Basics of Finance: Supply and Demand

Magic cards are not just game objects but also assets whose prices change over time. Many players may wonder why those prices change, and how, and what or who determines their current level. This article tries to answer the question how the prices of cards are determined in real life.

Supply

supply

Magic cards are goods that are both used and consumed, and they are collectible. Due to this mixed utility, their price is determined by a variety of factors. Even though all the cards cost the same from the company's perspective, they are not worth the same from the market's perspective. What's key to point out is that in this system there are two main parties: the supplier (Wizards of the Coast, a subsidiary of Hasbro) and the people who buy cards/product. All the cards that end up on the secondary market as singles have to have come from somewhere, namely sealed product. Wizards' product line includes product whose content is random or semi-random and some whose content is fully transparent.

Let's assume there is a product with a single card that's desired by people, and the card is known to be in the product. A good real-life example of such a situation is a product called Commander 2013. It consisted of five separate decks, and the release price of each deck was the same. However, one of the decks, Mind Seize, contained True-Name Nemesis, a card desired by many competitive (Legacy) players who found the rest of the deck largely useless. This meant that the secondary market price of this one deck skyrocketed due to it being a sought-after product—not because of the whole product but because of a single card it contained.

mind seize true-name nemesis

Let's focus on the card itself and what models its price. First comes the availability and the print run of the product it can be found in. The more of the product is available on the market, the lower the price of the card. Not every product's print run is the same. Wizards tend to diversify the quantity in which they release products. Sometimes they print to demand, sometimes they limit the print run. Additionally, the question is how many copies of the desired card one can find in the product, which also varies. In the aforementioned Mind Seize deck, there was one copy of True-Name Nemesis, but sometimes there are products like Challenger Decks, which include up to four copies of a desired card.

Of course most cards come from booster releases, where calculations become tricky. For example, the average draft booster box of Dominaria United contains about 0.45 copies of the regular version of Sheoldred, the Apocalypse (as well as 0.45 Liliana of the Veil, 0.9 Evolved Sleepers, 1.35 Cut Downs, and so on). Foils and other special treatments add some number and a whole host of complications on top. It gets still more complicated with set booster and collector booster boxes, where it is hard even to find accurate information on contents. But the basic principle, that higher availability means lower prices, remains true regardless of how tough it may be to figure out the exact supply.

Sometimes, a card gets a reprint, which means that a new version with the same name and function is put into another product, but with a different symbol indicating when it was printed. Usually, this decreases the price of the card due to the increased supply. However, it is not unheard of that the original printing still holds its price due to its uniqueness. Arguably, the most emblematic example of that are basic lands. Most of them are nigh worthless and you could tear one into pieces without hesitation. Still, you can hardly get a Beta basic Island for less than €20. There are millions of copies of Islands in circulation, but just a fraction of those are original Beta Islands, which cannot be reprinted per se.

On top of that, Wizards sometimes reprint cards not in widely available products but as promotional giveaways: as a reward to Magic Judges, for instance, or for participation in certain tournaments. This process, however, tends not to influence the price heavily as the quantity influx is too small of a proportion compared to the whole supply.

Demand

demanding dragon

The aforementioned factors are the supply factors. As far as demand is concerned, there is a different set of aspects to consider. One basic factor is how frequently the card sees play competitively at tournaments. The more it is played or intended to be played, the higher the demand and, hence, the price. What makes this tricky to evaluate is that a card's playability changes dynamically over time. Players construct decks with the goal to have the best chance at winning. Other players may react and create a deck that specifically aims to beat the currently dominating decks. Through this process, the perceived best decks and best cards change as players keep adapting to what others are doing. Therefore, some cards have their peaks of playability and popularity, as well as troughs, which directly translates into peaks and troughs in their price.

From time to time, a card is deemed too good and is then banned from competitive play. Consequently, its price decreases as the supply stays the same, but demand plummets: people no longer need cards that are illegal and can't be played. Additionally, there are speculators who buy out cards in order to create artificial scarcity and inflate prices to later trade them off at higher price points. Last but not least, the card's physical condition is a major factor. The condition can be as pristine as if the card had just been opened from a fresh booster pack, or it can be scratched, inked, or bent. This heavily influences the pricing. All the aforementioned factors contribute to the current and ever-fluctuating prices of Magic cards.

