Damnation, or Is There a Price Bubble in MtG Single Cards?

Living in Europe, I have the pleasure of being able to use MagicCardMarket or MCM. Its a nice way to get the single cards you need from a centralized service (and not having to take part in the travesty that is Puca Trade). One of the fun things about the service (pretty much like any good service on in the Internet), you can go through your whole history of purchases.

Actually, I was pleasantly surprised to see that the prices on many of the cards I initially bought after returning to the hobby in 2012 haven’t actually risen at all or only a little. Why am I glad about not seeing price increases, when my personal collection isn’t gaining value? Because I want to see the hobby grow and young people be able to participate.

The cards I bought first are (obviously) pretty no-brainers, which many EDH players will want, as do many players of other formats, such as Legacy (well, in some cases). On the other hand, some have gone off the charts.

I bought my Damnation at 13.49 (again, in 2012) from a Finnish seller, which probably means I’ve wanted it fast rather than for cheap, so I might’ve have paid over market prices. Today, the cheapest you can get it is for 26.99. If you want it in English and in NM condition (like mine), you’ll have to pay at least 33.75 and even that has an asterix attached to the condition. If you want one from a professional seller, you’ll have to dole out at least 38 euros.

But hey, they haven’t reprinted that card, other than for Judges and such. Of course, its price is going to just rise. Well, the next order was for a Cryptic Command for 9.99. The cheapest you can get it now is 18.99 and 21.39 for an English NM one. This one was reprinted in Modern Masters and Modern Masters 2015. Those versions are actually even more expensive.

Oh, well, I seem to have been on a streak here, as the next order was for a Liliana of the Veil for 17.49. I must have thought about that for a while. I mean, 17.49 for one card is a quite a bit of money. I could probably get a decent EDH deck together for that. How much would it be now? The cheapest one is 74.99. Makes me sort of glad I got quite a few of these pretty cheaply back in the day (I have a full set for Modern as well, as well as the RPTQ promo, but that I got for actually attending the RPTQ).

I guess, you get the point.

At this point, I should note I’m no expert on economy. I have some understanding, but not very deep. At the same time, it would seem quite a few of the experts disagree so much and are so unable to predict pretty much anything that they probably don’t know any better either. Still, don’t panic because of me and sell your whole collection.

… but the question is…

Is there a bubble in the MtG singles market?

If I was looking at this from the outside, I would say yes. Cards shouldn’t over quadruple in price in a few years. I know the prices don’t even really reflect availability.

Think about this:

There are 249 cards (not counting the basic lands) in a big set. Of those 101 are common, 80 are uncommon, 53 are rares and 15 are mythics. When you buy a case (six boxes of boosters, 216 packs in total, not counting the foils), you open 2160 commons, 648 uncommons and 189 rares and 27 mythics (one in eight packs). So, you open around 21 copies of a specific common, 8.1 copies of a specific uncommon, 3.6 copies of a specific rare and 1.8 copies of a specific mythic.

Now, I don’t have numbers on this, but Duskwatch Recruiter is easily the most played card from Shadows over Innistrad. Still, because its uncommon, its price doesn’t reflect this at all. Players aren’t accustomed to paying anything for uncommons from current sets, so its price is around 40 cents. If market really set the price without prejudice, it would probably be several euros. Its clearly played at least twice as much as many rares in the set which are more expensive than it, so the price should reflect this.

Same for the rare lands. They are definitely more played than most rares, but you can still get them for something around a euro. The expectation drives the prices more than actual market forces. This is partly due to certain big, professional sellers, who set prices before the release based on their expectations, not really understanding how the cards actually affect the format.

So, do we really understand what goes into the price of a card? The prices are more like wild guesses from the sellers, not actually based on value. Sure, market has some effect on this, because when the cheapest options are gone, the prices will rise automatically, but many sellers will just push more cards into the market without thinking too much about it.

Now, we know there are short term bubbles in the market all the time. Mishra’s Bauble was around ten euros for a short time. Ancestral Vision went up to around 50 euros when it was unbanned. Of course, this bubble burst quite quickly, when people saw their chance and brought new copies into the market from their trade binders, and the price fell down, quickly to around half that.

But at the same time, many cards have maintained their prices, like the aforementioned Liliana. So, I don’t think the bubble isn’t bursting in the way most bubbles do. I think the bubble is going to burst at some point, because demand through new players is going to wane. The barrier to entry is going to rise significantly, if you see prices like that. At the same time, older players do quit. This is a trickle, but it happens and it matters. At some point, the flow of players out of the game might be significant enough that the prices will begin to fall, perhaps significantly, meaning a bubble would burst.

It won’t affect most of us, but it would wreck havoc on the singles market. Sellers would lose a lot of money and some would go out of business. Of course, this is just speculation. I have some money invested in the current system and for that reason I would hope the secondary market stays afloat.

But we’ll see.

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