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Insider: Surprising Alpha and Beta Commons & Uncommons

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Editor's note: Our embedded graphs from Trader Tools are behaving a little buggy at the moment, which is preventing the display of the Beta prices. You can still see all these charts in Trader Tools itself.

Last weekend when I spoke with Niels (pi) about different cards worth keeping on my radar, he mentioned Beta Psionic Blast. The idea certainly merited mention and I thank him for the suggestion. In fact, I want to thank him even more, because after I considered the idea further I realized he was onto something more than just a single card. In reality, there are a number of Beta (and Alpha) commons and uncommons that are worth a closer look.

Everyone already knows about the heavy hitters; Beta Swords to Plowshares, Lightning Bolt, Demonic Tutor, and Sol Ring have been worth significantly more than most other cards from the set. But I wonder if Psionic Blast from Beta surprised a few folks. If not, I suspect there are other cards that would be surprising should you learn about their value and apparent utility in certain formats.


In a world where Reserved List cards from Arabian Nights, Legends, The Dark, and Antiquities get loads of attention thanks to MTG Stocks, some lesser known cards off the Reserved List may be underappreciated. I am seeking to change this.

Uncommons

The first card I want to mention is Serra Angel. This card was played significantly back when ‘93/’94 was the only format in town 23 years ago. The power of a flying creature with vigilance for a fair mana cost was one to reckon with. I hypothesize that her popularity back then has reduced the number of Near Mint copies today. This is of course because very few people played with sleeves back then. After all, she wasn’t worth the $100 she is now.


My suspicion that Near Mint copies are very rare is supported by the fact that Star City Games is currently offering $80 for her, but only $40 if your copy is played. Such a steep drop-off is surely driven by the difficulty of finding such minty copies.

Even before Old School MTG took off in popularity, people were eager to acquire nice Beta copies of Serra Angel due to her iconic nature. A different $100 Beta uncommon has shown more explosive growth over the past couple years. I’m talking about another iconic card: Icy Manipulator.


While there are 22 sellers of Beta Serra Angel on TCGplayer right now, there are only six sellers of Beta Icy Manipulator. This one has really run away from many folks, and even the heaviest of played copies can still be sold for $40+ while they were selling for $20-$30 just six months ago. This is sizable growth for such an old card, and I suspect it’s Old School players driving up demand.

The same can be said for Beta Hypnotic Specter, Black Knight, and White Knight. These are all popular Old School cards that carry a ton of nostalgia. All have skyrocketed in price lately, which is why there are only three, five, and nine sellers of each card respectively on TCGplayer.

I wouldn’t advocate buying out the market on these to manipulate prices, but if you are in need of copies for personal use I would encourage you to prioritize them very soon. We know popular uncommon Old School cards from Beta can readily hit $100, and these are not exempt from that possibility.

Other honorable mentions include Beta Sengir Vampire, Control Magic, Juggernaut, and Library of Leng—each of these is popular in Old School and also carries some nostalgic component. And while there are still a reasonable number of copies for sale, I can’t say I understand why Beta Tsunami is nearly sold out. Perhaps enough Old School players want to keep copies in their sideboards to battle blue decks; either way, keep an eye out for that one as well.


Commons

Much like with the Beta uncommons, there are a handful of well-known commons that everyone knows are worth an arm and a leg. Lightning Bolt is the most expensive, but did you know that fellow burn spell Fireball is over $10? Here we have yet another card that was played heavily many years ago, likely leaving a fair amount of copies damaged.


Red Elemental Blast is a bit more well-known due to its utility in Legacy and Vintage, but even Disintegrate is a red card worth well above bulk that should be watched for in collections.

Shifting colors to green, there are another couple valuable Beta commons worth your notice. It seems green is a popular color among some nostalgic Old School players, and this has driven up the price of Giant Growth quite a bit.


Llanowar Elves and even Fog have shown price growth lately as well. Those aren’t the only green one-drops worth above bulk now—check out the price on Beta Scryb Sprites. These are showing up in a multitude of Old School lists and are popular among those seeking nostalgia of the olden days. You might as well throw Wild Growth in this category as well.


Stepping into other colors, there is no shortage of other commons with surprising values from Beta. In black we have Pestilence, Unholy Strength, Drain Life, and Terror (in addition to the obvious, Dark Ritual). In blue there’s Blue Elemental Blast, Power Sink, and Twiddle. Only white seems to lack many inspiring commons other than Disenchant, though the Circle of Protections are worth keeping an eye on.

How to Play These Trends

Hopefully at least some part of this synopsis of Beta commons and uncommons has surprised you. I know I was shocked to see a few prices even as I did the research to write this article. But it is all useless information if you don’t know how to convert this insight into action. Allow me to make a few suggestions.

