Thursday, July 4, 2013

Magic: The Gathering: A Solution to the Reserved List Problem

By Chris McGinty (

I’ve read the articles of Mark Rosewater for years. He’s my favourite “Magic: The Gathering” writer followed by Mark Gottlieb and Aaron Forsythe. Recently, in regards to Modern Masters, Rosewater made a statement on his blog to look at the history of Chronicles. Chronicles? All I know about Chronicles is that the cards aren’t worth much on the secondhand market, and there seems to be a lot of them.

As it turns out, it was at the core of the creation of the reserved list. It seems that some people spent large amounts of money on cards that were reprinted in Chronicles, while not understanding the concept of investment. This is a topic for another article, but the simple version is that we live in a society where people want sure things with their investments, but collectibles are one of the most inconsistent investments.

One side of the reserved list argument feels that Wizards of the Coast is protecting the feelings of a small percentage of the Magic community while inadvertently punishing everyone who came to the game late. Some Wizards employees have talked about frustration of not being able to reprint some cards that aren’t highly valuable on the secondhand market, but could be useful in current sets. Some fans of Legacy and Vintage feel that the reserved list is slowly killing those formats. Please note that these are not necessarily my opinions.
Theme Deck Idea: Un'reprint'ant Sins
The biggest problem I personally see with the reserved list is that it’s widely considered to be a mistake that possibly a majority of people wish could be taken back. It’s the entity that is Wizards of the Coast that is being held responsible for a promise that was made well over a decade ago. Many of the people that make up that entity now were not part of that promise.

In fact, there was a point where Wizards gave a “fair warning” to people buying the game that there would be no new cards added to the reserved list. If we’re being honest, this was a violation of the reserved list to begin with. Part of the promise was that so many cards would be added to the reserved list each year, but a future generation of Wizards employees realized that was a bad idea, and put a stop to it. The funny thing is that the game survived that decision, as well as the decision to remove some commons and uncommons from the list.
Mirage reserve cards all bought for 2 cents or less. I hope they don't reprint these and lower their value.
My solution is similar to that “fair warning” thinking. I got the idea while reading Aaron Forsythe’s article about Modern Masters. He felt that the mistake of Chronicles was the printing level. Had the print run been smaller, it might not have tanked values of collections so highly. In this way, Wizards decided to make a smaller print run of Modern Masters to help the Modern format while not increasing availability of some cards to the point that they were no longer sought after by secondhand market collectors. So here is my solution:

Step One: Wizards announces that the reserved list will be slowly phased out over the next so many years. This might have to be a long time. A decade. Maybe longer. And in fact, they will have to pick a reasonably long amount of time before the process starts. For purposes of this article let’s pretend they find the best solution to be to start in three years and be done in ten years, and they announce it in December of 2013.

Step Two: Starting in 2017, they remove a number of cards from the reserved list. They continue this process until 2024 going from the least valuable cards (based on the current secondhand market) to the most valuable, and possibly starting with a small number to remove and slowly increasing. The plan should be made public and include what comes off the reserved list when.

Step Three: Once a card is off the reserved list, it cannot be used in a set with mass printing for a number of years, say three. During that time, Wizards can reprint these cards in supplemental sets with low print runs. After the three years, they may reprint as they see fit.

Step Four: Wizards never does anything like the reserved list again.

This would give everyone a reasonable amount of time to be aware that if they buy a Black Lotus or other high price card that in so many years the value will decrease. Meanwhile, collectors and Legacy and Vintage players who don’t want to wait that long to buy certain cards, might still be willing to pay a high price for the cards. A decade is a long time for impulse buyers with disposable incomes. Cards removed from the reserved list would still retain some value as initial print runs would be low.

This would give the secondhand market, and collectors, plenty of time to predict and adjust to the future values of cards, and players of non-rotating formats time to predict and adjust to the future power levels. It would also give the future generations of Wizards employees the freedom to make the game as they feel it should be made. This might not mean that Black Lotus will ever be Standard legal, but that if Wizards felt it should be, it could be.

Long term, I believe this to be a reasonable solution because eventually players will simply not be able to afford to buy the high end cards of the reserve list, so those cards will be relegated to the collector’s market only. When it is a collector’s market, the cards will retain value based on the set they were printed in. A collector will pay more for an Alpha version of a card than they would for a 2024 reprint, much the way a book collector will pay more for a first edition print, but meanwhile casual players can afford to play with older cards.


  1. In my opinion WOTC really dropped the ball when they made the decision to make the list.

    Magic is not meant for collector's it is a playing card game. And as such, bending over and taking it from behind by a few thousand collectors just to make them happy when they didn't have the intentions of using the card/s really makes me mad. If you buy the card you should play with it, not put it in a binder just so you can show off.

    I myself have a collection of almost all the Wurms ever printed and keep them in a binder; but I do use them from time to time when trying to build decks around them. If the deck fails, I just take it apart and put the card beck in the collection. And there is a difference between what I do and collectors do. I do not buy as many copies of say the power nine or force of will just to drive the price up. I buy one copy, sometimes two if there is an alternate art such as Wurmcoil Engine.

    And as the OP stated above, there are cards in the reserve list that shouldn't be on there. I can see a lot of bad things happening if the list is removed, but I think instead of removing it that they should have cards over $150 on the list and anything under be for reprints.

    When I played during Scars of Mirrodin FNM I saw soo many cards on the list that could have fit perfectly for phyrexia such as Gate to Phyrexia. Yes it would have been really strong, but it wouldn't break standard let alone modern.