I have a soft spot in my heart for terrible Magic cards. I don’t know if it’s because I was a terrible, casual player for over a decade before I became serious about the game, or if it is the fact that I appreciate a challenge and making an awful card perform functionally is a fun challenge. But there’s something about a card that’s so bad, it almost never sees play.
Every card deserves a time to shine!
That’s why my friend and I once made up a format where we each had to build the worst one colored deck we possibly could, then exchange decks, and see who’s was worse. It’s also why we made up alternate win conditions using whacky cards (for example, you must attack with Ayumi, the Last Visitor and have her get through thanks to her legendary landwalking ability).
For this reason, I thoroughly enjoyed Ben Bleiweiss’ recent series detailing the 100 worst Magic cards of all time. It’s an entertaining read, and I’ll admit there were at least a couple cards on the list that I have played in a 60-card deck before.
But just because a card is absolutely terrible doesn’t mean it’s worthless. While much of Ben’s list was an array of horrible commons and bulk rares, there were a few worth collecting, even if they’ll never help you win a game of Magic. As inspired by Ben’s column, I bring to you…
The Ten Most Valuable Worst Cards
Before I jump in, a quick disclaimer: there were a few cards on Ben’s list that were originally printed in Alpha. Cards like Thoughtlace, Gray Ogre, and one or two others. I didn’t include these cards in my top ten because, frankly, every Alpha card is worth money nowadays. It would skew the results too much. That said, I did use first printings of cards (i.e. no Chronicles) and you’ll see the result of this deliberate decision in my list.
One last disclaimer: I used TCGplayer market pricing to sort card values. While some of these cards may have inflated market prices after buyouts last year, I believe the relative ranking is still appropriate. Consider the prices I cite as the value of the card in mint condition, but played copies probably retail for 50-60% of the market price.
10. Armageddon Clock - $13.42
This was ranked as Ben’s 4th worst card in Magic. Apparently, Wizards of the Coast didn’t have enough of this card with its Antiquities printing, so they printed it again in Revised and again in Fourth Edition. I’m fairly confident it didn’t see much play regardless of its printing. That said, Antiquities uncommons are fairly rare, and there is an iconic nature to this one. I really like Amy Weber’s artwork—it’s worth owning a copy for this reason alone. If you ever stumble across this card in bulk, don’t be fooled by its terrible rules text. This card is worth holding onto!
9. Sorrow’s Path - $16.98
I personally would rank this card higher (i.e. it is worse than Ben’s 11th rank), but I understand his argument that it can create fun interactions in multiplayer Commander games. I’ve talked about this Reserved List card from The Dark multiple times in the past, so I won’t dwell on it too long here. The card is terrible, but the art is entertaining and the card is 28 years old, rare, and on the Reserved List. Need I say more? Five years from now it will be worth more, despite not seeing any increase in play.
8. Bronze Horse - $17.24
This is the lowest ranking card on Ben’s list, making the cut at number 82. Unlike Sorrow's Path, this one isn’t on the Reserved List—it originally appeared in Antiquities as a rare, but was reprinted in Chronicles, and I’m pretty sure this card was respected in my play group back in 1998. I don’t think its second ability was ever relevant in our games, but a 4/4 trample was respectable back in the day. Also I once had a dream of collecting trampling creatures with power/toughness 1/1, 2/2, 3/3, etc. up to 12/12. This was the 4/4 candidate for that collection, which sadly never came to be.
7. Cathedral of Serra - $18.52
Ben lumped this cycle of lands at number 57, but I personally think these also deserve a higher rank for being absolutely unplayable. They’re also not on the Reserved List, since they’re only uncommons from Legends. Then again, do we think Wizards of the Coast will ever reprint this cycle of lands again? I sure hope not! They were unplayable the first time around! The other four in the cycle are less valuable, but for some reason Cathedral of Serra maintains a premium price tag. At least they all have sweet artwork.
6. Rapid Fire - $24.53
We’re back to the Reserved List again for Rapid Fire, which showed up in the number 15 spot on Ben’s worst card ranking. Without looking at the card, I can picture its artwork, I know it’s on the Reserved List and worth money, but I couldn’t tell you anything about the rules text. Even an aficionado of terrible cards like me wouldn’t find a reason to sleeve up this card. This just goes to show you the rarity and influence of the Reserved List. I’m sure it’ll be worth more in a few years, but played copies are admittedly far less expensive.
