You've long dreamed of owning expensive Vintage staples like Black Lotus, Mishra's Workshop, and Gaea's Cradle. You're familiar with elite Modern cards like Misty Rainforest, Cavern of Souls, and Wrenn and Six. You might even know that The Great Henge and Ugin, the Spirit Dragon are the only two Standard-legal cards worth more than $20 right now. (Or maybe you don't, because even I was a little surprised to see how cheap Standard has become in the absence of organized tabletop play.)
But for every expensive card that spends lots of time in the zeitgeist, there are at least two or three expensive cards that you've probably never heard of. For example, did you know that WotC's first Buy-A-Box Promo wasn't Firesong and Sunspeaker (the first mechanically unique Buy-A-Box card) or even Honor of the Pure (the first Buy-A-Box card of the Modern era)?
No—the first Buy-A-Box promo was released all the way back in 1999. WotC had launched their online store a few years earlier, but it was kind of a bust. Most players still bought their booster packs from their LGS, eschewing this fancy new "eCommerce" thing for good old brick and mortar storefronts. In order to help stimulate online sales for their disappointing Mercadian Masques set, WotC decided to give away foil promo copies of Serra Angel with every box sold on their online store. The result is my personal favorite promo card of all time, even though it's mostly a forgotten piece of history now.
You can usually pick up the Buy-A-Box Serra Angel for around $50, though, which means that it's not quite expensive enough for us to talk about today. Instead, I'd like to highlight ten really cool cards that all fit the following criteria:
You might think that there aren't that many cards that fit all three of these criteria, but I didn't actually have much of a problem finding ten amazing cards to talk about this week. Intrigued? You should be! Let's start with a card that really lives up to the spirit of the season:
Back in 2006, Wizards of the Coast decided to start printing unique silver-border promo cards to give out at their annual employee holiday party. The first card released this way was Fruitcake Elemental, but the real prize came the following year, in December 2007. Unlike many of the other early holiday cards, Gifts Given isn't just a fun riff on a beloved Magic card: it's a legitimately fantastic Commander spell. Even though silver-bordered cards aren't technically legal in Commander, that doesn't stop the casual crowd from sleeving this one up. Gifts Given is also a pretty neat cube card, which is where my personal copy lives.
Fortunately for all of us, WotC decided to be a little freer with their holiday promos in future years. These days, WotC mails their yearly promo to all of their employees as well as many of their contractors and other associates. As a result, it's a lot easier to find newer WotC holiday promos, and they tend to be quite a bit cheaper. Don't expect Topdeck the Halls, the 2020 promo, to be a $300+ card any time soon.
I still can't imagine that WotC reprints any of these holiday cards, though, and they're likely to keep increasing in value as time passes. They also might spike if the Commander rules committee ever formally approves a silver-bordered Commander variant. If you want to own a Gifts Given, picking it up now seems fine to me.
Believe it not, there was a time when WotC held sanctioned state (and international region-specific) championships for tabletop Magic. These championship events were a big deal, and winning them was a great way to start making a name for yourself in the competitive Magic scene. By 2006, WotC also began to print full-art promo cards for everyone who participated in Champs—one set for all who participated, and another set for everyone who made Top 8.
All of the Top 8 Champs Promos are scarce. I've seen some folks estimate that there are only around a thousand copies of each, and even finding these cards can be difficult. Right now, there are only two Champs Promo copies of Voidslime available for sale on TCGplayer, and fewer than twenty Champs Promo copies of Doran, the Siege Tower.
Mutavault is by far the rarest of the Champs Promos, though. The tournament series was scrapped before it happened in most of the world, so it was never even officially released in the USA. All of the copies out there came from a small handful of European events that did occur, plus any potential excess stock that might have been leaked or delivered early to tournament organizers. There are definitely fewer than a thousand copies of this card, and there are rarely more than a few dozen available for sale at a given time across the whole internet.
