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By: spg, spg
Sep 03 2009 10:19am
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Explorations #39 - On Junk Rares


Today I'm going to take a break from building weird decks to talk about a crucial step in the deck building process that I usually just gloss over: how to get the cards for it!

Recently on PureMTGO there has been a series of articles by eddie112 called "Bazaar of Heath" which you can check out here.  These focus on highlighting, on a regular basis, which cards for sale on mtgotraders.com seem to be a good deal.  Today I want to talk about junk rares, but in a more general way.  I'm not going to be focusing on specific cards that I think are too cheap...  Instead I've come up with a list of different characteristics to look for while building up a collection of non-tier-one gold expansion symbols.

I should point out that when I say 'junk rare' throughout the article I don't exclusively mean the bottom of the barrel $0.10 rare at mtgotraders.com.  Sure I'll be talking about that type of card a lot, but I'm also going to be touching on several slightly more expensive cards (most still under $0.50 or so) that seem to be selling for way under their potential value.  In addition to this I'm going to provide some information about how to identify 'powerful' cards in the abstract while browsing through binders full of cheap-o rares.  I could have called this article "On Rares That Are Either Very Strong For Their Cost Or Selling For Way Under Their Potential Value", but I thought "On Junk Rares" sounded a lot cleaner.

So without any more stalling, here's a list of questions to ask yourself while hunting around for a quality junk rare.

In the past, was this card expensive/desired/tier-one?

This is probably the most straightforward of these questions to focus on if you're interesting in landing some truly powerful cards for a low number of tickets.

Depending on the exact sets we're talking about, the metagame of Magic's most popular format (Standard) can shift very quickly.  There are lots of forces that dictate the price of a card in the marketplace or on mtgotraders.com, but one of the most obvious ones is the card's utility in tier-one Standard decks.  Rares/Mythics that are played in one or more of the 'decks to beat' of current Standard are often top dollar cards.

Fast forward a few months and the metagame has changed a bit.  The card in question is no longer used in a top-tier deck, but still packs just as much power as ever.  These cards are not always quick to fall in price, but they generally do in time.

Here's a good example.  Take a look at a pretty typical Kithkin list from the end of 2008:

... and here's what the Kithkin deck generally looks like today:

The thing I want to point out here is that Mirrorweave used to be good enough for Kithkin decks, but gradually worked it's way out in favor of some more consistent options.  Mirrorweave is currently selling for $0.50 and is a great example of a proven card that just isn't cutting it at the top tier of Magic right now.  If Mirrorweave seems interesting to you, then I'd definitely recommend picking up a few copies.  It's got a cool and unique effect (more on this later), has proved its worth, and is currently selling for cheap.  Sounds like the perfect junk rare! 

Would this card be expensive if it has a deck?

This is one of my favorite questions to ask myself as I'm browsing through virtual binders of potential cards to pick up.  As I mentioned in the question above, context is so important.  It isn't everything, but it's a lot.  Powerful cards that no longer have a home in a top-tier deck tend to fall in price; powerful cards that never found a home in a top-tier deck tend to plummet in price and stay there.

I'm sure you've read plenty of set reviews or speculation pieces on new cards tossing adjectives all over the place about how broken New Card X is going to be.  I'm sure you can also remember plenty of examples where New Card X was never really heard from again!  Much of the reason behind this is that power in Magic is so contextual.  New Card X can be a 10 on the power scale, but if there aren't 56 other cards to surround it with capable of working together to attack the metagame effectively - then it's just a badass without a home.

One good example of this is the Lorwyn Incarnation cycle.


 Guile Purity Dread
Vigor Hostility

These guys provide each color a powerful effect on a huge and evasive body that's at least somewhat castable.  Guile was played for a while in Guilloume Wafo-Tapa's Sonic Boom decks, but other than that these guys haven't seen a lot of play.

Let's focus on Purity for a minute.  If a Mono White Control was viable in tier-one today, then I'm sure Purity could be an awesome contributor.  There are many reasons why Mono White Control ISN'T viable (splashing is way too easy, focus on multi-color, etc), but those aren't really important to my point.

The technique here is to look at powerful rares and ignore their status in the current metagame, speculating instead on how they could contribute to a powerful deck in a different metagame.  Maybe the metagame will shift and you'll end up with a card that's worth a few tickets instead of a few cents, or maybe you'll end up with the core of a strong casual deck.  If this seems like a decent proposition to you, then pick up a playset!  It's funny to think back on the number of decks that I've made in the past 37 articles that started from exactly this line of thinking.

Want to know another card that would go in this deck?

Feudkiller's Verdict

I've loved this card since the spoiler, and it just hasn't really every found a home.  And another one?

