Eternal Weekend was insane. I played so many games of Vintage, Legacy, and 1994 Magic that I felt like I went back in time to my middle school days and got to have a ball. All things considered, the old eternal formats are some of the most fun, challenging, and rewarding ways to play Magic, period.
Vintage and Legacy both have pretty solid followings, and the pricey nature of the cards actively reflects the demand and scarcity of the cards. However, I think that collectors and investors have a really nice opportunity to jump into the Old School Magic market at this very second.
First of all, I have never really played too much Old School Magic before. Some of my friends have decks and I'll jump in to pilot a few games—but up until this weekend I've never been an active participant in the format. All of that changed when I started working on tuning a sweet control deck with my friend and fellow collector/investor, Jeff Anand.
The two of us chatted about the format and brewed up a really sweet Esper version of The Deck for the Old School Championship at Eternal Weekend. Overall, the two of us playing an identical 75-card list had a combined 12-4 record. Not too shabby for brewing up a list in a format I've never played before! I wrote about my list on Channel Fireball last week, but here is the updated version:
The format was surprisingly fun and interactive. The cards may be more simplistic, but the games feel more like a chess match of stringing plays together. I think that a lot of people are drawn to the format because the games feel very different than Vintage or Legacy where there are a lot of complex and tedious interactions. The games feel more straightforward and not bogged down by lots of library manipulation.
The format is also a jackpot of nostalgia factor. Aside from the fact that the old cards are actually great in Old School by default (duh!) the old cards are already desirable to investors because they are collector items. The big impact of Old School is that it creates actual demand for these collectible cards by players, which creates opportunity.
At Eternal Weekend, Old School staples were among the hottest movers at the dealer booths and trade tables, and I think that says a lot. While the format is relatively small at the moment, I also think it has a lot of potential for growth, which I will get into in a moment. Overall, given the Reserved List, the collectible element, and now the newfound playability of some of these cards—I think Old School is a great place to invest.
When it comes to how I feel about the future of the format, I believe the sky is the limit. Old School Magic has grown steadily over the past few years and the rising prices reflect this growth. I don't see any reason why the format would stop growing. On the contrary, I believe the format is fun, exciting, and enjoyable, which will lead to continued and sustained growth. When we consider that the format ought to continue onward and upward it only makes sense that these old versions and Reserved List cards cannot be reprinted and will continue to grow in price over time.
I've actually been writing about Old School cards on and off for the past year, and several of my early suggestions have already hit fairly hard. I advised buying the cheap Antiquities Mishra's Factorys a while back and they've nearly doubled since then. There are plenty of opportunities if you know where to look. Today I'm going to share some of my hottest Old School picks.
Beta/Unlimited Common & Uncommon Staples
There has already been some growth among the good singles in Old School, which is why Arabian Nights Serendib Efreet is now over $100. However, there are lots of cards that have likely only hit a fraction of their potential value. A great place to start are cards that don't have a ton of value yet and thus have room to grow—there are plenty of frequently-played commons and uncommons that fit the bill.
While Counterspell is insane, and Mana Drain is more insane but restricted, outside of those two there are not a ton of permission options. Power Sink is the next best thing and sees a ton of play in the format. Old versions of the card are beginning to command a premium. It is also worth noting that Power Sink is just a great card, and deserves a spot in many cubes and battle boxes.
Beta Disenchant was a huge mover at Eternal Weekend. Pretty much every deck that plays white in Old School has four Disenchant in the 75, as it is one of the best cards in the format. Also, it isn't exactly like Disenchant isn't great across a variety of formats, including Modern and Vintage.
Drain Life is a finisher in the Mono-Black decks and sees a fair amount of play. I would say that some variation of Mono Black—splashing either blue for Power or red for Bolts and Red Blasts—is the premier aggro deck in the format. Hymn to Tourach, Sinkhole and Strip Mine are all great ways to apply pressure to the control decks. With Drain Life being so cheap I think it is a very reasonable card to pick up and hold for future value.
Blue Elemental Blast is another card that sees a ton of sideboard play across the format and has a relatively low price point for a Beta card. The burn spells like Lightning Bolt and Chain Lightning are important reach finishers out of the more aggressive decks, which makes it important to counter them in the late game. Blue Elemental Blast also has the added bonus of being able to kill a Blood Moon (which can be a huge deal) and is a one-mana answer to a quick Kird Ape.