5. Wood Elemental - $35.29
Ahhhh, my good friend Wood Elemental, a card I always believed to be the worst creature of all time. It’s number 7 on Ben’s list, and I think that ranking is well deserved given how awkward this creature was. Even if you could sacrifice tapped forests to power up the creature, I still think the card would be largely unplayable. When people clamor for the abolishment of the Reserved List, Wood Elemental is not on their mind. If Wizards of the Coast wanted to pull the most troll-like move in the history of Magic, they could create a temporary abolishment of the Reserved List and reprint this card at mythic rare in a set. That’ll show ‘em!
4. Jandor’s Ring - $80.50
There were multiple rings printed in Magic’s first few years, but poor Jandor drew the short straw and was stuck with the least powerful. Aladdin's Ring and Ring of Renewal were both also pretty uninspiring, but they didn’t make Ben’s list, whereas Jandor's Ring clocked in at number 72. This is the first card from Arabian Nights to show up on the list. It’s no surprise this card is so valuable despite being reprinted in Revised—Arabian Nights rares are all worth a decent amount simply due to their age and rarity. That’s why Arabian Nights claims three of the four most valuable cards on this list.
3. Merchant Ship - $106.33
Believe me. This card isn’t worth $106. It probably was for a hot second, though, and price stickiness is a thing to be reckoned with. I’m pretty sure you can find near mint copies for well under $100, and played copies are probably half the market price. Price momentum aside, this Reserved List card from Arabian Nights still deserves to be on this list and on Ben’s. I once fantasized about building a tribal Ships deck, filled with Merchant Ships, Pirate Ships, and Skeleton Ships. Then I realized the deck would be horrendous, and the dream was promptly snuffed. I still own a copy for kicks though.
2. North Star - $118.72
This rare, Reserved List artifact from Legends hit number 32 on Ben’s top 100 list. It really is terrible. While it peaked at $118 once upon a time, you can find played copies for half that price nowadays. Still, it’s worth a great deal considering how unplayable it is. Personally, it’s one of my favorite cards from Legends simply because it’s by my favorite artist, Kaja Foglio. One of these days I’ll find a signed copy for my collection, but at this price point, it’s painful to shell out $60 for a card I know I’ll never sleeve up in a deck. That is, not until I have another “worst deck” competition with my friend. Then all bets are off!
1. Aladdin’s Lamp - $155.47
It may not surprise folks that the number one most valuable terrible card is originally from Arabian Nights. What could be surprising, however, is the fact that the card isn’t on the Reserved List. This artifact was reprinted in both Revised and Fourth Edition. In my book, the Arabian Nights printing of Aladdin's Lamp has one of the weirdest looking casting costs in the game. Back in 1993, Wizards of the Coast didn’t have a way of putting a “10” in one casting cost circle, so they used two 5’s instead. This may be rivaled only by the notoriously famous XY Fireball of Beatdown Box Set fame (seriously, if you haven’t seen that version of Fireball before you should check it out).
Like the other top cards in this list, this one spiked to $150 for a brief period of time—I remember being able to do a little arbitrage buying played copies on TCGplayer and shipping them to Card Kingdom back when they were paying nearly $100 on their buylist. Now the price has come way back down, and you can find played copies for one-third this market price. Still, rules are rules and this card landed in the top spot as a result!
Wrapping It Up
The results are in, and surprise surprise: all ten cards were printed in the Four Horsemen sets of Magic: The Dark, Legends, Arabian Nights, and Antiquities. This goes to show you the power of Old School and collector demand. Even unplayable cards, cards that many feel are some of the worst ever printed, can be worth tens of dollars simply due to rarity and age.
By the way, the most valuable cards not from Magic’s first four expansion sets included Blood Funnel from Ravnica ($3.68), Nantuko Shrine from Odyssey ($2.57), and Sporogenesis from Urza’s Saga ($2.20). While these are far from “bulk rare” prices, you can see how newer cards aren’t even the same order of magnitude as compared to the Four Horsemen of sets. It just shows you how much print run and age factor into a card’s price.
I hope you enjoyed this alternate take of Ben’s list as I examined those cards which are absolutely terrible in a deck, but worth picking up for a collection. I wouldn’t prioritize picking up cards from this top ten list too aggressively as you’re more likely to use (and make money from) contemporaneous cards from Magic’s history. But it’s still fun to own one of the worst cards of all time—especially if you plan on trying out my “worst deck” competition one day.