Hi there! It's DJ Johnson here with your weekly Magic finance update on TCGplayer. With the World Championship behind us (Congrats to William "Huey" Jensen!), we saw a couple of individual cards spike based on the results of the 24-person event. Search for Azcanta (not to be confused with Azteca, the Mexican restaurant chain that I was calling it) is hanging around $12. Herald of Anguish doubled up after nearly ending up in the bulk mythic bin, and is currently cresting $5. Lastly, Vraska's Contempt at $6 is proving to be a necessary evil against otherwise unkillable gods like Hazoret the Fervent and The Scarab God.
The topic of my article today is not about tournament results, or the price point of an individual card. I want to bring up an overarching discussion on how, why and if you buy cards during the preview season, before the prerelease even happens. It's relatively common knowledge that cards as a whole tend to drop after the set releases. As stores and players both crack open product on release day, the supply becomes saturated over time. While players are (rightfully) excited to pick up a bunch of sweet cards on release day, they eventually taper off until the market finds an even balance of buying and selling.
During presale season, the "average expected value" (EV) of a booster box will be well over retail. All of the cards were preselling higher because no one can be 100 percent sure what they'll end up at. As more and more product gets added to the supply, the EV of a box decreases to the point where it's no longer "free money" for stores to open up product specifically to sell the singles. If a store gets boxes at an average of $78 each and they can expect $120 in singles out of the box, there's very little reason for them to sell that box on the shelf for $100 other than just having the product for customers who want it. As such, enough product ends up joining the market to the point that the average box EV gets lower and lower, finding an equilibrium. If all of the cards in Ixalan stay at their presale prices, then product will be opened until those prices are depressed.
We've seen most of the Ixalan cards that aren't played in Standard currently start to correct their prices accordingly. Huatli, Warrior Poet and Jace, Cunning Castaway each presold for about $20, but now Huatli is barely cresting $10 and Jace is quietly approaching that benchmark. Growing Rites of Itlimoc, one of the most hyped cards in the set, also presold for between $16-20 but is now only around $10 Market Price, because it's pretty much only wanted by Commander players. We're going to see continuing trends among the lower-end cards as well, until more of the rares settle into that bulk to $1 range. There's no way Rowdy Crew maintains $2 for long.
Of course, there are a couple cards from Ixalan that went up in value, but most cards are steadily dropping. This is pretty standard issue for most sets; it's really hard to guess which ones are going to go up like Hostage Taker and Vraska's Contempt. Unless you're a pro—and do a bunch of Standard testing—or get really lucky you can't really make a ton of money off speculating on presales. Likewise, it can be hard to know what to buy even if you're just hoping to save money. I'm sure a lot of you want to jam Carnage Tyrant in Standard, but you also don't want to drop $100 on a playset on week one just to get your dino on.
So what's the play here? Do you pick up the Tyrants on release weekend because you already have an exact 75-card list in mind? Do you buy Growing Rites at $20 because you're frustrated of seeing other people slam down Gaea's Cradle while you're on a budget? Honestly, I can't tell you which is the right play. It's going to depend on your own personal situation, and how often you're going to play the card. Let's use a card we already have price data for as an example, and one of my personal favorite cards from Hour of Devastation: Ramunap Excavator.
Our Crucible of Worlds with legs started out the Hour of Devastation release weekend at around $7, according to MTGstocks, which shows the history of the card's median price. If you bought the card for a Commander deck at $7, you're looking at a "loss" of around $4.50 if you still hold the card today three months later. It lost over half its value from presale to three months later when Ixalan came out.
If you bought the card and had it sit on your computer desk gathering dust, that's bad value because you didn't actually do anything with the card. But what if you jammed it into a Commander deck? The value starts to go up, but the intangible value depends on how many times you actually played that deck with that card. You can see where I'm going with this.
Let's make another radical assumption and say that you have a weekly Commander hang with your friends on Saturday evenings. If you bought the card at $7 on release weekend for your Omnath, Locus of Rage deck and then played with it that weekend, you already got some value out of it. How much would you pay to "rent" the card just for that Commander night? A quarter? Fifty cents? Let's say for example that you use the Excavator once a week, for the three-month duration until today, when you could've bought Excavator at its low. At 14 weeks between Hour of Devastation release and this past weekend, you paid 32 cents a week to rent that Excavator, until you "bought it" at the low this past weekend.
Whether that's worth it or not is entirely up to you; I'm just here to provide you with the math and line of thinking. Sometimes it can be more than a $4.50 difference over three months; We've seen mythics like As Foretold end up being $13-14 on release week, but quickly Plummet as soon as they don't make an immediate impact on Standard or Modern where they were expected to shine. What if you were someone like me who has an unnatural obsession with the card Restore Balance? I love brewing with that card, but with my schedule the way it is I wouldn't have time to play Modern at all. I might be able to jam one or two events, but that's about it. Because As Foretold dropped from $13 to around $7 within a month of release, I'd end up paying around $3 to "rent" each copy per event, assuming I'm playing in two events total throughout that month after Amonkhet release. Not exactly worth it for me.
You can alter and adjust the numbers based on your own personal needs, but predicting just how much value you're willing to lose by viewing it as "renting" the card from the duration of release weekend until the card hits a low can help you budget more efficiently. If you're a frequent Standard player who's aiming for every FNM and Standard Showdown every week, then maybe it's worth it for you to rip the band-aid off on those four Carnage Tyrants, especially if you're going to get a lot of use out of them.
While this article might not help you buy Ixalan cards for the presale season without a Time Machine, it's certainly worth a bookmark or a note on your calendar for Rivals of Ixalan. This strategy is something I've used in the past to justify buying certain Commander foils, even though I knew their value was going to drop. I didn't mind paying $20 for a foil The Gitrog Monster during presale season, because it was going into Child of Alara lands and getting cast dozens of times during the few months after Shadows Over Innistrad released.
In other news, I highly recommend selling all of the Ixalan cards that spiked during or because of the World Championship and the past couple of Opens. I'm happy to be moving out of Approaches that I picked up for less than a dollar apiece, and Authority of the Consuls is way higher than I ever dreamed it would hit. I listed mine in my store, and I recommend you do as well. I hope you get some sales before you come back next Tuesday!
- DJ Johnson