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Promo-tacular: Strange, Large and Rare Part 2

Last week we started a series on oddities, oversized cards, and promos. Since the first installment focused mostly on supplemental products and a few of the many oddities, today we are going to be focusing almost exclusively on promos. However, before we get to it, a couple of notes: First, one thing I didn't cover is foreign cards. This article is already super long, so adding cards that came from Japanese comics back in 2001 would just put it over the top. Many of the newer promos (e.g. FNM, prereleases, etc) are printed in multiple languages anyway, and usually given away in a manner similar to the English versions we'll be talking about. Second, for some promos I've tried to estimate supply based on things like tournament attendance; take these numbers with a grain of salt. While the numbers are good, in researching promos, I was amazed how many times I read things like "all the FNM promo Crystalline Slivers were stolen before they could be released" or "some Judge Promos like Gaea's Cradle were accidentally inserted into Urza's Saga packs." So in the world of promos, very few things are certain, and strange things happen more often that you would think.

DCI Membership Promos (1995)

Back in the early days Magic, Wizards was trying just about anything to get people interested in competitive magic. One of their brilliant marketing plans was to create a two-tiered DCI Membership. In 1995 anyone could become a DCI member for free, but for the low-low fee of $30, you could become a "Legend Member," which came with additional benefits. What were these additional benefits that were meant to entice you into paying $30 for a free service? How about a "commemorative 1997 World Championships prepaid phone card" (no, really) and a deck of playing cards with magic card backs?

Those playing cards have real Magic the Gathering card backs.

Apart from the fun of being able to stick a joker in your deck (which you might have actually gotten away with back then given the horror stories about cheating and rules enforcement in the early days) and having a prepaid phone card to call your buddy to pick you up after the tournament, you actually got two genuine promo Magic cards. 

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Book Promos (1995 - Present)

Almost right from the start, Wizards jumped at the idea of giving away Magic cards with the purchase of a book. Starting with Arena, which was given away with the very first HarperPrism Magic the Gathering novel in 1994 or 1995, this tradition continues to the present day with cards like Faithless Looting showing up in IDW comics. In between, quite a very cards of various quality have entered the market as a companion to books.

The Duelist was used to resolve a supply issue with Nalathni Dragon (which was originally only given away to DragonCon attendees, causing an uproar), and several years later included a promo Scent of Cinder. In 1995 the first two issues of The Shadow Mage comics contained promos versions of Blue Elemental Blast and Fireball which looked exactly like fourth edition cards but had a different date on the bottom. Top Deck, a short lived magazine published by Wizards from 1999 to 2011 included a foil Lightning Hounds and a Spined Wurm, seemingly dubious choices if the idea is someone will buy the book to get the card. In 2001 The Cardz magazine gave away Phyrexian Rangers and Silver Drakes that looked like their original printings, but with the magazine logo on the bottom. In 2009, alternate art Jace Belerens were given away to stores with each copy of the Magic the Gathering novel Agents of Artifice. Finally, over the past three years, IDW comics have contained a total of 17 cards (numbered P1-P17 IDW).

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Arena League Promos (1996-2006)

First I want to thank everyone who filled me in about the Arena League last week in our discussion about Vanguards and 6x9 cards. I had no idea that the Arena League (at least at one point) was actually in the Vanguard format, and that the oversized cards were highly desired by players because they were tons of fun to throw at each other. You all helped me meet my goal of learning something new every day.

While the idea of the Arena League was to create a semi-competitive play environment without rankings or participation requirements to lure casual players around the world into local game stores, explaining how Arena League Promos were given out is a little bit complicated, mostly because the criteria for getting the promos changed several times during the programs decade-long run.

Every year between 1996 and 2006 (with the exception of 2002) the pool of Arena League promos included a cycle of basic lands along with a handful of other cards, some playable and others not so much. In the early years, everyone got one (single card, not cycle) basic land just for participating in the league while the first and second place players for each season were given a non-land promo (the first two being Disenchant and Fireball.) During the first six seasons, judges were rewarded with uncut sheets of the promos. 

This lasted for about a year before the oversized 6x9 cards we talked about last week took over the non-land slot until 1999, when the non-land slot switched again, this time to foil promos. These foils promos were given away to the top two players, and also to one random player who scored at least 30 points during the season. Players who managed to get at least 15 points were also awarded one of the current group of basic lands. This eventually morphed into the top 20 scoring players getting lands, and the top 10 getting non-lands, and after that rewarding promos to player who met specific goals in league play. Basically, all I know for sure about Arena Promos is that they were given out for participation and performance in the Arena League. As far as even guessing how many of each promo is in existence, I wouldn't even know where to start.  

