“’Cause we are living in a [serial] world and I am a [serial] girl.”
This is a bit of a stretch, but did you know that Sesame Street did a parody of Madonna’s “Material Girl” about eating cereal? The song was titled “Cereal Girl” and it was absolutely adorable. By laddering back to this version, my pun isn’t so far-fetched.
Bad dad jokes aside, we have truly entered a new age of Magic collecting with the advent of the game’s newest “rarity” level, serialized cards!
A Brief History of Serialized Magic Cards
Magic introduced serialized cards with the printing of special mirrored Viscera Seers. These were initially discovered in November 2021 as the bonus card found in foil Phyrexian Praetors: Compleat Edition boxes. News of the uniquely numbered card took the community by storm. Copies of these otherwise-common cards sold for well into the thousands.
About a year later, in November 2022, Wizards of the Coast introduced new serialized cards that could be opened from Brothers’ War products. These were special versions of the Retro Frame Artifact series that were randomly added to booster packs. Everyone dreamed of opening a Retro Frame Wurmcoil Engine in their booster pack, but opening a serialized copy of the card yields a hefty payday.
Instead of being only limited to 100 copies like Viscera Seer, each of the 63 Retro Frame Artifacts had 500 serialized copies printed, meaning there were theoretically 31,500 new serialized Magic cards introduced to the market (not all of them will be opened).
Since then, we’ve seen multiple series of serialized cards either introduced or spoiled for release in the near future. Secret Lair 295 Shivan Dragons, Multiverse Legends, The Lord of the Rings, Secret Lair Giant Growths, and possibly others all contain cards that may have a unique serial number.
I’m beginning to wonder, however, just how “unique” these unique cards truly are.
We’ve Seen This Movie Before
We’ve seen Wizards of the Coast follow this pattern time and again. Remember when each new set launched with a simple 36-pack booster box, and each booster pack contained one rare, three uncommons, and eleven commons? Whatever happened to those days?
First, it was foils, introduced back in Urza's Legacy. I despised the idea at the time but foils back then were very sparse and difficult to open, so their impact felt easy to overlook. Over the years though, the distribution of foils became higher and higher until, eventually, some booster packs included a guaranteed foil.
Then Wizards of the Coast introduced the Mythic Rare with Shards of Alara, and a new level of rarity was born. Imagine opening a foil mythic rare! The odds were so low, it was like winning the lottery.
Having rarities that stopped at mythic still wasn’t enough. As mythic rares became normalized and the player base became desensitized to their special nature, Wizards of the Coast scrambled to introduce another level of rarity. In 2015, Wizards of the Coast did just that—they introduced the Zendikar Expeditions, these special-framed super duper rares were even more difficult to pull from a booster pack. I remember opening an Expedition Wooded Foothills during a game of pack wars with a friend of mine, and was thrilled! I had basically opened a $100+ card in my $3 booster pack.
After numerous sets with Masterpiece Series cards—as they later became known—even these special cards lost their luster.
Too Much of a Good Thing?
The flavor of this generation, it seems, is the serialized card. When foils, mythic rares, and Masterpieces aren’t special enough, let’s slap some numbers on a card instead to make them really collectible.
At first, the idea sounded exciting. While not novel to card collecting (serial numbering first appeared on a football card in 1990), the introduction of numbered cards brought the same excitement as the previous rarity introductions in years past. Just like those former rarity introductions, however, this one seems to be losing its luster.
Sure, the original Viscera Seer cards still carry significant value and are extremely rare (only 100 made). The more desirable Masterpiece cards such as Sol Ring and Mana Crypt will always hold a significant premium over the less desirable ones. I’m confident that all serialized copies of Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer will cost an arm and a leg due to its playability. Certain numbers will also always be more valuable than others.
Despite all this, I can’t help but wonder if we’ve passed a point of no return now, and the concept of serialized cards has become a mainstay in Magic. The most playable and desirable such cards will of course maintain a significant premium. The concept of owning a serialized card, however, will gradually become less special over time.
