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Insider: Recent Foils With Potential Upside

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Exciting foils are always readily identifiable at Eternal events. Paying $1500 for a Legacy deck isn’t “cool” enough – players would rather spend as much as they have available to make their deck as “pimp” as possible.

Not all players have this mentality, but enough do such that the foil values of Eternal cards are always disproportionately higher than their non-foil counterparts. And while I am not a foil connoisseur myself, I do know one thing: Eternal players like their foils and this means higher values.

But I have two questions worth tackling in today’s article. First, is Modern “Eternal” enough to attract those who want to pimp their deck out? Seond, when an Eternal-playable card (Vintage or Legacy) is printed in a new Standard set, what kind of a premium is deserved, and is there potential upside?

Two valid questions whose answers could mean significant coin with the right long-term investment mindset.

Modern – Is it Eternal Enough?

This subject has broader implications and I have no desire to open up a deeper debate. Your feeling as to whether Modern is in the same class as Legacy and Vintage or if it’s just a Super-Extended is irrelevant in this context. Let’s focus on cards played in Modern and NOT in Legacy, and evaluate the differential between foil and non-foil prices. Remember, we are looking for differences greater than the usual 2x rule of thumb one may use in a typical Standard trade.

I’ve already mentioned Kozilek, Butcher of Truth’s foil price discrepancy.

But the problem is this card is played in EDH as well, and EDH drives up rare foils a lot! For reference, just look at foil Bribery. The Mercadian Masques version retails for $17.99 while the foil counterpart is sold out at $59.99! So, clearly, Kozilek, Butcher of Truth is not a pure Modern card and EDH may confound its foil price.

But how about Kozilek’s questioning process: Inquisition of Kozilek? (bad joke) Although this sorcery does see a little play in Legacy, it has gained popularity in Modern. So much so, that the nonfoil version has risen to $7.99 retail (see chart below from mtgstocks.com)!


Foil versions currently are sold out for $19.99. While it’s just slightly more than 2x, there does appear to be a small premium here. So the data is inconclusive.

I’ve got a solid choice: Inkmoth Nexus. This card isn’t known for its EDH playability, and it hasn’t quite had the impact in Legacy that it’s had in Modern. Let’s check out the retail price difference between foil and nonfoil versions:

Here we have the somewhat standard “2x” price difference. While this analysis can go on indefinitely, a quick look at some data suggests that Modern alone may not be sufficient to drive greater demand on foils. It may help augment the effects of Legacy and EDH, but it hasn’t quite had the same effect as these two formats. Please feel free to present counter-examples in the comments if you have them.

Legacy and EDH Cards in Standard

I have two words for you here: Deathrite Shaman – played significantly in Modern and Legacy, foil versions of the Elf Shaman have skyrocketed much to my dismay.

I was a few bids away from purchasing a few of these at $25 a couple months ago, but I hesitated from bidding higher and lost each auction. I regret my apprehension every time I look at the most recent retail prices on this card. Foils are trading nearly four times higher than their nonfoil counterparts!

Snapcaster Mage is another great example. Nonfoil versions retail for $24.99 while foil versions are selling for $64.99! While the multiplier isn’t as high as Deathrite Shaman’s, Snapcaster Mage’s baseline is much higher. Still, we are looking at more than the normal “2x” multiplier.

The examples don’t stop here. Abrupt Decay is one of my favorite pick-ups of late. Nonfoil versions of the removal spell retail for $6.99, while foil versions are up to $24.99. I’m sitting on a couple sets of the former and three copies (and counting) of the latter. Abrupt Decay is a removal spell that just gets better in Eternal formats as new targets are printed.

Finally, the last example I want to consider before making some conclusions is Geist of Saint Traft (chart from mtgstocks.com):

This creature is one of the most valuable in Standard, and it even sees Modern play. But without EDH or Legacy interest, foil copies of this card simply cannot demand a higher multiplier. Nonfoil versions are retailing for $27.99 and foil versions are $49.99 – less than 2x. This isn’t surprising – many popular Standard foils don’t even command that rule of thumb 2x multiplier because average Standard players aren’t very interested in foils. This is also more data that suggests Modern hasn’t had the same impact on foils as Legacy and EDH.

