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Un-Set Finance

Un-sets—Unglued, Unhinged, and shortly Unstable—are weird. Actually, Un-sets are probably the single weirdest Magic product on the market, filled with silver-bordered cards that aren't legal for tournament play and brimming with obscure references and inside jokes. The combination of these factors means it's not 100% clear who a set like Unstable is designed for. While it's certainly true that not every product is for every player, it's also true that every product is (or at least should be) for someone, and figuring out who that someone is for Unstable is challenging. 

Think about the typical journey of a Magic player: they start off playing casually, at home on the kitchen table with friends, and slowly work up the ranks of competitive play, going to FNMs, Game Days, and perhaps eventually Grands Prix and so forth. In fact, Wizards' marketing is designed to push players in this direction, from kitchen tables to FNMs and beyond—this is the pathway they have built, with an ever-increasing level of commitment and competition (of course, there's no single path in Magic, and there's absolutely nothing wrong with playing the game however you like, so don't worry if you haven't followed this path).

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At first glance, it would seem that Un-sets are simply another product designed for new players in the casual stage, since the cards aren't tournament legal. The problem is that Un-sets tend to rely heavily on inside jokes and references to old cards that many new players probably won't understand. The inside jokes of Un-sets, on the other hand, make it seem as if the sets are designed for more established players who will get the references, but as players move down the path toward more competitive play, they are less likely to be interested in cards that can't be played in tournaments. This puts Un-sets in a very strange place—too reliant on inside jokes for new players, too illegal for competitive players—which seems to leave a pretty small segment of the Magic community as the target audience.

This leads to the question, who actually buys Un-sets? Unfortunately, I don't have a good answer. My guess is that a lot of Unstable will be sold to players who simply want to experience the novelty of the format once, so they pick up a box to draft with their play group or at their local game store. Next on the list might be casual players who actually want to build decks around the cards, but I'm not sure how often this happens. I played as a purely casual player for a couple of years when I first got into Magic, and while we had free mulligans and no clue about formats, we still wouldn't let people play with silver-bordered cards. Finally, there's probably a small group of players who want the cards for unique reasons, like building an Un-set cube (which becomes a lot more realistic with three Un-sets rather than two) or even Un-set collectors, which I'm sure exist in some number, although this last group has to be pretty tiny. Cubing is already a small subset of the community, and Un-set cubing has to be a minuscule segment of the cube community.

Now, you're probably wondering why we are spending so much time in an article about Un-set finance talking about who Un-sets are for, and while this is a fair question, the "who is it for" and "who will actually buy it" questions are what underlie the entire discussion of Un-set finance. Un-set finance (perhaps flavorfully) flips normal Magic finance on its head. The cards that are usually the throwaway draft chaff that you leave on the table of your local game store—lands and tokens—are the ones that have the most value, while the mythics and rares that normally drive the value of the set are comparatively worthless. The problem is that tokens and basic lands show up in every single pack, which means their supply and prices will be heavily dictated by just how much Unstable sells overall, which in turn means any discussion of Un-set finance is built on the foundation of total demand for the product and set sales.

So with Unstable previews starting this week, we're going to take a few minutes to talk about Un-set finance today. With the help of our previous two Un-sets—Unhinged and Unglued—we'll look at which cards do and don't have value, and attempt to use this information to make some guesses about how Unstable finance will work!

Rares (and Mythics)

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Normally when we think of card prices, we're trying to figure out how much demand there is for a specific card. If Hazoret the Fervent is showing up in a lot of top decks, people will likely be buying copies, which will increase the price. The rares (and for Unstable, mythics) of Un-sets work the same way, with a twist: demand isn't based on playability, since none of the cards (discounting the black-border Steamflogger Boss reprint) are tournament playable. Instead, when it comes to Un-set rares and mythics, demand seems to be primarily based around how funny the joke is, followed by weird, fringe factors. 

There are a total of four rares and mythics from Unhinged and Unglued that are worth more than $5. Three of them reference ultra-iconic cards from the past: Blacker Lotus (Black Lotus), Mox Lotus (Black Lotus and the Moxen, like Mox Pearl), and City of Ass (City of Brass). The fourth one is the type of card I could imagine some Magic players carrying around in their wallet, waiting for the perfect bar trip to pull it out and spring it on their friend: Ashnod's Coupon.

