Promos: The Next Buyouts

If you think it stops with the Reserved List, guess again! Dominaria has players abuzz about all 25 years of Magic, and that includes a lot of the cards Chas highlights here! Don’t be surprised when those old FNM promos skyrocket…

In the world of Magic finance, the past year and a half have been defined
by massive, semi-coordinated spikes at the top end of the market. First
came Legends, Antiquities, and Arabian Nights.
Then it was the Masterpiece series. Then it was newer Reserved List stuff,
like Tempest and Urza’s Saga. Then came the dual lands.
Now, even non-reserved list cards from the nineties are jumping in
price-Revised copies of Shivan Dragon, for example, went from $2
to $10 just because it’s cool and old and iconic.

You don’t need me to tell you how advantageous it would have been to get in
ahead of the game on any of these spikes. While some of the lower end
Reserved List and Masterpiece spikes do appear to be waning a bit, and I’m
not sure anyone is actually paying $10 for a Revised Shivan
Dragon, these price surges have generally created a ton of surplus value
for anyone who either bought in early or simply had them kicking around
their collection. You could have ignored Standard and Modern finance
altogether this year and made bank simply by owning a bunch of copies of

So, what have we learned about the sorts of cards that have spiked in price
this year?

  • 1.) Collectors are looking to buy up cards that are as reprint-proof as
    possible. This is the biggest reason why Reserved List cards are so
    sought-after right now. Beyond that, collectors also seem to like
    cards that have a uniqueness about them that is unlikely to be
    replicated upon reprinting. For example, a normal Polluted Delta
    reprint is not likely to hurt the price of the Expedition Polluted
    Delta. Heck, another Shivan Dragon reprint isn’t going to hurt the
    price of Revised Shivan Dragon, either.
  • 2.) Tournament playability matters, but not to the degree that we’re
    used to seeing. The Mox Opal Masterpiece is obviously always going
    to be one of the most valuable inclusions in the cycle, but many of
    the casual Masterpieces still made it up into the $100 range. Loads
    of incredibly expensive Reserved List cards are barely playable in
    Old School, much less Legacy or Vintage. Some people are buying
    these cards just to show off, or because they’re just incredibly
  • 3.) Speaking of scarcity, it matters a great deal to these
    spikes-probably more than anything else. These hype cycles tend to
    be started by just a few people, and then the rest of the supply is
    bought out incredibly quickly by the FOMO folks who want to get in
    before the price skyrockets. Buyouts beget buyouts until Exorcist
    from The Dark is a $20 card, at least theoretically.

Once I thought about all these qualities at once, I began to realize that
there’s an entire suite of mostly ignored Magic cards that check all of
these boxes. They’re not on the Reserved List, but they are all incredibly
unique. Some of them are old enough to be vanishingly scarce, and many of
them haven’t seen a major price increase since 2012 or 2013, even though
vendors rarely have them in stock.

I’m talking about old promos.

FNM cards. Arena foils. Judge promos. Some of these stretch back into the
1990s, and there are far fewer of most of them than any of the Reserved
List nonsense that has been spiking lately. They’re better cards, too, and
far cooler if your goal is to impress your friends. If you believe that any of the current hype cycle around Masterpieces and the
Reserved List is due to real demand from collectors-and I do-than you must
believe that the day will come for these cards, too.

So why haven’t they spiked yet? It’s in part, I suspect, because they’re a
little hard to track. So much of these Reserved List price jumps is due to
somebody posting on Reddit or Twitter about how such-and-such card is being
bought out and some bot tweets an algorithmic price update and everybody
goes ballistic. It’s a little harder to check up on, say, the FNM version
of Stone Rain.

Many of these cards are also just not the low-hanging fruit that the
Reserved List staples were. They’re a little harder to buy in bulk, harder
to find in good condition (even “near mint” older foils can be cloudy and
warped if you buy them from less than reputable sources), and harder to
gain any traction on because the hype cycle hasn’t started yet.

