Today we are going to look at the sparkly side of Magic: The Gathering, the foils. As usual, the focus will be on the financial side of things. We will take a look at their history and some famous foils. We will also check out popular foils in the Major formats and price differences between foils and non foils.
I played during the days of Magic that brought about some of it’s best changes. These changes did not affect any part of the game play or style, they were cosmetic. The first change was the addition of colored rarity to the cards, introduced in Exodus. This was one of the most welcome additions to the game because, while a lot of people knew that the rare was in the back of the pack, the categorization helped newer players identify the Commons, Uncommons, and Rares in a pack. This also helped with trading as people could easily identify the rarity of a card. This change has stayed with the game ever since released and was improved years later with the Mythic Rare addition. The next major change was the announcement of foils. Foils were just a shiny versions of the cards randomly placed in packs. The first batch of foils were going to be released in Urza’s Destiny. I remember there was a good amount of grumbling over this as it was seen as a way to make people buy more packs (it was) and it was getting similar to other card games that had foil versions (it did). In the end people go over it and foils were eventually accepted and used.
Foils themselves have a good history on their production and how they evolved over the years but we aren’t going into that detail.
Foils are now widely accepted and command a high premium in certain formats. Legacy and Vintage, traditionally known as the expensive formats, have the highest market of foil desirability. If one is dropping over $100 per dual land, then why not pimp out the entire deck with foils. Foils are definitely a showboating means and I will admit, holding a hand of all foil cards its pretty nice. In Standard and Modern there is still the desire of foils but not as much and the price difference between foils and non foils is not that big. In EDH/Commander and Cubes, they once again command a higher price as players in those formats loves to pimp out their decks too. Here are some good examples of valuable foils and their price differences with their non foil versions. As usual, these prices are quoted from Star City and can usually be found cheaper on sites like eBay.
Starting with Legacy, let’s take a look at probably the most famous foil card in the format: Mercadian Masques Brainstorm.
This card has one of the biggest price differences in the game and it will likely only get bigger. The price of a Mercadian Brainstorm is currently at $2. Not bad for a common Legacy staple. The price of the exact same card in foil is $100. Think about it for a moment. The foil layer adds $98 to the value of the card. The main reasons is because this was during the beginning days of foils and they weren’t as common in packs as they are now, and because it is the first foil version of Brainstorm and Legacy players love their first editions of things. Looking below, you can see that the card is rising in value and probably will continue to do so.
Another card that should be no surprise is Jace, the Mind Sculptor. Jace is already a money card and carries a $70 price tag at the moment for the regular version. What’s good to know is that the foil version is valued at $300, which is definitely a nice price difference. What else is worth noting, as seen below, is that the card increased $100 in value since the beginning of the year.
Other notable cards from Legacy:
Rishadan Port – While the regular version is $30, the foil is $150
Daze – Regular – $3.50 Foil – $60
7th Edition Goblin Matron Regular – $1.50 Foil – $100
7th Edition Birds of Paradise Regular – $6 Foil – $90
There is some overlap with Modern and Legacy so some of the cards aren’t just exclusive to Modern. One of my favorite examples of high priced modern foils is Dark Confidant. Another card that isn’t surprising to be in demand, the regular version of this card is $50, while the foil version has been rising up to $110.
Counterbalance is another good example as the regular version is $8 but the foil version is $35. Not bad for an uncommon in Modern (yes, it’s also a Legacy card).
Other Notable cards from Modern:
Thoughtseize – Regular – $40 Foil – $120
Tarmogoyf – Regular – $100 Foil – $300
Aven Mindcensor – Regular – $4 Foil – $25
8th Edition Merchant Scroll Regular – $1.50 Foil – $30
Now we get into the most recent format, a format where foil prices fluctuate the most. Standard is usually where foils are least desired and retain long term value. There are still high value cards in the set though, but price differences aren’t as large. A good example is our personal favorite miracle, Bonfire of the Damned. While the normal card has risen to $50 in value, the foil version is sitting at $70. This is not a double price jump we see in most foils that are in demand, but that price could jump soon.
Another example is Griselbrand. While he is a $13 card normally, he jumps to $35 for the foil version (yes, I’m cheating here because he has demand in Legacy). He is a good example because, as seen below, he is a card that peaked at $50 foil and then went back down.
Other Notable cards from Standard:
Delver of Secrets – Regular – $1 Foil – $6
Lingering Souls – $2.50 Foil – $12
Avacyn, Angel of Hope – Regular – $12 Foil – $35
Faithless Looting – Regular – $.75 Foil – $5
These formats are the reason random cards in foil version are worth so much. They brought new life into the secondary market on random cards that were awesome by themselves but not competitive enough for the tournament scene. Commander has grown to a well known format in the past few years and doesn’t look like it will be disappearing (especially with the announcement of the Commander’s Arsenal). The limit of only one copy makes it more appealing for people to find a foil version of their key cards and generals. Hanna, Ship’s Navigator is a great example of one of those cards. As a $4 card in non foil, the card jumps to $50 as a foil. Hanna is a popular commander and since this was in the early days of foil, she is harder to find, thus commanding (get it) a high price.
The Invasion block actually have a good amount of valuable foil legends. Another good example of this is Ertai, the Corrupted. While Ertai is a only worth a $1.50 as a regular card, it’s value jumps to $100 for the alternate art Planeshift foil version. Of course the normal art foil is $10, but who wants to play with that one? Certainly not high rolling Commander players. Legendary creatures are the key cards to look out for but there are others too like Sensei’s Divining Top which is already a $16 card, and jumps to $50 for the foil version.
There are tons of other good examples of cards that have a big price difference between their foil and non foil counterparts. Here are some staples for the format to keep an eye on.
-Lands – This includes Shock Lands, Fetch Lands, Lands with unique abilities. These cards are popular in all formats and since some of them see heavy tournament use, the foil versions will rise in value. For example, Scalding Tarn, a fetch land from the Zendikar set, is a $16 card that is worth $60 is foil version. Tower of the Magistrate is another good example, going for $10 normal to $60 foil. So keep an eye on these.
-Legendary Things – This is another benefit from Commander. Any older legendary card, whether creature or other type, have potential value. Of course it helps if the card is good. Even junk legendary cards, like Norin the Wary ($3 foil), still have some value.
-Cards with good abilities: This is any card with some desirability. For example, Unearth is $1.50 non foil, while the foil jumps to $10. This is a common card that you wouldn’t think about. Ninth Edition Greater good is $4 for the regular version, but is valued at $50 in foil form.
-Creature types – People love their Angels and Dragons. Therefore these card will command a higher price in foil form. Angels are a great example and you could pretty much look up any Legendary angel and find it worth a good bit more in foil form. Desolation Angel goes from $2.50 to $40. Gisela, Blade of Goldnight jumps from $5 to $25. Magic’s most famous angel, Serra Angel, is the best example. It’s first foiling came in 7th Edition. While is is a $1 non foil, it has risen to a $40 foil.
So what does this all mean? Well, it’s pretty apparent that foils have created a healthy alternate secondary market. If you have been playing for a while, you may even have a few valuable foils in your collection you weren’t aware of. Foils aren’t very desirable in the causal player scene, so you would have your best luck either trading at major events or selling the card to a card shop. Of course, selling it on your own on eBay is your best bet for getting the most cash value from your foil cards.