We've all been there.
You're scrolling Twitter, or Reddit, or DailyMTG, and there it is—a picture of one of the most expensive cards you own, complete with a shiny new expansion symbol. Your shoulders slump, and a long sigh escapes your mouth. You still remember how relieved you felt when you finally clawed your way to a playset of that card several months ago. It took several trades, some slick buylisting, and all your "fun money" for a couple of weeks. But you did it, and you were proud of yourself for having made it happen.
Only now the card is back, and everyone on your social media feed is thrilled that they'll finally be able to get their own copy for a fraction of the old cost. You don't blame them—half a year ago, you would have felt the same—but right now, you're just bitter and confused. Should you have seen this coming? Was it your fault for spending so much money on a card that you knew full well would be reprinted at some point? And what the heck do you do now? Sell your copies now and hope to re-buy the reprinted version in a few weeks, or just hold firm and consider the lost value a sunk cost?
This week, we're going to talk about reprints—but not the way we usually do. Most of the time, I approach reprints from the perspective of someone who is looking to buy a newly-reprinted card. Today, we're going to talk about reprints from the perspective of someone who already owns the card in question.
There's a lot to unpack here. Is it too late to sell a card once a reprint has been previewed? Are there times when cards go up in price after a reprint? What happens when a card from a scarce old set is reprinted? And what about when a card is reprinted in a premium set (like a Masterpiece or Secret Lair) instead of in a Standard-legal expansion?
Some of this is common sense stuff, of course—but now that we've got access to that sweet, sweet archive of historical TCGplayer pricing data, we can either refute or confirm those common sense heuristics with actual graphs and charts. Let's get to it.
Initially printed in Portal: Three Kingdoms, Imperial Recruiter used to be one of the hardest cards to find in all of Magic. It demanded a massive premium as a Legacy staple, and most people simply refused to play its namesake deck due to accessibility issues. It seems hard to imagine a world where Imperial Recruiter was an order of magnitude harder to acquire than the dual lands, but that's what 2010 was like.
And then three things happened. First, in early 2011, Modern was announced. That took the pressure off Legacy, which began to take a backseat in the hierarchy of constructed formats. Then in 2013, Imperial Recruiter finally got its first reprint as a judge promo. Lastly, in 2018, Recruiter got a wide reprint in Masters 25. The result? Well, take a look at this price chart:
This is only the Portal: Three Kingdoms version of Imperial Recruiter from 2010 to now. I've elected not to include either the Judge foil or the Masters 25 version yet, because we're looking at this chart from the perspective of someone who purchased the original before those reprints were available. We'll get to those versions a little later.
What does this chart tell us? Well, take a look at that big peak where the price spikes to $350 from late 2015 into early 2016. That's four years after the advent of Modern, and almost three years after the Judge foil became readily available. Interesting, right? Well, let's take a look at the Judge foil now so we have that data as well:
As you can see, a lot of the same trends are present here, only with many more sales. This is likely because the Judge foil version has always been significantly more available and affordable than the P3K version. Now that we have this data as well, it's a lot easier to see that the printing of the Judge foil in 2013 did affect the card's overall price, but not by a lot. See that first big spike in the first chart? That's where Imperial Recruiter's price was heading until the Judge foil temporarily stemmed the tide. Demand for Imperial Recruiters still outstripped supply by a large enough margin that the card went on to spike later anyway, though, which proves at least one old adage true: supply issues can keep a card's price high, but increased demand is what causes prices to go up and stay up.
But what happened to Imperial Recruiter in the end? Was it done in by a lack of demand due to Legacy's waning popularity, or an increase in supply due to the Masters 25 printing? Based on these charts, it looks like both. The Masters 25 version of Recruiter was previewed on February 26th, 2018, and here's what the price chart for the Judge foil looks like from that date onward:
This is a pretty steep drop, from a high of $115 to an average of $48, but Imperial Recruiter had already begun to fall well before the reprint was announced. The card sold briskly in the $180-$200 range for years, back when it was a top-tier Legacy staple. But changing metagame trends and format popularity had already caused a pretty major collapse in the card's value. The Masters 25 printing was devastating, but even if that hadn't happened, we'd still probably be looking at a $60-$70 card by now.
Much like Imperial Recruiter, Grim Tutor was a low-supply card from an ancient set that nobody bought. In this case, Starter 1999. Grim Tutor sees some play in Commander, and it shows up from time to time in some of the older Eternal formats, but that's about it. Grim Tutor was mostly expensive solely because of how scarce it was. There wasn't even a Judge foil printing of this one—just the Starter 1999 version. Then, bam! A reprint in Core Set 2021.
