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Burning Shadows Set Review: As an Investor (Part 2 of 3)

Modern sets are difficult to approach as an investor because we do not know the degree to which the market is saturated for any given set until a few years after it is released. That said, we can follow a few different scents and potentially find some winners in the lot. Lets dig into sealed product first. I want you to repeat after me:

Burning Shadows is not FlashFire.

Burning Shadows is not FlashFire.

Burning Shadows is not FlashFire.

One of the first cards we totally coincidentally (and not at all because Pokemon was intentionally advertising through social media by means of “leaks”) heard about was the Rainbow Rare Charizard. While I will reserve my comments on the potential the card itself holds, the rumors that started of the “next FlashFire” are 100% bunk. Buying a box of this set is incredibly unlikely to net you a 250% return in two years like FlashFire managed to do. Burning Shadows isn’t even Charizard-based. It just has a Charizard in it. Sprinkle in expected higher print numbers, the set’s position after the Roaring Skies reprint debacle, and the absence of notable comparison to draw between the two sets and you’ve got yourself a safe bet that the comparison is nonsense.

But what of the set’s own merits? To be frank, as a sealed product to hold onto, this set has none. Modern sealed boxes are more dangerous, less reliable, and less promising than vintage sets. If you’re insistent on collecting sealed product, Burning Shadows and every other modern set is not the place to be looking for a steal.

Singles have a promising spread of possibilities.

I’ll make this section simple and let you know what cards I’m buying, what I’m watching, and what I’m avoiding that might seem like a good idea at first glance. As a general note, I’m not buying anything until three to six months after release. Prices start to deflate around the three-month mark and continue through the six-month mark. The best time to buy singles from a set you’re interested in investing in is during the release of a newer set. People are ditching the extra stuff they picked up last release and are generally more desperate for money so they can buy new cards. This is also a great time to be looking on auction websites like eBay for steals as people are letting the new sets monopolize their excess income. Card values almost always dip slightly during these times.

Cards I’m buying:

Fairy Energy - I’ve mentioned this in the Collector’s Perspective of my set review and in the fourth episode of the Ludkins Collectables Podcast but it bears repeating. Fairy energy is a great pickup. Fairy Energy is very strong in competitive play, has been for a while, and will continue to be so. Players love to bling their decks but are lazy buyers. If you, as an investor, can wait until the market dries up a little on Fairy Energies and come into the market with complete playsets of approximately 10 energies you can clean up players’ wallets. This is a mid-range flip that I’m looking to buy earlier than most cards off of discouraged or disinterested players and turn over before fairy energy loses its dominance in the meta. Fairy Energy is also a fair long-term investment as it will be the first true bling Fairy Energy, lacking the earlier bling prints other types have due to its relatively recent introduction to the game. This said, I suspect that the long-term sell won’t have the same potency as a medium-term sell will. There is an invisible, hard to identify cap on what players are willing to pay for a bling card so growth staggers over time even if it continues to go up. This makes holding cards like this difficult to work with because your money is tied up and keeping you from doing other moves while factors like inflation start to eat away at your profit margin. Ultimately, I will be buying in that sub-1 year range and looking to flip in multiples (yay saved shipping costs) 6-9 months afterward.

Guzma FA - If you read into any TCG player’s review of Burning Shadows, you’re going to find a glowing review of this card. As an investor, I see that as a good sign of opportunity. Full Art trainers are almost their own subset of the Pokemon TCG. They behave differently than any other set of cards on the market. With FA Trainers you have the advantage of being played often and in multiples for several. Those that are not played are still often purchased in playsets by speculators and the player-collector hybrid that has recently developed (people who function as collectors in spending habits but target almost exclusively playable cards). I am also convinced that FA trainers will be some of the few cards that people come back and collect in 10+ years because they are unique, scarce, and not as numerous as the different ultra rare spinoff themes like rainbow rares or FAs. The cross-era appeal of these cards also makes them a great way to collect an entire time period instead of just a block.

With Guzma FA, I’m hoping to capitalize approximately 6 months before I suspect it will rotate. People will still be buying strong and the card will be as far as it can be from release without having rotation hanging over its head. While Guzma does have the potential to benefit from continual reprinting like FA N did, I can’t bank on that as an investor. Guzma is super good and will be in a lot of decks but N was in every deck. Unless Guzma proves it will be as consistently ubiquitous as N, I’m not going to treat it that way. One of the most dangerous things you can do as an investor looking at modern cards is over-commit to an analogy. Analogies are helpful ways to guide your spending but they are never, ever, ever guarantees.

