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A Casual Look at the Reserved List


Today, I want to look at the cards that can never again be reprinted by Wizards of the Coast: the cards on the infamous Reserved List. I think it’s important for casual players to understand what happened—and what hidden gems can be unearthed.

Serendib Efreet
So, what is the Reserved List? A long time ago, in its nascent days, Wizards of the Coast was riding high, and each set was selling massively more than those before it. In fact, some sets were sold out before they hit the shelves. This created a strong buyers’ market in which singles had a high value simply due to the increasingly large player base against these relatively small print runs of the first sets. Revised Edition had been released, and with it came the idea of rotating in cards from expansion sets. Cards such as Serendib Efreet, Kird Ape, and Atog had made it into the core set from the first two sets while others were retired. This concept of reprints and rotating cards was established early on.

But people were not prepared for the infamy of Chronicles. This set, massively printed in white borders, was aimed at printing cards exclusively from the first lot of expansions for newer players. Many cards of high value were reprinted: Blood Lust, Carrion Ants, Killer Bees, City of Brass, and, most notoriously, the Elder Dragon Legend cycle that included Nicol Bolas and Chromium. Many of the cards reprinted were worth $15, $20, or $30 in the secondary market when reprinted, and the costs of those cards dove as the new versions were available and flooded the market. To this day, you can pick up copies of a lot of Chronicles staples for cheap, and their black-bordered versions permanently plummeted.

If you didn’t play through this era of Magic—when Fallen Empires packs were at chain stores for a quarter apiece and Chronicles was barely worth any more—it can be difficult to understand just how overglutted the market had become. And frankly, this did lead to the death of a lot of other games. The Middle Earth CCG, around the same time, also overprinted some expansions and was losing cash as a result. Not only did Wizards get a black eye from Chronicles, but some of us questioned if the game would survive.

They had forgotten the first word of CCG: collectible card games. Magic played off the collectability of baseball cards and used them for a game, too. Imagine reprinting some of the most valuable baseball cards of all time for your next set. Think that might go over well with your audience? (For the same reason, in my opinion, Mage Knight shot itself in the foot with its final expansion that reprinted valuable figures from various sets—even with newish dials, it was a slap in the face).

So in order to save face, Wizards made an ill-timed, ill-regarded, reactionary statement that they have regretted ever since. They made a list of cards and pledged never to print any of those cards again in a standard set. Then, they went a step further and promised no functional reprints of these cards either.

Through Urza’s Destiny, they placed a lot of cards on the Reserved List. Since then, they pulled off uncommons from Limited Edition Alpha, Limited Edition Beta, and Unlimited Edition that were yanked from Revised Edition. So, cards such as Invisibility and Dwarven Demolition Team were pulled off the Reserved List and subsequently reprinted. Another choice was to print, in small numbers, foil promos of cards on the Reserved List. They stopped doing that a few years ago and closed the doors on that loophole.

In the many years since, the public has clamored for the Reserved List to be set aside—or perhaps have a few cards pulled off. The point was to protect the collectability of these cards, and frankly, a lot of these cards aren’t exactly worth a lot of money to collectors. What a lot of people may not realize is that most of the cards on the Reserved List are pure chaff. (You can find the Reserved List here.) Cards such as Zephid and Timberline Ridge aren’t breaking sales records anytime soon. Consider Yare.

Yare is a 3-mana instant that, umm . . . allows one of your creatures to block three this turn, and it gives it +3/+0 to boot. It’s not exactly a card that is highly played . . . anywhere really. I mean, it might be clever tech in your Commander deck built around Darksteel Myr or Commander Eesha, but otherwise, this is not a thing. Are there a lot of Yare collectors out there who would become angry if Yare were reprinted? I doubt it.

For every good card out there that is really worth some cash (Undiscovered Paradise), there are bunches that are either chaff (Elkin Lair, Avizoa) or worth another look.

Foster was a great, underused card, and with it came a cheap price tag. I championed it and other friends in my column for a while. And Foster was reprinted in the Commander (2013 Edition) decks, and there’s been a resurgence of the card on kitchen tables around the world. Foster was lucky—it came one set after the Reserved List ended. Unfortunately, a lot of low-value cards from the first few years of Magic are not so lucky. Here are ten quick examples from just Mirage block of really fun cards we can’t ever see again unless the policy changes.

