The Reserved List: Magic's Elixir of Immortality

by Terry Soh on 24 July 2018, Tuesday

Terry Soh


The Reserved List: Magic's Elixir of Immortality

This year marks Magic's 25th birthday and things are better than ever. First generation players are now into their adulthood and even parenthood. Players who were once teenagers are likely moms and dads now and maybe even have a child or two.

Another few years down the road, it would not be uncommon to see juniors playing alongside with their father at Grand Prix and Pro Tours. After all, Magic is not a challenging game to learn at a young age. I started at the age of 12, and I knew many started earlier. 


No one would have thought that a card game could have lasted 25 years or more. Many card games come and go, but Magic is the only one that remained on top of the hill. Many factors contributed to the success of Magic, but today we will talk about one significant factor which I think contributed to Magic longevity: the Reserved List. 

Now, I understand this is a controversial subject. 

Magic is currently enjoying a bull run that propelled Reserved List cards to new all-time high. Underground Sea, a staple dual land in Legacy, now retails for $800. Volcanic Island is not too far behind, retailing at $700.

When I first started collecting duals in 2014, these retail for $300. Back then, people already called the death of Legacy due to the price of the duals as a barrier of entry. I beg to differ. I witnessed Magic grow over the last two decades and the pace is not slowing down. The secondary market is very mature. We are not too far away from seeing four digits prices on Underground Sea in the distant future.

Why Is The Reserved List Important? 

Magic is a collectible card game, and like most card games, reprinting is an essential part to maintain a healthy ecosystem of supply and demand. However, cards being reprinted is a real issue, due to its effect on the monetary value of the secondary card market. If cards were reprinted continuously, subsequently prices will fall due to the increased supply.

Falling prices will ignite fear and loss of confidence. This would discourage players from spending any significant amount on something that loses value rapidly. This was an early concern for Magic in the early days when they were competing against major competitors. 


This resulted in the creation of the Reserved List. 

Magic wanted to give a promise to its retailers and players that reprints will not be reckless and rampant. Reprinting Birds of Paradise or Lightning Bolt is fine, but if Black Lotus, Moxen, and dual lands receive the same treatment, suddenly the collectible aspect of Magic becomes bleak and discouraging.

Hence, the most iconic collectible cards ever printed in Magic would be protected under the Reserved List. Take note that when Reserved List was established, staples such as duals wasn't even expensive. They were in the range of $20. The impressive rate of return on these cards outperformed most stocks and funds, and it would have been impossible without the Reserved List.

Who would have thought Magic would be a greater investment tool than stocks and shares? 

When I first started playing the game, I always felt that Black Lotus and Moxen were somewhat mysterious and iconic. It's not that I needed to own them, it's just something to look up to. Items to be desired.

Not everyone can afford to drive a Ferrari, but it's something a lot of people would dream of. It gave a lot of room for aspiration as a player or collector to work their way up. Although I still do not own any Black Lotus and Moxen today, I love how iconic and symbolic it is to the game. 


In retrospect, Reserved List grows alongside Magic. Magic may not enjoy the success it has today without the Reserved List. If Black Lotus could be reprinted and it was available to everybody at $10 a piece, is that what you really want? Suddenly, it doesn't feel so special anymore.

I can see the argument for scarcity and prices of the cards. There are Standard and Modern for competitive players who do not need to care about the Reserved List at all. It does not affect them one bit. It only affects players that wanted to play Legacy or Vintage and do not have the cards. I always felt Legacy and Vintage were designed to cater to a different group of players compared to Standard and Modern. It was meant for older players that have nostalgic feelings for old cards and doesn't mind to sink in thousands of dollars to the game they had played and trusted for over twenty years due to Reserved List assurance. 

Often an overlooked aspect, Reserved List brings in liquidity into Magic. Let's take Standard for example. You would probably spend like $500 on a deck. You get to use them for a year, and then they tanked most of their value once it's rotated. Let's assume these cards lose 80% of your initial investment. I personally feel it is acceptable because you got to play with these cards so often and that is only a few hundred dollars over a span of a year or two.

