Un-Covering the History of Silver-Border Cards and Their Value

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Silver-bordered cards have been a part of Magic for nearly twenty-five years. In this deep dive into these non-tournament-legal cards, we'll explore their origins, some of the most valuable cards from the Un- sets, as well as some cost-effective pick-ups for Cube, Commander, and speculation.

The Un-Usual History Of Silver-Bordered Cards

In August 1998 Wizards of the Coast released Unglued, the first Magic: the Gathering set meant strictly for casual play. To distinguish these cards from otherwise tournament-legal black and white border cards, Wizards came up with a silver border to identify them. The set was designed and developed entirely by Magic's head designer, Mark Rosewater. Rosewater, a former television comedy writer for shows like Roseanne, used the opportunity to pour as many puns, one-liners, and in-jokes at the time as he could into every card in the set, as well as introducing new ideas into Magic that are now a frequent part of the game's design toolbox like full-art basic lands, and token cards.

Excluding the five full-art basic lands and six tokens, Unglued contained 83 cards. Some cards like Look at Me, I'm the DCI, Infernal Spawn of Evil, and B.F.M. (Big Furry Monster), became fan favorites. Cards like The Cheese Stands Alone and Spatula of the Ages would go on to inspire black-border equivalents like Barren Glory and Quicksilver Amulet. For all the good, there were a few cards that fell flat, like Bronze Calendar whose joke involves a matter of pronunciation, Sex Appeal a card in poor taste, and Ghazbán Ogress, a card which called back to Ghazbán Ogre from Arabian Nights the very first Magic expansion, but was offensive when you understood the context behind it.

While much of the bad of Unglued is only really identifiable in hindsight, the set was popular at its debut, and Rosewater immediately started work on a follow-up. The only bad move on Wizard's part according to Rosewater from a 2017 article "The Un-ending Saga, Part 1," was that Wizards had little experience at that point with printing supplemental sets and massively overprinted the product. The glut on the market forced Wizards to destroy large quantities of the product that went unsold, and as a result, they shelved Rosewater's plans for Unglued 2: The Obligatory Sequel.

Flash forward six years, and Wizards had finally come around again to the idea of doing another silver-border set. This time, the set was larger, more in line with the size of small sets under the Block design model of the time. The set featured 136 silver-border cards, including Super Secret Tech, a card which only existed in foil, and a new cycle of five full-art basic lands, this time with art so big there was no text box on the cards. Unhinged debuted in November 2004, and again the set was immediately popular at release.

Players loved the continuation of jokes from the previous Un-set, like Infernal Spawn of Infernal Spawn of Evil, and Johnny, Combo Player, as well as new jokes like Who // What // When // Where // Why, a super-split card, Blast from the Past, and Magic creator Richard Garfield being immortalized in cardboard form in Richard Garfield, Ph.D.. Despite arguably even more interest than the first Un- set, a similar pattern played out. There was "High interest out of the gate, but we didn't end up selling all the product we'd printed, and in the end, we had to again destroy product," Rosewater wrote. "The prevailing wisdom at the company was that the sets were failures and there was no reason to ever print another."

"The prevailing wisdom at the company was that the sets were failures and there was no reason to ever print another." - Mark Rosewater "The Un-ending Saga Part 1"

Years went by, and slowly things began to change, both at Wizards, and with the Magic player base at large. Wizards began to produce short runs of supplemental products. Duel Decks, Masters sets, and other short print run products and boxed sets like Archenemy and Planechase became a regular part of the Magic product line. The interests of the player base also shifted, as many players embraced the player-driven format Elder Dragon Highlander, with its emphasis on social and casual play over competitive play. The company took note of the explosive growth of EDH into the most popular constructed format in Magic and worked with the EDH rules committee to launch the format as an official format in 2011, rebranded for commercial purposes as Commander. With casual play now at the forefront of the interests of the player base, and continued interest in silver border cards, both from influential folks inside Wizards and from the community, the stage was set for a new limited printing silver-border set, which after years in development became 2017's Unstable.

Aimed at a casual audience, and with an emphasis on draft, Unstable was a home run both for players and Wizards, with Gavin Verhey from Wizards in an article "Know Your Audience" calling it "one of the smash hits of the year." The set again included full-art lands, this time making them entirely borderless, and full-art and foil tokens. In a first for the game, Unstable also featured a series of same-named, but functionally different cards, like Very Cryptic Command, of which there were six versions.

The set also featured numerous legendary creatures and other cards designed specifically with Commander and Cube aficionados in mind. These included Spike, Tournament Grinder, Rules Lawyer, Urza, Academy Headmaster, and two-color legendary creatures for four of the five guilds of mad scientists represented in the set (the fifth is represented by a legendary artifact The Grand Calcutron).

