I thought I would have a little fun this week by focusing on a subset of cards that many players don’t know about. They tend to get forgotten in their old age, though they still have some relevance in certain circles. But there’s one thing that sets them apart from the other 10,000-plus cards in Magic: The Gathering history. These cards transcend the Reserved List.
What Does That Mean?
Well, consider this: Wizards of the Coast has created a seemingly arbitrary list of cards they promised never to reprint again. No matter their value, every card on this list is treated equally: from Black Lotus to Zuberi, Golden Feather.
Over the years, many players have clamored for an end to the Reserved List. They cry out that abolishing the list would enable some of the game’s best formats to flourish due to the reduced barrier to entry. Some are even willing to stand by while their collection declines in value if it means they will be able to find regular Vintage and Legacy opponents.
No matter where you stand on the trade-offs involved, there’s one group of cards that have no chance of being reprinted even if the Reserved List disappeared. Perhaps these are cards worth scrutinizing more closely—but before doing so, allow me to explain.
Some cards in Magic’s history carry with them some significant baggage in their title or artwork. These are cards Wizards of the Coast likely wishes never existed and would prefer to let drift into the game’s past. Therefore, even if the Reserved List was abolished immediately, this subset of cards stand out as safest from reprinting simply because of their negative connotations.
This creates a precedent: some cards can be even less reprintable than Reserved List cards simply because of their implications.
That’s not to say these are the best investments in the hobby. Surely there are better places to put money to work. But I suspect if an index were to be created that summarized these potentially offensive cards, there would be some real returns evident.
More Examples for Consideration
In a recent article, I alluded to the card Jihad, and I mentioned that regardless of the Reserved List’s fate, you can reliably invest here because the card can never be reprinted. Why not?
Well, back when the card was printed, the term “Jihad” referred to the Arabic word meaning striving or struggling toward a praiseworthy aim. Seemingly harmless, the name fit the flavor of the card and set quite well. However, recent events have warped the term, and many now associate it with violence. According to Wikipeda, Jihadism is a “21st-centry neologism found in the Western languages to describe Islamist militant movements perceived as a military movement ‘rooted in Islam’ and ‘existentially threatening’ to the West.” I can conceive of no environment where Wizards of the Coast would want to remind the world of this card’s existence. Thus, it will disappear into obscurity.
How about the card Invoke Prejudice?
This harmless blue enchantment from Legends can’t possibly be offensive, can it? Well look closely at the artwork to see for yourself. What do those characters in the picture look like to you? To me, they closely resemble an American white supremacist group, the Ku Klux Klan (KKK). Whether or not the similarities are a coincidence, Wizards would be crazy to print a card that specifically mentions prejudice so blatantly.
Both of these cards are already pretty expensive, so they may be more well-known to all of you. Here’s something a little more obscure:
What is going on in this picture? Just your usual depiction of a religious figure getting lit on fire! Talk about crossing the line. This one is also on the Reserved List, but does Wizards really need to overtly promise us they’ll never print this card again? One look at the artwork and this should be assumed!
Let’s stick with The Dark for a second. The set’s theme certainly has dark undertones, which resulted in some pretty extreme card concepts. If Martyr's Cry wasn’t worrisome enough, I suppose you could always talk to the Preacher about it. How’s that for pushing the envelope? Also on the Reserved List, this one is useful in Old School and will never see a reprint again due to the religious context.
How about the card Grave Robbers, which literally depicts a couple guys robbing something out of a grave? We probably won’t see this card printed ever again.
Want to really feel uncomfortable? Check out the card Cleanse.
The name of the card itself doesn’t imply something taboo. But if you read the card’s rules text and stop and think about the implication, you can really start to feel squirmy. I’m not going to go any deeper into this explanation—you’ll never see this card again.
How about the bondage implied by artwork for Gwendlyn Di Corci? That will certainly get some people’s attention.
According to Gamepedia, Gwendlyn was known as one of the great temptresses of Dominarian lore. Yeah, right, like Magic wants this kind of backdrop for their game? Imagine your 13-year-old son or daughter opening this card in a pack and asking you about what’s going on in the picture! No, thank you!
Lastly, although not as particularly offensive, consider Dystopia.
Here we have a card that literally means “community or society that is undesirable or frightening.” While flavor-wise it’s very clever, the political and social undertones may be a bit too much for a 21st-century collectible card game. Dystopian societies draw attention to real-world issues, and the fact that the card especially punishes green and white permanents magnifies to me the poor choice of name for this card.
I’ll admit I wanted to have a little fun this week; I realize this set of cards may not be the most cohesive for speculation. It would make no sense to buy the market out of Martyr's Cry. However, if you look at the price charts of some of these cards, you’ll see that more than one of them has proven to be lucrative over the years. What’s more, they provide an offbeat look at Magic’s past, which may increase their allure to the nostalgic collector.
Some folks (myself included) tend to forget that while Magic has broken more into the mainstream nowadays, the game does have a few skeletons in the closet when it comes to its past. Collectors will forever be interested in some of these earlier cards, and the most offensive ones tend to provide a sort of notoriety about them.
If you were interested in this article, I’d encourage you to put your MTG finance hat aside for a day and browse through some more of Magic’s original sets. Arabian Nights, The Dark, Legends, and Fallen Empires really have some darker undertones associated with them that you don’t see in a modern-day set. Even Shadows over Innistrad, which seemed like a play on H.P. Lovecraft’s The Shadow over Innsmouth, didn’t reference evil, diabolic creatures or prejudices nearly as much.
Wrapping It Up
In the Seventh Grade, I was scolded by a teacher for talking about Magic cards in school. She saw the game as a negative influence on youth, and she certainly wasn’t the only one. Other adults saw cards like Unholy Strength, with the demonic pentagram, not to mention more blatant references like Demonic Tutor and Demonic Hordes. Ironically, these cards all seem harmless now when compared to the most offensive cards in the game’s history.
These cards fall into a category which I believe transcends the Reserved List. These are cards Wizards wants no 13-year-old opening ever, and therefore they will likely never be reprinted—even should the list be abolished.
Therefore, if you’re interested in owning some of Magic’s dark past, I encourage you to pick up a few of these cards. They’re certainly a conversation starter amongst friends, and you’ll even have a chance at making some money on them in the long term. Jihad and Preacher already spiked, but surely there will be others to follow. Perhaps an all-offensive Old School deck could be constructed with enough creativity. That’s sure to earn some flavor points with “The Underground”!
- There was one card in Star City’s Old School MTG sale that caught my attention: their Near Mint Serendib Djinn. The markdown to $33.99 was just $2 above Card Kingdom’s buy list, so I couldn’t resist picking up their remaining copy. Perhaps when the sale ends this will be restocked, but it really belongs at $49.99 retail now given the recent rise in its price.
- I hadn’t realized how many neat combos were achievable with Land Equilibrium in ‘93/’94. It seems that true land denial strategies in the format come in blue and white colors rather than black and red. The utility of this enchantment has not gone unnoticed, as it is sold out at SCG with a $49.99 price tag. Even Italian copies aren’t cheap, retailing for $29.99. That’s how you know the card sees actual play!
- One last card Wizards will likely never reprint: Heaven's Gate. The artwork and flavor are brilliant, but I’m not so sure Wizards wants to release such religiously charged cards anymore. Sure, they make lots of Angels and Demons—but they haven’t printed many cards that literally depict concept religious concepts such as “heaven.” They might as well have printed a “Saint Peter” card that combos with this one!