I don't like NASCAR. At least I'm pretty sure I don't.
This isn't a controversial opinion where I come from. I have only lived in two states—California and Massachusetts—neither of which are hotbeds of NASCAR fandom. When the sport blew up in the late 1990s and early 2000s the adults I looked up to in my community derided it as a bunch of cars driving around in a circle for three hours. Being a kid I took their opinions as gospel.
When I grew up and got a car of my own I started watching Top Gear on the BBC and began to have an appreciation for European rally-style racing. Even then NASCAR looked to me like a relatively boring way to test one's driving ability.
Last month Emma and I were bored sitting in a brewpub in Sedona waiting for our food to arrive. There was a TV over the bar and it was showing the end of a NASCAR race somewhere in the Midwest. I didn't really understand the nuances of what was going on but it was still quite gripping to watch the drivers jockeying for position as things wound down. In the final lap one of the cars that had been trailing made an awesome move and wound up taking the checkered flag. I found myself grinning and questioning my previous feelings about the sport. Had I been wrong about the sport my entire life? Would I have been a huge NASCAR fan if I had ever stopped to give the sport a real chance? What else was I missing out on thanks to a deeply-help opinion of mine that was based on no actual data?
I still haven't actually sat down and watched an entire NASCAR race and I'm not sure that I'm going to. I love driving and respect those that do it professionally but I don't really need another sport to follow. I have deeper ties to baseball a game I've been following since I was old enough to walk. I remember the smell of hot dogs and lawn clippings from my first trip to Fenway Park. I remember long summer afternoons pouring over the back of John Valentin's baseball card. I remember trying to learn how to throw a knuckleball lying catatonic on my floor during the 2003 ALCS and partying in Kenmore Square in October of 2004. I grew up with baseball and because of that the game will always have my heart.
Many of our deepest opinions were formed a long time ago and those are nearly impossible to shake. According to this Cracked article—and yes I'm aware that I'm citing a Cracked article as scientific theory—our musical taste is hard-wired by the end of our teen years. What we like to listen to is mostly based on what was going on in our lives when we heard certain songs for the first time. Our brains love to reinforce opinions we already have too so we'll seek out reasons to believe that the things we love are awesome and the things we hate are terrible. And as I discussed last week the fragmentation of the media makes doing this astoundingly easy.
It may not be easy to change our opinions on things but it's certainly advantageous. There are lots of things I hated as a kid or a young adult—broccoli wine exercise—that I've actively tried to improve my opinions of. In some cases like with certain vegetables my tastes simply changed as I grew up. When I was ten broccoli tasted like boiled socks so I stayed well away from in for the better part of a decade. At some point though I ended up with a piece on my plate and gave it another shot. Turns out I no longer hate it. Who knew?
I'm not saying that all of your opinions are wrong or that you need to constantly reevaluate and defend your core beliefs. There are songs you love that I almost assuredly hate and that's okay. Maybe you heard Bob Seeger's 'Old Time Rock And Roll' on the way to your prom and now you love that song forever even though I would prefer listening to hippos gargling scrap metal. You and I likely disagree about certain religious or metaphysical truths as well but that doesn't make either of our beliefs less valid. There are also some opinions that are entirely indefensible—if you find yourself agreeing with the Westboro Baptist Church about anything you should rethink your entire life.
That said there are probably some opinions that you have about things that are based on nothing more than a secondhand review. Is there a type of cuisine you hate just because your parents told you it was bad when you were a kid? Is there an activity or a genre of music or TV that you have turned yourself off to because you associate it with a different group of people that you don't identify with? Is there a political issue you have strong feelings about because your preferred party makes a big deal about it even if it's not something you actually understand?
If you take nothing else from this article at least promise me this: take a moment after expressing your next couple of views and opinions and remember where they came from. Try to keep an open mind and think about whether or not you really truly believe them. Heck a scientific study last month showed that scientists were easily able to trick a ton of people into reversing their opinions on serious moral issues. Are you sure you know how you really feel?
Magic finance is mostly an offshoot of the pro community—there are very few of us who trade heavily and don't play Constructed formats much at all. Because of that there is generally a community bias toward focusing on competitive cards being 'greater than' casual cards. Part of this is warranted—most trading happens at events with competitive players so more people want Geist of Saint Traft than Doubling Season—but the result is that many traders have opinions of casual cards that are entirely unwarranted. In fact many players don't really know the value of casual cards at all.
