Reserved & Reliable: The Rational MTG Reserved List

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Over the last few years, Reserved List cards have been increasingly targeted by speculators and vendors as inventory worth stocking in pursuit of theoretically easy future gains. The narrative is simple: if they never print these cards again, they have to go up right? Over the last couple of months this process has been increasing in frequency as speculators dig deep and target even the worst of the Reserved List cards. As a result dozens of unplayable RL cards have been spiked, with the ability to hold the new plateaus highly dependent on whether collectors looking to finish sets of Antiquities, Arabian Nights, Legends and The Dark will step in out of fear and attempt to grab cards they needon an accelerated schedule.

Now while it is certainly true that Wizards of the Coast’s commitment to maintaining the Reserved List makes almost anything on the list a safe bet long term, I have been pretty vocal on Twitter with suggestions that there are better targets in abundance for the short and mid term.

Many of the best of the Reserved List targets under $100 have already seen spikes in the last five years, only to experience retraces back towards lower levels within months of popping that have made it difficult for anyone to claim profits on deeper inventory levels. Lion’s Eye Diamond, a 4-of in a relevant Legacy deck, had trouble holding an ambitious new plateau, with the $80 card popping to $180 in the summer of 2016 before falling back to $120 or so since. That’s still a solid gain, but it’s also a best case scenario that the trash RL cards are unlikely to approach.

A safer bet then is to focus on Reserved List cards that enjoy significant demand from Commander, Casual or Eternal formats. These cards may represent lesser % gains vs. $1 North Stars suddenly being posted for $10, but their demand profiles are likely to be much stronger, and their gains in terms of real $ and ability to support deeper inventory are likely to be significantly superior. Overall, I see these targets as good for 10-30% per annum gains over the next eighteen months or so, with further upside if a wave of buyouts happens to target them anew. This still wouldn’t touch the gains on my top specs, but if you just can’t stay away from the Reserved List, at least target something worth playing.

Here are just a few of the top tier Reserved List targets that could still ostensibly sustain another spike:

Yavimaya Hollow

Yavimaya Hollow

Most of the demand for this card comes from it’s usefulness in Commander as an auto-include utility land for any creature based deck that can support it’s single green cost to regenerate a creature. The card provides a unique effect in Commander, especially for a land, and can keep a key creature alive in the face of a destruction based board sweeper or similar point removal. This card shows up in just over 4000 decks on EDH.Rec, but that number should likely be higher.

When I first looked at this card in Feb of 2016, there were nearly 100 copies lying around online, with an average price of $10 or so. I bought about twenty copies at the time, but have been going deeper lately at twice the price, as inventory levels are now below 50-60 NM/SP copies across all major platforms. This winter I bought both English and Japanese foils close to $100 USD in Europe and flipped all of them for $200+ and though I was happy with the extent and speed of the returns, I suspect that the buyers may get a similarly attractive exit if they are more patient than I was. There are still small piles of SP copies on SCG and TCG at the time of this write up, and those seem like a good place to go deep. NM copies are already over $33 on TCG, but can be found elsewhere closer to $20 for now. If you want to speculate or need a copy for a deck, there’s just no reason to wait any longer.

Current Price: $20-25
Future Price (12-18 months): $35-40+

Treachery

Treachery

In the mid-game at your kitchen table or Commander session, Treachery isn’t just a reasonably priced Control Magic effect, but the setup for broken combo sequences that leverage the incidental untapping of the lands that you tapped to cast it. Whether you have a powered up Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx or a twice-enchanted Forest to untap, Treachery lets you grab the best creature at the table, often with a positive mana advantage. The card only shows up in 2500 EDH decks at present, but the number should likely be higher, and the land untap effect is unique and provides open ended synergies with future cards that will be printed without considering it’s presence in casual metas. Copies are currently available in the $20-25 range, but inventory levels are less than 20% of what they were when I first tallied them 18 months ago. The are about 35 non-foils available on TCGPlayer.com alone, so you can easily go deep at $25 or less if you are ok to sit on them for a while. Foils are almost certainly a hold if you have any as RL foils are that much more rare and will not cycle back into the market as often as the non-foil versions due to their collectibility. Ultimately, overall demand here is mild compare to some of the other picks, but it’s still miles above most of the RL trash that has popped as of late.

