State of the Market: End of March 2021

by Ada Korman 29th March 2021 13 : 39

Welcome to my monthly State of the Market article.

You may have seen prior installments of this series on my personal Flesh and Blood website, but you'll find them here at the Rathe Times going forward; the series was always intended for this site.

My aim for this series is to take stock of the FAB market at the end of each month. This means looking at notable price movement (or lack thereof) since the previous article, as well as making some predictions on where things will be moving in both the short and the long term. How much attention I spend on each topic is going to vary from month to month based on what’s happening in the market at the time... and this is certainly going to be an interesting month because we got a huge bombshell on the 26th!

Y’all, we have print run numbers! This is some of the most exciting FAB news in months, and coupled with Monarch spoiler season starting next week, we should anticipate an overall spike in enthusiasm for the game, if that’s even possible. We are now in a period of readjustment for all non-promo cards. So let’s start talking cardboard! 

(Notes: Prices discussed in this article are in USD. This article assumes some familiarity with common abbreviations in the world of FAB finance– I wrote an introductory article for the Rathe Times earlier this month that includes a glossary if you encounter any terms that are unfamiliar.)

March: Before the Print Run Numbers...

I’m going to briefly cover the market movement over the past month prior to the print run news because it’s useful to know where things were trending. But as I just said, things have changed dramatically in the past few days, and we don’t want to spend too much time on where things were over the past few weeks because we can reasonably expect a lot of change in the coming month.

For sealed first edition boxes, we saw slight upward movement on Welcome to Rathe, which mostly just solidified its position at about $4,500. Arcane Rising saw some modest movement but fell short of the $2,000 mark, usually selling around $1,600-1,700, and Crucible of War moved up to $800. A fairly substantial unlimited restock reduced box prices for WTR-U and ARC-U to around MSRP (~$96). They’re still fairly easy to find at a few dollars over MSRP, and you can find them for a few dollars under if you look around, particularly if you’re buying by the case. As far as preorders go, Monarch boxes went down to $200 when Star City Games made their debut on the FAB scene with a massive stock. ChannelFireball, likely the biggest seller of sealed FAB, lowered their own prices to match SCG, giving partial refunds to people who had already purchased boxes from them. Star City then sold out, and ChannelFireball moved back up to $250 before also selling out of their current offerings. As always, I remind people to assume that the big stores are likely holding a portion of their FAB stock to sell at higher prices over the coming months. Meanwhile, unlimited Monarch availability still seems solid, with multiple sellers offering boxes at MAP.

In terms of singles, we generally saw stability and slight upward movement across the board in the cold foil market, with the largest proportional gains in the common and rare spots. The big CF purchases of note were mostly graded cards selling for some fairly substantial premiums. Expect that to continue as we move forward and more people begin to get their graded cards back from BSG and PSA.

The main singles news of the month was the rising cost of Crucible of War play staples such as Spoils of War and the short-printed Majestic equipment. For instance, last week NF Spoils were selling for $100-120 and Courage of Bladehold was up to $140-160.

The other notable event for singles was the ban of Drone of Brutality, which brought with it some immediate speculation. Personally, I think it’s a highly suspect long term investment, and I’m selling into the spike. (If you want an extended discussion of why Drone is a bad investment vehicle, I wrote a full article on it here.) The only other thing I’ll say about that is that the common claim that Drone of Brutality is the first banned card is factually incorrect. Go Bananas was banned essentially immediately in Classic Constructed, and Blitz and remains so to this day. Ira, Crimson Haze was also banned prior to her printing in CRU, after which she became legal.

We can reasonably expect a lot of change in the coming month.

Post-Revelation: the Print Run Numbers

The release of print run information for the first three sets is a pretty momentous event. The short version is that all three first editions are smaller than anticipated. The assumed number for WTR and ARC was 22,000, but since only 400,000 boosters were printed for each, that actually comes out to 16,666 boxes with a few packs left over. (I wonder who gets the loose ones?) CRU clocks in with a print run of 900,000 packs or 37,500 boxes, which is pretty close to the middle of the 33,000-44,000 range most people estimated.

As a quick aside, while I am sometimes critical of LSS’s communication about what they’re doing with the game (my biggest question was and remains, “How do they envision first editions in terms of availability once they solve the printing capacity issues?”), the information they’ve given out on print runs is fairly singular in the CCG world, and they should absolutely be commended for their transparency on this (though we still need to know the odds of opening Fabled cards.) Hopefully, they’re rewarded for sharing this information with a doubling down of collector/investor confidence in the product. 

The information they’ve given out on print runs is fairly singular in the CCG world, and they should absolutely be commended for their transparency.