Cards I’m watching:

Rainbow Rare Charizard GX - Buying Charizards on release is a great way to lose money. I’m going to put this one on the back burner but keep it in mind as a potential future pick-up. Any that I buy need to be ungraded and gem mint so I can be reasonably certain that I can pull the PSA 10 and maximize my profit. I do not anticipate that this will be as aggressively graded as the Evolutions M Charizard EX because this is harder to pull and more expensive. That benefits me in two ways. First, it cuts out a huge portion of the market competition that is generated by people with less than $100 who want to capitalize but can’t afford to have their money locked up in investments. Second, the expense of raw copies deters people from grading because they don’t want to get stuck with a PSA 9 that they have to sell before being able to start all over. PSA graded Charizard collectors are going to be willing to pay a decent premium to get this in a PSA 10. That said, I prefer to avoid the “first to market” rush and take my time monetizing this opportunity when the market is more stable and fleshed out. As such, it is on my watch list but I’m not buying it yet.

Cards I would avoid:

Gardevoir GX - I see a ton of speculation online over this card and standard vendors are going to be stocking up on the card. That’s great for them but troublesome for me. The circumstances surrounding this card bring me to expect high prices with small margins for a long period of time. This is the kind of card people continue busting boxes for down the line. If you can snag one cheap, Gardevoir GX will likely have high liquidity and serve as a worthwhile small-money flip but there isn’t anything to suggest there will be predictable fluctuation over time. That means it lacks opportunities to sufficiently profit off of them for small time investors and people who aren’t heavily invested in an identity as a vendor/modern card source. I also dislike Pokemon without a strong collector base behind them as they’re more dependent on the standard meta and thus less predictable for me.

Charizard GX - Charizard GX outside of the Rainbow Rare has nothing to offer me as an investor. Too many people are committed to the idea that “Charizard = Money.” That was true when there was one good ultra rare released every few sets. Now, we have way too many accessible options on the market for Charizard collectors and these do not stand out in the slightest. The artwork isn’t great, the playability is low leaving most in good condition, the appeal of the card is no different than the others being rolled out every set, and the only version with any scarcity is the Rainbow Rare which I’ve commented on separately. This has avoid written all over it.

Finally, I want to comment on a trade opportunity that exists. I personally don’t trade because the process is obnoxious. Everyone is trying to undervalue your cards and overvalue their own so they can “plus” on the trade. And if they are willing to value everything according to a standard you can agree with such as eBay sold listings, they’re probably also the type to gouge you for every penny. Trading is almost always a waste of time when you can buy and sell with relative ease. So why am I bringing it up? Every now and then we get a modern bling version of a card that has nice, old options. Super Scoop Up is one such card. What you’re looking for with this opportunity is someone that has a playset of the old ones and is looking to trade into the new stuff. Old bling versions are always a better investment. When you have the old bling version of a playable card you can sell to new players who want fancy cards and old players reconstructing decks from that era. Additionally, the market has almost always already stabilized for the older bling versions and only stands to grow as the card continues to be reintroduced to modern decks. Trade while the values are still low/stable on the old stuff and high/unstable on the on the new stuff. You’re sacrificing a small amount of liquidity for a large amount of leverage. Note that we do not yet have an official ruling on which old versions will still be playable. Do not make this move until we know for sure and avoid it if the old versions are not going to be playable for standard players.

Conclusion:

Modern sets are not a great place to look for investments. However, they often make up for their low number of opportunities in availability. All of the cards I’m talking about above are plastered all over the internet and will continue to be until the set has cooled off. Unlike vintage cards where you need to have a lot of money up front and sit on it until the right buyer comes along, modern cards are usually affordable and have a faster turnaround. This makes them perfect for people who are not able to invest in vintage goods or who are looking to diversify a broader Pokemon portfolio. I’ve highlighted my opinions on the different cards listed above and hope they help you make wise market decisions. Make sure you follow up with the third article in this series for broader trends that will fill out your perspective on Burning Shadows.

‘til next time,

Charlie Hurlocker

(This article is part two in a three part series of articles.)