Insider: How Viable Is Investing in Non-Reserved List Cards?

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With Masters 25 on the horizon, this seems like a moment to take stock of the direction the wind is blowing in the marketplace. In the last five years, reprints have become the dictating force of the market. Collecting, speculating, vending, and everything else surrounding MTG finance have clearly changed – but there are still ample opportunities for profit out there.

A Chronicle of Masters Reprints

When Modern Masters was first announced for 2013, it was difficult to tell how these reprints would play out. On the one hand, Modern staples were out-of-hand expensive, and finding a way to grow the format by relieving expenses on the average player was a solid plan. On the other hand, there was a worried faction of collectors that was skeptical the whole premise reeked of Chronicles Part Deux.

Five years in, the reprints appears to have worked, at least with regard to keeping Modern prices in check. Yet I can't help but wonder how much these rapid reprints are speeding up and dynamically altering the financial landscape. Perhaps we are just beginning to adjust to how precarious a steady influx of reprints is for investing. One reprint set doesn't change the game much, but the seventh, eighth and ninth continue to compound ongoing trends.

The finance game has changed, but it still continues to evolve. The key to staying one step ahead is understanding how the market has changed, is changing and where the new angles are.

Is the Reserved List the Only Haven for Long-Term Investments?

I hesitate to embrace the idea that the Reserved list is the only option. After all, Jeff Goldblum once told us us that "life finds a way," and like the inevitably of corporations totally misusing fossilized dinosaur DNA, it is also impossible to keep the everyday investor from finding a way to make money.

The core issue is that Reserved List cards cannot be reprinted whereas everything else can. It isn't hard to do the math and figure out these are easily the safest long-term investments. I am a firm believer if you want a collection to sit around and gain equity, a binder full of Reserved List cards is the best bet.

The problem is that these cards have already seen significant gains and require a steep cost to entry. Sure, you could drop $1500 on a Mox Ruby and watch it grow by 2 to 5 percent annually, but that is a lot of money down to make $50 equity a year.

The new problem financiers looking to be in the long-term game face is that a binder with $1500 of random, non-Reserve List cards is at risk of losing value over time. Obviously, investing in a collectible at risk of losing money is dubious.

A $1500 Modern collection needs TLC to produce profit. It's liquid and needs to be worked like a plot of land. Make no mistake, there is money to be gained, but in order to do so, the collector must till to stay ahead by selling into spikes and acquiring cards with positive potential. Thus, a non-Reserved List collection isn't an investment that sits in a shoe box, collects dust and makes bank; a non-Reserved List collection is more like farming: plant, grow, reap, sell, and plant again.

At least, this is my belief when it comes to format staples. The inevitably of an endless insurgence of reprints makes it difficult to grow a collection like a Sequoia (huge over time), instead requiring constant pruning to flourish and reach its potential.

Potential Non-Reserved List Sequoias

Part of the fun of Magic investing is that the market is a mystery. You've got to be cunning and lucky to make consistent profits. Even the best-reasoned ideas don't always pan out – and sometimes insane ones can score huge

One of the best reasoned investments I've ever made flopped:

[card graph = "Scavenging Ooze"]

A great card and multi-format staple with a bottom-basement price tag as it rotated out of Standard. I also figured, "Hey, it just got reprinted so it won't get reprinted for a while..." Unfortunately, that buy was made right at the beginning of the Masters reprints, before it was clear exactly what these sets would be like. Scooze was subsequently reprinted several times, and despite correctly identifying a great investment card, I ended up losing money.

It was a good lesson and has helped shape how I view investing in singles, especially long term. It's become less about picking the best cards and more about picking cards that are unlikely reprint candidates. With that being said, I'd like to offer up a few ideas I've been toying with about types of cards that could be long-term investments despite not being on the Reserved List.

Expeditions, Inventions, and Invocations

It is important to think about versions of cards people will want to "own" in the future. Any card can be reprinted, but unique versions cannot. For instance, consider Masterpieces.

It seems unlikely we'll ever see the same version of these premium cards printed again. Each Masterpiece series is attached to a block and location, which means that while we could get a new Masterpiece Thoughtseize in a future set, it is unlikely to look like the Ancient Egyptian Invocation version.

There are some specific cards that come to mind: Mox Opal, Force of Will, Flooded Strand, etc. The real creme de la creme of format staples. It is unlikely a better Mox Opal or Force of Will will get printed, which means these cards will still be powerful five or ten years down the road. I'd even go so for as to expand my parameters to cards that are Cube or Commander mainstays, such as Torrential Gearhulk and Hangarback Walker.

Russian & Japanese Foil "Rookie Cards"

There will always be high end collectors that want the "absolute best" version of a thing and are willing to pay top dollar for it. It's hard to argue that Japanese and Russian foils are a pinnacle of collecting.

In addition, there is always a demand for the first print, or "rookie card," version of a rare foil card. For instance, Thoughtseize has been printed multiple times, but the Lorwyn version in a coveted language has continued to creep up despite the reprints. Reprints affect the value of reprints more than they affect more premium versions (Masterpiece, rookie-card foils, etc).

I've often said the same thing about Alpha and Beta cards. You can reprint Lightning Bolt 100 times, but you can never make another Alpha Lightning Bolt. Another Lightning Bolt reprint just won't impact the value of a Beta Lightning Bolt at all. What other cards fit this type of category?

Misprints, Rarities, and Alters

These are riskier prospects but have potentially high upside. Anything with authenticity in a world of reprints has value and staying power. Anything that is one-of-a-kind can be potentially valuable down the road.

It's possible alters by original artists is one of the better ways to spend a buck in the MTG Community. A unique alter by a famous artist or alter specialist could be worth a pretty penny down the road. The same can be said for investing in rarities and misprints. By the very virtue of being rarities, these can be hard to find, but when you see something odd in a binder for trade, consider picking it up if the price is right.

I'm all for working my collection like a farm, but I also enjoy my safer, low-effort investments. Yet Reserved List cards have gotten so expensive that I find myself looking for other options. Seriously, if we're going to plant magical crops, why not hope for money trees? What kind of cards do you think are worth buying for the long term in this era of rampant reprints?

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