Opportunities

I see two avenues worth pursuing here. First, if you anticipate Modern will take off and slowly achieve “Eternal” status, you could move into Modern foils. Many Modern-only foils aren’t demanding much of a premium. Should Eternal players shift their focus towards Modern (if for example, Star City Games begins Modern Opens), the demand for foils may spike just like their nonfoil counterparts.

While there is some major potential here, there is some risk. The good news is downside is very limited – Modern will be here to stay, so you’d just be betting on whether or not Modern attracts the attention of Eternal players… for good. This seems very likely given enough time.

Cards worth targeting under this premise are numerous. Inkmoth Nexus, Birthing Pod, Inquisition of Kozilek, Scars of Mirrodin Dual Lands, Worldwake Manlands, etc., etc. I would suggest avoiding potential reprints in Modern Masters, of course. This is especially true for the Uncommons like Kitchen Finks, though the original set foil will still likely demand a significant premium.

The other opportunity lies in Standard cards played in EDH and Legacy which are not demanding a significant premium yet. First card that comes to mind? How about RtR Shock Lands. Steam Vents is one of the cheapest versions right now (chart from mtgstocks.com):

The all time low just took place a few days ago. But the Guildpact printing of Steam Vents retails for $19.99. Foil versions retail for $59.99, a full 3x the nonfoil version. This is likely due to EDH, augmented a bit by wide popularity in Modern.

But something isn’t fitting into the equation: Return to Ravnica copies are retailing for $7.99 and their foil counterparts are $19.99. This is a 2.5x multiplier, but I see no reason why it should be. I suspect once Return to Ravnica is no longer the current block, these will rise some. And for every dollar the non-foil versions increase, I expect the foil versions to increase between $2.50 and $3.00. Thus, while RtR Shock Lands are worth acquiring while they are so cheap, it’s really the foil versions that have the most upside potential.

The other example I can think of readily is Terminus (chart from mtgstocks.com).

This mass-removal spell has already peaked during its time in Standard, but the card does see significant play in Legacy. Senseis Divining Top helps to ensure you can keep your Miracle spells on top of your library for an instant-speed, 1-mana Wrath during your opponents turn. Nonfoil versions have dropped in price recently, retailing for $7.99.

Meanwhile, foil versions have hovered around $19.99. This is the same 2.5x we saw on Return to Ravnica Steam Vents. The difference here is, I don’t expect the value of nonfoils to grow much for a while. So I wouldn’t acquire foil copies just yet – but come the time when Avacyn Restored leaves Standard, foil copies could be a solid long term investment.

The “Foils” in the Rough

I am not a foil specialist. I traditionally attempt to trade them away as soon as I acquire them. But recently I have attempted to reassess my view towards the shiny cards. Like mana-fixing lands, these too have predictable patterns based on their Eternal and EDH playability. And while Modern hasn’t moved the needle much on foils yet, these could be the next major Modern opportunities now that non-foil Modern Staples have all jumped significantly.

It all comes down to whether or not Modern is viewed more like an Eternal format or a Standard format. For now, the format is relatively young and unknown. But with continued support from Wizards, potential support from Star City Games, and an ever-growing card base in the format, Modern has some serious potential to be the next bit Eternal format.

This could mean 3x-4x multipliers on foil versions of Modern playables. We’re not there yet though, so in the meantime I will look to acquire foils in Standard with Legacy and EDH playability, which do not yet reflect this same multiplier. In these cases, the old rule of thumb -- 2 nonfoils for 1 foil -- can be favorable to you in the long term.

