Mining For Old School Spikes: Part 1 – Antiquities

Looking for new Magic money often starts with old Magic sets! Chas Andres is your guide to Magic’s deep history and the money that can be made there! Plus, the latest on Standard, Modern, and Masters 25!

When I did my
2017 year in review article
back in December, I noticed something interesting about the game’s long
term price trends. From the end of 2016 through the start of 2018, the
Standard index was fairly flat. The top 50 most expensive cards in the
format changed as sets rotated in and out, but the overall combined value
of the format did not.

The Modern charts looked similar. There were seasonal gains each spring,
but the overall value of the format did not change much during the entirety
of 2017.

The biggest permanent gains-by far-happened in the world of Legacy, a
format that has been waning in popularity over the past couple of years.
How is that possible? How is it possible that the top fifty Legacy cards
were worth $6,000 in 2015, $8,000 in 2017, and $13,000 today despite the
format taking a backseat to Standard, Modern, and even Commander?

For the most part, the answer lies in cards from Magic’s earliest years:Alpha, Beta, Unlimited, Arabian Nights, Antiquities, and Legends. In an era where Wizards of the
Coast is serious about reprinting each key Modern staple every couple of
years, more and more people are banking their long-term collection value on
Reserved List cards that they know will never be reprinted. Even if WotC
does decide to abandon that policy at some point in the future-a debate for
another day-cards from these earliest sets will remain collectable simply
because of how unique and scarce they are. They can print Urza’s Tower
again, but they can never print an original Antiquities Urza’s
Tower again.

These ancient cards are also fairly susceptible to buyouts because the
print runs were so small and so many copies have either been lost to time
or catalogued away in permanent collections. Buying out every available
copy of a rare from Amonkhet is impossible, and buying out every
available copy of a rare from Mirage is difficult, but buying out
every available copy of a rare from Legends is fairly simple,
provided you’ve got a couple thousand bucks to throw around.

And once these cards are sold out, they rarely return to their old price
point. Unlike Standard or Modern, where the amount of competitive play more
or less sets the market, the value of these cards rise and fall based on
fuzzy, easy-to-manipulate factors like available supply and perceived
demand. Should Chains of Mephistopheles be worth $50, $200, $800, $1,000,
$2,000? Heck, do you even know how much it’s worth now? I sure don’t. It’s
sold out for $450 on StarCityGames, but fair market price was closer to
$500 before last week when a buyout spike pushed it to $850.

As far as I can tell, these old school spikes tend to occur based on one or
more of the following factors:

  1. The card’s original rarity
    . Unlike today, there are no “rares” in a set like Antiquities. There are actually eight different
    rarities-U1, U2, U3, C1, C3, C4, C5, and C6-which describe how
    often a card appears on each respective common and uncommon sheet.
    While rarer cards tend to be worth more because they’re scarcer,
    other factors can overwhelm or negate this advantage pretty

  1. The card’s presence (or not) on the Reserved List
    . If a card was only printed once, and that printing was in one of
    these early sets, and it cannot be printed again, that’s catnip to
    speculators. What better way to drive a buying frenzy than to
    remind people that this might be their last chance to own the card
    at a reasonable price?

  1. The card’s playability in Vintage or Legacy
    . It doesn’t take much, either; showing up as a one-of in a single
    rogue deck can be enough to trigger a lasting price spike on one of
    these cards.

  1. The card’s playability in Commander or Old School
    . Don’t underestimate these semi-casual formats just because you
    don’t play them. Juzam Djinn is an $800 card almost exclusively
    because of Old School, a format that I’d wager 99% of Magic players
    haven’t even heard of.

  1. The card’s ability to do something weird or unique
    . Again, it really doesn’t take much. Even just the faintest hint
    of future playability can cause a run. Does it do something with
    tokens? Might it break the modern color pie in a weird way? Does it
    have a useful creature type?

  1. The card’s unique art or overall look
    . This one only applies to cards that have been printed multiple
    times or with multiple different pieces of art. There are at least
    five different depictions of Mishra’s Factory, for example, but the
    Winter Factory from Antiquities is worth more than twice
    as much as any of the others because it’s the most aesthetically

I might not be able to tell you what Chains of Mephistopheles should be
worth in a vacuum, but I am capable of analyzing cards based on these six
factors. If we group enough of these old school cards together by rarity
and cross-reference their prices, we might be able to separate some of the
signal from some of the noise.

The upside to doing this is obvious. While we putter about for incremental
value in the worlds of Standard and Modern ever week, weird cards from Legends and Antiquities are doubling or tripling in price
every week. Heck, several of these Antiquities cards have spiked
over the past two or three days, which is what inspired this article. If we
can figure out the next set of cards to spike and buy in ahead of the game,
we should be able to make a tidy profit for ourselves.

