Okay, folks, this is getting buck wild.
While you were out enjoying the first week of Dominaria's run in Standard, dozens upon dozens of old Reserved List cards were being bought out. They are each now worth roughly as much money as a nice vacation. Candelabra of Tawnos will now run you more than a thousand dollars, Legends copies of Sylvan Library broke $200, and casual favorites like Humility and Replenish briefly broke $100 before dropping back off toward $60-$70.
We've had Reserved List spikes before, of course, but they've mostly been focused on older cards, Legends and Arabian Nights-era stuff, or on tournament staples like Lion's Eye Diamond and City of Traitors. When Grave Robbers, a terrible rare from The Dark, hits $30, it's time we had a nice long chat about what's going on.
Why Is This Happening Now?
There are a couple of factors at play here, and it's likely some combination of the following:
- Reserved List buyouts have proven effective for over a year now, and it's likely that the people doing most of these buyouts are the same people who have been buying out old cards for months. After plowing through most of the easy targets, they've finally moved on to both newer and more obscure cards. That's why we're starting to notice their actions more now. Anyone who has been paying attention to the prices of, say, Arabian Nights over the past year probably isn't all that surprised at what's happening.
- There are a bunch of people who seem to be treating Reserved List cards like a cryptocurrency. Not only did the Bitcoin bubble bring a lot of money into the world of Magic finance, but the overlap between the world of crypto and the world of Magic means that there are plenty of people interested in taking a crypto-esque approach to card collecting. This naturally leads to lots of crazy hoarding and wacky spikes.
- Dominaria brought a massive influx of older players back to the game. These folks tend to have a lot of money (more than the younger generation of Magic players, at any rate) as well as a desire to re-claim their favorite childhood spells. There is likely some real demand for some of these Reserved List cards beyond just what the buyout brigade is up to.
- As with anything in Magic finance, attention begets more attention, which begets all sorts of shenanigans. One or two Reserved List spikes can fly under the radar, but once the boulder starts to roll down the mountain, everybody in the community turns around to gawk. I've seen lots of Reserved List chatter on Twitter and Reddit this week, which means that people who don't normally participate in the Magic finance circus are getting involved. It's like a gold rush where everybody is grabbing their pickaxe and running off toward the Reserved List in search of buried treasure.
This creates a culture of FOMO, or "fear of missing out," for those of you who don't keep track of zeitgeisty abbreviations. Since we know that WotC isn't going to be printing these cards again, nobody wants to be the only chump standing when all the available copies of Sedge Troll have been snapped up. People who might not need Replenish or Humility right now are buying up copies just the same in case the price keeps going up, and up, and up…
What Cards Might Spike Next?
Everything from the Reserved List is on the table right now, from Black Lotus down to the lousiest bulk rare. Here are a few quick picks of my own:
Leeches - $1
This one might take a while, but Wizards of the Coast will bring poison back at some point, even if it's just in a Commander deck. As a result, this card will end up being worth like $15 for a week or two.
Powder Keg - $2
This is one of the only Reserved List cards that's worth less now than it was five years ago...but is it actually bad? It was playable in Legacy once upon a time, and it's not embarrassing in Commander. At $2, you can't go too terribly wrong.
Abeyance - $4
MTG Goldfish says that Abeyance sees play in one Legacy Infect list, so you never know! This one has already quadrupled over the past year, so there's clearly some demand out there.
Radiant, Archangel - $4
Radiant would be a bulk rare in today's game, but Angels are one of Magic's premier tribes and this one can never be reprinted. Collectors will need copies, as will Angel tribal deck builders.
Donate - $4.50
Classic, iconic, unique. A must-play for a certain kind of wacky Commander brew. This one should be $10-$15 at least.
Meditate - $6
Every other blue card that looks this powerful is at least $20 and Mediate used to be expensive once upon a time. This one sees occasional Legacy play too.