What does Grim Tutor's price chart look like between 2015 and now? It's actually pretty flat until recently. Take a look:
Wild, right? Other than one copy of Grim that apparently sold for $0.70 (what a deal!), the card was worth somewhere between $180 and $230, depending on condition, for at least five years.
I wanted to look in on Grim Tutor to see how the Starter 1999 version was doing after the Core Set 2021 reprint, and it looks like there have actually been a few sales since that announcement. The first sale was all the way down at $80, but there have been a few since then right around the $140 mark. This tracks with the current market price for the card, as there are several lightly played copies available for a low of $139 right now. While it's too early to say if this price will stick—and historically, my guess is that the price will continue to erode as the Core Set 2021 foils lose value—it does look as if scarcity is playing a fairly large role in keeping the price higher than expected for this very unique version of the card. I doubt anyone who was holding this card through the Core Set 2021 reprint figured they'd only lose about 30% of the card's value over the short-term.
Speaking of tutors, let's look at a very different chart. Here's Idyllic Tutor's price chart from the start of 2019 to now:
This is more or less what I expected to see, but it's still kind of a jarring chart to look at. Idyllic Tutor was reprinted for the first time in Theros Beyond Death, which caused the available supply to explode. Demand did too—far more people are willing to buy this card at $4 than $30—but thus far, it hasn't been enough to cause the price to start trending back up. Increased demand is a good thing, certainly—remember what we learned with Imperial Recruiter—but if a card is reprinted at rare in a Standard-legal set? Its ceiling can only be so high.
Of course, this chart measures all available versions of Idyllic Tutor. What if we just limit things to the original Morningtide version, which is what you would have owned if you'd bought this card back in 2018? Well, here's the chart for that:
This is a much different look at Idyllic Tutor. That big drop from $30 down to $13 happened on the day the reprint was announced, but there was still a reasonable period of time between preview and release where the price rebounded a little. In fact, Idyllic Tutor sold at a pretty solid clip between $15 and $25 until Theros Beyond Death actually started hitting shelves. This is likely because some players wanted copies ASAP in order to brew for Standard, and there weren't any Theros Beyond Death copies available yet.
In retrospect, then, the best move here was to sell your copies right after the reprint was announced, even at a perceived loss. And you will see this pattern repeat over and over again. While some cards rebound from their post-reprint lows, most of them bottom out at a far lower price than they hit in the 2-4-week period between preview and set release. If you can get a sale during this period, while people are excited about the reprint but can't snag a copy yet, you should do so.
Let's take a look at some Secret Lair reprintings. Here's the Shadowmoor version of Reaper King, which was reprinted in Kaleidoscope Killers, one of the most popular (if not the most popular) Secret Lair drops to date:
What is that big spike in May of 2019? It wasn't the Secret Lair release—it was Morophon, the Boundless being printed in Modern Horizons. A few people might have been speculating on Reaper King that day—the average copies-per-buyer on the day of the heaviest spike was just over two—but the demand was mostly player-driven and it mostly stuck, too. Reaper King was selling for an average of $7 before the spike, and it maintained an average of $14 all summer and into the fall.
Then, on November 25th, WotC announced Kaleidoscope Killers. Reaper King was selling for about $10 that day, and it maintained that price throughout the end of 2019 and into 2020—long after Kaleidoscope Killers reached the hands of hungry buyers. So why does the card sell for $3-$5 now? Because the card got another additional printing in Mystery Booster. With two reprints back to back, Reaper King simply could not sustain its price tag, and its value has collapsed almost completely.
Let's take a look at another one of the key cards in Kaleidoscope Killers—one that wasn't reprinted in Mystery Booster. Here's Sliver Overlord's chart from the start of 2019 through today:
I love the Reaper King/Sliver Overlord comparison, because not only was Sliver Overlord in the same Secret Lair as Reaper King, but it also had a spike in May of 2019 due to Morophon, the Boundless being previewed in Modern Horizons. And just like with Reaper King, it's pretty hard to see when the Secret Lair was released on this chart. That dip and rebound toward the right side isn't actually Secret Lair related—that's the same dive and recovery that the entire market took in March and early April thanks to the pandemic. But since the Overlord wasn't in Mystery Booster, the rebound has been a lot quicker and more effective.
Let's talk about one more Secret Lair card, just in case. Here's Bitterblossom, which also got a Secret Lair release in that early December series. Did that affect Bitterblossom's price? Take a look:
In this case, it looks like yes, the Secret Lair release did meaningfully affect Bitterblossom's price tag. The card was fairly stable around $40 before the Secret Lair was announced, and it dropped to about $30 afterward. Bitterblossom took a brief tumble toward $20-$25 during March and April, like everything else, but it's back up to $30 again now. Not coincidentally, the "Bitterblossom Dreams" Secret Lair sold for $29.99.
