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Supply, Demand, and Boros Reckoner

Written by LegitMTG Staff on . Posted in Finance, Magic Culture

Flash back to a year ago.

Commonly overheard was this argument, in regard to Snapcaster Mage.

“It’s such a great card. It’s all over every Standard deck, and you’d be crazy not to run it. It’s great in the aggro decks. It’s great in the midrange decks. It’s great in the control decks. There’s no way this card isn’t the definition of awesome.”

And it’s true. In addition to the above, Snapcaster forms the backbone of many Modern and Legacy decks. It’s an all-star and hasn’t been reprinted. People hoard like mad because they expect it to be the next Dark Confidant and eventually move past $40. Finding these nowadays is impossible.

Snapcaster Mage is $22 TCG Mid and $25 on this site.

Had enough of 2012? Welcome back to 2013, where the world hasn’t ended in a Mayan apocalypse with only John Cusack to save us, and the Lakers still suck.

These days you can’t go very far without hearing this.

“It’s such a great card. It’s all over every Standard deck, and you’d be crazy not to run it. It’s great in the aggro decks. It’s great in the midrange decks. It’s great in the control decks. There’s no way this card isn’t the definition of awesome.”

Except now we’re talking about Boros Reckoner, another wizard of the minotaur variety.

And it’s true. In addition to the above, Reckoner hasn’t yet found its way into Modern and no one has even thought about it for Legacy. It’s a Standard all-star and hasn’t been reprinted. People in the know try like mad to move these because they don’t expect it to be the next Dark Confidant and eventually move past $40. Finding these nowadays is easy, for a price.

Boros Reckoner is $26 TCG Mid and $28 on this site.

Tell me I’m not the only confused.

One of these things is not like the other, and I hope I’ve proven a point. If everything I say about both above cards is true (and it is), then anyone can logically conclude one of two things. Either Snapcaster Mage is heavily underpriced or Boros Reckoner is heavily overpriced.

I’m going to go with the latter.

If you’ve been following along for the Reckoner’s ride, as I have been since advising readers to pick it up at $4 preorder, none of this comes as any shock. The fact that I expect it to drop precipitously isn’t surprising either. But, whether you’re an old pro or a newer player, it’s not just the final outcomes that matter. The lessons learned along the way are just as, if not more, important.

Back to school

I don’t have a business degree, though I did get a few years into the program before ultimately being forced to choose between business and writing. I’ll assume most of you don’t have a business degree either.

Luckily, what we’re discussing is taught in Econ 101 classes across the world, although it’s often ignored when it comes to MTG finance.

Supply and demand.

According to Wikipedia, there are four basic tenets of supply and demand.

  • If demand increases and supply is unchanged, a shortage occurs, leading to a higher equilibrium price.
  • If demand decreases and supply is unchanged, a surplus occurs, leading to a lower equilibrium price.
  • If demand is unchanged and supply increases, a surplus occurs, leading to a lower equilibrium price.
  • If demand is unchanged and supply decreases, a shortage occurs, leading to a higher equilibrium price.

Supply and demand is truly at the heart of the price of every card in Magic. It’s why Jace, the Mind Sculptor is $100 and Beta Ivory Cups are two bucks, even though there are many more Jaces out there.

So now that we are Internet experts in supply and demand, let’s apply these principles to the two cards we’re comparing today.

Snapcaster Mage — Demand is fairly constant at this point, and so is supply. It’s easy to see why it’s been sitting between $20 and $25 for the last year. People want these because they expect demand to stay constant or increase in the future, while supply will dwindle as the card moves further and further out of print.

Boros Reckoner — Demand is huge right now. The card is tearing up Standard and everyone wants their playset. Once that need has been met, demand will logically decrease. It’s easy to say we’re at peak demand for Reckoner. So let’s look at the supply side, where Reckoner will still be drafted for another few months and Gatecrash redemptions on MTGO aren’t rolling yet. Both of these things will continue to increase supply for the next few months before reaching a point like Snapcaster Mage where supply isn’t increasing.

