You’ve all heard it at this point. The constant dig on Flesh and Blood from its detractors is that the player base is really just a handful of investors selling each other increasingly expensive product, and thus, it’s all one big bubble. It seemed like this muttering had died down a little, but then the recent price dips got people all fired up again. And, in their keyed-up state, Saint trading a graded Alpha Lotus for FAB was enough to push them into full on frenzy. I’m not going to go too deep into the dip itself in this piece, as that will be a big chunk of my State of the Market article going up on the Rathe Times at the end of the month, but I can give a very truncated version of my take on the FAB retracement: A.) It isn’t unique to FAB and overlaps with similar trends in other markets and B.) I’m not particularly worried. Returning to the original question of, “Is FAB’s market being driven by a small group of collectors or are people actually playing the game?” I’m going to make a brief (by my standards) case for why I think the growth is organic and represents actual players/new money entering the game.
Literal New People
This is going to sound incredibly obvious, but when you see more people joining FAB groups, it’s generally indicative that more people are playing the game. Well, I suppose it is possible that unscrupulous financial people are registering fake duplicate accounts to boost numbers that few people other than mods even pay attention to, but I don’t have enough tinfoil on hand to make a suitable large hat, so we’re going to stick with them being real people. Over the past two months, the primary North American trading and buying group and the main FAB Discord have added new members at roughly twice the rate of previous months. This makes sense as Monarch’s release was a big deal, and, for our purposes, it’s worth noting that we’re not only seeing consistent month-to-month growth in these groups, we’re seeing the rate of growth accelerating.
What we should also bear in mind is that social media is sort of an iceberg for gauging involvement. People hanging out on Flesh and Blood social media are likely to be the most enthusiastic people in the hobby, but, for most games, the majority of the player base doesn’t actually participate in these spaces. For an analogy to Magic, fewer than 1 in 10 players have attended a sanctioned event (Sanctioned events include events as casual as a local prerelease of Friday Night Magic) the bulk of the people propping the game up are not highly engaged enthusiasts, they’re casually engaged players. Now, I think the FAB player base is likely a little more inclined towards active engagement than the Magic player base, but, even if it was five times more engaged (which I think is a fair bit higher than the real number), that still means that the actual player base is twice as big as social media would imply, and remember, said social media groups are growing at a clip.
Demand for Blitz decks is one of the best metrics for actual player interest. While the pre-made alpha hero decks have become a collector’s item, LSS has done their best to dissuade people from hording Blitz decks by announcing that they’d keep putting out additional copies to meet demand. I’m sure that someone out there is investing in these anyway, but for most people, these products have all the hallmarks of a bad investment, including an actual date for additional supply to hit the market (which, if you for some reason did want to invest in them, is when you’d probably pick them up). Alright, so if we accept that the finance people probably aren’t buying blitz decks aside from their own use, then, if Blitz decks are selling well, it’s likely because people who want to play the game are buying them.
I guess we should probably check out how the decks are doing then. MSRP on them is $11.99 each, so if they’re readily available we’d expect to see them at that price or below. Let’s check out some of the main US sellers and see how they’re doing. Most sellers are selling the decks as a set of four (one per hero) or a display (two of each deck). ChannelFireball is sold out at $69.99 for four (about 146% MSRP). Team Covenant is sold out of sets of four at $47.96 (MSRP on the nose). Gamenerdz has sets of four at $79.97 (about 167% MSRP) with a limit of one set per customer and fourteen sets left available. Miniature Market has a bunch in stock… for $110 per set of four (about 229% MSRP). Star City Games has a solid stock at $59.99 for four. Collector Store has them for $49.99, but that doesn’t qualify for free shipping, so you’d be out another ~$12-13. Fable Hobby has individual decks in stock at $19.50. And, finally, TCGPlayer sellers have the individual decks ranging from $13 (Boltyn) to $18 (Prism). So, in short, pretty much all major sellers are either sold out or selling for moderate to extreme markups over MSRP, and there don’t appear to be any MSRP decks available anywhere.