We’ve already seen some serialized cards selling for under $100 on eBay, and this trend is likely to accelerate as more such cards are printed.
In my humble opinion, Wizards of the Coast is taking the concept too far. Making serialized cards the norm and not the exception will gradually detract from the excitement they bring to the game.
At this rate, five to ten years from now, they’ll need to create some new level of rarity.
How Low Can They Go?
When the Zendikar Expeditions first came out, they were all worth at least $50, more or less. Nowadays there are a number of them retailing in the $20’s, and Tectonic Edge can be purchased for even less. While this is arguably the least exciting Masterpiece to be printed, the idea that a Masterpiece can be had for less than the price of a collector booster pack speaks volumes to their availability and desirability.
I predict a similar trajectory for serialized cards. I don’t care that only 500 serialized Tymaret, Chosen from Death cards exist. The card isn’t all that exciting, and will likely decline in price over time. The same goes for some of the other less-than-exciting Multiverse Legends cards that were recently printed.
To be fair, serialized cards will always carry some value much like the Masterpieces do. Don’t expect the less playable cards to maintain such a high price point, however. While supply and rarity definitely carry significant weight when determining a card’s price, demand needs to also be there. The serialized Tymaret, Chosen from Death is twice as rare as the cheapest Alpha rare, yet it already sells for 1/4 the price.
A Note on the One Ring
Before concluding, I wanted to spend a moment discussing the one-of-a-kind, 001/001 A-The One Ring, to be sold in a collector booster of The Lord of the Rings: Tales of Middle-earth.
In a world where serialized cards are becoming more and more common, how much do you think this card should be worth? I’ve already seen public offers north of $100,000 for the card, and this completely baffles me.
While there is a novelty to being “the one” who owns the ring, fueling emotions that Frodo Baggins and Gollum must have felt throughout the novels, I still can’t imagine dropping a mortgage on a single card. I understand that this is a one-of-a-kind card, and that surely makes it special.
Do you know what else is one-of-a-kind? Original Magic artwork. In fact, since last week I successfully found and purchased my first piece of original Magic art! My gratitude goes out to Phil Li (@ThePheylop) who helped me find a piece I loved and negotiate a price I could afford.
I’ll share more once it arrives, but the reason I bring this up is that the art I purchased comes with a serial numbered COA. Do you know what the serial number is for this beautiful piece of artwork, which I plan to frame and hang on my wall for friends and family to see?
You guessed it. 1/1.
Does this mean my artwork is going to be worth more than a house? Of course not! I’m guessing there are thousands of 1/1 paintings that go along with some of Magic’s most beautiful pieces of art. Each one is one-of-a-kind, and each one carries significant value. Only a handful will be worth the same order of magnitude as the special 001/001 A-The One Ring, however.
If Wizards prints more 001/001 cards in the future, the ultimate rare will eventually become more affordable as well. Until then, this first and only 001/001 card could be the most valuable ever.
Wrapping It Up
When the serialized mirrored Viscera Seers first hit the wires, Twitter was much abuzz with the news of their existence. Now, just a few short years later, I see serialized cards show up in my Twitter and Discord feeds on a monthly (if not weekly) basis. No longer do I double-take, wondering how to obtain such a special card.
Instead, I marvel at their novelty less and less with each new printing. Based on recent spoilers for upcoming sets, I suspect there will be many more coming out soon. So many, in fact, that even if their rarity remains just as high, the demand and price point for the less desirable ones will continue to falter.
If you want a popular serialized card for play, it may not behoove you to wait—the best Masterpieces have become very expensive over the years. If you just want a serialized card to say you own one, however, and you aren’t particular about which one you own… I say wait. Wait another six months or year to see just how many more times Wizards of the Coast prints them.
At this trajectory, you may be able to find one for under $50. While they’ll still be just as rare, with only 500 of a given card to exist, the fact that 100’s of these only-500 printings will be created means that finding one for cheap will become relatively easy. These may be rarer than Alpha rares, but for many of them, they remain less valuable indefinitely.