If given the choice, would you rather have an Unlimited Black Lotus or an Alpha one? Let's assume they're a gift from the benevolent thought experiment deity, and there's no price tag or strings attached. You obviously snap up the Alpha one, right? What about when the choice is between an Onslaught Polluted Delta, versus a Khans of Tarkir copy? If you've been playing Magic for at least a couple of years, you probably know that the original fetch lands with the old border are worth significantly more than their reprinted counterparts. The supply for older sets wasn't what it is in the modern era, and it's not outside the realm of possibility to trade off an Onslaught Delta for a Khans Delta plus a couple of Fatal Push for your Grixis Death's Shadow deck.
Because of trends like this, we're often taught at an early age in our Magic-playing lives that older is better. Older cards are more expensive, harder to find and generally all around more collectable. Even cards whose original versions were printed in 2005, like the shock lands and Dark Confidant, still hold a premium over their reprinted versions from Return to Ravnica and Modern Masters/Modern Masters 2015. To many players who have been playing since before these cards were even printed, there's a strong sense of nostalgia and "completeness" to playing with cards that they first touched when they were just getting into the game.
For a long time, these players who consider older cards to be a premium comprised a large percentage of the player base. When it's 2007, it's not hard to expect the majority of your players to be from before the Modern era. As someone who started playing the game casually in 2006, it's been interesting to watch the gradual shift in player base and how who's been playing since Theros block has been playing "A long time" now. Dragon's Maze was just yesterday, right….? Right?
I'm not saying that there aren't any long-time players anymore; just that the number of players who have started playing in the more recent years will continue to go up. To provide a little bit of support in favor of this theory, let's look at some commons and uncommons that have a history of bucking the "older cards are worth more" trend.
Regrowth is as old as Magic itself, but Revised copies have always fluttered in the $1-$1.50 range for as long as we've had data to track it. After being printed in Alpha, Beta, Unlimited, and Revised, Regrowth went almost 20 years before its next non-foil printing from Duel Decks: Heroes Vs. Monsters. It was the first time the card received alternate art and was the first time being readily accessible in the modern card frame. While I understand that there's an older Judge Promo, I don't really consider that readily accessible to most of the less competitive player base.
If you'll compare and contrast the two price graphs for the Duel Deck version and the Revised version, you'll notice that the latter has waxed and waned since 2012, but never really broken the $2 price point. In comparison, the Duel Deck version has done nothing but climb since release, only starting to plateau at $3 thanks to a massive influx of supply through Masters 25. While a $1 difference might not seem significant, it shows us that players were willing to spend up to 33% more on a newer copy, instead of following the model of Polluted Deltas and Dark Confidants. While we can't exactly interview every single player who purchased Regrowths over the past couple of years, we can look at a couple of other data points and try to make some inferences about what this data means for the trend of older cards being financially more secure than their new border/new art counterparts.
Let's look at Krosan Verge for a second; a fun little Commander card that was likely the inspiration for the design of Myriad Landscape. As a Judgment uncommon, it quietly went under the radar as a $.50 bulk pick until it quickly doubled up at around Eldritch Moon and Kaladesh. While this Judgment printing was suddenly a dollar, Krosan Verge's reprinted versions at the time in Archenemy and Planechase 2012 were already worth double the Judgment versions. Commander players were preferring to buy the reprinted version of Verge over the old border, paying a premium for one that couldn't even come in foil. Why is that?
One of my theories is that the players who have gotten into Magic in the past decade or so have little-to-no nostalgic attachment to the older borders that long time players grew up with. To the "average" player who started in the post-Modern era, the green and white background of the Archenemy and Planechase Krosan Verge were more appealing when working on a Selesnya/Bant/Naya Commander deck, because the brown border of the older version wouldn't match or fit in with the rest of their multicolored lands. Just as many older players would prefer their Onslaught Flooded Strands to match their Mirage old border basics, so do newer players want their borders to look streamlined.
Unfortunately, the price point of a newer edition will only keep up with or overpass the older version to the extent that their supply remains relatively similar. When Krosan Verge received a consecutive reprint in both Commander 2016 and Commander 2017, the increase in supply was overwhelming to the point that all the demand has been focused on these two versions that provide both a cheaper entry point to the card, as well as a newer border for the increased size of the newer player base. Because of that, we see the two Commander printings holding a lower market price, while the versions we discussed earlier; Judgment, Archenemy, and Planechase 2012, maintain a higher market price primarily due to price memory and less frequent sales.
It's important to make the distinction that I'm not suggesting new-border reprints are always going to be worth more than older set counterparts, nor am I making the claim that KTK Deltas will surpass ONS copies. In my experience, the only cards where this phenomenon applies are where the card is an older card that sees play primarily in casual/Commander and receives a reprint in a supplemental product where the supply isn't as high as something like Dominaria. For our final example, let's look at a popular casual counters that also just got new art in Masters 25.
This is a card that's been around as long as Force of Will, but never really received much love financially. For a hard counter that only puts you down a card (and theoretically helps out casual mill decks by increasing the card draw on both sides), it was interesting to see the Alliances version of this card never creep up past $.75. Alliances had such a massive print run (and so many packs were opened in the hunt for Force of Will), that it seemed this card's price was doomed to the bulk bin, even if it could see play in casual circles.
Then, everything changed when this card got a printing in the modern border with new art. Though it looks like the figure in the art is countering literal sewage using some delicious chocolate pudding, the price on this reprinted modern border card started to steadily climb until it hit a steady $4, compared to the Alliances version that was worth a fraction of the price. While the argument can be made that Alliances print run was just that massive, the steady price point of this art and border even after consecutive reprintings in Commander 2016 and Commander: Anthology show a real demand for players looking to match their new border cards, and heavily favoring the more recent printing over the old.
Of course, the ease of selling these Commander printing versions drops astronomically as we revisit the fact that this card got a reprint in Masters 25, again with new art. Being a common in a Masters set is going to be a deathknell for this particular copy's price point in the foreseeable future, though I still recommend pulling the Commander versions and buylisting them.
To summarize, it's definitely worth looking at the various Duel Deck and Commander reprints of older cards and comparing their values if they haven't yet been hit by consecutive reprints with extremely high supply elsewhere. It can be difficult to track the demand for cards with multiple printings across multiple borders, but evidence points to there being a trend of casual players preferring to shed the history of original versions being worth more. This is true with a non-zero number of less competitive cards but doesn't appear to hold true with higher value competitive staples like shocks and fetches.
One factor to distinguish between older and newer printings that we didn't really address in this article up until now is the fact that rares and mythics from the post-Magic 2015 era will have the holo stamp to confirm authenticity. In a world where counterfeit Liliana of the Veil and Jace, the Mind Sculptor exist, it's no surprise that some newer players may trend towards picking up versions of cards that are guaranteed to be real without the need for various counterfeiting tests.
- DJ Johnson