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Stronghold is a fine set in itself, but it serves best as a unique example of the power and limitations of reprints. Most of the “money cards” in Stronghold have been reprinted, but the originals still maintain a value premium. My best guess for this is that most players prefer the original cards; however, why some cards command a premium over, say, a dollar, is a little less clear. Let's start looking at the set and you'll see what I mean. I have selected cards that are at or over a dollar on Magic Traders, which compiles Ebay completed auctions to give a pretty accurate picture of what a card actually sells for.
With Exploration topping $20 (and soon to be more, thanks to High Tide and Time Spiral), Burgeoning fills in as the “poor man's Exploration.” It will just about always be worse than the Saga enchantment, but it is still a popular card. I reckon that it commands its price because it's actually known as the cheap replacement for Exploration – which is to say, it is more desirable because it is a decent replacement for a card most casual players cannot budget for. You can still pick these up for far below what they regularly trade at, and many people will want a copy for their green-based EDH decks.
This is just about the most frustrating Sliver that there is (second goes to Hibernation Sliver) and it has seen some reprintings in the form of promotional cards. Crystalline Sliver was actually slated to be a promo card years ago, but a funny thing happened – someone stole a huge stack of them from the warehouse! Wizards did not have enough to give out, and I believe they also held back so they could track the illicit ones. That said, years later Crystalline made another appearance. It has dropped about a dollar in value, but it remains one of the legendary power uncommons from Tempest block.
Sorry to pick on them because I actually loved the magazine, but Inquest ranked this as the worst card in Stronghold. Sure, it's bad when you are trying to cast junk like Leviathan, but it was stellar when you combined it with Time Spiral or Mind over Matter. Zvi cooked up a Dream Halls deck that would loop Gaea's Blessings to deck you out with Inspiration. It used the Halls to fuel up Ancestral Memories, an otherwise-prohibitively expensive spell to cast.
Dream Halls saw a huge speculative price spike when it was legalized, and it took off more when people combined it with Show and Tell to cast Conflux over and over in Legacy. The card jumped from $3 to $20 over about a week when it won a major Spanish tournament. The dust has settled on Dream Halls and it has plummeted in value. I am happy to find this because it has provided me with a real example of the market correcting for an overpriced card, which rarely happens in Eternal Magic.
The Bridge was popular from the start in “Burning Bridges” decks that would combine the artifact with burn spells. You dump your hand and then sit behind that Moat while you sizzle opponents. The Bridge has seen little serious tournament play, but it remains a fan favorite. The Stronghold version is still valuable, even though the card has been reprinted in several base sets.
Since its inception, Grave Pact has been probably the best multiplayer card of all time. At its printing, I think Fiery Justice was the only thing close. The Pact is simply murderous, especially combined with cards like Breeding Pit that would make little token dorks. Grave Pact, like so many other Stronghold cards, has seen subsequent printings, but that original Stronghold art still draws a premium. I recently got a Coalition vs. Phyrexia copy for $2 with different art, but in my extensive attempts to pick up an original, I just couldn't find a deal. Grave Pact is scary enough with just the one copy you are allowed in Commander. I would imagine that players who can deploy multiples are quickly executed at the multiplayer table!
Cards like the Horn have seen a modest uptick in value because they are valuable colorless card draw in Commander. People like to utilize them with Exploration and Azusa, Lost but Seeking for other cute combos too. Horn is in low demand, but it is certainly a promotion above bulk rare.
Intruder Alarm conjures up all sorts of Johnny combos. I don't think there is a “fair” use for the card at all. I wonder if the designers knew it would just be played alongside Tradewind Riders and Prodigal Sorcerers and let it go, even though it didn't do what it was supposed to do by messing up the untap step. The Alarm has also seen a lot of reprintings, but it holds steady for casual players.
Best combined with another Mogg Infestation. It summons piles of Goblins, which is pretty cool. It also wipes out someone's army and leaves them a conciliatory force in its wake, meaning that Mogg Infestation is a decent multiplayer card. Anything reasonably old that creates Goblin tokens has a lot of appeal, and this one has a unique ability. They sell briskly and I'm sure you know someone who would love to have a copy or four for their deck.
