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Prices for individual Magic cards rise and fall over time, creating opportunities for profit – or loss. Here we’ll look at the important drivers of price.
Demand for cards can be split into three broad groups: competitive demand from players in tournaments and other organised events; casual demand from players who like to have certain effects in their deck; and finally collectable demand from players who want full sets, old sets, rare sets, and so on.
Getting in at the right time and the right price can yield a windfall later on.
There is crossover between these three categories, and where a card sees significant demand from competitive players and either of the other categories, prices can skyrocket.
We will undertake a deeper dive into some of the competitive formats in future parts. Competitive Magic is a global force and can greatly impact the desirability and therefore the price of cards. Some formats shift more often than others, but when a format shifts, there are opportunities for new cards to rise in price.
Older cards with more limited print runs or newer cards at the mythic rarity respond strongly to changes in demand. These cards can quite often spike when new demand hits, rising rapidly to a new high.
If the card is not reprinted, then its price will tick steadily upward under the pressure of sustained competitive demand. If a card has just been reprinted, it can represent either a buying opportunity, or a trap. Some cards with limited playability command a high price in part due to their scarcity. Once reprinted at today’s levels the scarcity aspect disappears and the price drops. It may eventually tick upwards again, but will generally be at a lower level than before.
The majority of Magic players do not participate in competitive tournaments, however they still enjoy playing Magic, and it turns out that many people who play Magic tend to like the same sort of cards.
Doubling Season is often cited as the exemplar of casual demand. Competitively, this card is irrelevant. Yet its price remains higher than many competitive cards. Casual players are a force, they will pay for the cards they want, and demand from this section of players has a real impact on card prices. Don’t underestimate the power of a purely casual appeal.
Collectors are a force which can cause prices to rise as long as new collectors keep entering the market, and their focus remains consistent. The most obvious form of collector demand is for cards on the Reserved List, and cards from Magic’s first two sets, called Alpha and Beta.
Seen above is the cards Birds of Paradise. The Alpha version sells for over $1,000 while newer reprints can be had for $5.
The Reserved List is a group of cards that Wizards of the Coast has promised never to reprint. This promise also covers the concept of functional reprints, so we won’t see cards identical to Reserved List cards in all but name.
It’s far easier to buy a Reserved List card than it is to sell one. It can take months for cards to change hands, especially those at the top end of the price charts.
Other targets for collectors include the recent ‘masterpiece’ sets of foil cards which appeared in the Battle for Zendikar, Kaladesh, and Amonkhet blocks. Each forms a separate set which can be a target for collectors.
Other common collector targets include limited edition cards. The ‘guru lands’ illustrated by Terese Nielsen have a high price attached to them, even though we see new basic lands every year.
Limited run sets, cards by a particular artist, and Planeswalker cards are all popular targets for collectors.
Rarity by itself does not drive price, but rarity plus demand from any of the three groups above can have a massive effect on even the most humble of cards.
In Finance 103, I will take a closer look at one of the key competitive formats which drives price: Standard.