Insider: A Fortune in Foil! (Part 1: Identify)

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Some people love foils and will go out of their way to trade for them at values that seem absurd. Others take a firm “anti-foil” stance, as in whether or not a card is foiled does not affect its playability, and, therefore, its desirability. Whether or not you’re a member of either camp becomes irrelevant when you start attributing values to them, as there is a FORTUNE IN FOIL ready to be had by us!

In Part 1 of this two part series we will be looking at why certain cards are worth so much more than their non-foil counterparts, and how YOU can identify them.

This was once a $90 card!

Why Foils?

Foil cards were introduced to the magic community upon release of Urza’s Legacy in 1999. Granted there were various “test foils” released that didn’t follow this rule, this was its first true release to the general public. Originally shunned due to their similarities with Pokemon “holofoils”, they have since been embraced as a way to pimp out decks or add value to collections. The rising popularity of foiling out decks, cubes, and simply collecting various foils has created a strong secondary market that does not necessarily follow the price points of their non-foil counterparts. This pricing disparity makes it beneficial for us to study the effects that foils have and identify which ones are best to speculate and trade for. In this case, knowledge is definitely power… and profit!

Foil Factors

So we know that foils have value. But why is this the case? What types of people are looking to trade for them and how can we identify these people? What kinds of decks contain the best foils and why are some of them worth so much compared to others of comparable rarity from the same sets? What are some of the factors that would make foil versions of a card a preferable pickup? Let’s see if we can identify a few factors together.

NOTE: Many of the foils that have value are also such because they are used throughout many of the examples listed below. Having a card that is great for Commander does not mean it can’t also be played in Legacy, and its value is a reflection of its playability in all the formats it’s used in.

Commander Decks

Wizards has successfully integrated the Commander format into every day Magic. No longer is it a judge exclusive format, for now peons across the globe can vie for supremacy with their own legend of choice!

The individuality of each player is reflected in their Commander decks, as no longer is anyone forced into playing 4x Tarmogoyfand 4x Force of Will in order to be competitive. As such, foiling Commander decks is another way to express your commitment to the game and really impress your friends with a truly pimp deck.

With that said, however, certain cards seem to be staples of the Commander format, as with every other. These cards tend to be much more obscure and knowing the market for EDH foils is one of the best ways for you to find great trades. The Commander explosion has been paramount to the sharp increase in foil value over the past year and will continue to be a driving force on foil value for the existence of the format.

Some examples of Commander Foils of exceptional value include:

Card Name Non-Foil Value Foil Value % Difference
Coalition Relic $2.50 $18.00 720%
Mirari's Wake $5.00 $30.00 600%

Vintage / Legacy Playable Foils

Vintage & Legacy decks are the most costly around. Once you start foiling out the key cards, their overall value skyrockets even more. Since these decks are already at the upper echelon of the pricing scale, the only way to increase their values further are by adding foils.

In contrast to Commander decks, these bad boys will look for 4x of the cards in foil-need when possible, which increases the value since demand will be on playsets, not just 1-of’s like Commander, since you only need to foil 1x Dark Confidant in your Commander deck, but you need to foil 4x of them in your Legacy.

Because of this, premiums are often offered on playsets of the desirable cards, as finding them all in one place represents not only opportunity, as many of these cards are very rare, but also convenience.

Some examples of Vintage / Legacy foils of exceptional value include:

Card Name Non-Foil Value Foil Value % Difference
Polluted Delta $23.00 $95.00 413%
Infernal Tutorr $4.00 $15.00 375%

Cube Cards

Many playgroups put together a collection of a couple hundred of the best cards in Magic and call it a “Cube”. Check out Carlos' article (posted today!) for a Cube adventure.

A Cube is an incredibly fun way to practice draft with friends and often includes cards from all sets and backgrounds. Whether it’s the thrill of playing a Black Lotus or that nostalgic feeling you get from dropping a Sengir Vampire, Cubes have become a common way to game and avoid the repetitive play of battling constructed decks against each other, all while saving money from actually having to purchase packs.

Because of the fact that a Cube is a reflection of the builder, and since the Cube will be seen by many players, the more pimp the cards, the higher the chance that you’ll “wow” one of the drafters and earn props for the pimped out cards within. Foil cards are almost like Magic status symbols, so you’ll often be seen as king of the roost if all your friends are talking about how great it was to play your Cube and how awesome the cards were within it.