Ertai, Wizard Adept - $8
Most of the Reserved List spikes so far have been powerful spells, but some of these old iconic creatures are eventually going to pop off as well. Ertai isn't tournament-playable, of course, but it's fun in Commander and part of the old Weatherlight crew. Say, might there be a reason why these characters might start to get a little more popular right about now?
Karn, Silver Golem - $9
I don't think anybody knows that this is a Reserved List card, since it showed up in From the Vault: Relics. It is, though, and with the latest version of Karn kicking so much butt, it's only a matter of time before more people begin brewing up fun casual decks with this one.
Cursed Scroll - $9
This one spiked from $9 to $25 between when I started writing this article and when I finished. Whoops!
Yawgmoth's Bargain - $10
Stupid, broken, silly, and Vintage playable. If it wasn't banned in Commander, this one would be a $60 card already.
Peacekeeper sees a little bit of Vintage play and used to be pretty good in Legacy. I doubt the metagame is going to shift back to this one being good again, but it's good enough in Commander that I'm willing to take the plunge at $10.
Undiscovered Paradise - $12
Here's a card that actually does see a decent amount of play in Vintage. Undiscovered Paradise has occasionally been good in Legacy, too, and all these old, weird, marginally good lands are worth at least $30-$40 these days. Undiscovered Paradise is probably on its way to $30 at least.
Deranged Hermit - $14
Two things that casual players love above all else: tokens and Squirrels. Deranged Hermit is powerful, too, and this card's long-term value profile looks excellent: just a long, sustained, spike-free rise in price from 2015 through yesterday morning. This one will be $30 in a week if the buyouts continue the way they have.
Rofellos is my favorite pick on the list. I know, I know, Rofellos is banned in Commander, but remember: that was only because it was oppressive as a commander, so there's still a shot that this one is reinstated at some point. Regardless, this thing is just so stupidly powerful that there's no way Cube builders and random hype aren't going to push it to $25 at least. Buying in at $15 is a low-risk, high-reward play.
Thawing Glaciers - $15
This one has already begun to spike, and I bet it'll hit $20-$25 pretty soon as well. Again, these old, weird lands are just crazy expensive right now…heck, Lake of the Dead is $60! By that metric, Thawing Glaciers is seriously undervalued.
Treachery - $25
I tried to avoid putting cards that were already expensive on this list, but Treachery is clearly on its way toward $40-$50. It's unbelievably good in Commander and about as iconic as it gets. Snag your copy now if you don't have one yet.
Revised Dual Lands
These are all crazy expensive, obviously, but if the other price spikes are "real," then all ten of these cards are undervalued at the moment. I wouldn't be shocked if they all see major bumps of the next couple of days.
Ditto for the Power 9. So many other expensive Reserved List cards have doubled or tripled in price over the past few months, but Magic's rarest and most iconic nine haven't done so yet. It'll happen. Just give it time.
We're in a Bubble, Though, Right? These Prices Are Coming Back Down?
We are for sure in a bubble in terms of attitude and approach to the market. Random cards are flying off shelves, and there's no way that every random rare from The Dark should be $10-$20. Not only do I expect some of these no-demand cards to come back down in price (Eternal Flame? Seriously?) but I suspect that a bunch of the "good" cards that were bought out will start to fall off again as well. When the mania subsides, there will be some number of people who will dump their speculation stock back on the market and the prices will start to fall off again.
Of course, a bunch of these cards aren't going to re-enter the market no matter what. A lot of the FOMO buyers really are snapping up these cards because they need them for Cubes and casual decks. They don't care what the price of a card is; they're not going to sell their copies ever. If nothing else, this dwindling of Reserved List card supply should prevent any of these cards from dropping back to where the prices used to be.
A strong sense of price memory should help keep these cards pretty high, too. Once a card hits $50, it's very hard to get anyone to ever sell it to you for $15. This doesn't mean that you shouldn't sell these cards into the hype, but it does mean that you're probably not going to get blown out if you choose to hold instead.
