The Standard changes – It’s all good… until the next Jace, Telepath Unbound. Then it will be terrible.

Quickly chiming in on the change from a 5-6 set Standard to a 7-8 set Standard – but mostly from a financial perspective.

A side note – all prices are US dollars unless specified otherwise. Where I don’t have accurate USD prices (specifically for 1990s historic prices), I’ve used prices in Australian dollars and my best recollection of the exchange rate at the time.

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It’s not really possible to say whether this will make the format more or less interesting. I’m optimistic, but time will tell. It will depend upon the metagame, and also the presence or absence of cards (cough, Collected Company) that single-handedly transform the environment.

Generally speaking though, Wizards have been pretty good at creating interesting synergies across blocks and I expect this will continue.

One thing needs to be said though.

Just like the recent MTGO redemption changes, this is going to make Standard more expensive for paper Magic players, and this price increase will be most prominent on the most expensive cards.

Before explaining this, I want to introduce what I term the Tarmogoyf effect, named after the first rare in Magic’s history to hit $45 during its Standard tenure.

Future Sight wasn’t well regarded at release. Tarmogoyf was the most underrated card since Umezawa’s Jitte, and many of the cards that later became Modern powerhouses weren’t seen as anything amazing at the time.

But about six weeks after the set hit the shelves, people realised the little green dude was absurdly strong. He went from bulk rare to semi-chase rare, to chase rare ($20 was typical for a chase rare at the time), then kept growing in price to an unprecedented $40-$45.

This resulted in the Tarmogoyf effect – people kept buying Future Sight boosters in the hope of opening the $40+ little green man (even though opening FUT boosters was still a negative EV lottery at the time). Future Sight sold out faster than most sets from distributors and stores loved it, because customers loved buying lottery tickets.

Wizards learned from this, and reshuffled rarities around as soon as possible after they learned from the Tarmogoyf effect. The whole Alara rarity structure was designed to ensure that the next time R&D fucked up and printed something broken, the Tarmogoyf effect would be much more pronounced. And what happened? JtMS hit $100 in its Standard tenure.

Again the Tarmogoyf effect ensured that WWK sold out everywhere in record time, despite a cracked booster not actually having all that high an expected value at the time. (The dual lands that are now high $ cards were not all that expensive at the time – the set’s value was tied up in Jace and SFM, but mostly Jace).

Wizards were not in a position to fully capitalize on the Tarmogoyf effect here as they screwed up and didn’t reprint WWK enough. But they learned. They always learn.

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Jump back to recent times, before the two recent changes.

Consider Jace, Wallet Unbound, as the extreme outlier of a Standard card. There was a perfect storm of factors that made it so expensive:

  • Large set (larger than usual for a large set – JVP was 1 per 126 packs, compared to Liliana the Last Hope at 1 per 88, or Chandra, Torch of Defiance at 1 per 121)
  • Underdrafted set (ORI was only drafted alone)
  • For a period, the card was a 4-of in around 75% of decks by metagame share.
  • A low mana cost and not dead if you drew multiples.

JVP hit $90-95.

Many people ask “How did he get so high?”. I want to answer a different question – why didn’t he go higher?

After all, dealers pay about $2 per pack (it’s not exactly that and a bit over $2 for smaller stores, but let’s call this $2). 126 packs cost $252 – why would dealers accept only 40% of that sum for Jace when he was the only card in the set that was super-easy to sell?

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The answer was two factors.

One – more relevant to this morning’s announcement – was that at his peak, Jace was 9-10 months from rotation. Magic players do not like spending large amounts on cards with under a year’s Standard tenure left. Players are generally bad at the economics of Magic – but they perceive that buying cards that are far from rotation is better value than buying ones close to it. So the 9-10 month factor suppressed demand somewhat – and this morning’s announcement means this will not happen for the next Jace.

Two – MTGO redemption. Paper dealers had an alternative to opening cases – they could buy complete digital sets of ORI on MTGO from MTGO dealers for about $133 (at the peak) and then pay $25 to turn them into paper sets. This method of arbitrage allowed many individual dealers to source hundreds of copies of JVP at a price that was lower than cracking cases. This would be less of an impact today due to the limited redemption window – and for Jace, his price explosion would have been too late for redemption to rain it in.

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At peak, Jace was 60% of the wholesale value of a redemption set (the most efficient way to source the card). Without redemption, if the 60% remained constant, he would have had to be $150 (60% of the wholesale price of 126 boosters). The 60% assumption may be an exaggeration, but $500 a playset would have been likely even before today.

Now add in more demand because of today’s announcement and you have an even worse perfect storm.

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I’ll jump in with something about a counterveiling factor that many hope will suppress prices – Masterpieces. I think the Masterpiece effect is being overstated.

I played when Urza’s Legacy hit and introduced foils, and the hype was incredible. Foils added over $1 to the expected value of a cracked booster, with bulk foil commons worth the retail price of a pack, and bulk foil rares (yep, even trash that’s worse than Champion’s Helm) were AUD35 (USD20 at the time).

The hype ended, but people kept opening foils in new sets. Foil Urza’s Legacy sets that were lovingly hand-collated at a cost of over $2000 hold nothing like that value today, and today, foils in typical sets add around 20 cents to the EV of an opened booster.

I expect Masterpieces will fade away somewhat in time, and much of their EV share will come at the expense of pack foils and low demand casual cards, rather than cards with Standard competitive demand.

The cards that lose the value in Masterpiece sets will not be the extreme chase cards (Polluted Delta, Mana Vault) but will instead be the next tier of cards (Godless Shrine, Sol Ring, Cascade Bluffs). Mediocre to bulk foil rares once held values of AUD35-50 but this lasted only five sets. The last time I was excited to open a booster and see a shit foil rare was Prophecy – even a couple of sets later, by Planeshift, the demand was just gone. I expect Masterpieces to follow the same trajectory.

I hope to be proven wrong on this point. Time will tell.

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In summary: Today’s announcement will make Standard more expensive. Players will need cards from more sets, increasing the barrier to entry to the format, which everyone already realises, but additionally, the most undersupplied cards will see larger price spikes than in recent history.

If Wizards’ present policies (Masterpieces, Redemption and 21-24 month Standard tenure) had all been in place when Origins hit, I expect JVP would have smashed the $100 barrier and maybe even hit $125-150.

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