MTG Financial Fundamentals: The Value of Snapcaster Mage

This week’s entire article will be focused on one card.  The reason for this is simply because this card has gotten more attention in the past weeks than any other card.  PTQ Grinders are fervently brewing with this card across multiple formats including Standard, Modern, and perhaps even Legacy.  Financial gurus are looking to maximize profit in the inefficient market which surrounds this card.  Traders and collectors alike are all monitoring this card, awaiting the right time to pick it up; knowing it is too soon now, but wondering when the right time will come. 
The card in question, of course, is Snapcaster Mage.
But why dedicate an entire article to this card?  If the first paragraph wasn’t clear enough, the reason can be summed up more concisely: between strategy, finance, and casual play, there is enough to talk about on this card to fill up multiple articles.  And while I will only spend one article on Snapcaster Mage, I still feel like it has earned a distinct honor for generating so much buzz.  For that reason, I will discuss my perspective on how this card will behave in the financial realm of this beloved CCG.
The Many Factors
A card’s value is dictated by various factors.  Some may argue that particular factors outweigh others, and this might be true.  However, the focus of this article will not be to rank the significance of each factor; rather, this article will mainly drive awareness to the influencers on Snapcaster Mage’s price.  It will be up to the reader to interpret what these factors mean to him or her.
A few years ago, this was a no-brainer.  In previous sets, there were a bunch of valuable rares, a few 2-3$ uncommons, and the commons.  Now, with the addition of the mythic rare, value predictions based on rarity can become muddled.  Even after just a couple years of mythic rares, a trend is still present, and many have already noticed it.  Almost never do non-mythic rares break 20$.  Most very strong rares remain in the 8-12$ range, such as Inkmoth Nexus, Zendikar fetch lands, Birthing Pod, Phantasmal Image, and so on. 
While I am not intimately familiar with print run numbers, I am certain that rares are much easier to come by than mythic rares.  This may boost the value of mythic rares, but it often inhibits regular rares from being incredibly valuable during their tenure in Standard.  This is something worth keeping in mind when preordering cards especially.  Even though Snapcaster Mage sold for 30$ before its release, the card is still a rare and will therefore not maintain that price tag.  Stoneforge Mystic peaked above 20$, and Maelstrom Pulse likely came close.  These cards were in format dominating decks: Caw-Blade and Jund respectively.  They were also printed in sets which were opened less due to the draft structure.  These two factors I will consider next.
The second factor that drives a card’s value is playability.  This is not limited to the Standard format, although that one may be the most impactful.  A card’s strength in Standard will bolster the price significantly.  Of course, the frequency with which the card appears in the major Tier 1 archetypes of Standard is important.  A one-of main deck card or even a strong sideboard card will never have the value of a three-of or four-of.  In other words, if there is more than one deck type that absolutely wants to draw this card at least once per game, it will have a noticeably higher value. 
Now, let’s look at Snapcaster Mage, specifically.  Will this card see Standard play?  Emphatically, yes!  Being able to recur counterspells, removal, and cantrips will be immensely useful in control decks.  And conveniently, Snapcaster Mage is blue, so he will see a load of play as a utility creature.  Furthermore, the more of these spells a deck runs, the more Snapcaster Mages should be added.  This immediately puts this card as one that will get financial attention.  Likely, this level of playability alone justifies an 8-10$ price tag (Birthing Pod / Inkmoth Nexus, for comparison).  Should control strategies, or alternative strategies that maximize Snapcaster Mage for that matter, see a dominant position in Standard, the card will remain in the 10-12$ range (consider fetch lands, for example).
Snapcaster Mage will also likely transcend Standard.  Modern is in its infancy and readily invites brew-masters to try and break this card.  Even Legacy players are excited to test this card, despite the fact that the format is packed with countless strong two-drops.  Over at The Source, Snapcaster Mage has its own thread nine pages long, discussing the many potential ways to break him.  It seems like in the short term, amidst all the hype, people have temporarily forgotten Dark Confidant, Stoneforge Mystic, Tarmogoyf, etc.  The true test will not come until a few tournaments have come and gone with Snapcaster Mage legal, to see if he has staying power.  If Snapcaster Mage can impact Modern and even Legacy, this rare will likely approach 20$, much like Stoneforge Mystic did back in its heyday.  But for the card to hit this value, it MUST be strong in Legacy and format-defining in Standard.  Having only the Legacy piece will not be enough to sustain a 20$ price tag (see Stoneforge Mystic, which went from 20$ to 8$ when it became Standard-only).  
