That’s an intentionally provocative title, but I also believe it; it’s just that the bubble I see is not the one that people (mostly those who want cheap cold foils) are constantly claiming is just ahead of us. No, the bubble I see is the same one I’ve warned about before, it’s just gotten increasingly worse as time has gone by. I am of course talking about wildly overpriced promos. Promos, remain a misunderstood part of the game for much of the player base. I see people making a lot of arguments about how much value these will hold or how they’ll gain value, but these claims are often predicated on the tacit assumption that promos function in the collectible space in the same way as cards that you can open out of a pack, and that was never my experience with Magic.
The Precedent for Promo Performance
One of the first things I did on this site was an extensive four part series on all of the then current promos in FAB. I was not particularly bullish on many of those cards at that time, and my feelings haven’t really changed too much since then. At the time, I focused on the level of uncertainty related to promos in terms of reprints and additional releases of stock, which I still maintain are good reasons to be cautious. But, there are a few other reasons why, for the most part, I don’t like promos as long term an investment. As with so many things in FAB, I think that Magic can be instructive.
When I played Magic, I was a big fan of promos –as something for my collection. I personally enjoyed alternate art treatments and weird cards – especially because, as Magic aged and moved to a more homogeneous art style, really great and distinct art was frequently relegated to these sorts of cards. Notice that the things I just said describe an emotional relationship I had with the cards –I liked them on an aesthetic level; I enjoyed playing with them; I thought they were cool, but what I didn’t say is that I looked at them as good ways to make money. Because, frankly, they’re an incredibly volatile commodity that is prone to wild swings in either direction.
One of the major factors people in the FAB finance space have looked to for value is simple scarcity. They’ll see a card that is scarce and assume it is valuable. There is a small amount of truth to that, there aren’t any cheap Alpha rares in Magic, for instance. But, even that statement obfuscates some of the reasons that those cards are valuable. Bad Alpha cards have value, in part because their rarity is tied to being rare cards from the very first set of a nearly 30 year old game. Promos on the other hand do not have the same sort of strong attachment to a particular set, the market for them is narrower, and they are prone to debuting high and losing value over time, even if they’re scarce. Remember, while rarity is important, other factors such as playability and how the card was distributed are also important elements how they perform.
Let’s take an easy case to start with. A couple weeks ago a cold foil Kayo from the first Season 3 Armory kit showed up on the Facebook market place listed at $1500 and was later tagged as sold. A day or so later a $1300 Kayo showed up with it’s seller citing the previous sale as a way to promote the item at this price. A week later, the going price was $800. I cannot confirm any of these sales for sure, we only have the word of the original posters for these – though I have spoken to someone who bought at $800, which I can’t imagine someone lying about because… CF Kayo is now listing at around $200. All of this happened in the span of a couple weeks, making that $1500 Kayo buy perhaps the worst FAB investment anyone has ever made. Since the first one appeared, I have been loudly warning that the price is incredibly inflated and a terrible way to spend your money. Why did I take this position? Well, we have a lot of historical context that suggests CF Kayo is probably only worth about $30-70. We know, for instance, that every CF that was distributed as a four of in the first two seasons’ Armory kits (those were the ARC and WTR cold foil weapons) was also distributed via several other methods.
Sure, Kayo could be an exception, but why would you bank on that? If you’re going to put your money in Kayo, you should have a well-thought out reason for why he will behave differently than every similar card. I strongly suspect that we’ll see Rudy and/or Channel Fireball handing out CF Armory heroes with a bundle at some times in 2021. If and when that happens, CF CRU hero prices will decline. Over time, these cards could accrue more value. If people are playing Kayo four or five years from now, and no additional premium versions have been created, his price could certainly go up, though, from an investment angle, I’d still much rather take the money a CF Kayo would cost you and spend it on sealed Monarch.
UPDATE (1/1/21): Because FAB news comes fast. One day after writing this piece, we’ve got additional support for my assumption that Alpha Investments will be handing out Armory Season 3 CF Young heroes. In a recent box opening while holding a rainbow foil Kavdaen, Rudy mentioned promo versions of the Young Heroes and then adds “hint! hint! hint!” To me this is an additional indication that these will be handed out in his Patreon bundles. If you need even more from Rudy here you go. So again, $30-70 seems like the right price range for these, with Kassai probably catching the higher end. Although a $50-60 cap may be more reasonable as we could easily see even more methods of distribution beyond Rudy and the Armory Kits themselves.
Giving a Crazy Brew to a Giant Badger
The current promo hotness is the cold foil alternate art Crazy Bew. It’s limited to 2000 copies, 800 were distributed by Rudy through Patreon bundles, and the other 1200 are coming out in armory kits. My initial assumption was that it would probably hit its peak at around $300 and then come down to $50-75. Because this is FAB, there was, of course, another spike right after the Rudy batch got released, and thus the card is now in the $400-500+ range. There are a ton of reasons why I think these prices are way too high, and this card is a terrible place to park your cash. At the most basic level, only about half of those 2000 have hit players’ hands at this point. So supply will double over the next few months.
