I am excited to announce this quarterly update series I’ve been creating for over four years will be a formal piece of content you can rely on being produced by me every three months.
Dating back to 2019, I have been providing my followers & readers with a near-quarterly “macro” view on various aspects of the state of Magic: the Gathering through the unique lens of my secondary market involvement and player experiences.
I’ve shared thoughts, opinions, and real data to give you my prediction as to where the game is heading; where individual cards are heading; and generally where and how you should be thinking about deploying your hard-earned money to maximize the value you get when buying, playing with, collecting, and selling your Magic cards.
The last installment of this series was written and shared here on Conviction Gaming back in early-January. It was a widely-shared article including a few high-profile creators retweeting/commenting on it, and it garnered thousands of views for our website. I want to say thank you to all my readers, followers, and supporters for that reception. The comments, feedback, and engagement are a driving force for me to create and share content. Hearing it is helping you achieve a better experience with Magic: the Gathering is heart-warming and the life-blood to my motivation for continuing to do more and do it better.
As a reminder, you can support my content and get exclusive first looks at my data by subscribing to the Conviction Gaming Patreon. It is just $1/month, and I can promise you it pays for itself or your money back.
In the January article, I highlighted the pain LGSs have been feeling due to the density and frequency of reprints. It was a macro view on the reprint impacts meant to provide a different perspective for players who may not realize the challenges LGSs are facing. We spend a lot of time on Twitter and other media sources talking about how great lower prices are for Magic singles, so that article was meant to give a different perspective that not all invested parties are enjoying the same feeling.
The bottom line of that article: support your LGS! We need them to thrive and grow as a core vertical for Magic’s health and success long-term. Helping them do so is up to each of us as patrons of their business, so please be sure to factor that into your purchase decisions whenever possible.
WHAT’S HAPPENING IN MAGIC: A REVIEW OF Q1 2023
The bulk of this two-part series should end up being much lighter spirited and positive than my January publication which might have made it seem like the sky is falling. My sentiment, and I suspect the broader feeling around Magic, is improving as compared to where we were through the end of year holidays. The fourth quarter of 2022 offered varying decrees of difficulty for everyone invested in the Magic community.
- Vendors had to deal with the challenges of demand dropping off; supply increasing across the board; and prices plummeting
- Players and collectors had to contend with their sentiment tied to the Magic 30th Anniversary product announcement (covered here on Conviction Gaming)
- Players & content creators having to contend with a seemingly never-ending release cycle where spoilers overlap and new products are nearly impossible to keep up with
- WotC had to deal with backlash from Wall Street after reports of poor product sell-through and fears of slowed growth trickled into the public after a Bank of America analyst raised fears and downgraded Hasbro’s stock
The issues and negative sentiment trickled into January 2023 for Magic, meanwhile WotC also had to deal with fallout tied to their Dungeons and Dragons brand and the OGL (a proposed license to charge organic creators of D&D content).
But the good news rushed back in February on the heels of Phyrexia: All Will Be One launching, and Hasbro’s CEO Chris Cocks acknowledging the slammed release schedule in 2022.
Unfortunately, the 2023 release schedule is already locked in, but it will be stretched out by a couple weeks and notably the production issues that caused delays in 2022 are expected to be ironed out. If true, the release calendar for 2023 projects to be jam-packed but also spaced out enough that sets don’t get released at the same time as with Unfinity and Warhammer 40K or Dominaria Remastered and Jumpstart 2022.
It remains to be seen if Hasbro and WotC will take feedback on their aggressive release cycle to heart. We are already seeing the same pattern occur again as the Lord of the Rings crossover and March of the Machines are competing with one another for attention. The first look spoilers for LotR began on March 7th and the MotM story dropped on March 16th causing them to overlap with one another in the players’ and content consumers’ eyes.
The risk WotC faces with this pattern is that one or both sets will perform less admirably because they will cannibalize consumer attention and transactions, i.e., purchases, from one another.
MAGICCON UPDATES: PHILADELPHIA AND MINNEAPOLIS!
