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Insider: Combing the Reserved List

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Last week I pointed out some Legacy cards which may have been overlooked during the recent resurgence in demand for Eternal staples. I identified how foil Delver of Secrets // Insectile Aberration seemed criminally underpriced and also how other foils deserve a second glance, such as Creeping Tar Pit.

My article was not intended to incite buyouts. That is never my intent when I communicate anything publicly about MTG finance.

But a couple of people latched onto these ideas in the QS Forums and now foil Delvers and foil Creeping Tar Pits are more expensive. You know what? They should be. It was just a matter of time, and in no way did I orchestrate this movement.

Sometimes, buyouts are instigated on purpose. When Autumn Willows disappeared from the internet, it was all because of one person’s (strange) interest.


Suddenly this once-worthless card has value. It is buylisting for $0.75 and retailing for a few bucks!

While demand for this particular card will hopefully not spike because of this buyout, the person who amassed the Autumn Willow collection really doesn’t have to worry about his collection plummeting in price. After all, Autumn Willow is on the Reserved List.

Reserved List Effects

Cards on the Reserved List can never be reprinted for regular game play. This decree is self-enforced by Wizards of the Coast, and was made even more strict in March 2010 when they published their pledge. The list includes mostly rares and U3’s from older Magic sets. The comprehensive list can be found here.

So because Autumn Willow shows up on this list, Wizards of the Coast has promised never to reprint it ever again (shucks?).

When it comes to silly underpowered creatures like Autumn Willow, most people don’t even blink an eye at the Reserved List. On the other hand dozens of cards that appear on this list are high in demand and low in supply.

Dual lands are probably the most notorious cards in that category--as long as they remain on the Reserved List, Wizards of the Coast will never be able to make Legacy more affordable. Duals are at the backbone of the format (along with fetches) and their rising prices can never be counteracted by reprints. Therefore when Volcanic Island becomes a $300 card it’s likely to stay there.


City of Traitors is another Reserved List land that has been on a tear lately. A Legacy staple from almost 20 years ago that’s on the Reserved List? I’m only surprised that this jump didn’t occur sooner!

City

Once legitimate demand sends a Reserved List card higher, you can believe that it will never come down in a meaningful way as long as the game continues to be popular. Because of their age, most Reserved List cards are much harder to find on the open market. You’ll find far fewer copies of a rare from Mirage available for sale than you’ll find for Modern sets.

Sometimes even if a spike is orchestrated and happens overnight,a card on the Reserved List won’t retract in price much at all. When Gaea's Cradle spiked, the jump happened very suddenly. Yet even though the amount of play Cradle saw in Tier 1 Legacy decks didn’t alter much, the rarity of this legendary land meant the price wouldn’t really retract much. And it still hasn’t one year after it shot up.

Cradle

Other examples of rising Reserved List all-stars include Eureka, Chains of Mephistopheles and Moat. Seriously, the list goes on and on.

Left Behind

Since Magic is more popular now than ever before, it would make perfect sense that popular Legacy, Vintage and casual staples on the Reserved List continue to soar into the sky. Being on the Reserved List means there will always be fixed supply. In fact one could argue supply gradually diminishes as cards are lost and damaged.

Bets on Reserved List cards are basically bets on Magic as a whole. If more players enter the game these will go up in price. Seems like a solid investment, right?

Strangely enough there are some popular cards on the Reserved List which haven’t yet gotten onto the latest price-spike train. There are some cards currently played in Legacy and EDH which are on the Reserved List and yet have not budged much at all in price of late. Can you believe this? Here are a few examples.

Intuition

Intuition

Hasn’t Intuition been a playable Legacy card for years now? Yet the card has actually declined in price over the past couple years. Sure there’s a promo printing of the card, but then again there’s a promo for Gaea's Cradle too.

I know the Legacy metagame has been evolving and this card may have fallen out of favor recently. But the card still is played and I can’t find a reason why this wouldn’t be a wise investment going forward. If Eureka can maintain a $100+ price tag on nostalgia and one-time Legacy stardom alone, then I believe Intuition could go higher.

