There are times when I'm not particularly good at predicting the future. In my 2021 predictions article, for example, I predicted that Kansas City would win the Super Bowl (they just lost it), and that the Democrats would lose both Georgia runoff elections (they won both). I guess I shouldn't apply for Bill Barnwell or Nate Silver's jobs any time soon!
That said, I'm pretty good at predicting things in the world of Magic finance. When I pitched this week's topic to my editor back in December, we scheduled it for a week in early February when Kaldheim hype was dying down a bit and I could focus on something a bit more evergreen. I was a little worried that the market might beat me to this article, invalidating aspects of my argument, but what actually happened is even better: the market is just waking up to this trend right now! In fact, the top post on r/mtgfinance over the weekend was a YouTube video on this very topic. (Full disclosure: I watched part of his video before writing this article, but did not finish it because I kept getting distracted by his weird framing.)
But I digress. Today, we're going to talk about why old foils are similar to Reserved List cards, why they're a great investment opportunity, and which cards to target. Intrigued? Read on. There's a lot of money to be made here over the next few months, and I want you to have the opportunity to get in near the ground floor.
Before we talk about foils, let's take a brief detour into the world of Reserved List speculation. If you haven't been plugged into that particular market for the past couple of months, you might be surprised to see what's been going on. For example, here's the price chart for Revised Underground Sea over the past six months:
Here's The Abyss:
And here's a more obscure Reserved List card: Preacher, from The Dark:
What's going on here? It's a perfect confluence of several events.
First, we haven't had large physical events in over a year now. Large stores and vendors use those events to buy cards like this from players and collectors, which is harder to do en masse online. This supply chain issue isn't really affecting newer cards, since there are millions of those out there, but it's definitely making its presence felt here. Buyouts are also way easier when there are only a few dozen copies of a given card available at any time, and in most cases, they aren't even necessary. None of the above cards were bought out at all, for example. They simply spiked due to normal demand catching up with a severe lack of supply.
Second, there's been an influx of money into Reserved List investing. Between the government stimulus checks, the 2020 crypto boom, the GameStop and AMC stock rallies, and the money folks have made flipping sports cards and Pokémon cards over the past year (more on this a bit later), people who still have steady, high-paying work during the pandemic are flooding the high-end Magic market with cash. And with no dinners out, no bar tabs, no movie tickets, and no vacations to spend money on, a lot of people are suddenly thinking, "hey, maybe it's finally time to buy that Underground Sea."
Third, that aforementioned Pokémon/sports card collecting boom has finally made it to Magic. I wrote about this a few weeks ago, and it's clear at this point that the collector market is in full swing. Take a look at this price chart for NM Revised Shivan Dragon, and then remember that this card is powerful in exactly zero formats:
Demand for Shivan Dragon is being driven purely by collectors and speculators, not players, but the bubble doesn't appear to be bursting. Instead, folks are buying up cards like this, getting them graded, and re-selling them at a profit. This is what happened to sports cards last spring, and Pokémon cards this fall. Now it's happening here. Don't expect this trend to stop any time soon, either, even if it doesn't look like the kind of Magic finance you know.
Lastly, these spikes are causing pretty severe FOMO among the player base. Nobody wants to miss out on the chance to own these cards before they're truly out of range, so the eyes of the Magic community are focused on these cards right now as folks fill in the holes in their collection. The result is increased demand from casual, Commander, and eternal players who aren't interested in speculation at all. They just want a copy or two for their own collections.
I've had a few people ask me if these spikes are "real," and my answer is both yes and no. I don't think Reserved List cards are done spiking, and I wouldn't be shocked if the next few months show ever-increasing gains. We haven't even really started to feel the heavy hand of the grading/collectable market yet, either, and I expect that's going to be one of the big stories in Magic finance over the next year or so. The fact that the big stores have raised their prices on dual lands over the past few weeks tells me that Magic's power brokers are betting on these spikes continuing.
On the other hand, the supply of these cards will increase when large events are back. I also wouldn't be shocked if lots of the folks buying Reserved List cards right now sell some of their extras once competitive tabletop Magic returns and they need to fund a new deck or two. The eyes of the community will also move on at some point—they always do—allowing the market to sag a little, and giving us all a chance to buy in. Even though I'm bullish on Reserved List cards over the short term, I'm still not picking up the cards that are spiking right now.