Sigbits – Foil Edition

  • I remember when the first foil Birds of Paradise was printed in 7th edition. The story was that this was the first $100 card that could be opened from a Standard pack. Well, foil Jace, the Mind Sculptor may have smashed this record, but foil 7th edition Birds of Paradise still retail for $99.99! Even foil 8th edition copies are sold out of SCG at $49.99. I didn’t know they returned to their former glory.
  • Foil Angels often demand a premium, and some can be surprising. Foil 7th edition Serra Angel retails for $39.99 and 8th edition foils retail for $9.99. And for some reason, foil Invasion Reya Dawnbringer retails for $49.99! I don’t expect all foil Angels to demand such a high multiplier, but you could do worse than to invest in… say… foil Legendary Angels from Avacyn Restored.
  • I’m not sure if everyone has noticed this already: did you know that SCG pays fairly high prices on random foils from 7th edition? I’ve even found some cards on eBay whose auctions end below SCG buy prices. The most recent example of this was foil 7th Breath of Life, which SCG sells at $14.99 and buys at $6.00. Even more random is that SCG pays $1.00 on unlisted foil 7th rares. Take that, foil bulk rares!

-Sigmund Ausfresser
@sigfig8

22 thoughts on “Insider: Recent Foils With Potential Upside

  1. I like to play many man-lands in EDH. While this is not very commonly done by others, it is something I’ve seen increase. Inkmoth Nexus used to be a bit of a “combo-kill” with Kessig Wolf Run and Primeval Titan, but is now seeing less play. Still, I think there’s some EDH playability left as especially loaded up with some equipment it does pretty well at taking out a player. I like to have it in play and fetch Mirror Entity with Lin Sivvi.

    Terminus sees a lot of EDH play, as does Hallowed Burial, for comparison. Burial commands a very significant premium in foil. While I don’t think the current Terminus foil price is worth a spec, I do think it will go up over time due to both EDH and Legacy play. I absolutely second the suggestion of picking these up on rotation.

    For many cards 7th is the only foil printing, also, 7th is the last core set to have the old card frame and as a core set not much was opened. I definitely make sure to check out a shop’s 7th foils section if I’m buying anyway.

    I’m sure you’re still quite happy with that Reya I got you ;-). Fortunately Adun and Angus aren’t doing too bad either price wise.

    1. Thanks for the comment and for the additional EDH perspective. While I absolutely LOVE playing EDH, I do so only casually so I really don’t know the usual suspects of the format outside the obvious (Sol Ring, Bribery, etc.). If Terminus sees a lot of EDH play, then foils would definitely be solid pick-ups at rotation. Inkmoth seems more and more like a decent target to accumulate slowly, and I may add a foil or two to my collection.

      Yes, I am pleased with the Reya! It sits happily in my Angel binder, never to be traded 🙂 Glad Adun and Angus are doing well too! Yay for mutually beneficial trades!!!

      1. Mostly Burial is high because of EDH play. Terminus is arguably better or otherwise considered to be at least as good. Of course Burial is from before Mythics, so there is a bit of a multiplier there. On the other hand there’s the seeing Legacy play bit that’s going to drive Terminus up. On the whole I feel they should be comparable.

        The main reason why you’d want to play either Burial or Terminus is to tuck generals. My best Burial hit all other generals at the table while I had just made sure mine died a little earlier. The result was my opponents playing crippled decks. More often than not Burial or Terminus either hit 2-3 generals or 1-2 generals and something that is otherwise hard to get rid of (Ulamog, Darksteel Colossus, anything Indistructible really).

        There are only 4 Aduns on TCGPlayer, none NM, and 0 Angus. It’s pretty common to see them both sold out at a vendor or perhaps a single copy of Adun, Angus is nearly always sold out unless you’re really lucky (or they are really expensive). Adun goes for about $20 now, Angus for at least $30. I expect both to keep going up slowly, as they are both on the reserved list, as long as EDH remains popular as a format. (Something I see continuing for a very long time). No complaints here ;-).

  2. I have heard that 7th edition foils are extra rare for some reason. Especially NM ones. Something about the foiling process causes them to warp extra easy.

      1. As I suggested, it was a core set in a time when core sets were really unpopular to buy. They are highly desirable for having the old frame too. 7th packs list the odds of getting a foil as 1:100 cards while for 8th packs it’s listed as 1:70 cards so the frequency of seeing foils in core sets definitely increased at that time. M11, M12 and MBS list it as 1:67 (just grabing a few nearby empty boosters). I knew there was some benefit from saving opened boosterpacks!

