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State of the Market: April 2022

2 years ago


By: Ada Korman

Tagged: Everfest, 2.0, History

Salutations, folks! After our longer-than-normal lull, it’s nice to be back on our normal schedule, more or less.

Obviously, much like last time, there is a huge piece of market-related news to consider. That’s right, we finally know what FAB 2.0 is. We will, of course, spend the lion’s share of our time together on that. However, I do want to make sure we give a bit of broader consideration to the current state of the secondary market, so let’s hit the ground running!

Checking in with Everfest

Last time we did one of these, the through line was Everfest’s poor expected value, and as much as I’d like to say that the trend has reversed, it hasn’t. Most notably, we have the continued descent of Cold Foil Bravo, Star of the Show. In my last article I said I expected a “significant price drop,” and this is one of those cases where I feel bad about being right. Last time, Starvo was at $160-180. Now, six weeks later, he’s at $80 and still heading down. When Living Legend status is formally bestowed upon him (or he gets banned), I suspect we’ll see him drop to whatever his true floor price is going to be.

Card image of Bravo, Star of the Show

With that said, I think once that happens, he might be a solid buy. Given the FAB 2.0 goal of introducing more casual, social formats, it seems likely that sooner or later, FAB will produce a popular casual format, be it PvE or something else. If that happens and there is suddenly a place to play Starvo again, those CF copies will be desirable once more, and prices could recover somewhat.

Card image of Grandeur of Valahai (Blue)

In other key Everfest singles news, Grandeur of Valahai has fallen quite a lot, down to sub $300- but it seems like its decline might be slowing down and leveling off. Arcanite Skullcap is a spot of optimism, as it has reliably held its price and is actually looking like it’s starting to tick up slightly. If you want a copy, I would strongly recommend either buying it now or waiting to see if it shows up in History Pack 1- though given that History Pack 1 only has 9 Legendaries, some things aren’t showing up, and my money would be on no Skullcap and no Shiyana. In my opinion, the included Legendaries are likely to be the eight pieces of WTR/ARC class equipment and Tunic (which remained consistently at around $130 for the cheapest copy).

Card image of Silver Palms
Card image of Stalagmite, Bastion of Isenloft

Stalagmite has been continuing its languid descent, which might transform into a drop when Starvo is retired. Silver Palms prospects remain kind of dismal, as it’s now dipped well below $50. As with Starvo, this is one to watch as new sets are released and new formats develop. If it suddenly finds a home somewhere, it has significant room to move upward, but barring those events, it’ll probably continue its slight decline.

And that’s about it for Everfest. Everything else is mostly flat or nor expensive enough to really merit a lot of discussion here.

Placid Times

Beyond Everfest, the market has mostly been flat. There are a couple cards ticking up or down, but most of the $75-150 ones are staying put. Teklo Foundry Heart and Scabskin Leathers have picked up, but I wouldn’t touch WTR or ARC class Ls until History Pack 1 drops- unless, of course, you want to lock in black bordered copies out of concern that they’ll never reprint them outside of a white bordered set again (something that I am dubious of).

Honestly, this is probably a solid time to pick up any normal (non-promo) cards that you want for actual play; just keep in mind that Starvo is headed out, and Prism, as a perennial favorite character, will likely pick up incidental wins here and there, which could potentially push her to Living Legend in the next year or two (though that one is a bit more speculative).

Lessons Learned

With the recent announcement that some older promos and playmats would be reappearing in the Season 6 Armory kits, the community was gently reminded that promotional items are not exclusive or limited unless explicitly stated to be so. To me, this looks a lot like LSS cleaning out backstock from their warehouse rather than additional new products being created, but the effect is pretty similar: the available supply will increase. Given that, I want to reiterate my recommendation for how to approach non-limited promotional items: buy promos that you want for your personal collection at a price you are comfortable playing, with the full expectation that their value could be tanked in the future as additional copies show up. If they do go up, take it as a pleasant surprise and not an indication that promos are where the action is.

We’re also continuing our path to playmat saturation. I think the market has been propped up a little by the mats attached to large events that are distributed via prize tickets. While these more limited ones will continue to hold a premium, every new mat that comes out tends to be a slight ding against all but the most exclusive ones already released. Most people simply don’t collect mats. They have one or a couple they shift through, and only acquire new ones when something really grabs their attention (a favorite piece of art, for instance). Be very cautious when acquiring playmats as any sort of investment.

The Main Course

Alright, I know why you’re really here: let’s talk about FAB 2.0 and its implications for the future of the FAB secondary. I’m going to try to limit this section to price speculation, as compared to my takes on whether FAB 2.0 is going to be a success or not- though we will discuss which products I’m warm or cold on.

