Before launching into this week’s article, I want to make an announcement. This upcoming Thursday, September 27th, from 9pm - 10pm Eastern Time, fellow writer Edward Eng and I will be hosting an Office Hours in the Insider Discord. It will be open for any Quiet Speculation Insider. During these hours, Edward and I will have our audio activated and we will answer any written questions from our Insiders.
Have a question about a particular card or investment strategy? This is your chance to ask the authors directly to get our opinions of whatever is on your mind. We hope to see you there!
Now onto this week’s article.
Inspiration: A Valuable Asset
Each week I am tasked with finding an article topic to write about. Sometimes these ideas come to mind readily, while other times inspiration stems from the most surprising of places. No matter the source, I never take this inspiration for granted because I know how painful writer’s block can be. I wouldn’t wish it upon any content creator.
This week my inspiration came from an unexpected post in the “Sale Reporting” thread of the Insider Discord:
Since I was traveling on business last week, I was unable to keep up with market trends. Things had quieted down, so I assumed I wouldn’t miss much. Apparently I was somewhat mistaken, as Back to Basics shot up in price.
But what surprised me most was not the fact that a fortunate Insider had sold a copy of the card for $150. Instead, it was the fact that so much hype is surrounding a card that is not on the Reserved List. Did you know that? It’s certainly old enough to be on the Reserved List, and it has never been reprinted. But alas, it isn’t protected like other Urza’s Saga cards such as Morphling or Tolarian Academy.
This begs the question: is it safe to be holding this card? In the past, cards often mistaken for being on the Reserved List were in fact reprinted, hurting values significantly. Recent examples include Mana Drain and Rishadan Port, both of which saw noteworthy price drops upon their reprinting.
I personally think a random reprint in some sort of Masters set would crush Back to Basics’s price tag. As long as there’s no such set on the horizon, you’re likely safe. This card won’t return to Standard and it’s too expensive to put in a Commander product. But as soon as a Masters set is announced that contains cards older than the Modern era, I’d be bailing.
Are There Similar Cards?
While on this topic, I started wondering if there were other cards in a similar situation. Since the reprint era of Magic, fewer and fewer cards have perpetually dodged reprint. But it turns out there are still a couple that merit close consideration.
Also from Urza’s Saga, Phyrexian Tower is a popular Commander card that has never been reprinted. But it sure can be! With a value of around $50, this card is far from immune to reprinting like Back to Basics is. If it wasn’t for the specific reference to Phyrexia, I’d even say this card was printable in Standard. But since it does have that specific reference, a Commander reprint seems most appropriate. Holding this card is asking to get burnt by reprint—it’s a matter of when, not if.
There are no Reserved List cards starting with Mercadian Masques block. If there was, Food Chain would likely have been added. But alas, this card is fully reprintable. For whatever reason, Wizards hasn’t bothered…yet. With a price tag approaching $50, this niche Legacy/EDH card seems quite overpriced given its lack of immunity. Like Phyrexian Tower, I’d start considering an exit strategy if you’re holding any copies.
Another reference to Phyrexia, this Invasion card is long overdue for a reprint. I don’t think anyone actually believes this is on the Reserved List, but it still deserves mention considering how easily it could be reprinted. It’s a popular Commander card—as an artifact, it could slot into many of the preconstructed Commander decks that Wizards creates. Alas, this one has dodged reprint each and every time. Perhaps if enough people clamor for a reprint we’ll finally get one in a similar vein as Choice of Damnations?
If it wasn’t for the Masterpiece reprint, you could almost convince yourself that this one was on the Reserved List. Alas it is not. That hasn’t stopped this Vintage card from exceeding $20 in value.
Since the card has an unfun component to it, I don’t see Wizards being eager to put this into Standard and Modern. I’m not even sure it’s all that popular in Commander. This is the first card on my list that I’d actually recommend holding—I can’t see motivation to reprint this anytime soon.
Here’s a popular green Commander card with a somewhat unique ability. Library manipulation is routine in blue but a little less common in other colors. Being a rare from Tempest¸ you could convince yourself that this card has never been reprinted due to being on the Reserved List. But that’s not the case. It isn’t protected by the Reserved List and can easily show up in a future Commander product. I love the power and utility of this card, but I can’t advocate holding onto any extras for the long term.
