Star City Games Enters the FAB Scene

At the end of last week we had a relatively big development in the FAB landscape, which hasn’t gotten as much attention as I think it deserves, or at least, the full ramifications haven’t really been taken in by the community. Out of nowhere, Star City Games started taking pre-orders for Monarch first edition at $200 a box and $790 for a case. These sold out immediately, but then they restocked, and restocked, and just kept restocking. We’ll get into this method of sales shortly, but the big takeaway from all of this was that they had a lot of product, and, although their prices are now up to $205 a box and $800 a case, they’re still selling more with no real end in sight. Some important questions to ask are: “what does this mean for the pre-orders as a whole,” “how will this play into launch prices,” and “is SCG going to be supporting FAB?”

Wait Who is SCG?

If you haven’t even been involved with Magic, then it’s entirely plausible that you never really encountered SCG before because they are pretty much a one game company. They are a massive presence in Magic, and, I’d argue, probably the most important game store involved with that game, at least if you’re taking a historical view. SCG, to the best of my knowledge, pioneered the model of paying professionals to write about Magic, giving some of that content away for free, and then monetizing the rest of their content via a subscription model for premium articles. Aside from strategy content, they also hosted important pieces over the years about the state of the hobby and salient issues related to the game. So, they published articles on changes to the various pro player systems Wizards of the Coast implemented, but they also put out content discussing issues within the game’s culture –like how women were treated at events. They also pretty much single-handedly made Legacy a format that people cared about (by hosting a large tournament circuit), which really got the momentum started on the prices of old cards over a decade ago (this was obviously a strong business move for them since they had a massive stock of old cards when this all started).

My own relationship with them during my time playing Magic was generally positive. Please note, my takes are all a bit dated since I sold out of paper Magic back in 2013 (though I’ve since picked up a bunch of sealed product in trades for FAB stuff, and I’m about two thirds done assembling a cube). Anyway, I think their written offerings were an important step in developing how players produced content for the game. I also feel somewhat indebted to them for creating the Legacy environment that brought me the most joy in my years playing competitive Magic (essentially from when they started their Legacy events until about when Miracles became a deck). I found their singles prices to be a little bit higher than most of their competitors, but they were also more attentive to condition than any other company out there. If I ordered a NM card from them, it was actually NM. They always gave the impression of a very professionally run operation that put quality and an expansive inventory as their top selling point, even if that meant they weren’t going to be the cheapest prices out there.

So, while I am not 100% clear on their standing within the Magic community these days, they are absolutely a huge presence in the secondary market, and them stocking FAB is a very big deal. As noted at the top of this section, they sell one product: Magic the Gathering… except that they’re now selling Flesh and Blood. The question that is currently unclear is “will they be producing FAB content?” And the answer is “I have no idea”. Them simply selling a non-Magic product is a big deal, but if they start actually creating content for it, I would regard it as another major indicator of confidence in the game. This is pretty significant from an investment angle. The more big stores that hop into the FAB scene, the more stable the base of the FAB secondary will become. Cardmarket is probably the biggest holdout at the moment (followed, perhaps, by CoolStuffInc in the US), and they’d still be the most significant addition to the FAB secondary, but were SCG to start selling FAB singles and writing articles, we could absolutely see a jump in prices for singles and sealed products.

The Monarch Situation

SCG really jumped into this guns blazing, while CFB was offering a dwindling stock (again, always assume they have more than they’ve got listed), SCG jumped in with a price that was $50 a box cheaper with no per person limits. Thus far, CFB has not adjusted their prices, nor has any other major retailer that I’ve seen, but SCG was selling boxes like crazy for the first few days. Their model of listing just a few boxes then restocking as soon as they sold out incited a buying frenzy. It was a pretty shrewd business move as they debuted with the cheapest readily available price but created a sense of urgency since no one had any clue what their stock looked like or how long that $200 a box price would be around for. Given how many restocks #wall-street observed in the initial days, it seems pretty clear that SCG has/have a very large stock of boxes.