That said, Champs Promo Mutavault has actually dropped in value a bit over the past few years. Not only has Mutavault fallen out of favor in the competitive metagame, but full-art promos are less impressive these days thanks to Project Booster Fun. This Mutavault is still one of the coolest cards in the game if you know the whole story, but if you're going to spend $500+ on a vanity card, you kind of want it to be impressive at a glance, right? I'm not sure how much longer that will be true for this card.
It feels like ancient history now, but Wizards of the Coast released an exclusive box set of alternate art planeswalkers for San Diego Comic Con every year between 2013 and 2018. This was a really big deal at the time, because WotC was a lot stingier with their promos back then. The black-on-black promos from 2013-2015 were unlike anything else in the game, and these items had astonishingly limited print runs. Seriously—if you wanted these cards, you basically had to wait in line at the WotC booth at SDCC and cross your fingers that they didn't run out before you got to the front.
As with most promos like this, the first release year (2013) is still the rarest and most valuable. That iteration of Jace, Memory Adept and Chandra, Pyromaster each command over $100 by themselves, but the gem of the lot is Liliana of the Dark Realms. She's the best Commander card of the five released that year, and her long-term price chart looks pretty impressive:
As with a few of the other cards we'll be discussing today, I'm somewhat bearish on Liliana's future. Thanks to the Secret Lair drops, WotC is currently releasing loads of promos that are just as visually daring and unique as the black-on-black design of the early SDCC promos. And even though the cards released that first year are always going to be incredibly scarce, I'm not sure how special they'll feel in a world where there are so many similar-looking Magic cards. You should still check this Liliana out if you haven't, though. I still really love the look of these cards, and I'm happy to own one.
Several years before the controversy over the Walking Dead Secret Lair, Wizards of the Coast printed another cross-property crossover card in Grimlock, Dinobot Leader. This silver-bordered flip card was another convention exclusive, this time from the first (and last) HASCON: Hasbro's attempt at starting their own convention based on their exclusive IPs. HASCON was something of a bust, though, which is part of why these promos are so scarce. In fact, many of the copies of Grimlock that actually made it into the marketplace were purchased by folks who snapped up the "extras" on Hasbro's website after the convention.
While the HASCON exclusive pack came with three unique cards, Grimlock, Dinobot Leader is the only one with any real value. That's probably because you can use it as a Commander (again, assuming your playgroup is okay with silver-bordered nonsense) as well as having crossover appeal from Transformer's large fan base. Take a look:
As with Gifts Given, Grimlock feels like a safe buy and hold to me. It's a unique card that's unlikely to be reprinted, and it could surge in value if silver-bordered cards are ever allowed to have a more prominent place in Commander. Its long-term price chart looks solid, too. Hold with confidence.
It's hard to find expensive Reserved List cards that you might not have heard of. We all already know the Power Nine, The Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale, and even more obscure cards like Nether Void and Chains of Mephistopheles.
But do you know Hazezon Tamar? It's one of those random legendary creatures from Legends that feels like it was probably somebody's D&D character back in 1994. Most of these cards are only expensive because of how scarce they are, but Hazezon Tamar is actually quite a good commander for a Naya "tokens matter" strategy. If you can get your Hazezon to stick around for a turn, you're suddenly treated to a whole pile of 1/1 Sand Warrior tokens—and yes, they do count as Warriors for tribal purposes.
Hazezon Tamar has already had two separate Reserved List spikes, and this latest one appears to be sticking, Take a look:
As with all Reserved List cards, Hazezon Tamar is a good hold as long as WotC refuses to even consider reprinting it. These cards tend to see boom and bust cycles, so it's likely that Hazezon Tamar will drop off a bit before spiking again, so you might want to hold off a bit before picking up your personal copy. This is one of the "forgotten" Reserved List cards that plays best in the modern, Commander-centric world of Magic, though, so it's quite possible that its best days are still ahead of us.
