Price Spikes & Paper Vintage

This thread made me log into TMD for the first time in probably close to a year.

I sold my cards in 2014. I borrowed cards to play EW in 2014, 2015, 2016, and 2017, as well as SCGCon 2017 and 2018. However, even in 2018 a deck getting stolen would be a bank loan to replace.

Now, I don't anticipate ever playing a game of Vintage again. My gripes with the format aside, it is no longer a bank loan. Borrowing a deck is now risking having to sell my house and get divorced to repay.

Cards are unobtainable. I live in the midwest and have a near-six figure job. My house is worth over 350k. I do pretty well for someone who is 34. What is my point with that? That even making what I make I couldn't ever justify buying even duals right now let alone any vintage staples. As someone who makes upper middle class money, this game is unobtainable to me. It truly now is only a format for the upper class, or the majority of folks who bought in earlier and didn't sell out.

If I owned any cards now, Id be selling them to pay off my house or my wifes student loan debt. Obviously peoples finances are vastly different, and I can't fault anyone for keeping cards, but personally I think it is foolish for anyone with any debt whatsoever or anyone without a solid retirement plan to own any Reserved List cards.

I'll just (re-)state the obvious about how insane the market has jumped in the past 5 years or so, and share some stories about acquiring the now-multithousand dollar cards as a much younger me, solely for the purpose of annoying people and/or eliciting knowing chuckles and rueful shakes-of-the-head from those who can relate.

I started playing in '95 when a college buddy gave me a Revised starter. One of my rares was a Tundra, which I traded for my friend's Rod of Ruin (I mean, come on, I can play Plains and Islands in my deck without playing this "Tundra", whereas a Rod of Ruin actually does something). After becoming a little wiser in the ways of mana I slowly amassed a collection of good playable Eternal staples, buying Revised duals for around $7-$15 apiece until I had my playset. Fast forward a few years and I had my first real job as a SW Engineer, and I was throwing around all kinds of money on cardboard. A few of my more memorable purchases:

  1. Unlimited P9 for around $100 a pop (except Lotus at $300).
  2. Beta Pearl and Sapphire at around $150-$200 each.
  3. A playset of Bazaars for $12 per.
  4. Workshops between $40-$60.
  5. Beta duals at $25. This was right after duals rotated out of Extended, and they were considered almost worthless as they were no longer playable in any format that WotC actively supported.

Anyhoo, there's more but I won't irritate you any further with this. I personally love that there are high earners with disposable income to throw around on these cards, as I've slowly been selling off my collection as a means of supporting myself while I pursue self-employment. I'm resigned to the likelihood that I'll never play another game of Vintage again; being able to use my Lotus as a downpayment on a house eases the pain considerably. I'll hold onto my Legacy cards (the only eternal format in my area that anyone seems to play) as long as I can but will probably end up selling them too.

Just the ramblings of an old MtG geezer.

The sentiment in the post is something that has been with me for a very longtime. I got into Magic back in 1995 and I was able to get the staples of the format at a much lower cost. I was also in a position to keep my collection as my income and debt has always moved in the right direction.

Magic is part of my identity at this point. Being a Vintage player is a huge part of that identity. I want more players in the format and I am OK with Wizards reprinting any and everything at this point as long as the new versions have the new boards and new art.

I wrote some time ago that Vintage is essentially a digital format now, and I HATE that with a passion. Having a digital option allows for more games to be played but has the effect of limiting strategies that perform well on the digital client.
The digital version of the game is not free either and maintaining a paper collection and a digital collection is very expensive.

With all of that said and the various options, I'm not sure Vintage has a large audience of players that want to play the format. It is bigger than what we currently have but Magic has a bigger problem right now.

We could ban every card on the reserve list and that new format would be playable and different from Legacy but has the 2019/2020 problem. The new cards that have been printed have made the game different and invalidated a lot of working theories. I'm not sure this a bad thing but it is driving older players away from the game.

I hope there is some solution to reprints at some point, the people who have old cards will have no one to play with if they don't do something and that makes me sad.

last edited by moorebrother1

Not to downplay the legitimate concerns and melencholy in this thread, but I don't think things are completely hopeless. Just like Prospero I bought my power in another era (just a few years later than him, I think), when I was in my early 20s. My collection in today's prices probably exceeds my entire net worth until I was at least 30. The idea of getting into collecting at these prices isn't just unlikely to me, I literally can't even conceive of how I could have done it. So I know that there are 19 year old planeswalkers out there who are watching IamActuallyLvL1 and ChubbyRain (or whoever the modern equivalent of Oscar Tan is), just as excited as I was, but they'll never be able to own a Lotus. And that makes me sad.

But it's also not exactly new.

Everyone has a budget. Some money they're willing to set aside on their hobby, with maybe a little breathing room if they save up for a while. While card prices consistently rise faster than inflation or salaries, the amount of people with hobby budgets bigger than a vintage collection shrinks and shrinks, but there's never been a time where everyone could play. People have loans, families to take care of. A few summers ago I played FNM in Mexico City, and when I told some of them that I mostly liked to play Vintage, they literally didn't believe there was a format where people actually played with Moxes.

