Insider: What is “Coolness Factor” – and Why Does It Matter in MTG Finance?

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I will begin by saying that we live in crazy times when it comes to Magic Finance. Crazy in the sense that there has been unprecedented movement on secondary-market cards over the past few months. In particular, when it comes to early editions and Reserved List cards. Many of these cards have been valuable and/or desirable for a long time now, but clearly, the market has changed and the prices have been shooting up.

The biggest factor that has triggered the growth, in my opinion, is the fact that more and more players, collectors, and investors have been getting onto the same page about what the best method of investing in Magic will be moving forward: old and Reserved List cards are where the money is at.

Many, many of the writers for QS (myself included) have been preaching the value of getting into the Old School and Reserved List cards for years now, and it would appear that everybody who followed suit and adopted a similar strategy is getting paid off hard in the here-and-now.

Brave New Era

Sigmund Ausfresser had a really well-executed article earlier this week on this very subject:

I agree with virtually all of what Sigmund lays out in here. My only objection is a semantic one. I would argue that the new era of Magic finance began with the release of the first Modern Masters set and the community has slowly, slowly been adjusting to the implications of a continuous string of reprint sets and how that changes the marketplace.
Most importantly, it creates a system where the value of the 99 percent of Magic cards that can be reprinted have a lesser value than the one percent of Magic cards that can't – i.e., the Reserved List cards.
What I believe has happened is that the majority of the community is finally catching up to where the elite MTG finance people have been for several years. We have reached a point where players and speculators and vendors are on same the page about what is going on with reprints and Reserved List cards. The steadily climbing prices reflect an understanding among players and collectors: This is the way it is now.
The biggest thing that has changed is a widespread perception about what investing in Magic looks and feels like in a post Modern Masters world.

More Reserved List Strategies

Well, it looks like our job here is done. Finance is solved. Time to pack it in.


I've been meaning to write an article about my favorite flavor texts of all time, and if I did, this one would surely make the cut:

"There is always a greater power." 

From the card Cruel Ultimatum, featuring artwork with the giant Demon Malfegor battered and beaten down with the imposing shadow of Bolas cast over him. Cool stuff.

The fact is, that there is always a bigger fish, a better way, and/or a greater strategy than what you or I know to exist. The key is to figure out what it is and implement it before others figure it out as well!

I believe one of these angles relates to what I like to call the "Coolness Factor," and will open up avenues for producing productive investments.

There is a reason that cards like Beta Shivan Dragon, Juzám Djinn, and Guardian Beast have surged beyond most cards that exist when it comes to price. It has little to do with the actual playability of the cards. I'm willing to concede that Guardian Beast and Juzám Djinn have some applications in Old School Magic, but realistically, their price tags are linked directly to two factors: 1. Reserved List, and 2. Nostalgia / Iconic Status / Coolness.

People love to formulate narratives. I'm formulating one right now. One key to being a "good reader" is to see multiple narratives and be able to separate the ones that make the most sense from the ones that lack substance.

  • Juzam is expensive because of Old School.
  • Juzam is expensive because it's on the Reserved List.
  • Juzam is expensive because it is cool and iconic and people want to own it.

Juzám Djinn has always been expensive. It has always been expensive because it is cool, iconic, and nostalgic and because people want to own a piece of history. The card may be ten times as expensive today as it was two years ago, but the change in price is merely an adjustment in what the marketplace looks like.

When I was a kid playing Magic, Juzám Djinn was one of the most expensive cards in the game. It was more expensive than a Mox. When I got back into the game in college, Juzám Djinn was still one of the most expensive cards in the game despite the fact that it was 100-percent unplayable in any Constructed format. Today, Juzám Djinn remains one of the most expensive cards in the game despite only seeing play in a tier-two Old School deck.

Juzam's price tag has always been a reflection of the fact that it is a very cool piece of Magic history and a neat collector's item. I would argue that the current price tag is merely an adjustment of Juzám Djinn (the coolest card in MTG) as properly priced in a world with $400 dual lands and $25000 Moxen. As crazy as it sounds to say this, at around $1250, the card may be undervalued at the moment!

Sigmund pointed out in his article that one area where the current buyouts differ from the previous ones has to do with the intent of the buyers. He argues that the strategy in the past was for buyers to buy out cards, spike the price, and resell into the spike. He postulates that now buyers are less interested in selling into the spikes, and more interested in holding onto these cards for a long time.

There's obviously no way to confirm what other people will, or won't, do with the cards they purchase – but his observation syncs up with what I've been doing for years: picking up sweet old cards whenever I can and holding onto them, because I knew they would become more scarce and more valuable.


Let's think about other cards that have that it factor.

The biggest problem with using this strategy to invest is that most of the marquee cards have already been hit. Juzam is sick, but if you don't have one, it feels like you might have missed the boat on getting a great deal (although I think the card will just continue to go nuts).

Of the random, cool, old cards, there are few that are actually as "good" as the Coffin. I play this card in my Battle Box, Old School Battle Box, and include it in every Commander deck that I build. It is simply a very, very powerful Magic card. I personally own four copies, one for each deck and an extra just in case.

As far as coolness factor cards that have a lower price tag than I would expect, this is on top of my list.

I think the Legends Elder Dragon cycle is another very good place to invest in coolness factor cards that have a reasonable price tag. I wrote an article about six months ago where I suggested investing in low-dollar, iconic, old cards (Legends rares, The Dark rares, and Beta uncommons). One of the cards I suggested then, and continue to suggest, are the Elder Dragon Legends because they are relatively cheap for how cool they are. These cards have basically tripled since I first suggested them, but can still be found in the $20 range on eBay or at LGSs.

The Elder Dragon cycle was the selling point of Legends when it came out. These Dragons were nearly the price of Moxen until Chronicles sank their ship.

I think people sleep on stuff like this because of a couple of reasons:

  1. There are a zillion white-border copies because of Chronicles.
  2. These cards are not on the Reserved List.

Nobody wants a Chronicles Arcades Sabboth. I think a lot of people would enjoy having a Legends one in an Old School Battle Box or binder full of sweet old cards.

A lot of the older cards, like Royal Assassin, Shivan Dragon, the Elder Dragons, etc. do not appear on the Reserved List and have been reprinted many times. The key is that even if the cards are reprinted, Wizards cannot reprint Beta or Legends, which means the old, nostalgic, and cool versions will always be desirable with collectors and fans of the game.

To wrap up, I'd like to highlight a very smart thing that Sigmund wrote in his article that I have always done myself when collecting: get the things you want now!

The prices on old cards are only going to continue to climb as more and more people accept the new marketplace dynamic. If you really want to own a Beta Royal Assassin, now is the time, because if you wait a year or two, chances are you'll be paying double or triple the price.

A lot of people are on that plan, so expect prices on the kinds of cards you'd want to collect to continue to climb and climb.

2 thoughts on “Insider: What is “Coolness Factor” – and Why Does It Matter in MTG Finance?

  1. I feel like another “it” factor are the controversial art cards, i.e Invoke Prejudice. It shouldn’t be a thing but they certainly get picked out of my storefront almost as soon as I list them.

    1. Great point! I think that fits well with what I’m saying about targeting cards that are unique and iconic. It’s pretty clear that a card like Invoke Prejudice would never get printed in the here and now. A great example of a piece of Magic history that collectors are happy to snap up and add to their collections.

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