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As I keep watch over prices from Magic’s beloved classics, I tend to identify breaking trends as they’re happening. As soon as I see something worth mentioning, I write about it so that Quiet Speculation readers can be aware of the changes that are taking place.
While everyone focuses on the latest news, whether it be Pro Tour results or spoilers from the newest set, I continue to research Magic’s earliest cards. I do so out of appreciation, of course, as I will always cherish older cards and their aesthetic over new cards. But I also monitor these trends most closely because they have been some of the most lucrative opportunities in Magic’s history. Anyone who followed me into Old School can attest to that.
This week I have a new trend I want to flag. It’s starting off very tiny so I can’t promise there will be tremendous gains here. But if history is any indicator, I think there could be yet another window closing, ever so slowly.
I tend to look under stones others aren’t paying much attention to. This has paid many dividends for myself and my readers in the past. For example, in February 2017 I wrote what must be one of my most prescient pieces: an article about Collectors’ Edition.
Here’s a quote from that column: “Over the past week I began searching the internet for Collectors’ Edition and International Edition cards and I discovered…extremely few.” I used Disrupting Scepter as an example, flagging the fact that only ABU Games had some in stock at $6.49 (their price is $22.99 now). The article proceeds to mention surprising sales on these square-bordered cards. Since publishing, Collectors’ Edition cards—especially high-end pieces—have skyrocketed in price. If only I had kept all the cheap copies I purchased!
In September 2017 I wrote about Alliances. This set is filled with Reserved List gems that are either playable in Commander or at least offer a dose of nostalgia. I mentioned Thawing Glaciers as a top pick in that article.
I also mention the cycle of Reserved List “replacement lands” (Lake of the Dead, Kjeldoran Outpost, Balduvian Trading Post, Heart of Yavimaya, Soldevi Excavations), each of which has been the subject of conversation as prices jump.
In December 2017 I flagged some movement in Alpha prices. We all know how that turned out. It took a few months, but Card Kingdom, ABU Games, and Star City Games finally caught on to the emerging trends. Now all the underpriced Alpha cards at major retailers are pretty much gone.
Then most recently in April 2018 I talked about Revised movement. Since then we have seen significant growth in a handful of Revised cards: Sedge Troll, Rock Hydra, and Savannah Lions are a couple big ones.
The Latest Underappreciated Set
Pop quiz time: we all know Antiquities copies of Strip Mine have spiked, likely due to heightened demand from Old School players. But without looking it up, what’s the TCGplayer Market Price on the Fourth Edition printing?
Give up? It’s $16.40! When did that happen?! Apparently, this card spiked in April of this year, and I have seen virtually no discussion about it. When a card doubles from $8 to $16 in a month’s time we usually hear about it on podcasts or read about it somewhere. But I don’t know if I’ve seen much mention of this Fourth Edition card.
Another frequently played card, Sylvan Library, has also seen some solid price appreciation recently. This increase has happened in the face of a recent reprint in Eternal Masters. Its market price is nearing $20 at this point.
These trends have me thinking…are we wrong for ignoring Fourth Edition cards?
The white-bordered set was printed over 23 years ago, back in April 1995. Because it’s an older set, Crystal Keep recorded the approximate print run: at least 700 million cards (more were being printed when the Crystal Keep numbers were published). Even if we assume that print run increased 50% further, it still means that Fourth Edition cards are less than two times more common than Revised cards. In other words, the delta between Revised and Fourth Edition isn’t so great. If Revised Savannah Lions can hit $8, Fourth Edition copies could easily hit $4.
I’m starting to believe this set is becoming quite undervalued relative to previous core sets based on print run. Don’t forget Fourth Edition cards use original artwork and original frames, so they are playable in events that use Eternal Central rules. This is a huge plus—as older printings of key staples get out of hand, Fourth Edition will become a desirable, more affordable entry point into the format.
Some Cards to Watch
This is not a call to action! I need to start with this disclaimer. I don’t want anybody going out and buying dozens or hundreds of copies of Fourth Edition cards. It may be quite difficult unloading such quantities and it’s not healthy for formats that rely on these cards. But if you wanted to pick up a couple playsets now to own just in case, I think that course of action may be merited.
First off, a simple advanced search of Fourth Edition cards on TCGplayer will sort for us the most popular sellers over a recent time period. The number one seller: Mishra's Factory. I’m not surprised. As the original Antiquities printings have all skyrocketed in price, Fourth Edition copies remain affordable options for Old School players. Market price is under $2 and played copies are still dirt cheap. I am tempted to grab one or two MP playsets myself for future budget deckbuilding. Can’t hurt.
