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Judges are an important part of the infrastructure that keeps Magic thriving and well. With every store, event, FNM, or another tournament, there are bound to be rules issues, as Magic is a vastly complex game with cryptic and sometimes counter-intuitive rulings. You all are probably well aware of the distinct shout of "JUDGE!" in the middle of a tournament as a complex (or sometimes not all so complex) rule sparks a question. With over 230 pages in the Comprehensive Rules and many more in other documents related to judging, being a Judge takes time, effort, and dedication.
To show appreciation for the judging community, Wizards of The Coast started giving out Promo cards to Judges for judging tournaments and other events. These Judge promos were highly sought after as they tended to be very rare, and a sign of achievement. Over the years as more and more Judges are trained, and more and more players join the game, more and more Judge Promos are printed. These tended to be iconic cards, or cards that see play. The promos were also able to circumvent the Reserved List, so it is one of the few ways to get foil reserved list cards. Today we will observe, analyze, and speculate on the investability of Judge Promos long term.
Highly played cards are going to be the most stable, and most in-demand cards. That isn't much of a surprise, nor is it a surprise that scarce Judge foils of those cards are going to be expensive, and sought after on a higher scale. Let's take a look at some examples and see what the trends are.
Lightning Bolt, one of Alpha's original "3 for one mana" cycles. Ignoring Ancestral Recall, it is easily the best of the cycle, and its introduction to Modern in 2009 was explosive. As it still sees play today in a variety of decks due to its incredible versatility, it's no surprise this one is near the top of the price range. It's seen stable growth across the years, with its current position well earned. I see no reason that this growth should not continue. There are currently 15 listings for this card on TCGplayer, and eBay shows a trend of around 2-5 copies sold per month. The supply seems to be low enough to sustain price, and high enough to sustain growth. With dozens of decks across most formats using this card in some form or fashion, I see no reason for anything but continued growth. It's a simply good card, and collectible as anything.
Rhystic Study is a Commander all-star. There is little to no reason why any Commander running blue should not be running Rhystic Study. The value generated by this card is overpowering, cheap, and fits well regardless of power level. A casual deck and a CEDH deck alike can run this card and benefit all the same.
You can see that it has seen consistent growth throughout its existence. You see a period of decreased interest and consolidation in the period leading up to 2020, followed by a tad bit of turmoil around prices, a period of stagnation, and as the new year rang in, a renewed interest as markets shifted. For most of its life cycle, the money was focused on other sectors. More people were looking for Wheel of Fortune's and Timetwister's than a fancy foil for their Commander deck. I see this having a decent amount of to grow, especially with in-store play opening up across the country.
2020 Judge Promos
2020 Judge promos are an interesting case. Due to being printed and distributed in a time where there weren't many events to judge in the first place, makes odd circumstances for these cards development. A number of cards started at astronomical prices and dropped to very low prices very quickly, and others have simply experienced stagnant or negative horizontal movement. Some heavier played cards like Demonic Tutor has seen some uptick, but overall very slow growth and not much interest. Personally, I believe that these are way too low, especially considering some of these are the cheapest printing, or not too far off from being the cheapest printing.
Gamble is just barely above its non-foil, non-promo counterparts, and it has no reason to be. It's played a lot in Commander, and in CEDH as well. Only a 50% price increase doesn't make much sense to me.
Oh, the ol' pod; what an iconic card. Sadly, this one makes a bit of sense. This card has a home in many decks, but its lack of total ubiquity makes it a bit harder to have a higher sticking price. If it returns to Modern, this is easily much more, but I don't see too drastic growth at this point.
Demonic Tutor is an insanely powerful card. It lacks the low mana requirements of Vampiric Tutor, but what it loses in cheapness, it gains in the efficiency of not requiring a draw. It ends up being perfect for a mid to late game when the extra cost of 1 generic mana tends to be less of an issue. There is an easy reason why this card showed movement when others didn't, it simply is the best card of the year's promos.
Reserved List Foils
In the days of yore, Wizards found an unbelievable loophole in the age-old agreement known as the Reserved List. If they simply printed those cards in foil, then technically it wouldn't count as a violation of the Reserved List. This culminated in many From The Vaults, and many Judge Promos that have reserved list cards, often in the only available foil printings. This combined with the explosion of Reserved List cards, and the fact that these promos are all highly-played cards, it's no surprise most of these promos are at the top of the list for the price. Among many notable are Gaea's Cradle, Wheel of Fortune, and Survival of the Fittest are all at the top of the list.
An incredibly powerful inclusion in most green decks, it's no surprise that as the normal Gaea's Cradle went up, that the promo would increase at an increasingly higher rate. Being that this is the only way to get a foil version of this card, and it being the centerpiece of many already expensive decks, players are willing to shell out the big bucks for this one. I don't see too much room for growth here as the market consolidates these higher-end pieces and moves towards different interests. I personally would wait a bit before looking to pick up a copy. I do believe that long term this card has not reached its peak, but now will not be that time.
Wheel of Fortune
For fans of the modern card frame, black border, foil, and spending slightly less than the next highest option, the Judge Promo of Wheel of Fortune is a great pick! Fans of anything but that rejoice, as you now saved a very large amount of money. As with Gaea's Cradle, I firmly believe we have seen the most we will get for a little while. There will be a large increase at some point, but for now, there won't be too much movement.
Survival of the Fittest
I feel that while the previous two have universal ubiquity in decks that would benefit from them, Survival of the Fittest sees ever so slightly less play. This is seemingly offset for the most part by the fact that the decks that do run Survival of the Fittest, tend to be able to sling some more cash anyways, which while true with both of the previously mentioned cards, this fact is a great preventative measure in any major downturn, but gives this card slightly more instability, however so small.
What's the Point of a Foil if People Can't See the Shine?
With stores opening doors for the first time in over a year, foils are starting to matter more and more every day. With most play happening online over webcam, where foils are harder to read, impossible to notice, or simply not worth it for most, the shift to in-person makes aesthetics matter even more. As we've seen, over the past year, some foil cards from newer sets are cheaper than the non-foil versions.
While this is in part due to a large decrease in the quality of foils, foil quality has been decreasing steadily over the past couple of years (Commander Legends being the big, heavy, and cumbersome nail in the coffin). With both increasing foil quality of some of the last few sets, and the increasing importance of foils, we likely will see general growth across the board with foils, Judge Promos simply being near the tippy top of that ladder.
Judges Judge, Why Shouldn't You?
I like to end each of my articles with a reminder. A reminder to follow your gut, be smart and make decisions for yourself. The smartest analysts in this field get specs wrong all the time, and sometimes a contrarian viewpoint ends up being the correct one. Your call may be right, it may wrong, and it might just be crazy, but it might just be absolute lunacy that leads you to salvation. Remember, be smart, be calm, and invest in cardboard. Have a great rest of your week.