Firstly, and most obviously, you want to be tracking down copies of these cards if you are in need of them for your collections. There are a ton of near-bulk commons and uncommons from Alpha and Beta but those mentioned above are not among them. Their playability in Old School has made them worth far more, and I don’t see that trend reversing anytime soon.

Secondly, make sure you are digging these out of bulk if you are lucky enough to own Beta bulk. I personally don’t have any Beta bulk because every single Beta card I own I deem worthy for my Old School binder. But many readers have much larger Magic collections and it’s possible some of these Beta cards are sprinkled in their collections. Make sure you dig these out: stores do pay nice buy prices for quality copies. Even played copies are worth something to an Old School player.

Thirdly, if you want to try and predict which Alpha and Beta cards will move next, I’d encourage you to use a couple data sources. TCGplayer is my first stop because it allows me to browse by set and rarity and then sort by popularity. What better way is there to see which cards are selling the best? This is also where you can check on stock to see if some cards are dwindling treacherously low in quantity.

Star City Games is another handy source because their buy price is easy to sift through and decipher. Beta commons they don’t much want they pay $0.50 for; anything higher they deem on a higher tier of desirability. You should follow suit. Channel Fireball is another good buylist to use because they also offer some nominal price for even the least desirable Beta cards. Anything above that minimal value is more desirable.

Lastly, for those who have no interest in Alpha and Beta cards, I can offer you one last suggestion. You could start to look at Unlimited copies of these same desirable commons and uncommons. Sure, they’re far less desirable than their black-bordered counterparts. But that means their buy-in is much lower.

There aren’t a ton of expensive Unlimited commons yet, but some of the more popular ones have already moved a bit. There’s a reason Star City Games pays $1 for Near Mint Unlimited Llanowar Elves, after all.

But they don’t have prices posted for many of the other commons and uncommons I mentioned above. That could change in the next 6-12 months, and now may be a good time to throw some stray copies into your shopping carts while you’re buying other things from sellers. It’s best to acquire these through collections or as incremental purchases to save on shipping.

Wrapping It Up

I’ve spent many words these last few months on the Reserved List. They are receiving a disproportionate amount of attention due to their visibility on MTG Stocks and their immunity to reprinting. But they aren’t the only Old School cards on the move. Far less visible are the commons and uncommons from Alpha, Beta, and even Unlimited that see significant play in the nostalgic format. I’ve made an attempt to capture a large number of them, and I’m sure there are even more I missed.

The key is to try and find high-quality Near Mint copies because these will be the rarest due to their heavy play back in the “sleeveless” days of Magic. Heavily Played Beta Goblin Balloon Brigade buylists for about one fourth of a Near Mint copy, because nicer copies are that much rarer. That’s not to say you will have an impossible time moving played copies; many Old School players are fine with some wear. But in terms of value growth, the larger-magnitude jumps will occur with nicer copies.

In the end, all Alpha, Beta, and even Unlimited cards need to be handled separately from all other bulk from now on. Gone are the days when these older cards were valued identically to all other printings. There have been enough nostalgic players and collectors acquiring copies lately that even the most unplayable cards from these sets still carry value.

But some that have been overlooked for years are now suddenly showing disproportionate growth due to their Old School popularity. Make sure you keep an eye out for these because they can make you significant profits or help you dodge the need to pay a far higher price six months from now.

Sigbits

  • It was Yawgmoth's Bargain that got unrestricted in Vintage, yet Yawgmoth's Will has seen some real price movement recently. Nicer copies are especially difficult to track down, and Star City Games is sold out of Near Mint stock at $49.99. Their played copies are $42.75, which is fairly consistent with what these sell for on sites like eBay and TCGplayer. They may only sell gradually due to their low playability, but I don’t see these dropping in price as they continue to age.
  • Remember when I pointed out how Star City Games had played copies of Unlimited Lich at $29.99, below market price? Well they’re all gone now. Now SCG is sold out, though I don’t think they’ve really moved the price much, yet. Maybe they did up the price by $10, but it’s tough to say because they only show NM pricing since they’re out of stock altogether. I don’t think these will be easy to move at a higher price immediately, but I do see the price moving higher from here given enough time.
  • I spent a few days last week in Europe, so I can’t report extensively on U.S. trends. But I did see multiple hobby shops that had at least one Commander 2017 deck in stock. The word at one shop was that there was another shipment; the employee even went as far to say there may even be another wave after this one. I have no data to prove or disprove this, but Star City Games sure has a lot of these in stock again. If you’re looking to acquire a deck, make sure you track TCGplayer stock very closely; if more decks are added over the next few weeks then the price will surely drop a bit further.

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