Hey there! Welcome back to DJ's little corner of TCGplayer.com, where we talk about the nuts and bolts of what makes Magic work as an economy. Last week's discussion was focused on some of the "plants" or "seeds" that Wizards of the Coast has sown throughout previous sets (like Metallic Mimic and Tendershoot Dryad), and how we can take advantage of that information early on to make predictions of what's going to be in the expansions to come. Several of you in the comments homed in on Goblins being a potential theme in Core 2019 onward, and I think that's a great place to start. However, we're going to take a bit of an off-ramp here to discuss something else in the world of Magic finance that's happening here and now.
This guy, right here. This card-drawing, pants-wearing, Standard-warping monster of a planeswalker is checking in at $60, and that's the low end.
Excuse me, what?
If you're a returning player who was allured back into Magic with the nostalgia that Dominaria brought, you might be a little shocked to see an in-print mythic rare fetching this price tag. Heck, if you're someone who just started playing in the past couple of years, this is practically unheard of. We've seen mythics hit $40 upon release, and even $50 once in a great while. Karn's anything but a trend follower though, and his price point is something we haven't seen since Jace, Vryn's Prodigy capped out at $80 during his tenure in Standard.
Why? Just like how we went pretty deep on Sol Ring a few weeks ago, I'm dedicating this article to Urza's greatest creation, and dissecting his price point. What kinds of factors go into shelling out nearly $250 for a playset of a Standard mythic? Will you be able to pick them up for less in the future? Will there be an opportunity to buy "the next Karn" in Core 2019? These are going to be the questions to answer in this week's lesson plan.
It's not unusual for a set to have at least a couple of "sleeper mythics" prior to the release of the set date. These are the cards that you feel really happy about if you managed to trade for them at the prerelease, or gloat to your friends for years about preordering your playset. Cards that in hindsight we think "why did that presell for so little?" like Emrakul, the Promised End, Archangel Avacyn and The Scarab God are a few examples of very pushed mythic rares that ended up warping their respective formats and allowing their own prices to be pushed past the $40 mark in the short term. Where Karn bucks the trend is that he was preselling for over $30, and still ended up doubling in the first two weeks.
The primary driver for these kind of price jumps in Archangel Avacyn and The Scarab God is scarcity. While that might seem like an obvious "yes, cards are expensive because they're rare/mythic" answer, it's equally important to understand and note what kind of scarcity. If you look at the price graphs for the two mythic creatures I just mentioned, their price increases happened at different points in their life spans. Archangel Avacyn followed a trend very similar to Karn, where it presold for around $20-25 and quickly ended up peaking at close to $50. The Scarab God quietly crept under the radar for months, disregarded as a Commander card before rapidly climbing to $50 after the release of Ixalan.
In the case of Avacyn, her scarcity was based off the fact that there simply wasn't much Shadows Over Innistrad available that quickly after release. It takes time for product to be opened, distributors and local game stores to restock and for copies to be sold to vendors to help establish a lower price point. Avacyn was really expensive for a few weeks, but you can see the data for yourself; she rapidly cooled off to a more reasonable $20 by the time Eldritch Moon released. For The Scarab God, the lack of Hour of Devastation during Ixalan's release was due to the fact that it was simply a poorly received set, and there were fewer Scarab Gods to go around. Hour was a set with very few powerful cards, and it ended up with stores having a lot of extra product on the shelves. If we check Dawnglare, we can see that Hour of Devastation has a way lower expected value than Dominaria, Amonkhet, or even Rivals of Ixalan. With all of those Scarab Gods still hanging around in booster packs while everyone was cracking open dinosaurs, it drove up the price of The Scarab God to $50.
So what does that have to do with Karn, Scion of Urza? Well, I'd argue that his price graph is going to look much closer to Archangel Avacyn instead of The Scarab God. We're only two and a half weeks into the release of Dominaria, with more drafts and box openings happening every day…. Or are they?
This leads me to my next point. In another divergence from the past couple of Standard sets, Dominaria has been successful. Very successful. How successful? Well, we're seeing stores, vendors and even distributors actually running out of Dominaria. With in-print Standard sets like these, we're accustomed to being able to get as much product as we need. If a store needed fifty or a hundred boxes of Ixalan, they were likely able to procure that depending on their store size, number of distributor contacts, and capital they could play with. In only the first couple of weeks since release, Dominaria has changed that math. Some stores are just unable to acquire product right now and are sitting on their thumbs awaiting the next big shipments from Wizards and their distributors. While booster boxes of Standard sets are normally available for purchase through TCGplayer at around $85-90, Dominaria is holding strong at around $100 for even the lowest boxes available.