Tolarian Serpent
Most of these cards have little value. Can you imagine Tolarian Serpent as a reanimation target in the next reanimation-themed Commander deck from Wizards? Asmira, Holy Avenger is a great leader for a Selesnya deck with a lot of token-making. As your fodder dies, your leader becomes angrier and angrier, smiting with holy might from above. (And these aren’t the only ones. Consider Squandered Resources, Cadaverous Bloom, Rainbow Efreet, Frenetic Efreet, Kookus, Griffin Canyon, etc.).

These are the cards that make me sad.

Now, some people have invested into the top-end cards on the Reserved List precisely because there won’t be any more coming down the pike. So cards such as Lion's Eye Diamond, Cursed Scroll, Gilded Drake, Survival of the Fittest, Recurring Nightmare, and Sliver Queen are attractive trade targets precisely because they won’t have another run in the sun. Part of the high value of each is due to the Reserved List. I get that.

My personal solution would be to make an announcement that in three years, a group of fun and low-value cards would be pulled off the List: cards such as the above ten, plus many, many others. Free up Wizards of the Coast. Look, the game is going into year twenty-one. It needs to free up resources to reprint to save up the new cards it prints. So announce that, in three years, cards such as Yare, Pygmy Hippo, and Dominating Licid are coming off the list. That gives people time to make adjustments to the news and prepare their collections just in case they care that their Diamond Kaleidoscope could be reprinted. That way, you can pull the Reserved List to protect what it was meant to: the highly-priced singles that people didn’t want to see lowered. That was the issue the list was created to fight. Don’t get in the way of that.

Deranged Hermit
Now, that’s just what I’d do. I’m not Wizards. But what the Reserved List means is that you can comfortable invest into a lot of stuff.

Commander made a lot of casual staples from this era really popular. Cards such as Treachery, Thawing Glaciers, Volrath's Stronghold, Deranged Hermit, and such have increased price tags. And if a card can be played in a tournament deck at all—and is also playable in Commander—watch out! Cards such as Rofellos, Llanowar Emissary, Gaea's Cradle, Academy Rector, Replenish, and Earthcraft are great examples of such cards that cross the streams.

Much of the Reserved List is either low-value chaff, low-value fun stuff, or high-value casual and/or tournament staples. However, there are a nice group of cards in the middle that aren’t super-expensive and that are well above bulk rare that aren’t really in any category. I want to bring you some of these right now so you can consider whether they are worth picking up.

Corpse Dance This is a great start. Clocking in at $3 near mint at CoolStuffInc.com, the Corpse Dance is a buyback-able machine of fun for a lot of decks. This is exactly the sort of card this article wants to champion for your casual needs. It could jump. If there were buyouts or it suddenly became the flavor of the day in an odd Legacy deck or a Commander deck, the fact it’s on the Reserved List could help it jump and keep its price. I picked up two recently. I didn’t have any left in my deck stock (I only own two or three copies), so I think it’s worth picking up two more, just in case. Plus, it’s a strong enough card that it won’t be deck stock for long.

Powder KegPaying $2 for this provides a solid answer to stuff. Since it’s been largely obsoleted by Ratchet Bomb, the P Keg has dropped in play value and price. It was once a tournament rock, and now it’s down to $2 near mint. However, in formats that want the redundancy (read: Commander), it’s a great adjunct to Bomb and other artifact removal you may run.

DonateBecause of its tournament pedigree and its relative unique status among spells in the game, Donate is still rocking a $3 price tag. And frankly, that’s another one that could spike any time. If the right card were printed in the next few sets, such as how Illusions of Grandeur did, it could blow up and take off. Barring a spell seeing print that obsoletes it (such as a 3-mana instant or a 2-mana sorcery), I don’t see it falling due it its popularity at kitchen tables.

Opalescence This was an odd card that caused confusion at tables everywhere. Pull it off the Reserved List, and I still don’t think it would ever be printed again. Because of just how odd it is, you can grab some at $2. It’s a very niche card that can do some serious damage.