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Current Price: $20-25
Future Price (12-18 months): $35-40+

Volrath’s Stronghold

Volrath's Stronghold

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This EDH utility land boast one of the highest usage patterns of the cards on this list, with over 6000 decks registered using it on EDH.rec. The ability to recursively abuse your best creatures is both unique and unlikely to be bettered in the modern era of Magic design. This card has never had a foil version, so unlike some of the other RL cards, we need only worry about the original copies.

I bought my first pile of these at the same time as Yavimaya Hollow back in the winter of 2016, when the card was commonly available near $20. After a spike that took place through the first half of that year, the card posted up closer to $40, before falling back to the current average price of about $35. It’s worth noting that some MTGPrice vendors have the card under $30 and in Europe your contacts may be able to scavenge some closer to $25. Interestingly, inventory actually seems stronger now than it did 18 months ago, which suggests that the most recent spike pulled copies out of binders as folks who had them laying around sought to take advantage. Given the inventory levels, it would be tough to go deep on this and expect immediate gains. If you were to snag all the copies under $35, that still might set you back $1500-2000, and it could still be months or years before you can yield $10+ (25%+) on your resales. As such, this is more interesting as a card that you snag a copy of for personal use, or keep on your radar as something to pick up whenever you see it underpriced for long term gains. I snagged a NM copy on Ebay for $25 while I was writing this article, and looking for a small pile during the frequent $15 off $75 in purchases sales that are common on that site might be a solid action.

Current Price: $30-35
Future Price (12-18 months): $50+

Sliver Queen

Sliver Queen

Sliver Queen was actually one of the earliest EDH based spikes for the Reserved List, initially popping from $30 to $45 in the summer of 2013. Since then it has been on a slight downill trend with copies commonly available around $40. The card isn’t legal in Modern, so demand is largely dependent on EDH sliver players and casuals. The thing is, Slivers aren’t actually all that popular in Commander circles, with just 800 decks or so registering the card. StarCityGames is currently out of stock on NM copies, but they’ve got just under 30 SP copies priced near $28. MTGDeals has a NM copy posted at $28, so that is a solid option if you’d like to ensure you’ve got one for the future. I don’t think you need to make a move on this card otherwise, but it would be something I would monitor inventory levels on if Slivers showed up in a new Magic set and gave someone the idea to try and corner the market.

Current Price: $30-35
Future Price (12-18 months): $50+

Metalworker

Metalworker

This is another card where age and lack of exposure may be limiting usage in EDH. EDH.rec shows 2800 decks or so registering this powerful ramp creature which should likely be an auto-include in decks such as Breya, Daretti and Arcum. In the spring of 2014 you could snag this card for $12 or so, but by fall of that year it had popped to $30, and then again to $40 in the winter of 2016 during that wave of Reserved List targeting. Since then the card has fallen back closer to $30, with a few copies available on TCG under $25 shipped. There are about 50 copies total on that site, including 20 or so held by ChannelFireball, but the curve from $25 to $40 is relatively steep past the first 10 copies, and the rest of the web is carrying another 50-60 copies with a similar price curve. MTGDeals has a copy posted at $20.49 which looks tasty. I like stashing away copies here and there at those lower price points, awaiting a greedy buyout down the road once speculators tire of targeting the trashier RL cards.

Current Price: $25
Future Price (12-18 months): $35+

Lotus Vale

Lotus Vale

With just 1200 or so decks on EDH.rec, this card flies a bit under the radar, but it’s inventory level is actually fairly low at present, and could be ripe to pop. For years, there weren’t a lot of ways to abuse this land, but with the printing of The Gitrog Monster and Titania, Protector of Argoth and the additional redundancy that Ramnunap Excavator adds to Crucible of Worlds style land recursion, it’s relatively easy for a focused Commander list to negate the downside on Lotus Vale and turn it into a permanent Black Lotus level ramp spell that can’t easily be dealt with.

