My Love/Hate Relationship With Foils

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By: Sigmund Ausfresser

I’ve got a confession to make: I don’t really like foils all that much. Their tendency to bend and become clouded causes me to be extra cautious when handling them. Horror stories haunt me—the ones where players are disqualified for having only certain identifiable cards as foils in their decks. Not to mention nonfoil copies do the exact same things as foil copies in a game of Magic (well, placing Super Secret Tech aside).

So why am I dedicating an entire article to foils in MTG finance? Because the more the game evolves, the more critical it is to include foils in any robust MTG portfolio. To do otherwise could have some detrimental effects.

Allow me to explain…

A Few Case Studies

One significant case for speculating on foils is that they have seemingly limitless upside potential. While this is a bit of hyperbole, there is at least a hint of truth to the statement, especially when it comes to older foils. Something as common as Daze can flounder around the $4 mark for years and years. Yet in 2014, foil copies of the oft-free Counterspell finally cracked the $100 mark. Would that be a sensible price ceiling? You may think so, but the card has still continued its climb!

Daze

With a $4 price tag for nonfoils and $126 for foils, we’re talking about a multiplier of 31. How about that for potential upside!

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Another point in favor of foil investing is that they often hold their value really well, even in the face of reprints.

Consider a recent example: the Magic 2015 reprint of Urborb, Tomb of Yawgmoth. When this card was spoiled in a core set, the Planar Chaos nonfoil version promptly tanked from $40 to $10—a full 75 percent drop in about a month’s time!

Urborg

The original foil copies, however, have yet to blink an eye. In fact even the release of a foil reprint in the FTV: Realms set still did not punish this card’s price (though I’ll admit upside is limited significantly as a result of both these reprints).

Urborg Foil

Still, the point is clear. While nonfoil Planar Chaos copies were dropping 75 percent, foil copies dropped about 30 percent in that same timeframe (not to mention that the card’s price has promptly recovered to near its pre-reprint high in the time since!). This is yet another compelling reason to include foils in a Magic portfolio, especially in light of the nonstop reprints we’ve been facing recently!

The last benefit of foil speculation I want to touch upon has a more somber rationale. Namely, I want to talk about the recent explosion of counterfeits.

A little over a year ago, Chas Andres wrote a terrific piece on reprints and their detection over at StarCityGames.com. Others have also discussed this subject at length. What I particularly like about Chas’s article from January 2014 is that he lists all the cards of which we need to be most scrupulous due to counterfeits. He also included a picture to show what some of the counterfeits look like.

Counterfeits

I’m sure by now you know where I’m going with this. I see no foils in the picture above nor do I read any mention of foils in Chas’s article.

Does that mean zero foil counterfeits exist? Absolutely not! I know there are methods of dissecting a foil card, removing a foil layer, and applying it to other cards. But I never hear concerns about such a counterfeiting process becoming rampant. Perhaps the procedure is far too tedious. Perhaps the finished fakes don’t look nearly convincing enough. Or perhaps it’s just plain easier to dodge authorities by sticking with nonfoils. Either way, the fact that you read less about foil counterfeits than nonfoil is definitely a consideration I take seriously.

So Just Buy All Foils?

 By now I’m hopeful I’ve convinced you to at least consider picking up some foils to round out your MTG portfolio. If you’ve been hesitant in the past like I have, perhaps the case studies above help you gain some confidence in the endeavor. The data is certainly compelling.

We must proceed with caution, however, because while there are certainly ample positives to foil speculation, there are also a number of real downsides. I would be remiss in my writing if I left these out.

  • Foils have a tendency to bend and cloud over, so they do require care when handling.
  • Foils can be a bit less liquid, and the bid/ask spread (the difference between a seller’s asking price and a buyer’s offer) can become a bit wide, causing some small inefficiencies in the market.
  • Foils are more valuable and fewer in number, so you won’t be able to buy as many copies when speculating.

These concerns are not negligible, and we need to take them into consideration. In fact, these very concerns are what lead me to encourage a diverse approach to MTG investing. In other words, I’m not advocating a portfolio of only foils—I’m merely stressing the importance of including foils in your broader portfolio.

In no way am I encouraging a foil-only portfolio!

So How Do I Proceed?

Not every speculation target should be acquired in foil. Oftentimes foils are actually terrible targets. Cards played strictly in Standard are awful to acquire in foil because there’s often a very low multiplier for such cards. Sometimes when a card is reprinted in foil, previous foil copies develop a lower price ceiling, as we saw with Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth.