        I have a 7th foil Giant Growth and Stone Rain, neither shows more warping than usual (if anything they show less warping than some others).

        1. I have a 7th foil Howling Mine in my Kami of the Crescent Moon EDH deck, and it does show less warping than the rest of the deck.

          Curious indeed. Interesting info!

        2. I haven’t noticed warping on these cards either. Recently picked up some sweet deals at an LGS, such as Foil 7th Sisay’s Ring for 1.99. I’ve noticed that no one on eBay actually wants these, so the buylist might be ideal, especially with SCG offering such good prices on them.

  3. One thing about foils is that players that are really into them often want the “original” version and it usually comes down whether players like old frames, a certain version of the art, etc. I typically go for the oldest version in the Modern frame. For example, I find 8th and 9th Edition foils to be awesome, like Greater Good, Blood Moon, etc.

    As far as Inkmoth in EDH, now that Primeval Titan is out, I am taking it out of my only deck it is in. It generates to much fear from the other players about dying to infect randomly, and was only really worth it when a one-shot with wolf run was reasonable. Now that it is much harder to assemble, I intend to take Inkmoth out to make space for Thespian’s Stage.

    1. Thanks for the comment and the added perspective. I had forgotten Prime Time was removed from the format. I think Inkmoth is more a constructed card vs. EDH, in general.

  4. How much of this data is due to Starcity being out of touch with reality? Solid article, but every time your results were confounding and you wondered why….I think I know is all.

    1. Could be that SCG’s numbers confounded things. But I also feel there is some rationale (may not be realistic) behind the discrepancies. Which example do you disagree with specifically?

  5. Great article Sigmund. From my own experience i do not like to invest in foils…they are too risky and with little demand. Nevertheless, if there is a way to invest in foils, this might be it.

    1. Thanks! In general, I’m with you. I do not like investing in foils AT ALL. But that’s kind fo what inspired me to write this article. I think by neglecting foils, we are missing out on solid opportunity. My hesitancy to purchase foil deathrite shaman at $25 is the perfect example. I hated foils so spending 3x on one seemed bad. But while I thought buying nonfoil deathrites at $8 was good because they went to $12, foils would have been BETTER for going from $25 to $55 or so. That 3x multiplier magnifies the price rise because of the Eternal appeal.

      I don’t think we should leave ourselves out of these opportunities.

  6. Good post. I look at foil multiples as a proxy for a “futures” or forward market on a card.

    If a card has below a 2x multiple, this suggests that it is Standard-only and will tank after rotation, like Bonfire. (Huntmaster has been in that category too so far.) With Deathrite on the other hand, I’m pretty sure the foil multiple blew-out to 3x+ while the underlying was still relatively quiet.

    If you wanted to systematically trade based on non-foil price momentum vs. foil price momentum, it’s unclear whether foil data would be better because of this feature, or if it would just be more sparse, volatile and noisy. A combination would probably be best.

    I also liked your article on possible Modern price drops. There is too much complacency over the effect of MM on staples prices. I feel like there is much more rigor with people predicting individual card prices based on relative comparisons, etc. With MM however, I feel that people are pulling numbers out of their hats. It is true that Modern will grow, but how much? Is anyone actually tracking year-over-year PTQ attendance? How many stores are actually doing Modern FNM? On the supply side, people just tend to parrot the original line about “limited print run”. That means nothing to me. There is a saying in finance, “Don’t fight the Fed.” This means when the Federal Reserve tells you that they want rates at a certain level, you don’t want to take the other side of the trade. If WotC tells you they want Modern more accessible, Occam’s Razor suggests that there will in fact be meaningful price declines.

    Another point related to the older post, I think you’d also agree that the original Ravnica shocks trading at 2x RTR is just silly. There is no way that the average buyer wants to pay 2x for the old art. I don’t know what to make of the difference, exactly. Part of it tells me that that MtG pricing is rife with inefficiencies, which is good for a trader. Part of it seems pretty unhealthy because it shows that no-one trading has an incentive for prices to go down. Without short-sellers, it’s a lot easier to get into a bubble situation, not unlike modern art.