Next on the list are some commons with multi-format playability: Lightning Bolt and Dark Ritual. While extremely useful, Fourth Edition commons aren’t exactly that exciting. What did catch my eye is Fellwar Stone.
For being an uncommon, this card has surprisingly low stock on TCGplayer. It’s very helpful in Old School and the original printing is already a bit costly.
Then there’s Mana Vault.
This card has been climbing steadily for a while now, and stock on TCGplayer remains low despite many printings. Copies in nice condition are approaching $30 and I don’t see a reprint on the horizon. I suspect most demand for this card is coming from Commander, appearing as it does in over 21,000 lists on EDH REC.
Another surprisingly interesting uncommon is Spirit Link. Did you know that Legends copies of the card can be sold to buylists for $12? That’s incredible for a non-Reserved List uncommon. Meanwhile Fourth Edition copies buylist for about a nickel. Is that 240x multiplier merited? Maybe, but I’m not so sure. I think Fourth Edition copies are perfectly reasonable to use as a budget option in Old School.
Then there’s casual-favorite Shivan Dragon. While it doesn’t rank highly on TCGplayer for recent sales, you can’t argue with that $1.40 buy price at Card Kingdom. Why pay $6 for a Revised copy when Fourth Edition copies look almost the same and are like one tenth the price? Of course, the older the version the better, but as prices continue to run away from casual collectors these Fourth Edition copies will see gradual pressure.
Other noteworthy Fourth Edition cards with surprisingly high prices include Mind Twist (you never know if it’ll be unbanned in Legacy!), Ball Lightning, Mana Flare, Royal Assassin, Smoke, and Greed. Basically the cards with some form of demand—whether it be Commander, Old School, or casual—will gradually see their prices rise over time.
Again, I don’t think you buy these cards in significant quantity and double your money overnight. This is not that kind of play. I’m merely advocating that you consider picking up some cheap copies while you’re shopping around for other stuff, throw them in a box, and wait a year or two. If trends on Strip Mine and Sylvan Library are any indication, I think there’s some real potential for prices to move more noticeably over the next 18-24 months.
Wrapping It Up
For the longest time, cards from Collectors’ Edition and Revised were ignored. The former were eschewed for their unplayability in tournament environments, while the latter were disliked for their washed-out appearance and significant print runs. But as people start to acquire these cards for play in nostalgic formats, their prices have really shown significant movement.
If these trends continue, I believe Fourth Edition cards will continue to gradually climb in price. We’ve already seen some of this begin with the most desirable cards from the set: Sylvan Library, Strip Mine, Land Tax, Mana Vault, etc. But pretty soon I think we see other Fourth Edition cards showing up on MTG Stocks’ Interests page. As copies disappear from TCGplayer, buylists will steadily climb. What once was $0.50 will soon buylist for over a buck.
This trend won’t happen overnight, so if you’re the type who pursues huge returns and quick flips, stay away from Fourth Edition. This kind of thing is more for those who want to build budget Old School decks or buy affordable cards for their future Commander decks.
Revised was a viable budget option, but this is slowly becoming prohibitive for those with the tightest of budgets. I offer Fourth Edition copies as a perfectly reasonable way to enter these formats while not breaking the bank in the process. Then in time you may find your white-bordered, once-forgotten cards are suddenly worth a bit more than what you paid.
I love it when that happens!
- I mentioned that some buy prices on Fourth Edition cards are surprisingly high—especially for Near Mint copies. MTG Seattle is paying $28 on Land Tax, for example, and this seems very impressive to me. I mean, the card is about to be reprinted in Battlebond! I’m inclined to be a seller of copies so this is one you may consider unloading rather than acquiring. If nothing else, cash out and put that money into a Legends copy, which should be far more immune to pricing damage from reprints!
- Winds of Change used to be a bulk rare. But enough Commander generals were printed that punish your opponents for drawing lots of cards, and now the red sorcery buylists for $4.40! There aren’t a ton of copies on TCGplayer either so this could be another one that steadily climbs higher. I would not sell copies, especially since there hasn’t been a reprint since Fifth Edition.
- Strip Mine—an uncommon in Fourth Edition—is buylisting for $7.50. That is absolutely baffling to me. Yes, it’s a heavily used Commander card but I wonder if this is more driven by Old School demand, where it’s used ubiquitously as a four-of. The crazy part is, I’m not sure Wizards will reprint this one again so quickly, so the price could conceivably climb even higher despite the fact that there are a ton of copies out there in white border.