Given the information above, let’s highlight some key numbers after a few important notes. First, the 400,000 booster number makes everything fractional – I’m not clear on how this was handled, so we’re just going to round to the nearest whole number and accept that things could be off by a few cards due to the nature of print sheets. Second, CRU features 10 short-printed Majestics that, per the Collector’s Center, appear 50% as often as the 26 normal Majestics. Using that and other information available in the Collector’s Center we get the following card counts:

  1. WTR/ARC Legendaries: 833 each
  2. Shiyana and NF Tunic (CRUnic): 1,875 each
  3. WTR/ARC NF Majestics: 3,333 each
  4. CRU Short-Printed NF Majestics: ~3613 each
  5. CRU NF Majestics: ~7226 each

As I said, we don’t actually know how many of each Fabled there are because the pull rate of Fableds hasn’t been revealed. All math on Fableds is based on a post by James White stating that “there are half as many Alpha Hearts in circulation as Alpha Lotus’s [sic]”.

Screenshot 20200730 071115 Chrome

The amount of Alpha Black Lotuses originally printed is 1,100, which yielded the oft-cited number of 550 Hearts and Eyes in WTR and ARC, respectively. There are two possibilities here:

  • James was precise and the 550 number holds, so the corrected pull rate of Fableds is 1:30 boxes as opposed to the previously assumed 1:40 –OR–
  • James was being loose in his description, and there are somewhere around half, which could mean a wide range of possible numbers.

I’m inclined to believe the 550 number is precise just because it seems symbolic for James, but that’s just a hunch on my part. Significantly, all other Fableds need to be reassessed if the pull rate is actually 1:30. Shards, as well as unlimited Heart and Eye, would be meaningfully more common than previously assumed (though certainly still scarce).

Going Forward

So, what now? What does all of this business about print runs actually mean for the market?

Given that there are fewer copies of the rarest cards than we thought, we should expect rising prices on first edition NF Majestics, RF Majestics, Ls, all CFs, and all sealed product. At this stage, there are enough people who are hyper-attuned to the market that prices start moving minutes after announcements like this. CRU moved from $800 to $900-950 and then $1,000. ARC initially moved up to $2,400 and then $3,000. As of this writing, the cheapest box I see online is $4,000 on the secondary sites like TCGPlayer and ebay, and ChannelFireball has 5 boxes listed at $3300 each. WTR has, thus far, remained stable at $4,400-4,500.

Loudly saying that the market was wrong about ARC has kind of been my thing for the past few months, but in the hours following the print run announcement, the market finally corrected. At this stage, I feel that ARC is appropriately priced around $3,500-3,800. This shift in price likely marks the end of there being a significantly undervalued sealed FAB product. There is still a bright future for sealed FAB in the coming years, but things have now adjusted to appropriate relative value or will be there shortly.

Given that there are fewer copies of the rarest cards than we thought, we should expect rising prices on first edition non-foil Majestics, rainbow foil Majestics, Legendaries, all Cold Foils, and all sealed product.

The one possible complication is that CRU has the additional issue of not only being a lower print run than anticipated but also having the rarest Ms in the game for play purposes, since there are no unlimited copies of the short printed cards. I thought it probably should have been an $850-1,000 box when I assumed there were 44,000 boxes out there. Now that I know there are 6.5k fewer, I would say that $1,000-1,200 is more appropriate. Remember, while all three sets were smaller than believed, estimates on CRU were much closer to the real number, so it doesn’t need to adjust as much to account for the new information as ARC did. However, play demand is pushing CRU singles prices in a way that doesn’t affect WTR and ARC because of the availability of unlimited editions. If we go too long without news of CRU unlimited, we could see some strange behavior around the price of sealed CRU.

Moving to singles, the immediate future of CF singles is particularly exciting. While it might seem reasonable that we’d see proportional growth relative to the new confirmed rarity, that is more likely to hold for lower rarity cards. At the high end, the total number of copies understood to exist suddenly shrinking by a third can have an outsized effect, and non-linear growth shouldn’t be surprising. Legendaries are getting snapped up quickly right now, including a raw Braveforge Bracers that went for over $3,000 on eBay. While it’s too early to know where prices are going to settle, it seems likely that sub-$2,000 CF Ls are a thing of the past, which is impressive when a couple weeks ago we saw $1,400 ones going unsold.

The immediate future of CF singles is particularly exciting.

Meanwhile, in terms of the CFs that are more accessible to people without massive bankrolls, CF Cs and Rs are on the move. CF Cs are now all across the $200 line, many are already past $300, and in the coming months, the particularly desirable ones will likely push much higher. (I’m already seeing buying offers of $400-500 for Snapdragon Scalers and Refraction Bolters, and I know of at least one Bolters selling for over $600.) While it is a bit weird to talk about commons as so desirable, the number of copies of each CF C is actually around the number of copies of each Alpha rare in Magic, and some of the CF Cs are, and will likely remain, actual good game pieces. If you want to get into cold foils, these definitely still have an upside, even if it’s not as explosive as the Ls. CF Rs were starting to pick up and push towards that $200 mark, and I think we’ll see most of them cross it in the coming weeks, with additional growth potential in the next year.

Unlimited singles prices have really not responded too much to the availability of MSRP-range product. My belief is that the current unlimited supply is temporary- we will see it dry up, and sealed prices will once again climb to the $120+ range before we get to a point where printing capacity allows LSS to reliably keep it on shelves. The EV of a box of unlimited is looking pretty good right now, especially if you’re buying cases at reduced prices that get you sub-$90 boxes. Normally, this sort of behavior would drive prices down, but with the supply issues, stores might just sell out before singles ever get a chance to adjust. If you want to open unlimited product, this might be the best chance you have for several months. 

