Sol Ring. A relic of Magic's past, and far too strong for any of the most popular Constructed formats today. Way beyond the power level of what's even close to allowed in Legacy. One of, if not the most iconic card in Commander. A card so powerful, it's often removed from some players' versions of Power/Vintage cube. You know that format where you must choose pack one pick one between Skullclamp, Goblin Guide, Ancestral Recall, and Yawgmoth's Will? Yeah, some people think Ring is too powerful for that format. In the debate of best all-time cube cards, it's hard to find someone who argues that there's ever a correct choice over Sol Ring.
It's been awhile since I've done a single article on just one card. Sometimes a certain card makes me think of a strategy or tactic that can be applied across other cards of a similar group (Chainer's Edict, Thought Vessel, and Cyclonic Rift are a few examples of this if you need some in-flight reading later), but I can't bring to mind any particular article where I focused on one card in particular. If I'm going to start, what better card than Sol Ring? With fourteen legal printings and two more coming this year in Commander Anthology Volume 2 and Commander 2018, it's safe to say that Wizards of the Coast understands the player demand for the card. They want to get it into players' hands by putting it in literally every Commander product, while still providing rare and expensive versions for collectors in a Judge Promo and Masterpiece. For those who want a foil without spending triple digit dollars, there's even a From the Vault version!
If I gave you a pop quiz on the price of Sol Ring right now and you couldn't look it up, what would you say? Probably around $3, right? Maybe you've bought a few Sol Rings for upcoming Commander decks thanks to Dominaria. Maybe you've traded one to a friend for that same reason. Maybe you're like me, and it's one of your most sold cards on a regular basis. Now, if I went back in time to any point in the past few years and asked you the same question, would your answer change? Maybe by a dollar, but Sol Ring's price has largely remained the same outside of that one brief year they went without releasing a Commander product in 2012; the Commander 2011 Ring shot up to $10 for a hot minute before the 2013 decks came out in November….
If a card receives a reprint every single year for half a decade, you would expect it to drop in price. If Overgrown Tomb or Thoughtseize was battered by a preconstructed reprint year after year, its price would fall until the point of never being able to recover. The same is true for casual cards like Coat of Arms, Fatespinner or Platinum Angel. The lists of cards that can recover from so many reprints is incredibly small, so what makes Sol Ring special?
For one thing, it has the unique problem previously mentioned of being the literal best card to ever pick in any draft environment ever. This comes with its own set of problems of putting it in a Limited environment. Outside of Kaladesh block Limited (where you have a one in a billion chance to open Sol Ring during a draft), Wizards can't just ruin a draft format if they for some reason want to crush the $3-4 price of Sol Ring. Putting it at uncommon will have it appear too often and putting it at mythic is a waste of a slot considering how many printings the card already has.
That relegates it to preconstructed decks like the Commander lists, and special products like Judge promos or From the Vault. We want every deck to be on a relatively even playing field, so there's no question of putting it in just one or two decks and not the rest. Sol Ring has to go in every precon, or none at all. So, if it gets put in literally every single precon, why hasn't it gone down in price in the past several years?
Well, it just so happens that those preconstructed decks are just that. They're decks. While some of the decks have had financial implications in the past (cough True-Name Nemesis), they're far and away most commonly used as a foundation to introduce new players to one of Magic's most popular formats. When future Timmys and Johnnys pick up that Feline Ferocity or Stalwart Unity from Walmart, they get a Sol Ring. That Ring is going to stay in that players' deck, instead of getting added to the overall market supply. While most players will end up editing and making some cuts from the preconstructed lists, Sol Ring isn't exactly at the front of the line to get cut.
That means even when the print run for Commander 2017 is massive, the number of Sol Rings added to the marketplace isn't as high as you might expect. While there will be some number of vendors and stores who crack, sort and sell the pieces of the decks to make a profit (therefore directly adding some number of Rings to the open market), there will still be some players capitalizing on the new release of Legendary creatures to build their decks using singles and their own collections, instead of the precon. Some players will just buy the Kess, Dissident Mage, Sol Ring and the rest of the cards they need separately; again, this is going to put pressure on the price of Ring and make sure it doesn't drop below that $2-$2.50 threshold.
We've talked a decent amount about the sheer power level of this card. Commander, Old School and Vintage are some of the card's only Safe Havens to be played, and the latter two formats are largely inaccessible to a new or budget player. In fact, Sol Ring is already banned in Wizards' "Duel Commander" format on MTGO; a more streamlined and competitive version of Commander where players start at 30 life. Some playgroups "house ban" Sol Ring to prevent overpowered or degenerate starts to the game, believing that it puts one player too far ahead for others to catch up. While my playgroup(s) don't follow this philosophy, I can understand the thought process.
These factors have led me to be involved in some conversations where the other party begins to worry about the Rules Committee assimilating the Sol Ring ban into paper multiplayer Commander. I'm not sure how widespread those rumors are, but I'd argue that the Rules Committee will never ban it, for as long as they remain in control of the format. To start, one player casting a four-drop on turn two will inevitably put a target on their head. While some players may not enjoy the subgames of Archenemy that tend to devolve out of Commander board states, the political nature of multiplayer can keep Sol Ring in check to an extent.
In addition, the Rules Committee has publicly stated their belief that Ring does not break the game to a banworthy degree when Commander is played using their philosophy of the game. Whether you agree with their ideal version of Commander or not, they're the ones who hold the hammer when it comes to the legality of the infamous rock. Personally, I'm happy that Sol Ring allows newer and younger players who are on more of a budget to play with Power Nine level cards that they wouldn't otherwise have access to, in a format that most players have at least one deck for. It's awesome to see 13-year old kids run up to me excited about how they won their first pod, even if it was on the back of a turn-one Sol Ring into a Signet.
All this talk about the legality of a $3 card might seem silly, but there are much larger financial implications in play for those who are considering shelling out for the Masterpiece or Judge foil versions of the card. If you're someone in the crowd who believes Sol Ring should/will get the axe, you're probably less likely to shell out $350 for a single copy. With the prices of Masterpieces going crazy over the past couple of weeks, anyone putting money into the pseudo-Reserved List foils is going to want to make sure their investment remains stable, at the very least. I'm personally of the opinion that Sol Ring will never be banned for the multiplayer paper version of Commander that we all know and love, and I expect my argument to be vindicated within the year when Commander 2018 brings with it our yearly batch of Sol Rings.
Speaking of Commander 2018, there tends to be a reasonable dip in the price of a certain card during the first few weeks after release of the product. While it won't go all the way down to $1-$1.50, August and September will be the time of the year to snap up $2 Sol Rings you need for future Commander decks.
If you missed out on the initial hype wave and lost the chance to get your one Ring at under $300, I think there's an opportunity elsewhere; The Beta version of Sol Ring has been relatively stable for a while even with all the Masterpiece hype. You can find Moderately Played copies at under $190, a little over half the price of an Invention. While the Beta isn't going to be foil, it's still going to be a collectable piece of history that refuses to drop in price over time and has additional value to those who play Old School. I don't think there's much room to gain for the Masterpiece or Commander printings, but Beta cards are rarely going to be a bad place to park your money.
- DJ Johnson