Hoofprints of the Stag

If you're ready my past articles, you know I love this guy too:

Guardian Seraph

What do these guys have in common?  They're all cheap rares without a home, that would play well together in a Mono White Control deck.  You could try shuffling up this deck, or something similar:

Fantasy White Control
Standard Legal
4 Purity
4 Wall of Reverence
2 Guardian Seraph
4 Kitchen Finks
14 cards

Other Spells
4 Feudkiller's Verdict
2 Hoofprints of the Stag
4 Oblivion Ring
4 Path to Exile
3 Scepter of Dominance
1 Endless Horizons
2 Austere Command
2 Prison Term
22 cards
21 Plains
4 Gargoyle Castle
25 cards
Prison Term

Another good example here is Sygg, River Cutthroat.

Sygg, River Cutthroat

A while ago I had a full article written on this card, geared towards putting together a few different budget decks.  Unfortunately, right before the article went live, Sygg was found to be a strong component in the 'Five Color Blood' decks of the time.  This turned a total junk rare into a $5 card pretty much overnight and ruined my budget article.  Up until that point though, Sygg was the example of a perfectly amazing card without a home.

Does this card provide a very unique effect?

I'm sure you're familiar with many stories through Magic history of cards being terrible for a while and then suddenly becoming very powerful.  Usually this coincides with a new mechanic, a change in the rules, errata, or a new set theme. Based on big changes like this, someone old and crappy can become new and exciting.

Here are a few quick examples:

This card was as close to a junk rare as you could get out of Arabian Nights for a really long time.  Then Wizards started printing a bunch of stuff that relies on the graveyard and its utility went through the roof.  The ability to get this much hand/graveyard action without spending any mana or even casting a spell is just ridiculous.  There's an argument now that it's a better land than even the mighty Library of Alexandria!  Check this one out in MED3, coming soon.

Nowadays, given the right situation in Eternal combo decks, Lion's Eye Diamond is just Black Lotus.  This wasn't always the case, and in the early days LED was seen as a joke.  Hopefully you can easily see how the upside of LED is a very unique ability.

Speaking of jokes, I can remember Scrye teasing the new (at the time) Magic expansion set Mirage by reporting a "12/12 trample creature that only costs one mana to cast!"  Well, they were being accurate of course... but no one was able to do anything other than put all of their eggs in one Phyrexian basket until much later on.

Nowadays the Stifle/Phyrexian Dreadnought combo is a staple of some Eternal formats.  One mana for a 12/12 trampler WAS eventually good.  Who knew?

This one was nerfed by DCI errata for many years, and was never really used as a competitive card as a result.  There are very few cards in Magic that allow you to take an extra turn, and with the new-ish DCI wording Time Vault can pretty easily create infinite turns!  This card is currently a keystone piece of the king of Vintage decks, Tezzeret Control.

Alright so these are all pretty epic examples of cards with unique effects.  I'll leave you with a few examples from the modern day.

Time Sieve

This is sort of similar to Time Vault.  An artifact that can potentially provide infinite turns that doesn't cost a ridiculous amount of mana.  It's not really a huge surprise that someone figured out a way to break it.  I got a playset of these for basically nothing.  Here's the awesome deck that eventually exploited Time Sieve.

I didn't buy them because I had a genius deck idea...  I just bought them because they were cheap, had a really unique effect, and knew that SOMEDAY something cool would happen with Time Sieve.

Jace Beleren Liliana Vess Ajani Goldmane
Garruk Wildspeaker Chandra Nalaar

As time goes on, Planeswalkers will not stand out in the uniqueness department as they do right now.  I was able to pick up playsets of these guys without really breaking the bank.  For example, I picked up Ajani Goldmane when he was just a couple of tickets - and it wasn't really a surprise when he found a home in B/W tokens and G/W tokens, which caused his value to skyrocket. 

Talk about some serious power in a deck!  When a deck like this comes around then the true potential of something like Ajani Goldmane can be experiences.

Mirror of Fate

This one currently goes for $0.10 and is totally wacky.  It's kind of like Doomsday, but is just a really unique effect.  Wouldn't be surprised if someone finds some way to exploit this in the future.


This one has been out for a while, but is a really good example of a junk rare with a crazy effect.  Tutor plus acceleration built into one is almost always strong, even if you have to sacrifice something to get it to fire off.  See Tinker.

Stoic Angel

I'm still shocked this one hasn't found a strong deck in Standard.  This one goes for $0.20 and doubles as both win condition, defense, and slow-down-the-game mechanism.

Is there any reason to believe this card will get much better in the near future?