On a similar note, with no CRU-U announced yet, CRU singles should continue to rise. Again, these were already on the move, but I think we’re far from their potential ceiling, especially now that we’ve learned there are fewer copies out there than previously believed. 

In my mind, an unlimited printing of CRU will be essential for the game to function as a game. If staples like Spoils get up to $200+, which seems perfectly plausible, it is going to be very hard to convince people who don’t already own cards to buy in for the purpose of play. Given that LSS seems to pretty genuinely care about FAB as a game and not just a collectible, they’re already well aware of this problem. Tunic got pushed into Crucible because of its rising price – if they thought that a single staple Legendary card that was a couple hundred dollars at the time was too expensive for viable OP, certainly they would view the rising cost of decks as a similar problem. (Some blitz decks are already well over $1,000 playing the cheapest versions of their cards and will likely cross the $2,000 line if current trends continue). The question I’d ask in regard to a CRU unlimited printing isn’t “if” but “when.” Given that we’re about to jump into MON spoiler season, I doubt we’ll see anything in the near future; LSS should be focusing community attention on the brand new product. But once MON-U is out on shelves, I wouldn’t be surprised to get an update on plans for WTR/ARC/CRU unlimited. So, if you need CRU singles to play now, don’t expect prices to get any better in the coming months. You’re best off just accepting the current high prices before they get even higher.

With no Unlimited Crucible of War announced yet, CRU singles should continue to rise... I think we’re far from their potential ceiling.

Monarch

It’s crazy that, mere days from Monarch spoilers, we were given such significant news for the other sets. It feels like this is LSS taking one of the big mysteries off the table so that people can get it out of their systems over the weekend and come into April with razor-like focus on Monarch news. This will be the first spoiler season that people are really engaged with en masse. CRU was fun, but it was small. Yes, the community was certainly fired up: we went crazy when someone leaked the full art Twinning Blade, and Shiyana was hot news from the first minutes we knew about her, but the audience has grown tremendously since then. Expect people to feed off each other’s excitement and wild speculation to take place on MON singles, especially if some stores decide to take singles pre-orders (ChannelFireball, maybe?).

If you want first edition MON, the next few days are pretty much your last chance to lock in current prices unless you want to roll the dice. If the set for some reason looked disappointing, prices could drop, but I think that’s highly unlikely. That said, I anticipate a retrace from whatever boxes are selling for on the day before launch. People who bought large quantities of first edition back in November on credit with intent to flip will do just that, and we’ll see a dip. The dip will be short-lived, and if preorders were to climb to $300+ prior to launch, a retrace might still end up meaning a higher dip price than what you can buy a box for today.  

If you want first edition Monarch, the next few days are pretty much your last chance to lock in current prices unless you want to roll the dice.

If you just want to play the game and first edition has priced you out, I would make sure you have your Monarch unlimited orders in. You can currently order unlimited at MAP from several sellers, and you’re not going to see a cheaper price for many months, assuming there are no supply issues (which, as ever, is a bad bet for FAB). However, if MON-U sells out like every other unlimited set has, we’ll see over-MSRP boxes. If you want unlimited product, just take the sure thing now and lock it in at MAP. If you really want to hold out as long as possible, keep an eye on stores with preorders available and watch for sell outs. The minute ChannelFireball is out of stock, expect to see store inventories fall like dominoes. In terms of demand for MON-U, there will likely be an addition spike in orders cropping up in the weeks before unlimited launches as people who thought to get their cards in first edition form decide that they’re priced out and opt to finish their sets via unlimited. 

Final Thoughts

Flesh and Blood is doing incredibly well right now, and barring some cataclysmically bad event, the next month should be tracking upward for almost all valuable cards (promos being the exception). Monarch is a pivotal moment for the game, insofar as a flop would be very bad. Yet I believe that the odds of that are low. The anticipation for the set is sky high, and even if it was only as good as CRU (which I’d call the weakest set released to date), the extreme excitement from fans would probably carry it over the top anyway. Given that it’s not a supplemental set, it already starts with an advantage over CRU, and people are tremendously excited to learn more about the Light/Dark mechanics.

We’re at an interesting juncture in the game’s life. People are already talking about the game like the easy money has been made, but that’s only true to the degree that you’ll never see a deal as good at $65 Welcome to Rathe Alpha again. However, we are still in the early days of Flesh and Blood. If you believe the game will be successful for the next 5 years, the next 10 years, or even further into the future, you need to realize how small the print runs currently are. Even if LSS triples or quadruples CRUs print run, these are still tiny numbers in the grand scheme of things. Eventually we’re probably going to see FAB calm down and new first edition sets will accrue value at more modest rates, but we’re certainly not there yet.

Ada Korman

Ada (Freyja on Discord) got into Flesh and Blood a few months before it took off in the US and has been heavily involved in the financial side of the game ever since. When she’s not writing finance pieces for The Rathe Times, her FAB-related writing can be found on her blog: https://fabwithfreyja.com/