Four years ago I had an idea that became the basis for my very first article series as a paid Magic writer.
At the time I felt that the Magic finance community's biggest problem was being reactionary, especially to outside hype. Writers (including myself) would dutifully report on the latest hot tech and price bumps, neglecting to look at forgotten cards with lots of potential. Instead of constantly chasing down the latest spiking card, I wanted to shine the spotlight in places that no one else was looking. I wanted to start discussions about the best cards that no one else was talking about. I decided to start by writing about Portal and Portal II, the two most obscure sets I could think of.
My series turned out to be fairly popular. Once I left that gig, my talented colleague Douglas Linn continued the series very successfully over the next several months, making it his own.
Almost five years have passed since I wrote that first column. In the interim, Commander and Modern have both become formats, thrusting hundreds of obscure cards into the financial spotlight.
Unfortunately, the Magic finance community can still be as hype driven and reactionary as ever. Part of my New Year's Resolution to all of you was a renewed commitment to fighting against those impulses. That's why I've decided to reboot this series for 2014. It won't run every week—there's a lot to cover in the world of Magic finance, and I don't want to miss any breaking news—but whenever I can slip it in, I'll be taking a long investigative look at each Modern-legal Magic set in chronological order.
Why revisit these dusty old sets? Well, we're starting with Mirrodin, an expansion released eleven years ago. Most of you reading this column weren't playing Magic back then, and those of us who were had no knowledge of the Modern and Commander formats that were still years away. For all intents and purposes, Mirrodin is a completely different set now than it was even a few years ago. It bears a fresh look, don't you think?
Why is this information useful? Well, do you ever paw through trade binders, looking at pages of weird old casual cards without knowing which ones are still on the rise and which ones haven't been played in a game since 2005? This article should help broaden your perspectives and enable you to make smarter trades.
Do you like to buy collections or raid dollar boxes? This article doubles as a price guide, helping you determine which cards to pluck out of the bulk and which casual staples are still being overlooked.
Are you a speculator, Modern brewer, or Commander nut? Perhaps the core of your next deck is hiding somewhere in the vast wastes of Mirrodin, Alara, or Shadowmoor.
Too many people use the price guide inside their smartphone to make deals without taking a moment to examine why each card has the value it does. Is Khalni Hydra a $15 card because of Commander or because of rogue Modern brewers? Is Enigma Sphinx an irredeemable bulk rare or a lost casual gem? Which artifact land is worth the most and why?
Over the duration of this series, these are the types of questions I will seek to answer. So sit tight, buckle up, and take a trip with me back to the very first block in Modern.
Mirrodin At A Glance
Mirrodin, released in the fall of 2003, was the first expert level set to feature the modern card face. (It debuted a few months earlier with Eighth Edition.) Flavor-wise, Mirrodin was also the first block not to be set on Dominaria. It was also the first artifact block. Urza's block is remembered as an artifact-themed block, but it was in fact enchantment themed.
For casual players, Mirrodin was all about a brand-new type of card called Equipment, which provided all the fun of Auras (they were just called creature enchantments back then) and none of the card disadvantage. Their jaws also dropped when they saw Platinum Angel, the face of the set and the one creature every kitchen table player wanted to open at the Prerelease.
For tournament grinders, affinity was easily the most exciting mechanic. Even before Arcbound Ravager was printed, Broodstar based Affinity decks were showing up at tournaments in big numbers. Mirrodin also brought the game both imprint and entwine, which gave us future staples Chrome Mox, Isochron Scepter, and Tooth and Nail.
Mirrodin was considered a good to excellent Draft format by most people. Much like in Scars block, Shatter was a higher pick than Terror, which felt mind blowing at the time. Mirrodin sold well and was a popular set—at least at first. While Mirrodin is known for introducing several format-warping cards that drove players away from tournaments, that didn't really happen until Darksteel, a set with two cards so powerful (Skullclamp and Arcbound Ravager) that the game was completely broken for several months.
Mirrodin booster boxes currently sell for $250, as do sealed fat packs. Individual booster packs book for $8 each. If you can find eight people willing to pony up $32 each for a draft, you should be able to make at least half of that back in singles while experiencing one of the more fun Draft environments out there.