Taking all of this into consideration, what we’re seeing here is that the entry product for new players, the product that LSS has done their best to keep people from hoarding by essentially saying they will actively devalue it with continued printing, that product is so in demand that none of the major sellers can keep it in stock unless they mark it up to over MSRP. To me this is the absolute strongest indicator that the game is actively growing outside of the investor/collector marker, but I think we have another strong piece of evidence.
Unlimited Edition Is Still Expensive
Damn you, unlimited edition, you’re killing me. For months now I’ve been saying that the unlimited singles prices are a bubble, and while I still maintain that position with the same caveat as always -“if LSS can print enough supply to meet demand”- we’re nearly seven months out from the initial launch of unlimited and not only are MAP-priced boxes nowhere to be found, most major sellers are sold out of unlimited period (ChannelFireball did just restock ARC at $80, though they are still sold out of WTR at $150). Miniature Market is, of course, an outlier, maintaining stock via significant markups ($125 a box). Key unlimited singles remain incredibly expensive. Command and Conquer is at about $100 a pop on TCGplayer for the cheapest available copy. To reiterate, this is the unlimited version we’re talking about, not the first edition, which is sitting at the bargain price of $300. (I’m only sort of being glib there. I do actually think that it’s underpriced at $300. There are about 3,333 copies of the card in the world, and it is and has always been one of the most heavily played cards in game. The number of NM+ copies left is likely well below the total print run.)
Much like the Blitz decks, unlimited is not positioned as an investable product (at least until it’s put out of print). I talk to a fair number of investor/collectors on a daily basis, and, for the most part, no one seems to be holding more than a case or so of ARC or WTR, usually with some intention of playing sealed or draft with it. While I’m sure that somewhere, a handful of weirdos who are bad at investing are hording some, the prevailing wisdom in the financial community is that unlimited boxes are a poor investment relative to other opportunities. With that in mind, the fact that it’s frequently a challenge to get a box of unlimited at MSRP or below, is a good indication that demand remains high for it, and it was even worse before Monarch drew some attention away from it.
One other thing to note, while the recent general dip in high end FAB prices are reflected in other areas like Reserve List Magic cards, and Crypto, unlimited prices and first edition CRU prices have largely held out or only ticked down a small degree. That is to say, the cheapest copies available for actual play have largely weathered the dip with minimal to no loss of value. What that tells us is that the demand for cards to play with remains high, higher than the supply can reasonably accommodate.
Stay in School Cause It’s the Best
I still maintain that Tolarian Community College reviewing the game and giving the Blitz Decks an “A” is a really big deal in terms of potential growth for the game – if 5% of the people who watched the TCC how to play FAB video decided to try the game out, that’s over 4,000 new people giving the game a go. While that might be small for Magic numbers, 4,000 people is a big chunk for a growing game. And, if 5% of that 5% decided they wanted to get into the higher end of collectable FAB cards, that’s 200 people chasing CFs. Remember, there are only around 833 copies of each WTR and ARC CF Legendary, so even a couple hundred more people seeking those out can drive prices. When you look at the numbers this way, you start to see how the prices can get so high for these very limited cards, even with a small (but growing) community. Turning back to the recent retracement in prices, it’s data like this that makes me relatively unworried. We really only need a very tiny percentage of new players to take an interest in high-end cards and sealed product and the prices will start to rise again. At this stage, one of the best ways to grow the high end market is simply to recruit new players, some small subset of which will naturally convert to collectors and/or investors.
Regardless of how you feel about the dip (again, I’ll be covering that in more depth in a few days), the main impact of the price decrease was felt by the high end collectible versions of cards, meanwhile the demand for the cheaper versions has remained incredibly strong, and their prices have been minimally affected. Going by the indicators we have available, not only are people playing Flesh and Blood, more people are playing now than ever before.
*Header Image – Rifted Torment by Marco González