Set Numeric
The third factor I want to briefly mention involves set numeric.  The set of a particular block a card appears in can impact value.  This is driven mostly by the draft structure.  When a new block is released, the first set of the block is drafted in triplicate.  Then, once the middle set is released, the first set is drafted with two packs and the second is only drafted with one pack.  Finally, when the third set of the block is released, a draft is usually conducted with one pack from each set.  Notice a trend in packs being opened here?  First sets are opened much more heavily than second sets and third sets.  Now, consider my previous two examples: Stoneforge Mystic and Maelstrom Pulse.  The former was the second (and final) set of Zendikar block, and Maelstrom Pulse was the third set of the Alara block.  This causes a rare to be more difficult to find, thereby increasing the value.  Combined with the first two factors I listed, and you easily have a 20-25$ rare. 
Other Factors
While these factors are often most influential, there are others worth an honorable mention.  Casual playability can have a measurable impact on card value.  Doubling Season is so expensive not only because of its appearances in Top 8’s, but also because of how much fun the card can be.  The same goes for Akroma’s Memorial.  That being said, cards still legal in Standard do not normally experience this kind of price bump.  And I would argue that Snapcaster Mage, while fun, will not see the majority of its play in Commander decks (though I sure hope to run one!). 
Speculation is another variable to consider and it can often be a glass cannon.  A card may be considered highly valuable simply in anticipation of a new set.  Lodestone Golem was tradable at a few bucks at one point due to its interaction with artifacts and the fact that Scars block was artifact themed.  Likewise, Birthing Pod is getting significant attention now due to the potential interactions with Innistrad cards.  Sometimes, these speculative strategies pan out and sometimes, they do not.  I sometimes employ this strategy when trying to speculate on 1-3$ cards.  I would NOT recommend using strategic speculation of a new set to speculate on cards selling for 30$.
So what is Snapcaster Mage worth?  At the end of the day, there is no one answer to this question.  Some people are saying he’s worth more than the current 30$ price tag, while many others insist he won’t be worth more than 15$ after a month or two.  Honestly, both parties are likely right.  Jonathan Medina recently tweeted that he had sold multiple Snapcaster Mages for 30+$.  If people are willing to pay 30$+ for this card, then one could argue it is worth that much.  Meanwhile, today I saw a Snapcaster Mage for 22$ on MOTL.  I could argue that 22$ is what this card is worth, since I can buy it for that price.  Value often depends on perspective.
The bottom line is, when cards are brand new to the world, their supply is too suffocated to enable an efficient market.  As a result, people will pre-order Snapcaster Mages for 30$ and they’ll pay even more for instant gratification.  They do so despite the reality: that given the metrics I listed in this article, the card likely cannot sustain a price tag above 20$ unless it warps Standard.  Of course, the last rare to warp Standard was Stoneforge Mystic.  Everyone knows how that one turned out.

Posted on September 28, 2011, in MTG Financial Fundamentals. Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Is there a card you think is going to be the sleeper hit for the set?

  2. That is a very good question, and one I frequently ask myself. After Jace, the Mind Sculptor hit 100$ in Standard, everyone is trying to predict what the next sleeper will be. This has driven speculators to drive up pre-order prices. As a result, I cannot recommend picking up any cards right at release. That being said, there are plenty of cards in Innistrad that will see significant standard play including Snapcaster Mage. I personally like Invisible Stalker. He works very well with the Standard swords we all have come to love, and he’s immune to spot removal. Perhaps foil version of him would be worth picking up. I also think Liliana will be very good, but I don’t see her price going up from where it pre-sold.

  3. I just noticed an error in my article. In the “Playability” section I had a paranthetical phrase: Having only the Legacy piece will not be enough to sustain a 20$ price tag (see Stoneforge Mystic, which went from 20$ to 8$ when it became Standard-only). It should have read “see Stoneforge Mystic, which went from 20$ to 8$ when it became LEGACY-only). Sorry for the confusion!

  4. Just pulled a foil snapcaster mage the other day. Any opinions on what it is worth? I’m trying to build a black/white deck so it’s for sale.

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