Radiant, ArchangelI’ve never been a super-big fan of her, and she’s $4 to pick up. Of course, in a deck with a lot of flyers, she’s very nasty. Throw her out there with Kaalia of the Vast alongside a bunch of other flying Angels, Demons, and/or Dragons. Or you can run her with a typical white flying horde. She has some goods, but she’s always been a bit bland for my tastes, so I’ve never really moved much on her. But she’s a great legend from the era for a lot of folks. Maybe you are one of them!

LifelineNow, for $4, this is more my style. Its being unique and an artifact means you can fit it into any deck that can use it, no matter what the colors might otherwise require. I’ve run it in loads of decks. Because it has symmetry, you have to put it in the right deck, but a lot of decks are the “right deck.” Imagine this sliding into your Power Hungry Commander deck, for instance (built around Jund colors and a lot of sacrificing of creatures).

Ertai, Wizard AdeptYes, Virginia, he’s six bucks. But he’s a counterspell on a stick that requires no sacrificing, discarding, or conditions. And he’s a Wizard, so he fits in alongside Wizard-themed decks quite nicely, too. There’s no substitute for what he does in Magic; they’ve seen fit not to reprint cards that can so easily say “no” over and over again. Enjoy one who can!

MeditateBecause of its cost (skipping your next turn), Meditate has always been a card that appealed to Spikes more than the other types of players. Spikes don’t always dominate casual tables, so Meditate isn’t seen that often. Its $5 tag is supported more because drawing four cards for 3 mana instantly looks increasingly like a steal as card-drawing is made slower and massively more expensive. Going off? Well then, you don’t need another turn do you?

PeacekeeperYou shall not attack! And I can play this dork for 3 mana (and pay its upkeep for just 2 mana, from back when upkeep costs were a thing). It shuts down attack lanes of any sort, and it allows you to either build up or secure your defense while you win with an alternate means of victory. Paired with stuff like Lightning Greaves and Asceticism, Peacekeeper is pretty sexy. And it’s $3.50 for that near mint copy.

Mana WebAnother reason to have the Reserved List gone is that we can print a new version with the new wording, which may surprise some folks. Did you know that Mana Web now works on all opponents and not just target opponent? It does! Enough people know to drive this artifact to $3.

City of SolitudeThis card just flat-out shuts down anybody playing spells or abilities outside of his or her own turn. It’s a nasty card. It suits a lot of decks that simply aren’t reactionary, but instead proactive. You can imagine this sliding into any green deck that wants to play big stuff (such as Tooth and Nail or big creatures) and not be bothered with other players stopping it; the deck’s pilot just wants to get up from the table and grab a drink while everyone else is taking his or her turn, and the player comes back just in time to smash face. It’s $3.50 for the best anti-Counterspell permanent of all time, and it shuts down a lot more. Instants are now essentially sorceries (although some, like combat tricks, would work on offense).

Vesuvan Doppelganger
Vesuvan DoppelgangerThe cheapest version is the Revised Edition rare for $4. A Clone for 1 more mana that can duplicate anything else, for free, during your upkeep is pretty handy. If something better comes along, the Doppelganger can switch. Maybe you wanted a defensive creature early to protect you, but now that you’ve stabilized, you want to switch to offense. Or perhaps you played it as a copy of a creature with an enters-the-battlefield trigger to gain that effect, but now you want to shift it to increase its red-zone presence. It’s still an iconic and strong option for blue mages at the kitchen table.

Stone CalendarWe’ll finish the article with this $2 artifact that cuts the cost of everything you play. Other cost-reduction cards only work on some things (such as creatures or blue spells). This works on everything you play. It suits a lot of decks that, you know, cast stuff. In some ways, it may be a better mana rock than a lot of other options.

And that brings us to the close of another fun article. The Reserved List can be a bit of an odd ducky. But it’s useful for casual players to know about so they can peruse to find targets that are safe investments for their collections.

Let me know if there was something in here you liked . . . or didn’t like . . . or something that sparked for you. Thanks for reading!

See you next week,

Abe Sargent

P.S. Wouldn’t it have been great to have seen Rainbow Vale reprinted in Political Puppets (the Commander deck with Zedruu the Greathearted)?

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