Is the Reserved List a Lie?

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The reason for this particular article is a video by Tolarian Community College regarding the Reserved List.

It seems that every year or so we have a new call to abolish the Reserved List and now is the time for this year's call. While I enjoy the Professor's videos, I have some issues with this one. I definitely don't want this article to come off as contentious, but I feel there are some glaring errors in the Professor's statements, and ignoring these errors would be a failure to the Magic Finance Community.

Statements I disagree with:

1) "It (the Reserved List) is one of the biggest things holding the game back today."

If this were true, the game wouldn't have seen massive growth since the inception of the Reserved List. The reserved list has no effect on Standard, Modern, or the Pioneer formats as no cards in those respective formats are on the Reserved List. They are all still among Magic's most popular formats. I would be willing to accept that the Reserved List holds back the Legacy and Vintage formats from a widespread appeal, but those represent a small fraction of the overall Magic games being played.

Many stores that try to promote Vintage run unsanctioned events that allow for proxies, which essentially eliminates the financial burden that the Reserved List places on prospective players of the format. Even with these proxies being allowed, we don't see massive turnouts to these events. WotC's removal of Planeswalker Points means that sanctioned events have little benefit over unsanctioned events from the player perspective, though hosting sanctioned events is better for stores.

The only format I haven't mentioned so far is Commander where the Reserved List does legitimately affect what some players can put into their decks. However, it is mostly a casual format; most players have no issues with other players using proxies in their decks, barring the event being a sanctioned one.

2) "There is no reason to think that the secondary market would be affected much at all." (RE: the dual lands.)

This is the most egregiously incorrect statement in the entire video. This statement seemingly ignores the basic Law of Supply and Demand in economics. We have seen time and time again that reprints do affect the secondary market and always in a loss of value of the original cards when these cards are for playing for the simple reason that the supply increased more than the demand did.

I agree that there would be a lot of demand for original Dual Lands with a reprinting, but if players weren't willing to pay $500 for an Underground Sea now, they certainly wouldn't pay $500 for one after a reprint hits the market.

I specifically picked these Portal Three Kingdoms cards because that particular set is extremely rare in English, and thus is more similar to a lot of the oldest Magic sets. These sets happen to contain a lot of Reserved List cards, there is very little supply, and a fair amount of demand, resulting in high card prices. In all three instances, we can see significant price drops after the reprint was announced.

He tries to justify a lack of price drop by claiming they are collector's pieces. That argument would only be true if most of their value was attributed to their collectibility rather than their playability. He uses ABU printings of Shivan Dragon and Birds of Paradise, and in both instances fails to mention the value of the Revised printings.

If he had included Revised, it would have obviously nullified his entire point. These are worth far less than any of the older versions because there are so many more copies floating around.

3) "Even with a non-Reserved List card that wasn't in Alpha, the price has held."

The Professor uses Scroll Rack as an example to argue that reprinting hasn't caused the price to drop. Both reprints were from premium supplemental sets, Commander's Arsenal and Kaladesh Inventions, which added relatively few new copies to the overall supply. The price stability of Scroll Rack really only indicates that the overall demand wasn't satisfied by these reprints.

Given the whole point of his argument is to abolish the Reserved List and print enough that the demand from players would be met, choosing this example is a bit disingenuous. If they abolished the Reserved List tomorrow and printed 100 new copies of every card on it, the price of the originals would likely see no change.

However, if they printed 100,000 new copies of every card on it, there is no way the price wouldn't drop. Players with originals would try to unload them as soon as the announcement was made in order to lock in whatever value they could. Instead of Scroll Rack why not look at a card in a similar vein that has been reprinted on a much larger scale?

Polluted Delta sees play in numerous formats from Vintage, Legacy, Modern, and Commander. The Khans of Tarkir printing caused the price of original Onslaught copies to drop by over 50% and remained pretty flat for four years. Only recently have we seen an uptick in price, but it's still far from its pre-reprint highs. I would expect any mass reprinting of a Dual Land, Moxen, or any other high-dollar Reserved List rare to react more like Polluted Delta than Scroll Rack.

4) "Reprints of dual lands would add value to players collections."

The argument here is that after players have acquired the reprinted copies, they would eventually gravitate towards the price of the originals. There could be some merit to that, as saw with Polluted Delta listed above. Just because a card rises in value from $38 to $49 dollars doesn't mean it has recovered.

The high for Onslaught copies was $115 and it was still $93 right before Khans of Tarkir released. So instead of owners losing 60% of the value of their cards they only lose 48%, which is still pretty far from "adding value".

5) "The idea that people would sue Wizards of the Coast is a load of bull plop."

We live in a pretty litigious society, where people sue others for all sorts of reasons. I don't have any legal background to know how much of a case anyone would have for WotC deciding to end the Reserved List, but I don't doubt that they would certainly have to spend effort and/or money on legal counsel.

He then points out that WotC has already made several changes to the Reserved List policy, and argues that WotC made those changes before and didn't get sued. I am curious if this can even be verified. I think the elimination of the premium version clause of the Reserved List (which until 2010 was still an option for WotC), indicates that something caused them to "strengthen" the Reserved List rules. Given the public disdain for the Reserved List by many WotC employees, most notably Mark Rosewater, it would seem unlikely that WotC would end this policy on their own accord.


I can honestly say that I don't really have strong feelings toward keeping or abolishing the Reserved List myself. I feel I would definitely lose money should it be abolished. I also have to acknowledge there would be a great benefit from its removal.