Of course, while Mirrodin has the appearance of a set with lots of secondary market value, there is no one card in Mirrodin that is currently selling for more than $20. This has long kept the price of boxes down—boxes from sets with an $80+ card in them tend to sell in the $500 range at least.
Chrome Mox - $20
I talked about this card in detail last week, so I won't repeat myself too much here. Needless to say, Chrome Mox is a marginal spec target for unbanning in Modern, and the price would quadruple if that happened.
Chrome Mox is a tier 2 Legacy staple as well, appearing mostly in Pox, Reanimator, and Belcher lists. Because the card is fundamentally broken and is powerful in many different archetypes, there is always the threat of a major price increase due to continued Legacy innovation. As an Eternal player, I would make sure to get a set of these in case the price explodes at some point. There is very little downside to trading for these at retail right now.
Oblivion Stone - $12
Oblivion Stone was a $3-$4 casual card for years. During the early days of Modern deckbuilding, the card shot up to $10 one night due to a buyout based on a few Tron lists that were making waves. That buyout was successful, and Oblivion Stone is an essential part of Tron lists to this day. Thanks to the fact that casual demand still hasn't subsided, this card a very stable $12. In order for the price to rise any further, though, Tron would have to reassert itself as a tier 1 deck. I like Oblivion Stone as a safe trade target with moderate upside.
Glimmervoid - $12
Were it not for Modern Masters, Glimmervoid would be selling for at least $25 right now. Affinity is the most dominant aggro deck in the current Modern metagame, so I wouldn't be shocked if Glimmervoid keeps rising slowly until Affinity is taken down a peg via either banning or metagame hate. The card has marginal value in Commander, showing up in most artifact-based decks, but it would only be a $5-$6 card without Modern playability. Your opinion of this card depends solely on whether or not you believe WotC is okay having Affinity continue to put up the numbers it has.
Tooth and Nail - $8
Despite being printed in Modern Masters, Tooth and Nail is purely a casual card these days. It's a Cube staple and a must have for any green mage playing with large creatures in Commander (i.e. all of them.)
I like Tooth and Nail as a long-term casual spec. I don't think they're going to print it in the second Modern Masters set since it's just a casual card, and it only gets better in Commander with each new awesome creature that gets printed.
It's also possible that Tooth and Nail will be relevant in tournaments again at some point. During the post-Ravager days in Standard, this card was paired with Darksteel Colossus and Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker to make the format's best deck. This is a low-risk pickup with room to grow and a price history that proves it can go higher than $8.
Platinum Angel - $8
Platinum Angel was reprinted in three different core sets: Tenth Edition, M10, and M11. By the time M11 was rolling off the printer, Platinum Angel—once the most exciting casual card in Mirrodin—was pretty close to a bulk rare. Three years later, though, this card is hard enough to find that casual demand has brought it back up to $8.
It's important to note that the "competitive casual" crowd—Commander and Cube players—generally don't want this in trade. You're going to need to find classic kitchen table mages to make deals with. Otherwise, you're looking at a good target for a buylist sale.
Lightning Greaves - $8
The current price of this card speaks to the absurd popularity of the Commander format. Not only was this card an uncommon in a large fall set, but it was printed four more times: as an FNM foil, in a Duel Deck, in Archenemy, and in every single Commander 2011 deck. After all that, it's still an $8 card. This card is popular enough to keep growing—$10-$12 isn't out of the question, but be careful. Chances are it will appear in a casual product en masse yet again at some point soon since WotC likes having it around. I'm staying away in trades.
Extraplanar Lens - $8
Extraplanar Lens went from bulk prices to the $6-$8 range when Commander took off, and it's been there ever since. The drawback of sacrificing a land is real, but this is one of the most powerful things you can do in a ramp deck at the three-mana mark. This card is nearly impossible to find in binders, and it might be time for a price increase now that Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx has also become a format staple. The fact that this is only absurd in monocolored decks has held it back somewhat, but Theros block has made those strategies much more powerful in Commander. There's some decent upside here.