And consider one of the most painful foil reprints I’m aware of: the FTV: 20 reprint of Jace, the Mind Sculptor. When that card was reprinted in August 2013, both foil and nonfoil copies got absolutely crushed by about 50 percent. Suffering a loss of $100 on the nonfoils was a bad beat, but those who watched their foil copies drop from $1300 to under $600 suffered one of the worst value declines in the history of Magic.

Jace foil

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My intent in showing this data point is not to discourage you from foil investing, although you may fee compelled to do so. I’m merely emphasizing that foil investing, like anything else, merits consideration and strategy. One simply can’t buy any foil and expect immediate profit.

How do you go about choosing which foils to invest in? I’ve got a couple suggestions, for starters, and I’m certain there are financial experts who specialize in this area. Jason Alt, for one, has a valuable perspective since he’s so well-versed in EDH—a popular format for foils. Legacy and Vintage experts could also share insights into this matter.

While I don’t claim to be a world-renowned expert in any single format—not even close—I believe I have enough experience to at least recommend a few targets myself. Please take these in stride, and remember to do your own research before committing cash to an investment.

Sigmund’s Top 3 Foil Picks

  1. RTR Block Shock Lands

Tomb foil

It’s true that shock lands have not paid out the way many speculators expected, myself included. I continue to sit on superfluous copies of the Modern staples, waiting patiently for any sort of price appreciation. It’s been a difficult wait and I’m losing patience very rapidly.

Foil shock lands,  particularly from Return to Ravnica block, have not yielded such underwhelming returns. Consider the chart on foil Overgrown Tomb, the second most played shock land in Modern (after Steam Vents).

No one is going to pay off their mortgage by sitting on foil copies of this card. On the other hand, it’s difficult to ignore the upward trend. I cannot emphasize this next point enough: while the nonfoil copy of Overgrown Tomb is nearing an all-time low, foil copies have appreciated from $25 to $40. So not only are foil copies increasing in price, the multiplier is also increasing. This is a great scenario, because should the nonfoils ever catch a break and go higher, the foil counterpart will jump even more.

Foil shock lands from RTR block are a solid place to have investments right now, and I’m glad I have one copy of each. These should see solid appreciation going forward, as long as they dodge further reprint, and that seems unlikely for now because nonfoil shocks have become so inexpensive—Wizards of the Coast has bigger fish to fry when it comes to reprints.

  1. Cyclonic Rift

Rift foil

The blue instant is everywhere in EDH. Despite being reprinted in Commander 2014, nonfoil copies have maintained a $3 price tag, and they’ve inched up a bit in value lately.

At $10, we’re looking at around a multiplier of three for foils. While this isn’t necessarily screaming “opportunity,” I still really like picking up foil copies in this price range. Assuming the card isn’t banned from EDH, we can expect nothing but upside from foils. It may take time, but these will inevitably climb higher. Only a reprint could undermine this investment, and being so recently printed and reprinted, I can’t imagine we see these again soon. And even if they show up in every Commander set going forward, so what? Arsenal aside, Commander sets aren’t foil!

  1. Tasigur, the Golden Fang

Tasigur foil

My favorite foil target today is Tasigur, the Golden Fang. I’ve become increasingly vocal about this target because I continue to hear buzz on how good this creature is in Legacy. He’ll never be a four-of, but he has certainly earned his status as “Legacy-playable card.” In fact, one copy even showed up in last weekend’s Grand Prix Kyoto’s Top 8, played by Yousuke Morinaga.

I’ve been acquiring a few foils with cash in the $25 range. And while I don’t intend to drop thousands into this investment, I really like the upside potential of a virtual one-mana 4/5 creature in Legacy. He’s even better in Modern, I hear.

Wrapping It Up

 Foils are an unnecessary evil. I don’t like handling them, I don’t like playing them, and I don’t like having to unload them. But I can’t argue with the benefits of speculating on foils. Something like Tasigur, the Golden Fang has only so much upside when it comes to nonfoil copies. I could see them hitting $10 eventually, for example. But with foils, I see so much more potential! And while I’m waiting for these gains, I don’t have to worry about potential Event Deck reprints. No foils there!

All I recommend is that you consider holding a spot in your MTG portfolio for foils. If you’re unsure which targets are best, ask around. The MTGPrice forums are a great place to make inquiries because many of the site’s writers read through the threads there and share their thoughts. And if there’s one thing I learned throughout my experiences with MTG finance, it’s that I trust the experts in their respective fields.