It's also worth considering whether or not a bunch of these cards have simply been underpriced relative to supply and demand for a while now. The player base might not have been growing much over the past couple of years, but it has been growing, and even something as benign as player base turnover can affect low supply Reserved List cards. How many people do you know who "quit" Magic but still won't sell their collection? Each of these people leaving the community represents a dwindling of the number of available copies of Reserved List cards, despite the overall size of the player base remaining the same.
I'm also not convinced that the market for Candelabra of Tawnos and even Humility is the same as the market for most tournament Magic cards, like Dark Confidant and Teferi, Hero of Dominaria. We tend to ignore the "collectible" aspect of CCG when we talk about Magic, but there are a great number of people who are simply that: collectors. Anecdotally, these folks tend to be a little older and richer than Magic's normal player-base, and they have no problem paying higher prices for premium collectibles. Even if every single Vintage and Legacy tournament disappeared tomorrow, these folks would keep prices high for all the game's oldest and rarest cards.
Plus, remember when Moat and Lion's Eye Diamond and tons of other Reserved List rares spiked over the past few months and the price just sort of…stayed really high? I don't think I'm too far off-base here predicting that some of these spikes will stick.
Will WotC Stop This Madness by Just Repealing the Reserved List Already?
Maybe, but it's highly unlikely, at least for now.
I've talked to a couple of MTG-playing lawyers about what a Reserved List lawsuit would look like, and I've never found any consensus on that front. My gut feeling is that WotC would win, but it might be a reasonably costly fight that Hasbro's lawyers aren't going to want to take on unless there was a lot of money to be made.
The good news for you Reserved List haters is that there actually is a lot of money to be made if WotC wants to repeal the Reserved List. That doesn't mean they're going to do it, but it's all about the bottom line with huge companies like Hasbro. Therefore, I've never been a believer that the Reserved List is forever despite what Mark Rosewater and Aaron Forsythe keep saying.
I don't think the Reserved List is going away anytime soon, though. If it were on the table for 2018, it would have happened for Masters 25. I also don't see WotC bending beneath the weight of any "Vintage/Legacy is too expensive!" arguments: they've made it pretty clear that Modern is their preferred Eternal format of choice and that you can play with the older cards on your own.
A few people have also pointed out this week that WotC probably likes the idea of there being a bunch of super-expensive Magic cards out there as a way to give the game a fun sort of mystique. Even though everybody knows that there's no Black Lotus inside a current-set booster pack, the idea that some Magic cards are worth $10,000 makes all Magic cards seem more inherently valuable as a result. I agree with this argument, though my guess is that original Black Lotuses will hold their value forever regardless of any sort of post-Reserved List reprint. You can buy a reprint of Action Comics #1 for a couple of bucks, but that doesn't stop the original from being the most valuable comic book of all time.
The question, then, is whether Hasbro wants to break a promise to the Magic community and face a (possibly dubious) lawsuit in order to gain access to the ability to print Reserved List Masters or whatever. We might get there at some point, but I don't think we're there quite yet. Heck, WotC could probably just reprint Modern Masters 2017 and it would sell like gangbusters, right?
Plus, most of these Reserved List cards aren't the cash cows they appear to be. Imperial Recruiter is $38 right now after being $400 (!) early last year. Sure, the original dual lands and a few dozen other cards could headline a bunch of Masters sets, but most of these other expensive cards would tank, and tank fast. And as we've learned, creating a Masters set around these sorts of cards usually ends up disappointing people.
So no, I don't think a Reserved List repeal is coming anytime soon. Someday, maybe, but probably not in 2018 or 2019.
Okay…But What Do I Do?
If you want to buy bad Reserved List cards for a dollar, go for it. Worst case, you're out a couple of dollars. Best case, there's some stupid buyout and you'll make a decent chunk of change selling into hype.
