Hello reader! What We Learned is a weekly feature here at Hipsters of the Coast written by former amateur Magic Player Rich Stein, who came really close to making day two of a Grand Prix on several occasions. The goal is to take some of the events and articles polluting the Magic world, strip out the chaff (tournament reports, game theory, economics) and give you our superior opinion. Complaints are encouraged.

I come from a long line of collectors. My grandfather collected postage stamps and coins. My father and uncle collected comic books and baseball cards. I collect comic books, Magic cards and hockey trading cards. Collecting as a hobby has been around for a very long time. In the 20th and 21st centuries however, collecting has been dominated by trading cards, comic books and most recently gaming cards.

The cost of collecting is prohibitive. Magic is at the peak of it’s all-time value and seems to keep going up. I’m in the process of liquidating my collection as I move on from my life as a competitive Magic player and was shocked at the prices of some cards. For the longest time, my barometer of the value of Magic Cards in general was Force of Will. In 2006, shortly after graduating from college, Force of Will was a $15 card and slowly going up to $20~$25. A couple years ago with the renaissaince of Legacy thanks to the SCG Open, the card quickly moved up to the $50 range. It is now an $80 card on TCGPlayer.com. That’s a 533% increase in value over six years. To put that in perspective, stock in Apple has also risen 530% since 2006, before the iPhone was created.

Magic cards across the board have hit record prices. A quick look at some major movers, all on TCGPlayer.com, is astounding. Revised edition Underground Seas are $170. In 2003 you could get a playset for less than $100. Tarmogoyf is listed at $113, having been a $75 card for many years. Thoughtseize, Dark Confidant, and Vendilion Clique are all between $50 and $60 though they were once $20 rares. Finally, Jace, the Mind Sculptor, despite having seen his value drop for some time (I got a few for $55 only a couple years ago) has soared to new heights, nearly cracking $150.

So what’s the point of all this. You already know this. What’s the point of rehashing this information. As I said, I come from a long line of collectors. Stamps. Coins. Baseball cards. Comic books. These things all have a very common thread, and that is the pattern of their economic value. In each case, the product had trivial value when they were first created. Each of these things began as either a mundane item (stamps and coins) or a quirky item (baseball cards and comic books). Soon though, people began to collect them and they grew slowly in value. Then, more people got into the hobby and were interested in older, rarer items, and they became much, much more valuable. Then, the hobby became saturated and too much product was created and prices plummeted. Only the rarest and oldest products retained any of their value.

Are Magic cards doomed to the same fate? When they were first made they had very little value. Players ante’d them for winnings. They were treated poorly. There were no protective sleeves for gaming. They were shuffled into oblivion. Then, they began to grow in value as the game grew in popularity. Cards like Black Lotus and moxes reached triple-digit prices while dual lands settled at $20 and Force of Will reached $15. The game was expensive, but collecting it was growing as a hobby. After a while, things exploded. The game grew rapidly and StarCityGames began holding massive tournaments for large payouts. The demand grew and prices grew with them.

This is the point in the history of so many collectibles that the market became over-saturated, the product less enjoyable, the collectors more jaded, the markets more predictable. This lines up with the release of Modern Masters quite nicely. Wizards of the Coast has a clear plan to make sure Magic remains in high demand for years to come. Modern Masters is a way to get new players into the format, which will increase demand for cards, which will cause them to once again rise in value. Fetch lands, shock lands, and other format staples are going to go up in price after Modern Masters. This may seem counter-intuitive, but my suspicion is that there will be enough new product to get many more people into Modern, but not enough to supply all the new players with cards.

So it goes, that the cycle of increased demand and increased value goes on for Magic. Unless something happens to lower the demand of the product, all Wizards needs to do is continue to ensure that cards are in short supply. Some may think that it makes sense to print enough cards for everyone, to dilute the product and become more inclusive, but that mentality may have been the death of baseball cards and comics as reasonable investments. It’s unlikely that any card will see a 500% increase in value the way Force of Will did over a course of six years. It’s very likely however that Magic cards will remain a sound investment for a very long time, and that Wizards will not repeat the mistakes of the baseball card and comic book industries.

The Quick Hits

  • Mike Robles kicked off the week with a collection of cool Magic-related images from around the internet. One of them links to this very blog, so now I’m creating an infinite loop. [Treasure Hunt]
  • One of the biggest news pieces of the week was the return of Slivers. As we get closer to the M14 release I’ll likely talk more about the appeal of Slivers, but for now, bask in their glow. [Gathering Magic]
  • Here’s a sweet infographic on Dragon’s Maze. It includes vital information about the set such as the number of Elementals (seven) and the number of Rogues (three) in case you want to dust off those Lorwyn block-constructed decks and update them. [thatguyjames]
  • It looks like forcing people to use the Beta client of MTGO didn’t work out as planned. As a software developer myself, I’m shocked. [MTGO]
  • People on the internet are unhappy that the new slivers look humanoid. In other news, something obvious. [LegitMTG]
  • Artists are people too, apparently (sorry Matt Jones), and they’re on Twitter! [Who to Follow]
  • Josh Alvarez looks at some numbers and concludes that prices won’t come down on cards printed in Modern Masters. [LegitMTG]
  • On Thursday, Wizards tweaked the new Premiere Play changes, and they are now much better. [DailyMTG]
  • Adam Barnello reviewed the MTGO beta client. It’s a long review, so in short, he likes it, but it runs slow. The end. [Recurring Nightmares]

Wallpaper of the Week

We got a gift this week in the form of two wallpapers featuring both sides of Protect and Serve, one of the new Fuse cards from Dragon’s Maze. Both sides of this card have really excellent art, with great character focus and action. It was difficult to choose one to settle on, but eventually I went with Protect. The art for Fuse cards is difficult to appreciate on the card itself because of the scale, so I hope that Wizards will be putting up more of the Fuse cards as wallpapers.

Grade: A-

The Week Ahead

Dragon’s Maze has only been out for a short time, but with Modern Master’s coming out in a month and Magic 2014 coming out the month after that, you may not get to draft it as much as you normally would the third set in a block. So enjoy it while you can.

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