“The Cutting Room Floor: The Reserved List”
One of Magic’s longest standing points of debate is that of the “Reserved List,” or a list of cards that Wizards has sealed in what is the equivalent of a logical ‘vault’ never to be reprinted in any form of any kind again. This list dates back to the game’s origins with cards from Alpha going all the way through Urza’s Destiny. The large part of the debate that has persisted over the years deals in large part to the rising value of Eternal Magic’s most prolific staples that continue to do nothing but rise in value as the years pass us by. I’d like to use this platform as a means to address some issues that a lot of folks have with the Reserved List, the yearning for its abolishment and the fallout as a result of the current pace of Eternal Magic’s condition.
[Editor’s note – click any of blue card names or featured card images to view and purchase the card from Jupiter Games!]
Most casual Magic players probably have no clue as to what the Reserved List is or what it’s even in reference to. In fact, it seems more like an underground, word of mouth type of deal that only the competitive and collector communities really pay any mind to. A big reason for this is Eternal Magic’s inherently smaller community than most other formats’ following. Now, don’t get me wrong here – Eternal Magic has a very large following with the advent of the Star City Open Series, Jupiter Games NELCs and even the Bazaar of Moxen events storming overseas. Be that as it may, this is a primary catalyst for the barrier of entry into both Legacy and Vintage for newer players.
This is a problem that some people just don’t seem to take into consideration now because of their ability to actively afford entry into these formats. I’m not berating people because they actually can afford entry into either of these formats because if someone can, then good for them. What I’m getting at is something else, and that’s just the rising cost of these staples, their scarcity and affordability in the general sense. There are a plethora of variables involved here that make this entire argument moot, such as the raw (and sometimes autonomous) power of cheaper decks like Affinity, Burn and Dredge. While these particular decks may be cheaper than their format counterparts, that doesn’t automatically mean they’re unplayable.
What it does mean, however, is that unless you plan on sticking with these choices in the short to midterm, you’re going to have to heavily invest in the rising cost of the very decks you’ll be piloting these types of archetypes against in more competitive and serious metas. Skill is certainly a variable involved in winning games and I’m certainly not discounting a player’s skill based on their choice of deck. But what happens if that new player has such a one-dimensional and predictable choice not because they want to choose a cheaper archetype – but because they have to choose a cheaper archetype?
That player will eventually find themselves locked into a situation where their favorite new deck they’ve decided to pick up keeps getting rocked week in and week out and they really want to roll with what the big boys are playing. Decks like Burn and Dredge do require skill to play and can be very difficult to pilot as they are both combo decks by their very nature. But really, how can a player develop realistically in an environment thriving with unfair strategies like Show and Tell and Storm? Right, those decks can still lose to what could be considered a “lesser” deck with cheaper options, but the fact remains that newer players do not enjoy losing to these strategies not because they aren’t necessarily trying more so than the cards being more powerful and unattainable than anything else.
I recently had the privilege of speaking to and interviewing a newer Legacy player who has chosen to remain anonymous for the purposes of this article. He’s a younger player in his early twenties and has only just started playing Legacy in the Northern Virginia area this past year and a good friend from my playing days in the military down in that area. I asked him several questions as to what he thought about Legacy being hard to get into and what the effects of the Reserved List means to him. We’ll call him “John” at his request.
John: I was playing Standard at the Open in Baltimore when I scrubbed out hard. I didn’t really have any cards to play Legacy the next day and had no idea what to expect if I had decided to play. I met up with a few friends and we decided to stay for the Legacy Open, even though we really only play Standard. One of my buddies decided to register his Standard deck for the Legacy Open, so I thought I would do the same. I wound up getting smashed. After seeing what some of my opponents did to me, I really wanted to get into it some more.
Me: Do you remember what you played against in that tournament?
John: I definitely remember playing against Dredge and Reanimator, but it’s kind of hard to remember. I just know I got destroyed!
Me: Not a problem. So what do you currently play in Legacy and how do you feel about the cost-barrier to newer players like yourself when you first decided to get into the format?