I could have put a lot of 7th Edition foils on this list—Birds of Paradise is worth more than $500, after all—but Wild Growth felt like the best card for me to highlight in order to talk about 7th Edition's weird foil multiplier. After all, Wild Growth is a common that sees very little competitive play, but foil copies will still set you back more than a hundred dollars.
What happened here? Well, foils weren't always a part of Magic. They didn't come around until the late nineties: in fact, the first set that had a complete run of pack foils was Urza's Legacy. The drop rate for foils was far lower back then, so opening any foil—even a common—felt extra special.
7th Edition was the first core set with a foil printing, though they weren't called core sets at the time. Back then, all core sets had white borders, but WotC decided to give 7th Edition foils (and only the foils) black borders. That made them incredibly desirable to collectors, who wanted a shot at opening black border versions of core set cards for the first time since Beta.
But not only did 7th Edition have a really low foil drop rate, it was also an absolutely massive set. That meant that getting a copy of any one specific foil was unbelievably hard. Thus, the foil price multiplier for 7th Edition cards is still incredibly high. Even draft chaff foils from that set can sell for big bucks, especially since it ended up being the last core set to use the pre-Modern card frame. If you want foils with that specific look, it's 7th Edition or bust.
Anyway, here's the chart for Wild Growth:
Will this price stay high? I don't know. 7th Edition actually marked the final printing (so far) for Wild Growth, so it's literally the only foil copy available right now. The price will probably tick down if that ever changes, and since commons aren't on the Reserved List, that's really just a matter of time. I also expect 7th Edition foils to lose value once WotC spends more time printing old bordered foils again, like they're doing for Time Spiral Remastered Collector Boosters.
That said, this particular version of Wild Growth is absurdly scarce, as are all foils from 7th Edition. Until something changes, its price will probably continue to climb.
Back in the mid-to-late nineties, Wizards of the Coast was worried about Magic's complexity creep and how difficult it had become to onboard new players. In one of their many attempts to address this issue, they decided to release a series of sets aimed exclusively at brand new players. Portal, Portal Second Age, and Starter 1999 were released globally as beginner sets, while Portal 3 Kingdoms was a beginner set released exclusively in the APAC region.
While some of Portal's cards were reprints, there were also plenty of new cards, many of which were riffs on existing favorites. For example, Temporal Manipulation was just Time Warp with a different name. Sylvan Tutor was Worldly Tutor, but at sorcery speed. This is because none of the Portal sets were allowed to have instants or instant speed activated abilities, as they were deemed too complex for beginners.
Why is Sylvan Tutor worth $75 while the mechanically superior Worldly Tutor sells for less than $20? It's because of the Commander singleton rule. You can only have one copy of Worldly Tutor in your Commander deck, but you can play both Worldly Tutor and Sylvan Tutor together if you want. Since Sylvan Tutor is a lot harder to find, it ends up being worth quite a bit more.
Enter Last Chance, which is just a sorcery speed version of Final Fortune from Portal and Starter 1999. Final Fortune has never been all that popular, so Last Chance kicked around the $10 mark for years. That all changed this year, though, and it's all because of Obeka, Brute Chronologist. Last Chance and Final Fortune both play well with the exciting new Goblin Commander, so the (tiny) available supply sold out overnight. The result? A spike past the $100 mark:
You can already see Last Chance coming back down to Earth, though, and my guess is that this card settles in somewhere closer to $50-$60. It's still not that good outside of Obeka decks, and demand for those cards will die down once WotC prints another round of exciting Commander cards. That said, Last Chance won't be $10 again without a reprint, and I can't imagine this obscure and confusing sorcery is high on WotC's list. They haven't even reprinted Final Fortune in a while. It's probably a fairly safe hold, as long as you factor in the likely near-term depreciation.
During the first half of the 2010s, WotC decided to mess around with a series of promotional events designed to stimulate attendance for their in-store prereleases. The idea behind these stunts was that all of the players in a given prerelease would work together to achieve a deliberately simple goal, thereby unlocking a series of additional prizes for all the attendees. The most famous of these was Avacyn Restored's Helvault, a physical object made of cardboard that contained oversized cards, dice, and double-sided tokens. 3,000 of these were sent out, and 30 of them had foil copies of all the cards instead. The foil Helvault tokens are still worth about $40, while some of the foil oversized cards are worth $70+. As you can imagine, there were also a lot of hurt feelings and angry tweets when some stores received premium Helvaults while most did not.
