The Mystical Archive and You

Cliff Daigle • April 29, 2021

Strixhaven is here, and along with it, quite a spectacular set of cards in the Mystical Archive. One of the things that we’re seeing is that there are three prices for the cards, because there are three versions: nonfoil, etched foil, and traditional foil.

Nonfoil is what you’d expect, and the traditional foils are within expectations too. The tricky bit is the etched foiling, because it’s a subtle process that tends to be just some of the edges and lesser parts of the card as foil. I have to admit I’m sad to see that the etched foils tend to go very light on what gets foiled, making the traditional foils main option for people who like their decks to be shinier than most.

To be clear, I’m not advocating that etched foils are worthless. They are merely a much more subtle effect than we’re used to, especially considering that the last time this phrase, ‘etched foils,’ was used to describe cards it was talking about the metallic-looking examples from Commander Legends. There’s a big shift between those, and I wish they’d chosen a different term.

With the three levels of foiling comes an additional wrinkle: they are available in English (or whatever language the booster pack is in) as well as alternate-art versions in Japanese that do not have a title frame and frankly, look amazing.

I want to take a second and express appreciation for all the people behind Cardsphere that worked hard to define and separate each version of the card for trading purposes here. Each card needing six entries is up there for Wizards, who just last year made four subtly different arts for Teferi, Master of Time. Just look at this one example and be amazed at how easy it is to choose the one you want:

Still, as the cards from Strixhaven end up in our hands, we are going to see a gap open up fairly quickly. Traditional foils from the Mystical Archive are confined to a single slot in Collector Boosters, and as part of their ‘how rare do we want things to be’ discussion that lead to Foil Extended Art in only 30% of Commander Legends CBs, or the Showcase version of Vorinclex, Monstrous Raider that showed up just as often as Phyrexian Vorinclex, making both twice as rare.

This time, in slot 3 of a Strixhaven Collector Booster, you might get: English (or whatever language the CB is in) traditional foil Mystical Archive (30 rares, 15 mythics), Japanese alt-art traditional foil Mystical Archive (30 rares, 15 mythics), Foil Extended Art for the rares and mythics of Strixhaven (69 rares, 12 mythics) or Foil Borderless Mythics (9 mythics – the five elder dragons and four planeswalker cards).

You’ve got to keep in mind that the distribution of rares and mythics is to make the rares twice as common as the mythics. So for the numbers above, double the rares, and then add it up.

Right away you can see that the FEA rares of Strixhaven dominate that slot, and you’re going to get a traditional foil of the Archive (in original language or Japanese alt-art) just under half the time. The pulls will be spread over versions, arts, and languages, but these foils aren’t going to be super common.

The rarest things are going to be the borderless mythics and planeswalkers, but those are mostly underwhelming right now and have seen some steep falls since preorders opened. I’m looking forward to stocking up on a few of these, the Dragons especially, once everyone’s attention has moved on.

A note about things in the Mystical Archive that are uncommon: You’re guaranteed one of these traditional foils per CB. Either the original language version or the Japanese alternate art, you’re 100% to get one. This makes those cards more of a nice version to have, rather than a big growth card. The exception here might be Cultivate, but there’s already a whole lot of versions to choose from with that card, including promos and extended art printings.

For me, I’m trying to identify the cards that have the highest demand and the least number of printings. Brainstorm isn’t something I want to pick up a lot of, because there’s a big stack of versions out there, diluting the demand. Yes, it’s a high-demand card but there’s 37 different versions you can trade for.

What I do really like are cards like Despark, which has been listed in 24k decks on EDHREC and has no promo, plus just the original pack foil. The alt-art JP foil is about the same price as the original pack foil, and that is just incorrect. I’ve picked up a few for my Commander decks, and I’d advocate for you to do the same before they get expensive.

Growth Spiral is in a similar vein for me, though the price is much higher and there’s a gorgeous Seb McKinnon promo in competition at $4. Still, it’s in a very high number of decks, possibly the best color combination in Commander, and should be a solid pickup for long-term gain.

The other way to look at cards like this is to examine the absolute cheapest ones and just acquire as many as possible. This is a gorgeous set of Magic cards, and there will be a fair number of collectors looking to have it all. Will they want regular or nonfoil? I can’t say, but getting the cheapest copies of the alt-art foils seems like a great place to spend a small amount of money with the potential for a lot of growth further down the line.