serve a number of different industries. They're costly to staff and operate, and no company prints cards every day – if you've ever wanted to go to Konami's Pegasus-style Charlie And The Chocolate Factory cardstravaganza printing house, I'm sorry to say that it probably doesn't exist.
Did I just ruin part of your childhood? Cool, we're even for the chair leg.
Anyway, cards get printed on big sheets. Then each sheet gets finished with stuff like embossing, etching and markers: think foil name stamps and those little Millennium Eye holograms. From there they're die cut and diced up into individual cards. The process happens thousands upon thousands of times to create a full print run of for one set at a specific rarity, and it happens again for each rarity, before the cards are collated and mixed together into bundles to be sealed into packs and boxes.
Along the way, cards and packs are randomized in various ways, and the methods can change over time. The exact methodology's generally not public knowledge for any card company, but if you guessed that it's partly automated and partly some dude mixing stuff around with his arms you'll probably land somewhere near the bullseye. I personally have no idea as to the current methods KDE uses, but it doesn't really matter, so that's fine.
The point to all of this is that each individual printing sheet costs money and time, start to finish. Each sheet for each rarity needs to be designed, proofed, reviewed, vetted, and approved by whomever has approval rights, long before it ever goes to print. Then when the sheets are actually printed, each print run requires different mechanical and digital set-ups for the sheets and whatever's added to them, and that's somebody's job. Then in the collation, sorting, and packaging phase, different rarities at expected rates of delivery all need to be handled separately before they're combined into the final product we know and love.
All that designing, reviewing, approving, printing, decorating, sorting, collating, handling, and randomizing of those Rares costs money. And it's probably more money than you'd guess. The truly old school amongst you might remember that at one point, Upper Deck went so far as to print SJC Prize Cards on Ultra Rare sheets for other products as a cost-cutting measure, creating a debacle where Championship prizes worth nearly four figures were suddenly appearing in actual products, including Sneak Preview promo booklets.
On one hand those investments and time sinks are just the cost of doing business; Trading Card Games are complicated products that generate value in part by being complicated. Intricacy is core to the collectability of a game like Yu-Gi-Oh, just like many modern collectibles. But what happens when the complications and the extra costs aren't actually creating value?
What if you're just spending money to produce something your customers think, well…kinda just sucks?
Rares Didn't Add Value To Core Booster Sets
…Or at least not much. I could write an entire article right now on the reasons card rarity exists, in Yu-Gi-Oh and in other games, but I'm not comfortable dragging you down Digression Street quite that far. Suffice to say, in a game like Magic where many sets are balanced for both constructed competition (where you make your own deck and take it to tournaments), and limited competition (where you open packs, maybe draft, and then make your deck out of that for a single tournament), different levels of rarity are carefully balanced to serve different gameplay purposes. In a game like Yu-Gi-Oh, where limited play is largely unsupported, rarity is keyed almost entirely toward generating scarcity, currying excitement and demand.
Don't get me wrong, there are some exceptions: sometimes a card company might print more complicated cards at higher rarities to reduce the number of them landing in the hands of newer, or more casual players. We see that sometimes in Yu-Gi-Oh, especially with old school short prints: Vanity's Emptiness probably wasn't short printed because it was going to become good under the circumstances that emerged years after its release. It was shorted because it was a confusing card that made no sense five seconds after reading it when you thought about how it interacted with other cards.
But generally speaking, cards are given higher rarities because they're desirable, and they have the potential to generate perceived value. Maybe they're good in tournaments, maybe they resound with fans of the TV show, maybe they're important enough for a fun deck to feel good when you pull them. Whatever. But the problem with Rares is that they just didn't accomplish that, especially once Yu-Gi-Oh moved to a system that guaranteed one foil per pack. If you know you're going to open at least one Super Rare, those Supers are effectively de facto Rares.
On average, you'd find one copy of every Rare in a set in a single booster box, plus a few extras. Super Rares weren't that much more scarce across the long term, even if you might go a box or two without seeing a specific one. Those two rarities were awkwardly sharing this bizarre space, where Rares were almost never worth more than $1 upon release, and even playable Super Rares struggled to be worth more than two bucks. It created a situation where anything but an Ultra Rare or Secret Rare was usually viewed as a loss.
If a Rare card ever broke the $2 mark it was usually because it was an older Rare nobody needed before, so people threw away their copies creating an enhanced scarcity. Usually buyouts were involved too; cards like D/D Savant Thomas come to mind, those few Rares that were the right mix of obscure, and now-suddenly-important-enough-to-be-targeted. Here, check out this graph that shows the demand and purchase price for Thomas.
