Market Anomalies: Of Halo Effects and Price Memory
- Christian Tobehn
Akroma of Woe in the Cradle of Traitors! The market pricing on certain Magic cards sometimes does not make sense at all. Or does it? Let us take a look at some very strange market expressions and some of the odder factors that drive prices. Why are some cards so inexplicably expensive?
Entreat the Foil Angels
First we take a look at the prices of two legendary foil Angels. We note that Akroma, Angel of Wrath foils from Legions wear a price tag comparable to foil versions of Radiant, Archangel. What's the big deal about that? Well, Radiant is on the Reserved List, and its nonfoil printing commands a way higher price (roughly €13.45 for a near-mint copy) than Akroma (roughly two euros near mint). The cheapest near-mint foil of Akroma is around €339 (a foil multiplier of 170). The cheapest near-mint foil of Radiant is at €399 (a foil multiplier of 30).
So the multiplier for the premium version is way higher for Akroma than for Radiant. This is a crazy market anomaly since Reserved List cards usually have an even higher foil multiplier than unreserved cards. How can one explain this phenomenon? Why is this foil Akroma so expensive?
Just in case you want to argue that no one would pay those prices anyway, we must notice actual sales of foil Akromas for €200 and €264.33 last year. Noteworthy sales of foil Radiants happened in December 2020 for €289.95 and in January 2021 for €359.99.
First we must distinguish between the different usage of these two cards. Radiant is an iconic but barely playable, noncompetitive commander. It became a buyout target in 2020 when Commander Legends leaked a new Radiant card. Therefore the card spiked, foil and nonfoil alike. Radiant isn't really a great card in any Constructed format, but it holds a lot of sentmental value and has beautiful art.
Akroma on the other hand was a "one angel wrecking crew" in the old days of Magic. It was the prime reanimation target in the past and remains a great choice for Premodern Reanimator. At the time of its printing, Akroma simply was the heir apparent of the original keyword champ Spirit of the Night. A foil Time Spiral version of Akroma costs around nine euros by the way.
Similar is true for the foil Prophecy Avatar of Woe and the Future Sight Tarmogoyf. Avatar of Woe, just like Akroma, is a highly loved and iconic, powerful card from the past. Tarmogoyf isn't that invincible anymore, but still sees a lot of play and has already become a mythical piece of cardboard in its own right. These cards are surrounded by a nimbus …
The Holy Nimbus
This nimbus is quite comparable to a "halo effect" and it emerges from the combination of factors: an impressive artwork, deep flavor, and a certain reputation. What the card lacks in present playability is surpassed by a halo from long ago whose light hasn't been dimmed by the intervening years but instead shines brighter for them. The paradoxon is this: Akroma is played less today than in the past, yet the foil price is way higher now than it was then.
Imagine the price of a foil Morphling, which was considered the best creature for a long time. It would be hilarious even if it weren't on the Reserved List. Psychatog and Wild Mongrel on the other hand, also former champions among the creatures at a certain point in time, make for rather cheap foils. Okay, they are uncommon and common, but Crop Rotation is a non-Reserved List common whose foils start at €100. I guess that Mongrel and Tog lack that epic, special feel, that impressiveness, that nimbus, which people connect with Akroma and Avatar of Woe.
The Cradle Case
Speaking of anomalies and halo effect, I think the same applies to Gaea's Cradle. You can see this very clearly when comparing prices of the World Championship Deck version of Cradle and the World Championship Deck version of City of Traitors for example. The WCD Cradle goes for one quarter of what you have to pay for a regular copy from Urza's Saga, while the WCD City is closer to one tenth of the original Exodus card.City of Traitors obviously is super powerful and cool, but it does not seem to command the same attraction as the Cradle. Paying a hundred bucks for a card that's not tournament legal is only possible when people really want something very, very badly. I don't think people would pay a hundred euros for a WCD City of Traitors even if the alternative cost €400. It simply does not have that same luster.
We mentioned foil multipliers in the beginning: The foil Judge Rewards promo of Gaea's Cradle is only three times the price of the original, which equals a very low foil multiplier by the way. I don't know about the print runs of Judge Rewards cards, but it's possible there aren't more of them out there than rares from Urza's Saga. If the print run is actually lower, they might be way underpriced, which would make for another huge market anomaly.
Most Magic players agree that Carnage Tyrant, Khalni Hydra, and Hellkite Overlord are very intriguing creatures. Everybody loves big, scary monsters. Even Johnny, Combo Player likes to be Timmy, Power Gamer from time to time and wants to cast some fatties every once in a while. But what else do they have in common? One obvious link between them is their huge statline. Another one is that they do not see competitive play these days, and the most important link between them is their relatively high price relative to the fact that they are not played competetively. How is it possible that Carnage Tyrant is still the most expensive card from Ixalan?
The answers are demand from casual players and price memory. Price memory describes how a product is tied to a certain price in the mind of a customer. Tarmogoyf again is a great example: It will certainly never go down to five euros, because it is was expensive and desired by so many players for such a long time. If you ask any player for a two-mana 5/6 creature, they will instantly yell "Goyf!" Its price has come down quite a bit, yes. Reprints and seeing less play made it more affordable. But it's unimaginable that the card will ever be cheap. It is simply tied to a higher price point, and that at the very least takes longer to erode.
A future card of this caliber might be Questing Beast. It is undeniably strong and cool and infamous but will probably never show up in number in Eternal decks. But because of its great appeal and casual player demand, it may continue to hold on to a higher price point than other cards after rotation. At the same time we must realize that price memory can also occur in terms of very low pricing, meaning that a certain product can also fly under the radar for a long time, because people misjudge it as bulk or chaff—as happened with Collector's Edition cards.
Market anomalies show opportunities to make some excellent deals, or they can indicate that a price is irrationally inflated. Either way, it is fascinaing to explore these abnormalitites and spend some time thinking about them. I don't expect you to reveal your secrets about the current Magic market, but do you have any interesting stories to add? Can you explain the discrepancy between a Time Spiral and a Legions foil? Let us know in the comments, and thanks for reading!
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily Cardmarket.