Time Walk
21, Dec, 23

MTG's Most Iconic Problem is Getting Lost in Its 30-Year History

Article at a Glance

The Reserved List is unquestionably iconic. Magic’s most valuable and prestigious cards are locked away from ever seeing reprints, keeping many cards that appear on it incredibly expensive. This makes Vintage and Legacy impossibly difficult for many players to even start playing.

The Reserved List affects the ever-popular Commander format as well, skyrocketing the price of some top-end staples like Wheel of Fortune, Timetwister and Grim Monolith. The best lands in the Commander format are all on there too, locking away Commander’s most powerful cards behind a problematic price tag.

Want to play Slivers? Good luck finding a Sliver Queen without breaking your bank. How about enchantress? Serra’s Sanctum is incredibly powerful, but are you willing to pay $200 for it? Don’t forget about Replenish! Finding the Power Nine for Vintage purposes is even worse, commonly costing tens of thousands of dollars.

This has its benefits and drawbacks, but a recent quote from MTG Head Designer Mark Rosewater suggests that, according to Wizards of the Coast’s data, the Reserved List may not be something many MTG players care about at all. Forget about what players think of it, a majority of players don’t even know about it!

What’s a Reserved List?

The Reserved List, for the majority of MTG players who know about it, is a deeply controversial topic. This list includes a grand total of 572 cards that cannot be reprinted in a tournament legal capacity. Strictly better iterations of the cards, or cards that function identically also cannot be printed. This means that the cycle of Dual Lands that appear on the list like Volcanic Island, Badlands, and more, are never going to get reprinted in a tournament legal capacity.

A majority of these 572 cards don’t see any meaningful impact on Magic’s current state, but the ones that do are absurdly expensive. Metalworker, Gaea’s Cradle, Bazaar of Baghdad, City of Traitors, and the many cards mentioned earlier in this article are all powerful cards that could see much more play if they weren’t so expensive. The list goes on and on.

If you want to see exactly what cards are on the Reserved List, you can check that out here.

Despite how expensive the Reserved List makes eternal formats, on December 19, answering a question in regards to what current data suggests players think of the Reserved List, Rosewater simply stated that “a majority don’t know what it is.”

Considering the controversy that surrounds the Reserved List, this statistic from Rosewater may be rather hard to believe. To put things in perspective, however, Rosewater states a lot of players are still positive toward the Reserved List. Supposedly, this percentage of players is “bigger than people assume.”

“I haven’t seen data on The Reserved List in a while, but the “do not reprint it” faction is bigger than people assume. Somewhere around a third, if memory serves. Note our general surveys skew heavily enfranchised.”

Mark Rosewater

This still suggests that a majority of players who know about the Reserved List want it removed, but considering that this data could be quite out-of-date, it’s difficult to know for sure.

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Will the Reserved List be Abolished?

Black Lotus | 30th Anniversary Edition
Black Lotus | 30th Anniversary Edition

Probably not, but that doesn’t mean that there haven’t been exceptions to the rule, even in recent history. A few Reserved List reprints slid through the cracks in the form of Judge Promotional cards. Wheel of Fortune and Gaea’s Cradle managed to acquire a very limited edition reprint. Reserved List reprints appearing as Judge Promos are no longer a possibility.

Otherwise, one of Wizard of the Coast’s most controversial decisions to-date functioned as a Reserved List reprint that wasn’t legal for sanctioned play. The idea was sound, but the price was ridiculous. For unplayable MTG cards that appeared in Magic’s oldest sets, the 30th Anniversary edition, at the time of release, was $999 per box – about $250 per booster pack. This product received an incredible amount of pushback, at a level that Magic has never seen before.

The 30th Anniversary booster packs, eventually, would go on to be a flop. They are still quite valuable financially, but who is in the market for these unplayable collectibles?

Do Players Even Care?

What Mark Rosewater’s statement regarding a majority of players not even knowing about the Reserved List does suggest that a majority of players don’t care about it at all. Many players may simply accept that owning a Black Lotus one day is something that will likely never happen, and simply play the formats where card accessibility is not a problem.

Either way, for players who are interested in engaging with older formats, but don’t have the capital to do so, Reserved List cards remain incredibly difficult to acquire. Fortunately, Magic Online does offer an opportunity for dedicated players to engage with Legacy and Vintage on a budget digitally, at least comparatively. While owning a copy of the Power Nine in real life is incredibly expensive, you can own one (nine cards) on Magic Online for around $50. Paper play will remain expensive.

This could slowly become true for MTG Arena as well. While there isn’t an opportunity to slot the Power nine themselves into your decklist, the new Alchemy card Oracle of the Alpha already gives players a taste of what the Power Nine feels like. Who’s to say they won’t be more concretely available some time in the future?

As far as Commander goes, many players choose to proxy their cards instead, which doesn’t fly in sanctioned play, but is reasonable for some fun kitchen table Magic.

Hopefully, Reserved List cards will become more accessible in paper at some point, but the reality is that it will likely never happen.

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