Hey there! Welcome back to TCGplayer's regular Magic finance column hosted by yours truly, DJ Johnson. I just got back from the buyer's table at Grand Prix Pittsburgh, working for one of the vendors to help players buy/sell/trade towards the things they needed. While there was a lot of action at the vendor booth and I got to deal with some sweet high-end cards, the highlights of these events are when I get to be the one buying other people's common and uncommon bulk picks. It's great to see other players putting in the effort to squeeze value out of their collection, and bringing us cards like Ethereal Armor, Voltaic Key and Elvish Promenade. My Hidden Gems article/video combo series aims to highlight cards like Gurmag Angler and Archetype of Courage that not everyone recognizes as valuable, so players can work their way up towards something previously deemed unaffordable.
Another one of my favorite aspects of working behind the booth as a buyer is when I pull out cards from a player's binder that they didn't expect to be worth anything and put them in a pile far from the bulk section. Normally this is done with casual cards when buying something like Vedalken Orrery from a Spike, but one category of cards that go often undervalued by all players alike are tokens. If you've got a big box of unsorted tokens sitting next to those fat pack boxes or spindowns, then this is the Magic article for you. Maybe you're a Standard player who's tried to buy a Karnstruct token off TCGplayer recently. A playset of four Constructs will run you almost $10; that's over 25% the cost of Karn himself! This 0/0 robot is the most expensive token currently available in Standard, but the value of these placeholders goes far beyond simply what's hot right now in the moment. Let's talk about a few tokens that might be worth a lot more than you think, and why that's the case.
The first thing to understand about tokens is that they have rarities just like their creators. Saprolings in Dominaria are incredibly easy to find in booster packs; after all, there are 10 cards in the set that make Saprolings and nine of those (sorry Verdant Force) are common or uncommon. Chances are your Sealed pool will have a Saproling or two to go with your green/black deck. On the same note, tokens created by mythic rares can be really hard to find in booster packs. The two examples of this that most stand out over the past decade are Voice of Resurgence and Wurmcoil Engine; both Standard and Modern all-stars that are pretty much guaranteed to make at least one token on their deaths. At their peaks, the Elemental and Wurms crested the $5 or so a piece, making the Elemental one of the most expensive cards in Dragon's Maze. The consecutive reprints over several recent sets calmed down these prices quite a bit, but it speaks to their Staying Power that they needed multiple reprints.
Even mythic tokens that don't see competitive play can be worth pulling out of bulk. Wingmate Roc saw a glimpse of Standard play for a minute, but it was never the all-star that Siege Rhino or Collected Company were. Still, there's only one way to get that 3/4 Bird Token from Khans of Tarkir to match the Roc itself. The market price for that Bird in particular is nearly as expensive as Wingmate Roc itself nowadays, which roosts at pretty much bulk mythic status.
The further back we go in the timeline, the lower the print run for Magic cards gets. Magic started including tokens with advertisements in Lorwyn block, when sets had a much lower print run historically. Because of this, mythic tokens from the first set with mythic rares are incredibly hard to find. Who's that Elephant in the room? Oh, hey Godsire; how are you and your $4 token doing today? I've seriously never found one of these Godsire tokens in bulk; not because I think other people knew to pull them out, but they're just that obscure and hard to find. If a token goes a long time without getting reprinted, and it's the only token that exists at that power/toughness/creature type/color, expect it to be worth pulling out of bulk. Utvara Hellkite knows a lot about this; there are a lot of cards out there that make 4/4 Dragons and several that make 5/5 Dragons. But 6/6 Dragons? The Return to Ravnica mythic rules the skies on that type of token, and it only recently got a reprint as a double-sided token in Commander 2017.
Speaking of mythic rares and tokens, that brings us to another token-esque type of card that I find in bulk reasonably often. They're made by planeswalkers, loved by less competitive players, and only sometimes found in booster packs. The demand for emblems is interesting, because of how certain planeswalkers got stuck with incredibly scarce versions of theirs. Thankfully, emblems are pretty much the easiest thing to proxy. Not only are they often game-ending (meaning they spend a minimal amount of time on the board), but it also doesn't require a mode to represent tapped and untapped. You can't use dice as tokens in Competitive REL for this reason; you can't just say "this die with a 1 is my tapped 1/1 Bird, and this other die with a 6 is my untapped 4/4 Beast." It's very unclear for both players and the viewers, so there's more of a financial incentive to spend money on a "real" Token. Emblems, though? You can scribble Emblem on a piece of scrap paper and put it on the table. Bam, that's your emblem.
Koth of the Hammer is a great example of this situation. While Wizards was happy to print tokens like Golems and Insects for Scars of Mirrodin block, neither he or Venser, the Sojourner received emblems in booster packs. Emblems tokens were created in July of 2010 to "fix" the ultimate of Elspeth, Knight-Errant (whose Shards of Alara version shows her original text box), but emblems weren't actually printed until Dark Ascension with Sorin, Lord of Innistrad (which, coincidentally, is a $6 emblem compared to the $9 planeswalker….). Those planeswalkers who made emblems prior to the release of Dark Ascension ended up getting their emblems printed through alternative means, like Duel Decks and Modern Masters. Venser and Koth's emblems are not available in booster packs; only their duel deck. Elspeth's emblem was only available through Modern Masters booster packs, or the Modern Event Deck 2014.
Unfortunately, the massive waves of print runs nowadays prevent most emblems from being worth anything significant. Even the emblem for Teferi, Hero of Dominaria, a Standard and Modern staple, is around a quarter and nonexistent on buylists. The most valuable emblem printed in recent years is the one that belongs to Gideon of the Trials; likely because of how quickly he "ultimates" and how relevant that emblem is to maintaining the game state.
While most of these sub-$1 emblems won't appear on buylists, they're great fodder to add to your marketplace store when you also have the planeswalker itself listed for sale. You're exponentially more likely to sell the emblem and walker as a pair than just the emblem itself, especially when the emblem sits underneath the $2 minimum. I love listing 1/1 lifelinking Vampires on the site, but they pretty much only sell when their associated planeswalker is purchased along with the lot. When someone purchases more cards from you in a single lump, it both reduces the amount of fees you're paying on the transaction and the shipping costs to get the cards to their destination.
The cool thing about emblems is that even though they're kind of obsolete when it comes to competitive play, the printed versions still end up being a home run with both the Spike and Timmy crowd alike. The competitive players will buy emblems to have the "official" consistent reminder for gameplay clarity at a Grand Prix level, while the less competitive Timmy who plays Atraxa Superfriends simply wants to collect all the emblems on the board at once like Dragonballs.
What's your favorite token to pull out of bulk? There are some recently printed tokens that have been creeping up lately; Omnath, Locus of Rage's 5/5 Elementals are cresting $1 now because any good Omnath deck is going to want to have several on the board at once, and the emblems that Titania, Protector of Argoth makes from the Commander Anthology specifically are worth over $5-6 a piece. If you bought the Commander Anthology Volume II, be sure to pull out the Wurmcoil Engine tokens we mentioned earlier!
If you follow this link, you can check out some of Magic's most expensive tokens by sorting from Price: High to Low. Some of them might surprise you! While several of them are obscure League tokens that were scarcely given away, others like the Magic 2015 Hornet Queen Insect could be buzzing under your nose in your bulk tokens box. Thanks for reading, and I'll see you all next week!
- DJ Johnson