Lots of times as information about a new set starts to tricks out, you can get a pulse on what the major upcoming themes are going to be.  Sometimes this can give you a clue about which junk cards are about to become more valuable, and also which ones are going to fall off of the table a little bit.

The example I want to use in this section also fits into a bunch of these categories.  I'll leave it as an exercise for the reader to think about which ones, and talk about this powerhouse just in the context of getting better in the near future:

Knight of the White Orchid

First check out this article for some discussion by Mike Flores, gushing about how great of a card this is.  Now take a look at these two cards from Zendikar:

Rampaging Baloths
Creature - Beast
Mythic Rare
Landfall - Whenever a land enters the battlefield under your control, you may put a 4/4 green Beast creature token onto the battlefield.

Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle
Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle enters the battlefield tapped.
Whenever a Mountain enters the battlefield under your control, if you control at least five other Mountains, you may have Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle deal 3 damage to target creature or player.
T: Add R to your mana pool.

It's obvious that putting lands into play is going to be a major theme in the new set.  There's already a keyword "landfall" and a prerelease rare spoiled that show off cool things that can happen as a land comes into play.  Knight of the White Orchid is already an awesome card even without the ability to exploit an upcoming mechanic, so this one seems like a no-brainer to me.

Who knows where they will take this mechanic exactly, but Knight of the White Orchid seems to work on a lot of levels.  If people are playing decks that use lots of lands to exploit things like landfall, then your Knight's activated ability has a huge ability of firing.  And if you're playing things that exploit lands coming into play, you'll get a bunch of action.  Even if you're not, you still get a land.

As I write this, Knight of the White Orchid is selling for $0.40.  If I were you, I'd pick up a playset.

Is this card awesome sideboard material for a different metagame?

I remember listening to a Top8Magic podcast a while ago and they were discussing the Lorwyn spoiler.  Super-genius Zvi Mowshowitz was talking about this card:

Eyes of the Wisent

He mentioned how, before hearing the full spoiler, someone told him everything about the card other than the casting cost and asked him to guess how much it cost.  He guessed 3GG.  The actual cost is about 5% of that, so you know we're dealing with a really powerful card.

Magic doesn't really make color-hosers the way they used to, and Eyes of the Wisent is a bit of a return to the way things were.  The problem is that the multi-colored nature of the format and the general construction of the metagame didn't really let this one shine.  Bummer.

With this card about to leave Standard, there's not much hope for a late game rally - but I guess there's always hope for Extended/Classic casual.  It's always fun to be on the lookout for sideboard material that could become really strong should the metagame shift in certain directions.

Is the price of this card low due to high supply?

The best example of this is to follow Hamtastic's price tables now that M10 is in the system.  M10 is being drafted like crazy and lots of the product is entering the system.  This is creating affordable rares and super-affordable reprint rares.

Here are some older cards that are much more affordable now that M10 is boosing up the supply:

Birds of Paradise Platinum Angel Pithing Needle

These cards are awesome in many different ways, and haven't gotten any worse in the last few week.  Don't mistake their recent drop in price for anything other than the M10 card infusion.

In addition to this type of supply increase, every once in a while Wizards does something to artificially pump a bunch of a certain card into the system - which has the potential to turn a borderline or expensive rare into one that can be picked up on the cheap.

Just something to keep an eye open for.

- Is this card banned in any popular formats or does it truly shine in fringe formats?

Another property that can drop the value of a card to junk rare status is if it's banned in some of the more popular formats.  For example, take a look at the Extended banned list:

Aether Vial Disciple of the Vault Sensei's Divining Top Skullclamp

These cards are obviously very powerful (powerful enough to be banned in Extended), and are currently selling for $0.65, $0.12, $0.90, and $0.40.  If you're into some of the less popular formats like Classic, then you can pick up some very powerful cards on the cheap.  Sure it's true that cards always drop in price when they rotate from Standard to Extended and then Extended to Eternal...  but when they're banned it can drop the price even further.

In addition to this, some cards are just much more useful in fringe formats than they are in the more popular formats.  I guess this is sort of the opposite of a card being banned in the more popular formats, but it has the same result - cheaper cards.  Here are a few examples:

Lorescale Coatl

I know this is an uncommon, but this is a card absolutely made for eternal formats where you can easily draw three for a single mana.  If this card is ever going to hit, it's much more likely for it to be in Eternal.

Painter's Servant

Forms half of an awesome combo in Legacy/Classic, without the other half available in Standard/Extended.  Not only does this have the potential to be really good in certain Eternal metagames, but it brings a very unique ability to the table - so it hits on one of the questions asked above also.

Inkwell Leviathan

Just a dude who costs nine in every format other than ones with something like Tinker in them, which is about to enter the Classic cardpool.


Not nearly as awesome in formats that don't have Sensei's Divining Top.