But the bigger issue at play here is that a large portion of the card’s value is seemingly attached to its rarity. Crazy Brew is not a good card from a play perspective, at least not currently. It’s pretty much a meme at best, and most competitive players won’t have much use for it in their decks. That’s a big strike against it. But wait; you might say that Heart of Fyendal is also pretty bad and it’s worth a fortune. Well, as I noted above, collectors have not traditionally treated promotion cards the same way as cards that can be opened out of packs. I don’t make the rules here, but that’s what all the data I have suggests. You can see this in other areas of FAB, there are single digit copies of any the gold foil Legendries in existence right now. While LSS will likely release more in the future, I would feel extremely confident in saying that they’ll always be far rarer than an alpha Hearth of Fyendal, but not only have they not reached Heart prices, they are way harder to find a buyer for.
Let’s look at some very old Magic promos to see how cards of approximately equal rarity have aged over time. We’re talking about HarperPrism promos, baby! Between 1994 and 1996 HarperPrism (a now defunct imprint of Harper Collins) published a dozen Magic books with characters you’ve never heard of like “Garth One-Eye” and “Greensleeves”. This is one of those weird things that takes up real estate in my brain. I remember these my younger brother bought a bunch of the aforementioned books back in the mid 90’s, and, ready for any Magic-related content, I also read them. The big thing about these books was that there was a coupon in the back that you could mail in for a promotional Magic card (man, the pre-ubiquitous-internet days were wild). These cards were mostly crap, but there was one that stands out; see if you can pick it out of the lineup:
So, today a Mana Crypt will run you about $200, Giant Badger goes for $1-2, and Windseeker Centaur will set you back a princely $3-4. What differentiates these cards? Well the Badger and Centaur are cool curios that no one really plays and the Mana Crypt is a powerhouse artifact that’s played in pretty much every format it’s legal in. But, you might say, CF Crazy Brew has a cool unique treatment. Well, let me introduce you to Game Day Emeria Angel
These were handed out for top finishers in Zendikar’s Game Day. They were immediately popular and relatively rare given the size of the Magic player population. Emeria Angel saw some play in standard at the time, and they jumped up to three figures. Today, they’re rarely played and you can get one for about $25-30.
What I’m getting at here is that there are a lot of reasons to be suspicious that Crazy Brew will maintain its current prices in coming months as supply grows, and the long term prospects on the scale of a few years are kind of grim. I could of course be wrong about this. Maybe FAB collectors are fundamentally different than Magic collectors in terms of what cards appeal to them, but I remain skeptical. As a final point for your consideration, the Team Covenant Scar for a Scar promo is still selling at $300-350, it’s almost certainly rarer than CF Crazy Brew, and it’s an iconic highly playable card. If you were committed to spending hundreds on promos, that seems like a much smarter long-term pickup.
A Lesson on Volatility
I previously wrote about the movement on Go Bananas, and between when I wrote that article and now, Bananas went down to as low as $30 and has recently gone back up to $100-200. Again, all of the points I initially made on this card hold. Most significantly, we know for a fact that more are going to be distributed. While we’ve since gotten confirmation from Mighty Ape that there are no plans to reprint more, there are still a quantity of them out there waiting to be distributed that Mighty Ape characterized as “a lot”. Again, we’re looking at a situation where supply will increase, and what I think is even more dangerous than Crazy Brew because while Crazy Brew is a bad card, Go Bananas isn’t even a legal card. Currently you can only use it in Ultimate Pit Fight which is not an OP-supported format or casual play. If UPF becomes an OP supported format, or a new supported formatted is created, I expect Go Bananas to be immediately banned in it. It is a “for fun” card similar to the Magic Holiday Promo cards –these are cute cards that range from $30-70 with a major outlier of Gifts Given which is notable for being a parody of a very popular and iconic card and being fairly old to boot.
When are Promos Good?
I don’t want to say that promos are never a good way to make money, I think there are certainly some that can provide value, but they’re limited and generally do not perform as well as sealed product or 1st printings of staples. The best time to pick up promos, in my mind, is with set releases. The buy a box promos can be viewed as rebates on your box purchases. So far, I’ve never seen a FAB buy a box promo sell for under $10. The Team Covenant Scar started out at about $20-25 before hitting its current highs, but even at its lowest point, it paid for 1/3 of the box that it came with. These are great values and a big part of why my current advice is to determine your position ahead of time and fulfill it via pre-order because the promos you’re getting are free money if you were eventually planning to buy those boxes anyway.
Beyond that, promos should be regarded as things you’re buying because you like them. For most promos, I buy them because I want to play with them. My goal is to buy at a price that I think I won’t lose too much on should I decide to sell my whole collection at some point. Sometimes things go up, and you get lucky – I bought my Arcane Rising Young and Adult Hero rainbow foils at $10-20 a pieces, and they’ve actually appreciated fairly well; the same is true for my $30-70 Team Covenant Scars. However, I paid around $25-30 for my CF WTR and ARC weapons back in August, and that’s about what they’re selling for still. Sure, maybe they’ll go up over time, but I could also see them going down in the future as more heroes and weapons are introduced or retired –Dawnblade seems pretty sad without Dorinthea to wield it.
Sum It All Up in One Sentence
If you’re set on promos as investments or spec buys, I hope you’re very sure that you’re grabbing up Mana Crypts and not Giant Badgers.
*Header Image: Cracked Bauble by Sam Yang