Mind's Eye - $7
Mind's Eye is another card that jumped during the early days of the Commander boom and has stayed in the $6-$7 range ever since. It's quite good at a large multiplayer table, though I often cut it from my decks in favor of something that impacts the board a little more. I've never had as much interest in these in my binder as the price would suggest, so I don't think this card will naturally spike any time soon.
Goblin Charbelcher - $7
Goblin Charbelcher is mostly useless outside of its namesake deck in Legacy. In that deck both Lion's Eye Diamond and Chrome Mox are significantly more expensive. That has kept the value of this card relatively low. Even still, Charbelcher has roughly doubled in price over the past few years as everything in the format continues to get more and more expensive.
This is another card I tend to buylist because demand in the real world simply doesn't match the price. That said, I wouldn't be shocked if this ends up randomly hitting $20 at some point simply because it's a flagship combo piece in Legacy.
Duplicant - $7
Duplicant is one of the most important creatures in Commander. In some decks, especially green ones, having access to hard removal in the form of a creature is essential. Duplicant tends to trade well, and the price would likely have gone up already if it wasn't for the Archenemy and Commander's Arsenal printings. This is a card I'm always happy to trade for at retail.
Chalice of the Void - $7
The Mirrodin version of this card lists at $7, but you can pick up Modern Masters copies on sale for just $4.24 right now, which is amazing. Chalice of the Void has been an important part of the Legacy and Vintage metagames since it was printed, though it has yet to make a real impact in Modern. If that were to happen, the card would certainly see a spike.
Of course, the kind of decks that Chalice is good in (and against) are the kind of decks that WotC doesn't want to exist in the format, so I'm not sure this card will ever be a format staple in Modern. Even still, $4.24 is probably the cheapest this card has ever been, so buying a set of these now makes a good amount of sense.
Isochron Scepter - $6
It's unfair to say that Isochron Scepter has never been good, but it certainly never lived up to its hype. This card debuted as a $5 uncommon back when that was practically unheard of and was the chase card for competitive players at the Prerelease. In the years since Scepter has settled in as a strong casual card that is always on the fringes of tournament playability. Could it become a viable role player in Modern? Well, check out this deck for one possibility.
Isochron Scepter has had three promotional printings that have kept the price down to a reasonable level. Wizards seems to like having this available for reprinting in casual sets, and I'd expect to see this trend continue going forward, making the casual ceiling pretty low. Even still, this card is one good Modern finish away from spiking to $20 or $25.
Sword of Kaldra - $5
Sword of Kaldra was Mirrodin's Prerelease card and the first piece of Equipment I ever saw. I remember looking at it with the same suspicious glance that I used for the Eldrazi, double-sided cards, and bestow creatures.
Sword of Kaldra has always been a casual card. It still sees fringe play in Commander, usually in decks that run the Steelshaper's Gift / Stoneforge Mystic packages alongside the entire Kaldra set. As good Equipment continues to be printed, though, this sword seems to slip further into disuse. I'm buylisting my extras.
Solemn Simulacrum - $5
Nicknamed "the sad robot," Solemn Simulacrum was Jens Thoren's Invitational card. This card has been a Standard staple twice now—once during Mirrodin/Kamigawa Standard and again when it was reprinted in M11.
Solemn Simulacrum is about as close to an auto include as you get in Commander, which has caused the price to double since its post-rotation floor two years ago. If they print this card in Standard again, it will likely go up a couple of dollars in anticipation of increased demand. If they don't, it will continue to rise thanks to Commander play. Regardless, this is about as safe a trade target as you'll find anywhere.
Sculpting Steel - $5
Sculpting Steel is purely a casual card at this point. In competitive circles, Phyrexian Metamorph is far more versatile for the same cost. In Commander, though, you're limited by the singleton rule and the blue mana symbol in Phyrexian Metamorph's cost, which means that nonblue decks with lots of artifacts will want this. With demand that low, I cannot recommend this as a buy.