As an aside, I think the stores that have waited things out to see where the market is closer to release before deciding what their price is have played this pretty well – shops like Reaper and (assuming they have the bulk of their allotment still to sell) Gamenerdz, have managed to avoid the pitfalls of MM and CFB who ended up in the awkward position of raising prices then getting a bunch of cancellations and/or ill will as a competitor came in and undercut them (CFB did it to MM and then SCG did it to MM, though CFB’s response was notable better than MM’s). Obviously, this is only good if they can still sell through their stock, but I am very confident that selling through your first edition Monarch stock will not be a problem for stores.

Note: While I was editing this piece, CFB sent out an email notifying their customers that they were refunding $50 on MON box sales. While I assume that this was partially motivated by order cancellations and customers shifting their purchases to SCG, you have to give them credit for doing it at all, as most other stores are not doing partial refunds as the market price retreats (looking at you, MM). This is additionally significant because it reinforces that $200 price point.

So, right now SCG is sitting at $205 with a mystery amount of remaining stock. Unless they either sell out in the next couple weeks or bring their prices up a bit (I think this is less likely with CFB coming down to meet them, though definitely possible as time goes on), this is going to establish a new, lower floor for the sealed MON box market. Should they sell out or raise prices, they’ve still postponed the price climb for a bit, which is actually really significant because we are getting increasingly close to MON’s release. For people looking to buy boxes, the most important date is the set release of first edition. I’ve talked about this before, but as soon as the boxes start shipping from stores to individual consumers, the sealed box market will very likely experience a significant (albeit temporary) drop. There are people who bought a lot of boxes on credit looking to turn around and sell them for a quick buck as well as short term investors who are happy to just take profits at twice what they paid and leave with their money. How low these prices get is largely a function of where the prices are the day before consumers get their boxes. My guess is that prices will drop between 10-30% and then start climbing up again after a couple weeks eventually eclipsing their debut price long before we even get to Kingdoms’ spoiler season.

SCG setting the price ceiling lower means that we’re more likely to see a narrow opportunity for bargain prices of sealed MON in the immediate aftermath of the launch. The longer SCG’s (and now CFB’s) stock holds out, the better the odds. Now, there is also a question of just how big the MON print run is. I’ve been more inclined towards the estimates of 80k boxes plus, and the fact that SCG has as much product as they do tends to make me think that this is probably correct or close to it unless you assume that the US is going to get more than 50% of the total first edition Monarch supply, which is possible. Still, even at larger numbers, the print run of MON is going to be tiny compared to other modern CCGs and any significant growth in the FAB player base over the next few years will be very good for the prices of sealed boxes, which I expect to be at $500 by the end of 2021, barring a major disruptive event (say a global financial crisis). If the print run turns out to be sub-80k, that price could easily be higher. As a side note, if we get the print run for CRU and it’s less than the ~40-44k number that I an other have conservative estimated, expect an adjustment in sealed CRU prices, as the current $800 boxes are cheaper than they should be if we only have, say 30k boxes.

If you are/were waiting on the sideline, I think that it may be safe to do so a bit longer. With CFB coming down, I think we should minimally have a few more weeks where boxes can be found at $200 or so. If you already have your orders, the thing to do is watch how long these prices hold. If we can get to launch with stores still holding stock at the $200 point, you’re almost assuredly going to see secondary market prices at $180 or lower. If that happens, you might want to consider where your price point is for expanding your position. For me personally, I’ve already got what I wanted as my initial position pre-ordered from reputable sellers as well as some overage to open, but if we ever see $150 boxes again, I will likely start buying additional cases because that seems like it has a high potential to be significant amounts of free money on a less than one year timeline, which is an appealing bet to take.

*Header Image – modified shot of a starry sky by Egil Sjøholt – free use from Pexels

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