John: Honestly, I usually borrow decks from my friends when I play Legacy. But I also lend them my Standard decks when they decide they want to play some FNM or bigger events. I like playing Stoneblade and Reanimator, usually. I think the cost of entry into Legacy really depends on what you want to play. I started out building decks without Dual Lands, and it didn’t bother me. I guess just having friends and exchanging cards works for me (and us) right now. But for most new and younger players I can see how it would be difficult to get into the format without investing at least something.
Me: When you first heard about the Reserved List and its impact on Eternal Magic’s staples, what did you think?
John: I honestly had no idea what the Reserved List was. I knew that some cards were banned, but I only found out about that after I got into playing the format and reading more about it on the online forums.
I thanked “John” for the rest of our conversation that was essentially catching up on old times and such. But it’s good to get a somewhat fresh perspective on what a newer player feels like as it pertains to getting into competitive Eternal Magic. I can’t speak for my friend or anyone else for that matter, but I personally have no restrictions as far as playing whatever I want in just about any tournament I’m playing in. I just think there’s a strategic advantage for experienced players using more expensive and powerful choices that drown out the weaker players and substandard choices purposefully chosen for budgetary purposes.
On the flipside of things, the Reserved List also has cards on it that for whatever reason are solely there because of the set they reside in. Take for instance The Dark’s Season of the Witch – a card that really doesn’t do anything special but still remains one of my favorites on that cool, gothic art. Because of the “bad” nature of a large portion of these cards on the Reserved List, one has to wonder why these cards are on what sounds like something more prestigious than it really is meant to be. Cards like this and other obsolete printings are really only there due to their collective nature and nothing more. But Wizards has declared openly and publically their intent to preserve the integrity of the List. While I see the point of this stance, I think there’s a glaring flaw that most people haven’t even considered at this point.
Let’s assume that the current secondary-market trajectory of some of the more powerful cards in Legacy like Dual Lands continue to rise in value in the coming years. An Unlimited Underground Sea as recently as 2009 was selling at close to $80.00. Here we are in 2013, and the price of a Near Mint copy is selling for $250.00. That an over 200% increase in value in only four years’ time. That price has plenty to do with the popularity of the aforementioned tournament series spanning the globe and Legacy’s wildly popular following. At the current pace, this card is set to sell for almost $400.00 sometime in 2016-17. Obviously there is a possibility of these cards reaching a plateau, but that isn’t likely as long as the format remains as popular as it is.
So then what? What happens if even a Revised Underground Sea eclipses the two-fifty mark and becomes essentially unattainable to even the casual-competitive player? As someone who can afford to play this format right now I think it’s incredibly scary that with the advent of new archetypes, the scarcity of these older cards and a burning desire for players around the world to obtain these cards we are going to see a potential collapse of the format under its own weight. We all can’t “cry wolf” just yet, but the evidence is clearly sitting in front of us that if Wizards doesn’t do at least something to try and bring the rocketing value of these cards down, the Eternal formats we all love will be all but left to ashes in the sands of time.
And let’s not compare Modern to Legacy. Modern is a format that contains cards only from 8th edition and on. Given the fact that Vintage is all but a wayward format peppered with proxies and an unfortunate scant tournament scene, Legacy will ultimately be compared to its counterpart in the years to come. I’ve heard people say that Modern is the “successor to Legacy.” By that logic (and assuming Legacy does in fact die), every single Magic card that predates 8th edition – and that is thousands of older cards, by the way – will be illegal to play in sanctioned Magic unless you can find a Vintage tournament somewhere near you.
What this basically means is that if Wizards is subversively coercing us to shift to Modern and stay away from Legacy – even with Grand Prix support – then people will be stuck with thousands of Magic cards they cannot realistically use. Which in turn means that unless Wizards has thought of this already, Legacy will die years from now and they will have rendered millions of their dollars (and cards) useless…unless they make a change. What I mean by this is that the Reserved List would either have to be excavated, in the sense that some cards will need to come off of it, abolish it entirely or create a new format similar in nature to Legacy that will allow players to use their older cards in tournament play. Either way it seems like it’s all going to be a huge mess.