There are certain qualities that are often present in cards that people underestimate the price of. Casual tribal Lords are always worth something to someone. Token makers are often underestimated as are mill cards. The same goes for cards that are the biggest in their class or the best at something. In other cases cards rise in price thanks to rumor hype combo potential (that is often unrealized) or simply a changing metagame.
No matter how it happens there are some cards that are worth more than most people realize. I'm taking a page out of Bill Simmons' playbook and calling them the Darksteel Forge All-Stars after a card that has booked for $10 for years yet one I still see people constantly trading as if it were a $2 rare. I'm going to list my 30 current favorite Darksteel Forge All-Stars below in descending order from least obscure to most. If you read this column with any regularity you should already know about most of these. If you know the prices of all of them though I'll be absolutely stunned.
Keep an open mind and take a look at the cards below. I know I thought a few of them were worth quite a bit less before writing this article but I'm happy to have been proven wrong.
Runners-Up: Foil Cards from Unhinged
Across the board this set has some of the most ludicrously expensive foils out there. Here are some of the highlights:
- Richard Garfield Ph.D. - $50
- Who / What / When / Where / Why - $40
- Mox Lotus - $30
- Blast from the Past - $20
- Little Girl - $20
- City of Ass - $15
- Infernal Spawn of Infernal Spawn of Evil - $15
- Johnny Combo Player - $15
- Gleemax - $15
- Form of the Squirrel - $10
- R&D's Secret Lair - $10
- Rocket-Powered Turbo Slug - $10
For the most part the non-foil versions of these cards are worth very little.
What does this tell us about Magic player psychology? I honestly don't know except to say that purely casual players are confusing beasts. I recommend that everyone seek out these cards in foil and at least take a look at them though. Many Unhinged cards have watermarks or extra jokes in the foil layer and they're worth seeking out. For example there's a Richard Garfield signature watermark on the foil PhD and an infinity symbol watermark on the foil Mox Lotus. Very cool!
30) Jace Beleren (Book Promo) - $130
I touched on this card briefly a few weeks ago so I won't repeat myself too much here. This Jace was only available to retailers who ran a Prerelease and decided to stock the book so it's estimated that the print run is only about 5000. Even though Jace 1.0 doesn't see much play anymore the uniqueness of this promo has kept the price high. I expect that it will hit $200 within the next three or four years if Wizards doesn't release a new version of the card that also has the exclusive art.
29-28) Deathbringer Liege Divinity of Pride - $10
There are many creatures in Innistrad and Return to Ravnica that are far better than these two but Orzhov is a historically popular color combination that doesn't have too many powerful options. Nearly every casual Orzhov deck wants to run these ideally in multiples. Keep an eye on them when Gatecrash comes out—the price could go down if they are made obsolete in any way. Instead though I'd imagine that an influx of attention paid to the Orzhov will cause the price of these two cards to rise.
27) Patron Wizard - $8
I like Patron Wizard in a vacuum but I still consider his printing to be a net negative for Magic. Back when Onslaught was Standard legal R&D said that Patron Wizard was one of the big reasons why Wizards were the weakest of the five OLS tribes. They were scared of his ability turning Standard into an interminable grind and to be fair I can certainly imagine an alternate universe where that happened. Casual Wizard decks aren't all that popular any more though and I don't think I've ever seen this card in play more than once or twice. Somehow that hasn't impacted his $8 price tag.
26) Mephidross Vampire - $7
Cards that are part of a two-card combo tend to be worth a good amount even if they don't see any tournament play. Palinchron could have made this list as well for example. Mephidross Vampire plays super well with Triskelion though many casual playgroups frown on combos like this for being too easy to assemble. Regardless I rarely trade for this guy even at a discount. I don't think I've ever found anyone who wanted one in trade and I've had issues trying to sell them as well. Even though this is technically a $7 card I'd stay away.