Or, hey, maybe I’m wrong and nobody likes these cards except me, but I
really doubt that. I haven’t seen anyone talking about these promos
recently, and I think that they’re almost all terrific long-term buys.

Consider Forbid, an FNM promo from 2002. The card spiked from $5 to $20 in
2012, back when Avacyn Restored was released. The price today?
Still $20. Sure, Forbid doesn’t see a ton of use outside larger cubes and
esoteric Commander decks, but I think we’ve pretty well established that
$20 is the price floor for this card. Heck, there’s even been a Masterpiece
version printed in the meantime and it didn’t really matter to the card’s
bottom line.

So, if $20 is the floor for the FNM promo Forbid, what’s the ceiling? I
would argue it is at least $60 if not quite a bit higher. Even if WotC
reprints Forbid, this old-bordered foil is still the height of cool and
there are so few of these out there. $20 for FNM Forbid made sense in a
world where Phelddagrif was $1, but does it make sense in a world where
Phelddagrif is $15?

If you want an idea of what can happen when a promo does spike, check out
Priest of Titania. The promo was worth about $30 for years before spiking
to $70 back in early May on the strength of its Pauper play. Or consider
the FNM Llanowar Elves, which was a $7 card last spring and a $60 card now.
Oh-and the Judge foil Lightning Bolt? It went from $200 in March to $800

So what kinds of foils are most likely to spike? Here are the qualities I’m
looking for:

  • Age. The older each promo is, the scarcer it tends to be.
  • A unique visual look. I’m especially enamored with old-bordered
    foils, but alternate art is great, too.
  • Whether or not it is the only “special” printing of a card. If
    there are seventeen other foil versions available, many with
    different art, it might be harder (but not impossible) for a single
    unique version to spike.
  • Playability. Is it good in Commander, Legacy, Vintage, Modern,
  • Price history. I’m a sucker for cards that have either been slowly
    rising for years without ever really spiking, because it feels like
    they’re due. I also tend to like cards that used to be more
    expensive but have dropped over the years. While you can craft a
    decent argument that these cards are simply past their prime, I
    tend to think of them as spells that have proven upside. Remember:
    we’re operating under the assumption that all these cards are
    undervalued right now based on actual scarcity, same as the
    Reserved List stuff a year ago.

Got it? Good. Onto the cards!

FNM Foils

Swords to Plowshares – $120

Sure, Swords to Plowshares has been reprinted so many times that it’s
actually in Battlebond and you probably didn’t even notice. That
said, this has been the most expensive FNM promo for years and I suspect
it’ll continue to set the pace going forward as well. FNM Swords to
Plowshares peaked around $160 back in 2013, and it’s not like they’ve made
more of them since then.

Brainstorm – $65

Can you believe that the FNM version of Brainstorm was a $150 card back
when Theros first came out? There are loads of different foil
Brainstorms out there now, of course, which probably limits this one’s
upside a little bit. It has the original Mercadian Masques art,
though, and I’d hate to bet against an amazing version of one of the best
cards in Legacy.

Eternal Witness – $35

The FNM version of Eternal Witness has been sneaking up in price for the
last couple of months due to natural demand from Commander players. If
somebody does decide to snap up all the spare copies, look out. I’ve got
this one pegged for the $60-$70 range eventually.

Stone Rain – $30

Stone Rain is technically out of stock at $13, but the fair market value is
up to about $30 at this point. The FNM Stone Rain is one of the oldest
Friday Night Magic promos, it’s got the original Alpha art, and
it’s just about as iconic as a card can get without literally being
Lightning Bolt. Expect it to end up at $50 eventually, if not higher.

Fireblast – $25

Fireblast is one of the oldest FNM promos on this list, which also makes it
one of the scarcest. It’s been kicking around the $25 range since 2015, and
the card sees play in Pauper (now coming to select Grand Prix near you),
Cube, and Legacy. This has a “snap your fingers and it’s $50” vibe to me.