Remember when this card used to be a junk rare? I sure do. But times have changed, and so too have the price tags associated with these cards. There will never be another Lion’s Eye Diamond or another Show and Tell, folks. So in essence, what we’ve seen is about as busted as it’s going to get. Ultimately these cards – barring a banning of some form – will eclipse three figures and may become inaccessible. And the saddest part is that these aren’t even Duals or something to that effect; these are basic necessities for niche archetypes that exist in the format we love so very much. There’s no telling when a card will rocket in value, so your best bet is to do your homework and make a wise investment when you see the opportunity.
If something increases by a few hundred percent in value like Land Tax did when it became unbanned, you’re still making money – and that’s important. Just understand that the Reserved List has cards on it that may never see the light of a reprint again, so if you truly want these cards as either a player or collector now may be the best time to invest in them before it’s too late. Magic cards are one of the few things in this uncertain world we live in that accrue in value as the years pass by at an accelerated rate and have the uncanny ability of holding their value at the very least without dropping much. This is especially true for Eternal Magic, as Standard staples have a tendency to plummet in price once sets rotate out. This in turn makes the Reserved List even more relevant in the discussion of card investment, as players that want to make the jump from Standard to Legacy have to ask themselves if their investment in the long term is more important than their investment now in a format with cards that historically plummet in value.
Just look at Darkslick Shores. There’s a card that was just eclipsing twenty dollars last spring. Today, you can get one for three bucks. Quite the change if you ask me.
Granted, Modern does play a role in the overall value of entry into a format like Legacy where staples such as Thoughtseize, Tarmogoyf and Dark Confidant are big ticket items. But that is just the icing on the cake when it comes to price barriers in regards to format entry. While paying less seems like a nice option for certain cards, I’m hesitant to say I would do so because I know that with higher value items I’m getting (generally) serious competition and owning cards that will hold their value in the event I needed to sell them. That’s an attractive quality for any format – if the price is right.
Right now we’re in a seriously unpredictable situation as it pertains to long-term stability for Eternal Magic, specifically when it comes to the affordability of Dual Lands – arguably the most imperative of the Reserved List cards that people require to play a variety of the most competitive decks in Eternal Magic. There’s absolutely no telling what’s going to happen ten years from now, because I couldn’t begin to tell you how many times I wanted to pull my hair out when I found out the price of cards I distinctly and vividly remember jamming into my binder back in the day and even buying off Ebay during its infancy. Workshops, Bazaars, Masks – you name it. It’s hard to watch the format I love and helped nurture with the help of so many others implode before my very eyes while a good portion of people don’t see or turn a blind eye to what’s happening.
Magic cards are going up people, and they’re going up big time. Ask yourself now if you think investing in Duals is a smart choice. There is always an incentive to win cards at bigger events like the NELC series, which always is a really great bonus. I’ve been winning Duals for years now with Dredge – and I stayed with it for a long time. Perhaps that’s incentive enough for players without the ability to afford more expensive cards to hone their craft with a cheaper deck and metagame properly when going into a big tournament. Any way you look at it, it’s up to you as a player – much like John earlier – to make the decision to jump into a hurricane of legendary spells, lands and creatures. I highly encourage you to do so, because no matter what it’s the best format ever conceived and you can play just about anything your heart desires.
That, to me, is what makes it so special. But something needs to be done about the Reserved List. What that is, your guess is as good as mine. I’m not sure if reprinting older cards will help, but at this point something should be done for the long-term health and stability of Eternal Magic. And that includes Vintage, a format I would love to see flourish to the masses.
I hope everyone had a very happy Easter. This was a very special weekend for me and I am truly blessed to have so many special people in my life. Take a minute to recognize those important people in your life and enjoy your time spent with them.
Until next time!
//Special thanks to “John” for contributing to this piece.