Merfolk Sovereign

Merfolk is not currently a hot deck in Standard, but it is in Classic/Legacy.

Knight of the Reliquary

Here's another card that people were excited about for Standard, but hasn't really found a home.  This one does see some play in Eternal decks like Zoo and Aggro Loam.

So I'll be the first one to admit that I don't know much about formats like Kaleidoscope, 100 Card Singleton, or Vanguard - but I'm sure that there are a number of similar examples using those formats instead of Eternal as a template.


So that's it for my list.  Did I forget anything?  Am I wrong about anything?  Did I leave out any particularly good examples?  Can you guys think of any additional questions to ask yourself as you browse around the marketplace in search of a good junk rare?  Let me know in the comments!

Tune in next week for my farewell to Lorwyn/Shadowmoor block.

Thanks for reading!

Steve Gargolinski
th1ckasabr1ck on MTGO


Amuzing that you state that by Anonymous (not verified) at Thu, 09/03/2009 - 11:15
Anonymous's picture

Amuzing that you state that merfolks are not currently hot in standard.

Yep, big swing and a miss on by spg at Thu, 09/03/2009 - 11:59
spg's picture

Yep, big swing and a miss on that one =(


"amuSing" you cant even spell by Anonymous (not verified) at Thu, 09/03/2009 - 12:19
Anonymous's picture

"amuSing" you cant even spell

If you're going to correct by middleman35 (not verified) at Thu, 09/03/2009 - 20:21
middleman35's picture

If you're going to correct someone's spelling, at least double check your own...

and youre annon so who cares by menace13 at Fri, 09/04/2009 - 00:04
menace13's picture

and youre annon so who cares what you think and/or say..

Just some basic math. 2 : 5 by Paul Leicht at Thu, 09/03/2009 - 14:28
Paul Leicht's picture

Just some basic math. 2 : 5 is 40% not 5%. :) Interesting article.

Yeah but when it comes to by spg at Thu, 09/03/2009 - 14:33
spg's picture

Yeah but when it comes to manacosts, values don't scale linearly at all.

The jump from 5 mana to 6 mana is WAY more significant than the jump from 0 mana to 1 mana.

OK but then display your math by Paul Leicht at Thu, 09/03/2009 - 18:30
Paul Leicht's picture

OK but then display your math so those of us who don't see it can follow along. :D Otherwise it just looks like an error.

Definitely right man I should by Anonymous (not verified) at Thu, 09/03/2009 - 18:46
Anonymous's picture

Definitely right man I should have been more clear. Will do next time.

lolol. how wrong can one by Anonymous (not verified) at Thu, 09/03/2009 - 23:39
Anonymous's picture

lolol. how wrong can one comment get??

Well it could have been made by Paul Leicht at Fri, 09/04/2009 - 00:36
Paul Leicht's picture

Well it could have been made by an anonatroll. So that would be more wrong imho. :P

New Word by moerutora (not verified) at Thu, 09/03/2009 - 17:35
moerutora's picture

Amuzing is the new amazing and amusing combined. Brilliant Anony! Give the man some props for such an awesome word.

i guess then he is a by Anonymous (not verified) at Thu, 09/03/2009 - 19:49
Anonymous's picture

i guess then he is a shidiot....figure out what that is a mix is

knight of the reliquary by plarp (not verified) at Thu, 09/03/2009 - 21:21
plarp's picture

You mentioned Knight of the White Orchid's potential with landfall, and Knight of the Reliquary for older formats - but what about Reliquary in Zendikar standard? It lets you put two land into play each turn, essentially.

Absolutely man, that makes a by spg at Thu, 09/03/2009 - 21:51
spg's picture

Absolutely man, that makes a ton of sense. Knight of the Reliquary could be a lot better once Zendikar hits.

I played against a deck last by Anonymous (not verified) at Fri, 09/04/2009 - 01:53
Anonymous's picture

I played against a deck last month that just had swans, polymorph, and progenitus. Get into play, play polymorph on turn 4 to grab the "next creature in deck" which will be progenitus every time, and then it's pretty much over.

Not that Progenitus is a cheap card, but just confirming from painful personal experience that polymorph is insanely underpriced.

I meant to say "Get "any by Anonymous (not verified) at Fri, 09/04/2009 - 01:54
Anonymous's picture

I meant to say "Get "any token" into play, play Polymorph...

i tried to do that polymorph by Anonymous (not verified) at Fri, 09/04/2009 - 10:20
Anonymous's picture

i tried to do that polymorph trick in draft with owl and darksteel, thought it would be good, never worked :(
thinks its good, maybe ill casual deck it, 40 is less than 60 (dar) though