Metalworker


Metalworker had been on the decline for over a year. The artifact creature always seems so breakable, but it can’t seem to consistently break into the top tables at SCG Opens. Nevertheless the card has shown small signs of life in the past few months, and being on the Reserved List bodes well for a small investment here.

The creature’s ability is also very powerful. Wizards of the Coast doesn’t take this kind of mana acceleration lightly, so the chances of a card being printed with a similar ability at such an aggressive mana cost is unlikely.

Grim Monolith

Remember when this card was unbanned in Legacy and it shot up in price dramatically? Unlike Illusionary Mask, Grim Monolith actually saw Legacy play in serious quantities. The mana acceleration is powerful, and EDH players love their artifact mana acceleration as well.


Now four years later the card is on the rise yet again. They say a rising tide lifts all ships, and this Legacy card is no exception. Being on the Reserved List is an added bonus for this potential investment. I could see it going higher.

Island of Wak-Wak


This idea is a bit more far-fetched, but I think there are merits to a small play on this land. The card has a powerful ability that can be played in every EDH deck. It’s a shame it doesn’t tap for mana, but Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth fixes that in black decks.

The artwork is also nice, and the card’s flavor is phenomenal. In fact that holds true for almost every card in Arabian Nights. I don’t think this card will blow up any time soon, but with there only being a couple dozen in stock it’s not impossible. If people did buy a few copies here and there, I’m fairly confident you wouldn’t see a sudden surge of new sellers. This card is very old, and being on the Reserved List means it’s going to remain rare forever.

Long Shots

It’s amazing how many terrible cards there are on the Reserved List. What do you mean Icatian Skirmishers can never be reprinted?! Oh no!!

Some cheaper Reserved List cards are worth a second glance, however. What about something like Tithe, which has a very powerful ability? It’s only worth about five bucks, but being on the Reserved List means this card’s likely never to drop in value. It may be dead money for a long time, but if you wanted to gamble I’d say this could be a prime choice. I like situations where upside is there but there’s virtually no downside.

Retribution of the Meek seems like a strong card for EDH. So does Shimmer. Or how about that glimmer of hope that Earthcraft gets unbanned? All of these show up on the Reserved List, and so their supply will continuously dwindle.

As I mentioned at this article’s open, I am not advocating reckless buyouts. They are foolish and I question how easy it is to profit from such an endeavor. I just see prices tumble back down from artificial peaks way too often. Once a price spikes, all the sellers come out of the woodwork looking to capitalize on the higher price. Thus the race to the bottom commences.

Older cards on the Reserved List are a bit different. As long as the card has some real demand from Legacy, EDH, etc. then a price jump is much more sustainable. That doesn’t mean you should go buy the internet out of Tithe this instant, but it does mean a small bet on a few Reserved List cards could add some stability to your portfolio.

I especially like the Legacy-playable cards like Intuition and Metalworker. As far as the rising tide goes, these boats seem to have been anchored down. I don’t think this can last forever however. As long as the game grows in popularity, these cards will have an upward trajectory. Acquire accordingly.

…

Sigbits

  • Star City Games finally relisted foil Rest in Peace, at the new price of $14.99. Honestly, I think this price is reasonable for the short term. I can’t advocate buying at this new price, but I’m not in a rush to sell my set either.
  • Someone decided Damia, Sage of Stone was too cheap. It spiked now, and SCG has just two SP copies in stock at $12.99 ($14.99 for NM). This price seems sustainable to me given the rise in EDH’s popularity since the 2011 Commander decks saw print.
  • The run up on Zendikar fetches finally ended. They seem to have settled in price. They may even have a small downward trend after their rapid rise of late. Dual lands, however, still have tons of room to run. Consider this: SCG has 101 copies of Misty Rainforest in stock across all three conditions, yet they have been sold out of Tropical Islands for the last couple weeks. It’s pretty obvious which will go up next.

9 thoughts on “Insider: Combing the Reserved List

  1. You probably meant U1’s.

    I do think the Autumn Willow fan will have to worry about the card coming down again. It’s unclear if you were sarcastically referring to the myth that reserved list cards don’t really come down after they’ve gone up?