Some examples of Cube Foils of exceptional value include:

Card Name Non-Foil Value Foil Value % Difference
Oblivion Stone $2.00 $20.00 1000%
Karmic Guide $5.00 $90.00 1800%

Casual Appeal

How can we forget the casual appeal that certain iconic cards will have for players and collectors alike? You KNOW that angel collector is going to want your foil 7thed Serra, and that Vinnie-Vampire-Player is in love with your Foil Hexmage. We often see these cards in the form of common tribal themes, so we can add elves, zombies, dragons and the other iconic creature types to this list.

Some examples of Casual Foils of exceptional value include:

Card Name Non-Foil Value Foil Value % Difference
Death Baron $5.00 $12.00 240%
Imperius Perfect $4.00 $9.00 225%

Considerations and Risks

Not all foils are created equal and there are quite a few things we need to keep in mind when collecting foils for value. As a huge foil collector myself, I have had these factors come into play on more than a few occasions and they have ALWAYS resulted in negative value on my foil portfolio. Here are a few factors you will need to bear in mind and stay on the lookout for in order to avoid losses:

1) FTV (From the Vault) Sets

Yes, these are supposedly limited release products, so not everyone can go to their local Walmart and buy a case of them on the cheap. However, they still add a huge number of foils to the market, which in turn reduces the value of the original foils.

Sure, the original versions will always be worth more in nearly all cases, but, with any reprint, their value is still going to go down. A huge example of this was with the resent FTV: Legends released. Since Commander is a popular format and people like to have a foil general, it helped the market just getting into the format, but it really hurt those of us who already owned our foil Captain Sissays and Dorans. When you can buy the FTV versions for a fraction of the cost of the original, it will take people out of the market for the original, which reduces its demand, which reduces its price.

2) FNM Promos

Though they have not yet started reprinting rares as FNM promos, clearly the high value commons & uncommons are not off the radar. Foils that used to be worth a huge amount like Krosan Grip, Wild Nactal and Quasali Pridemage have all seen deflation of their value due to these reprints. It’s frustrating when you just finish your playset of foil Go for the Throats only to find out they will be next months FNM promo. Paying attention to the artwork of these promos is important as well, since a promo with some amazing art can sometimes become more valuable than the originals.

3) Set Rotation

While keeping high value cards as foils acts as a buffer to a certain degree upon rotation, it does not protect it from all losses. High value foils retain their prices better because of the fact that they will remain in high demand. When JJace, Memory Adept rotates, we can be assured that its price will plummet. However, since Jace is both iconic, fits into EDH decks, is a casual player's dream (mill decks anyone?) and a planeswalker, its value should theoretically decrease less on a percentage basis in FOIL because of the “pimp” factor associated with it.

4) Bannings

While foil Vengevines were once considered a safe pickup due to their dominance in Legacy, when Survival of the Fittest got banned, the both cards' prices plummeted hand in hand. Similar to what happens to both foils and non-foils, it’s worthwhile to point out that the banning of a card will obviously effect its value in a negative way.

Shine On!

It would be nice if we could issue a blanket statement and say that “all foils are worth twice as much as their non-foil equivalents” or something, but, sadly, that is not the case. The huge gap that exists between certain foils and regular cards can be both as profitable as it is confusing.

It is only through identifying what makes particular foils worth so much more than others that we can ensure we’re going to be getting product that isn’t just a shiny version of another worthless card that we paid extra for erroneously.


Here is an actual trade that went down this Friday. I’m not going to list value for this one until next week in Part 2 so that we can discuss it in the comments without having the “bias” of dollar values. I feel that this one will come down to more of a personal choice on the piles, but let’s talk about it and see which one YOU would choose and why!

<< TRADE 1 – Foil or Folly? >>
2x Garruk, Primal Hunter
2x Elspeth Tiriel
1x Liliana of the Veill
1x Primeval Titan
1x Garruk Relentless // Garruk, the Veil-Cursed
1x Underground Sea (VG+)
1x FOILGarruk, Primal Hunter
1x FOIL Batterskull
1x FOIL Geist of Saint Traft
1x FOIL Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas
1x FOIL Chandra, the Firebrand
1x Scavenging Ooze
1x Tropical Island (NM+)

[poll id="8"]

Stay tuned next week for “A Fortune in Foil! (Part 2: Profit)” where we will be identifying MORE of the foils that are already out there with a huge premium.

Carl Szalich

11 thoughts on “Insider: A Fortune in Foil! (Part 1: Identify)

  1. i thinik I’d rather have pile 2 from a playing perspective, I think litterally all those cards are needed for decks I’m building, and a NM trop! Yes please. Not so confidant on the foil garruk, I’d probably throw it on e-bay asap. Also foil tezz might be safer to pick up than non-foil, as I’m pretty sure he’ll take a nosedive when he rotates, and he’s already cheap.

