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Strange, Large, and Rare: Promos and Oddities Part 1


Welcome to the weird and whacky world of promos, supplemental products, and oversized cards. In some ways, this world is similar to Time Spiral where things look and feel a lot like normal, regular Magic, but something is just a little bit off. Sometimes the cards a little too big, other times they were only given out to people who plays two-headed giant in 2005 or some Junior event in Japan. Regardless of where they come from and how they got there, there are some very fun, very cool cards floating around out there and today we are going to talk about some of them.

If you are interested in the financial aspect of Magic, these cards have both pluses and minuses. The most obvious downside is if you ever decide to sell these cards, your market is limited. While every Magic player I've ever met wants a Black Lotus, it takes a special kind of Magic enthusiast to want a 6x9 Black Lotus that illegal in any format. Likewise, most players are willing to pay $17.99 for a foil copy of Ertai, the Corrupted that they really want for their Commander deck, but only a few will pony up $120 for the alternative art version. 

On the other hand, the supply of many of these unique cards is limited, which not only makes owning a copy special, but means that they are often worth a pretty penny (assuming you can find a buyer). Better yet, the chances that they get reprinted are slim (to none) compared to normal cards, and even if they do get reprints, the unique printing doesn't generally suffer in value. Just look at the price history of the Player Rewards Lightning Helix.

Lighting Helix has been reprinted no less than four times over the past few years (in Planechase, Modern Masters, and two different dual decks). This constant influx of supply has kept the price of regular copies stagnant, but the Player Rewards promo just keeps increasing in price — from a low of $2.50 in January 2011 all the way up to $11 today. From the look of the price chart, this isn't from some crazy buyout or speculation, but real demand for a unique and playable card. So, without further ado, let's look at some of the oddities from Magic's history. 

Vanguards

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If you've ever played Momir Basic on Magic Online, you're probably familiar with vanguards — oversized cards which are similar to a commander that you can't play. Apart from having an ability, each vanguard impacts game play right from the start by increasing or decreasing your starting life total and hand. Altogether there are 32 vanguards, broken down into four sets (or series) of eight, depicting the powers of some of the most iconic characters in Magic lore. 

Vanguards were originally sold in the late 1990's as part of one of my all-time favorite supplemental products: The Vanguard Gift Box. Along with the first series of vanguards, the box contains three foreign language packs: Italian Mirage, Chinese Visions, and Korean Weatherlight. What's better than drafting Mirage block? Drafting Mirage block in three different languages! (Actually, there are many things more fun than drafting Mirage block, including getting your wisdom teeth pulled, playing 15 straight rounds of Burn mirrors, and trying to get paid for your top 8 at Cardmageddon). The second, third, and fourth series of Vanguards were released as part of the Arena program, and four cards were also bundled with specific issues of The Duelist magazine.

I'm always surprised that more casual player groups don't keep a set of Vanguard around to spice things up. Bouncing the same decks off each other can get a little boring, and having each player start with a random (or chosen) vanguard actually has a major impact on how a game plays out. It's not quite like having an entire new deck, but it's about as close as you can get with adding only one card. You can also use them for various deck building challenges like giving everyone a vanguard to build a deck around for next week, or seeing who can build the best deck for a specific vanguard.

Buying a brand new Vanguard Gift Box today will set you back between $50 and $60 on eBay. If you are buying Vanguards individually, you can expect to pay between $1 and $5 for a majority, although some Vanguards (especially those from the fourth series, which I'm guessing must be in low-supply) maintain significant value. (Titania is roughly $40, but is currently out of stock).

Titania [VAN] $ 0.00 $ 0.00 $ 0.00 $ 0.00 $ 0.00 $ 0.00 $ 0.00 $ 0.00 $ 0.00 $ 0.00 $ 0.00 $ 0.00

 

Coldsnap Theme Deck Reprints

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Unlike modern theme decks, which always only contain Standard-legal cards, Wizards did something a bit difference when the final set of the Ice Age block released a decade after its predecessors. Along with cards from Coldsnap, these theme decks contained 62 cards from Ice Age and Alliances, printed with new borders and goofy-looking, oversized mana symbols. While most of the cards were commons and uncommons, and the few rares that did slip in were underwhelming (Binding Grasp), some of the cards look pretty sharp in their new borders. For instance, the Swords to Plowshares pictured above.

