How Mythic Rares Could Kill Magic

There are currently four cards from Scars of Mirrodin selling in the $40 range, all of them mythic rares. I’m not here to whine about how hard it is to acquire the cards needed to play in constructed formats. I am worried about the economic consequences — history shows us that mythic rares could kill Magic. Or at least rough it up a little.

Let’s establish some assumptions and given facts before I start speculating (oooh, foreshadowing!). By their own accounts, Wizards has been enjoying unparalleled financial success with Magic in the last couple of years, a period neatly coinciding with the introduction of the mythic rare: a card that’s more rare than rares are! The elevated popularity of the game is due to a number of factors, increased quality of the sets not the least among them, but the drive to buy more and more packs of cards for a chance to get that incredibly hard to find mythic has to be part of it as well.

So far it seems like I’m arguing against my own thesis. The problem is, Magic’s short-term success could backfire. As evidence, I offer the comic book boom and collapse of the 1990s.

In the early 90s, people were buying comic books like crazy. Sales numbers were ridiculous. The 1991 printing of X-Men number one, featuring five interlocking covers, sold eight million copies. By comparison, the top comic book in a given month right now sells around 100,000 copies, while most popular comics sell in the 40,000 to 50,000 range. Comic books in the 90s were laden with holofoil covers, polybagged trading cards, multiple covers, all sorts of bells and whistles. People flocked to comic specialty stores and bought five copies of everything. These things weren’t just comic books, they were goddamned collector’s items. They were an investment.

There are a bunch of problems with that, of course. For one thing, the future value of something is determined by supply and demand, not whether or not the Jim Lee cover image is embossed and trimmed with sparkly foil. If eight million of something is sold, it’s never, ever going to be rare. Perhaps the bigger problem is that few of those people buying all those comics actually cared about comics. As soon as they caught on that the books were worthless, they jumped out of the market. Incidentally, a lot of them were sports cards collectors before the comics boom. What did most of the speculators move on to? Pokemon.

I’ve tried to catch a little of the local buzz about Scars of Mirrodin, along with the usual internet hubbub. My personal feelings about the set aside, a lot of the prominent players and collectors in my area were declaring that they were not going to be buying any boxes of Scars. Why? Not because they didn’t like the set. They saw the ridiculous pre-order prices that the popular cards were fetching, heard lots of dealers and collectors say they planned to open tons of boxes because the high prices in individual cards made it profitable, and realized the market flood would drive prices down pretty quickly.

Is that the same kind of thing as the 90s comic collapse? No. There are some key differences, primarily that in the 90s the quality of comic books went right down the tubes. Magic’s designers are still making a great game. Extra rare chase cards haven’t altered that. It’s also a bit of a Yogi Berra-ism — one of his reported quotes being, “No one ever goes there anymore, it’s too crowded.” So, yeah — no one’s buying boxes of Scars because everyone is.

But imagine that we are on the proverbial slippery slope. Mythic rares are sending pack sales through the roof. Hasbro wants more profits. Hey, let’s come up with cards that are even more rare than mythics. Holographic, hand-drawn, five-of-a-kind in the whole world cards — one guaranteed in every 50,000 packs. That will drive sales. But then everyone will realize only a few people get the special cards, the speculators who don’t play Magic will dump their extras on the market, and the dealers who sell Magic singles will be stuck with huge stockpiles of worthless cardboard. Pack sales won’t make up the difference, and many will go out of business. You know what people do at game stores other than buy Magic cards? Play Magic. You know what they buy if they have nowhere to play Magic? I don’t know, but it’s usually not Magic cards.

9 Responses to How Mythic Rares Could Kill Magic

  1. SEE ALSO: DnD– now with new randomly assorted collectible Powers cards!

    I don’t play Magic– though I do like the worldbuilding & the art A LOT– but I think as long as they are careful, it works. Especially since there is a lot of over-turn on the market, with new product lines coming out.

  2. I quit standard because of mythics. It doesn’t make sense finical because of the price fluctuation. I started playing legacy because the staple cards also have generally stable prices.

  3. I don’t play Standard because of the dependence on Mythics. I’m a cheapass who’d rather spend his $60 on Warhammer models, and I’d still feel guilty about that. If I’m playing a tournament it’s Draft or Sealed because I’m good at making do with limited resources. I have tons of magic cards because when I buy cards it was either the precon decks because that was like buying a game I could upgrade, or the tournament packs because they were a great deal and came with desperately needed lands. I hate Mythics and have sold most of the one’s I’ve had simply because one Baneslayer doesn’t help me any, but if people want to pay me an unreasonable price for it I might as well let them.

  4. The one upside to mythics is that they depress the prices of regular rares (and, in fact, even the mythics that aren’t the “big name cards” in a set). Other than Venser, Koth, Elspeth and the Mox, the rares in Scars top out around $3 each. Of course, that goes along with my whole theory.

  5. I just want Venser because he was supposed to be the new protagonist, then they ditched him and picked an emo kid with anime hair.

    I hate the Duel Deck Jace art.
    I like Venser.

  6. @ggodo: It could’ve been worse. Have you seen the Japanese duel deck Jace? :P

    Also, Venser resembling David Tennant makes him automatically 10x more awesome, in my opinion.

  7. I got back into Magic about 2 years ago after having been out of the game for almost a decade. Was super psyched about the new cards and had fun in both sealed and constructed (standard) tournies. Then the reality of the investment kicked in around the time of M11, and since then I’ve just stuck to pre-release events. So yes… the cost definitely drove me away. Baneslayer Angels and Elspeths were just too much.

  8. This is part of why I got out of magic some 18,000 sets ago. Not to mention buying cards that would later become worthless (to me) because they got limited or eliminated in the new format changes. I like the idea of the game, I like the design aspects, I love the art. But the constant grind of cards is annoying.

    Though when I was playing, I did have a neighbor who didn’t play but loved the art. He was a bit of an OCD collector type. We’d each buy a couple of boxes and split them up – he’d get the first one of everything and I’d get the rest. I usually ended up with most of the rares in a set, and plenty of uncommons and commons to trade/sell. It wouldn’t have worked with Mythic rares.

  9. @zizhou I think I like the Japanese duel deck art better than the American one. At least that keeps his hair covered. That hair is pretty terrifying.

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