Sylvan Scrying - $4
Sylvan Scrying jumped in price during the early days of Modern thanks to its crucial place in many 12 Post lists. These days it's a four-of in most G/R Tron builds. If Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx or some other utility land becomes the cornerstone of a green-based Modern deck, I could see this card seeing more play, but until then it's going to remain at $3-$4. Casual players generally like to run more powerful ramp spells, so there isn't much of a trade window there. I'm staying away.
Soul Foundry - $4
Soul Foundry is a card that has a reasonable amount of casual demand, even though I don't think I've ever actually seen it in play. It's not that great in Commander, a format with a lot of random artifact hate. You also need to spend an extra four mana and possibly a whole second turn before you can even get your creature back, much less break even card-wise. This will run away with the game if left unchecked, but most casual deck builders opt to run Mimic Vat instead, a card that is both cheaper and is less likely to provide card disadvantage. Soul Foundry gets points for being unique, but it's just not good enough to become a casual staple.
Gilded Lotus - $4
Gilded Lotus was a $10-$12 card that kept rising until it was confirmed for a reprint in M13. Most of that demand was thanks to Commander—in that format Gilded Lotus is a simply outstanding form of mana acceleration.
After M13 rotated, Gilded Lotus dropped to $2 before rising back to the $4 it's at now. While the From the Vault: Twenty printing has kept the price fairly low over the past year, I strongly suspect that this card will continue to be a steady slow riser over the next couple of years. Along with Solemn Simulacrum, it's a card I consider in nearly every Commander deck I build. Trading for these at retail is always fine.
Mindslaver - $3
Mindslaver is a full tier down from Gilded Lotus in terms of desirability. At this point we're fully in the realm of throw ins. You can pick up the Scars of Mirrodin version of this card up for just $2, and copies of are still plentiful everywhere. Mindslaver actually does show up in tournaments from time to time, but never in numbers great enough to raise demand significantly. This card is a ton of fun in Commander, but only decks dedicated to recurring artifacts tend to run it. Demand is nowhere near supply yet, which has kept the price of this card nice and low. It could rise into the $5-$6 range at some point, but I've never had enough interest in the copies I've had in my binder over the years to predict such a jump.
Ancient Den - $2.50
Why is Ancient Den the most expensive of the artifact lands? Probably because of Stax and Welder MUD, two Legacy decks that run Ancient Den while forgoing the other four cards in this cycle. On the trading floor, I don't find much of a difference between any of these lands in terms of how people value them, though Tree of Tales is usually the hardest one to move.
I talked about these cards a lot last week too, so I'll briefly repeat myself here. Were the artifact lands legal in Modern, Affinity would immediately become the consensus best deck not close. Because they are commons that have to stay banned, there's little to no room for growth.
Quick Thoughts On Cards Selling For $1-$2
In order to keep each of these articles from bloating too far past 5,000 words, I'm going to address cards that cost $2 or less in just one or two lines each. If you have a favorite sleeper among them, I'd love to get a discussion going in the comments section.
I'm also not going to address any cards that currently sell for less than $1. It has been more than ten years since the release of Mirrodin, so any cards still selling for bulk rare prices are most likely going to be worthless until a new format is created or some weird new combo piece is printed. Both of those things are beyond the scope of this article.
Thoughtcast - $2
Thoughtcast is an Affinity staple in both Modern and Legacy. It can't go much higher as a common, but it's very easy to trade away at full value. Pull these out of your bulk!
Second Sunrise - $2
Second Sunrise is a financial nonstarter as long as it remains banned in Modern. Considering it was banned for making tournaments less fun, I cannot imagine that happening.
Proteus Staff - $2
Proteus Staff has the look of a card that Travis Woo is going to try to break at some point, doesn't it? It's also fine spot removal in Commander, though the fact that it only works at sorcery speed is a pretty major drawback.
Mesmeric Orb - $2
Mesmeric Orb is one of the most powerful cards in a casual mill deck. I'm shocked that the price is still this low honestly. Kitchen table players will trade for these all day long.
Fatespinner - $2
Fatespinner is annoying, which can be powerful sometimes, but this card is going to make you enemies at the multiplayer table.