The main reason I bring up these cards is I find them to be a cheap and easy way to pimp out your decks. While the aren't exactly rare, they are relatively obscure, especially when you consider they were printed in 2006 — several years before the massive influx of players that started during Shards block. Unless you're playing with a group of old-timers or oddity hunters, it's unlikely anyone in your play group has ever heard of these cards. To be honest, I've been selling Magic cards for years, and I didn't know about Coldsnap Theme Deck Reprints until they happened to show up in a collection I purchased a few years ago. 

Forest [CST]

Another weird quirk of these decks is that basic Forests are actually worth a couple dollars each. While the other four basics came 10 or 12 to a deck, there were only three copies of Forest in the Aurochs Stampede deck. So if you come across some Forests with an Ice Age set symbol and an oversized mana symbol, think twice before shipping them away as bulk. 

As for the rest of the cards, most are relatively inexpensive. Brainstorm and Swords to Plowshares lead the way at between $4 and $5 while Dark Ritual comes in at $3. The reprints also include the most valuable normal printing of Disenchant (outside Alpha and Beta, of course), Ashen Ghoul, and Tinder Wall all of which come in between $1.50 and $2. 

Oversized (6x9) Cards

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A few years ago one of my local gaming stores went out of business. Since I was a regular who spent hours digging through their bulk boxes, they asked me to help them move. My reward for lugging shelves, racks, and display cases into a U-Haul for 10 hours (apart from getting the Golden Ticket to dig through their binders and take whatever I wanted) was a big stack of oversized cards I had never seen before. The very cool hippy women who owned the store (and spent most of her afternoons watching movies like Nasfaratu on Netflix with her 8-year old daughter while business was slow) was going to throw them away, so I came to the rescue and set about doing some research.

 

I found that most of these cards were given away as prizes in the Arena League, an in-store play program which ran for several years in the late 1990's. While this is before my Magic playing days, it seems that the Arena League was broken down into several inconsistently named seasons each year. Some seasons were named after actual seasons, like "Summer" or "Autumn," while others were named after Magic related events, like "Tempest" or "Radiant." Quick aside: if any of you actually played in the Arena League, please share in the comments because I'm very curious as to how it worked. Was it just like an FNM? What formats did you play? How often? Did people, back in these dark days before EDH, even care about getting an oversized card as a prize? Do you still have any sitting around?

A handful of these oversized cards entered the market in other ways, including Chaos Orb, Black Lotus, and Juzam Djinn which came with issues of Inquest, Scry, and The Duelist respectfully. Awsan Jaguar, the only unique oversized card (it has no "normal" version), came along with an add-on to the MicroPose Magic computer game. A handful were given away at Wizards-run tournaments, including Incoming! at the GenCon Unglued release tournament. Despite their lack of tournament (or even casual) playability, many of these cards have increased in value over the past few years, and are actually valuable collectibles today. As far as prices, Library of Alexandria leads the way at $60, but if you look over the price list, you'll see that most of these cards are worth somewhere between $10 and $20. The main exception are cards that were awarded for participation rather than performance; their much larger supply keep values in the $2 range. Forgetting finance for a minute and putting shuffling issues aside, how cool would it be to show up to your weekly Magic playgroup with an all 6x9 deck? For instance, this one:

 

While this deck might look like a joke, I think it can win some games. Apart from playing like a traditional control deck, the combo of Zuran Orb, Blinking Spirit and Balance slots in naturally and you even get Vampiric Tutor to find whatever piece you are missing. I think there might be other decks possible using only 6x9 cards, so if you're bored and looking for a challenge, give it a shot and leave it for me in the comments. You can find a list of the cards here. I would love to see what you come up with.

