During my daily MTG Stocks Interests page browsing, I noticed a few obscure cards have recently popped. These are cards that I’m fairly confident the majority of the player base hadn’t heard of before. These cards include Last Chance and Psychic Vortex.
As it turns out, these two cards are not merely obscure and in short supply (the former has only been printed in Portal and Starter 1999, the latter is a Reserved List rare from Weatherlight). They also perform arguably powerful (and breakable) effects. They were just waiting for the right new card to come along to exploit their power.
Then came along Commander Legends.
An Equation for Buyouts
I’ve got a simple equation that describes what happened once Obeka, Brute Chronologist was spoiled:
(Obscure Card + Reserved List Card) x Powerful Effect x New Synergistic Card = Buyout
Let’s use Psychic Vortex as an example.
This is a Reserved List card that has only been printed in a single set: Weatherlight. Thus, the number of copies circulating on the market is going to be significantly lower than most any other cards that came later in Magic’s history (Weatherlight was released in June 1997). So already, this card was worth keeping an eye on. In fact, a couple months ago I grabbed a cheap copy for play in my non-competitive Commander deck simply because I thought the effect was weird.
Not only is Psychic Vortex’s ability weird, it’s also potentially extremely powerful. Normally, cumulative upkeep on a card indicates a drastic drawback. The only other cumulative upkeep cards I’ve seen make waves are Braid of Fire, a $12 rare from Coldsnap, and Jötun Grunt, which used to be played as a sideboard card against graveyard decks. Typically, other cumulating costs have been too steep.
Psychic Vortex was the opposite. Its cumulative upkeep cost was the card’s strength: drawing cards! It’s that second line of text—the one that makes you discard your hand at the end of each turn—that was problematic. Still, an enchantment that lets you draw one card on a turn, then two cards, then three, etc. is asking to be exploited.
Then came the “new synergistic card”—a legendary creature in Grixis colors with the simple text, “The player whose turn it is may end the turn.”
This effect combines with Psychic Vortex in a very favorable way. Now you can draw a cumulative number of cards each turn and, before you have to discard your hand, you can activate Obeka. The end of turn effect never takes place, and you get to keep your hand! The result: Psychic Vortex went from being a $1 bulk Reserved List rare to $8 and climbing.
Obeka also synergizes well with Final Fortune. The red sorcery lets you take an extra turn, but then at the end of that turn, you lose the game. Not if you have Obeka out! Now you can take a free turn and then simply activate Obeka to stop from losing.
Now Final Fortune hasn’t been printed in a minute—it appears only in Mirage, Sixth Edition, and Seventh Edition. It’s no wonder copies spiked from a couple bucks to over $10. But that jump is nothing compared to its functional reprint Last Chance.
Last Chance was printed in two sets: Portal (which no one wanted because it wasn’t tournament legal for years) and Starter 1999 (which I don’t ever recall seeing on store shelves). Two old, obscure sets with very limited supply. The result: this Final Fortune variant spiked from roughly $8 to $50ish in little time. That’s why the obscurity of the card is a multiplying factor (compounded with whether it's on the Reserved List or not)—the effect on price is enormous when the right synergistic card is printed.
Keep an Eye on…
Of course, hindsight is 20/20. It is easy to read Obeka and immediately piece together its impact on cards like Last Chance and Psychic Vortex. The real challenge is identifying other cards that are obscure, possibly reserved list, and have unique and powerful effects…effects that could yield powerful combinations should the right synergistic card be printed.
Now keep in mind, with these speculative pickups the time horizon is indefinite. These cards could be broken in the next set or in ten sets from now. The key is finding cards that won’t likely be reprinted and offer unique enough effects so that they maintain at least some modest price growth on their own. Let’s take a look at a couple possibilities.
Illusions of Grandeur is one that comes to mind, since this card once was a viable Extended strategy, a deck called Trix.
The Reserved List card from Ice Age is already worth nearly $10. But this card immediately gains you 20 life and has the possible effect of causing its controller (maybe you, maybe not) to lose 20 life. This is certainly a noteworthy ability! Perhaps the right synergistic card could be printed in a Commander set to bring Illusions of Grandeur back! And if not, I don’t see this card dropping in price any time soon.
Another card I like from Ice Age is Jester's Mask.
This artifact lets you hand-craft a new hand of cards for your opponent! I don’t think there are many other cards in Magic’s history with such an effect. Really the biggest issue with this card is its steep casting cost of five mana and the fact it enters play tapped. But in Commander, the casting cost is hardly an issue. Perhaps the right commander—one that says cards that would enter played tapped enter untapped instead?—would make this artifact more playable.
Shifting focus to Alliances, Phyrexian Devourer catches my eye.
This card has also been a speculative target in the past. It has a powerful ability in being able to remove every card in your library from the game at instant speed. Once the creature hits the battlefield, it’s virtually impossible to stop from removing your entire library from the game given that its activated ability is zero mana and doesn’t require tapping. Why would you want to remove your entire library from the game? There are many cards that say you win the game if you have no cards left in your deck!
Perhaps the right version of such a card hasn’t been printed yet. But if this becomes a more popular strategy in Commander, perhaps due to a future synergistic card, Phyrexian Devourer could once again spike. As a side note, Thought Lash is a blue enchantment from Alliances that has the same powerful, potentially exploitable effect.
The last card I’ll mention (there are plenty more I’m sure) is Frenetic Efreet. Why is a three-mana, 2/1 flyer so special? Its rules text is written in such a way that it allows you to do something that not many other cards do: flip as many coins as you’d like!
Frenetic Sliver explicitly states the coin flip only takes place if the creature is in play. But with the Efreet, you can put 10,000,000 coin flips on the stack and all of them will resolve even though the Efreet will be long gone after the first flip. Why would you want to flip a coin so many times? Chance Encounter comes to mind, but Wizards is always printing new coin-flip cards (most recently, Krark, the Thumbless and one of them could bring interest back to Frenetic Efreet. The efreet is already worth a few bucks and is on the Reserved List, so again your downside is minimal here.
Wrapping It Up
Magic has been around for 27 years now. The history of the game is so immense that it’s inevitable that a newly printed card will eventually synergize well with something from the past 27 years. That happened recently when Obeka, Brute Chronologist was spoiled, causing cards like Last Chance and Psychic Vortex to spike. Suddenly, these obscure cards that most players likely never heard of are making waves on MTG Stocks and spiking on buylists.
This will happen again and again, and it’ll follow a general formula. The more obscure the card (even better if it's on the Reserved List), multiplied by its power level, multiplied by a synergistic reprint will equal a spike in price.
Browsing the Reserved List, I found a few cards from Ice Age, Alliances, and Mirage with abilities that could be breakable with a future card. I’m sure there are other possibilities in Weatherlight, Visions, etc. as well.
My watch list included cards that allow you to exile your entire library at instant speed and flip an infinite number of coins—normally such effects are undesirable or harmless, but they can be extremely powerful in the right context. These are the kinds of obscure cards with powerful effects that I have my eye on.
They may not spike tomorrow. They may not spike five years from now. But they have the potential to do so, and in the meantime, they’re above-bulk cards with potential, gradual upside regardless. That’s often the kind of investment I like to make. Low risk with the potential for high upside!