There are about 20 NM copies available on TCG, mostly clustered around $10-12. Ebay has a similar number on display, and SCG has 12 copies around $12. Demand might be shallow here at present, but I like the unique power potential of the card and the low inventory makes a buyout attractive so I’m good to stash away a handful for the long term.

Current Price: $11
Future Price (12-18 months): $20+

Gaea’s Cradle

Gaea's Cradle

Let’s finish off with a bang shall we? Gaea’s Cradle is one of the most powerful lands available in both Legacy and Commander, and yet there were still fools who would rather spread $250 over dozens of small time Reserved List specs instead of consolidating under the banner of steady & predictable growth? Lunacy.

Cradle has been on a solid uphill trajectory for years, moving from an $80 card in early 2013, to a $250 card with serious upside today. Just a few months ago a major speculator called me crazy for targeting copies of this in Europe for $160, but personally I think it’s crazy to not be targeting your first copy of this card before nearly anything else on the Reserved List. Given enough time I think Gaea’s Cradle hits $500, and the Judge Promo is likely to end up a $1000+ card. The land is amazing in any green deck with creatures, and the fact that shows up in 5800 EDH lists despite it’s price tag reflects just how aware of that the Commander community is.

Inventory is low, with just a handful of NM copies on TCGPlayer posted between $250 and $350. On Ebay, copies can be had for closer to $200, especially if you are willing to risk international shipping options. SCG has no NM or SP copies listed, and wants $180 for their MP copies. Stop messing around and get yourself a Gaea’s Cradle before it’s too late.

Current Price: $220
Future Price (12-18 months): $400+

James Chillcott is the CEO of ShelfLife.net, The Future of Collecting, Senior Partner at Advoca, a designer, adventurer, toy fanatic and an avid Magic player and collector since 1994. He is also co-host of MTGFastFinance, our weekly MTGFinance podcast.

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5 thoughts on “Reserved & Reliable: The Rational MTG Reserved List”

  1. James, the RL spike has been talked to death in reddit mtgfinance. It’s no secret that the spikes will not hold at all, *especially* since Legacy has priced out many many players at this point. I honestly don’t see why this should belong behind the paywall, since there is a clear consensus on the direction on many of these cards (like *down*), and anyone who says otherwise clearly has no idea on the clear future of the reserved list cards in general.

    TLDR: The obvious thing to do is to stay away from the reserved list, period. It’s far too risky to be holding even staples in the long term, since they will more often than not plateau. Common sense opinion here.

  2. As a collector myself I am in no hurry to grab any of the cards that have spiked. Set collectors of 93/94 are few and far between and will not rush out to buy these cards at current inflated prices.

    In the long run, ceteris paribus, the reserve list as a whole will continue its steady climb upward. I certainly would not “stay away from the reserved list” but be strategic in your purchases and don’t buy into these artificial spikes.

  3. Iconic Masters and Masters 25 are two premium sets that are within 4 months of each other. These sets are suppose to celebrate the history of MTG.

    Now, how many Iconic/Masters 25 cards exist out there that are NOT on the RL and have NOT been printed in a recent premium set? Sure people speculated some possibilities, but not really enough to fill a set that is even CLOSE to justifying a 9.99 price tag per pack.

    Even if (very big “if”) they manage to fill Iconic Masters how in “Zeus’s Butt hole” are they going to fill Masters 25?? Again, these sets are just 4 months apart.

    This just does not pass the smell/logic test. So, it might not be a real good idea to invest in RL cards.

    Take it of leave it, but I sense some BIG changes coming…..

  4. I agree the RL is the place to be. As someone who has been watching the finance side of magic grow for years, this is just proof of more demand for cards, spec or not, and this limited resource is being exhausted. Everyone one of these cards is a safe place to be.

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