Urza's Saga is the first set in one of the financial powerhouse blocks of Magic. Though it was supposed to be themed around enchantments, I reckon that Urza's Saga really has the theme of “you'll pay $10 for this, this and this.” While Tempest represented the first truly modern set, Saga expanded on this to make iconic cards that are still remembered today for being overly powerful. The block was also marked by Mark Rosewater's meddling with innocuous cards, resulting in beasts like Tinker (why should you have to pay mana with Transmute Artifact?) and Yawgmoth's Bargain (truly, Necropotence at twice the mana and instant payoff is fair).
This week, we'll take a romp through Saga and look at its multitude of valuable cards. As usual, I used www.magictraders.com to gather prices, while also cross-referencing with popular card stores to make sure that quoted prices were accurate. Saga represented a set about Enchantments, and you're bound to see many of these permanents pop up on the list. My hope is that, in reading this article, you get a sense of what the valuable cards are; I only mention ones worth a dollar or more. Even if you cannot recall a specific price, ideally you will remember a featured card when going through bulk binders at the local store. Saga has so many expensive cards that I broke this article into two halves so that you can appreciate the magnitude of the set in a more digestible form. Let's get started!
Honestly, I had to do a double-take when I saw this card in my research. In an era of Tarmogoyf and even Hunted Wumpus, the Wurm looks mediocre. However, for those intent on building a green-based Land Destruction deck, the Wurm is a combination Stone Rain and finisher. It's sort of the original Browbeat. Do you want to lose a land or face down a fast clock? When a deck can already punk a few of your lands, the prospect of losing more to the Wurm is scary indeed. It is a good example of how powerful the casual market is when it comes to Saga.
Attunement was a cornerstone of the Replenish deck, since it allowed for massive draw and discard to fuel the white sorcery. It also triggered the aforementioned Argothian Enchantress, letting a player filter through their deck with no loss in cards. I think most newer players are unaware of the card's existence; it certainly has a weird effect.
Back to Basics, aka B2B, wins The Most Literal Card Title award. It sat for years at $2, only really seeing play on monoblue sideboards in fringe Vintage decks. Merfolk decks in Legacy changed that dynamic dramatically, and now it is a cornerstone of most fishy sideboards. It commands a good price and trades quite briskly. Long-time traders might undervalue it because it was so marginal for so long.
I have this theory that any white card with the phrase “destroy all creatures” won't ever dip below a buck. Catastrophe is an incredible card because it works whether you are ahead or behind. Rocking a big flying creature and looking to seal the deal? Blow away the board with the Armageddon side. Need to catch up? Wrath is your bet. There have been numerous riffs on the Wrath of God theme in Magic since the original, and Catastrophe is probably the second-best version (discounting Day of Judgment). It has enough casual and EDH appeal to garner a following.
Remember folks, we're still in the “C” part of the alphabet – you'll appreciate this richness when we get to the wasteland of Prophecy...
When you need a mountain of wood, Child of Gaea is an excellent choice. I wonder if MaRo looked at Force of Nature and decided to give it the MaRo Bump. Like Silvos, Rogue Elemental, Child of Gaea sees casual appeal in Elfball-style decks, where a big regenerating trampler is a fine outlet for lots of excess mana. When Rofellos, Llanowar Emissary was available as an EDH general, the Child appeared in just about every list; the Trample makes it a real player-killer. The Elemental is another example of one of those cards you would pass by as bulk filler, since it has never really seen competitive play.
There was a time when you could blow someone out with Entomb for Nether Spirit, followed by Contamination. It is an absolute blowout of a card and has saved me in a lot of EDH games from the predations of five-color combo players. Those sick souls who base their decks around Contamination can now utilize Reassembling Skeleton if they want to perpetuate the disease. In some ways, I am surprised that Contamination isn't worth more money, but then again, without a continuous sacrifice outlet, it can be a poor card in Monoblack Control decks.
Why are these worth anything? Maybe someone has a gnome theme deck. Maybe they plan on getting Darksteel Colossus out by running the gnomes ahead. At their printing, there was no spectacular artifact to put into play – would you even want Aladdin's Lamp out? With that card, Gnomes only saves you four mana (or forty-nine if you play with the Arabian Nights copy). Nowadays, I am a little puzzled over the appeal of these little shoemakers.
Saga also has Echo cards, and the Hellion is a good example. It is a great multiplayer card, one of the few Wrath effects available to Red players. What I like about the Hellion is that you can conceivably wipe the board and end up with a big pounder left over afterward. Echo has prevented it from being reprinted and it is a great addition to many red decks. These factors make it an especially valuable card to get as a bulk toss-in.
