Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Gotta Catch 'Em All

Last week saw the release of the first of the Pokemon 20th Anniversary Mythical Collections.  The Mythical Mew Collection, in fact.  Here was our tower of it from our second delivery.  Our first delivery was twice this size and sold out within 48 hours.  And I was lucky: I guessed to order a decent quantity of this on blind solicitations months ago; many retailers weren't in the know until it was too late, and were allocated unit counts in the single digits.
The Mythical Mew Collection was absolutely red hot.  Why does a simple two-booster, one-holo box set with a trinket matter?  Surely a Mew card, however powerful, can't cause this kind of fervor amongst a Pokemon player base that is accustomed to being flooded with product.

It turns out the whole ballgame is the boosters included.  They are "Pokemon Generations," containing new prints (and holographic premium cards in every variety we see today) of the original Pocket Monsters from back in the game's earliest days, in 1996 in Japan and 1999 in the United States.  As "Vintage Masters" is to Magic, so "Generations" is to Pokemon.  Pikachu, I choose you, little buddy.

The Pokemon Generations booster packs are not available a la carte or in booster boxes or typical booster products.  They are only available in the Mythical Collections and Red-Blue Collections throughout 2016.  The Mythical Collections contain two Generations booster packs and the Red-Blue Collections contain four Generations booster packs.  They are:

Mythical Collections

  1. Mew
  2. Celebi
  3. Jirachi
  4. Darkrai
  5. Manaphy
  6. Shaymin
  7. Arceus
  8. Victini
  9. Keldeo
  10. Genesect
  11. Meloetta

Red-Blue Collections

  1. Charizard
  2. Blastoise
  3. Venusaur
  4. Pikachu

That's it!  Nintendo has assured that by limiting booster availability like this, demand for the products will hit a fever pitch.  But moreover, now that retailers have been caught short on the Mew collection and players have mostly missed out, both will pay much more attention to future releases.  Even with tight distributor allocations throughout the year, retailers will know not to let these go for bottom dollar, and players will not wait to buy when they see the sets in stock.

If it were a simple matter of getting the card singles, this could be mitigated: Patience, because more Generations boosters are on the way.  However, unlike Magic: the Gathering, Pokemon has a much larger collector contingent, as opposed to pure players of the game.  For those collectors, the desired item is the mint-condition, factory-sealed product as issued.  It is not enough for a collector to acquire Generations cards from a Manaphy or Keldeo box set.  They will do that, probably.  But the collector also wishes to have exactly a Mew Collection box set, unopened, on the shelf.  And a Celebi Collection,  And a Jirachi Collection.  And so on.

The production, demand, and value curve for releases like this, if it follows true to form, will have the Mew Collection go stratospheric in aftermarket price, as most of its sell-through occurred before people knew enough to gauge where supply and demand levels would reach.  The Celebi and Jirachi collections will be heavily speculated, but with knowledge of tight supply will come more efficient Pareto-sorting of purchasing.  Values will be elevated a bit above normal but won't become absurd.  By the time the middle sets land, depending what Nintendo does with supply, values might not go much higher than MSRP.  (The "MSRP" of $12.99 per Mythical Collection came to an end several hours into the Mew Collection's release frame; as of this writing, Amazon and eBay pricing is several multiples along from there.)  A few sets later, product may saturate and collectors and players alike will start to balk at the purchase treadmill.

After that, we'll see a short.  Retailers, laden heavy with wares, will be somewhat more conservative on pre-order numbers for one of the later boxes, and Nintendo will take them up on that offer, much as Decipher did with the late Star Trek and Lord of the Rings sets.  Somewhere around Victini, Keldeo, or Genesect, one of the Collections will be unobtainium.  It will arrive in a single small print run and disappear immediately from store shelves.  Its price will be the only one that's close to where the Mew Collection reaches and plateaus.  The sets from the shorted product through the end will be healthily higher than MSRP and nowhere near the two standout products.  The last set, Meloetta, will end up being the third- or fourth-most valuable, depending on where the normalization curve from the beginning settles and lands Celebi and Jirachi.

The Red-Blue sets are a bit more of a mystery.  Charizard has already been solicited and closed, and allocations were tight.  I do a lot of volume with my distributors but was unable to get into three digits' quantity worth of that box.  Like the Mew Collection, I expect Red-Blue Charizard to become absolute bull semen.  (Before you cringe and say "gross," do a little research into the value of that substance.  Surprised?  So was I when I first learned of it.)  Blastoise will be less so, Venusaur probably even less than that, as retailers realize now to order the living daylights out of it.  No matter what anybody does, even if Nintendo multiplies the print run by ten, there will not be enough Red-Blue Pikachu to go around, so all bets are off on that one and I'm giving the most simple guidance possible: Stock it.  Sell it.  Use it to pay off your personal debts.  I think I'll use it to fund my tenth anniversary vacation with the wife.

Did I do well in prognosticating this?  I give myself partial credit.  I was already a retailer when Pokemon struck the first time, and I knew the 20th Anniversary would be a thing.  I ordered roughly twenty times as many Mew Collections (and the next several releases already solicited) as I usually order of Pokemon box sets and deluxes.  My mistake was in not ordering triple or quadruple that number.  Or even more.  I could have sold it all.  Without trying.  On the positive side of the coin, this is a welcome rush of cash right in the middle of the year's slowest frame for retail.

It's not often that we get products like this in the comic and hobby game trade that aren't ruined one way or another, so I am going to cherish this while I can.  Especially with the Magic: the Gathering market flailing about in a swell of uncertainty, and a glut of new stores picking every piece of low-hanging fruit in the orchard.  Whatever.  Those guys can have fun grinding each other to shreds.  I'll be over here watching the Trainers engaging in Challenges and having the time of their lives... along with their kids, Pokemon's second Generation.

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