Fabricate - $2
Fabricate is a powerful subset tutor for casual play. It has been printed a few times, keeping the price down, but it could still hit $3-$4 if it isn't printed again soon.
Cloudpost - $2
Cloudpost was one of the best cards in Modern before it was banned. As a common that can only be played in casual circles now, there's no real upside.
Troll Ascetic - $1.50
Troll Ascetic was a good card when it was Standard legal the first time. Unfortunately, "fair" creatures are way better now. This is a zero in casual play, so the only reason it holds value is price memory and people speculating for future reprintings.
Triskelion - $1.50
Triskelion is a powerful combo card, but it goes in very few decks and has been printed a ton of times. There is no upside here.
Spoils of the Vault - $1.50
Spoils of the Vault has some potential now that Angel's Grace and Phyrexian Unlife are both being used in a real Modern deck. Even though Spoils doesn't see play right now, it has the potential to be broken in the right shell. Keep an eye on it.
Seething Song - $1.50
Seat of the Synod - $1.50
See above. Seat of the Synod is one of the easier artifact lands to trade away because most Commander decks that want this run blue as their main color.
Rule of Law - $1.50
Rule of Law is a good sideboard card in Modern. Financially, though, the fact that it was also printed at Uncommon in Tenth edition holds it back a lot. It could hit $2-$3 but shouldn't go any higher than that.
Molten Rain - $1.50
Loxodon Warhammer - $1.50
I can't look at Loxodon Warhammer without hearing the Donkey Kong/Smash Brothers magic hammer music. Back when it was first printed, the card played out pretty much just like that. Smash Hammer isn't as powerful as it once was, though, and many printings have tanked the price for good.
Leonin Abunas - $1.50
Leonin Abunas has been replaced by Indomitable Archangel in many casual decks, though the fact that this card doesn't turn off shroud when you can't hit metalcraft makes it a reasonable upgrade in some decks. Even still, most prefer the Angel, giving her the higher upside and leaving this one a low-value role player.
Krark's Thumb - $1.50
Krark's Thumb is a must for casual coin-flip decks. I don't know if WotC is going to print any more "powerful in casual" coin cards like Fiery Gambit, but if you see one show up in a preview, you should immediately snag a set of Thumbs.
Glissa Sunseeker - $1.50
Without mana burn, Glissa Sunseeker is incredible. She's an incredibly underrated card for green Commander decks, and I wouldn't be shocked if people rediscover her at some point. She's got some growth potential for sure, and I doubt she'll ever be reprinted since her original functionality has been changed so much.
Damping Matrix - $1.50
Damping Matrix has been an occasionally powerful sideboard card over the years, most recently spiking to $5-$7 a few seasons back. I don't know if this card has another run in it, but at $1.50 it is worth keeping an eye on.
Auriok Steelshaper - $1.50
Auriok Steelshaper is a very narrow card, even in casual circles. Keep an eye out on the equip costs of upcoming artifacts though—there's a tiny outside chance that this card will forge a completely broken interaction someday.
Wrench Mind - $1
Wrench Mind is run in the 8 Rack and Mono-Black Discard decks in Modern, both of which are cool but neither of which is close to tier 1. If either deck breaks through at some point, this card might hit $2-$3.
War Elemental - $1
War Elemental is a fun choice for mono-red Commander decks. If lots of damage is being dealt, it can get out of control in a hurry. Very few people build aggressive decks in Commander, though, which has kept this card low for years.
Vedalken Archmage - $1
Vedalken Archmage is a powerful but fragile combo piece. It's an all-around champion in Sharuum the Hegemon and other artifact-based Commander decks, so I'm surprised this guy hasn't hit $2-$3 by now.
Vault of Whispers - $1
Talisman of Progress and Talisman of Dominance are the two blue-based cards in this cycle, so it's not surprising they're the most valuable. Even still, you can usually find better mana rocks for your Commander decks.
Reiver Demon - $1
Reiver Demon would be a $10+ card if you could cheat it into play from your graveyard. As is, it sees play in Kaalia of the Vast and MBC commander decks. If it hadn't been reprinted in Commander 2011, it'd probably be up around $2-$3.
