One of the problems with the Modern format is card prices as a barrier to entry. When the format was created, one of the compelling features was that every card could be reprinted. And in October 2012, Wizards of the Coast announced Modern Masters, a set of 229 reprints covering cards from Eighth Edition through Alara Reborn. In his explanatory article, however, director of research and development Aaron Forsythe explicitly stated Modern Masters would be an experiment — that cards would not “turn from scarce to abundant in the blink of an eye” and that it would “alter the availability by a matter of degrees.”
Players expecting downward pricing pressure on Modern singles based on increased supply from Modern Masters, a common viewpoint across the Internet, are going to be disappointed.
Modern single prices are driven by demand-pull inflation, where we have too much money chasing too few singles. In order for Modern Masters, which will be sold for $6.99 per pack as opposed to the traditional $3.99, to drive single prices down, one or both of the following events has to occur to some degree:
- The supply of Modern Masters must be sufficient to overcome the disparities in supplies from pre-New World Order sets and today. This gap is tremendous, and the supply to be injected will not approach this threshold. And the model below does not take MTGO redemption copies into account because Modern Masters will not be redeemable, as well as the lack of transparency around number of copies that enter the supply via redemption. That implies the supply gap is actually understated.
- The aggregate demand for Modern singles needs to taper off or decline. Given that the player base as a whole has increased steadily, and tournament attendance, including the Modern-friendly Grands Prix, PTQs, and Friday Night Magic has also increased, this seems possible, but not likely, especially given the encouragement for the format from Wizards of the Coast.
The following analysis will evaluate the amount of singles in circulation from 2003 to 2012, compare pre- and post-New World Order quantities, and determine what would need to happen in order to drive single prices down, with the understanding that Modern Masters intentionally will not achieve this goal.
Supply: How much Magic is out there?
While it is public knowledge that the Magic player base and the amount of money spent per player has increased dramatically, we haven’t been told exactly how many players, how much they spend, how much product has been sold, or how much revenue Magic as a brand has earned.1 Consequently, this analysis is long on speculation and short on hard data. Caveat lector. Fortunately, there is a wide range for most of the variables that produce an outcome supporting this conclusion.
At the end of 2011, a Hasbro executive told investors that Magic had a player base of 12 million players, which represented an 80 percent increase from the player base in 2008. Extrapolating that from 2003 (when Eighth Edition, the start of Modern Masters reprints, was released) to 2012 gives us a curve like this:
We have next to no idea how many boosters the average player buys. For this model, let’s assume that each player in 2008 bought 18 boosters a year on average.2 Additionally, the Hasbro executive revealed players had been spending 16 percent more over the same period, meaning players in 2012 bought an average of 21 packs. When multiplied by the player base for each year, the curve looks like this:
If the growth in the player base was extraordinary, the growth in booster sales is even more pronounced. Dividing the number of boosters sold by the rares printed in each year gives us an approximation of the number of copies of an average rare for that year.
This means there could be as many as 1.1 million Deathrite Shamans in circulation, currently worth $12 each, as opposed to a possible 268,000 Tarmogoyfs, currently priced at more than $100. That five-fold increase in supply is an enormous gap for a reprint to cover.
Wizards of the Coast used to publish full printing data for each set from Limited Edition through Ice Age. In 1996, Stephen D’Angelo at Crystal Keep recorded a breakdown of those sets. While it’s challenging to compare these older sets directly because of the non-consistent rarities, it does give us another point of triangulation, and seems to be in line with the narrative of Magic’s history. There is consistent growth from Limited Edition through the overprinting of Fallen Empires, steady numbers from Ice Age through the New World Order, and explosive growth post-New World Order. Based on this data, Forsythe also indicated the cards reprinted in Chronicles increased the supply of some rares by a factor of 10.
While it is difficult to determine a number for any specific rare, saying there are twice as many copies of a current rare than a rare printed in 2007 doesn’t seem outlandish. Looking at 2012, we can estimate that a large set like Return to Ravnica alone may have as many as 80 million boosters in circulation. Compare that to 2007, where we estimate 83 million boosters for the entire year. This is a big gap in supply to close.
Reprinting the shocklands in Return to Ravnica block at a much greater rate than their original printing has driven the price from the $15-$20 range down to about $10. But how many boosters of Modern Masters can we actually expect to see given that it is a limited printing? Regular sets are in print for approximately three months, and it’s been rumored that Modern Masters will only be in print for a month, giving us perhaps 27 million boosters. In addition, Modern Masters will have mythic rares, whereas most of the included sets did not. For those new mythics, such as Tarmogoyf, the incoming supply will be that much smaller.
The good news is that this is the maximum possible gap, since the players who are interested in playing Modern is a manageably small subset of all the players who are buying current sets. Alleviating the supply crunch via reprints wouldn’t have to encompass the entire gap, just the portion created by Modern tournament players. Again, Wizards of the Coast is not overly forthcoming with data regarding demand for Modern, but the tournament attendance we can see does not indicate a stagnating format. Indeed, Wizards wants to encourage the format, as shown by their eagerness to run tournaments at every level of play.
As stated in its announcement of the product, Wizards of the Coast will not print Modern Masters in sufficient quantities to drive down prices of Modern singles, especially rares and mythics.3 Those Modern card prices may drop initially, but they will resume their increase once Modern Masters goes out of print. The size of the print run required to inject enough new supply, in some cases a five-fold increase per rare, would be so large, that achieving that goal would require a printing too dangerously close to Chronicles. Since it’s very likely that Modern Masters’s limited availability is also intended as a “bonus” to WPN retailers, similar to the From the Vault series, having such a huge print run also would be counterproductive. The best avenue for putting more supply into circulation might simply be reprinting key cards in Standard-legal expansions.
(1) In their 2012 Full Year results press release, Hasbro revealed that “Games” as a product class earned $1.19 billion. They have also consistently reported that Magic is one of the top brands in the class, but they have not disclosed what proportion of that revenue is generated by the Magic brand.
(2) For most of this audience, the idea of only buying 18 boosters seems absurdly low. Personally, I buy somewhere between one and two boxes per set, for about 144 to 288 boosters a year. However, it is very likely that the 12 million players reported in 2008 includes a huge number of inactive or low-activity players. If this is the case, booster sales per player are likely to be distributed according to the Pareto principle. This means a small percentage of active players are buying a large percentage of the boosters. This also causes the mean number of boosters per player to be rather low. Again, this is speculation, but I think these are reasonably informed speculations. We have the top percentiles purchasing the bulk of the product, a middle range of smaller purchasers, and a long tail of inactivity.
(3) Commons, uncommons, and foils are outside the scope of this analysis, but the easing of supply will be more effective in reducing the prices of those reprints.
Trackback from your site.