When you break it down, it’s clear we have a case of Supply/Demand tenet No. 3, where demand will remain unchanged and supply will increase. Because Wikipedia never lies, we have to believe that a surplus will occur and a lower equilibrium price will be reached.

Now comparing the two situations side by side, I hope you can see why I’m baffled that there is still a widespread belief that Boros Reckoner will sustain its price.

A lot of people have pointed to Thragtusk as a better comparison, but there are a few reasons I don’t agree. Thragtusk was in a Core Set, which is opened far less than the large expansion sets that housed Snapcaster Mage and Boris Reckoner. Thragtusk also has been in several Event Decks; while that is responsible for some of the downward pressure on its price, I believe the Expansion/Core Set differential more than makes up for this.

Thragtusk, by the way, has fallen back to $15 TCG Mid, the same level it was when Return to Ravnica was released. It couldn’t even hold more than $20 for even four months.

When you break down cards and comparisons like this, seeing the trends becomes much easier. Predicting prices on cards becomes much more attainable once you have a baseline for the amount of demand generated. But that’s not always what seems to happen.

The Problem

Tom Ross recently wrote an excellent article for Channel Fireball that analyzed the decks from Pro Tour Gatecrash. It was a good piece, but one paragraph in particular just screamed at me.

“Boros Reckoner was the breakout card of the tournament — 24 copies appeared in the Top 8. Formidable in both aggro and control builds, the 3/3 for three is a centerpiece of everything from infinite life combo to a 3/3 that’s hard to block or a 3/3 that’s hard to attack into. At the time of writing, Boros Reckoner is in the $25 to $30 range and don’t expect it to fall any time soon.”

So we shouldn’t expect it to fall because it’s used in many decks? The card is good so it’s $25-$30. The end? But what about all the supply and demand and actual analysis? That’s surely as important as the fact that it’s “formidable in both aggro and control builds?” And what the hell does “anytime soon” even mean? A week from now? A month? A year?

I understand this is a throwaway comment for the author, but it’s unfortunately one with very real consequences.

I’m asking you to flash back again, though I won’t direct you how far because I don’t want to embarrass anyone. But think back to when you first began playing. You’re new and it sucks shelling out all the money for cards. You watch the Pro Tour and see all this talk of the Channel Fireball team, so you check out the site. You see a cool article written about the post-Pro Tour metagame and you click to read it. A seasoned pro like Tom Ross tells you Boros Reckoner is really good and isn’t going to drop in price, so you feel comfortable buying in to the card for Channel Fireball’s price of $28.

Using the Snapcaster example, three months later you’re looking at a card that lost a third of its value. Or in the case of Thragtusk, half its value. If we follow the same process for Reckoner, we see a card that will be between $15 and $18 a few months from now, which is what I expect assuming it sees roughly the same amount of play.

So if you buy in at $28 now, you’re going to end up getting hurt a few months down the road. That’s not a good feeling, and it’s one to which we can all relate.

But it’s also more than a bad feeling. It’s damaging to the game. People have a finite amount of money to spend on cardboard, and stories like this lead to frustrated players with regularity. It’s one thing to have an opinion about a card’s price and present it, but presenting that opinion without any reasoning or context does everyone involved a disservice.

Of course, cards aren’t guaranteed to do any particular thing in regards to price, and we all understand that going in. But if you’re doing any Magic-related media, please do us all a favor and consider the implications of what you’re doing.

I bring all this up not to get on my soapbox (though I have no problem doing so in regards to finance-related topics), but because it’s an attitude I see too often at FNM. It’s not good enough to say “card X is good in Y.” Our Magic budgets are limited, and if you want to make your money go as far as possible you need to consider the reasons for a price — something that begins with playability but certainly doesn’t end anywhere near there.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. The cards don’t matter. It could be the dawn of Magic or the next Pro Tour: How the card reads doesn’t matter. All that matters in regard to price is supply and demand, and that’s the most important MTG finance lesson I can teach you.

Thanks for reading,
Corbin Hosler
@Chosler88 on Twitter

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