Rolling for Initiative is a weekly column by Scott Thorne, PhD, owner of Castle Perilous Games & Books in Carbondale, Illinois and instructor in marketing at Southeast Missouri State University.  This week, Thorne looks at the supply and demand of Magic: The Gathering--From the Vault: Twenty.
In case you missed it, Wizards of the Coast released Magic: The Gathering--From the Vault: Twenty last Friday and is currently selling for $199 to $299 per box.  There was some interest in the set, just like there has been with every other From the Vault set, but interest skyrocketed when WotC announced a foil reprint of "Jace the Mind Sculptor."  Since an original foil of "Jace" sells for upwards of $700 and a non-foil version goes for $120 to $150, you can see why people got a lot more interested in the set.
Traditionally, WotC heavily allocates the From the Vault sets, with stores getting either 10 or 20 copies, really boosting the demand.  I know of a number of stores that kept their entire allocation to use as prizes and rewards, while others sold some at MSRP, deciding who got them through various methods, while still others opted to sell their entire shipment on eBay or Amazon for what the market will bear.  Some stores, like ours, had few if any complaints about the allocations while others received upwards of 100 calls about them.  In some cases, when the customer found the price the store had on the FTVT, they threatened to call the police.  Not sure what the police would do in this situation but I guess the customer thought it sounded good (incidentally, the police could do little, since no law is being broken).
This is what happens when the law of supply and demand goes into effect.  WotC produces a limited supply of From the Vault sets and makes them available to stores, generally ten for Core stores and 20 for Advanced.  Basic economics tells us that with a limited supply of a popular item, the price goes up.  Similarly, heavy demand for a product, if quantity doesn't change, drives the price up as well.  The resulting pair of graphs are known respectively as the supply curve and the demand curve.  If they intersect, the item is now in "economic equilibrium," the point at which the price is such that the available supply meets the available demand.
When each year's From the Vault set releases, the curves are not in economic equilibrium, as each store could sell multiples of the amount it is allocated at the MSRP set by WotC.  Since supply does not meet demand, the price rises until it does.  One could consider this "price gouging" and I have heard it referred to as such.  However, a From the Vault set is not necessary for life; no one will die if they don't get one.  Furthermore, no one is forcing the customer to pay the asking price.  If the customer choses to pay $199 for one of these, it is their choice, just as it is the store owner's choice to determine what price to charge, if they opt to sell it at all.  I have heard of retailers opting to sell their entire allocation on eBay, offering them at MSRP through a raffle or saving them as prizes for various events throughout the year.  However, the retailer also has to worry about how their customers will perceive the way in which the store disposes of the FTV since a store that gets a reputation for price gouging opens itself to competition from other stores and the Internet.
The opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the writer, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the editorial staff of