One collectible aspect of Magic: The Gathering is the Reserved List—571 cards Wizards of the Coast says they'll never reprint again, including promotional and gold-bordered versions. The Reserved List contains cards from the beginning of MTG through the release of Urza's Destiny in 1999. Last year, increased demand for Reserved List cards caused prices to climb sharply and reach record highs. Prices for many more than doubled, including cards with minimal playability. As a result, numerous cards became cost-prohibitive for the average player.
Fortunately, WotC printed functional alternatives for some Reserved List cards that don't cost hundreds or thousands of dollars. Wheel of Misfortune and Jeweled Lotus are two such examples. These two cards are much more affordable than the Reserved List cards they resemble. While Jeweled Lotus has niche usage compared to Black Lotus, Wheel of Misfortune offers similar effects to Wheel of Fortune, just with a drawback.
It's hard to replicate the power level of Wheel of Fortune and Black Lotus without actually reprinting the cards. Wheel of Misfortune and Jeweled Lotus can't compete with Wheel of Fortune and Black Lotus, but they're playable cards. However, there are a few additional options arguably better than their Reserved List counterparts. Let's explore a couple cards that are inexpensive and powerful substitutes.
Altar of Bone is a sorcery spell and Reserved List card from Ice Age. Playing Altar of Bone lets you search your library for a creature card, reveal the card, and put it into your hand with a slight drawback—casting Altar of Bone requires sacrificing a creature in addition to paying its mana cost.
Altar of Bone downside limits its versatility in Commander (EDH), but commanders such as Atla Palani, Nest Tender, and Saffi Eriksdotter can take advantage of the casting cost requirements and effect. Other green and white EDH decks that want several ways to search for creatures should include Altar of Bone. If spending almost $20 to play Altar of Bone in an EDH deck seems steep, you're in luck! A card exists that's much more playable (and popular) with the same effect for a quarter of the cost.
Eladamri's Call is an MTG card many EDH players are familiar with and play. As a green and white instant spell, Eladamri's Call lets you search your library for a creature card, reveal the card, and put it into your hand. There's no drawback associated with casting Eladamri's Call at instant speed, and it shares the exact mana cost as Altar of Bone.
It's obvious Eladamri's Call is the clear winner in performance over Altar of Bone. As a bonus, near mint copies of Eladamri's Call from Modern Horizons 1 currently sell for under $5. Any player looking to include a creature searching effect in their green and white EDH deck should choose Eladamri's Call over Altar of Bone every time.
Deranged Hermit is another Reserved List card with a functional alternative included in Modern Horizons 1. For the low casting cost of five mana, plus echo, Deranged Hermit creates four Squirrel creature tokens and gives all Squirrels +1/+1. Even if you decide not to pay the echo cost, you still get to keep the four Squirrel creature tokens. In the early 2000s, I saw many players use Skyshroud Poacher to search their library for Deranged Hermit and place it on the battlefield.
The average market price for Deranged Hermit more than quadrupled to $51 since May 2020. Beyond the high demand to acquire Reserve List cards over the past year, Toski, Bearer of Secrets recently increased the playability of Deranged Hermit in EDH. Toski, Bearer of Secrets, is a fantastic Squirrel commander—what could be better than Deranged Hermit, Toski, Bearer of Secrets, and an army of Squirrel creature tokens on the battlefield? How about creating an even larger Squirrel army with Deep Forest Hermit?
Deep Forest Hermit, a creature card from Modern Horizons 1, is a functional alternative to Deranged Hermit. There are two functional differences between them: Deep Forest Hermit creature type is Elf and Druid, while Deranged Hermit is only an Elf, and Deep Forest Hermit has the vanishing 3 mechanic instead of echo.
It's arguable whether vanishing 3 or echo has the least amount of downside for a creature card. Vanishing 3 allows Deep Forest Hermit to stay on the battlefield for three turns until you must sacrifice it. Deranged Hermit only remains in play for more than one turn by paying its casting cost during the next upkeep.
I find vanishing 3 is less damaging than echo since you can spend five mana on your next turn to play other spells that help win the game. Also, you get two attacks in with the four 2/2 Squirrel creature tokens. Paying echo feels like you have to skip a turn to keep Deranged Hermit on the battlefield. I'd rather lose my creature than miss the opportunity to play additional spells. So I believe Deep Forest Hermit has the edge over Deranged Hermit as the functionally better card, but I can understand other players' opinions on why Deranged Hermit is their top choice.
Anyone who participates in the Old School MTG format may be familiar with Gauntlet of Might. With original printings in Alpha, Beta, and Unlimited, Gauntlet of Might is relatively scarce and expensive. It's a four-mana artifact that provides +1/+1 to red creatures, and enables all mountains to tap for one additional red mana. Note that Gauntlet of Might effects works for red creatures and mountains in play, even those controlled by opponents. The best home for Gauntlet of Might in EDH is in the 99 of a mono-red commander deck.
Gauntlet of Power, printed in Time Spiral, is a functional alternative to Gauntlet of Might. The recently released Time Spiral Remastered includes a reprint of Gauntlet of Power in the main set. For five mana, Gauntlet of Power provides +1/+1 to creatures of a chosen color and enables basic lands of the selected color to tap for an additional one mana.
There are a few slight differences between Gauntlet of Power and Gauntlet of Might. One is Gauntlet of Might only provides +1/+1 to red creatures, while Gauntlet of Power allows you to choose the creatures' color. A second difference is Gauntlet of Might ability works on all lands with Mountain typing, while Gauntlet of Power only affects the chosen basic land type. Lastly, Gauntlet of Might is one mana less than Gauntlet of Power.
Even though there are a few differentiations between Gauntlet of Power and Gauntlet of Might, they provide similar effects. Gauntlet of Power is more flexible with the option to slot into mono-color commander decks outside of red. Gauntlet of Might costs one less mana, so it's cheaper to cast in mono-red commander decks.
While Gauntlet of Might is the only choice for Old School, Gauntlet of Power provides stiff competition for EDH playability. Between the average market price, availability, and flexibility of both cards, Gauntlet of Power is the clear choice for EDH. However, I'd agree from a power level perspective that Gauntlet of Might edges out Gauntlet of Power in mono-red commander decks.
There's another card with similar abilities to Gauntlet of Might and Gauntlet of Power. You may already be familiar with Caged Sun—one of the most played artifacts in EDH. For six mana, Caged Sun increases the power level of Gauntlet of Might by adding one additional mana of the chosen color when a land's ability causes you to add one or more mana of the selected color. Also, Caged Sun only provides +1/+1 to creatures of the chosen color that you control. Depending on your choice of mono-color commander and basic land count, you could maximize the abilities of the gauntlets and Caged Sun by including them in the same deck.
Players can avoid paying high prices for some Reserved List cards by looking at their functional alternatives—they're less expensive and, situationally, more powerful. When comparing a Reserved List card's average market price to the strength it provides, functional alternatives often offer the best bang for the buck. As WotC continues to release new MTG sets and supplemental products, we may see more affordable and powerful Reserved List alternatives in the future.