Collecting is fun, it's an important part of the hobby for a lot of people, I'm a (recovering) collector myself ... but the hobby and the community is so much bigger than the cardboard. This is where the hope comes in: Most of the world was already priced out of Vintage in 2002 before I started playing, and as I was road-tripping from tournament to tournament in my early 20s, every month another friend of mine would sell off their power to pay rent and never get it back. But they didn't all stop playing, or being part of the community. This problem that some people are experiencing for the first time now? There's people all over the world who have been working at, and enjoying Vintage, despite their inability to afford a Lotus.

In the past two decades there's been an explosion of wotc-liberated magic communities, with Commander likely more popular than all sanctioned magic combined. But (at least on a large scale) Vintage was the first community that realized (amicably) that WotC couldn't give the format the attention it needed. Where sanctioned tournaments, mothership articles and WPN stores fell short, players stepped up.

You don't need to abolish the reserved list to be a part of Vintage, you don't need to legalize CE or print snow duals.

You just need each other.

last edited by Brass Man

@brass-man A lot of good points here.

The last being that running unsanctioned Vintage events with many more proxies is something of an answer. Not the answer any of us would like, but...

I remember ELD getting a cease and desist letter over the proxies he made/sold.

For whatever it's worth (and it isn't worth much!), I was pissed more than anything else while writing this. This has been a longstanding problem, and we're well past the point when action was needed.

That said, I think we're all aware that we're getting nothing from WotC here.

Here's my only points on this, and I think they are just truisms:

  1. WotC doesn't give a shit about any of us, especially Vintage players. They print money, and us trading/buying/selling old dollar bills already in circulation is of no consequence to them.
  2. They have zero incentive to reprint RL cards or allow proxies in sanctioned anything. Again, see point #1.

Prices are absurd - and this is from a guy that has bought in and sold out twice...starting in 1996. I have always chased the new rares and had sellers remorse when I sold, yet always sold because I realized I didn't want $100k in cardboard sitting in my house in case of theft or fire. Magic is crack, and a habit hard to kick. But I'm selling out again and know I'm done for good. I will play online (Arena and cockatrice - i.e. free - only) and in person with proxies only. We can keep Vintage alive with unsanctioned proxy tourneys, but that's it. Thinking WotC will ever do anything to help the affordability of Vintage is straight foolishness and wishful thinking at this point. Just accept it and move on. If you disagree, see points #1 and 2 again.

Oops, sorry, sorry, had 2 more stories to tell:

  • Buying 9-10 Power Artifacts, and 3 Transmute Artifacts, out of a store's $2 box circa 2001.
  • Passing on a Mint Chains of Meph for $20 around the same time period.

Sorry, just couldn't help myself.

@pilsburydohboy42 said in Price Spikes & Paper Vintage:

@protoaddict said in Price Spikes & Paper Vintage:

Collectors are worse for the game in the long run, if you really want to compare the 2. Finance people gain no benefit from sitting on inventory they cannot move, so eventually those cards filter back into the market. The price may spike but if no one is paying it, eventually it will drop.

There is no way that the very slowly dwindling availability of these cards because they found forever homes is worse for this game than artificially and massively raising demand of said cards.

Short term yes but long term no.

I just want to point out that no matter how crazy the format prices become, it is not just MTG. Pokemon has cards that have spiked in value in more outlandish fashion and they are cards that are terrible by and large, not format staples. It's all about collectors in these other hobbies.

I think we do need to accept the fact that fixing this issue is not removing the RL, because that does not address the one way street of power creep in the format, and it is not printing more powerful cards to invalidate the RL stuff, because that never works. It is very likely a reshaping of the entire format and maybe even the game. I think it was the wrong way but companions, and Lurris specifically was a good example of this. Incentivize players not to use the broken stuff for other broken stuff that precluded the use of the RL stuff. We did not show good tolerance for this change in the format but I suspect something similar would be needed to get us out of the spot we are in.

@protoaddict I think you guys are making it all more complicated than it needs to be. Just use proxies. Have unsanctioned tourneys. I can sell out and play 60 card proxy decks of any make that I want. I can play every card in the game and just enjoy the game and the community. Screw real cards. It's all just cardboard anyway. WotC doesn't need to do a damn thing - and they never will. They don't care. They are printing money to sell to the folks that for some reason feel the need to own real cards. Just make some sweet proxies, run your own events, and have fun.

