Insider: Investing in “Old School” Cards

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The latest craze in the Magic: the Gathering collectible world is Old School Magic. For those who are unfamiliar with the premise, "Old School Magic," or "1993/1994 Magic," is a format where players use only cards from the earliest Magic sets.

The format reminds me of the early days of EDH, when the rules were still in flux and the primary objective was to have fun playing weird and wild cards.

While there are ton of different rules sets depending on region and playgroup, the basic gist of the format goes as follows: "Vintage with a Restricted List, but any cards newer than The Dark are banned."

So the set list for the format is Alpha, Beta, Unlimited, Revised, Arabian Nights, Antiquities, Legends and The Dark.

Some playgroups allow Fallen Empires and/or Ice Age. It really just depends on which cards you and your group of friends agree to play with. Regardless of the specifics, the premise remains largely the same: to play with all the "original" Magic cards.

The thing that's really neat about Old School is it provides deck builders with a lot of interesting options. You can use sweet cards like moxen to accelerate into the late game, but your threats are much worse than what's available today. You have to get creative.

Yes, Ancestral Recall and Time Walk are amazing, but what are you going to pair them with? It isn't like you can Yawgmoth's Will or Tendrils of Agony, because those cards clearly don't exist yet!

Initial Bumps

Djinns and Efreets

Two of the choice threats have already seen dramatic boosts in price.

These are both iconic Arabian Nights cards with amazing artwork, but in the context of Old School Magic, they're also among the most powerful aggressive creatures.

In comparison to something like Mantis Rider, Serendib Efreet might look quite tame, but given the other options from the first four sets, it's quite the little powerhouse! Its raw rate on power/toughness to CMC is among the best and it dodges Lightning Bolt, one of the premier spells in the format.

Juzam falls into a similar vein where it basically only dies to Swords to Plowshares. Other popular removal spells like Bolt, Terror, and the Elemental Blasts can't put this genie back in the lamp.

Library of Alexandria

Another card that has seen significant growth recently is Library of Alexandria.

Many people consider Library to be the singularly most powerful card in all of Old School Magic. This doesn't surprise me because I remember back in the 90's whenever people discussed the "best Magic card," Library always got a strong vote.

The raw card advantage provided by Library is extremely potent. The format is grindy and fair, so netting an extra card a turn is hard to battle against for long.

City in a Bottle

City in a Bottle is probably the best sideboard card in the format because it deals with roughly a fifth of the cards, depending which rules one uses. While Arabian Nights may be a small set in a field with two other big sets, its power level is extremely high. It has a much higher percentage of playable cards compared to Legends or Beta.

The fact that City in a Bottle keeps doing work after destroying several permanents is completely ridiculous. It's like a mass Vindicate stapled to a Meddling Mage that can name several cards at once!

Some Unexpected Candidates

Over the last month or so, all the good Old School cards have gone up in value as players are looking to put together decks. In particular, solid playables from Alpha, Beta, Unlimited and Arabian Nights have been the biggest gainers so far. It makes sense because these are by far the most short-printed sets compared to Legends, Antiquities and The Dark.

Basically, anything that looks even remotely playable is probably playing a role somewhere in Old School and has suddenly become desirable. A card doesn't have to do much in order to carve out a niche within the context of the small 1994 card pool.

For instance, I play a control deck where my primary win condition is this little gem:

Now, The Hive is not great by today's standards but there are few answers to it in Old School outside of Disenchant and A-Shattered Seraph. It also embarrasses Lightning Bolts and Swords to Plowshares. In a format dominated by grinding card advantage, The Hive is the epitome of the Old School control game.

SCG is selling Beta The Hive for $50.

It's significant that many card shops have copies of cards like this just collecting dust in cases, priced well below the current rate. Unless somebody actively tells you they've gained significant value in the past few weeks, how would you even know? Most people don't check the prices on random, obscure old cards very often.

Collectors & Graded Copies

Another noticeable trend is people who aren't specifically Magic players but want to collect Magic cards. There are certainly a lot of people who are speculating in the continued growth of Magic: The Gathering as a collector's item, and old cards are among their principle targets.

These speculators, and many players as well, are looking to acquire cards in gradable condition. These cards are 20 years old and it's growing more and more difficult to find Near Mint (NM) copies.

Anything from Alpha, Beta, and Arabian Nights that looks "like new" or "perfect" can actually command a price tag much higher than the typical NM condition price tag. There are certainly collectors willing to pay a huge premium to get these rare cards in absolutely great condition.

If you need proof of this phenomenon, just look at the Graded 10 Black Lotus on eBay...

The Old School cards are among the oldest and most iconic cards in the game, so it stands to reason that they make the best collector's items.

Keep in mind at some point in the future there will be a Magic: The Gathering movie, which could attract a gigantic influx of new players and collectors. When and if that day comes, we may see a jump in prices on collectible Magic items across the board, and almost assuredly on the oldest stuff.


If you are able to get ahold of this stuff for a good price I highly recommend moving in. The prices will only continue to rise as other players and collectors take note of these changes and look to capitalize.

Did you know that Chaos Orb from Unlimited is well over $100? Or even that it's an Old School staple? It's basically played in every single deck, as a functional colorless Vindicate with one of the sickest artworks of all time.

I've moved a significant chunk of my Magic portfolio into Old School cards. I actually wrote about Old School Magic a while back and I'm glad I took my own advice. Many of my buys have seen significant gains already.

The key is that a lot of the old "junk" cards have recently become highly desirable and in demand. As I alluded to earlier, this is reminiscent of the early days of EDH when random bulk rares like Gilded Lotus and Gauntlet of Power began to creep up in price.

4 thoughts on “Insider: Investing in “Old School” Cards

  1. * sigh *

    So you’ve been playing EDH since ’96 then?

    Please see Ryan’s Old School article on the free side, in the comments you’ll find the arguments against investing in the format. On one side they are bad investments because it’s mostly seculators buying, on the other side it’s ruining the format as without card availability nobody is able to play it.

    Stay away, speculation will kill this format.

    1. Agreed with Pi, I was also part of that comments section as well. Voiced all the issues (in adition to the QS Cast) with “investing” into this format.

      I would have to say it’s not as sound an investment, simply because of liquidity. As these prices sky rocket people sell out of the format (because it doesn’t hold interest for a lot of people).

      Good article Brian, but I’m skeptical, and I just don’t like this getting more press than it does. It’s essentially Tiny Leaders 2.0 (I did write about TL) and this just seems more destructive because of all the overlap between reserved list.

      Tiny Leaders was at least less detrimental to the market because it was these random “tiny leader” foils, most of which had healthy supply. The issue is even with that, it killed the format because of over-hyping and over-inflation. I see the same thing with Oldschool, King Suleiman just doesn’t seem like a good investment to me. “It was bound to go up sometime” doesn’t seem like a great argument when it was roughly 6-8$ for…10 years?

      1. I’m with these guys….Chaz said it best…Old School is Tiny Leader 2.0. That format looked really promising (we had 4-5 people at our shop all building decks within a few weeks of the format being brought to light)…and after about 2 months…nobody bothers to bring their decks anymore and I have 2 just sitting on a shelf doing nothing.

  2. So no Revised cards allowed?? Only the actual print runs of that era?? Take that noobs!

    This would be fun and nostalgic if I had kept all of those cards, but alas I did not think long term when I was playing in high school.

    Can’t begrudge anyone with the resources to invest in all of this. It sure would feel good to ramp into Force of Nature again and to Disenchant a Juggernaut.

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