But I digress. Reserved List cards are hot right now, and a lot of people are kicking themselves for missing the boat. It's hard to buy a Moat or a Mox right now, even if you think they still have room to gain. But whenever there's a weird financial spike, there are always secondary spikes as the folks who missed out on the first thing try to get in on the action. Etherium (or even Dogecoin!) lagged Bitcoin, AMC stock lagged GameStop stock, etc. Brand new boxes of Pokémon Cards have even spiked thanks to interest in the vintage game. Everyone wants a piece of the pie, so folks cook additional pies and then say "oh boy, this pie is also great!"
Some of the cheaper and less useful Reserved List cards are spiking as folks enter the party late and clean up the scraps, but that sort of investment strategy seems bad to me. Do you really want to be left holding the bag on lesser cards like Sorrow's Path or Lurker when the market starts to fall again? I sure don't.
Instead, I'd like to focus on another class of cards that have a lot of the same qualities as Reserved List cards while still being desirable to players: old foils.
Reserved List cards became the de-facto top tier Magic collectable because WotC has agreed not to reprint them—ever. If you want an Underground Sea, you have to buy one of the copies that's already out there. That makes Reserved List cards a safer investment than a card like Greater Auramancy, which is currently worth $70 despite the fact that it will likely be a $5 card when it is inevitably reprinted.
Of course, this logic centers playability, not collectability. Topps can reprint Mickey Mantle's rookie card this year, but it wouldn't affect the value of the real one from 1952. Collectors don't want reproductions—they want rare pieces of history.
Magic has a collector market, too. There's a reason why an Alpha Serra Angel is worth $1,000 while a Core Set 2010 Serra Angel is worth nothing. But Magic finance has been primarily driven by playability since the game's inception, and that's why Reserved List speculation has been so big for so long. The fact that these old, collectable cards can't be reprinted in any form backstops collectability with playability.
That's starting to change, though. The addition of Collector Boosters has helped introduce a stronger collector mentality to Magic, where players are getting used to paying a premium for the "best" version of cards. Add that to the influx of collectors/card graders from the sports card and Pokémon worlds, and you end up with an entire class of Magic cards that are valuable primarily due to their status as a collectible.
Why old foils, then? In part because they are incredibly rare. Rarer than most Reserved List cards, in fact. Consider that the ratio of foils to non-foil copies of the same card (draft boosters only) has shifted from 1:100 (Urza's Legacy through Odyssey) to 1:67 (Torment through War of the Spark) to 1:45 (now), and you'll get a sense of how much the numbers have shifted over the years. Colloquially, foils felt so much rarer back then, too. Back in the 7th Edition days, you got roughly one foil rare per booster box, and if it was bad, it was bad.
Back in 2010 or so, I set out to make a cube where every card was the oldest possible foil printing (or oldest non-foil, if no foil was available). Finding the Alpha and Beta stuff was hard, but finding the early foils was much, much harder. The fact that many of these cards are cheaper now than they were a decade ago speaks to how ignored this market has been, and how high it can go if people start to pay attention.
Old foils are also incredibly iconic. That shooting star/foil border look is unparalleled, even though WotC's current foiling process is quite pretty aside from the curling. Pre-Modern foils look incredible, though, and even some iconic post-Modern foils have started to perk up due to scarcity and Commander demand. In a world where WotC prints a thousand different versions of every card and it's hard to determine what the "best" version actually is, collectors tend to default to the earliest available premium printing. That's old-bordered foils.
Good luck finding these cards in near-mint condition, too! Even old foils curved in humid climates, and the foil layer chipped and peeled quite easily. Not only were very few of these cards printed, but they were incredibly hard to keep in good shape. That's the perfect storm for creating collector value.
"But Cassie!", I can hear you saying. "Time Spiral Remastered is going to have old-border foils! What's to stop WotC from reprinting all of these cards and tanking their value?"
Paradoxically, I expect Time Spiral Remastered will be like a tank of gas thrown onto the vintage foil market. First, Time Spiral is a post-Modern set, so none of those cards were actually ever printed in this treatment before. It won't affect the value of any existing pre-Modern foils, except to remind people about how cool they are. In fact, it's going to introduce a whole new generation of players to Magic's most interesting foil treatment.