Of course, that has a noticeable impact on the expected value of a booster box, and the cards inside them. On May 13th as I write this article, there are still five mythics with a market price over $16. Using the same timescale, Ixalan had….. Carnage Tyrant? Maybe Vraska, Relic Seeker? There's just not enough Dominaria product to fill demand right now, but you can be sure that's in the process of being fixed. Wizards, distributors and local game stores all want to sell someKarn-filled booster packs, and they're doing everything they can to get that product out as quickly as possible.
We've discussed the scarcity aspect of Karn's price, so let's touch on demand. Karn isn't like a Rasputin Dreamweaver or Ali from Cairo; there's actually a ton of demand to support the current price in multiple formats. In fact, there were four copies of Karn, Scion of Urza in the Top 8 of the Legacy (yes, Legacy) portion of Grand Prix Birmingham! Karn is very easy to play in a large number of strategies and could easily find a home in a format that includes Ancient Tomb, City of Traitors and Chalice of the Void. He's already seeing play in multiples in Standard decks, and I don't think it would be overtly difficult for him to be tested in Modern as well.
While Archangel Avacyn and The Scarab God floated back down to $20 after a couple of months, they were each Standard-only haymakers that didn't really have any potential to impact eternal formats. Karn is poised to break that parallel, so let's look at a couple of other price graphs for highly demanded and Eternal playable cards to see where Karn might end up in the long term if he continues to be in high demand.
The Eldritch Moon version of Liliana has enjoyed sliding into Jund and Grixis variants over the past couple of years, becoming even more powerful after the rules change that allowed you to control both her and Liliana of the Veil at the same time. Because of her power level across multiple formats and the scarcity of the set she was opened in, she never really fell below $27; In fact, she's been on the rise since that bottom out, and has almost returned to $40. If Karn ends up finding multiple homes in various formats, we could see him stubbornly refuse to go below $35, even after the release of Core 2019 and the following sets afterward.
So where does that leave us? We've got a ton of factors and variables in play here, all intertwining with each other to leave us with a $60 planeswalker. Let's go over everything quickly one more time for clarity's sake;
- We're still very early into Dominaria's release, and there's a degree of scarcity because we have two months left of drafting, box openings, Limited Grands Prix and other ways of product entering the market.
- That scarcity is amplified by the sheer demand for Dominaria, resulting in stores being out of stock.
- Karn has proven his worth as a four-of mythic rare in competitive Standard lists and is finding his way in eternal formats like Modern and Legacy. This "still good after rotation" power level will likely prevent him from bottoming out too far, akin to Liliana, the Last Hope.
If you add all that together, what do you get? Personally, I expect Karn to peak relatively soon, then experience a gradual decline over the next couple of months as the secondary and tertiary waves of product make their way to distributors and stores alike. The market will self-correct on some of these high-dollar mythics, and Karn will likely end up in the $30-35 range by the time Core 2019 is released. However, his casual and eternal playability will prevent him from falling too hard or reaching a low of $20. If you're a player who needs Karn for the immediate future, I highly recommend reading this article that I wrote last October about calculating the value you'll lose versus the number of events you plan on playing in. If you're someone who plans on jamming Karn in a Superfriends Commander deck, your Vintage cube or just wants one for the collection, I definitely think you'll be better off waiting a few months and buying in at around half the current price.
With Dominaria bringing back so many new players, I think now would be a good time to address that this set has certainly proven to be the exception rather than the rule when it comes to purchasing cards at their preorder prices. While those who preordered Karn, Teferi, Lyra, or History of Benalia are feeling pretty confident about their card evaluation skills, I want to remind those newer players that correlation does not equal causation. Dominaria is an anomaly when it comes to overall market trends and price movements for a set, and you should not expect to see multiple mythic rares spiking incredibly hard immediately after a "normal" set release. For every Karn, there are many examples of Jace, Unraveler of Secrets or Liliana, Death's Majesty where the card doesn't end up doubling and you're left with a bad taste in your mouth. Remember to preorder with expected downshifts in price in mind!
- DJ Johnson