My hope is to cover all of these older sets over the next few months,
starting with Antiquities. Let’s begin with one of the most iconic
cards in the history of Magic:

Mishra’s Factory

My first draft of this article had me going through the set
rarity-by-rarity, but I decided to break out Antiquities‘ three
land cycles since they straddle multiple rarities based on which piece of
alternate art you open. With Mishra’s Factory, Strip Mine, and the Urzatron
Lands, some copies of these cards are actually a lot more scarce than

First off, there are no cards with the designation “rare” in Antiquities. Uncommon 1s are the overall rarest cards in the set,
while Common 1s are the rarest commons. But what does that actually mean,
and how much rarer is a winter Mishra’s Factory than a Spring Mishra’s
Factory anyway?

Well, each booster back of Antiquities had six commons and two
uncommons. Your odds of opening a Spring factory in your booster pack was
one in twenty, while your odds of opening one of the other three was
roughly one in sixty. This means that about half the Antiquities
Factories out there are Spring copies, making it about as common as the
other three seasons combined.

Why is Winter so much more valuable than the others? Because it’s the most
visually distinct. Spring and Summer look quite a bit alike from a
distance, so people tend to mix those two up and undervalue Summer based on
its proximity to Spring. Autumn was the piece of art chosen for both the 4th Edition and Judge foil version of the card, making
the Antiquities copy comparatively less cool.

WotC will probably never stop reprinting Mishra’s Factory-it was in both Eternal Masters and Masters 25-but I don’t think we’ll
see the Foglio art again. Because of that, it’s possible that the Winter
version will spike even further: MTG Goldfish shows it breaking $300 this
week, though there are still some played copies out there in the $200
range. The next to pop will probably be Summer, since there are more copies
of both Spring (due to being printed at a lower rarity) and Fall (since it
was printed in 4th Edition).

Strip Mine

Here we have a similar situation to Mishra’s Factory, albeit with less
variation between each piece of art. Current retail pricing also fails to
fully reflect the difference in scarcity, but that’s been changing in
recent weeks. In fact, the version of Strip Mine with the small tower
spiked to about $200 back in early January. This isn’t reflected in the
retail price yet because SCG hasn’t had a copy in stock since then.

This spike makes sense, I suppose, since the tower is the most unique
feature that’s only featured on a single copy of Strip Mine. If any of
these was going to spike first, it was going to be the Tower. This version
should settle down a bit – in fact, I saw a lightly played copy in the $125
range last week that hadn’t sold yet – but I don’t think we’ll see the
Tower version of Strip Mine below $100 again anytime soon.

This tells me that these other copies have potential, but I’m not sure how
much. The Even Terraces version of Strip Mine was reprinted in both Chronicles and 4th Edition, and Uneven Terraces
looks almost identical at a glance: even more so than the difference
between the Spring and Summer factories. They might jump in price at some
point, but the other three are never going to match or overtake the Tower
copy. If you want to lock in a copy of the “coolest” Antiquities
Strip Mine, splurge for that one.

The Urzatron Lands

Urza’s Mine

Interesting! All four copies of Urza’s Mine were printed at common, but the
Mouth and Pulley versions are about twice as rare as the Tower and Clawed
Sphere versions. All four copies of each land were reprinted in Chronicles, though, and Clawed Sphere was the sole piece of art to
get the nod in 5th Edition.

All four Antiquities copies of these cards have been steadily
climbing over the past few weeks, and it’s possible that they’re ready for
a major spike. If you’re going to buy in, try to snag Mouth and Pulley.
While they have the same current retail price, they’ve been trading about
$3-$4 higher on the other marketplaces due to their increased scarcity.

Urza’s Power Plant

This is a similar situation to Urza’s Mine, though it’s worth noting that
the Columns version, which is currently selling for the most, was also the
piece of art chosen for the 5th Edition reprint making it the least scarce of the four. I guess
people just like it? Pot is the “rarest” of the four, but since Columns has
proven popular thus far, it might be the slightly better buy.

Urza’s Tower

Urza’s Tower has always felt slightly more special than the other two
Urzatron lands since it’s the one that gets to tap for three mana. It’s
also slightly more scarce-three copies are C1, and only one is C2. Not only
is Forest the most common copy, it was also the one chosen for 5 th Edition. If you’re going to speculate on
these, snag any of the other three.