Ugh, something with Mox in the name. Mox Diamond has always had a lot of appeal, since once you pay the cost, it's an insane little gem. The reprinting in FTV: Relics has done little to the price; They still clock in at around what they used to, especially because the Relics release was so limited and many players dislike foils. A card like this is always going to get tossed into this deck or that one, so it's no surprise that it is the most expensive card in the set.
The Shaman lets you toss damage wherever you want, which makes attacking into or blocking the force that he supports pretty annoying. I double-checked his price at online vendors, and the Ebay price is a little above what stores offer it for! Remember that this is another card above bulk price, which is how you can make a lot of green from a collection that has already had its Mox Diamonds skimmed out.
The big mamma-jamma, the original five-color bruiser, has not seen any sort of reprinting and still the holy grail of Sliver collecting. You can get rid of these things as soon as you get them, but be aware that practically nobody values them at their still-respectable book value. Some players who want the card are also skeptical about trading for such a high-ticket item. She is still the queen for a reason, though, and her price tag confirms it.
My first exposure to The Champ was in Cube, where it is a really cool and flavorful Lord. The walking Glorious Anthem is nearly unblockable and pumps all your guys, not just those with Shadow. I am unsure what casual decks drive the price of the card beyond bulk, because you rarely see anything played only in fringe EDH decks uplift a card. Again, remember this because it is worth more than the ten cents someone will give you for a stack of bulk junk.
Though once mighty, this rules nightmare has seen better days. At one point, it functioned with Survival of the Fittest in Extended in a deck known as Full English Breakfast. The deck's goal was to attack with the Shapeshifter mimicking Birds of Paradise. It would then turn into a Flowstone Hellion (thanks to Survival) and activate its ability for +11/-11. With those on the stack, it would take the form of Phyrexian Dreadnought, making a 23/1 flying, trampling... thing. It is forever a Johnny card, but with hits like Necrotic Ooze stealing the spotlight, I'm unsure that the Shapeshifter is that hot anymore.
The Stronghold has been a casual favorite for a long time. It saw play in Rock decks in old Extended to pull back Spike Feeders and Bone Shredders, but its price has always followed the allure of endless creature recycling. That Volrath is ahead of the curve on sustainable living. While it sat at $5 for years, the Stronghold has spiked due to EDH versatility. It fits in any deck that runs both creatures and black mana, meaning it is a hot tradeable card.
While on paper, the Flower Power is awesome – great wall, replaces itself, tournament pedigree – people forget about the Wall. Newer players don't need this green Wall of Omens, and with two-drop blockers like Sakura-Tribe Elder in the mix, the Wall gets tossed in boxes more than it should. They should sell for a buck, but it is rare to find someone who wants them that does not already have them. They are still worth grabbing out of those commons boxes, though!
In this installment of People Love Angels, we see an overcosted, underpowered Spirit Link angel with pretty cool art. Remember that since Serra Angel, we had only seen two more rad angels: Seraph and Archangel (go home, Melesse Spirit). Warrior Angel was another indication that we could see white fliers with real punch and cool flavor. Perhaps that is why it is above bulk pricing.
It was fun just going over the Stronghold spoiler to assemble this article; it brings back great memories. Like Tempest, the set had plenty of power to it without being ridiculous. We were still interested in the Weatherlight crew, before we knew that they would be with us for four or five more agonizing years.
Join me next week when we wrap up with Exodus, a set that pushed design power and revolutionized trading, just by adding that rarity symbol. More on the symbol and the set later!
3 thoughts on “Searching Through Stronghold”
Great article! Burgeoning, I think, is the rare on this list that the fewest people know about.
One small note: Mox Diamond's price definitely has been affected by FTV, as has demand. The card used to be trade-able over $40 in NM condition, and it was in pretty high demand. With the foil one available now, getting more than $30 for a Diamond is close to impossible and many fewer people want them.
Man I opened a ton looking for a queen back in the day. Ended up buying it outright, but I did get tons of other goodies! Great article