Going Infinite – Language Redux And Introduction To Foils

Jonathan Medina continues his long look into harder-to-find Magic cards, such as foreign, foil, and promotional. Today, he touches on all the different foil cards available and their relative pricing.

Welcome back, all you pimps in training. I know that some people don’t like the fact that I use the word pimp to describe unique Magic cards, but don’t shoot the messenger. I didn’t take the image of a violent street hustler who objectifies women and convert it into a slang term for decorating the look of something in a lavish and exaggerated way. If anyone’s to blame for this, it’s one of these two guys:

fly guy

Fly Guy from I’m Gonna Git You Sucka


Xzibit from MTV: Pimp My Ride

It doesn’t matter who’s to blame; we’re one article and one paragraph deep into a series about pimping out your Magic collection. Let’s dig deeper into last week’s topic, and then we’ll talk about foils.   

Languages Redux

Last week we talked about the different languages and which ones are most desirable. I’ve got to hand it to you guys; your input in the comments was awesome. Based on that feedback, I wanted to expand on some of the specifics that were discussed.

Trinket Mage

Last week, I talked about how foreign languages are pimp in the United States, but I couldn’t confirm that the same might be true about English cards in other countries. Thankfully, we got some feedback in the comments that speak to this idea.  

Here in Brazil the vast majority of people prefer English than Portuguese, I believe you see it as strange because you are an American and you probably don’t see the “enchantment” that the USA has on some people/countries. It’s like movies; it doesn’t matter if the film is very good if you gotta chose between American, European or a South American film, people will choose the American one. I’m talking about masses here but since pimping is a subjective especially the language aspect for me it is worth talking about “mass culture”. Another point to be considered is that translation in Brazil is poor and everything about Magic is generally written in English. I know WAY more cards by their English name than by their Portuguese name. English is Beautiful and “foreign”. [sic]
—Franklin Maia

As you can see from Franklin’s comments there is a pimp factor to English cards in Brazil. Part of the reason is because “America is Awesome,” and part of it is because the native language translation sucks. I don’t want to beat up on the people who do the foreign language translation at Wizards of the Coast, but it’s important to note that bad translation seems to be a common occurrence. There have been reports of the new Korean printings having translation issues. Eric Klug (who spent some time living in Korea) reports on the printing issues in this thread on MTGSalvation:

The blotchy printing looks to be confirmed. Also, native speaker writes, “Translation is so terrible it’s something like Chinese.”
Eric Klug

These kinds of comments shed light on why English is the preferred language in other countries.

Foreign Black Border (FBB) Dual Lands

FBB dual lands were printed in German, French, and Italian. These are desirable because they are the only way to get black border dual lands (besides Alpha and Beta). Pricing data on FBB dual lands is sparse and hard to interpret. Let’s look at this eBay search for FBB Underground Sea.

The two that are not labeled are Italian. What you’re looking at is all the FBB Underground Seas that have closed on eBay recently. The pricing is all over the board. You have one Italian FBB Underground Sea selling for $296 and another one selling for $429.99. It’s hard to say why the price has such a range; my guess is that someone sold themselves short by paying too much (both high auctions were “best offers”). This guess is just conjecture on my part. Let’s focus on what we can see from these auctions: 1) FBB Underground Seas are around $300; that’s about 35% of the average Beta price ($888 on eBay), and 2) there are not many FBB duals available on the market at the moment.

The “language hierarchy” for FBB dual lands is German > French > Italian. This is only important if you have a choice between two FBB dual lands that are in the same condition. Otherwise, the price difference between these languages can be very subjective. FBB dual land pricing is not a science; they typically fall between 3 and 4.5 times the value of their English (Revised) counterparts.

I hope this helps give a little more depth to the topic of languages. Now let’s get into the good stuff!

The Danger of Shiny Things

Some of my first foils were for my States deck. I was out of town on business and too addicted to the game to go out for drinks with the other business folk. Instead I scoured the internet for a game shop. I found one in a strip mall on the outskirts of the city. It was only a ten-minute drive from my hotel. I jumped in the car and booked it over to the “Dragon’s Den.” I walked in and thumbed through the random binders that they had at the counter. The cards were sorted by color, and the foils were mixed with the non-foils.