Today the basic lands from Arena League are generally worth between $1 and $5, although a few of the most desirable ones are in the $10 range. As far as non-land cards, Mana Leak, Diabolic Edict, and Enlightened Tutor carry the highest price tag while most of the other cards are only a few bucks.

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PreRelease Promos (1997-Present)

Black Mana Symbol temporary tattoo, given away for participation at Torment prerelease events. I want one.

A group of promos that pretty much everyone knows about, prerelease promos are given away to every player that participates in a prerelease. Up until Khans of Tarkir, there was only one prerelease promo per set, which ended up devaluing some of these cards because the supply was huge. However, for the past two sets, most rares and mythic are released as prerelease promos in smaller numbers. For example, while everyone got a Wurmcoil Engine at the Scars of Mirrordin prerelease, one in 20 players got a Ugin, Spirit Dragon at the Fate Reforged prerelease. As a result, some popular prerelease promos from Khans of Tarkir block like Siege Rhino and Tasigur, the Golden Fang are actually worth more than normal copies (although not as much as pack foils). Even still, a huge majority of these cards are not worth very much simply because there are so many of them floating around. 

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View more prerelease promos

Judge Foils (1998 - Present)

Discounting fringe oddities and misprints, Judge Foils are probably the most pimp cards you can have in your deck. Not only are they rare, but since they are used as payment for the judges who devote they time to making sure the rest of use are having fun playing magic, Wizards tends to make judge promos of cards they would never consider giving away in books, at prereleases, or to FNM participants. Plus, until 2010, there was a foil loophole in the reserved list that allowed for the printing of otherwise unprintable cards. While this loophole has since been closed (apparently because a bunch of people complained about foil Masticore being included in From the Vault: Relics), the first decade of the judge program took full advantage of the policy, and as a result we have some very cool, very expensive foils.

Since the way these promos are given out has changed over the years, it's difficult to speak definitely about distribution. However, it is clear that these cards are both relatively rare (there are far less Magic judges than there are Magic players) and valuable. Out of the 93 Judge Promos, only 5 cards are worth less than $10, nearly half (44 of the 93) are worth at least $50, and 21 percent are worth more than $100 — pretty staggering. Here are a few of the most expensive.

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View more Judge Promos

Junior Super Series (JSS) Promos (1999-2008)

The Junior Super Series was a series of events open to players 15 (and later 18) or under. Along with awarding scholarship money and packs, the JSS awarded two promos each year: one for participation and the second to players who made the top eight. As with the Champs promos we'll talk about in a moment, there is a noticeable price difference between the participation and performance promos as the former has significantly higher supply. 

Mad Auntie is far and away the most expensive JSS promo, however I'm not exactly sure how it was awarded. The series was canceled after 2007, and it looks like Mad Auntie was to be one of the promos for 2008. However, is seems that some number of the should-have-been-destroyed promos slipped out into the market. Again, I am piecing this together from various sources and dates, so if you have more information on where these Mad Aunties come from, please let me know in the comments. Of the cards that were intentionally released, a handful maintain a price of $10 or greater.

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View more JSS promos

Friday Night Magic Promos (2000-current)

You're probably familiar with FNM promos. For the past 15 years they have been given away as prizes for participation and performance at Friday Night Magic events. As of this writing, there are 184 FNM promos, which makes this group the largest in the promo family. Out of these cards there are 20 worth at least $10. Unfortunately, the last time one of these valuable FNM promos saw print was 2009 (Lightning Greaves), which just happens to be same year that Magic entered into the period of huge player base growth it has been experiencing for the past five years. Plus, it seems like more promos are given away at FNMs today than in the past. Between 2001 and 2005 only three players at each FNM received a promo: the winner, the "fairest player," and one random participant. In 2005 this was upped to four, with the top two getting a promo, along with two random participants. Today, it seems, some stores just give promos to everyone who shows up, so the supply of FNM promos seems to have increased significantly in recent years. As a result, the most expensive FNM promos come from the very first years (2005 or before) of the program, are constructed playable, and in some cases have no other foil printings

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View more FNM Promos

Player Rewards Promos (2001-2011)

We talked at length about Player Rewards promos last week, so I'm not going to rehash everything here. The short version is from 2001-2011 Wizards would mail players promos based on the number of sanctioned events they played in. Almost all are textless, some are foil, and a player rewards Cryptic Command is a great way to confuse your playgroup.


View more MPR Promos

Two-Headed Giant Promo (2005)

Until researching this article, I had no idea how popular the two-headed giant format was about a decade ago. Today, THG is fringe at best, but in the mid-2000s, not only were several of the state championships in the two-headed giant format, but Pro Tour San Diego in 2007 had a two-headed giant finals. As a result of this burgeoning popularity, Wizards made a promo to be given away to the top 16 players at select THG tournaments held across the world in November and December 2005. While I couldn't find a list of APAC events, there were 586 held in the Americas alone, which amount to nearly 10,000 promos. As such, I would guess that including the rest of the world, at least 15,000 (and maybe even 20,000) promo Underworld Dreams are in circulation.