Goblin Bombardment – $20

The normal version of Goblin Bombardment is $6, and this is the only foil
copy of the card. It’s an old-bordered foil (extra cool) and it’s a win
condition for Naya, R/W, and G/R tokens decks in Commander. I can easily
imagine this one ending up doubling in price.

Disenchant – $10

It’s possible that the FNM foil Disenchant isn’t very interesting to people
because there are already about a dozen different foil copies of this card,
but oh man is it hard to find one of these. It was almost impossible to
track down back when I was building my cube, and that was five or six years
ago. The price has roughly doubled since then, gaining a buck or so every
year, but it’s the sort of card where the entire supply can be bought out
in the wink of an eye, so I wouldn’t be surprised if that slow upwards
growth ends soon.

Aura of Silence – $9

Aura of Silence is another card that checks all the boxes for me. The
non-foil has a decent amount of casual demand, and this old-bordered FNM
foil is gorgeous. It’s been slowly gaining value since 2016, but the price
hasn’t really moved all that much regardless. A stiff breeze could cause
this one to hit $30.

Muscle Sliver – $9

I’m not sure if Muscle Sliver is ever going to be a major gainer, but WotC
is going to get back to Slivers eventually, and they’re not going to make
them as unappealing as they were the last time they showed up. Both this
and the foil Crystalline Sliver are cool old-bordered cards that are
must-plays in most Sliver decks. Expect them to double or triple up at some
point, though you might be waiting a while.

Elves of Deep Shadow – $8

This is a good example of just how scarce some of these cards actually are.
It’s been tough to find the FNM Elves of Deep Shadow foil for under $15 for
over a year now, but SCG is still showing that they’re out of stock at $8.
It’s possible that they’ve been selling them below market value, but it’s
more likely that they simply haven’t re-stocked since the price increase.
Regardless, I absolutely love the “goth” Elves from The Dark, and
this one seems like a good bet to stabilize in the $20-$30 range

Dissipate – $8

I bring this one up simply because Dissipate could see a Standard reprint
at any time-it was in Innistrad and Magic 2015 as well as Mirage. The foil spiked from $5 to $15 the first time it was
reprinted, and it would likely go far higher if it came back now simply
because today’s economy privileges scarce old cards a little more than it
did back in 2012.

Judge Foils

Demonic Tutor – $350

This one’s a tad risky since part of the reason for the $350 price tag is
that this is the only foil copy of Demonic Tutor available, but the fact
that this card hasn’t spiked since 2013 makes me feel like it’s due for a
correction. If this one does spike, it’ll be heading toward the $700-$800
range, so it’s at least worth considering here. It’s not a spec for the
faint of heart, though.

Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite – $250

The judge version of Elesh Norn bounced around between $500 and $600 for a
while, but it’s only about half that much now. The reprint in Iconic Masters hurt the price a bit, as did a few more of them
being added into circulation after the initial wave of handouts.

Regardless, I don’t think any more of these are going to be given out, and
we’re getting close to some sort of return to Phyrexia I’m sure. Once that
happens, I expect demand for this one to go up; and the price will surely

Vampiric Tutor – $100

I’m pretty sure that somebody read my mind and started buying this one out
in between when I started writing this article and when I finished it. As
of now, there’s only one $200 copy of this card available anywhere online.
Will that new price stick? I have no idea, but I do know that $100 is the
absolute floor here, even though an Eternal Masters foil of this
one exists as well.

Xiahou Dun, the One-Eyed – $70

I like Xiahou Dun simply because the overall supply is tiny. This is a
solid enough card in Commander, and it was only printed in Portal: Three Kingdoms and as a judge foil. A Commander or casual
set reprint could rain on the parade at any point, of course, but it’s
incredibly susceptible to a buyout in the meantime. The card actually
spiked from $40 toward the end of 2017, but there’s still more room to run

Living Death – $30

The Judge foil Living Death is another card that’s been hurt by multiple
recent foil printings: it was $60 back when Theros came out and it
was the only foil copy of the card available. Even still, these
old-bordered foils really intrigue me. This is another early scarce Judge
foil, and the card is quite good in pretty much every casual format where
it’s legal.

