A Short History of Foils
There are only 34 cards on the Reserved List (RL) that have a foil version. Quite a small amount, considering the vastness of the Magic: the Gathering universe. While Magic started in 1993, the first foil card wasn't released until 1998, at the Urza's Saga prerelease. The prerelease promo Lightning Dragon, became the first foil premium card and is still sought-after by collectors. When Urza's Legacy was released a few months later, it was the first time players could open booster packs containing foil cards.
In 2002, Wizards updated the Reserved List, stopping it for all sets from Mercadian Masques onward. This meant that the Urza's block were the only sets players could open foil cards that would appear on the Reserved List. The only other way Reserved List foils could be obtained was through premium-version reprints, what's come to be known as the "foil loophole."
The Foiling Process
The early foiling process had a frequent manufacturing problem. Achieving the well-loved shooting star embellishment caused some foils to have a "cutline" or "print line" across the face of the card. The process was updated with Eighth Edition, doing away with the shooting star, and replacing it with a rainbow foiling effect.
The rainbow effect foil treatment is achieved by applying an extra layer of ink that highlights certain parts of the card artwork over others. This is called "white under-print plate" or "WUP". The holographic foil laminate (a metallic "sticker") has to be attached to this WUP and the regular card back as well.
Premium Reprints: The "Foil Loophole"
The 2002 Reprint Policy update included an exception allowing for the reprint of cards in Premium, ie. foil versions. This “foil loophole” allowed Wizards to print Reserved List cards as Judge promos, Player Rewards, and Arena promos. Between 1998 and 2009 they printed eight such cards:
- Gaea's Cradle (1998)
- Karn, Silver Golem (1998)
- Intuition (2003)
- Phyrexian Negator (2004)
- Powder Keg, (2004)
- Deranged Hermit (2004)
- Yawgmoth's Will (2007)
- Survival of the Fittest (2009)
The first three cards used the classic star embellishment foiling, while the rest used the rainbow effect foiling treatment. These cards were positively received by most of the community, but the goodwill would not last. Two products, in particular, brought this shift: Duel Decks: Phyrexia vs. the Coalition and From the Vault: Relics.
The “Foil Loophole”, Part Two
In 2010, Wizards made use of the foil loophole in grand fashion. They printed four popular Reserved List cards as Judge promos: Morphling, Phyrexian Dreadnought, Thawing Glaciers and Wheel of Fortune.
The prices of these foil reprints skyrocketed, and are now considerably higher than their original printings. No doubt this was a sore sticking point with long-time collectors. The printing of Duel Deck: Phyrexia vs. the Coalition and From the Vault: Relics only exacerbated things further. The printing of Phyrexian Negator and Mox Diamond in these sets was a tipping point, and there must have been an outcry from a small but vocal segment of the community. In 2010 Wizards updated their reprint policy, eliminating the premium exception clause, effectively ending the "foil loophole." Since then they've given no hints of Reserved List reprints. I believe it is safe to say that those wild days are over.
A New Type of Foil
From the Vault: Relics was printed using a unique foiling process: twice as reflective and treated with varnish. As a result, they look shinier and feel thicker, weighing significantly more than a regular foil. Many players do not like them. they look and feel different than your average Magic: The Gathering card. Because of this, they've been snubbed for a very long time. But that might be changing. As time passes and Reserved List cards in general appreciate in value, I believe that the market will not look down on them anymore.
Prices on the Move
There has been considerable movement in some Reserved List foils, and not much in others. I remember seeing available copies of Morphling in its Judge version for roughly $40 six months ago. Now, the cheapest EX copy you can find in TCG is $75, while the card is fully out of stock on CardKingdom, with the NM price set at $100.
There is a similar price trend on Mox Diamond, an all-star staple. The card went from less than $300 in January 2020 to $720 for an Excellent copy in CardKingdom, a 240% increase in less than 24 months.
However, not all Reserved List foils are seeing these price jumps, and this is where I believe that there is an opportunity.
Price History, and Future Opportunity
While working on this article I came across an excellent 2014 Reddit post from the user Encendi. It contained a detailed breakdown of most Reserved List (RL) foils, including a spreadsheet. Looking at it today is like opening a time capsule. I wasn't playing Magic in 2014. My return to the beautiful game was a year later in 2015. According to the data on the spreadsheet, at the time, you could buy a foil Grim Monolith for less than $250. When I got back into Magic, I didn't know the card existed.
"At this point I think there's little money to be made on the card," said Encendi seven years ago. Today, if you are shopping for a foil Grim Monolith, you will find that you need to spend at least $3500 for a Near Mint copy.
It's amazing, seven years later, to see how the market got it wrong. Nearly every RL foil card in its original printing is now worth more than $100. Ring of Gix is the only exception I could find. I would buy nearly any RL foil card in NM condition from Urza's Legacy or Urza's Destiny for $100 without hesitating a bit.
It won't be long before the additional foil printings of Reserved List cards start climbing in price. Let’s take a look at what I believe are the five best opportunities in the Foil Reserved List Universe. No card on this list is over $100 (for now).
5 – Karn, Silver Golem (From the Vault: Relics)
Of the three Karn, Silver Golem printings, the From the Vault: Relics one is the cheapest version. The Arena League promo version of the card, the other foil print, is over $100. It features a well-loved character from Magic: the Gathering lore, plus it sees a little play in Commander. At $30 apiece, I think it is a solid buy.
4 – Powder Keg (Magic Player Rewards 2004)
The only card in this list not printed in the wild year 2010, this Player Rewards print has recently spiked in price. My guess would be this is due to Premodern slowly rising in popularity. I picked up several copies of the card for $5 apiece less than a year ago. CardKingdom currently has NM copies available for over $20. I think this is still a cheap entry point, considering a regular Powder Keg costs nearly $10 and a foil original printing is more than $100.
3 – Memory Jar (From the Vault: Relics)
The most expensive card on this list is a Commander and Cube staple. We all know that these players love their foils. If you consider the fact that a foil Urza’s Legacy Memory Jar costs well over $700, buying a tournament legal foil copy featuring the same artwork for $90 is a bargain. I do not expect this card to hold this price tag much longer.
2 – Masticore (From the Vault: Relics)
Seriously: $8 for a NM copy of this card feels like a steal. A regular Urza's Destiny Masticore costs $20 and its foil version is well north of $400. I was quite happy to pick up a playset of these for $30. If you want a shiny Masticore in the future, more likely than not this will have to be the go-to direction. The original foil printings continue to rise. CardKingdom currently has one listed at VG condition for $420.
1 – Phyrexian Negator (Duel Decks: Phyrexia vs. the Coalition)
If $8 apiece is a steal, then $2 for an EX copy of a RL foil card is bank robbery. It does not get any better than this. It is a card that sees play in Pre-Modern. Even if the new framing and the different artwork might not be appealing to some players, this is again, a $2 card we are talking about. What could possibly go wrong? If I had access to copies of this I would buy them at instant speed. Feels a lot like free money.
Do you feel there is an opportunity in foil Reserved List cards? Are there any cards not featured in this list that you think are also good investments? Let me know your thoughts in the comments. I will continue to monitor these prices and eventually update on them. Keep buying cheap RL foils!