    I’ve been quite surprised at prices in Europe lagging behind on reserved list cards. I have noticed many discrepancies on high value cards between the markets and I would expect that if the difference is big enough a big shop in the US could arrange for a 3rd party to buy for them on MCM for example. City of Traitors is one such card I’ve noticed it for, but it does seem to be rising now. There are still quite a few EX or better Volcanic Islands in the €105-€135 range.

    Gaea’s Cradle’s spike coincided with the Legend rule change. Increased Legacy play was not relevant to it, it was simply the most expensive card that benefitted from the change.

    While there is indeed a Gaea’s Cradle promo it’s from the first batch of foil promo’s to be released and it was always pretty hard to obtain one. The Intuition promo is much less rare.

    Eureka is considerably more rare than Intuition. There are less than 20k copies per Legends rare. yes, it is seeing less Legacy play than Intuition, but, I think you can expect it to see more EDH play. While you may be right that Intuition could hit $100+ under the right circumstances I highly disagree with the Eureka comparison being valid. I can only see this happen if something is released that is highly synergistic with Intuition and even then some serious tournament results will be required.

    Why make the Illusionary Mask – Grim Monolith comparison? Both availability and function are completely different. Also, yes, EDH players love their artifact mana aceleration, but, this is not the kind of card they’d be looking for in that context. The card gains you 1 mana this turn or 3 in a later turn and allows you to change 4 now into 3 later. This means either combo or a weird deck that aims to generate a ton of mana in a single explosive turn. This is a small subset of EDH decks. Normally the artifact mana acceleration love is limited to accelerators that are simpler and do their thing all the time, like Darksteel Ignot or Chromatic Latern. Monolith is just too much work and much harder to see the benefit of.

    Don’t want to say the Monolith is bad to pick up, but the reasoning provided just isn’t sound. If anything I’d consider the City of Traitors rise as better indicator of what can be expected from the Monolith as both have similar functions (+1 mana) and are likely being pushed up by the same format (Legacy).

    I like Island of Wak-Wak, have long felt it should be more expensive. No love for Winding Canyons though? That’s my preferred Reserved List land to pick up. Way too cheap for it’s power level in EDH. I am yet to run into an EDH deck where I wouldn’t want to play it. It’ll likely be more widely played than the Island, does provide mana, is cheaper to get into and was a 3rd set rare. For these I like to look at Volrath’s Stronghold as an indicator and both the Canyons and Island compara favorably on (likely) rarity and amount of decks that could play them. I believe they both only need better PR, but Canyons are considerably easier to get into and even if they double in price still wouldn’t cost so much that most EDH players would feel uncomfortable paying for them.

    I’ve picked up a few extra Duals and am working on a deal with my preferred store where I’ve locked in the old price they had Trops and Tundra’s listed at. I’ve done this with them before, getting 2 Chains of Mephistoteles for about half of what they were going for at the time about 3 months after the rise when we completed our deal. Should work out nicely, particularly because I’m trading in store credit for it and they pay me very well in credit.

    1. Before I forget, I only compared Mask and Monolith because they were unbanned at the same time. It was my wish to compare their price performance since unbanning. The comparison was made only for this purpose.

      As for Eureka/Intuition – this comparison was mostly one out of convenience. My intent was not to argue that Intuition should be $100 because it’s just like Eureka. Only that a Legacy playable card, even one with hype that comes and goes, can maintain an elevated price tag. This argument should also be sound.

      1. There are at most 22800 tournament legal Illusionary Masks in the world. No numbers are available on Urza’s Legacy print runs, but I think it to be likely that there are somewhere between 10x and 50x as many English Monoliths and also many more in other languages. Mask had a much higher starting price to get in on even before the unban and it did shoot up at the time to the point that many likely wouldn’t consider building a deck around it due to cost. I understand that they have overlap in when they were unbanned, but that’s unfortunately where the similarity ends.

        The argument for Eureka is similar, there are only 19500 English copies. This is such a small amount that any interest at all is capable of propping up the price, be it casual play, collectors or minimal tournament play. There will also be so many more Intuitions than Eurekas that the comparison becomes invalid.