While the above cards are all vulnerable to reprinting and an ensuing price drop, there are some recently-reprinted cards I actually like for their upside potential. Here are a few.
Mana Drain’s reprint really hurt the card’s upside potential in the short term. These could have exceeded $300 by now if they continued to dodge reprint. Instead, Legends copies have dropped by more than 10% from their peak. Despite this, I think the long-term projection for this powerful spell is quite positive. I picked one up for Old School play because I don’t see another reprint on the horizon. Seeing as Iconic Masters sold fairly poorly, buying the original printing of this card should be a safe investment.
This card will never see demand from Commander, unfortunately. But it has become a mainstay of Legacy and I think the continued interest in this format could be enough to drive Karakas to new highs. Take a look at that chart: after peaking over $150, its reprint caused Legends copies to crater, bottoming at around $50. Now the card is back on an upswing and near-mint copies are again approaching triple digits. I could see a return to prior highs before we see another reprint.
Originally from Planar Chaos, Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth saw a reprint in Magic 2015. But Magic 2015 is…well…over three years old! By referencing such specific storyline components (twice), this card can become tricky to reprint. I don’t see it appearing in Standard until we see the next Core Set printing, which is still far away. If it dodges Commander reprinting, this card—especially foils—can continue to climb beyond prior highs.
With so many recent reprints, you may be scratching your head at this one. But I have seen Jace on Card Kingdom’s hot list for weeks now. By being legalized in Modern, this planeswalker’s potential shot through the roof. Okay, so the card hasn’t impacted the format that much yet. It’s still a powerful blue planeswalker.
I have a hypothesis that any eternal format is eventually warped by blue cards—it has done so for both Vintage and Legacy. If Modern follows suit, this could eventually become the key finisher in a dominant Modern deck. There probably won’t be another reprint for quite a while, leaving this card plenty of time to gradually climb in price.
Wrapping It Up
Being off the Reserved List isn’t always a bad thing. Sometimes an older card see’s a reprint, drops significantly in price, but then offers a terrific entry point for long-term speculation. However we must be careful when investing in non-Reserved List cards that have never seen a reprint. In my opinion, every valuable card not on the Reserved List is somewhat vulnerable.
In particular, Back to Basics is one of a few non-Reserved List cards that could be reprinted out of nowhere and surprise everyone. It may be selling for $150 now, but even at mythic rare a reprint would tank this card’s price by at least 50%. Probably even further since its price is a bit frothy at the moment. This is not a bag I’d want to be left holding.
You’re far better off selling these reprintable cards and picking up either Reserved List cards or some of the recently reprinted cards I mentioned above. Either way, you should be safe holding them for a while, and sustained demand can drive prices to new highs.
This is part of the ongoing portfolio rebalancing process I advocate. Rather than taking a passive role in your investing, it’s best to sell gainers and pick up cards with more long-term upside. Doing so will keep you sharp, keep your portfolio fresh, and help you dodge painful reprints in the future.
- I noticed Library of Alexandria returned to Card Kingdom’s hot list recently, now with a buy price of $1120. In fact, this is currently their highest Arabian Nights buy price, surpassing Bazaar of Baghdad (which is really depressed lately) and Juzám Djinn. Out of the three, Library is my favorite for its utility in Vintage and its ubiquity in Old School.
- Also from Arabian Nights, Shahrazad hit Card Kingdom’s hot list just last week. The vendor had an aggressive buy price of $225 for a minute before dropping it back down below $200. This card has been getting recent interest in Old School, so perhaps this movement reflects that newfound demand. Either way, Shahrazad is a one-of-a-kind card worth owning forever because there will never be anything like it (outside of a silver-bordered set) printed again.
- Now there are two dual lands on Card Kingdom’s hot list: Taiga ($135) and Scrubland ($120). Has demand for dual lands returned already? I’m not sure I can explain this movement, but the numbers don’t lie. Pay close attention to these and the other duals—perhaps we’ve seen the bottom and we’re due for a recovery cycle?