Second, there's no guarantee that WotC will ever use this treatment again. Time Spiral is a weird retro set, so this could easily be a one-off weird retro foil treatment. Even if they do use it again, it's very possible that they won't use it on any cards that were originally printed with that treatment, instead using it as a way to give post-Modern foils that cool retro look.
Lastly, it's quite likely that the new version of the old foil border is going to look different from the process they used back in the 1990s. WotC has changed their process a lot since then, and it's likely they're more interested in evoking that feel than being perfectly faithful to that vintage process. If so, it's yet another sign that these old original foils are going to remain unique from here on out.
I hate to keep returning to Shivan Dragon, but I love how it shows the influence of the Pokémon market in Magic finance. Shivan Dragon is the Magic card that maps onto Charizard the easiest, so it's easy for Magic finance collector newcomers to grok. You saw the price chart for Revised Shivan Dragon earlier. Now check out the price chart for 7th Edition foil Shivan Dragon:
This chart shows you just how few of these are on the market—and how few sell—but the trend is undeniable. Last summer, this was a $100 card. Now it's a $600 card! That's a six-fold increase in price for a card whose value is solely as an old foil collector's item.
Here's City of Brass, showing a subtler but still undeniable series of gains:
On the other hand, most 7th Edition foils haven't seen these kinds of gains yet. Birds of Paradise, the most iconic 7th Edition foil, hasn't budged in years. Most 7th Edition foil price charts look more like this one, for Arcane Laboratory:
This might give some of you pause about dumping a bunch of money into old foils, but the truth is that these cards are incredibly stable even if they don't spike. You should obviously never spend any money that you can't afford to lose on Magic cards, but one thing I love about this particular investment is how safe it is. If your specs hit, they hit. If not, they end up with a stable chart like the one above, and you're only really out shipping and fees.
Looking at some of the other sets in Magic's 1:100 foil era, however, you can see a lot of interesting gains over the past six months. Here's foil Yavimaya Hollow from Urza's Destiny:
That's a Reserved List card, though, so let's check out an Urza's Destiny foil that isn't on the RL: Opposition.
I want to point out that I'm not using Opposition as an example here because I knew it had gone up in price—it was just the first interesting-looking non-RL Urza's Destiny rare I decided to plop into the old TCGplayer chart generator. These foil spike trends are more common than you might think.
There aren't quite as many spikes in later sets, but they're out there. Here's Deserted Temple from Odyssey:
And here's Visara the Dreadful from Onslaught:
Lastly, I just want to take a look at what's happening to some older foils from the Modern era, especially Commander staples. Here's foil Craterhoof Behemoth from Avacyn Restored:
And here's foil Craterhoof Behemoth from Modern Masters 2017:
That's striking, right? And these cards don't even look all that different. They have the same foil treatment, but the Avacyn Restored version is worth twice as much and is spiking hard, while the Modern Masters 2017 version is still just kicking around the $80-$90 range.
This last chart is really the one that makes me the most excited about the future. If these two similar cards can have such a striking difference in value, imagine how much more room there is for older foils to grow when they're so much scarcer and different in appearance.
I would consider buying any foil that:
Literally all of these cards are fair game, and they're all probably good investments right now. Pre-Mirrodin foils (old-bordered) are best, but Craterhoof Behemoth shows us that it's not a hard-and-fast line. I like using Return to Ravnica as a cutoff, because that's where the player base leveled out in the mid-2010s. Return to Ravnica has also always felt like something of a sea change in the world of Magic Finance, because it's when a lot of people really became aware of the financial aspects of the game, began hoarding booster boxes, and so on.
I want to give you some specific targets, though, so here's a list of ten old foils I'd pick up. Just know that this list could be 150-200 cards long. If you've got a great idea for an old foil spec, trust yourself.
Here's Eternal Witness from Fifth Dawn. It's not an old-border foil, but it is one of the 20-30 most popular cards in all of Commander. If the original Craterhoof Behemoth foils can spike, so can this one.