        To make the argument you want to make you probably should ignore any cards before Ice Age because for those cards rarity is just too big a factor. I’m sure examples to which it applies can be found or at least will be found some day as with Magic’s growth even Tempest cards will at some point start to be rare relative to the number of active players looking for them. (I couldn’t think of any example off the top of my head).

  2. Pi,

    Thank you for the thorough feedback! I had a feeling I would be hearing from you – your knowledge of the Reserved List, older cards, and EDH far surpasses my own. While your arguments are stronger than my own, I believe we agree on the final conclusion. The Reserved List cards I identified above are likely safe investments with higher likelihood for upside than downside.

    There may be many more promo printings of Intuition, but those promos are $150! I highly doubt these promos are what’s keeping non-promo prices down. Minimally this gap should close a little bit.

    I did mean U1’s, you’re right. I confused the two!

    Reserved List cards can go down in price – they just don’t do it too often. I believe the trend (especially going forward) will be up much more frequently than down. If garbage like Autumn Willow gets bought out, I’m sure the price can come back down (although not so quickly as its still a very old card). But when something like Chains or Moat rises, I don’t expect these to drop in price at all. Especially if the rise isn’t from an overnight buy-out. That’s why I think Reserved List cards are such good plays. They have low downside but decent upside, especially in the longer term.

    Sorry, Winding Canyons will have to wait another day. Or you could post a thread about the card in the forums! Get the discussion going 🙂

    1. We agree on the outcome, yes. “Teach a man to fish” though: with flawed reasoning a reader might start applying the same flawed reasoning in the future to other cards and mess up considerably, with sounds reasoning the reader should be able to extrapolate correctly for other cards. Now I don’t think it was all that bad in this case, but I did feel an elaborate reply was needed.

      I agree the Intuition promo is not likely keeping prices down, I think lack of tournament play and print run size is. Should a card that breaks Intuition be printed (or discovered I suppose) I could see it double up and maybe over time even reach $100. A lot needs to happen though so I’m guessing we’re talking about at least a 5 year timeframe if not more. I think the promo is possibly rare enough for the price difference to make sense. The formats it could be played in are after all known for attracting pimps, so you might expect a larger percentage of the promo print run to see play.

      I would not be surprised to see Autumn Willow drop back down to $0.5-$1, the guy who bought all those copies did not seem eager to keep buying (he posted on the misprints & rarities FB group). It will take a while, but only further demand is going to keep her price up and she simply isn’t good enough.

      Chains or Moat are in a very different category, much more rare (about 20x as rare) and seeing both Tournament play and casual play (granted, casual play less so for the Chains). Those I think will stay high for a long time. Chains was bought out btw, as much was clear from posts on the QS forum. I got myself 6 copies at the time and I remember at least 1 person posting they got 13 copies. That’s 0.1% of all the copies just between us 2 and there were more people saying they were buying any copies they could find.

      I agree with the main premise though. Reserved list cards don’t usually go down much in the long run. I’m always happy to get in on the more interesting ones.

      I would’ve sworn I had already started a Winding Canyons topic, but the forum search can’t seem to find it. Regardless, I have mentioned my liking of the card is article replies and forum replies many times.

      1. “The formats it could be played in are after all known for attracting pimps, so you might expect a larger percentage of the promo print run to see play.”

        Just a little further elaboration here, Gaea’s Cradle was always a very popular kitchen table casual card. People would need to get a copy and it was always fairly pricey so they would get the cheaper version (I remember the foil being about 80-100 guilders when it just came out, to compare, Duals were 10-15 guilders and you could even get some of the Beta Duals for under 100 guilders). I think many Cradles are still hiding in casual decks and collections and a higher percentage of the non-foils are seeing play there. As such the reasoning used for the Intuition price discrepancy would not apply here.

  3. on the topic of the price difference between EU and US market:

    MCM has US buyers

    Coolstuff Inc buys cards from me. SCG too.

    Some of these shops make me send the cards to Karmacrow. So there is a clear deal there!

    I don’t know if this information is known or not. If not, you think I should post it in the forum?

    1. It makes a lot of sense, but I don’t believe it’s generally known (I’ve only heard rumors). I guess it’s up to you to decide if you want to discuss it ont he forum, however I do feel that that would make sense.

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