Happy foiling!

Sig’s Quick Hits – Foil Edition

  • Star City Games has three SP nonfoil Academy Ruins in stock from Modern Masters, for $9.79. The reprint certainly hurts this card’s upside potential, but foil copies from the same set are only holding a multiplier of two, selling for $19.99. What’s more, SCG is out of stock of these foils! That seems a bit odd to me, given how popular this nonbasic land is in various formats.
  • Summoning Trap has been a nonplayer for a while now, but we can’t discount how powerful its effect is. Nonfoils are virtually bulk, yet their foils show signs of life. SCG is sold out of NM foil copies at $4.99 and they have only five SP ones in stock at $4.49. I wouldn’t go crazy here, but in terms of cheap foil pickups, you could do far worse—this card only gets better as more powerful creatures are printed. Eldrazi in Battle for Zendikar block, anyone?
  • This last one is a bit baffling to me. Everyone knows how ubiquitous Snapcaster Mage is in Legacy and Modern. I even jam a copy in my Tiny Leaders deck. But if the card is played so much in eternal formats, why in the world are foils less than three times the nonfoils? SCG has six nonfoil copies in stock at $56.85 but is currently sold out of foils at $149.99. I see foils occasionally selling for as low as $120! The older these get, the higher that multiplier should grow. And with no Innistrad in Modern Masters 2015, you can be confident your copies won’t see a reprint for at least a year.
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11 thoughts on “My Love/Hate Relationship With Foils”

  1. I’ll be the first to comment that on Monastery Mentor’s strong Legacy performance at GP Kyoto last weekend, I really like these foils right now.

  2. Great article! Here’s the ones that I have in my portfolio and some of the ones I’m thinking about:

    Have:
    Eidolon of the Great Revel
    8x Delver of Secrets
    Ensoul Artifact
    Thoughtseize (Theros)

    Thinking About:
    Young Pyromancer
    Kolaghan’s Command
    Dispel
    Keranos, God of Storms

    I totally agree with you on the Snapcaster foil spread, and even if there is a reprint, the foil should maintain its value similarly to what happened with Urborg.

    1. Thanks for the comment, Michael, and for adding your own thoughts!

      I really like your current holdings. I really wish I got in on Eidolon of the Great Revel – that card is the real deal, and in my opinion it really helps boost Burn as a Tier 1 strategy in Modern and Tier 1.5 in Legacy. I do own 1 foil Thoughtseize from Theros – these have to be gold going forward I imagine.

      Is it perhaps a bit late to the party on Dispel and Young Pyromancer as well? I mean, sure they have potential to go up in price, but I think explosive growth is likely past, no?

      I don’t know much about Ensoul Artifact – that is one I’ll need to research.

      Thanks again for your builds!
      Sig

    1. It’s got the plus side in that it’s a dragon, though I’m not sure how exciting he is as far as dragons go. I don’t believe casual players really seek out foils particularly unless they’re EDH players. But I don’t know the dragon collector well enough to say that foil thundermaw hellkites merit a significant premium.

      Perhaps others out there could comment? Is there any real demand for this card when not in Standard?

  3. Hey Sig, you can’t fake a sealed booster box ;-p Woops wrong article hahaha. I read just about every link included and I have no idea how a player could see or tell a card was fake if it is sleeved, upside down, and across a table during a tournament. I can only assume after reading your article that I likely and unknowingly own some faked Magic cards, but with those numbers from that Chinese counterfeiter how could anyone playing standard not accidentally own a fake?

    In regards to handling foils, i despise when they bend as well. Some sets just seem to have better or worse results and I actually don’t understand why the foils tend to bend (some of my M15 foils are horribly warped/curved/bent). I try to put a lot of my foils in top loaders which is a very un-Magic thing to do but it is a sturdy case that mostly prevents bending. But as far as clouding and preventing damage and wear on the front, if you double sleeve your foil cards with perfect-fits it greatly improves the condition of the card and really protects the front from clouding or picking up “card grime” as I call it. I mostly foiled out my Standard deck (and I’m actually a huge advocate of spec-ing on foils) and have been playing it for a while, well with DoT’s printing I’ve actually changed my deck and was pleasantly surprised that double sleeving greatly protected my foil cards while I played them for months.

