Insider: Into the Realm of Foils

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I'm not usually one to favor foils—I tend to build a lot of decks, so I prefer to have the cheapest option when possible. However, I happened to scroll through the MTGStocks interest page and noticed they now have a "foils" page so you can see just foils. Scrolling down the page there were plenty of obvious gainers (a lot of Pauper and Modern/Commander playables), but also some head-scratchers—cards that don't see play in any major format yet had significant gains in the past week.

Often we just attribute these types of moves to Cube playables. However, I feel that sometimes that's not accurate and just a default way of thinking. Today I'm going to go over some of the recent jumps in foils and lay out what factors I think were driving them.

I will be using CubeTutor to see how often cards show up in cubes. This is admittedly not an all-knowing source, but similar to EDH REC serves as a useful tool to look up how often a specific card shows up in the perspective format. I will also be using the aforementioned EDH REC to see how often a card shows up in Commander.

We will focus specifically on cards that show up in very small percentages of either format. Though it is important to note that some cards show up in very specific Commander decks, and if they are rare enough that alone can account for any gains.

10th Edition Horseshoe Crab is worth over $5. This is the only foil printing of the card, but it tends to show up in under 12% of cubes and it only shows up in Experiment Kraj and Mairsil, the Pretender Commander decks in any meaningful number (62% for Kraj and 45% for Marsail).

As Mairsil, the Pretender is still a relatively new Commander option and Experiment Kraj has been around for quite awhile, I tend to believe this card's movement is tied with Mairsil.

Similar to Horseshoe Crab above, this card has two printings, but only one of which has a foil option (the Dark Ascension version). It sees play in UR Storm Commander decks (Mizzix of the Izmagnus and Melek, Izzet Paragon are the most popular of this archetype). It too seems to show up in under 11% of cubes so its gains are likely tied to Commander play (even if it's not an obvious inclusion in most decks).

Telepathy actually has a lot of possible foil printings. The Magic 2010 version is likely the most common, as the other options are 7th, 8th, 9th, and 10th Edition (as well as Urza's Saga, which doesn't have a foil option).

This one too is in around 11% of cubes. However, unlike our first two cards listed, this one doesn't see a huge amount of Commander play. The two most popular commanders including it, Sen Triplets and Baral, Chief of Compliance, appear to run it under 30% of the time, which is a relatively small percentage.

Looking through other listings on TCGPlayer, I noticed that with the exception of the 7th Edition printing (which also has different artwork), all the other versions are sitting around the same price. The supply on this version is surprisingly low (only 10 sellers listed at the time of this writing) so it's possible that the cheapest copy was purchased and the next cheapest copy was simply 14% more.

Interestingly enough, all of the original Circle of Protection cards have been printed a lot in nonfoil options (Alpha, Beta, Unlimited, Revised, 4th Edition, 5th Edition, 6th Edition, Ice Age, and Tempest). There are only two foil options: 7th Edition and 8th Edition. Both options have very limited supply on TCGplayer. It shows up in around 10% of cubes and very rarely in Commander.

This movement may be more linked to collectors (as I mentioned, the supply is extremely limited). It's interesting to note that with some of these older foils we often see a huge disparity between the average/market price and the cheapest NM price which may be what skews the data. This one is likely a forced price bump and not market-driven.

Megrim is another card with a decent number of foil printings which are all pretty affordable. The biggest tell here is that 7th Edition foils are cheaper than the 8th Edition foil which jumped, though again it appears that this price spike is likely due to one seller putting up their copies significantly higher than their competitors.

This card shows up in under 10% of cubes and typically only finds a home in a few types of Commander decks (mainly Nekusar, the Mindrazer and Nath of the Gilt-Leaf, both of which have been out awhile and seem to be on the downturn in terms of popularity. This one too is likely a forced price bump and not market-driven.

Here we have a single version of the card (from Invasion) so foils are likely relatively rare, though it lists a 172% price spike in the past week. It shows up in 9.3% of cubes (which is the lowest I've seen so far) and only seems to show up in Gisa and Geralf Commander decks (which is not a popular commander). Looking at the number of listings on TCGplayer it is down to five sellers so it's likely just a forced price bump and not market-driven.

Treasonous Ogre does seem like a Commander type of card (as it allows you to convert life into mana). It only shows up in 11.5% of cubes, so it's likely not cube-driven. As for commanders, it tends to show up most in Marchesa, the Black Rose and Zada, Hedron Grinder.

In both instances it does show up in over 30% of decks so one would think it's Commander-driven. However, looking at how many are available on TCGplayer there is only one seller with one copy, so it looks more like it was the subject of a buyout (or extremely limited supply). My suggestion is to dig through your random foils and see if you have any lying around (as the old price was still $5 so there's actual legitimate demand for this one).

Reality Strobe shows up in around 12.5% of cubes (which again is not a significant percentage). It doesn't see play in many Commander decks, with the only one of real note being Jhoira of the Ghitu, and even then it's typically only in about 16% of those decks.

Again, checking with the listings it appears that all the gains on this card are tied to the fact that there is only one NM copy listed on TCGplayer and it's significantly higher than all the other listings (of which there are still only five others).


To be honest this article didn't travel in the direction I originally expected it to. The major lesson we can pull from it is that when it comes to foils, especially older foils, the prices can move with the removal (purchase) or addition of a small number to the supply (even just one copy).

That being said, we need to be careful before jumping the gun and buying any just because we see some significant gains on MTGStocks or a low supply on TCGplayer. Many of these cards have likely had a low supply for quite some time (as most were printed more than five-plus years ago) and their price had remained stagnant for all this time. Foils seem to be particularly volatile when it comes to price swings, so it's important to do a bit of research to figure out why one of them moved.

2 thoughts on “Insider: Into the Realm of Foils

    1. I wondered about Pauper as a potential cause, however, the Vodalian Zombie seems to see VERY little play (occasionally finding a home in the sideboard of UB)…not likely enough to warrant a price movement. COP: Green I found used a few more times, but not a significant number…

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