Many of the financial advice columns that I’ve read on different sites over the years start strong, but disappear or go downhill very quickly. There is only so much that can be said about trading ethics, standard sleepers, or ways to get someone to trade you their better card for your worse card before it all starts to blend together.
Thus, in an attempt to push myself toward analyzing territory that no one else is touching, I am going to start a small series of articles focusing on analyzing the financial value of cards that no one else has really approached.
Starting this week with Portal, we will be looking at the value of cards from some of Wizards’ weird old sets.
You’d be surprised how much value there is to be found looking at cards from 14 years ago.
Taking the Portal
On May 1st, 1997, Wizards of the Coast released a set called Portal.
Portal was designed to provide a simple entry point to the game for new players. This was before the Sixth Edition rules change that added the stack, so rules complexity was something that Wizards was struggling with at the time.
There were many major differences between “Portal Magic” and “real Magic”, and Portal cards weren't tournament legal when they were released. About five years ago, Wizards made all the Portal sets tournament legal overnight, causing a scramble as tournament players began to re-consider a series of sets that they hadn't given a moment's notice before.
In Portal, for example, creatures have no creature type. There were no instants in the entire set, though some sorceries could be played at specific times when they otherwise couldn’t be played, like the ‘declare attackers’ step. There are no tap abilities, but there are activated abilities that you can use during weird times.
They also replaced ‘Block’ with “Intercept’, because for some reason they felt that a confusing, three-syllable word was easier to understand than an elegant one-syllable word. ‘Library’ and ‘Graveyard’ were also replaced with ‘Deck’ and ‘Discard Pile,’ heightening everyone’s confusion about what went where.
Today, Portal is mostly considered an unfortunate misstep in the otherwise glowing history of Magic. That isn’t to say that all Portal cards are useless, though – far from it!
Many Portal cards provided funky alternate art for cards that still see tons of tournament play. Still others were printed only in Portal and are in demand by collectors and players alike. Add to that the fact that Portal was printed in black border during a time when all base sets were white border, and you have a set of cards well worth exploring.
I often see weird portal cards in other people’s binders, and while I think they’re cool I often don’t know their true values. This week, I decided to take the plunge into Portal and examine the cards that still hold value today.
Sample in a Jar
Normally, Magic Traders represents the best possible price because it is the aggregate of eBay auctions. However, Magic Traders falls a little flat when looking into odd and unique cards.
Statisticians and scientists understand the importance of sample size, which basically means that the more data you have the more accurate your result will be. If I run an experiment once, my results don’t mean very much because any random factor could have contributed to the data I collected. If I run it a hundred times, my results will be much less tainted by randomness.
Similarly, if 300 auctions for Vengevine have sold in the past three months, I can average out their sale prices and get a reasonable figure for what Vengevine is worth. If, however, two copies of a Portal card sold in the past three months, one for $0.99 and one for $10.99, I have very little idea what that card is worth, even though Magic Traders will tell me it is worth around $5.
When doing pricing research for this article, I found that prices were all over the place. The most striking thing to me was that the Magic Traders price was often HIGHER than the card price on Channel Fireball and Star City – something you would never see on a popular card!
This is usually the result of one of two factors. Either the card is so rare that the mainstream dealers haven’t had one in stock for many months, or someone put the card up on eBay with a high “Buy it Now,” and since it was the only copy up for weeks at a time, it sold to someone who didn’t check to see if a dealer had the card cheaper.
Because of this, I am including Star City and Channel Fireball prices along with Magic Traders prices for all possible cards. At the end of the article, I will attempt to create a rough price guide for the set using a reasonable aggregate of all known prices.
Unlike trading for a Frost Titan or a Vengevine, trading for Portal cards is a risky proposition. I am writing this article in part to show you that no one really has any idea what some of these cards are worth! This is good for you, because it means that by reading this article you will have an advantage over almost anyone else, but it is also bad because you’ll be hard up finding takers who want to trade for these cards at their true value.
Normally this is ok, because worst case you can sell your stock to a dealer or on eBay, but as you’ll soon see even the big boys haven’t a clue when it comes to many Portal cards.
Whether or not you can sell/trade your cards is usually more important than the price of a card, so be acutely aware of how hard these are going to be to move when you deal for them. Expect to have them sit in your binder for months or years at a time. If you aren’t making a trade with that expectation, then don’t make the trade.
At any rate, we’ll first look at alternate art cards, then cards unique to Portal, and lastly we’ll examine a few misprints and rarities.