25-21) Doubling Season ($25) Woodfall Primus ($10) Mana Reflection ($10) Genesis ($15) Regal Force ($8)
I'm lumping these cards together because they often end up in the same kinds of Commander decks: big green angry brews that overwhelm opponents with mana ramp tokens fat and utility. All five of these cards started off low and traded in the $1-$2 range for years. All of them went up in value by a factor of ten or more when Commander broke out. These stopped being bargains long ago and all but disappeared from binders but even now they're worth more than most people know. The most surprising one to most people is Mana Reflection. You can still find these often enough for $6-$7 in trade.
20) Ethersworn Canonist - $10
This is one of those little Eternal cards that seemed to double in price the minute we all looked away. It rose from $3 at the end of Shards block up to $5. and it stayed there for quite a while until people started using it more in Eternal formats. It's a $10 card now and it trades fairly well.
19) Helm of Obedience - $15
This was a $4-$5 card for a very long time and it didn't break $10 until late this year. Legacy cards are always safe bets and the Helm is far better in a metagame where large creatures run rampant. Helm of Obedience sees some fringe play out of sideboards right now but Reanimator and Show and Tell seem to be on the wane a little. I'm not sure it has any more room for short-term growth. Over the next few years though it's probably a safe pickup. Casual players love it too.
18-17) Emrakul the Aeons Torn Kozilek Butcher of Truth - $25
Interestingly both of these Eldrazi titans are expensive for different reasons. Emrakul is a premiere finisher in Legacy but is banned in Commander. Kozilek isn't quite good enough for competitive play but is in all-star in casual. Both of them have shot up this year but you can still find people who will trade the Prerelease version Emrakul for less than the $20 it books for. Kozilek has become a bit harder to get. Until Wizards prints bigger badder finishers than these expect their value to stay high.
16-15) Idyllic Tutor ($8) Greater Auramancy ($7)
These are two more Shadowmoor block rares that were buoyed by Commander play. Idyllic Tutor lacks the utility of Enlightened Tutor but you're only allowed one of those in per deck in EDH and Idyllic allows you to put the card you fetch right into your hand for an extra two mana. These cards have been valuable for a while now so you're unlikely to find any bargains but few seem to know what they're actually worth.
14) Glimpse the Unthinkable - $15
Back when the first Ravnica set came out Glimpse the Unthinkable was a $20 card. So were Circu Dimir Lobotomist and a bunch of the other Dimir rares. Most of those U/B cards dropped in price immediately but Glimpse has maintained its value for seven years running. Even as Commander has become the dominant casual format this 60-card casual all-star has continued to sell for $10+ and trades fairly well.
13-11) Darksteel Forge ($12) Mycosynth Golem ($12) Mycosynth Lattice ($6)
Everyone knows about the tournament-playable artifact rares in Mirrodin block and most people are keen on the mana producers as well—cards like Extraplanar Lens and Gilded Lotus that have been powering up Commander for years. These giant artifacts are almost as expensive though yet very few people seem to know their true value. Darksteel Forge is particularly easy to find at a bargain rate. It was reprinted in a Planechase deck a couple years back and for whatever reason that made a lot of people think it was basically a bulk rare. These don't trade well in person but they sell briskly online.
10) Mutavault (Full Art) - $600
You knew it was expensive—but did you know it was $600!? All of the States full-art foils are rare but this one is worth more than all the rest of them combined. Not only is it by far the most played card released as a States promo—regular Mutavaults sell for $40—but its print run was the smallest by far. States had already been discontinued in the US by the release of Morningtide so these promos were only available in Europe. Available for $150 just a year ago the price on this gem has finally caught up with its true value. It's still hard for me to believe that a single Mutavault is worth more than several pieces of the Power 9 but it is.
9) Mind Funeral - $5
Weirdly the foil version of this card books for just $1 more than the non-foil version. Is that a result of the foil Shards block packs saturating the market or are the people who collect foils just different from the people who play Mind Funeral? I suspect the former but I'm not sure—I don't think I've met too many of the people who drive the price for these.
Unlike some of the other cards on this list this one was fairly popular from the start. It was a $1-$2 uncommon even when Alara Reborn was Standard legal. Even still this is one of the money cards I've pulled out of bulk boxes the most.