My favorite format is Legacy, and I would love to see the playerbase for it grow. The price barrier that the original Dual Lands present is likely a major contributing factor to its stagnation. That being said, I think it's important to dissect the points provided in the video, especially when they are erroneous.

9 thoughts on “Is the Reserved List a Lie?

  1. Starcitygames is already releasing the results of its Magic Arena events. That includes Legacy, which had been sidelined from tour events last year after Pioneer was created. Not anymore it seems. Magic Arena seems to be making it easier for players to build several different decks without having to constrain themselves to just one or two decks due to the high cost of building them. You can notice the difference with a far more diverse metagame than it was before. So yes, you could say that Legacy is back to being mainstream again thanks to Magic Arena. At least for the moment. WotC would have no incentive in abolishing the Reserved List when it can already offer players the option to play Legacy online at a far cheaper cost. Not when those cards are so iconic and are worth so much. It seems like the emergence of Magic Arena might have made the entire Reserved List debate irrelevant.

    1. I imagine you mean MTGO since Arena doesnt have most legacy staples on it. I do think that if legacy and vintage were as popular as some claim, then their MTGO percentage of the metagame would be much larger and as you pointed out the RL is not a problem on MTGO.

  2. As a owner of several high end staples of the legacy format, I’d rather loose money on that and have a larger player base than just have to stare at my unplayable cards due to scarcity.

    I think the only thing that keeps the reserved list here is indeed the threat of legal repercussion if wizards would break its vows. Magic over the year has become a financial asset and some people would not like to loose money because wizards would like to support it’s payer base rather than speculators.

    1. This is a simple but very valid point. People who own RL cards because they play them or collect them as a hobby, will most likely NOT sell those cards. Only speculators/stores will sell, and I don’t think WotC consider that as ‘our players are losing money’scenario.

  3. Hello David, interesting article!
    I am a bit confused with the Shivan Dragon example, maybe I misunderstood your idea, but, doesn’t the cheap Revised dragons vs the expensive ABU dragons kinda confirms the Professor’s idea? I read that as ‘reprinted, more abundant dual lands would be cheaper but ABU duals would remain or even increase in price’. Maybe you can help me clarifying that point?

  4. This article is very unfortunate as it seems the author, David Schumann started his article with a preconceived idea and cherry picked data in an attempt to bolster his argument. It is obvious that David is neither a statistician, nor an economist. I am neither of these things myself, but I can back up my assertion with facts. I won’t spend long, but will try to give you the tools to find the fallacious arguments yourself.

    Example 1: Anywhere opinion is given without data to back it up should be scrutinized. Most of Section 1 is opinion. Is magic more popular than ever? Does more people playing the game directly indicate it’s popularity. Or does globalization create an illusion of popularity. For example, if in 1990 100,000 people played mtg and today 100 million do, is that representative of growth? It depends. If in 1990 1/1,000 people played and the game was local to NYC, but today 1/100,000 people play but the game is played world wide you could argue that the game is not as successful as it once was.

    It should always be remembered that math tells truths, but we can manipulate which truth it tells by ignorance, laziness, or outright deceit. As David is not a statistician, I’m going to give him the benefit of the doubt and assume he is simply ignorant of the the proper context and methodologies needed to present statistical analysis for representative or predictive purposes.

    Example 2: all of the points made in sections 2 and 3 show a total lack of economic understanding or research. Can David identify how much of the price change in reserve list cards was affected by speculation and collectors? No. Can he identify how much of the price change was a result of economic fears after the 2008 recession? No? What about the affects of commander becoming more popular? No? I can’t say either. The data presented does not represent any of that, but it David conveniently uses charts he thinks represent his point of view without even giving them contextual cues. For example, when on the chart was the notification of reprint? When was the reprint released? Why didn’t David identify the trend that Imperial Seal and Shivan Dragon are already climbing back to the pre-reprint prices. Why didn’t David identify that if you purchased these cards with the intent to quickly flip them for more money, the release of new reprints slows the ability to make a profit, but all past trends show that the value eventually returns.

    More importantly, David should have made a clear distinction between discussing value of cards in play vs value of cards in collections. He started out in section one discussing this, but subtly and almost nefariously switches in sections 2-conclusion. What does graphing the cost value of cards over the years have to do with enjoying the game? Why did growth of the game and accessibility for new players never get discussed beyond the first few paragraphs? I would dare to say, it is because the Author’s primary concern is not growing the game, it is protecting the value of the market while feigning care for the players.

  5. You make some valid points and I like how you do say you would probably make a loss if the reserved list was abolished, but….

    You fail to mention that Shivan Dragon isn’t usable in almost every format, yet revised versions are going market price of $25.42 and $6.10 for the cheapest heavy played version that is legal to play in the tournament. Keep in mind, Shivan Dragon has been printed. Compare this to the cheapest version of Shivan Dragon (Welcome deck 2016 that was given away for FREE originally), $0.08 market, and $0.05 for the cheapest heavy played version. That is 317.75x the market price or 120x the price of the cheapest heavy played versions of revised Shivan Dragon, respectively.

    Let’s say they break the reserved list, and they release a set with the Duel Lands in it. I cannot imagine the new ones go below $50 each (way low balling). Do you really think that revised will go down to $50?

    Can we at least agree that $6.10 is far too much for a Shivan Dragon (as a card that I haven’t seen in constructed play in a VERY long time), let alone $25.42?

    I would also take a loss on the reserved list, but I would accept it if I could get more people into legacy.

    (Prices based on TCG Player)

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