That giant orange spike at the beginning shows a massive burst of buys when the card was first released, in August 2016. If you had the ability to click into that data, you'd see that the average buyer was picking up between 14 and 15 copies of D/D Savant Thomas the weekend it dropped. Those people weren't looking to play Different Dimension Demons, they were forcing a buyout. That artificial scarcity took Thomas to almost $2, but it really kicked in five months later in January, when the Pendulum Domination Structure Deck arrived. That's where you can see demand for what was left on the market, and for cards that cycled back into the market, explode again.
When the Structure hit people were only buying two or three copies each, reflecting genuine player demand. But that's where the price went truly nuts, climbing into the five-dollar range. It's a classic demonstration of the kind of extreme conditions needed to make a Rare card valuable – a massive buyout looking ahead nearly half a year into the game's future, coupled with solidly sustained demand and a long-awaited product release to drive it all home.
The other side of the coin is short printing, and while it's pretty uncommon for a Rare to be short printed and then reach a significant value, the one big example that's still stuck in everybody's craw is Cross-Sheep. That one was weird, because some cases would have eight to ten copies across twelve boxes – almost normal – and others would have next to none. That made it difficult to pin down Cross-Sheep as a short print right off the bat, but eventually the informed community reached a consensus. Here's the price trend for Cross-Sheep, from the day of its release until now.
Cross-Sheep's interesting because it was never really speculated on. It debuted at around $1.50, and the average number purchased per buyer almost never reached a full two copies. The price trend here was driven by legitimate player demand, with some possibility that a percentage of buyers were picking up a few extras here and there. Demand was organic and reasonable on a per-person basis, but supply was low from the start. When Cross-Sheep was effectively reprinted in Ignition Assault Special Edition the price collapsed; it started to drop in late February when the Special Edition's March 6 release got closer, dropping from the $14 range to about $10. It plunged another $4 over the next two weeks.
Meanwhile Ignition Assault has 19 other Rare cards, and only two of them even approach 50 cents. The rest of them struggle to hover around a quarter a pop, and some are literally worth pennies. What are the takeaways?
Most rares don't hold meaningful value, even ones that see play. The Rares that do have value are usually older cards from sets players are no longer buying, many of which players discarded. That means vendors dealing in bulk scored some value when an old Rare hit it big, but players didn't get access to that value because they weren't opening the set anymore. Konami didn't get access to that value either. Rares didn't entice players to buy cards because they were effectively just annoying commons.
It was a system with very few winners, and it actually cost money to keep reinforcing it, set after set after set.
Worse yet, the low number of Super Rares per core set often created a similar value proposition once Konami started putting a foil in every pack. Again, take a look at Ignition Assault: 18 Super Rares, and only one of them managed to crack a dollar. Supers weren't scarce enough to become valuable, and with the card pool split amongst lower tier rarities, very few were desirable to begin with.
Printing More Cards As Foils Creates Value
On the flip side, consolidating the card pool into fewer rarities creates value: you still get the same number of Super, Ultra and Secret Rares per box, but now each individual card is tougher to find, with the most drastic difference being that shift from 14 Super Rares to 26. Right now that hasn't created much of a change for Super Rares: the set's top Supers are all under a dollar, and there are a few ways to think about that.
On one hand there could just be no real significant change at the Super level: if those prices are still consistent a month from now, it might be because vendors are simply more focused on Ultras and Secrets, and they're getting so much value from those cards that it's easier to just slough off the Supers. Eternity Code's a really great set, and there's a lot of product being opened right now. If some of the Supers do end up being worth a few dollars, it probably just means the market didn't know what to make of solidly competitive cards like Madolche Promenade, Nemeses Flag and Invoked Augoeides.
Things get more interesting looking at the Ultra Rares. The top five Ultras from Ignition Assault are currently…
- Whitebeard, the Plunder Patrol Helm - $14
- Sky Striker Ace – Roze - $11
- Redbeard, the Plunder Patroll Matey - $8.50
- Ancient Warriors – Virtuos Liu Xuan - $2.80
- Linguriboh - $2
From there everything else is basically a buck or lower. The comparison's a little skewed, because Whitebeard and Redbeard were heavily short printed, while Roze is a hot new commodity the last two weeks because of online tournaments. But whatever. Look at Eternity Code.
