Useless Cards In The Reserved List: Why Are They There?

Why are there useless cards on the Reserved List?

Useless Cards In The Reserved List: Why Are They There?

The Reserved List in Magic: the Gathering is old. But it is also filled with lots of useless cards in terms of both gameplay and resale value. To illustrate, around 200 out of 572 cards in the list are around $1 in market price. That’s over 33%, or a third, of all cards.

The Reserved List began in 1996 as a way to reassure old players that their cards would retain value. It makes sense if overpowered cards were the only cards on the list, but there are many that are useless in high-level gameplay. So why are they there? Some cards were out of convenience (early cards that had not been reprinted yet were put on the list). Others were arbitrary, perhaps because they were not aware how powerful newer cards would get.

Let’s look and compare some of the useless cards on the Reserved List:

Useless Cards With Low Value

On the left we have Herald of Serra from Urza’s Sage, on the Reserved List, on the right is Serra Angel, not on the list but reprinted dozens of times. Both have Flying and Vigilance, and while Serra Angel costs 1 mana more, it has better stats and does not have the Echo cost.

Serra Angel is arguably the better card but instead it is Herald of Serra that is on the Reserved List. It simply does not make any sense. At least financially, both cards are valued low and do not differ by much.

Here’s another example of a useless card on the list. Exalted Dragon on the left is Reserved, but Yosei, the Morning Star is not. Terrible Exalted Dragon has a debilitating drawback, sacrificing a land just to attack. A 5/5 Flying dragon for 6 mana is already mediocre on its own. How did Exalted Dragon get on the Reserved List? Yosei, the Morning Star has the exact same power stats but provides value if it dies. The only logical reason points to poor arbitrary decisions when the list was created.

Let’s go on to look at more useless cards, but for some reason, have a high price in the secondary market:

Useless Cards But With High Value

Useless card in high-level competitive gameplay

Being part of the Reserved List immediately creates an artificial sense of scarcity, since those cards will never be reprinted. For example, Elephant Graveyard from Arabian Nights is arguably not very useful. I’ve not seen many elephant/mammoth tribal decks, and especially not in competitive gameplay. However its price hovers around US$120 just because it is on the Reserved List.

The reason behind this is the low print run of early sets such as Alpha, Beta, Unlimited, as well as Arabian Nights and Legends. If they are removed from the list, they would still retain good value, and the list would have less useless cards.

Will The Reserved List Ever Be Scrapped?

The short answer is very unlikely. Because it’s been around for so long (since 1996), and many old players/collectors would rebel against such a change. Useless cards from the list would lose value quickly because their scarce status is no more.

Even if the Reserved List is scrapped, and WOTC reprints the powerful Moxes and Dual Lands, the market demand would be so high and it’d price any newcomers out of the game. The idea of enticing beginners with expensive reprints also sounds distasteful. Beginners should be enjoying the gameplay and social aspects of the game, not comparing who can spend more.

One can argue that any Reserved List reprints would only be eligible in Vintage and Legacy formats, the most expensive in the game. But this increases the perception that Magic is too expensive to play. Beginners to the game are often students with almost zero disposable income, and a high price will make Magic too exclusive.

Should I Invest in Useless Cards on the Reserved List?

As a player, I’d recommend no, since there are non-reserved alternatives with better stats.

However, as a collector, that decision will fall on how much you value scarcity. A useless card like Elephant Graveyard from Arabian Nights would be bad in gameplay but perhaps suitable for investing. Bear in mind that the Reserved List can be altered or abolished at any time, so a high value is not always guaranteed.

As mentioned above, there are Reserved List cards that have always had a low value, and another 20 years on the list will probably not change that fact. Investing in those cards will offer low risk of big losses, but will also not provide good returns.

After playing from Tempest to Urza's Saga block, Ted took a 20 year break from the game before returning to the classic Plane of Dominaria in 2018. His favourite formats are Commander, Draft, and, grudgingly, Standard.
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