 

Players Reward Promos

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It was only four years ago (2011) that Wizards officially stopped the Players Reward program, much to the disappointment of players everywhere. As a result, these promos are not as old or rare as some of the other cards we've been talking about, but I still think they are worth mentioning, mostly because some of them are pretty damn cool. 

So, back in 2001, Wizards thinking of a way to drive tournament attendance and someone came up with the idea of offering players rewards for attendance. Once you signed up for a DCI membership, you simply needed to attend 20 tournaments and Wizards would send you a foil promo a few months later. Once more cards were included in the promo rotation (starting in 2004), every five tournaments you attended would net you two random non-foil promos (or tokens), while 20 tournaments would get you such treasures as the textless foils Damnation and Cryptic Command pictured above. 

Today, even some of the lowly commons and uncommons from this program command a significant premium over their regular printings. For most of these cards, the textless promo is the most chase/pimp version available. Sure, there are a few rarely played Player Reward promos that are only worth a dollar or two, but a majority of the cards are worth at least $3, and some much more. In fact, in most cases the textless promo is worth significantly more than the pack foil of the same card, which tells us just how popular these cards are with players who like to pimp out their decks (I almost called them "pimps," which is think may be technically correct, but...) Anyway, check out some of the more popular promos vs their regular counterparts:

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Alt-Art Planeshift Foils

When Planeshift released in 2001, Wizards decided to do something a little bit different — they inserted alternate art foils of three rares right into packs on a very limited basis (I'm pretty sure this is the first and only time this has happened, although the "hidden treasures" in Zendikar are similar, they were pre-existing cards rather than unique printings). The rumor around the forums was that they were printed one in every 10 boxes, but I'm pretty sure this number is far too low. If you consider that you open an average of one foil rare per box, a 1:10 box ratio would mean you are actually slightly more likely to open an alternative art foil Skyship Weatherlight than a regular pack foil. 

I'll be the first to admit that I've never actually seen any of these cards in the wild, which is slightly odd because I've come across all the other cards we've been talking about in collections over the years. I can only guess it is because of their epic price tag. Ertai, the Corrupted will set you back at least $120, Skyship Weatherlight in the neighborhood of $110 while Tangarth, Taalrum Hero comes in at about $80 big ones.

These prices made me wonder if anyone actually buys these cards, so I decided to do a quick search of completed listings on eBay. It seems that the answer is yes, but not very often. There were a handful of copies that sold over the past two or three months, and most of these were under priced, so I'm not sure if they were bought by actual players, or by dealers who figure they could sell them for more in their local market. 

Test Prints

The above cards are far from the only test prints Wizards has ever made, but they are likely the most interesting. In the early days of Magic, there were no foil cards at all. Wizards decided that foil cards would be cool in the late 1990's, so they tested out four different foiling methods and nine different brightnesses on some old cards. 

I mention these cards not because they matter much financially — they are so rare and hard to find that it's unlikely you or I would ever have the opportunity to buy one even if we felt like ponying up several thousand dollars for a card that may or may not be tournament legal (from what I've read you can play black-bordered copies, but not silver-boardered). I mention them because these cards might be the ultimate level of "pimp" in all of Magic. Forget textless promos, Coldsnap re-releases, and all the other cards we have been talking about: This is the holy grail. In fact, if I was ever going to own one card as a trophy, I'm pretty sure it would be the silver-boarder foil test print City of Traitors on the top right. 

Conclusion

Anyway, that's all for today. Make sure to let me know if this type of stuff interests you, because I could definitely do an entire article on promos in general, and maybe even another one on promo lands. Until next time, I have a few questions for you:

  • If you could own one Magic card as a trophy (i.e. not to play with, or because you need it for your deck) what card would you choose, and why?
  • Did you play in the Arena league? Can you tell me more about it?
  • Can you build a better deck for the 6x9 format than mine? You can find an entire list here. So far, my only rules are that Black Lotus and Library of Alexandria are restricted and Unhinged/Unglued cards are banned.

So, until next time, leave your answer, thoughts, and decklists in the comments. You can also reach me on Twitter @SaffronOlive. 


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