That's Ancient History

On that note, I’m kind of baffled by the History Packs in terms of their EV as a product. They seem like a worse unlimited edition, to be frank. White borders are just not a good thing for card value historically, and I think people who played 90’s CCGs are going to have a fairly decent association with them being the junk copies. While the game needs play copies, you don’t want to get caught up putting money into them for the purpose of making a profit.

I have no plans to buy any white bordered History Pack products. I would rather hold black bordered unlimited versions of WTR, ARC, or CRU before I even approached these, and I’m not a huge champion of those products in the first place.

The sole point of interest for me on this product line are the black bordered foreign language editions. (Since FAB was initially printed in English, I’m considering other languages ‘foreign’ for our purposes here.)Those are a wild card, and given what is being framed as a small print run, they could become desirable niche collectibles- but it’ll take years.

Foreign language editions... could become desirable niche collectibles, but it’ll take years.

In terms of foreign language FAB cards generally, I think we’ll have to see how the community receives them. The only info I can really give here is a brief summary of how foreign cards have been regarded in the Magic community over the years. In most circumstances, foreign cards are considered lesser versions of a given card. They tend to sell for 10-30%+ less than English copies sell for, with a couple notable exceptions. A few select languages can carry a premium. Magic’s premium language is Japanese, particularly on rare variants. This means that Japanese foils of high end cards can actually outpace their English equivalents. Will a similar thing happen for FAB? I’d wait and see on this one.

In terms of History Pack 1 as a product you’d open, unless there is some big secret hit in there that isn’t apparent from all the information revealed so far, I wouldn’t touch sealed product as an investor, collector, or player. Just buy singles. The appeal of opening sealed products is to hit the jackpot, but I don’t think there is a jackpot with the History Packs. I suspect that we’re going to see LSS learn the lesson that many other CCGs have learned over the years, and this product line will either be a flop or will see signficant changes in the coming months and years to make it more palatable to the market.

Simply Marvelous

Marvels getting a card rarity indicator is a win for new players, who will more easily be able to identify that they’ve found something special in their packs- though the fact that Marvels will appear at variable (presumably undisclosed) rates makes it of limited use. In terms of how much Marvels will impact box EV, I think we’re going to be waiting a bit. The full art Dracona Optimai they teased with the product release marketing sheet certainly looks good aesthetically, and more chase cards is promising for product EV, but their success on that front is going to be tied to both their playability and how rare they turn out to be. I think, in the absence of actual pull rates, the market is almost invariably going to either over- or under-rate them. 

I would suggest some caution with these cards. It sounds like they’ll run the gamut on rarity, so we’re going to see cards like Everfest’s Earthlore Bounty (which has shed half its debut value over the past couple months) alongside cards like full art Twinning Blade (which was always valuable relative to the rest of CRU, even before the major price spike hit). Still, the success or failure of Marvels is one of the two main diagnostic tools we’re going to have for determining if Uprising has finally managed to shake FAB’s EV slump.

Getting the Cold Shoulder

The biggest potential change to EV comes from the news of the push for rarer cold foils. Per the press release, “Legendary and Fabled cold foils in Uprising are around 3 times rarer than they have historically been […].” This is a simple supply and demand issue: cold foils are getting rarer, so they will be, on average, more expensive. It’s going to be harder for people to complete sets, and opening cases is not going to be a viable path for most people, so expect more competition on the singles market (particularly in the initial weeks following a set’s release). Make no mistakes, the average cold foil price is going to move up significantly as a result of this change.

The average cold foil price is going to move up significantly [with Uprising].

For collectors and investors, this offers more potential long-term upside, but that needs to be weighed against the FAB 2.0 decision to rotate heroes’ signature weapon with them when they hit LL status. Consider what a three times as rare Luminaris might be selling for right now. Now imagine what would happen to that price if Prism hit LL. Not pretty, right? I would be very cautious around signature weapons going forward. While most of these end up being distributed in CF as promos vs out of packs, some, like Luminaris, feel like sources of potential disaster for inattentive investors. 

While acquiring cold foils as singles is fairly cut and dry, the bigger question for me is, does the increased rarity make opening sealed product a dicey proposition?

I do think that Uprising will have better EV than Everfest, but that’s a very low bar to clear, and the more important question for the average player is: where is that higher EV coming from? Let’s do a little thought experiment to illustrate why EV is a more nuanced value than it might initially appear.

Pretend that a box of Set X has an EV of $100.

(That’s astoundingly good. EV can only ever exceed box prices for a short time as long as there is supply, because if EV is notably higher, stores will crack their inventory to sell singles, which puts downward pressure on EV.)

So $100 EV boxes. But what if the EV is all focused in the cold foil Ls and Fs? Let’s say that Set X Fables show up 1 in 100 boxes and a Legendary shows up 1:10. If a Legendary is worth $500 and a Fable is worth $2000, opening 100 boxes would have an EV of $10,000, with 20% of it tied up in the Fable and 50% in the Legendaries, meaning only 30% of the value will be in other cards (likely stacked mostly in the Marvels).