    One comment you made that I agree with is that foils tend to be much harder to move at a LGS. There’s less foil Roasts than non-foil Dragonlords but the price obviously does not reflect this rarity of a foil Uncommon as foil demand is somewhat limited. One thing I disagree with is investing in Foil Shocks, I think that ship has sailed and it would be better to invest in something else. The time to get in was at RTR rotation when the foil shocks were only 2x the non-foils (I mostly missed that opportunity but that mistake caused me to act on foil Thoughtseizes).

    This comment is just for you, I don’t want anyone ruining my profits but here it is…last summer I picked up a TON of foil Theros block cards at greatly depressed prices. Xenagos was being played in that Jund walkers deck and in RG monsters as a 3 or 4 of pre-RTR rotation but I got a foil playset for $40 before he spiked (any foil walker while standard legal for $10 seems like a solid gamble/investment/spec). Same with foil Ashioks, Stormbreaths, Herald of Torments and Underworld Cerberus (I’m honest, not every spec is a winner), the unplayed Hero of Iroas, and a few other cards I pegged as potential Standard bombs (foil Thoughtseize was only a 2x multiplier then). I think it helps if you play to spec on standard cards, but you can just track what cards are appearing in top decks and get them low during the summer. Trying to pick up foil Den Protectors post Pro Tour is NOT a profitable plan obv, but picking up a foil playset of him and Icefall Regent for $5-8 pre-tour would have been extremely profitable. The masses really do just copy what they see on streams, and if you can be one step ahead or pick a card or 2 that seem greatly undervalued you can really profit. With social media it does seem much harder than it should be, but a card like Thunderbreak was pretty under the radar upon it’s release.

    I feel like investing or speculating on foils is like playing the $1-5 slots instead of the $0.25 slots, you are potentially risking more but your payoff is much greater. Outpost Siege and Siege Rhino are two cards where you could have purchased the foil for just 2x the non-foil price (or less) and now that multiplier is much greater, and you already used shocklands as an example. Gitaxian Probe and Spell Pierce aren’t at Daze level but getting in on their foils early would have been quite lucrative. Lastly, when most standard cards spike their foil price doesn’t go up as quickly!! I really got into foils trying to get regular copies of Rabblemaster for my deck…I simply couldn’t get him at “fair” value (this is on ebay) so I threw a bid or 2 on foil playsets…I couldn’t win a non-foil playset of Rabblemaster for $60 but won a FOIL playset for $72 and then magically $64 (this was back in the early fall) If you aren’t playing standard this scenario doesn’t matter, but I needed cards to play and for about 1.2x the non-foil price, not even 2x, I got foil playsets of cards I needed. When non-foils spike quickly the foil price doesn’t react as quickly (unless it’s an Eternal staple or is being speculated as an eternal card like Spirit of the Labyrinth or Reclamation Sage), No idea why but this is what happens. Deathmist Raptor and Whisperwood are two recent cards that followed this trend, so as a player there’s more “value” to investing a few extra dollars in a foil if needed to acquire a card for a deck. The foil usually holds it’s value longer and is the card with better long term potential.

    Just some of my opinions and thoughts, look forward to more thought provoking stuff from you next time.

  4. Hi Spencer,

    Wow, thank you very much for your thorough and considerate response. I really enjoy when others in the community share their perspective – we can all learn from each others’ experiences and I encourage people to chime in whenever they have a tidbit we can benefit from!

    A couple specific thoughts on your post:

    – I generally dislike foil Standard speculation unless those cards also see play in non-rotating formats. That could be Legacy or Vintage, but it could also be EDH. These are the cards that will merit a growing multiplier going forward. Foil Planeswalkers sound like a terrific opportunity that is currently underappreciated. Do you see how expensive foil Tamiyo’s have gotten??? I bet even the foil Planeswalkers not played much in Standard still have a shot at making us money in the long term. But I don’t think I’d ever buy into something like foil Herald of Torments without first seeing where they are played outside of Standard. While you’re correct that foils will move on PT hype or the like, I think it may become difficult to move them so quickly when it’s time to cash out. The volumes on nonfoil Standard cards that spike, like Den Protector, HAS to be much higher than their foil counterparts. Still, I like your observation that foils react less quickly – it’s because many speculators avoid Standard foil buying in favor of the easier-to-flip nonfoils.

    – I don’t think it’s too late on Shock Lands. Look at the value of original foil copies. It’s crazy. There will always be a large gap between original and new printing, of course, but right now it is just huge. I think Shocks still have a shot at appreciating some, but this as you know is a controversial opinion.