This is an alternate-art version of one of the most unplayable, terrible dragons of all time.
Luckily for you, this version holds a slight value upgrade on the original. You’ll be lucky to get a buck for the Weatherlight version, but the Portal goes for $2.75 on Channel Fireball and Star City. Magic Traders clocks it in at over $4.
The Portal version Archangel goes for $5ish on Magic Traders compared to $4 for the Visions version. Of course, the Portal version sells for under $3 on Channel Fireball, so your mileage may vary in getting full value out of this unplayable card.
The Portal Armageddon sells for a similar price on eBay to the regular Revised/4th Armageddon, which is around $3.50. Star City, by stark contrast, sells the Portal ‘geddon for $7 while you can pick up a Revised one for just $4.
This is a strong buy if you can get it for the Magic Traders price, because you’ll probably be able to trade it for the Star City price or higher due to how cool it looks and how iconic the card is. Everyone needs a ‘geddon for their cube, and this is one of the best.
The Portal art actually did get reprinted 13 years later, in M10! Thus, this version isn’t really sought-after much anymore – certainly not as much as the alt-art one from Portal II. You can pick these up on Channel Fireball for $2, they are on Magic Traders for $3.75, and they sell on Star City for $4.
An alt-art of the Saga favorite, the Portal Exhaustion goes for a little under a buck on Star City, two bucks on Channel Fireball, and, uh, one sold on eBay for like $7.50 for some reason.
Finally, a truly great card! Natural Order, of course, is not on here because of its alt-art-ness, but because of its playability in excellent Legacy decks. These go for right around $20 on Magic Traders and book for just over $30 on Channel Fireball and Star City.
If you’re going to build a classic Pros-bloom deck, make sure you do it in style. Phil Foglio’s art oozes style, so you’re going to want the Portal version of your combo piece.
If you want these, pick ‘em up for $1.50 on Channel Fireball or Star City because Magic Traders shows an average of $2 for eBay sales.
Portalclasm is $2.50 on Star City, $4 on Channel Fireball, and a hilarious $8 on Magic Traders. No matter what, it’s cool sleeving this version up in your RUG deck, no?
For some reason, this alt-art Summer Bloom goes for $1 on Channel Fireball, $1.50 on Star City, and $1.75 on Magic Traders. I don’t know why. I’ve never seen anyone play this anywhere.
Man, this guy was A BEATING back in high school! It’s been a while since I’ve seen him, though.
Regardless, you can find the Portal Thundermare for under a buck on Star City, and $2 on Channel Fireball. He goes for almost $4 on Magic Traders.
Yes, Volcanic Dragon sucks. But I do have him in one of my cubes, and when I found a German Portal version of this guy last weekend, I couldn’t have been more excited.
Regardless, this guy goes for $3.50 on Channel Fireball, $2.50 on Magic Traders, and $1.50 at Star City.
Thank goodness this unplayable card got an ugly art upgrade that includes an actual weathervane in order to drive home the point about changing winds. Find it for $0.75 on Magic traders, a buck at Star City, and $1.50 at Channel Fireball.
If you only retain the information about one card from this article, make it this one.
I have probably bulked out a dozen Portal Wood Elves, but you shouldn’t do that. People love the Rebecca Guay art on a playable elf deck/EDH/cube card. Normal Wood Elves are worth next to nothing, but this version sells for about $3.50 on Channel Fireball, Star City, and Magic Traders.
There was a reasonably high volume of sales on this one too, so it’s probably a higher-velocity pickup than most on this list.
Presumably, God is angry at the fact that the portal-verse is pretty much entirely made up of cartoons.
Still, this is probably the most interesting Wrath other than Beta or the 7th edition foil. It’s still worth over $10 on Magic Traders, a good upgrade over the $4 you can get a 4th edition Wrath for these days. Channel Fireball has it at $12-$13, while Star City has it for only $9.
An odd reprint of Prodigal Sorcerer that can only ping in your pre-combat main phase, Capricious Sorcerer is around $2.50 on Magic Traders and can be had for between $1 and $1.50 on Channel Fireball and Star City.
This is the first in a cycle of horrible, terrible Portal dragons. It’s a good thing for Cloud Dragon’s value that he was only released in Portal, because he sure is janky. For six mana, you get….a 5/4 flyer with a drawback. In blue. Not exactly Argent Sphinx, is he?