For stores opening a few hundred boxes to sell singles, this is totally fine. They’re opening enough that the law of averages will take over, and things will probably work out well. But if you’re only opening 1 box? You’re probably walking out with something like $20-30 in cards.

In our hypothetical above, the EV problem has been solved, but not in a way that makes opening product a smart idea for the average player. You’re taking a big risk on a Legendary or a Fable. If you miss, a Marvel might take a little of the sting out, but in a lot of scenarios, you’re going to feel like you put $100 on black, spun the roulette wheel, and hit red.

If FAB 2.0 fixes the EV problem, it’ll be great for the game, but the way that the problem is solved has different implications for fans. In the above scenario, I would say that sealed first edition boxes could become a consideration for people who are into shorter term holds (sub five years). You don’t care if opening a box is likely to turn out poorly if you’re not intending to open the box. 

The longer a set is out of print, the more the sealed pox price will decouple from the EV. However, starting out with a high EV often leads to opportunities for gains in the near term, for people who like more turnover or don’t have the temperament for the long hold.

I think the question of whether opening a single box (or even a single case) makes sense is going to rely heavily on what LSS is doing with Marvels. Cold Foil Legendary and Fable cards will feel great when they appear, but I think they’re now too rare for most players to buy enough product to feel confident that they’ll reliably get one. And opening, say, ten boxes and hitting none of them seems like it’s going to be a pretty significant loss, unless those Marvels are doing a whole lot of work.

Ripple Effect

Will Uprising shake up the market as a whole, or will it just make us reevaluate the EV of new sets? I lean towards the latter. Tales of Aria and Everfest are weak sets in terms of EV, and Uprising isn’t going to energize them unless it manages to hook a whole lot of new players with a sudden interest in the previous sets. It could happen, but I think Uprising is more about righting the EV ship and convincing current fans that buying booster boxes isn’t going to be equivalent to lighting money on fire. Similarly, History Pack 1 is probably going to push prices on unlimited copies of cards down- with the possible exception of Legendaries, where the desire for black bordered copies could help them hold onto their current values or tick up modestly.

Rampant Speculation

Finally, the most interesting part of FAB 2.0 for the currently available card pool is the tease of PvE being the “flagship social play product.” While there will undoubtably be crossover all-stars (it’s hard to imagine something like Enlightened Strike not having a home there), PvE is going to, by necessity, be somewhat mechanically different than the PvP play we’re used to. This means that there will almost certainly be cards that are currently not particularly good that will become format powerhouses overnight.

This is where some serious money can be made IF the community embraces the format enthusiastically. The fan base seems to really want to like PvE, so if LSS can put out something that plays well, I could totally see it taking off.

My perennial example of a card that could blow up is Coax a Commotion. It’s a $4-5 card now, with first edition foils selling at $50-65. A PvE format that involves multiple players working together against a single “AI” opponent would make this effect asymmetrical – ex: each player gains 1 life vs 1 life for the “AI” deck. It’s a generic, so everyone can play it, and if many people do, those sub-$100 first edition foils won’t be around for long.

Card image of Coax a Commotion (Red)

Obviously, we won’t be able to guess what cards will take off until we have more information on how the format actually works, but when those rules drop, there will likely be a flurry of speculative buys as people try to predict which long-ignored cards will suddenly take off. This sort of thing is highly volatile; you can totally whiff and end up with a big pile of bad cards that are still bad and hard to offload. But you can also see really big gains. A $1 single that goes to $20 is a pretty nice return if you can call your shot, and those sorts of calls- cheap cards with a lot of upsides- are a really fun way to play around with speculation for people who aren’t buying and selling cardboard as one element of their overall financial strategy. For people who are a little more comfortable playing that game, first edition rainbow foil Majestics, particularly from Crucible of War and Monarch, are going to have the potential for big payouts (again, assuming that the community buys into PvE).

Closing Thoughts

FAB 2.0’s changes are frustratingly vague in some key aspects, and a lack of details prevents me from giving concrete advice on what to do in terms of buying sealed product or singles. What I’ve tried to do here is lay out various scenarios of how things could play out given certain inputs. Because the effects of some of these are going to happen very quickly when more information emerges, if you want to attempt to get in on something like PvE speculation, you should pay attention to the news updates LSS gives on the main FAB page and act promptly. When we finally learn how PvE works, I suspect we’re going to see volatility in old cards in a way we haven’t since the pre-Monarch days. Keep your eye on that news feed. 

Finally, as we approach Uprising, I would recommend avoiding preorders unless someone is offering you something a whole lot better than MSRP. Given increasing print runs, it’s hard to imagine that Uprising won’t be available at MSRP or below for many months post-release. There’s little risk in waiting to see what happens when the set releases, whereas buying high now is going to feel really bad if the EV of Uprising is anywhere near what Everfest offered up.

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