  2. I wouldn't like either pile, LOL. I probably have a slight preference for the FOIL pile, but that's because I feel that the NM+ Dual is enough of a rarity that it should get a premium while otherwise I expect most of the cards to drop in value over time (except for the Sea, but that's where the condition comes in, I would prefer a NM+ Trop over a VG+ Sea). The FOILs might also be slightly better at holding value due to EDH playability for most of them.

    Another thing I have found is that FOILs are frequently underrated by shops, just yesterday I found a FOIL Decree of Pain for 3 euros here in Germany (where I am for work). In the past I have bought cheap shockduals from the same shop and am going back today for a FOIL German Lightning Greaves and a FOIL Spitting Image that I wanted to look up values for first, the Image seems to be sold out in FOIL almost everywhere. (I'll also be going back for an Alpha Chaos Orb that they are undervaluing at 90 euros, but that's another matter).

    1. A decree of pain foil for $3? That's insane… a regular one is almost that! Good score! I'm sure those german foil greaves will also treat you well, and that spitting image is a nice oddity that someone will be willing to trade heavy for. Nice! It's pretty amazing how you're able to work the markets like that… wish I had more travel time so I could hit up some of those shops that are "by the wayside" and loot them good! Congrats! 🙂

      1. 3 euros is closer to 4 dollars, but a steal anyway. I expect to have no problem moving that one for about 20-25 dollar. Actually decided to have a look at all their binders the next day, some apparently from collections they bought and didn't yet have time to sort. Got some decently prized stuff and some more amazing deals. The guy behind the counter turned out to be very willing to discount cards if they were damaged in some way or another, also came across 2 Walds (the misprint one with the Plains picture, goes for about $15 if not more) which he threw in for free as he had no idea how to look those up on the online shop they used for pricing. Infinite profit :D. I did buy for more than $250 from them, so they were happy with me as customer (biggest part being that Orb, which I'm moving tomorrow to get me halfway towards a Tabernacle that should be looking pack fresh). Other hits included a German Limited Nevinyrall's Disk (Nevinyralls Wunderscheibe, it's a Wonder Disk!), foil 8th Plague Wind (Seuchenwind, which sounds like a Sucking Wind to me) and quite a large amount of other foils that I recon I can move at about 1.5-2x what I paid.

        (Un)fortunately I am starting on a new assignment so it's very unlikely I will be travelling there again, but that only means I'll be playing the online shops exclusively for a while. In the same deal as that Orb, which is going to a shop owner, I am also giving him 4 Peacekeepers that he buys for almost $10 each while I just ordered a replacement set for $7.20 each. If he keeps it on his buylist I will repeat that in the future :). There were quite a few other cards on his list that he was giving more for in euro than I would have paid in dollars in US based online shops.

  3. I got a foil Expedition Map in trade once. Without looking, take a guess at how much it’s worth. 🙂

    Edh staples are HUGE in foil. Looking forward to next week!

  4. what set the dual lands are from is pretty important to their pricing so it's a trick question right away… that said i'll take pile 1, since standard foils are not where you want to be at all and anyone that cares about them (batterskull/tezz) for legacy would also want them to be foreign. The standard market does fluctuate and there are some desireable edh foils so it really depends on what market you're trading to (standard vs eternal). The dual lands also make this one tricky, I'll be alot of people are gonna be wrong about their estimate of the value of the tropical island.

    1. That's exactly the point, identifying which cards could be used in which format and trading them to the players who would use them. I disagree with your statement on players always wanting cards to be foreign however, as that really would depend on WHY (as you've stated) you were trading for the card. Indeed, legacy players like to have foreign, but many cubers NEED the foils in english, as not EVERYONE in the playgroup may know what a card does, so english is preferable for that group setting. So while you are correct in your statement, at the same time by assuming that there is no desire for english standard foils you have taken yourself out of a very large market :).

      1. In addition I can tell from personal experience that people in non-English speaking countries quite often prefer English cards. I know I'd feel ackward playing magic in Dutch if it was possible and I have come across many German players that also preferred English. At least around here I would be more hesitant to take the foil pile if some of them were foreign.

        I had assumed revised duals myself.

  5. Not gonna lie, I didn't realize foil Expedition Map was valuable, and I pride myself on knowing some of these randomly valuable cards. Nice catch. After you mentioned it, I guessed $3, but if you hadn't brought it up I wouldn't have even guessed.

  6. my one-shot eyeball says I'd rather have Pile 1, and it's not close. I think the values on are par from a quick glance, and I'd rather have the Sea and a bunch of nonfoil Standard staples. they trade more easily.

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