I think people may be focusing on Magic because that’s what they see everyday but this pricing madness is part of a bigger political and economic picture. 1000% price increase isn’t something that is exclusive to magic. Forget about the dealers, collectors, and speculators. There are ways to achieve your goals and obtain what many perceive as valuable

@protoaddict said in Price Spikes & Paper Vintage:

I think we do need to accept the fact that fixing this issue is not removing the RL, because that does not address the one way street of power creep in the format, and it is not printing more powerful cards to invalidate the RL stuff, because that never works. It is very likely a reshaping of the entire format and maybe even the game. I think it was the wrong way but companions, and Lurris specifically was a good example of this. Incentivize players not to use the broken stuff for other broken stuff that precluded the use of the RL stuff. We did not show good tolerance for this change in the format but I suspect something similar would be needed to get us out of the spot we are in.

Removing the Reserved list and releasing secret lair the power 9 for 500$ and secret lair duals for 300$ would massively drop the price of entry into the format which is I believe the concern that you are talking about. Alpha lotus may stay expensive but that does not mean I cant play my SL one at a paper tournament and honestly I think that it would greatly reinvigorate the format however the scale and unpredictability of the effect that chucking the RL would have on the game and marketplace as a whole is impossible to overstate.

@botvinik WotC rarely hosts sanctioned Vintage anyway. Just have a group of players organize their own, just like ELD, Romancing the Stones, and others do. You can play your $1 proxy lotus cheaper than you could a SL one.

I just like knowing the card I'm playing against, and that is why I loved the ELD proxies (and still use them!) for that reason. Basic Swamp with sharpie makes me sad. Not sure if others feel the same way.

Solid write-up, Nick.

There's a bit of concern among some people (not necessarily from anybody here) that abolishing the reserve list will mean that people's old cards will not be worth much. Some cards, yes. Random reserve list cards that don't have much meaning, yes. But Black Lotuses? No way in hell. The value of such cards will outlive the game.

However, I am extremely concerned that every single time I step away from the game and return, my collection seemingly gains another arbitrary percentage of value.

I got into Vintage (and indeed, magic itself) only in 2013. I loved the North-East Vintage community and have made some of my best friends there. A little while before Vintage went online, I was given some advice by @Prospero that "if I ever wanted to buy in, it would be a good time to do so now, before Vintage goes online and prices sky-rocket". It was among the best advice I've ever been given, and I'm forever grateful for that. I purchased an Unlimited Lotus for $800 and the rest of the P9 shortly after. Compare that to the prices of today and it's ludicrous.

There is no way I could do a repeat of 2013 and get into what was essentially a new game today. The prices are too high and price out anybody who does not have an inherent connection to the game already. Yes, proxies exist, but I've met a number of people who prefer playing with real cards and don't want to use proxies. It's not a strange notion either, wouldn't you want to actually see the cards you're playing?

I don't actually think we need to divorce the collectible from the game. What I mean by this is, in a hypothetical scenario, we could abolish the reserve list tomorrow, print every card under the sun and the old printings will STILL hold collectible value. Keep the collectible nature of the game, but let it not impede the ability to enjoy the game itself.

last edited by Hrishi

@botvinik said in Price Spikes & Paper Vintage:

Removing the Reserved list and releasing secret lair the power 9 for 500$ and secret lair duals for 300$ would massively drop the price of entry into the format which is I believe the concern that you are talking about. Alpha lotus may stay expensive but that does not mean I cant play my SL one at a paper tournament and honestly I think that it would greatly reinvigorate the format however the scale and unpredictability of the effect that chucking the RL would have on the game and marketplace as a whole is impossible to overstate.

Let's discount the fact that I do not think this will ever happen in 1000 years. I literally think WOTC would let Legacy and Vintage die out, have the secondary market tank a bunch of cards, and then just create a no reserve list eternal format before they took the risk.

I'm totally fine with this approach to inject more non proxy RL cards into the market. Hell they should do it with a lot of the EDH demanded stuff as well like Wheel of Fortune since that is an actual revenue driver for them. None of that actually addresses the balance issues of the format which over time will both get worse as well as be the new primary issue blocking entry to the format.

The format is already stagnant in a lot of ways, and the fact that a lot of the stagnation comes from the RL cards being so powerful that they can never print better or even parallel versions of them compounds the issue. Commander has a way around this by banning cards and printing new commander specific versions of them like Jeweled lotus. I suspect in the near future we may very well see Cradle banned and replaces with a version that only works if your commander is mono green or some such thing. People in that format are not so precious about the cards that they cannot tolerate a banning, what would the vintage community do if Lotus and the Moxen were banned tomorrow and then a new set came out with slightly worse but non reserve list versions of them? It would probably be better for the health of the format but you would literally have a mass exodus from the format.

Is there a central vintage organization strong enough to create standards for use and format guidelines outside wizards similar to commander?

@botvinik

We see this with formats such as premodern, and the player made ban lists are terrible.

Honestly, I don’t really get how anyone could feel comfortable playing sanctioned Vintage at this point. Right now we are talking about shuffling a decks worth $40k to $80k, and that’s without even pimping out the deck. That’s an entire year’s pre-tax salary for most people. Talk about a RICH man’s game.

@vaughnbros I love shuffling my cards. I play my real cards in Old School and never think twice about shuffling them.

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