I’m kind of a snob and I seek out lots of foils and cards with specific art for my EDH decks, so knowing promos is just something I do. But I’m often surprised by the lack of card knowledge shown by a lot of other people. You can easily find yourself getting fleeced in trades if you don’t know if your card is a promo, and if it is, which one it is. Let’s test out some card knowledge.
The Basics of Promos
Do you know which of these are promos?
Give up? I’ll help you out a little. Necropotence was originally printed in Ice Age and has never had a promo. These cards are from Fifth Edition, Deckmasters, and From the Vault: Exiled, respectively. You have probably heard of the first and last one, but Deckmasters is one of the weird boxed sets that Wizards used to print. It had foils in it that were basically equivalent to today’s Duel Decks product. The only other foil card in the set is Lhurgoyf and to top it all off, every other card is non-foil and white bordered. In the grand scheme of things, Deckmasters isn’t the oldest set like this, as it is one of the few with colored expansion symbols (and all the same expansion symbol for that printing).
But maybe you don’t play with Necropotence every day. You don’t really get a lot of chances to. How about we take a look at some cards every knows? Which of these are promos?
Well if you said the first and second ones, you were right! The third Lightning Bolt, although only available in foil, is from the Premium Deck Series: Fire and Lightning precon. You may be a little confused—and you should be. The second Bolt is black-bordered with art last seen in Beta. There were no Beta foils, so this must be a promo. It’s actually a pretty old judge promo and is on average four times as expensive as the textless Player Rewards Lightning Bolt. Knowing the difference is pretty important.
And now promos get a lot more annoying. Here are three counterspell promos.
One of these Counterspells is an FNM promo, and that’s pretty easy to tell. The other two look pretty much identical except that one is foil. These are two promos that were given out for very different reasons but share the same art. It causes a lot of confusion. The non-foil card is a Legend Membership promo (basically the original Player Rewards), and although it is extremely rare, it’s not as expensive as the judge foil version. Without too much research, it would be easy for players looking at prices online to mistake the cards for each other, even though one version is more than double the other’s value.
Only Promos Allowed
Some cards are only available as promos. The most popular of these is Mana Crypt.
Although this card only comes as a promo, it is only legal in EDH and Vintage so demand isn’t super high and its price isn’t too out of control. There are still more things to be aware of with the card, though. The one on the right is a judge foil and the only foil printing of this card. The one on the left comes in English with black borders, Spanish and French with black borders, and Spanish again with white borders. All of these are worth varying amounts of money and really complicate this card’s price. Making sure you look up the correct version of this promo is pretty important.
Going a Little Deeper Down the Promo Wormhole
Now I expect everyone knows what an FNM promo looks like and can keep up with enough media to know the newest judge foils, so let’s take a look at some more obscure promo groups that may evade people.
These promos can be very confusing and are often mistaken for pack foils because of their set symbols. The Enlightened Tutor should be a giveaway, though, because Sixth Edition didn’t have foils (the first core set that did was Seventh Edition). Rhox is a pretty innocent foil. Both the pack foil and the promo are bulk rares, but the different art sets them apart. Other than that, there’s no unique identifier on the cards that tell you they’re promos. The last two are more recent promos, and Wizards has been so kind as to include additional identifier information. It’s pretty much impossible to see in these pictures, but when you look at the set symbol on the bottom of these cards, they are numbered like they would be in the set but have a star after the number, indicating it is a special printing. These two are from the Holiday Gift Sets sold the last couple Christmas seasons (which is why both are from fall sets).
Now it’s really time to get into the nitty-gritty of promos. Some of them are pretty much impossible to assume and require specific knowledge. Back in the day, Magic didn’t have foil cards. Some test prints were done for Exodus (the set that introduced the rarity colored set symbol) but were never released. Some test prints (notable ones include City of Traitors and Survival of the Fittest) got out and you’ll probably never see them. The first set to introduce pack foils was Urza’s Legacy, but there are still cards with the Urza’s Saga set symbol that are foil. You’re probably familiar with these:
Although they were given out for different reasons, any foil card with an Urza’s Saga set symbol is a promo card. Also, as I stated earlier, any card from any core set before Seventh Edition is also a promo card.
A Test for the Hardcore
To end this fantastic learning experience, let’s try to identify some of the more difficult promos.
To make it a little easier, I’ll give you a hint. Only two of these Islands are not promos. Can you figure out which?
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