Looking at all three of these cards, the moral of the story here seems to be that Secret Lairs do have an effect on prices, but not a particularly strong one. Their price points are usually high enough to prevent the market from totally collapsing, so you can probably ignore them if you're holding on to a valuable card and it is reprinted in a Secret Lair.
It's time to take a look at some fetch lands. Let's start with the Onslaught/Khans of Tarkir fetch lands, since they represent the last time we've seen fetch lands reprinted in Standard. Remember: these five cards weren't even legal in Modern until being reprinted in 2014, but Legacy was a very popular format during the first half of the last decade. And since Onslaught was released in late 2002, that means that these venerable cards went twelve full years without a reprint. The result? Well, here's Polluted Delta's price chart from the start of 2012 through the end of 2015:
It looks a lot like Idyllic Tutor, right? I wanted to include Polluted Delta here because this was one of the most exciting, highest-profile reprints ever, and you can see just how high demand for Deltas got once the card became both Standard and Modern legal.
But, like we saw earlier, no card can truly sustain the impact of a reprint at rare in a Standard-legal set. In this light, the fact that Polluted Delta remained above $20 seems kind of remarkable. That's still a far cry from its previous $80-$100 price tag, though, and you would have been way better off selling your copies at any point before this.
Of course, this chart includes both the Khans of Tarkir and Onslaught versions of Polluted Delta. Did the Onslaught copies maintain any sort of old-bordered premium? Let's take a look:
Bingo. Not only is the drop a little slower—you had a chance to sell your Onslaught Deltas at a premium, if only a small one—but the Onslaught version of the card held its value a little better, too. $35 might not seem like a lot more than $22, but that's still close to a 50% jump in value.
And here we go. Scalding Tarn was of course first printed in Zendikar, which released in October 2009, and then the venerable fetch land saw its first major reprint eight years later in Modern Masters 2017. Scalding Tarn was also released as a Masterpiece in 2015, and as part of Secret Lair: Ultimate Edition here in 2020.
Here's the card's price chart from early 2010 through yesterday:
There's a lot going on here, but don't worry—I'm going to break it down for you in smaller chunks. I just wanted to start here, because having a full picture of the card's overall price history seems like a good way to visualize the ebbs and flows of one of Modern's most important staples.
So, what's visible on this chart? Well, this data goes back to the pre-Modern days, when Scalding Tarn sold for about $10. The fetch land has been worth at least $40 for most of its life since then, of course, albeit with different peaks and valleys depending on the metagame and Modern's overall popularity. We're talking about reprints today, though, so let's start by looking at those key dates. Did any of these three reprints have an effect on Tarn's price tag? Let's find out.
Here's Scalding Tarn from January of 2015 through the end of 2016. Battle for Zendikar (which featured the Masterpiece edition of Scalding Tarn) was released in October of 2015, which was smack in the middle of Scalding Tarn jumping from the $50 range to the $80 range. It doesn't appear to have had a meaningful effect on the card's overall value whatsoever, and I feel good saying that this reprinting had a negligible effect on its overall price tag.
Here's Scalding Tarn from January 1st 2020 through yesterday. This chart includes both the announcement and release of Secret Lair: Ultimate Edition, also to an apparently negligible effect. That dip in the middle is probably not related at all—that's the same COVID dip that the entire market endured, including its subsequent recovery. Ultimately, Scalding Tarn is worth about $2 more today than it was at the start of the year. I'm calling this reprint a non-issue, too.
Lastly, here is Scalding Tarn's Modern Masters 2017 reprint. The card was worth about $75 before the reprint was announced, and it bottomed out at $38 on release day. It slowly started increasing in value again right after that, and it was $75 again almost exactly one year later.
What can we learn from this? Well, Modern Masters 2017 was a short-printed Masters set with expensive packs and no big-box release. The fetch lands were printed at rare, not mythic, but this was a far cry from the Standard-legal reprinting that caused Polluted Delta to crash from $80 down to $20.
What does this mean for the fetch land reprint that we're promised later this year? Well, they're rumored to be special inserts in Collector Boosters, like the Godzilla cards from Ikoria. If that's true, then this next reprint is going to have a lot more in common with Masters 2017 than with Khans of Tarkir. The fetch lands will almost certainly drop in price, but it will probably be a temporary drop like we saw in 2017. There will only be a drastic drop down to the $20 range if the fetch lands simply show up again as Standard-legal rares. And I just don't see that happening based on everything that WotC has said about the subject since 2015.