Three years later, WotC decided to try a similar giveaway at the Fate Reforged prerelease. If your prerelease flight "saved Ugin," each player would receive a promotional Ugin's Fate booster pack featuring a couple of alternate-art cards from the set. Roughly one booster pack per store contained an alternate-art printing of Ugin himself, which quickly became a hot commodity as Ugin began surging in popularity across multiple formats.
Unfortunately, Ugin's price chart has seen better days. Not only are alternate art printings more common now, but Ugin was reprinted this summer and copies are a lot easier to find now. Ugin doesn't see as much play in Modern these days, either, and the entire format's price index has been on the downswing for quite some time. Put all of these factors together, and this special version of Ugin looks like it might slip beneath the $100 mark for the first time. It will probably require a coordinated buyout or a resurgence of Ugin's playability to cause another big rally, so I'm not particularly interested in snagging these from a speculative point of view. If you've always wanted to own one of these, however, its price tag sure is starting to look attractive.
Several years after Alpha and Beta left store shelves, Wizards of the Coast released a limited-edition box set called Collectors' Edition. (There was also an International Collectors' Edition, which is identical other than the wording on the back of the cards.) This was a complete set of Beta that was sold in a single boxed product, albeit with square corners and gold borders on the back to ensure that people didn't try to use these cards in sanctioned events.
Collectors' Edition cards have always been worth something—back in 2010, a full set was worth about $1,000—but in recent years, they've really taken off. As it turns out, most players aren't using these cards in sanctioned events anyway, which makes CE cards nearly as good as the real thing in formats like Commander and Cube. A nice CE Black Lotus will easily sell for upwards of $2,000 in 2020. The Moxen and Duals command a nice premium as well.
I wanted to highlight Gauntlet of Might because it's not a card that most people know. It's one of those weird old cards from Magic's first era where you look at it and go, "huh, okay, I get why that's a good card" before promptly forgetting about it again for another few years. I knew that the ABU version of the card was worth several hundred bucks, but I had no idea that the CE version held this much value. Take a look:
A CE Gauntlet still isn't worth as much as the ABU version—even an Unlimited copy will set you back $450—but it's a lot for a gold-bordered card that doesn't say "Mox" or "Lotus" on it. Ignore CE cards at your own risk, and cross your fingers that WotC decides to put out another one of these sets someday.
Let's end this list with a look at the most recent $100+ card you probably haven't heard of. Personal Decoy was printed in 2019, as part of the "convention exclusive" run of Mystery Boosters, which were really hard to get. Each of these packs came with a faux playtest card. You could only pick them up by signing up for Mystery Booster events at MagicFests, which was easier said than done, considering how quickly these events filled up. Even then, there were so many different playtest cards that collecting them all was nearly impossible.
Personal Decoy is far from the most expensive playtest card—that honor is shared by Sliv-Mizzet, Hivemind, and Slivdrazi Monstrosity—but those cards have never sold for less than $100 and I assume you've heard of them if you know anything about the subset. Personal Decoy is on the next tier of interesting playtest cards, though, several of which have recently begun to sell in the $50-$125 range. Take a look at this card's price chart:
It's possible that WotC will eventually print more convention exclusive booster packs, but organized play is likely to look a lot different when it returns in late 2021 or early 2022, so I wouldn't count on it. I also wouldn't be surprised if the next run of convention exclusive Mystery Boosters had an entirely different collection of playtest cards, or something else fun and unique in their slot. In the meantime, these cards should keep on ticking up in price. They're incredibly hard to find, and a lot of players really love them. I rarely recommend buying high on things, but if you want any of these cards for personal use? Don't wait too long.