Raise the Alarm - $1
Raise the Alarm is good in Modern W/B Token decks. If the Event Deck is released and it doesn't have any copies of this, there's a chance it could hit $2 and trade well—not bad for former bulk.
Promise of Power - $1
Nightmare Lash - $1
Myr Incubator - $1
Myr Incubator is a great card in Arcum Dagsson Commander decks that like to win the game on turn 3. Otherwise, exiling all of your artifacts isn't something you're going to want to do.
Luminous Angel - $1
Luminous Angel would be a $0.50 bulk rare if not for its creature type. Cards like this tend to sit in my bulk boxes forever—most Angel collectors I know prefer the Angelic vs. Demonic art anyhow.
Lodestone Myr - $1
Arcbound Ravager this is not. I suppose there's a chance people would play with this in casual Modern games if the artifact lands were legal, but I don't see that happening any time soon.
Leveler - $1
Leveler was briefly a $5-$6 card when there was some speculation that this would combine with Laboratory Maniac to make a playable deck, but unless you're building this amazing April Fools Deck from 2009, the card is pretty much worthless now.
Great Furnace - $1
Are you playing a Commander deck with Goblin Welder? Don't forget to run this!
Gate to the Aether - $1
This is a fun Commander card, but it's too hard to break the symmetry to make it good. There are easier ways to cheat out giant monsters in Modern.
Fireshrieker - $1
Double strike is beloved, but there are too many better and more interesting pieces of Equipment now.
Fiery Gambit - $1
Much like Krark's Thumb, any future casual coin-flip deck will need to have these. There's no upside at all unless WotC decides to mine that well further.
Empyrial Plate - $1
This is another piece of Equipment that just isn't exciting enough to end up in most casual decks unfortunately.
Crystal Shard - $1
Crystal Shard keeps getting better as Magic continues to evolve around creatures with powerful comes into play abilities. It's probably never going to be better than the other options in Modern, but it's an underrated and powerful card in both Cube and Commander. I could certainly see this rising in price at some point.
Clockwork Dragon - $1
I guess Clockwork Dragon might be okay as an infinite mana sink, but it's not even one of the Top 50 or so Dragons out there. There's no reason to trade for these.
Broodstar - $1
The only reason this card is above $0.50 is because it was a powerhouse in Standard once upon a time. No one has wanted to trade for this guy since 2004 unfortunately.
Blinkmoth Urn - $1
Spending five mana on situational mana acceleration that doesn't even help you fix your colors doesn't sound great, but this is a heck of a card in the right Commander deck. If more people knew about this, I'm guessing the price would have started to creep up a little by now.
This Week's Trends
- The prices of Volcanic Island and Underground Sea have each gone up again, this time to $300. I believe that these major Legacy price increases are due to people selling high on Modern staples in order to afford Legacy cards that used to be out of reach for them. That increase in demand then caused the Legacy prices to rise too.
- Food Chain showed up in the Top 8 of #SCGLA. This caused the price to spike. I'm very wary because this card has spiked before without putting up more than a handful of above-average finishes. I'm a seller right now.
- Standard risers: Stormbreath Dragon, Abrupt Decay, Maze's End.
- Standard fallers: Brimaz, King of Oreskos; Xenagos, God of Revels; Mogis, God of Slaughter.
- Modern continues to rise across the board, especially top staples like fetch lands, Tarmogoyf, Vendilion Clique, and Mox Opal.
- Overall, it feels like we're approaching the height of the Modern market, though I expect several other major Legacy staples to spike in the interim as the rising tide continues to lift up all the Eternal staples. If you're after any major Legacy cards that haven't spiked recently, now is the time to buy.
- WotC is allowing retailers to order cases of five Commander 2013 decks with a twist—two of the decks in each case will be Mind Seize, while the other three will be random. This deal will probably only be of interest to local game stores (it seems too nuanced for the big box places), so there should be another small influx of True-Name Nemesis. Feel free to sell your copies now or continue to hold long term. If you're in the market to buy, wait a few weeks at least.