To that end, it's worth at least considering buying any Reserved List cards that you need right now, provided they haven't spiked at any point over the past couple of weeks, of course. If they have, stay away for now. The current bubble probably won't experience a violent pop, but it will subside and most prices will drop by at least 10-20% of their post-spike value.
Absolutely 100% do not buy any of the bad cards that have spiked, like Sedge Troll, Grave Robbers, and Exorcist. These cards are bad. They are not worth $20-$40. You did not need them yesterday and you do not need them today.
I'm a bit ambivalent about selling your own personal collection of Reserved List cards. Ultimately, I think it's best to try to keep yourself in a position where a Reserved List repeal would come as a pleasant but unexpected surprise. Don't hold so many Reserved List rares that you are going to be financially wiped out if a repeal does happen, but don't feel like you can't keep your personal collection of beloved old cards together, either.
Bubbles like these are a chance for you to sell these cards into hype, but this one almost certainly won't be your last or only chance. My favorite Legacy and Commander decks aren't going anywhere, thank you very much.
This Week's Trends
- As predicted, Teferi, Hero of Dominaria and Lyra Dawnbringer were the two biggest Standard gainers of the week. Teferi is up to $45 (!) while Lyra is sitting at an equally crazy $40. Both of these cards are great, but there's only one direction they can go from here: down. Feel free to hold if you're using them in your current Standard deck, but everybody else should be looking to move on while demand is still so high and supply is still so low. I expect Teferi to settle in around $30 and Lyra closer to $25, though it might take a month or more to get there, depending on the Pro Tour results.
- Also up this week: Settle the Wreckage, which has quickly become one of the most important cards in Standard. The current retail price of $13 is actually a little low based on some of the other prices I'm seeing, and I suspect that this one will be $15 by the end of the weekend. Since we aren't going to be opening nearly as many Ixalan packs over the next couple of months, this card is more likely to hold most of its value going forward than the cards from Dominaria.
- Also up this week: Tendershoot Dryad, which finally found a home in Mono-Green Monument as well as a few other Saprolings decks. While I like this card's casual potential, I need to see it show me a little more in the competitive arena before I peg it as a real $6 card. I'll probably be selling my extra copies.
- On the other hand, Karn, Scion of Urza has remained fairly steady while Mox Amber has begun to fall off a bit. I'm still very bullish on Karn, and a month from now I expect the colorless planeswalker to be the most valuable card in Dominaria by a decisive margin. You can hold these for now if you want. Mox Amber, on the other hand, still hasn't shown me much of anything. The card still might break out at any point, but I'm selling ASAP even though the price is continuing to fall. It's just not worth the risk.
- Over in Modern, it looks like some of the shocklands are finally starting to move! The Guildpact versions of Steam Vents and Stomping Ground surged this week, though the Return to Ravnica block copies haven't followed suit. I'll remain skeptical of this spike until I see the newer version start to gain value, but you might want to consider snagging a couple of personal copies if you've been putting it off. You know, just in case.
- Also up this week: Retract! Jeskai Cheerios won a Modern League a couple of days ago, and I'm guessing this was the related movement. Don't forget that Puresteel Paladin itself has a pretty low supply, though I'm guessing there won't be too much more action here unless the deck keeps on winning.
- A casual development this week: Battlebond, a new multiplayer product, is going to have a set of allied dual lands that enter the battlefield untapped if you have two or more opponents. These are going to be Commander staples for years, so it might be worth buying in if the price gets low enough. I'll be monitoring these pretty closely once we get closer to Battlebond's set release.
- Speaking of casual Magic, River Kelpie is absurd with Muldrotha, the Gravetide, Dominaria's most popular new Commander by a fairly wide margin according to EDHREC. As a result, the Shadowmoor rare tripled in price this week. There aren't a ton of other actionable cards in that deck, though perhaps this is finally the shot in the arm that Birthing Pod needs to spike again despite its Modern ban.