Champs Promos (2006-2008)

State championships today carry about the same level of prestige as an SCG Open and are hosted several times a year by several different organizations. However in the past, states (also called "champs" since they were also held internationally) were hosted by Wizards and were a very big deal. Between 2006 and 2008 part of the prize pool for the champs were extended art promos. Over the course of these three years, six non-foil promos were given out just for participation while another six foil promos were given to players who made the top 8 (for individual tournaments) or top 4 (for two-headed giant tournaments). As a result, all of the champs promos are rare, but the ones given away for performance are extremely rare and quite expensive. 

Of the participation promos, Electrolyze and Bramblewood Paragon are the two big winners, carrying price tags of between $20 and $30. Urza's Factory, Rakdos Guildmage, Blood Knight and Imperious Perfect, on the other hand, are only worth a few bucks (although they do look pretty sweet). 

As for the performance-based promos, I was trying to figure out exactly how many are in existence so I went back and counted. Between the US and Japan, 96 champs tournaments were held in 2006. If this is correct, that would mean there are less than 1000 of each promo in existence (if you have a better methodology, or more info about states/champs in the mid-2000s, please let me know in the comments). As a result, it's not surprising that the constructed playable cards Doran, the Siege Tower and Mutavault cost hundred of dollars.

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View more Champs Promos

Summer of Magic Promos (2007) - not to be confused with "summer magic" misprints

The "summer of magic" was an in-store play program designed to increase participation in organized play during the summer lull. A LGS had the opportunity to run up to 10 limited tournaments over the course of the summer, and in addition to any prizes given out by the store, Wizards provided two foil promos: Treetop Village and Faerie Conclave. Whoever finished first at one of these events got their choice of one of the two promos, while the runner-up got the leftover. One copy of each promo was also given out randomly as participation promos to players who finished lower than second.

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Gateway/Wizard's Play Network (WPN) Promos (2006-2012)

Gateway and WPN are the spiritual successors to the old Arena League, looking to pull casual players into gaming stores for some semi-competitive play. The most interesting part of the program was the way the promos were suppose to be distributed. Instead of performance or participation, the idea was to give players promos for completing specific objectives, including things like donating old basic lands or participating in a sanctioned Standard tournament. All Gateway/WPN promos are numbered "DCI1" through "DC100." Most are low value and even less playable than a typical FNM promo, however a few have their uses, especially for pimping out your cube or EDH deck.

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View more Gateway Promos and WPN Promos

Holiday Promos (2006-Present)

Do you think it's a coincidence that holiday promos with names like Season's Beatings, Snow Mercy and Yule Ooze started hitting the market the same exact year that a formerly unknown Magic player named Luis Scott-Vargas — now lovingly known as the Punmaster General — started winning tournaments? I don't. Holiday Promos are given away to stores and other business associates of Wizards as a sort of holiday bonus. Even though the cards are goofy and not legal in any format, they are relativity low in supply, and as a result are always worth a decent amount. Plus, some of the are actually pretty funny.

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Grand Prix Promos (2007 - Present)

Grand Prix promos are a participation promo given to everyone who plays a in a GP during a specific season. In recent years, Wizards has used these promos to reprint cards that are not only desirable for eternal formats, but also Modern cards that could use a few more copies in circulation. While don't carry the same level of prestige (or scarcity) as Judge Foils, they are definitely higher on the promo hierarchy than most of the other groups on this list. 

While determining the supply of GP promos is not easy (a common theme with the promos seems to be vendors/tournament organizers get more than they actually hand out), in theory, you can add up GP attendance from a given season and come up with a rough number of how many of each promo is in existence. Assuming this methodology is correct (like I said, maybe, maybe not), here are the rough numbers on GP promos:

Card Season Supply $
Spiritmonger 2007 11,594 $8.16
Call of the Herd 2008 17,689 $2.95
Chrome Mox 2009 18,231 $25.86
Umezawa's Jitte 2010 22,351 $55.82
Maelstrom Pulse 2011 21,720 $13.36
Goblin Guide 2012a 27,087 $31.35
Lotus Cobra 2012b 17,430 $12.50
Primeval Titan 2103a 29.227 $21.89
All is Dust 2013b 24,625 $18.17
Batterskull 2014 62,392 $15.99
Griselbrand 2015 ??? $29.29

View more Grand Prix Promos

Resale Promos (2007 - Present)

I think of these cards as Wal-Mart promos, because that is where I most often see them, gracing the front of those three-booster packs that always make me a little bit nervous that someone mapped the box they came from. As of today, these promos are generally worthless because they are printed into the ground, but there was a time a few years ago where people were selling resale promos Broodmate Dragons that they purchase for $12 along with three boosters for hundreds of dollars. These were not asking prices — there were multiple completed Ebay listings in the $70-$100 range and stories of people paying up to $250 on the floor at GPs. All the US resale promos are numbered A1 thought A12 and are foil, but with their original art. Generally a new one shows up in the big box stores two times each year.