This list just scratches the surface, too. There are loads of other
interesting Judge and FNM promos to consider, not to mention Arena foils
and other random promos from Magic’s first couple of eras. What are your
favorite promos, and which cards do you think will be next to spike?

This Week’s Trends

  • As is normal for the summertime, Standard prices fell again this
    week. In fact, I can’t find a single Standard-legal card that
    gained so much as a dollar of value since last Sunday. On the flip
    side, Karn, Scion of Urza, Lyra Dawnbringer, History of Benalia,
    and Walking Ballista all continue to tick down. While some Standard
    cards will rebound alongside M19‘s release, most will
    continue to fall as the summer heats up. Stay away for now.
  • Speaking of M19, I’ll be getting more into preview season
    next week. For now, however, it’s worth noting that Death Baron is
    finally getting a reprint. The card has been $20+ in paper for
    quite some time now, so hopefully you aren’t holding too many extra
    copies. While the retail value of the card has dropped to $15
    already, I expect it’ll end up settling in closer to $5 once M19 hits shelves. Sell your copies now if you can, even if
    it’s at a theoretical loss.
  • Let’s also talk a bit about Nexus of Fate, the M19
    buy-a-box exclusive. Firesong and Sunspeaker didn’t end up being in
    very high demand, and the card is currently available for just $7
    on SCG. (That’s a great long-term buy, by the way). People
    are getting a lot more worked up over Nexus of Fate, though,
    because it looks a heck of a lot more like a second tier
    Constructed playable. Sure, Nexus of Fate is probably not going to
    be a four-of in multiple tier one decks like Karn, Scion of Urza,
    but it’s still an instant-speed Time Walk. Even at seven mana,
    instant speed is quite a big game.

    I can easily see a world where a control deck could want a couple of
    copies, at least in the sideboard. It might end up in Modern Taking Turns,
    too, not to mention Commander. There’s also a very small chance
    that WotC completely underestimated Nexus of Fate and it turns into a super
    duper ghost rare ultra-holographic mythic version of Sphinx’s Revelation
    that breaks the $150 mark because there just aren’t enough copies available
    for everybody who needs them.
    So what do you do? Personally, the situation is going to be too risky for
    me to buy in unless Nexus of Fate pre-orders for $10 or less, which it
    won’t. The current eBay value for the card seems to be about $30, at which
    point I’d just rather buy a box of M19 from my local game shop at
    full retail and get the card as a throw-in. This is a $15 card if it
    doesn’t end up seeing Standard play (the most likely scenario) and the
    crazy $100+ upside is just too unlikely to like the idea of snagging a
    bunch of copies at $30. That might change if I start to see the pros
    breathlessly building around this card over the next couple of weeks, but I
    don’t like high-risk low-reward plays enough to touch this one right now.

  • Meanwhile, over in the world of Commander, Battlebond‘s
    release is causing a bunch of mid-tier casual spikes. Ezuri, Claw
    of Progress quadrupled last week as people realized how good it is
    with Toothy, Imaginary Friend and Pir, Imaginative Rascal. Since
    Ezuri was only printed in Commander 2015, the new price is
    likely to stick since the supply of available copies is so small.
    Najeela, the Blade-Blossom is wreaking even more havoc, causing
    cards with “untap all lands you control” to spike: Nature’s Will is
    up to $20 now, and Bear Umbra is up over $10. Najeela decks also
    want to run a bunch of Warriors, and Stonehoof Chieftain is up
    above $15 now since it is one of the best and most scarce. Bringer
    of the Black Dawn is up above $10 as well, likely due to how good
    it is with Jodah, Archmage Eternal as well as Najeela. These are
    all legitimate spikes caused by actual demand alongside low supply,
    so don’t expect these cards to crash in value anytime soon.