Perhaps people are looking to combine this card with Light of Day or Circle of Protection: Black for a combo. Maybe they want to supercharge their Darkwatch Elves. This simple, elegant card has some sort of casual appeal and sees a tiny amount of commerce.
Sometimes, the original is still the best. Though Duress has been reprinted frequently, the first printing remains in demand. Duress was, to my recollection, the first modern targeted discard. It is still a phenomenally powerful card and the ability to pluck out a card of your choice for a single mana was unseen before Duress. Previously, you had to spend 2B for Coercion. The reduction in mana cost can be justified because the cards that Duress takes out are usually lame and not fun. Nobody likes to lose their Shivan Dragon, but that guy with the Desertion? He deserved to lose it.
$1.25 (for a common!)
Fog Bank is a darned tough wall to get through in a color that sorely needs defense. It promises to neutralize an attacker every turn, making it useful in multiplayer for indicating that players should just attack someone else. It's a less annoying Maze of Ith. Fog Bank is also an uncommon that you can pull out of thoroughly-scoured collections for value. It's a superb card to know the value of.
The Cradle clearly has a lot of appeal for Elf players who are not content to make only fifty mana per turn. It gets attention in EDH and, infrequently, in Legacy. It is the green Tolarian Academy and is hardly a fair card. The Cradle steadily ticks up in value each year, and it's one of those golden casual cards.
Gamble represents red tutoring, which is rare on its own. I like to put it in Sneak Attack decks, but it also appears in Belcher and Lands decks. Gamble also has a very economical casting cost, meaning it can be dropped into many decks packing Red and needing a little help finding something. I have seen this card double in price over the past year, probably on the back of EDH and a little Legacy attention.
Does someone want to explain why this is on the Reserved List? For that matter, why is Oath of Ghouls but no other Oath on that list? Gilded Drake couples well with anything that can bounce it back to your hand or make tokens, like with Soul Foundry. It used to be played in the Reanimator mirrors because you could use it to jack your opponent's Avatar of Woe. People still like the Drake, especially because it gives the opponent a little consolation prize when you've taken their bad guy.
Enough people complained that Crusade pumped opposing white creatures that Wizards printed the Anthem to make things right. They even printed it again in 7th Edition to widespread rage – it was in a vote against Crusade and competitive players felt that the casual crowd voted the Anthem in, even though it was historically worse than Crusade. Looking back on it, I tend to think Glorious Anthem has been vindicated; B/W Tokens would not have been as good if its enchantment could not pump Bitterblossom. People generally like the Anthem, while Crusade provoked the “I don't want to help my opponent!” response from too many people. On top of that, aside from brief moments, White Weenie is basically a dead strategy. The Anthem is a highly tradeable card, so it's good to keep an eye out for them.
Hey, let's print a Black Lotus for Goblins! As time went by, this Goblin got even more ridiculous. He went from putting Goblin Ringleader in to deploying a Siege-Gang Commander on the second turn. Lackey was so powerful, he was banned in Extended. I think at this point, most people know that it is a valuable card. However, they might not know just how much Lackey really goes for, and you can stand to profit by knowing its current trade value.
$9.00 (yes, really)
They certainly are.
Before Legacy brought the altogether-superior Palinchron, Great Whale was part of a combination with Recurring Nightmare that generated infinite mana. You could use Survival of the Fittest to get it online, then funnel the mana through a Shivan Hellkite or any other appropriate vessel to burn out an opponent. Great Whale is still worth more than bulk, in spite of being “just” a free 5/5 creature.
I like Intrepid Hero a lot, since he's this questing knight off to kill the dragon. It was one of those way-cool cards to read about when it first came out, because this was like the white Royal Assassin! It even saw some minor play in Extended with Eladamri's Call, being a fetchable murder machine. It has been reprinted, but the original Hero still wields a premium.
The more that we see in Mirrodin Besieged, the more Karn, Silver Golem looks like a total jerk. Vintage players have known he's been unkind for years. “Hey bro, let me give the gift of life to your Mox Sapphire – oh, it died? Whoops. Let's see if Mox Emeral fares any better.” He's trash-talking you from the other end of the table while sending over a Tangle Wire and Smokestack to kill you. Though he acts like a pacifist, Karn, Silver Golem is a killer through and through. He still sees substantial play in Vintage MUD decks and he's a quirky general in EDH.
Whew! What a list of cards, and we are only halfway through! Urza's Saga is positively laden with expensive cards. Traders who buy collections have dreams of ripping through unsearched piles of Saga cards, for good reason. Join me next week as we look at the second half of the set, where we will encounter Superman, the MaRo-tinkered Eureka and the “improved” Timetwister.
See you next week!