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Just missing our list is Richard Garfield, Ph.D., which is likely a popular choice for people going to an event and hoping to get a signature from Richard Garfield himself. Apart from these cards, the rares from Unhinged and Unglued are basically worthless, and even the handful in the $2–3 range are pretty hard to sell for a reasonable price, with high spreads if you look to sell them to a buylist and little demand in trade binders. With this in mind, it seems pretty unlikely that many of the rares and mythics from Unstable will be worth a significant amount of money. While a few will certainly rise to the top based on the quality of the joke or other factors, "the top" is likely $5, rather than $20 or even $40 like with normal sets. 

Commons and Uncommons

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While it's possible for Un-sets to have "chase" commons and uncommons, much like the rares and mythics, without playability driving demand, it's the quality of the gag that determines prices. The good news is that a really funny uncommon can be worth more than most of the rares in the set, as we see with Cheatyface, one of the most iconic cards from Unhinged. Also, keep an eye out for cycles like Rock / Paper / Scissors. While none of these cards would have much value on their own, the cumulative demand for the cycle (if you're buying one, you're likely buying all three, since that's the joke—we see similar similar with B.F.M. (Big Furry Monster) in the rare slot)—which makes Scissors Lizard, Rock Lobster, and Paper Tiger the most valuable commons (by a significant margin) from an Un-set. 

Now, you're probably wondering: if the rares and mythics are worthless and the commons and uncommons are worthless, where does the value come from in an Un-set? Here, the answer is pretty simple: the most valuable cards from an Un-set are the least valuable cards from a normal set: the basic lands and tokens.


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The basic lands from Un-sets are among the most valuable non-promo basic lands in all of Magic. The full art basics from Unhinged range from $7 to $12, while the unique Unglued lands fall into the $5 to $7 range. And remember, just like with a normal Magic set, you get a basic land every single pack, which means if you could somehow pick up Unhinged or Unglued at MSRP, you'd quite literally be guaranteed to make money every single pack, despite the worthless rares, just from the basic land slot. (Good luck finding boxes at MSRP though; a quick check on eBay shows that Unhinged boxes go for between $600 and $700, while Unglued sells for around $1,000 a box.) This trend of the basic lands eating up most of the value of the Un-sets is likely to continue in Unstable, although it would be unwise to expect prices to be anywhere near those of older Un-set basics. 

Let's do a quick bit of math: Unstable will be priced like a normal Magic set, which means normal expected-value rules apply. Considering you get 36 basic lands in a booster box, at $2 each, this would put the EV of an Unstable box at $72; at $2.50, the EV would be $90. Assuming that every other card is literally worthless (which is a bit of an exaggeration—while the other cards won't be worth much, a few will probably have a little value), this would be the absolute maximum average price for Unstable basics while the set is in print. If the average price somehow increased to $3, it would be profitable to just crack boxes (and even more profitable than usual because there's no risk or variance, since the basic land is guaranteed in every pack). With these prices in mind, seeing the basic lands from Unstable in the $1.50 to $2.00 range (at retail) seems likely over the short term. This price range is high enough to put the expected value of an Unstable box in the normal range while also leaving a little bit of value for the non-basic-land cards in the set.


While lands eat up most of an Un-set's value thanks to the fact that they are some of the only tournament-legal cards in the set, one other group of cards from Un-sets is technically tournament legal: the tokens. Unhinged has some classic, really unique looking tokens that are still worth a good bit of money (at least, by token standards) to this day, with the Squirrel token leading the way at over $3 and the rest falling into the $1.50 to $2.50 range. One of the tricks that made the tokens from Unhinged so valuable is that they are generic. Rather than being a 1/1 Squirrel or a 2/2 Zombie, they are just Soldiers, Goblins, Squirrels, and Zombies, which means the Unhinged tokens will get the job done no matter what kind of token of these creature types you want to represent. 

While past Un-set tokens are valuable, it's a bit dangerous to generalize this value to Unstable, simply because we don't know enough about the tokens. So far, the only real information we have is that we'll get one every pack, all of them will be foil and about half of the tokens will be tied to cards in Unstable. Will they be classic generic creature types or card-specific tokens with little demand? What will they look like? At this point, it's hard to say whether the tokens from Unstable will have any value at all, but based on the past, it's worth keeping the usually forgotten card type in mind as Unstable spoilers roll out over the next few weeks. There's a higher than usual chance that some of these cards might have some real value.