MagicCon Philadelphia was another huge hit in the new cycle of Hasbro/WotC sponsored conventions. The improvements at Philadelphia which were based on feedback from the Las Vegas experience in Q4 2022 were vast, and we are already seeing even more improvements to come for Minneapolis which is set to take place from May 5-7th (get your tickets by clicking that link!).
I went to Philadelphia and can personally say it was the best convention experience I’ve had to date with Magic: the Gathering. I was a Black Lotus VIP badge holder which was unfortunately underwhelming, but WotC and ReedPop (convention management group) took our feedback seriously, and they have made huge adjustments to making the “VIP experience” feel like just that for Minneapolis. I may give it another try in Minneapolis; we’ll see.
The best news of all is that the Command Zone is being returned to a “free-to-play” space for all badge holders at Minneapolis. We’ll see if this sticks for future events because it leaves some money on the table for Hasbro/WotC, but it has been the number one piece of feedback from both Las Vegas and Philadelphia. Big kudos to the WotC team and ReedPop for both acknowledging the feedback and following through on it. We appreciate you!
One more thing: if you go to Minneapolis, be sure to sign-up for Gavin Verhey’s “Unknown Event” and play it either on Friday or Saturday. For Philadelphia, Gavin created an event in conjunction with Pastimes that was exclusive to the Convention, and it was a tremendous success!
Shivam Bhatt interviewed Gavin after Philadelphia to give a glimpse into how the “Unknown Event” came to be. This is a must-watch if you’re attending Minneapolis so you can have a deeper insight into what you might be able to expect there!
DEMONSTRATING A TRACK RECORD
The meat and bones of this article series is always going to be the answer to the question “what lies ahead, Chris?”
Many of my longest tenured followers and supporters know I have had a decent run at predicting trends in Magic. I will always say some of my track record is luck and some is skill; one thing is for certain, though. Everything I predict is based on facts and data; if I fail, it is because I misinterpreted the data and drew incorrect conclusions. Not because I shot speculative commentary from my hip pocket. You can always bank on that with me; I always own my misses way more than I own my successes.
Some background on where the information I share comes from: I use proprietary modeling and data tracking which I formulated back in 2018 (so it is well-tested) to predict things like future prices of cards, sealed products, or entire portfolios. The most applied use case for my modeling is the Reserved List, and predicting when cards on it will go up or down.
Starting in February, and still ongoing in March, we are seeing a spark reignite on traditional Dual lands. Buylists quietly crept up in a meaningful way, in some cases by as much as 20-30%, and nearly every vendor “hot list” at MagicCon Philly was looking to buy one or more of the Dual lands from Revised or Unlimited.
Traditionally, Dual lands increasing in price at the retail and buylist levels has been used as an indicator by vendors, speculators, and collectors that we might see upward price movement for the Reserved List as a whole. This trend occurred four times in the decade spanning from 2010 to 2020, and was most notably the catalyst for the biggest Reserved List run of that decade which occurred from 2017 to 2018.
The concept you’ll hear or see frequently from MTG finance publications is that “a rising tide lifts all ships” which essentially translates to “Dual lands are the tide, and the rest of the Reserved List are the ships”.
I naively subscribed to this idea back in the 2017 timeframe, but I do not subscribe to this any longer. After creating my data modeling in 2018, I realized Dual lands were the catalyst for Reserved List largely in the same way that ideas manifest themselves into self-fulfilling prophecies. If you still believe in the “rising tide”, know that you are still living in an MTG finance era that ended back in 2018.
The new method for tracking and identifying Reserved List action requires three unique traits:
- Individual card evaluation based on the demand curve, e.g. sales data
- Meta management that tracks the popularity within the inner MTG community circles that are comprised of EDH, cEDH, Legacy, and Vintage
- A high-level pulse on macro-economic trends, such as inflation, (un)employment, and Wall Street sentiment, e.g., follow the money
If you can track and understand the implications of these three factors, you can more accurately predict movement within the Reserved List in the current decade. Please note, things are always evolving, and this formula will almost assuredly not hold true forever into the future.
