Spike-Phobia in the MTG Market: An Analysis

Starting with the definition of “What is a spike?”, I will attempt to analyze the typical behaviors of MTG players when it comes to buying cards and give some hints on how to manage them.

Magic: The Gathering Finance is no easy argument, since the market is, in most cases, determined by non-professional users, unlike, for example, the stock market. Magic cards are not only “stocks” as they are meant for collecting/playing, so most buyers tend to ignore or pass through the basics of economics connected to them. So, I’m obviously talking about a market difficult to analyze, very hard to predict, and not easy to address.

That being said, there’s a phenomenon that I’ve been observing for the past two years that I would define as remarkable or at the very least, curious: I call it the “Spike-Phobia”. In this article, I will try to analyze and explain the main causes and resulting behaviors of this phenomenon.

Spikes: What, When, and Why?

Every good has a price. Every good has buyers willing to pay that price. That's the basis of every market, and it applies to Magic cards as well but with a slight difference.

The price of Magic cards mostly only slightly changes: upwards if a card is often played in a certain deck, downwards if a card rotates off the format or is no longer played in any deck. A spike, however, is an instant and quick doubling of the price of a card.

This generally happens when:

  • the Banned and Restricted Lists (of any format) is updated;
  • a new format is announced;
  • a new expansion is spoiled, and new cards and strategies combine with old cards;
  • an “unusual” card is employed in a winning deck of an important tournament.

Jace, the Mind Sculptor is a recent and popular example. Unbanned in Modern last 12 February 2018, the card immediately rose from 40,00 € to over 100,00 € in all its existing printings.                   

Jace the Mind Sculptor Jace the Mind Scuplture Price Spike

So What?

Most of you are probably thinking, “He’s telling me nothing new.” Well yes, you're right.

You play Modern.

You don’t have Jace.

They unban him.

 You have to buy him.

Vendors raise the price.

You curse yourself for having sold your Jace for 40,00 € the month before.

You pay 100,00 € for a new Jace.

That's your typical scenario. But what happens when a spike occurs to a card that is NOT played in constructed formats, nor is it subject to Banned List updates?

Let’s analyze what recently happened to Bazaar of Baghdad.

Bazaar of Baghdad Bazaar of Baghdad Price Spike

On a quiet week in mid-December 2017, Bazaar of Baghdad suddenly jumped from an average sale price of 483,28 € to 830,34 €.

Unpredictable and unexpected, yet it happened. This spike not only occurred in Cardmarket, but in all sales groups and communities.

Why?

Yes, Arabian Nights is a low-printed expansion. Yes, this card is mostly played in Vintage in Dredge decks. Yes, this card is in the Reserved List. However, all these cannot explain such a rise in price in only a matter of days. What actually occurred was a buyout.

Wait... What's a buyout? To explain it simply, a buyout is the result of someone (a person or a group of persons) buying the whole amount (or the majority) of a certain card on the market, so that they can fix a new (and higher) price to everyone willing to buy that particular card.

So Now… What’s the Spike-Phobia?

We already understand that the relation between Banned List updates and spikes are quite normal. Now, what if a buyout generates a spike? Furthermore, when will a buyout generate a spike? The "buyout spike" will occur when the card has a new price range, and someone is willing to pay this new price.

However, the real question is: Why would someone be willing to pay the new price? Why would you buy an 830,00 € card that could have easily been bought for 500,00 € the day before, and that you probably don't even need?

Here is where the Spike-Phobia occurs. A phenomenon that describes the temporary illness that can affect every player, no matter the level of experience or mental sanity. So… what is the Spike-Phobia? Spike-Phobia is a sudden and desperate WANT of a card that you weren't interested in at all, simply because its price skyrocketed. The question again is…

WHY?

That’s an easy question with no easy answers, so let me try to illustrate my answers with some typical symptoms of the Spike-Phobia:

  • The “NUCLEAR WINTER” Effect: “Gosh! If I don’t buy that card NOW, I’ll never have the opportunity to buy it again! They’re disappearing!”
  • The “IN-THE-MIDDLE-OF-A-SPIKE” Effect: “I own a copy of that card, so If I buy some more, all will increase in value!”
  • The “I MISSED IT” Effect: “Okay, this card is increasing in value. And maybe if it continues to do so, I'll earn some profit off it. I'm sure of it! …almost.”

As you can probably imagine, these assumptions are wrong in most cases if you have some knowledge on finance and economics. Typically, when a buyout spike occurs, the only ones to make money are the spike-generators, and the lucky ones that already own the card even before the buyout spike.

Conclusions: To Be Cured or To Be Smart

Everyone is free to buy any card he wants at the price he prefers. This article simply aims to explain the beginning, the outbreak, and the consequences of a phenomenon I observed and experienced in my personal experience as an amateur card-seller.  

Now, if you think you are a Spike-phobic – luckily at the moment we’re speaking is not such a common illness – or you have the fear of becoming one of us, you have two ways of dealing with it: The first and safer one is to directly cure your Spike-Phobia by trying to resist that inner voice shouting in your brain as a card doubles in price, “Buy that card Young Padawan… Buy it no matter what!”

The second one, and maybe the smarter one, is being able to anticipate the next spike. After all, prevention is better than cure.

So here are some hints that may help you better guess the next card/s to have a price spike:

  • Low-print cards, for example Abu Ja'far, Arabian Nights, are more spike-able than others, simply because copies in circulation are limited and a buyout is easier;
  • Older cards and out-of-print cards are more spike-able than others because you can't find them in low-priced booster packs anymore;
  • Reserved List cards are more spike-able than others simply because they won’t get reprinted;
  • Newly printed cards tend to have short-term spikes than older cards, so when they spike, you just might consider waiting until they are back to their lower values;
  • Cards with unique or particular effects are more spike-able than others because they cannot be substituted with cards with similar effects/casting costs;
  • Lands and colorless cards in general are more spike-able than others, simply because they are more versatile than colored cards.

But… if you’re a Spike-o-phobic and you don’t want to be cured or be smart about it, you still have one last resort: Enlarge your wallet!!

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

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