In 2020, Wizards returned to the world of silver-border cards with the Unsanctioned box set. Unsanctioned featured reprints of popular cards from the previous Un-sets (and one HASCON promo), as well as 16 brand new cards, divided up into five 30-card decks. Unsanctioned righted a perceived wrong by the community, printing the third card for the Infernal Spawn cycle, Infernius Spawnington III, Esq., left out of Unstable. It also updated wording on the older cards reprinted, giving them modern templating, and satisfied the needs of an established segment of the market looking for something a little more off-beat than the seriousness of Magic's black-bordered offerings.

The Value of Un- Cards

The value of Un- cards is top-heavy and located primarily in foils. This makes sense as the cards only hold casual appeal, and thus players who want them are going to want the most blinged-out versions of them where possible. If we're buying silver-bordered cards, why not have those silver borders shine? Here's the five most expensive Un- cards and their pricing:

  1. Richard Garfield, Ph.D., Unhinged (Foil), $850.00 TCG Mid
  2. Mox Lotus, Unhinged (Foil), $394.92 TCG Market
  3. City of Ass, Unhinged (Foil), $119.46 TCG Market
  4. Blast from the Past, Unhinged (Foil), $78.28 TCG Market
  5. Aesthetic Consultation, Unhinged (Foil), $62.34 TCG Mid

Prices from this list are for Near Mint cards using our QS Insider tools, cross-checked with TCG sales results, and citing TCG Market Price where there have been any sales of the card since the beginning of the year. Where no sales were present, TCG Mid was used to show the current asking prices of cards. We can see sharp drops in price between these cards, and the price differences between these and their non-foil counterparts are even greater. Note that this list is exclusively Unhinged foils. The highest-priced Unstable foil is Steamflogger Boss, whose market price is $49.99. There were no foils in Unglued because the set predated the appearance of foil cards, which began with the Urza's Legacy expansion. The most expensive Unglued card is Blacker Lotus, which at a market price of around $30 feels high for a card you're required to tear into pieces as part of its activation cost, but the forced scarcity this created has undoubtedly affected the price over the last 20-something years. With art by the original Black Lotus artist, Christopher Rush, it's an interesting showpiece as part of any collection.

If looking to pick these cards up for personal use, to bling out a cube, or play some wacky Commander, these are cards to certainly have on your radar. But what if you're looking for some silver-bordered bling, but don't want to break the bank? What about a possible investment spec?

Cost-Effective Un- Cards For Cube and Commander

Adding fun silver-border foils to Commander and Cube doesn't need to break the bank. Here are five to have on your radar to spice up your next game night, all under $20.

As Luck Would Have It, Unstable, $1.02

Some players just love to roll dice. This card not only rewards you for rolling dice, potentially winning the game, but hexproof protects it from being nuked by most things your opponents can throw at it. With a new Standard set looming that's all about rolling d20s, winning the game with this gets even easier. At only $1 for the foil, it feels worth picking up a few of these on the off chance dice fever gets rolling. Combine it with the next card on this list for even better odds.

Krarks Other Thumb, Unstable, $13.96

This one seems to already be picking up speed, so there's not as good a chance to profit, but if you're looking to roll some dice, take the initiative now before this gets to $20 later this summer.

Enter The Dungeon, Unhinged, $16.99

While not as direct as Demonic Tutor, the stories you'll tell about playing this card will be epic, and it gets you twice as many cards when you win the subgame! Add in Once More with Feeling, and The Countdown Is at One for more wackiness.

Animate Library, Unstable, $1.03

Another card sure to create some epic game night stories, there are few things more satisfying than turning your entire library sideways and shoving it into the red zone. While this isn't likely to generate you a bunch of profit, picking up the foil for a buck is sure to be worth it for the fun factor alone.

Spike, Tournament Grinder, Unstable, $3.85

For the Cube filled with all of the most broken things in Magic, Spike, Tournament Grinder feels like a necessary inclusion among a shortlist of silver-border Cube favorites. While the power level and potential swinginess may be offputting to some, if your Cube is already running haymakers like Jace, the Mind Sculptor, and Umezawa's Jitte, this card will be right at home. For ultimate style points not on a budget, tutor up Shahrazad for more subgame fun.

So far, most of the cards we've been discussing have been foil. If you're not looking for your cards to shine, the vast majority of Un- cards, regardless of the set can be picked up for less than a dollar. Shiny or not, these cards are sure to put a smile on your face the moment you slam them on the table.

A Quick Note On Holiday Cards, Specialty Promos, and Playtest Cards

The first holiday thank you card, Fruitcake Elemental was given to Wizards' employees and business partners in 2006 and started an ongoing annual tradition. Due to their scarcity and unique nature, many of these cards have climbed in price considerably over the years, so they were deliberately excluded from this discussion. Stay tuned for future article(s) exploring holiday cards, specialty promos, and Mystery Booster Playtest Cards, the honorary silver-border cards.

What are some of your favorite Un- cards? Do you have a good Enter the Dungeon story? What Un- card do you think is criminally underpriced that should have made the cost-effective list? Share your answers in the comments.

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