Hey there! I'm DJ. I write about the financial aspect of Magic here on TCGplayer. Most of the time I write about how to extract value out of your collection using bulk commons, uncommons, and rares (last week's article was a good one!), but we're going to spin off into something else this week because I drive the bus around here. Let's talk Iconic Masters.
As someone who tries to grind out a living based off this trading card game, I normally use historical trends to inform my decisions and predictions for the future. When someone asked me what the impact of Modern Masters 2015 was going to be, I used the trends of the original Modern Masters to make educated guesses. When it comes to Iconic Masters, we've got a curveball. We were used to one Masters set every two years. Then we ramped up to one a year with Eternal Masters last year. In 2017, we're getting even more product packed into a single calendar year. November and December are home to Merfolk vs. Goblins, Iconic Masters, Explorers of Ixalan, From the Vault: Transform, and Unstable.
While not all of those products overlap (most players who buy Iconic Masters aren't also looking for silver-bordered cards), it's definitely a larger amount of products released at a time of the year when players' wallets are already stretched. Based on this, it's reasonable to expect that the amount of Iconic Masters product opened would be even less than a normal Masters set. Players don't have an unlimited amount of cash to burn on this game, so many end up budgeting. If fewer players open Iconic Masters, we end up with a situation where singles prices remain high simply because so many boxes are left sealed and on the shelves.
On the other hand, we got thrown a double curveball (knuckleball? I'm not good at sports). On the day before Iconic Masters was released, we started to get notifications that the product was being sold at "big box" stores like Target and Wal-Mart. That's another variable tossed into the formula. While non-competitive players are generally less likely to spend $32 on a three-booster pack Impulse buy, it's still unprecedented for Wizards of the Coast to give non-LGS's access to this kind of product. We saw booster boxes pre-selling for as low as $160 while vendors and stores rushed to flip a product for minimal profit. Even now, we've seen certain stores drop to $150 in the weeks following release; For reference, the average cost for even a store to pick up one of these boxes from a distributor is around $136. Even with MM17, we had stores selling at around $200 a box prior to release.
All of this is info that's been available for the past couple of weeks. How does it affect you if you've been twiddling your thumbs while waiting for the perfect opportunity to buy staples for your Modern or Commander deck? We already saw some of the high-end staples get chopped cleanly in half just by the virtue of their preview during Hascon (Speaking of Hascon, it was pretty much the only advertising that Iconic Masters got for its entire preview season…). Mana Drain, Horizon Canopy and Flusterstorm were crushed immediately from their highs of $150, $90, and $80, respectively. However, those hard crashes leveled off relatively quickly after the set dropped.
If we look at the graphs on MTGstocks.com for each of these three cards, they've remained relatively stable since 11/17, which was the release date for the set. Up until now, I had predicted that these cards would continue to drop. I expected Drain to hit $55-60, Canopy to hit $20, and Flusterstorm to hit $20 as well. At this point, it seems like these Plateaus are here to stay. If you've been wringing your hands and hoping to get Drain at $55, I think you bite the bullet now rather than waiting another month. As with MM17, we're starting to see prices bottom out at the one to two-week mark post-release, rather than one month.
As more competitive players keep tabs on the financial trends, we see more people trying to wait until that bottom hits before they pick up their playsets for personal play. Aether Vial is another example of a card that rebounded almost immediately after hitting bottom. According to MTGstocks, Vial went from $45 down to $30ish just upon being previewed for being in the set. Losing 33% of its total price was enough to get players to start buying in, because they value having the card at an overall lower price point, and will get value out of playing the card even if it goes down a little further post-release. If this concept sounds familiar, it's because we discussed it at length in my article about buying too soon during presale season.
My recommendation is to buy the Iconic Masters cards that you've been waiting on now. Thoughtseize hit a low of $11-12, but it's already crept back up to $14. Whether it goes back to $12 or $16, the value you get from playing it during the time when you would've been waiting longer is probably going to be higher. The same goes for the rest of the common and uncommon staples that get crushed in price from being tossed aside during drafts and such. This is your brief window to pick up $2 Lightning Helix, $3 Thran Dynamo, and $4.50 Mishra's Bauble, before we start to see more subtle increases over the course of several months.
And you want to know what to do with it, right? There's a chance some of you may have preordered a box as an investment for a couple years down the road, or are wondering if the expected value of a draft with your friends will be better now versus six months from now. I've gone over several of the factors that sets this set apart from the rest already (availability at big box stores and higher than normal distribution allocations versus being crammed into the end of the year as the second Masters set), and I don't think you'll see huge shifts in the next six months one way or the other. According to mtg.dawnglare.com, the current "expected value" of a box of Iconic Masters is around $159, using prices from TCGplayer. That means the average person buying an average box for around$ $160 is going to be losing a few bucks, especially if they're trying to crack the box to sell singles.
If you're one of those who purchased a box and is looking to win big by cracking for singles, I don't have amazing news for you. Even holding for long term gains isn't going to be easy with Masters 25 on the horizon and tons of product still available for grabs at below MSRP. Unless you open something crazy like a foil Mana Drain or Flusterstorm, the odds really aren't in your favor to win big by cracking for singles. I'd recommend either trying to sell the box of as-is and lick your wounds by taking the small loss in value, or trying to get enough friends to pitch in for a $20 draft that you can all have some fun with for several hours. It's not going to be as an attractive an outcome as flipping the product for profit, but it's certainly better than sobbing into a pile of Sphinx of Uthuun while surrounded by plastic wrapping.
All in all, I do think Iconic Masters is and will continue to be a successful product. I expect it, the Modern Pro Tour and Masters 25 to all provide continued increased demand for the Modern format, and I'll love selling five times more Mishra's Bauble at $5 than I would at $25. However, the days of buying Modern Masters 2013 product and flipping it for double MSRP are long gone, even though it was just a few years ago. Wizards is finding their ground with exactly how much product they can push out in a single calendar year, and it's going to depress individual demand for each product along the way. While that sounds like a bad thing, it's going to mean cheaper Magic cards all around in the long run.
Before I finish, I'd like to take a minute to talk about Un-set finance. I've gotten a few questions about this set from a financial perspective, because a lot of my readers (and myself) weren't even around for the previous two Un-sets. At the time, both Unhinged and Unglued were printed at the same volume as a regular set at the time. However, there was obviously a lot less demand. Cards that players were unable to use in tournaments had their niche among a super-casual crowd, but found themselves in garbage cans the world over.
The Saving Grace of those boxes today (as will be true for this product as well), will be the basic lands. However, those basics aren't going to be enough to make the product an attractive buy, even if you can find it at below the cost of a normal booster box. While the basics can help reduce the cost of a draft (On average, you're going to open around $5-6 in basic lands per draft), practically every other card in the set will be left by the wayside. There will be a few cards that find their way into black-border cubes (Crow Storm and Summon the Pack both appear on TCGplayer's best-selling singles for the set), but the number of players who own cubes and will be in the market for non-foils will be far and few between. The TL;DR is that unless you're someone who's excited to draft Unstable over and over, I think you'll be better off saving those funds for something else. Thanks for reading!
- DJ Johnson