So. Should you sell your fetch lands now? Yes, but only if it's not too much of a hassle. The reprint probably will cause the prices to drop, and you should be able to buy them cheaper this fall assuming the rumors are true. But if you don't sell your fetch lands because you want to keep them, or because you don't want to deal with the hassle and risk of rebuying them, you will still probably be able to hold out for a year or two and wait for the price to rebound. In terms of cards I'm worried about taking a permanent value-drop due to a reprint, fetch lands are pretty close to the bottom of that list. I don't think they'll get a wide enough reprint to tank their price tag, and they've proven incredibly resilient to premium-level reprints thus far.
The Standard market is still incredibly flat, but one very special card continues to gain value. That card, of course, is Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath—pretty clearly the most powerful creature in the format right now.
Of course, Standard isn't the reason why people bought into Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath this week. No, this spike is due to Simic Reclamation's rise in Modern, where Uro has become a 3-of in what might be the format's best deck. The result? Well, just take a look:
If this were a non-pandemic year and Standard demand were driving prices per usual, I'd say that Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath had a shot at hitting $80-$100 this summer. As is, I wouldn't be shocked if it bounces around the $60-$70 range for a while simply due to the rise in Modern demand. That uptick in sales is real, and multi-format mythic rare all-stars tend to have very high ceilings. My guess is that Uro will come down at some point simply because prices tend to slump in the summer and we're no closer to getting back to playing tabletop Magic at local game shops. But right now this card's price is still trending up, and with good reason.
Also up this week: Auntie's Hovel, the key tribal land in Modern Goblins. Take a look at this price chart, from May 1st through yesterday:
What's up with that big spike on June 10th? Well, it was clearly somewhat speculator-driven, since the average sales/buyer for this card is normally around 2 and the average was a whopping 4.1 that day. Those speculators were clearly on to something, though, since the price has only kept rising since then. Why Auntie's Hovel? Because Goblins is actually a really powerful and popular brew in Modern right now thanks to Conspicuous Snoop, and Auntie's Hovel is one of the lowest-supply cards in the deck. This is the rare example of a bunch of speculators all going in on a card based on a preview and getting it absolutely right.
Don't sleep on the other cards from this deck, either. Cavern of Souls and Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker are also up this week due to Modern Goblins, and I wouldn't be shocked if Metallic Mimic, Blackcleave Cliffs, Aether Vial and Bloodstained Mire are next. If one person decides to buy 20-30 copies of any of these cards, they could start spiking fast.
On the other hand, here's an example of when a fairly organic spike probably won't last. Check out what Ezuri's Predation has been up to recently:
Why the spike? Because of the Game Knights YouTube show, where this card absolutely dominated a game of Commander on camera. A few people do appear to have speculated on this card on July 2nd, after the episode came out, but the vast majority of buyers were just snagging personal copies for themselves.
Why don't I think this spike will last? Because people will forget about the episode, and demand levels will return to normal. The price might stay a little higher simply due to price memory, but it's not like the Game Knights folks unleashed new tech—they just briefly reminded folks that this card is a bomb if you can get it off in a multiplayer game. These kinds of spikes rarely last long, so you should sell your copies now.
Lastly, there is yet another big community discussion going on about "the death of Modern." If you've read my column for any length of time, you know how much I dislike talk like this. If anything is going to "kill" Modern, it's going to be a bunch of doomsayers running around saying that Modern is dying, which will cause everyone else to panic and divest from the format. It's a self-fulfilling prophecy, if it's a prophecy at all.
I might write an entire article about this at some point—please let me know on Twitter if it's something you'd like me to cover in depth—but allow me to at least briefly reassure you that Modern is not even close to dead. The biggest problem is that there are no tabletop tournaments right now because of the global pandemic. With no tournaments, demand for tournament staples is way down. I know you all want a better answer, but it really is that simple. In fact, the Modern index has rebounded both quicker and higher than I'd expected considering we're all still mostly locked down.
The other major complicating factor here is that Modern Horizons hit the format like an atom bomb. Modern looks radically different now than it did in early 2019, which has caused some of the format's biggest financial stalwarts to tank in price. If your collection is full of those cards, it certainly might look like the format is dying—especially if many of your favorite archetypes are no longer playable.
Modern Horizons and the printing of cards like Oko, Thief of Crowns also caused way more turnover in Modern than there ever used to be, which has made some people justifiably gun-shy about buying into Modern staples that they can't immediately use. If more people trusted in the stability of the Modern metagame, they would be buying Modern decks right now and trusting that they'd still be playable in the post-COVID world. But since Modern tends to turn over a lot these days, why buy a deck now when it might be banned or rendered obsolete by the time we can all gather in our local shops again? It's certainly not at the top of my to-do list.
But all of these problems are fixable. We will get a COVID-19 vaccine at some point, and I have to believe that the Modern metagame will find a happy equilibrium again at some point, too. I get why folks are scared right now, and I'm not buying Modern staples at the moment either, but I refuse to believe that the format won't have another golden age at some point in the future.