Common 4

Let’s progress through the rest of Antiquities one rarity terrace at a
time, from the most common cards to the most rare. Common 4 was the
heaviest printed rarity in the set, with each card appearing four times
apiece on each common sheet. Some of these have risen beyond bulk over the
past twenty five years, but first I’d like to do a brief rundown on all the Antiquities Common 4 cards that are currently selling for less
than $1 each. Spoiler alert: it’s most of them:

I don’t see a lot of short-term upside here. There will be a day when
somebody just buys out every single bulk ancient common and causes the
floor to rise from $0.25 to $1-$2 on all of these cards, but I don’t know
when that will occur. In the meantime, you can ignore these. They’re not on
the Reserved List, and if one card hasn’t managed to break the $1 mark in
twenty five years I don’t really want to bet on that trend breaking

Drafna’s Restoration has uniqueness going for it, though, and this is the
only printing of the card that exists. Beyond that, Artifact Blast and
Phyrexian Gremlins are fairly unique and only have the one printing.
Snapping up a few sub-$1 copies of all three of these cards seems
reasonable, but it shouldn’t be a priority.

These are the only three Common 4 cards from Antiquities that have
broken the $1 mark to date. Argothian Pixies is more of a novelty, while
Atog sees play in Pauper and Ornithopter is in Modern Affinity. All three
of these cards have dirt cheap printings in other sets, but there is
something to be said for being able to play a card from Antiquities in a major tournament. I could certainly imagine this
version of Ornithopter sustaining a price tag at or above $10 at some point
soon, and Atog has been climbing alongside all the other Pauper staples.

Uncommon 3 – Multiple Printings

From here on out, it’s worth looking at Antiquities in two
distinct tiers: the cards that have had multiple printings, and the cards
that are on the Reserved List. The non-Reserved List cards are only worth
speculating on as they pertain to overall coolness-like the Winter Factory,
or the original printing of Ornithopter. The Reserved List cards have a
much higher upside and deserve a closer look.

At any rate, there are no tournament staples on this list of U3s with
multiple printings. The Rack and Ivory Tower have been casual darlings
since they day they were printed, though, and who doesn’t want to own an
original copy of Millstone? It is this card-alongside the underrated
Commander staple Energy Flux-that seems poised for a double-up at some
point. Why is Ivory Tower $15 and Millstone only $6? They’ll end up one the
same tier at some point soon.

Uncommon 3 -Reserved List

Power Artifact and Transmute Artifact are both incredibly unique and
powerful. They’ve both spiked multiple times in recent months, and I
wouldn’t be surprised if it happens again at least once in 2018. I like
Transmute Artifact a little more since it sees more competitive play, and a
top tournament finish could sent it into Drop of Honey territory. You can’t
go wrong with either, though.

Gate to Phyrexia has tons of room to grow. Not only is artifact destruction
rare in black, but the Phyrexians are about to be back in the story
spotlight thanks to Dominaria. This is the sort of unique casual
darling that could end up in the $80 range in the blink of an eye, even
though it was just $10 early in 2017.

I don’t love any of the other cards here, though Powerleech and Haunting
Wind are pretty good in the right Commander metagame. Considering the fact
that a light breeze could cause any one of these cards to spike past $40,
they’re probably a tad underpriced below $10.

Uncommon 2 – Multiple Printings

There weren’t too many U2s in Antiquities, and they were all
reprinted at some point-none are on the Reserved List. Both Jalum Tome and
Ashnod’s Alter see occasional play in Commander, especially in decks that
rely on sacrifice effects or reanimation. Both could easily end up around
$20-$25 based on the current price of slightly more common Commander cards
like The Rack and Ivory Tower, but I’d rather invest in Reserved List stuff
or alternate art Strip Mines.

Uncommon 1 – Multiple Printings

This version of Hurkyl’s Recall is $50 because it is the coolest version of
the card and it sees play in Vintage, Legacy, and Modern. This seems pricey
for a card where the cheapest version is just $4-$5, but remember that this
is about six times more scarce than Mishra’s Factory and it probably sees
more tournament play. This version of Hurkyl’s Recall will break $100 at
some point, either this year or next.

I sort of love Shatterstorm, too, for many of the same reasons. Its upside
is a bit limited based on the Masterpiece copy and the fact that it really
just sees play as a one-of in Titan Shift, but it’s a solid casual card
that should at least end up on the same level as Triskelion.

I’m also bullish on the sub-$10 cards here, especially Mishra’s War Machine
and Obelisk of Undoing. It’s not that these cards are especially good, but
they’re U1s from one of Magic’s oldest sets. Scarcity alone dictates that
these cards are going to rise in price simply because they’re old and rare.
Why not throw a few dozen copies of Obelisk of Undoing in a box for a
couple of years?