Of course, dragons are dragons, so he’s worth $6.50 on Magic Traders and goes for a whopping $7-$8 on Star City. You’d be better off picking him up for $4.99 on Channel Fireball, though.
They’re only a quarter on Channel Fireball ($1.50 on Magic Traders!) but they’re one of the funniest cards you’ll see anywhere. Pick them up for a quarter. They make fun throw-ins on trades.
One of the best cards only to be printed in this accursed set, Cruel Bargain is worth just over $9 on Magic Traders. This is with a large standard deviation, though, which leads me to believe that its trade value is actually higher. It sells for $13.50 on Channel Fireball, and close to $20 on Star City.
Portal sure does seem to want to push the fact that black is cruel, no? Anyway, Cruel Tutor goes for $7 on Magic Traders, $9 on Channel Fireball, and $12 on Star City despite being a pretty crummy tutor effect overall.
Of course, it could be worse. [See: Tutor, Grim]
It’s fear! For your whole team!
I guess this isn’t the worst falter ever, and its price reflects its fringe playability. It goes for right around $1 on Magic Traders and Star City and $1.50 on Channel Fireball.
I guess if black cards aren’t cruel, they’re full of dread! A card more for set completists than players, Dread Reaper is $2.75 on Magic Traders, $1.75 on Channel Fireball, and uh, $0.99 on Star City.
The best of the laughable Portal dragons, the 7 mana Ebon Dragon gives you conditional card advantage. The price on this came down when FTV: Dragons was printed, since a ton of foil copies entered the market and no one has ever REALLY wanted to put this guy in a deck, but he still goes for $6.50 on Magic Traders, $7 at Star City, and is up near $10 on Channel Fireball.
Sometimes you don’t have enough cockroaches. For those times, check out Endless Cockroaches[car.
This is actually kind of a useful card, and I can see why people might want a copy or two even today. They’re sold out on Channel Fireball at $3, go for $4 on Magic Traders, and you can pay Star City Games $6 for all the cockroaches you need.
(As an aside, when looking at the card Endless Wurm, does anyone else think about that political bumper sticker that says “Endless War” only someone fake crossed it out to read “End this war?” I always imagine a protester looking at Endless Wurm and shouting “END THIS WURM!”)
A horrible dragon, Fire Dragon is still essential to anyone collecting all the dragons. And since this was his only printing, he goes for $7 on Star City, almost $9 on Magic Traders, and almost $10 on Channel Fireball. Also he’s red, so I guess you could put him in an actual dragon deck.
If you really, REALLY want to kill a pile of little dorks, your 18th or 19th choice MIGHT be Forked Lightning.
Regardless, it’s kind of a cool spell, and this was its only printing. You can get ‘em for about a buck on Star City, which is also what they go for on Magic Traders. They’re a little over $1.25 on Channel Fireball.
“I have a great idea for a new punishment, your honor!”
“What is it, Thorgg?”
“If someone hires a thug to beat up their enemies, we’ll force the thug to beat up the guy that hired him just as badly!”
“That justice is so harsh that it just might work!”
Harsh Justice is a buck fifty on Magic Traders and Star City. $2 on Channel Fireball.
If you block with this guy, you’re doing it wrong anyway.
Jungle Lion was a much more exciting card back when Savannah Lions was a sweet constructed playable, but it’s still reasonable for green. Expect this card to shine if all the dual lands are banned in Legacy but Portal is still somehow allowed.
Jungle Lion is about $2 on Magic Traders, and about $3 on Star City and Channel Fireball.
Was the ‘tap’ symbol really so hard for new players to figure out? Did they really need to put a limited clause on the card instead? I feel like I’m reading some horrible bootleg Royal Assassin. Even the picture is similar, except this time it appears that Peter Davidson is getting assassin’d.
The card goes for right around $4 on Channel Fireball and Star City but only books for $1.75 on Magic Traders, which seems like a much more reasonable price.
This is your last chance to play with copies 5-8 of Final Fortune!
Find this for a buck on Channel Fireball, $1.50 on Magic Traders, or $2 on Star City.
Raise your hand if you knew this card was worth more than $10! Actually, raise your hand if you knew this card existed at all. Regardless, now you know, and you can find it for $10 on Magic Traders, $11 on Star City, and $12 on Channel Fireball.
Granting forestwalk to all your creatures for a turn at sorcery speed might not be the strongest ability, but I’ve certainly seen worse. This card goes for a buck fifty on Channel Fireball, and $2 on Magic Traders and Star City.