Questions for Unstable

Based on past Un-sets, we have a pretty good idea about how Un-set finance works. Rares and mythics have a hard time maintaining much value, since they are illegal for tournament play (and are probably barred by many casual playgroups as well). The same is true of common and uncommons. While a handful of cards that are particularly funny, reference iconic old cards, or are somehow useful in real life (like Ashnod's Coupon or Richard Garfield, Ph.D.) might have a little value, you'll be cracking packs of Unstable for the jokes and novelty, rather than in the hopes of opening a valuable rare. Since the "real" cards are generally worthless, the value of Unstable will likely be concentrated primarily in the lands and maybe in some of the tokens as well, depending on how things shake out. Because of this, the basic lands of Unstable are the biggest question mark of the set.

We already determined that the ceiling for the lands will be somewhere around $2.50 while Unstable is in print but with an average value in the $1.50 range being most likely. So, the bigger question is: what happens to the set in the long term? Boxes of both Unglued and Unhinged are incredibly valuable (thanks mostly to the lands). Is it fair to expect something similar to happen with Unstable? Should you stock up on a case today for around $500 and plan on selling that case for $5,000 a decade from now? 

The answer to this question rests solely on the basic lands. The good news is that the basic lands look amazing. The art is solid, and the borderless look is sharp. This would suggest that, even if the lands are only worth $2.00 a piece while the set is in print, they could be worth a lot more in the future, which would not only make the lands themselves a good investment but the sealed booster boxes (which again have a land in every pack) a good investment as well, like past Un-sets.

However, there is a problem. It's been more than a decade since we have had an Unset, and a lot has changed in the past 13 years. Most relevant to Unstable is the fact that full-art lands simply aren't as unique or special as they once were. These lands were groundbreaking when Unhinged and Unglued came out, but we've had two editions of Zendikar since then along with random full-art promos from other sets. We're getting to the point where full-art land fatigue is a real concern, not to mention the fact that there are a ton of options to choose from if you want full-art basics in your deck. When Unhinged came out, it was the only game in town for full-art lands, so you had to buy these lands if you wanted to spice up your deck, driving up demand and the price. Now, you can choose between a ton of different options, and some people are going to prefer Unhinged, Unglued, or even Zendikar basics over Unstable, which will likely keep the price from going too high. 

While I understand Wizards' choice to put full-art lands in Unstable (and I think they look awesome), in some ways, I wish they had played it less safe. Since the basic lands are the calling card of Un-sets, having "just another" set of full-art lands is a bit of a disappointment. Something more unique, along the lines of Unglued, might have been better, or maybe the "no art" land idea that has been tossed around for a while now. I'd be more excited about the long-term financial prospects of the set if the basics were a bit more unique. While being borderless is a twist, the lands are still very similar to the rest of the full-art basics in the multiverse, which means there's a ton of competition. Being the only game in town for no-art lands would make Unstable more similar to Unhinged or Unglued, where if you wanted a certain subgroup of basics for your deck, you pretty much had to buy the set (or at least the lands from the set, which would force someone else to crack a box of the set to sell them to you). 

And this bring us back around to the starting point. Who will buy Unstable, and how many members of this group are out there? As odd as it sounds, from a financial perspective, the set will have much more long-term potential if it fails while it's in print because there would be fewer of the basic lands on the market, giving them the potential to end up more expensive over the long haul. On the other hand, if the set is a smashing success, the Unstable basics might end up more similar to Zendikar basics in terms of price, as just another version of full-art lands with a ton of supply on the market. 


Anyway, that's all for today. What do you think? Who actually buys Un-sets? Are you planning on buying a booster box of Unstable? If so, what is your reason? To draft? Because you want the lands? Because you enjoy the jokes? Something else altogether? Where do you rank the Unstable basics in the pantheon of full-art lands? Are they different enough to make you go out and upgrade to them over Zendikar basics and other similar options? Let me know in the comments!

As always, leave your thoughts, ideas, opinions, and suggestions, and you can reach me on Twitter @SaffronOlive or at

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