I mentioned this quarterly series began way back in 2018, and at that time, I shared opinions rather than facts. I speculated based on my gut rather than on the conviction in the data. Today, I use both, and it turns out that makes for a more powerful (and accurate) combination.
Some of you who are reading this may recall I was one of the earliest movers on the Reserved List rush of 2020-2021. I wrote a piece back in February 2020 where I told Conviction Gaming Patrons I was moving 80% of all my Magic inventory (i.e., money) into the Reserved List. I deployed the capital on things ranging from Gaea’s Cradle, Mox Diamond, and Lion’s Eye Diamond to Paradigm Shift and Firestorm.
In my reasoning for justifying my significant investment back into the Reserved List, I said, “cEDH is about to take the world by storm, and you’re going to want to own every high-powered Reserved List card you can get your hands on.” Ironically, back then, many people who I knew, some who knew me well in fact, started questioning my morals with MTG finance, and I was labeled a pumper.
Amazing what a lack of a track record can lead to, but it is water under the bridge now. My sentiment was not an intentional “pumping” of the Reserved List, and for the record, I never pump cards. If I don’t have a good card to recommend buying, I don’t make something up to fill the void.
My recommendation to buy Reserved List in February 2020 was informed by real sales data and trends. Here is a look into the four data points and narratives I tracked closely at that time:
- Sales demand for individual singles: I started to notice targeted demand in January 2020 for cEDH staples including those from the Reserved List, and it stood out compared to the prior 18 months of data I had dating to mid-2018 which was the end of the 2017-2018 “RL boom”
- cEDH content buzz was picking up steam on multiple platforms, especially Twitter and YouTube, which corroborated the sales demand
- Cards like Gilded Drake which were previously pretty lackluster in traditional “casual” EDH suddenly were being noticed, and sales backed this up which reaffirmed for me cEDH was not just a flash in the pan
- Collectors were beginning to take notice of price declines, and the market conditions, i.e., positive macroeconomic trends on Wall Street and Bitcoin, were ripening for another Reserved List boom
The decision to move 80% of my Magic capital into the Reserved List in February 2020 quintupled the size of my business from that point until June of 2021 when I liquidated the little inventory I had left. It truly catapulted my side business, Chicago Style Gaming, into a meaningful secondary income stream for my family.
I know many of my longest tenured followers also reaped the financial rewards, either through resale (vending) or just by increasing the value of their collections. I am quite proud of this, and it reinforces what I said earlier about the reasons for why sharing information is so important to me. If I can save or make you some money on Magic, I’ve done my job within the confines of my niche as a content creator. Any added experience I create for you is just a bonus!
LOOKING AHEAD TO Q2 AND BEYOND
In Part 2 of this article series, I will share my thoughts on where I see the game heading in April 2023 and beyond. I discuss a few themes which should hopefully provide a thought-provoking experience for you, and I offer thoughts on the Reserved List and the secondary market as a whole. Overall, my sentiment on Magic is quite positive. I believe the game is on the right path forward, and WotC is doing a great job managing and balancing so much feedback from so many different perspectives.
I encourage each of you to avoid falling into the echo chamber that is Twitter, and instead converse with local players, friends, and LGS owners to get a complete picture of the forces that drive decisions for WotC and Hasbro. There is a lot to be learned from a few inconsequential conversations you may have if you ask the right questions and then sit back and listen. It is also important to realize change is rarely something that can happen overnight. Product releases are set well into the future, as are various contractual obligations among other things. Feedback is important and patience is a virtue. They hear us, and they are assuredly factoring it into their day-to-day discussions.
TL:DR, change takes time, and sometimes change is not as necessary as the echo chamber might make it seem.
The bottom line is this: the sky is certainly not falling, and while there are always going to be frustrations and hardships that surround Magic: the Gathering, the common theme is we all love and care for the game deeply in our own way. Knowing we all come from the same foundation of “Magic is important to me” can help each of us navigate discussions and debates more respectfully with one another.
Much love, and until next time,
Chris Martin is the co-founder of Conviction Gaming and co-host of the Brewin’ With Conviction podcast. He has been playing Magic since 1998 and is an avid EDH player with a knack for MTG finance.