8-7) Death Baron Lord of the Undead - $10
I'm lumping these two cards in together because they are pretty much identical from a trading perspective. Both are casual rares worth $10 apiece. Both were near worthless during their time in Standard and climbed in value once Commander took off and Zombies became better supported. Both are easy to trade for but very difficult to move because the causal players who actually want these cards are generally unwilling to trade for them at $10.
Thus they mostly serve to sit in my binder and act as chum for sharks to try and lowball me on. I've had both of these cards in my book for months and I've had interest from ten or fifteen people. All of them were trying to get one over on me knowing the cards were worth more than most people think and hoping I was out of the loop. In the end I decided to simply put them up for sale at a fair price online where they were snapped up within hours.
6) Gilded Drake - $30
A two-dollar card during the first year or two of the Commander format Gilded Drake was my favorite card in Magic for quite a while. I remember one memorable game where everyone at the table drew their copy and multiple Clones were running around as well. I think someone kicked a Rite of Replication and there were twelve or thirteen copies wreaking havoc.
I don't see this guy in casual decks too much anymore though. He started seeing some play in Legacy Commander prices skyrocketed and now it's a chase rare. Too bad. I hope Wizards prints a similar card again at some point because this is probably the #1 Reserved List card I'd most like to see reprinted simply because of how much fun it is to cast.
5) Elvish Promenade - $5
It's relatively common knowledge that Imperious Perfect is a $5 card but Elvish Promenade has flown almost completely under the financial radar. Despite being reprinted in roughly a million box sets this card trades very well and is super easy to pick up for next to nothing. Put this one next to Mind Funeral in the 'raid bulk boxes for this' section of your brain.
4) Lich Lord of Unx - $5
The Lich Lord was a bulk rare or close to it when Alara Reborn was released. Throughout its time in Standard this guy was relatively unpopular and I don't think I saw a single financial or casual columnist tout this guy as a possible investment or cool deck option. Then one day I tabbed over to a web site and learned that this dud is now worth more than the price of a pack.
Lich Lord of Unx started rising once Innistrad was spoiled and it kept going up as the Zombie tribe pulled into the casual spotlight. Similar things happened to a few other Zombies as well though none that were so previously worthless. The milling aspect of this card also appeals to a large subsection of casual players which probably explains some of the bump.
3) Counterspell (Jace vs. Chandra) - $10
This is now the most valuable card from the Jace vs. Chandra box set. It's worth more than Jace more than Fact or Fiction more than Daze and far more than Ancestral Visions. Why? My theory is that Jace has become the face of Magic and many players want to play the version of Counterspell with him on it.
I had these in my 'not quite bulk' common and uncommon box for a while now and took them out a few weeks ago when I noticed that the price had shot up. There are a ton of these out there still that can be had for quite a bit less than retail.
It's also worth noting that the Japanese version of this is only worth $5—there were more of those duel decks printed than the English ones.
2) Darkness - $3 (Time Spiral) $4 (Legends)
It's Fog. In black. That's it. For some reason that's enough.
I'll be honest: when doing research for this article I knew about every card on this list except for this one. A lot of these have been on my radar as undervalued gems for a while now but for whatever reason I had totally missed the boat on Darkness. Fog is a $0.10 common right? So why would the black version be worth more than that?
I did a quick search for decklists that run this but couldn't find anything too interesting. I assume that there is some madman out there running Turbo Fog in Legacy or Modern who is solely responsible for this card's price. Regardless I think this speaks volumes to the job Wizards has done in protecting the sanctity of the color pie.
1) Phyrexian Altar - $8
This is the card that inspired me to write this article. A near bulk rare for years Phyrexian Altar finally started to get some attention when Gravecrawler was spoiled. While that engine is far too slow for tournament play it's the sort of shenanigan that casual players go nuts for. This one has flown under the radar for months now and the more people find out about it the more demand will increase for this card. If you're the kind of guy who likes to paw through bulk rare boxes in the hopes of finding a gem meet your new best friend.
Undervalued cards tend to vary store-to-store and region-to-region. Chances are that you rolled your eyes at how obvious some of these are and had no idea about others. Others probably felt the same way about entirely different cards.
Do you have a favorite undervalued gem I missed? Put it in the comments! There are many other great cards out there that are worth more than you think.
Until next time–