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Debunking Foils

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That’s right, I’m that guy.

Every Magic community has at least one. We generally lurk in your local game shop a few nights a week, poring over the same binders as weeks go by, hoping to glean just one glance of blinding salvation to make up for the piles and piles of nonsense we flip through for hours. We’re the first in line at midnight as soon as the singles are sorted, counting down the hours until we can hand our hard-earned cash over. We want first dibs.

We want the foils. And we’ll do whatever it takes to get them.

My name is Jeff Greenberg and I was born and raised in Toronto, Canada. When I was eight years old, I walked into my local Blockbuster Video and bought an Urza’s Saga pack for $2.50. The rare? A Gaea’s Cradle, which I promptly sold to my LGS about a year later for $18 without regret. My game has gone in many different directions since that moment. Like many others, I found myself annoyed by the persistence of Affinity and stopped playing during Fifth Dawn, where I picked up another TCG briefly before returning to Magic in my university years. Ever since that first booster, I have wandered the great white north in search of binders to peruse and cards to acquire. I constantly listen to podcasts (especially Brainstorm Brewery), read articles, and follow the trends of the Magic secondary market. I spend countless hours at GPs and PTQs where, instead of playing in the main or side events, I scurry to and fro across the venue to try and acquire every single thing that sparks my interest, either for myself or a trading partner. As a community builder in my professional life, I constantly work to make people happy and comfortable, and trading is no different – if both parties leave unhappy and unappeased, I haven’t appropriately done my job as a Magic financier.

In this article series, I’d like to open your eyes to a different side of Magic finance: foil (AKA premium) cards.

Foils have always occupied an interesting position in the Magic secondary market. Since their first printing in Urza’s Destiny, foils have been printed in parallel with every expansion set release. While much discussion and debate exists internet-wide, foils seem to, on average, be opened in around 18-20% of Magic packs (source: WotC discussion forums). This means that, in a booster box, one can expect to open between six and eight total foils.

Contrary to urban Magic myth, however, foil cards have a print run that can be determined in the same fashion (mapping) that some Magicians use to cheat the system. Personally, I have never needed to rely on mapping to find success and make solid investments. If you are the kind of person that would prefer to randomly crack packs looking for secrets according to the foil print run, my articles are not for you. I much prefer to focus on the person rather than the printer, and that will be emphasized in further writings.

Thankfully, it is herein where we find the most interesting aspect of the foils market: valuation. For those that are less than financially literate, valuation can be defined as an estimation of the the approximate value of an asset as carried out by a professional appraiser. While we are not professionals, accurate and honest valuation of assets can make or break you as an investor in the eyes of your potential trading partners. This takes knowledge of some simple economic terms and, more importantly, knowledge of the tools available to get you and your partner the information you need to both leave your trade happy.

In the future, I hope to cover all of these different concepts in enough detail to allow you to use your resources most effectively in the foil market. For now, let’s take a look at a real-world example where some typical trends in the foil market can be seen. For this, we need a staple card that has been around for a long time. I’ll pick one of my favorites: Pernicious Deed.

Here is the current MTG Report for the non-foil copy:

DeedMTGReportAs we can see from the longview graph above, the non-foil version of this card has not been this low at any point during the last two years. Let’s take a look at the current prices from the online dealers with foil stock available:

StarCityGames.com – NM sold out at $69.99, four copies at LP-HP, between $59.99-64.99.

eBay.com – Last three sales between $66.00-69.00. Current auctions for EX/LP copies range between $42.00-60.00.

StrikeZone Online – sold out weeks ago (Dec. 1) at $60.99.

As with many other legacy gems, Deed has been immortalized in foil as a (notably hideous) judge promotional foil)—this adds to the supply and the price of the judge foil must be considered in this discussion:

StarCityGames.com – NM sold out at $59.99, one MP copy in stock at $49.99.

eBay.com – Last three sales between $45.00-70.00, current auctions for NM copies list for between $60.00-72.00.

ChannelFireball.com – one NM copy available at $56.99.

Looking at this information, people may be tempted to keep things simple—an old foil with low distribution without a true reprint is obviously going to be worth a pretty penny, but why invest now? Mostly, the problem here isn’t the investment, it’s that the majority of traders cannot understand or manipulate the foil market. Many traders will look through a binder and naturally dismiss foils as being too expensive, while others cannot see themselves able to ship their foils at good value without dealing with a vendor and taking a hit. Either way, both traders are missing opportunities.

So why is any foil Deed worth the investment? This query brings us to another myth that needs debunking—foil cards are analogous to their non-foil counterparts. While this seems blatantly obvious, with older cards like Deed, it isn’t so easy to see and many people disregard this. The foil here sits at nearly five times the value of the non-foil, mostly due to its rarity, as well as a lack of further distribution after the judge foil in 2006. However, this doesn’t mean it wouldn’t see a further spike if it were deemed playable in a higher-tier deck. Such a situation would allow for some real profit (> $100).

Thus, it is reasonable to see the foil as a fairly safe investment for the time being, and even a strong buy if people start jumping on non-foil versions. Despite the deep preference of most players for the original art, this trend would follow for both foil versions. Promotional foils, however, often have their own distribution issues to deal with, making them some of the more interesting foil investments—but that is a discussion for a different day.

Thanks for reading, and I hope you’ve learned something!

Jeff Greenberg
@Cassarek
cassarek@gmail.com

La Choix de la Semaine – Jan. 16, 2014
(Pick of the Week, for the upper class)

Don’t laugh, but it’s Pernicious Deed, but the non-foil version. At an internet average of just over $13.00, it is at its lowest price at any point in the last 105 weeks. I predict a jump in Legacy play as people discover how effective it can be at beating the eponymous two-card combo of True-Name Nemesis and Umezawa’s Jitte, as well as Stoneforge Mystic and Delver of Secrets decks. While it is less effective against Show and Tell and other combo decks, it is certainly worth more than what I would pay for a Boros Reckoner online today. Strong buy.

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8 comments

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  1. fmammal

    You collect foils and you don’t know how common they are? It’s printed on the back of every booster pack! ;-)

  2. bgilmore

    I believe foils started with Urza’s Legacy, not Destiny.

  3. asfhsdfj

    > Since their first printing in Urza’s Destiny, foils have been printed in parallel with every expansion set release.

    They actually appeared a set earlier (Urza’s Legacy) for the first time.

  4. JeffGreenberg

    In response:

    – Of course Legacy came first, that’s just a goof. I own a foil set. Thanks!

    – The “official” numbers are 1/12 packs for a foil Common, 1/18 for a foil Uncommon, and 1/36 for a foil rare. Foil mythics are 1/216 for large sets. The real numbers, however, don’t always come out unless you have a large sample size.

  5. Douglas Johnson

    Good article, we needed the coverage on foils. I recently learned that I was “that guy” too, when a friend asked me if I needed any cards, I replied with foil fetchlands, foil shocklands, and foil noble hierarchs for my Kiki Pod deck.

  6. JeffGreenberg

    BONUS INFORMATION: Foils pass the chinese counterfeit test ;)

  7. James Chillcott

    This article was mostly fluff and the analysis of why foil PD is a buy is spurious at best. Get deeper if you want to hold our attention.

    J

  8. Sander van der Zee

    I am that foil guy. Can’t ever have enough relevant foils in my ‘use’ binder.

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