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View more Media Promos

Pro Tour Promos (2007 - 2011)

Pro Tour promos were a special award given to people who attended (not necessarily played in) a Pro Tour. While it seems like forever ago, as recently as 2011 you could show up to a PT, hang out, play in some side events, and come away with a PT promo. Unfortunately today, we are stuck watching on Twitch. Four PT promos saw print, and all are currently in the $10-$20 range.

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View more Pro Tour Promos


Gameday Promos (2007 - Present)

Gameday events happen once for each set release, usually three (or so) weeks after the prerelease. You get one promo just for showing up (usually an uncommon) and another for making the top 8 (usually a rare). Since the Player Rewards program ended, game day promos are the primary way of introducing full art (but sadly not textless) promos into the system. While some of the top 8 promos are valuable, the participation promos are normally close to bulk due to the massive supply (with a few exceptions for four-of Modern cards like Memnite).

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View more Game Day Promos


15th Anniversary Promos (2008)

Back in 2008 Wizards decided they should do something special for their 15th anniversary, and this something special was to give away a couple of not-that-exciting promos. Khamal, Pit Fighter came from a 10th edition starter deck, while Char was given away to people who attended Origins or GenCon that year. 

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Launch Party Promos (2008 - 2012)

Launch Party promos are pretty much the annoying little brother of prerelease promos. While being a prerelease promo is close to a guarantee that a card will see (at least) Standard play, being a launch party promo is almost just as strong of a statement that the card is unplayable. Of course, there are a few exceptions, but generally speaking, the track record on launch party promos isn't great. As far as distribution, they are participation promos, so all you needed to do is show up and play in the event to get a copy. As a result supply is high and even the most playable of these cards like Restoration Angel and Phyrexian Metamorph are generally worth about the same as pack non-foil.

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View more Launch Party Promos

Convention Promos (2009 - Present, plus Nalathai Dragon in 1994)

Convention promos are basically a type of participation promo, but instead of playing in a tournament to get your card, you need to show up at some other event. While Wizards has been giving away promos at PAX for years, the big players in this group of promos are the black planeswalkers available at Comic Con each of the past two years. It will be interesting to see if they carry on the tradition this year, because if they do, I would expect the one-print, double-sided planeswalkers to be even more popular than their predecessors.

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View SDCC13 and SDCC14 Promos


Buy-A-Box Promos (2009 - Present)

The running joke about Buy-A-Box promos is that they are almost always Standard staples. There have been a couple of misses (*cough*Render Silent*cough*), but the track record on these cards is sterling. The idea of BAB promos is to incentivize players to buy a booster box from their LGS as soon as a new set releases. If you happen to be one of the first 20 (or 30 for larger stores) players to buy a box, you not only get your 36 packs, but a shiny new promo as a thank you. All BAB promos are foils and feature alternate art, which is a positive. On the other hand, if you look over the list of participating stores, you'll see it's absolutely huge — in the Americas alone there are 2714 participating stores. If we assume each gets 25 copies we end up with 67,850 copies of each BAB promo. For context, a large set rare is opened, on average, once every 1.7 boxes. This means that being a buy a box promo increases the supply of a rare just as much as if you opened an additional $11 million dollars of boxes (at $100 per box). As a result, while some of these cards maintain a decent value, most are not worth significantly more than their regular printing. BAB promos are one of the more cost efficient ways to pimp out your decks.

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View more Media Promos

World Magic Cup Qualifier Promos (2013-Present)

Finally we arrive at the latest addition to the massive promo family. WMC Qualifier are invite only tournaments open to player with a minimum number of planeswalker points, pro points and hall of famers. If you're on the list, you show up and play for a chance to represent your country in the World Magic Cup and also get a sweet foil promo for attending. The first was Vengevine, the second was Geist of Saint Traft

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Anyway, that's all for today. What do you think? Are you a fan of any of these promos in specific, either as a player or as a financier? How do you feel about using promos as a hedge against reprintings? Do you have any bright ideas for figuring out the supply of various promos? Let me know in the comments, or as always, you can reach me on Twitter @SaffronOlive.

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