I was looking for stuff for my G/W brew that I built for States. It was early in my Magic career, and I thought that Stonewood Invocation plus Skyhunter Skirmisher was a sick strategy to crush States with (spoiler: I was wrong). I settled on a foil Brushland and a Foil Loxodon Warhammer; needless to say my MTG budget was meager back then. This was the beginning of the end for me. After those two foils, I couldn’t stop myself from buying more. Foils became a big part of Magic for me; it even got to the point where I had to swear off foiling my collection for a while. OK, I know that’s a bit weird, but it’s good for you, since I’m going to be your guide through the world of foils.

Foil Hierarchy

Just like foreign languages, foils also have a hierarchy of pimpness. The earliest set foil is always the most desirable. For example, a foil Think Twice from Time Spiral is more desirable than a foil Think Twice from Innistrad. The foil hierarchy is as follows.

Earliest Set Foil
Set Foil
Judge Foil
From the Vault
Magic Player Reward (MPR)
Friday Night Magic (FNM)
Gateway Promo
Premium Deck / Shards of Alara Block Foils

This hierarchy is mostly correct. Like everything, there are exceptions and corner cases, but before we get to those, I want to talk about the lowest level of foil pimp.

Premium Deck / Shards of Alara Block Foils

Wizards of the Coast has recognized the phenomenon of pimping, and they’ve created products that try to cultivate it. Products like the Premium Deck series and the Shards of Alara block all-foil packs are good examples of products that miss the mark for a pimp enthusiast. They may not be the target market for these products, but it does affect the price of the singles. Casual players may be buying these premium decks by the truckload, but once the product is opened, the singles don’t carry a premium. A good example of this is the Price of Progress from the Fire and Lightning Premium Deck; the foil version is the same as the regular version ($2.99), and the Korean version is five times more ($14.99) than the regular and foil versions.

This is because the Fire and Lightning premium deck (and products like it) eliminate the key characteristics that make a card pimp. The things that make a card pimp are uniqueness and rarity, but you don’t get that from a mass produced box set. Also, the foiling process for these box sets is different (not a “good” different) than the normal foiling process. The difference is recognizable, and the singles are not regarded as pimp because of it. This may sound like a lot of useless snobbery on my part, but it should help you figure out the pricing for upcoming foil products or promos.

For example, Graveborn the premium reanimator deck is coming out. It contains at least two popular tournament playable cards that can’t be found in foil anywhere else. Will these cards go up in price? No, we know this because of the Price of Progress example that we talked about.

If Wizards of the Coast ever comes out with another all foil pack product, should we believe the hype? No, the Shards block all-foil packs were a failure, and the packs that were opened only served to drive the price of the foils down. For example, Qasali Pridemage was a $6 foil before those packs; now it’s $3.49. If you compare that with something like Nature’s Claim, you can see the difference. Nature’s Claim is from a newer set, and it’s still higher than Qasali Pridemage ($3.99).

FNM Foils

FNM foils are given out at Friday Night Magic; this means that the distribution is not as high as the Premium Deck series, but it’s higher than the Judge foil distribution. Typically FNM foils are not worth a lot of money, but there are some exceptions, particularly cards where the set foil is really expensive or non-existent. The first FNM promos used the “old” frames (pre-8th edition). These are more desirable because they represent that a card is “older” or rarer, and in Eternal formats the old frames match better with the other cards of that era. Here’s a list of the most expensive FNM cards starting with the old framed ones.

Old Frame FNM Promos

Swords to Plowshares (FNM Foil) $99.99 Sold Out

Priest of Titania (FNM Foil) $19.99

Quirion Ranger (FNM Foil) $14.99 Sold Out

Capsize (FNM Foil) $19.99

Dissipate (FNM Foil) $9.99 Sold Out

Fireblast (FNM Foil) $9.99

Terror (FNM Foil) $9.99 Sold Out

Wall of Blossoms (FNM Foil) $7.99 Sold Out

New Frame FNM Promos

Brainstorm (FNM Foil) $39.99

Mother of Runes (FNM Foil) $14.99 Sold Out

Reanimate (FNM Foil) $12.99

Cabal Coffers (FNM Foil) $9.99

Cabal Therapy (FNM Foil) $9.99 Sold Out

Eternal Witness (FNM Foil) $9.99

Lightning Greaves (FNM Foil) $7.99

Counterspell (FNM Foil) $7.99

Rancor (FNM Foil) $7.99

You might notice that the cards on this list fall into three categories: 1) Eternal Format Staple, 2) Commander Staples, and 3) Cube Staples. The cards that fall into more than one of these categories are typically more expensive. The other thing to note is that many of the old frame promos are the only foil versions available. This raises the demand on these cards through the roof.