There are more cards that fit my qualification: Beta commons that see substantial play but haven't spiked up past $10. I think these are all reasonable cards to invest in for Old School.
Arabian Nights, Antiquities & Legends
The same line of logic I applied to the Beta cards also plays when it comes to the first three expansions. It is obviously becoming more and more difficult to find these cards and they are prized higher than ever by collectors.
I feel like the expensive big-ticket items—Moat, The Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale, Library of Alexandria—have already reached maximum saturation when it comes to price. But there are plenty of other secondary staples that certainly have room to double or triple in price.
In an artifact-centric deck, a creature that can rebuy artifacts is a pretty big game in the control mirror. It's a pretty common tactic to board out removal in these creatureless mirrors, so creatures have an opportunity to stick and dominate the game. Argivian Archaeologist is a powerful threat that can allow you to buy back artifacts that get countered or Disenchanted for the rest of the game. I ran one in my sideboard and was very happy with it.
The card has seen some reprintings which caps the price, but I really believe Time Elemental is a criminally underplayed Old School card. I had two in my sideboard and they completely dominated my post-sideboard games when they resolved. We didn't get a chance to test the Time Elemental beforehand, so we only played two—but I would easily have added a third and possibly a fourth if I had any idea how insane it would be.
Specifically, I like the Legends and other black-bordered versions of this card as an investment. The 4th Edition versions are super common and will likely never have value, but the scarcer ones likely will. I think it's only a matter of time before Time Elemental becomes a more commonly adopted piece of technology for the control mirror match, and getting in before the spike is a great idea.
Whirling Dervish is another staple of the green decks that hasn't really gained too much value yet. It is worth noting that the card is pretty great at dodging The Abyss (protection from black) and is a house against the Mono-Black Aggro decks for obvious reasons. It is also a great nostalgia card from back in the day. I remember that this card used to be highly prized by collectors and players back before 4th Edition came out.
The same rules apply here—you want the original Legends version that die-hard flavor enthusiasts will want down the line.
The Arabian Nights version of this card is still cheaper than I believe it should be—especially when you find deals for them online. The card is actually pretty decent in Modern Zoo as well. Taiga plus Kird Ape is one of the iconic openings in Magic, and I think these critters have room to grow.
Another trend I've noticed is that lots of people build The Deck as their first Old School deck because it is so format-defining, but then once they get into the format they branch out and build more decks. As more players start to acquire cards to build different decks, there's opportunity for some of the secondary-tier staples to go up in time.
Ice Age, Homelands & Alliances
These sets are illegal in most Old School tournaments, but I could certainly see a point where they get added to the mainstream format or splinter off to form a new format. Perhaps looking to the future on some of the good cards from these sets is a good idea as well.
Thawing Glaciers is certainly a card that would see a ton of play if the format were opened up to include Alliances. Glaciers is already a great old card, and I never mind picking them up and storing them away for a rainy day. I like Glaciers as a pick.
In any version of old-timey Magic where Ice Age is legal, Necropotence is a big deal. It is basically close to the power level of the Power 9 in terms of how the old cards play together. I'll probably look to pick up a playset of these at some point, just in case.
Autumn Willow is a great card. I could see demand for it rising considerably if Homelands were made legal for Old School. It dodges Swords to Plowshares, The Abyss and Terror, and is a pretty good beater in general.
A Growth Format
My take on Old School is that the format is growing in players and popularity, and that it is a great place to focus some of our MTG investments. A lot of the key cards have already bloated up in price, which makes me think those are not the best bang for my buck right now. To be clear, I think those cards are acceptable as investments, but they will likely climb slowly in value, as opposed to the undervalued ones which have an opportunity to burst.
I like some of these smaller cards because I feel like they really have room to grow right now. As you all know, I love buying and trading into cards that I feel have nowhere to go but up because there is very little risk involved. For much of the cards I've described above, I feel those are the circumstances surrounding them.
One last note on Old School Magic: while I believe Old School singles are a great place to invest some portion of our collections right now, I also welcome you to actually consider buying in and playing the format at some point.
Obviously, the Power 9 might not be on everybody's list at the moment, but most of the local events allow for proxies. Generally speaking, the people who play Old School are chill and just want to hang out and play Magic the way it was back in the day. The format is fun and worth trying out at some point. The other upside is that nearly everything one would pick up to play is a great investment by virtue of being a nostalgic collector's item!