Welcome devout readers and anyone else. Today's article will focus on the lesser known Magic sets Portal, Portal: Second Age, Starter 1999, and Starter 2000. I won't review Portal 3 Kingdoms because quite frankly everyone seems to know most of those cards are valuable, but I'll bet you didn't know there are quite a few cards in the other sets worth more than 4 dollars.
This article started as I was going through one of my LGS's recent collection buys. I ran across Ancient Craving, a little known rare from Portal: Second Age and Starter 1999. This precursor to Sign in Blood is a rare valued around 7-10 dollars. To be honest, I didn't know this at the time. I had no idea of the rarity and they sold it to me for 5 cents assuming it was a common.
When I got home I was pleasantly surprised to find that this card alone was more than I paid for the stack of commons and uncommons I had pulled. That got me thinking that I need to brush up on these sets as there are a lot of hidden gems; due mainly to the fact that the sets didn't sell very well and the cards were (at the time) considered to be weaker in power than anything you could pull from a Standard set. With that bit of history (and the reason I choose this subject) let's delve into the mysteries of the Portal sets.
Ancient Craving -- As previously mentioned this card is a mixture between Sign in Blood and Infernal Contract. It was the Portal version of Ambition's Cost (with a different name, so it can be run alongside its better known brother in EDH). It's important to note that this card is in the Tibalt vs. Sorin deck so the price will drop a little.
Akroma, Angel of Fury -- A 3/5 angel that gets shuffled in when it dies for 6 mana. For 1 more white you get Serra Avatar, but those angel collectors are a hearty bunch who'll pay lots for a low print angel.
Archangel -- This is an interesting one. It's been printed as an uncommon recently and there are copies in Portal: Second Age, Portal, and Starter 1999; however, the Portal: Second Age one is the only way to get the rk Post artwork.
Armageddon -- The Portal versions specifically are more valuable because they have really cool artwork (at least from my point of view) and are the only black bordered copies you can get for under 50 dollars.
Brimstone Dragon -- A 6/6 haste dragon for a whopping eight mana and it's worth 15-20 dollars (thank you dragon collectors).
Champion Lancer -- A 3/3 that prevents all damage dealt to it by creatures for six mana. An upgraded Cho-Manno Revolutionary, but a card that doesn't have a brother printed elsewhere in any other set.
Cloud Dragon -- A 5/4 flyer that can only block flyers for six mana (which by Portal standards is a bomb rare). Another card gifted by its dragon creature type.
Cruel Bargain -- The Infernal Contract clone from Portal that does show up in Legacy Spanish Inquisition decks, this gem is close to 15 dollars and are very hard to find.
Cruel Tutor -- This is a one of a kind Portal card combining Vampiric Tutor and Demonic Tutor. The two life payment and putting the card on top of your library (a là Vampiric) and the sorcery speed of Demonic at a total CMC of three. Luckily, this card is yet another tutor for EDH and thus maintains a nice 20 dollar price tag.
Devastation -- This Jokulhaups-like reprint is another card whose value is due to EDH, but what sets this one aside (other than the cool name and artwork) is the fact that unlike Jokulhaups this card does not destroy artifacts. This is because (suprise suprise) there are no artifacts in Portal, Portal: Second Age, Starter 1999, or Starter 2000.
Ebon Dragon -- This is another one of those dragons you can only find in Portal....or FTV: Dragons. Strictly a collector's card (instead of a casual or EDH one).
Endless Cockroaches -- This one I'm pretty sure is due to the card name itself.
Balefire Dragon -- It does appear that the dragon collectors have single-handedly boosted one half the value out of these sets, doesn't it?
Gift of Estates -- This is a worse version of Archangel of Tithes that happened to be printed at uncommon in 9th edition. But it's a great way to draw three cards in a mono-white EDH deck, even if those cards will all be plains.
Goblin Settler -- a $45 uncommon goblin. This one has fringe playability in Legacy Goblins (though I haven't seen it in any lists yet), but it's the only goblin that doubles as a Stone Rain ([card Goblin Ruinblaster]Ruinblaster[/card] can't hit basics and doesn't blow up a land when vialed in.)
Grim Tutor -- This is the Starter card everyone knows about. A $190 dollar tutor because it isn't banned in Legacy (unlike Demonic and Vampiric). Similar to Cruel Tutor, this one is another shot by Wizards at "fixing" tutors, though it appears they decided that Diabolic was the correct one and that four mana and no life is a fair trade to find any card in your deck. Occasionally you hear about people finding these in collections or bulk bins due to the fact that as a Starter card its value often goes overlooked.
Natural Order -- This is a Legacy staple and some people actually prefer this version because it's harder to find (personally I like the original artwork more).
Norwood Priestess -- This is an Elvish Piper like-reprint (with a different mana cost). It does not require you to pay a green mana to activate it, but it does require the creature you cheat in to be green.
Rain of Daggers -- This is a Portal exclusive and a card I'd pick up if I saw it in a trade binder. It has no "sisters" outside of Portal and the ability to destroy all of one player's creatures at the cost of six mana and two life per creature is very unique.
Razorclaw Bear -- It's one of only two rare bears in existence, the other being Pale Bears from Ice Age. I can only assume this card's value stems from either it's flavor text (which I personally find humorous) or the simple fact that it makes up 50% of the rare bears.
Righteous Fury -- A Portal exclusive, this is another one I'd pick up if I saw it in a trade binder. Wrath effects always find a place in EDH and the life gain can be brutal against token strategies.
Sea Drake -- Another Portal exclusive, we actually get a very strong creature for three mana with the drawback of bouncing two of your lands back into your hand, which in some decks (Stasis for example) isn't a drawback at all.
Sylvan Tutor -- The last of the Portal tutors (and worth $20-25), this is a reprint of Worldly Tutor, except again at sorcery speed. This is a really big EDH card and very hard to find in trade binders, a definite pickup.
Temporal Manipulation -- This Portal reprint of Time Warp is $50-60 dollars, with one minor but important difference. Temporal Manipulation specifies "you" which means it can't be misdirected/diverted to the opponent. This seems rather fringe but when it comes to Legacy players want the very best of the best and this minor distinction makes this card better than Time Warp. The fact that it gives another turn (which is very popular in EDH) also helps with the price tag.
Thunder Dragon -- The last of the Portal/Starter exclusive dragons, up until Knights vs. Dragons was printed. But as we all know, when it comes to "collectors" only the original will do and this guy fetches $15-20 dollars compared to the 1 dollar his KvD counterpart will get.
Time Warp -- This is an exact reprint of the Tempest version (down to the artwork, which is odd for the Starter/Portal series), but it gives a player another turn and while it was reprinted in M10 it had new artwork and was mythic, thus keeping the supply less saturated.
Virtue's Ruin -- This Portal exclusive was a sister card to Nature's Ruin, except it had no "real world" counterpart and is the only copy of this ability available at this mana cost.
Wrath of God -- This iconic card received different artwork for it's Portal debut, and any purist will tell you: when you can't get it in foil, get the hardest-to-find artwork.
Beware the Reprint
I hope you enjoyed our little adventure through the Portal (and Starter, but that doesn't sound as cool). Keep in mind that many of these cards only retain their value due to the rarity of the card itself (not necessarily the ability), thus a reprint will drop the value, though if Thunder Dragon is any indicator not by much.