Judge Foils

Judge foils are the next best thing to the set foil, and in some cases they are the only foil version. These foils are also in heavy demand from the three categories listed above. That means that it should be easy to spot Judge foils that will rise in value. Judge foils always follow the same pricing pattern. Upon release they’re very high; then they slump and bottom out and finally climb back to the price that they settle into. A good example of this is the Demonic Tutor, which started at $100 and at one point fell to $30; it’s now on the list of the most expensive Judge foils at $100.

Maze of Ith (Judge Foil) $119.99

Gaea’s Cradle (Judge Foil) $119.99 Sold Out

Dark Confidant (Judge Foil) $99.99 Sold Out

Demonic Tutor (Judge Foil) $99.99

Mana Crypt (Judge Foil) $99.99 Sold Out

Sol Ring (Judge Foil) $99.99

Vindicate (Judge Foil) $99.99

Polluted Delta (Judge Foil) $79.99

Survival of the Fittest (Judge Foil) $79.99

Did you notice the last card on the list? Survival of the Fittest is not legal in Legacy; it’s not played in Vintage, but it’s one of the most expensive Judge foils. Why? The fact that Survival shows up on this list shows how much power the Commander / Cube population has in the pimp market. This makes me wonder why the Judge foils below aren’t valued higher.

Wheel of Fortune (Judge Foil) $19.99

This card is legal in Commander; it’s in most Cubes; and it’s played in Vintage. The non-foil version is listed at $9.99. There are no other foil versions of this card. There’s no way that this card will stay at $20. Maybe that’s why it’s sold out.

Land Tax (Judge Foil) $24.99

There are many people who believe that this is the next card to be unbanned in Legacy. If this is unbanned in Legacy, then these Judge foils will definitely shoot up in price, but even if it doesn’t, it still falls into the sweet spot of being a Commander / Vintage playable, which doesn’t have any other foil versions.

Yawgmoth’s Will (Judge Foil) $39.99

This has the same benefits as the cards above. It’s in cubes, Commander, and Vintage decks. This card has already begun its rise, and I expect the trend to continue.

Set Foils

Foils were introduced in Urza’s Legacy and have been printed ever since. Early set foils are rarer and typically see more play in non-rotating formats, so they carry a higher premium than new set foils. A good example of this is Daze from Nemesis; the foil version is $59.99. This doesn’t mean that new foils don’t carry a premium; for example, do you know how much a foil Forbidden Alchemy sells for? I’ll save you the time of checking; it’s listed at $10. This has been the case since about two weeks after the set release. The foil market is unpredictable and volatile, but there are some rules that can help you keep your head above water.

  1. The original set foil is typically worth more than any other foil version of the card. One exception for this is Seventh Edition foils. Seventh Edition was the first core set to be printed in foil and the only core set with old frames to be printed in foil. Foil Seventh Edition is also the only way to get Seventh Edition in black borders. Look at Engineered Plague as an example. The Urza’s Destiny foil is $7.99 while the Seventh Edition foil is $14.99. The same is true for Duress; the Arena version ($12.99) of the card has the old frames and the old art, but the Seventh Edition foil is still more ($14.99).
    7th Duress

  2. Foils are typically worth a little less than two times the value of the non-foil version. The exceptions are: 1) The card is common/uncommon; 2) The card is playable in a non-rotating format (Modern, Legacy, Commander. or Vintage). Commons and uncommons are typically priced too low for the 2x multiplier to raise the price enough to reflect the value that the market will bear. For example, Doomed Traveler is $.25, but the foil is $1.99 and sold out. Even $1.99 is probably not high enough for this card because of the high demand.
  3. Condition on foils is really important. Because foils are a vanity purchase, condition issues are less tolerated. This is important to keep in mind when you are trading for or buying foils.

Keep these rules in mind when dealing with foils. The best thing to do if you’re in doubt is to check the price and do some research. 

Next Week

There’s a lot more to say on the topic of foils; next week I will to talk about foreign foils and a handful of special foils. I will also be tackling misprints, miscuts, and other printing deformities. Thanks for reading and for sounding off in the comments.

See you next week.