In Practice

practical research

To illustrate the point, let's use a simple example: You go to your local game store and want to buy Standstill for your casual deck. Someone offers to sell the card for €10, but you decline as the price is too high in your opinion. If enough people say "no" to the trader, they will be compelled to lower the price to a level where people will want to buy the card. This is an example of how prices can change on a local level. A similar process happens globally when people do or do not buy cards at their listed prices.

Once a card is printed, the market establishes a price for it, which then varies over time. One way Wizards themselves can influence this from their side is to increase supply. However, rather than put more of a given card into one set (that is, lower rarity), they can reprint it and put the same card into another set. In practice, this means that, functionally, the same card is available in different products, but with cosmetic differences such as the set symbol to distinguish it from the original printing. An example for a price-reducing reprint would be Engineered Explosives in a set called Ultimate Masters. Prior to the reprint, the card spiked at $100 apiece. However, after the set with its reprint was released, it plummeted down to 50 and has been declining ever since. Currently, with four nonpromo versions available, the price hovers around €10.

There are sets exclusively designed to contain a lot of reprints of expensive cards, broadly referred to as Masters sets. Naturally, what determines whether the reprint affects the price are the same factors mentioned above: rarity, probability, and whether the set is opened heavily, increasing supply on the market. As an example of a reprint that did not impact the prices, I can point to Secret Lairs with fetch lands. The cards were indeed in high demand, but a reprint as a premium product in a very limited quantity at a high cost did not lead to a price decrease on the secondary market, much to players' disappointment. (Later reprints in a Masters set did.)

In Summary

summary dismissal

To sum it all up, most important factors that affect a card's price include:

  • Rarity
  • How much the set is opened
  • What the print run of that set is
  • Playability of the card
  • Number of copies players need
  • Condition of the card
  • Reprints
  • Bans

I hope this piece explained what factors affect the prices. Stay tuned for more articles on the basics of finance. For now, hold my hand, and let's pass the turn together. Cheers!


Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author, not of Cardmarket.



7 Comments

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benjamingjake(02.01.2023 14:42)(Edited: 02.01.2023 14:43)

Thanks for this article - nice description. One aspect you may (or may not) ponder in a future article is "reprint equity". From my end I understand that wizards (or hasbro!) has an interest in secondary market pricing as this also affects the pricing for sealed products. In my opinion high secondary market prices (!) (reserved list someone?) are in the interest of hasbro as it increases sales prices and respective revenue/ EPS respectively

Tezzeret84(02.01.2023 10:26)(Edited: 02.01.2023 10:26)

Great article, nice point of view but as others commented below, price can be ridiculous if some "spectulators" decide hype the price. Even the card is common.

JusteInsaneENFT(02.01.2023 06:57)

The author lives in a beautiful world where capitalism seems to not exist.
The very first thing that move up the price of a card is speculation and he doesn't even speak about that

kurata1980(02.01.2023 09:02)(Edited: 02.01.2023 09:03)

It does seems like a new graduated in economics talking always about offer and demand.
(This may seem as a parody but people who studied economics knows what I'm talking about).

Phitt(02.01.2023 10:48)

JusteInsaneENFT

Oh, there are places on this world where capitalism doesn't exist. If you want to learn something about a world without capitalism you should go and visit countries like North Korea or Venezuela. There are a lot of adjectives that come to my mind when I look at these countries, but 'beautiful' is certainly not one of them.

And no, speculation doesn't move up the prices of most cards noticeably, at least not in the long term, because there are far too many cards if the card comes from a modern set. If a card like Ledger Shredder explodes in price it's because it gets played heavily in multiple formats, not because evil speculators buy all the cards and hoard them.

For reserved list cards speculators may be partially to blame, but even for those you can clearly see that speculators can't hold up the price for too long if there is no demand from collectors or players (see: crap Ice Age rl rares, which always come down in price after a buyout because no one wants to buy them at the inflated price).

TobiHenke(02.01.2023 10:57)(Edited: 02.01.2023 10:58)

JusteInsaneENFT - You may have missed this part of the article: "Additionally, there are speculators who buy out cards in order to create artificial scarcity and inflate prices to later trade them off at higher price points." It is just a minor mention, but then again this is about the 𝘣𝘢𝘴𝘪𝘤𝘴 of finance.

viervil(02.01.2023 06:43)

Excellent study

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