    I’m definitely not saying that MtG is a bubble. But when someone says, for example, that Thoughtseize isn’t a bad hold finance-wise, ask yourself what that assertion is based on exactly.

    1. Jason, this is a terrific post. All of your points are completely in line with my thinking as well. I especially like your comment relating to the Fed on Wall Street. It’s kind of an interesting parallel if you think about it. And I don’t buy that “limited print run” thing for two seconds. That just means it will be smaller than a normal set. But if they are having this set as draftable AND it’ll be a GP limited set, there will be lots of product opened. I doubt Wizards would print such limited quantities that they’d have to turn people away at the GP. Just a hunch. I expect Modern prices to drop some. Everyone is worrying now that Shock Lands will drop harder because of their appearance in Dragon’s Maze. But the increase in supply relative to what’s currently available in trade binders is not likely to be as significant as the increase in supply in Modern staples like Tarmogoyf. The total absolute quantity of Goyfs reprinted may be less, but the percent increase in people’s trade binder will be much greater. This is why I sold my expensive Modern staples with potential reprinting in MM.

  7. The only recent “modern only” foils I’ve been targeting are Karn Liberated, Vexing Devil (people who like this card tend to LOVE this card), Memnites and Vault Skirges.

    As a general rule I hate trading in foils, but my LGS is chock full of guys who like to pimp out their chosen decks. The main problem I’ve had with modern stuff is that people are still switching decks a lot, partly due to the constant jockeying with Jund. Few have a single deck they are dedicated to enough to start investing in expensive foil replacements, unlike many legacy players. I’m picking up potential targets when I can find one cheap in trade, but mostly because I think as the format settles down there will be more players who are willing to start shelling out for ‘bling’.

    1. This is a great point, too. The format is so young, so people haven’t really adopted “pet decks” yet. Perhaps after a year or two, as the format finds its stride, certain deck strategies will stabilize. Then the players who like to “bling” out their decks can confidently do so without worrying that their deck will become irrelevant three months later.

      More reason to invest some in Modern foils that haven’t gotten any premiums yet.

  8. Well, I like investing in foils because I like foils. Sometimes I think I’ll just get a copy for my EDH deck, and then I figure, hey, they’re so pretty, maybe I should get more. Admittedly, I do spend too much personal money on shiny things, but I cannot help myself. Sometimes I lose money, but other times I get lucky, and the times I get lucky end up covering the times I lose. So, win!

    Right now, I’m snapping up any shiny Spellskite I see (Karn Liberated is fantastic, but it’s already so high, and I can’t find copies for my grabby hands). Sure, it’s a sideboard card, but it will go into any deck, and I personally love the Trollskite. I prefer picking up flexible cards, rather than the cards that drive the decks (because those are the ones that get banned). My shiny set of Bloodbraid Elf is crying in the corner of my drawer now (and I never even planned to play Jund in Modern, go figure).

    Lands, as we all know, are also safe. I agree with Jason Ruspini when he says it makes no sense for original art shocklands to be worth twice the RTR shocklands. The foils are even crazier, and I have coveted them for a very very long time (I did not play original Ravnica). People in the forums are already picking up foil RTR shocklands, and will soon be getting GTC ones. I’ve been picking up foil Scars fastlands, too, and contemplating the core set checklands.

    I don’t consider myself an expert on foils, but I like them so much, I end up researching a lot on them and paying attention to their price trends out of habit. So, yeah. 🙂

    1. That’s awesome that you are on top of foil prices. I certainly am not (except for when I want to write about it). I would encourage you to share your knowledge in the forums. All the single card discussions focus so heavily on nonfoils that we overlook price trends of foils. But sometimes the larger opportunity lies in foils (when we’re talking EDH or Eternal formats, for example). I have picked up a couple foil RtR Shocklands, but my trigger finger has been calmed some by the recent Dragon’s Maze announcement. I may wait a little longer before buying a few more now since the price floor just dropped a bit.

      Foil Spellskite is an interesting one – easily overlooked. Thanks for the idea and the comment! 🙂

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