This is actually kind of a cool card I had never heard of, and seems useful against, uh, decks with green creatures that are also running Memoricide so you need a Perish off the sideboard with a name other than Perish. Or your EDH deck that always gets crushed by little Alvie’s Terra Stomper special.
Regardless, it’s worth $4 on Magic Traders and $5 on Channel Fireball and Star City.
Channel Fireball lists this card at $9.99, but it’s sold out at that price. It’s over $14 on Magic Traders, and listed close to $20 on Star City. It might be worth picking this one up if you can find it for $15 or less in someone’s binder – definitely a card to watch.
I would die too if I were attacked by A SNAKE WITH A SHIV IN EACH HAND!
Seriously. A snake with a shiv. In each hand.
Look at that art.
Then look at ANY OTHER SNAKE EVER.
Then look back at that art.
There’s no wonder it’s sold out at $2 on Channel Fireball and $3 on Star City. It goes for just $2 on Magic Traders, so copies of this must come on the market once in a while.
Hint: Christmas is coming up, readers. This is what I want.
This guy is not a snake with a shiv in each hand. That is why he’s under a buck on Star City and Magic Traders, and just $1.50 on Channel Fireball.
Terrible angels are still sought after, especially when illustrated by beloved artists. Starlit Angel is sold out for $1 at Channel Fireball AND for $2.50 at Star City. She sells for around $2 on eBay according to Magic Traders.
Having a second Worldly Tutor for your green EDH deck seems like a great thing. It’s out of stock at Channel Fireball for $5.50 and Star City for $9, and is on Magic Traders at $8. I would bet you’d have no trouble moving this card to a dedicated EDH player if you acquired a few copies of this at market value or less.
No completist sea monster deck is complete without this guy, I suppose. He sells for about $1.25 everywhere.
Out of stock at $1 on Channel Fireball and $3 on Star City, this card runs for about $2 on Magic Traders. As a semi-powerful color hoser, I can see the casual appeal in this card.
Rarities: Flying Reminder Text
These are the five commons in Portal that have flying, and each of them were printed in two separate versions– one with reminder text for flying and one without. The versions without reminder text are common version and worthless. Copies with the text, however, sell for about $3 on Star City.
I want to know more about this. Was flying given reminder text in the early printings and then not in later ones? Why? How many of these are there? Why is there no information about this anywhere else?
If you know, please share in the forums! Otherwise, time to scour the bulk bins at your local store, since I guarantee you no one else knows these cards are worth more than a nickel.
Rarities: Flavor Text
Bull Hippo (No Flavor Text)
The rarest of all hippos is perhaps the Portal Bull Hippo with no flavor text. I don’t know the details of this, either. Perhaps the hippo ate all the flavorful text? Regardless, this version is sold out at $3 on Star City.
Non-Rarities: Common Alternate Printings
Elite Cat Warrior (Flavor Text? No Flavor Text?)
There appears to be an equal amount of Elite Cat Warriors in the world with and without flavor text. Is one of them rarer and worth more? No.
But, uh, keep it in mind?
Hand of Death (Reminder Text? No Reminder Text?)
Both version are equally un-rare. On the plus side, either version of this kills either version of Elite Cat Warrior!
Monstrous Growth (Flavor Text? No Flavor Text?)
The cat is in the picture is equally confused in both. Thus, both are equally common.
Raging Goblin (Flavor Text? No Flavor Text?)
He rages on to mediocrity regardless.
Warrior's Charge (Flavor Text? No Flavor Text?)
Doesn’t matter, awful anyway.
Kind of a Portal Price Guide
Based on my best guess at the value of each card in Portal.
Twenty Five Dollars
Armored Pegasus (with flying reminder text)
Bull Hippo (without flavor text)
Cloud Pirates (with flying reminder text)
Feral Shadow (with flying reminder text)
Snapping Drake (with flying reminder text)
Storm Crow (with flying reminder text)
Not bad for an older set no one spends a lot of time thinking about! There’s certainly more value here than Scourge, Visions, Nemesis, and many other expansions.
I also think that there are plenty of cards here that you will be able to trade for more than my recommended trade price to collectors who like cool, rare things (Maggie, if you will) as well as cube builders.
Portal may not be the sexiest set, and it may not be as profitable to trade for as the latest staples, but now you know the values of cards for next time you see that Ebon Dragon sitting in the back of someone’s binder at the Prerelease.
Join me next week when we will explore the wilds of Portal: Second Age!