Here's Brainstorm from Mercadian Masques. It might be a common, but boy, is it hard to find. $200 is a pretty big chunk of change, but Brainstorm isn't just a Legacy card these days—it's a Commander staple, too. It's also one of the most iconic cards in all of Magic history. You can see that this card keeps flirting with $500, and it should end up there eventually. No number of future reprints will make this version less desirable.
Here's the Planeshift version of Eladamri's Call, which has spiked some over the past year—from roughly $90 to roughly $150. I don't think it has finished climbing, though, because this price still doesn't truly reflect this card's scarcity relative to its Commander demand. I'd be shocked if this one doesn't end up breaking $250 at some point.
This is the original Vampiric Tutor Judge foil, not the 2018 version. This one is old-bordered and incredibly scarce. It hasn't spiked at all over the past six months, but does appear to be slowly gaining ground. It wouldn't take much for this $200 card to end up a $500 card.
Seedborn Muse—the version from Legions—has the old border, and it looks terrific. It's also one of the best Commander cards of all time. It's gained a little value over the past few months, but has yet to truly spike. There's real potential here.
Here's an interesting one: Harrow, from Invasion. It's the only old-border foil copy of this card, and it actually spiked back in September. It has come down in price since, though, and I wouldn't be shocked if it spikes again at some point in the future. If you're looking to buy in close to the old value, this seems like a solid buying opportunity.
Here's Phage the Untouchable from Legions. A powerful card? Not really. But Phage is absolutely iconic, and this old-border foil was so hard to get back in the day. If Visara the Dreadful can spike in price, so can Phage. (See also: Karona, False God from Scourge.)
It's hard to overstate just how powerful Plow Under was back in its day, when it was kind of like two Time Walks stapled together. People don't use this card nearly as much anymore, but it's terribly iconic, it looks great in old-border foil, it's from Urza's Destiny, and you can pick up near-mint copies for less than $30. A no-brainer buy.
Foil copies of Genesis from Judgment used to be legendarily hard to find. During my cube hunt, it proved more elusive than most of the Alpha and Beta cards I needed to acquire. It's also a perfectly good Commander card, albeit somewhat underpowered in today's game. I'm not saying this is going to be the next $200 card, but $10 is way too low for a card that used to be nearly impossible to find in any condition. It's one buyout away from being $30-$40.
Let's end with a combined chart of Elvish Piper from 7th Edition and Urza's Destiny. (It was a Destiny copy that sold for $275.) Both of these sets are ripe for massive gains, and you can see it with that outlier sale as well as the general upward trend. Elvish Piper is a super fun card, and both of these foil versions have the old border and are primed for a spike. You can still get in around $50 if you're lucky.
Kaldheim is finally legal across all formats, and what was supposed to be a powered-down set has again managed to break Modern in half. Cascade is the problem this time, as two different overpowered cascade strategies have created brand new game-winning combos. In the first, Violent Outburst cascades into Tibalt's Trickery, countering itself and putting a copy of Emrakul, the Aeons Torn onto the battlefield. In the second, any number of cascade cards hit Valki, God of Lies, which enters the battlefield as the seven-mana Tibalt, Cosmic Impostor.
It's unclear how WotC will respond to this, but I doubt the status quo will persist for long. It would be one thing if the Valki combo had its own deck, but the fact that you can stick it right into a five-color Omnath shell feels like salt in a fresh wound. My guess is that WotC will tweak the cascade rules a little to prevent the Valki combo from working, and it remains to be seen whether or not the Tibalt's Trickery combo is too good to survive or not. Regardless, the Modern market isn't going to see much financial movement until tabletop events return and the format gains some much-needed stability. Kaldheim messing things up again is not what Modern needed.
Regardless, Kaldheim prices are down across the board. Valki might be breaking Modern in half right now, but it's lost $3-$4 over the past few days. Ditto Goldspan Dragon, which is starting to prove itself in Standard:
Things would be different if the pandemic were over, but there just isn't much demand for these cards right now, especially compared to how many boxes of Kaldheim are being opened by stores and vendors. That said, now might be a pretty good time to buy some of Kaldheim's hottest cards, especially high-end foils and mythic rares. These cards often hit bottom in the week after release, and that's where we're at now. If you're in the market for any of these cards, you have my blessing to pick them up now. Some of them will continue to drop, but my guess is that we'll see at least a few begin to gain value again as early as next week.