What if instead, we magnified the amount to $10000 and under the same assumption that you would lose 80% within a year? No one would be playing Magic anymore! Spending $500 over the course of a year or two is quite reasonable, but losing $8000 in a year is too harsh for the average consumer to stomach.

One would argue that the monetary gain does not all go to Wizards. We have to look beyond that. That same amount of money is likely to get poured back into Magic anyway and reinjected back into the economy.

Some of the secondary dollars go towards purchasing judge promos from a judge, some of the secondary dollars go towards small business owners and store owners. Some of the secondary dollars go towards tournament organizers. Magic would not survive without these groups of professions and do note that we are all the same regardless of what we do. Judges need to get paid for their time, knowledge, and labor in some way, while traders and retailers need to put food on the table for their families. 



What Should I Do About Cards On The Reserved List?

Honestly, Reserved List cards are extreme;y costly now.

For simplicity, we would examine format staples such as dual land, as they are the most widely sought after and used across multiple formats. Dual lands were already going at a premium for a long time. We all witnessed how its price tag rises over time. I would say buying into Reserved List staples, but with careful and meticulous financial planning. Remember, we are adults now, and we have to be wise about our own decisions. As Magic grows with us, so do price tags.

Underground Sea Volcanic Island

Underground Sea ($800), Volcanic Island ($700)

These are the market leaders in price, and they tend to be closely matched. Dealers were already buylisting Underground Sea for $600-$700 and Volcanic Island for $500 in GP Las Vegas. Prices should remain flattened for now after such steep increase, but I do not expect to see a considerable dip either, as supply is capped and demand is at all time high now. 


Tundra Tropical Island Bayou

Tundra, Tropical Island, Bayou ($400) 

The recent price creep had seen Bayou rose to the ranks of Tundra and Tropical Island, thanks to Sultai surge in popularity. I think Tundra and Tropical Island is undervalued now in relative to Underground Sea.

It seems like a lot of value on the table when you can get two copies of Tundra/Tropical Island for one Underground Sea. They are also blue duals, in the same set and has the same supply. I expect Underground Sea and Volcanic Island to stay flat, while Tundra and Tropical Island to hit $500 within the year.


Badlands Savannah

Taiga Scrubland

Badlands, Savannah, Taiga, Plateau, Scrubland ($300-$200)

The non-blue duals are always lower in demand and price as compared to the blue duals. I do not see any exciting prospects for them now, as the blue duals have always determined the lead in price action.

That said, they provide a lower barrier to entry, and they also enjoyed similar price appreciation whenever duals start to make a rally in price. Many people start collecting duals with the cheaper ones, and that is perfectly reasonable. 


Gaea's Cradle

Gaea's Cradle ($500)

When another Reserved List land is as expensive as a dual land, you have to give it some credit. I did not see this one coming at all. I always knew Gaea's Cradle would find its place in Legacy, but I did not anticipate such a steep increase in price.

The promo version is retailing over a thousand dollars, and I believe it is currently the most expensive foil card in Magic, barring those unique test-print foils.

It is highly unlikely Wizards will print such powerful mana effect again. Gaea's Cradle is here to stay along with the duals. Creatures and spells get upgraded and replaced all the time, but there will never be a replacement for Gaea's Cradle effect!


City of Traitors

City of Traitors ($300)

If you are not playing with duals or Gaea's Cradle, you would probably end up with this. Almost every dominant archetype in Legacy hinges on a Reserved List land to function.

City of Traitors is a critical piece in Mono-Brown Artifacts as well as Eldrazi decks. Speed is what makes Legacy tick, and similar to Gaea's Cradle role of mana boost, City of Traitors is not going anywhere.



Reserved List is integral in growing alongside Magic. Without Reserved List, it takes away a lot of liquidity from the game. Players will be hesitant to spend money, as they know the value will vanish over time. It takes away uniqueness and exclusivity from the collectible part of the game.

As of now, Magic has a very well balanced approach in categorizing formats. It starts with Standard as the most affordable game mode, then it scales into Modern, and then finally Legacy.

Standard has always been the primary focus Magic, and it will stay that way. The Reserved List takes nothing away from players who do not wish to spend thousands of dollars to play a game they love. On the other hands, players who can afford it and want to drop their dollars on cards from the Reserved List are free to do so.

Thanks for reading!

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