    Thanks again for sharing!
    Sig

  5. Thanks for the response as always Sig.

    My specific spec on Herald of Torment was that Mono Black was crushing the format and if there was a Pack Rat or Desecration Demon type card that was powerful and not seeing play that would spike in the right environment it was that card. Herald is very good and when someone plays it at our local store they usually win the game or match, it just hasn’t found much of a home like Prime Speaker Zegana (check out her foil). Same with Underworld Cerberus, a 6/6 for 5 that has to be blocked by 3 or more creatures and is mythic!!! How is that not good?? The important thing on these specs is I got in around $1-2 per foil copy and would pick up roughly 2 play sets and this was before RTR rotation. They didn’t pan out but Hero of Iroas and Stoke the Flames foils did along with the foil walkers…so I’d have to do a lot of cost analysis to see what would have happened if I got non-foils and see what thebprofit margin would have been.
    So I’m currently stuck with Foil Cerberus for about $6 a playset, not the worst, and if he ever becomes a part of some EDH deck or combo the foils are the version of the card to have. And that’s kind of my fall back plan: if i’m buying/acquiring foils at 2x or less the non-foil price and can’t move them over time the foil might have unseen value while the non-foil doesn’t. There’s a lot of cards in Innistrad block that have much greater than a 2x spread and some cards you at least would not have lost value if you picked up the foil instead of the regular version (that statement is coming from a player needing to use the cards not as a pure investor). Utvara Hellkite in RTR is another silly example.

    But I have a simple investment strategy for foils: Foil Standard Planeswalkers under $10 are good investments/specs 😀 I think Tibalt is the only foil walker under that level with a few exceptions. Ral Zarek is following Tamiyo’s trend and he wasn’t even played in Standard so maybe the planeswalkers with 1 printing are the ones to acquire. Now Jace Architect and Vraska were in a dual deck (although they have a weird and ugly printing imo) and their “value” on mtgprice is $11 and 9 respectively but I believe that is artificially depressed by the dual deck foil prices and how the software picks up data. But I’ve picked up Jace Architect based on Tamiyo’s performance (with tempered expectations) but a $10ish foil Jace with a mini fact or fiction ability for 4 mana that’s stuck in someone’s binder seems like a fine pick up.

    One last comment, I agree with you that the only Standard cards I’d like to get in foil are ones with future eternal potential but it is SO HARD to get them at a good value where investing is worth it. I jumped on Siege Rhino foils when he was regular $4-6 and his foil was only $11-13ish and he started showing up all over modern. It took like 2 weeks for the card to hit $25 but some were in the mail when then spike happened; but he isn’t a legacy card and Modern cards get reprinted and banned. But foil Rec Sage, Spirit of the Labyrinth, Huswing Gryff, Brimaz, Monastery Mentor, Swan Song had such high spreads on their foil vs non-foil prices that there never has been any money to make. Foil Digs seem a little low to me at the moment and the Modern banning really hurts, but I suppose if you were a hardcore speculator (you’d have to ask your colleagues) you could have seen Cruise being broken and cashed in very quickly on those foils. There’s just so very few cards that the eternal speculators seem to miss.

    I’ve actually taken some of your advice and other mtgprice writers, the money I put towards Magic investing is going to Dual lands. Feel like I’d rather have a Tundra than a playset of foil Dragonlord Ojutais or Atarkas but is that right? I don’t know, I give up lol. Take care man

    1. Man, your guess is as good as mine. I can see where you’re coming from though, picking foils over nonfoils. Perhaps a whole exploration into a loser is worth looking at. Pick a card that didn’t quite get there, look at the foil and nonfoil price trajectory for that card over time, and see where the biggest pain would be. Evaluate that against the largest upside on surprise hits (as you pointed out, the non-surprises are much tougher to capitalize on) and come out with some sort of conclusion.

      But as you alluded to, it’s really difficult to pick THE optimal strategy. It’s not worth the headache. Let’s just keep making money and ride the wave. I don’t feel like I need to be in the absolute BEST positions to make money. Sure, Tundra may not gain as much as foil Ojutais…or foil Ojutais could be a Judge promo. Anything could happen, really, which is why I tend to err in the direction of holding my newer cards for as little time as possible and sitting on older cards for longer periods.

      More conversation can be had in person some day, perhaps! Until then, look forward to hearing from you next week 🙂

      Sig

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