- Linkross - $22
- Madolche Salon - $5.50
- Ravenous Crocodragon Archethys - $4.25
- Dragonmaid Sheou - $4
- Emblem of the Plunder Patroll - $3.50
Machina Metalcruncher, Fusion Deployment, Archnemeses Eschatos and Loptr, Shadow of the Generaider Bosses are all about three bucks. Traptrix Allomerus is $2.50, and everything but two cards are worth at least a dollar. Now maybe that's just presale prices, and some of those cards are overvalued. But with product shipping early and five weeks of availability elsewhere in the world, there's definitely an argument to be made that Ultra Rares are more valuable in Eternity Code across the board. Visibly so.
Look at the Secret Rares and you'll see an even more pronounced version of the same trend:
- Lightning Vortex - $134
- Gizmek Kaku, the Supreme Shining Sky Stag - $15
- Ignister A.I. Land - $13.50
Everything else is less than five bucks. The cheapest Secret Rare from IGAS is Sales Pitch, at a depressing buck-fifty. Meanwhile in Eternity Code…
- Accesscode Talker - $70
- Girsu, the Orcust Mekk-Knight - $50
- Ghost Mourner & Moonlit Chill - $38
- Animadorned Archosaur - $32.50
- Chamber Dragonmaid - $20
- Gizmek Uka, the Festive Fox of Fecundity - $15
- Gravedigger's Trap Hole - $15
Deep Sea Aria's ten bucks. Plunder Patrollship Lys is $8.50. The set's lowest Secret pull is still worth more than all but the Top 3 Secrets from Ignition Assault.
It's too early to predict if these prices will stick. Maybe everything but Accesscode, Girsu and Ghost Mourner will collapse in the next couple of weeks. Maybe Eternity Code's doing better because the set simply has more cards that are worth opening. But I think the system Konami's arranged here is just better at creating value, specifically value that stands the test of time, and I'm eager to look at these numbers again in four to six weeks to see if that bears out.
So What Does It Mean For You?
That depends on where you're coming from. Let's assume that the new rarity distribution succeeds in creating more value, and the stark contrast between Eternity Code and Ignition Assault outlined above remains.
Right off the bat, if you're the kind of player who only buys singles you're probably going to be paying a bit more for them. That's a predictable function of more cards at higher values with more limited supply. For some consolation, look at what the powers that be did with Eternity Code: competitive cards like Parallel eXceed, Splash Mage, Thunder Dragonlord and Deep Sea Minstrel are all commons. Parallel eXceed would've been at least $40 as a Secret Rare, and I think I'm being really conservative picking that number. Bones are being thrown to the singles buyers.
At the same time, if you're buying packs and cracking boxes this is fantastic for you; instead of praying and hoping to hit one specific Secret Rare to make some of your money back, you've got four viable targets that pay back a good chunk of your box, plus three more hits in the $15+ range. The same applies to Ultra Rares, with Linkross as a giant hit at $20+ and lots of $3 to $5 cards to hack together value. The perceived consistency has been visible all around the community; pop into your favorite facebook group or discord and you'll see a big spike in case breaks, as more players feel comfortable making investments.
Whether you're getting the long end or the short end of the stick here, eliminating Rare cards from core boosters solves a problem that's existed for nearly 20 years in Yu-Gi-Oh; a problem that got markedly worse when packs suddenly had guaranteed foils. Konami's done a lot of work tweaking things lately, finding new ways to create value that benefit both themselves and the player base.
Adding a fifth Starlight Rare to Eternity Code and tapping into the game's history for an uber-premium reprint of Effect Veiler creates value. Adding "Colorful Ultra Rares" to Legendary Duelists: Season 1 creates value too. (And now that you have some insight into how cards are printed, notice how those additions are just adding a new card to the same Starlight sheet in ETCO, and a new finish to the Ultra Rare sheet in Season 1 – clever moves.) Introducing Collector Rares in Toon Chaos is going to do the same thing, albeit probably for a bigger investment on Konami's side.
All of these new rarities are variants of existing cards, too; they aren't necessary for tournament play and won't have a negative impact on the budget crowd. If you're a tournament player who cringes sometimes thinking about the price of competition, you might take a little comfort in the fact that Konami's now leveraging the collector's market instead of just squeezing tournament players harder.
What do you think? Is the elimination of Rare cards good or bad? Hop over to our facebook page or the Yu-Gi-Oh Infinite twitter to let us know.
Maybe leave the chair leg.