Uncommon 1 -Reserved List

Finally-we’re onto the rarest cards in Antiquities. Not only were
these seven cards printed at the set’s highest rarity level, they’re on the
Reserved List, too.

I don’t have much to say about Mishra’s Workshop except that it’s always
going to be about as expensive as any card without Mox, Lotus, Time, or
Ancestral in its name. It will likely continue to rise in value, slowly,
over time. I also expect the gulf between Mishra’s Workshop and Candelabra
of Tawnos to close a bit as time passes. It’s another essential tournament
card that is nearly as iconic and every bit as scarce.

The next two cards-Argivian Archeologist and Tawnos’s Coffin-are both
reasonable Commander cards that are outclassed by a lot of more recent
spells. They’re still playable, however, which means that you can show them
off if you own them. I think Tawnos’s Coffin is a bit underrated because
nobody wants to read all that danged text.

Based on current price trends, Tawnos’s Coffin is experiencing a spike past
$100 right now which means that Argivian Archeologist (the slightly better
card) will probably start creeping up again soon after that. This also
tells me that Transmute Artifact and Power Artifact are probably going to
spike again soon as well, since they’re both quite a bit more powerful than
either of these two U1s.

Lastly, Urza’s Miter seems significantly underpriced to me. Sure, it’s not
GOOD, but it’s far from unplayable in a casual artifact deck and it has
everything else going for it. Reserved list? Check. U1? Check again. Link
to nostalgic character from Dominaria? Check plus. Weird crazy Pope hat?
You’d better believe it. Why is this $60 less than Tawnos’s Coffin, which
is only slightly more playable? I’m gonna snag a copy before the next

This Week’s Trends

Masters 25
dropped toward the end of last week, and prices have begun to drop. While
the current retail prices are still a bit high for my tastes, I’ve seen
some auctions and local trade opportunities that I couldn’t pass up. Even
though Masters 25 is likely to have an Iconic Masters
-sized supply, this is the week where the lion’s share of boxes will be
cracked. Be on the lookout for deals, and start thinking about picking up
the Modern staples that you think you’ll need.

One thing not to worry too much about: those reports where each box of Masters 25 has the exact same distribution of mythics and rares
that have been all over Reddit and Twitter lately. Most of this fear came
from one viral video that went live before 99% of retailers even got their
boxes, and the vast majority of reports have indicated that this is a
fairly isolated incident. While there have been a few other reports of
rares matching up from box to box, it almost certainly will not happen to
you should you purchase multiple boxes of the set. It’s not enough of a
trend to ruin the Draft format, nor will it lead to box mapping.

If you want to complain about something, feel free to complain about the
set’s MSRP, its lack of good mythics beyond Jace, the Mind Sculptor, or the
fact that the card quality is still somewhat poorer than it used to be.
Complaining about non-issues like random pack distribution just make it
seem like you want to complain for the sake of complaining, which is not a
good way to get what you want.

Standard is quiet for the fourth or fifth week in a row, with the two
biggest gains coming from cards that are better in other formats. Paradox
Engine continues to rise in price, primarily because it’s outstanding in
Commander. Dire Fleet Daredevil, meanwhile, has continued to find homes in
Modern while also making more inroads in Standard. Both cards seem likely
to make further gains, and foil copies seem like an especially good buy
right now.

Over in Modern, the action is non-stop. Dark Confidant spiked like crazy
this week, surging past the $85 price point (all copies on SCG are
currently sold out) and I expect it’ll be restocked around $100. Cavern of
Souls, Trinisphere, and Liliana of the Veil all made double-digit gains
this week as well. Daybreak Coronet and Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger are
both showing up in competitive Modern decks again, and they each doubled in
price last week. Goblin Lore, Gaddock Teeg, Horizon Canopy, Blackcleave
Cliffs, and Mox Opal are on the rise, and Isamaru, Hound of Konda tripled
in price as people get hyped about Dominaria‘s new Mox.

Remember back in October when I wrote
Buying Into Modern Before the Rush
? This is what I was talking about. Things will settle down as the summer
approaches, especially once Dominaria starts to sway some people
back toward Standard, but I think that 2018 might be a banner year for
Modern. The Jace unban didn’t seem to break the format after all, and we
might not even get another Masters set this year. If Modern is still good
and there aren’t any reprints on the horizon-especially since WotC has said
that all future Masters sets will be in the mold of Masters 25
-many of these staples are likely to keep rising. Of course, selling into a
bull market is rarely a bad idea, so you can feel free to cash out now if
you want to play it safe. I usually do.