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Insider: Reexamining Old School Magic & Out-of-Print Cards

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One of the most significant financial trends over the past few months has been the tremendous gains made by "Old School Magic" cards. For those who are unfamiliar, OSM, or "1993-94 Magic" as it is also sometimes called, is a casual format where players build constructed decks only using cards printed in The Dark or before.

I don't think, like some in the finance community, that this format is a one-shot deal based on hype alone. Playing with these cards is truly a special experience, and it's not as if they haven't supported outrageous prices in the past. Collectors already covet them, and being on the Reserve List means they can only go up.

I've had the opportunity to play the format a few times and it is certainly interesting to go back in time and play with the original cards. The format is basically exactly how I remember Type I when I first got into Magic as a sixth grader.

OSM in a Nutshell

The games feel very different than modern games. For one thing, there is a lot more grind to the format.

The answers are much better than the threats--just look at Juzám Djinn, one of the premier threats, alongside Swords to Plowshares or Counterspell. This is vastly different from Standard Constructed nowadays where Siege Rhino and Mantis Rider are considerably better than the available removal and permission.


Speaking of Juzam, the card has jumped up almost $100 in the past month because of its popularity in Old School Magic. While the threats may be worse in the format, they are certainly both cool and iconic. I mean, who wouldn't want to beat down with this truly epic card?

The complete flip of the script compared to modern Constructed offerings is what makes Old School Magic so unique and fun to play. Since threats are considerably weaker than answers, games typically go longer and feel more developed or complex. Players have the opportunity to maneuver their sequencing without much worry of getting beat down before they ever get set up.

That isn't to say that Old School Magic is slow and boring. The Power 9 is legal and so while the threats may appear tame compared to Tarmogoyf and Dark Confidant, players can use Moxen to accelerate those threats onto the battlefield! Of course, the ability to play busted iconic cards like Moxen and other Vintage-restricted cards is another big reason the format is so popular.

Right now the format is characterized by a bunch of different "house rules" that vary by region and playgroup. Some groups don't allow for Revised cards like dual lands, some don't allow new card face reprints, some allow Collector's Edition or International Edition, and some even allow slightly newer sets like Ice Age and Fallen Empires.

The key here is that the format is in the beginning stages of development, and people are taking it in a lot of different directions. Basically, people agree they want to find a way to play with all the old cards like they did back in the day, but there appears to be many interpretations of how this should work.

I don't think this is a bad thing either. One of the problems I see with a format like 1993 Magic is that it never rotates or changes. Multiple versions of the format give players something to experiment with and switch between to keep things from getting too stale.

Are you bored of playing the same decks against each other in your play group? Well, let's add Ice Age and Fallen Empires to the mix and see what happens...

Collector's & International Edition

I really like Collector's Edition (CE) and International Edition (IE) cards as investments right now. I believe most play groups and tournaments for OSM will ultimately allow square-corner cards, which will have a nice effect on the prices of format staples. Look for cards like Power 9, dual lands, and other Reserve List staples from these promotional sets to pick up steam next year.

In particular, the CE and IE cards look really nice (despite having square corners and gold backs) and feature the original Beta card face and lettering. They much more accurately fit the feel of Old School Magic than Revised versions, because they look like the originals.

I also like the idea picking up some of the weird playable cards from the format that are not too expensive. Chaos Orb is exactly the kind of CE card that I could see being a solid pick-up right now.


I've noticed that Chaos Orb has actually gone up significantly in the past month, and the rise of OSM is almost certainly one of the reasons. Many people don't know this but Orb is easily one of the best cards in the entire format. It's basically a colorless Vindicate that every single deck plays!

I've actually picked up a couple copies of Chaos Orb and stashed them away in my investment portfolio.

I think that CE and IE duals and Power are certainly going to be the highest-yield cards from the square-border set. Now that there's a legitimate outlet for players who want to use and enjoy these gorgeous cards, they will see increased demand.

Arabian Nights

Almost the entirety of the Arabian Nights expansion has seen significant gains over the past month. Pretty much any card that you'd recognize by name (and also a bunch you wouldn't) went up in value because of Old School.

The set actually has a pretty high power level compared to the rest of the format. Aside from the ridiculous and laughable power level of the P9, many of the format-defining cards hail from this small expansion.

In particular, the djinn and efreet cards are among the most efficient threats in the format. It isn't surprising that Juzam Djinn and both of the Serendibs saw huge gains already. It's also kind of funny that King Suleiman and City in a Bottle have seen significant spikes as an answer to the dominant threats.


City is easily the best sideboard card in the format. Against the aggro decks it may well kill multiple threats, and then sit in play as a virtual Meddling Mage naming most of their creatures!


There was a long period of time when Library of Alexandria was considered quasi-Power 9. Back in the day Library was always in the discussion for the most powerful card in the game, and it's worth noting that for much of its history it held the same value as a Mox.

Old School makes it easy to remember why this card was always held in such high regard. With slower games, grindy card advantage becomes important, and Library is easily the best card in the format. It can win games all by itself if unanswered.

The OSM price surges have spiked the value of Library. I've cashed out store credits at two different local stores and picked up a couple of extra Libraries to hold onto for a while.

There has also long been discussion of unrestricting Library in Vintage. If this were to happen, the price is almost certain to climb even higher.

~

I've noticed a lot of stores haven't updated prices on old singles, and it really is a prime time to take advantage. Old cards (especially expensive ones) tend to turn over slowly, sitting on shelves until that very specific buyer comes in.

Now might be the time to make a move on cards that have been hanging around shelves at your local game store. If your store isn't aware that Old School is a thing, or that prices have been on the move, they may be offering some very nice deals on hot Beta, Arabian Nights, or Legends cards that have gone up.

The cool thing about these Old School cards is that most of them are also Reserve List cards. Many are already collector's items, and without a possibility of reprint, the floor is very high.

The neat thing about 1994 Magic is that it gives these collectible cards a home for actual play. My opinion is that old cards are among the safest, most surefire investments in all of Magic collecting. They are iconic, significantly rare, cool to look at, and now with OSM once again playable! It's the perfect storm.

2 thoughts on “Insider: Reexamining Old School Magic & Out-of-Print Cards

  1. The bad thing is that there are so few of these cards that with collectors holding significant numbers, speculators holding significant numbers and stores holding significant numbers there are actually very few copies left to actually play with for the players.

    Be ready to play hot potato with other speculators if you decided to get in.

    1. I went for the TL fad, and I fear this is just the next one. As Pi mentions, there are very few copies of this and for a format to really thrive lots of players need to try it out so that the ones who really enjoy it will keep playing it. With so few of the staples available (and a ridiculous entry point); it’s hard to argue that Old Skill will grow while claiming Legacy will die (due to a lower entry point and reduced support)

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