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Black Lotus

Reserved List (What Is the Official Reprint Policy? A Brief History)

In wake of the Lost Legends announcement in Dominaria United, we go over the Reserved List and its history in Magic: The Gathering.

The Reserved List is a hot topic within the Magic: The Gathering community at all times. Right now, it’s bubbling to the forefront specifically because of the “Lost Legends” being included in a small percentage of Dominaria United Collector Boosters.

What is the Reserved List?

The short hand, for those uninitiated in the discourse, is that the Reserved List is a list of old cards that Wizards of the Coast promised to never reprint. There previously was a loophole within the Reserved List for foil promos specifically, but that has since been closed, seemingly permanently. How did this List come about, and how did Wizards end up further tightening it later on down the road?

The story begins in the middle of 1995. Wizards of the Coast has just released two sets roughly three months apart: Fourth Edition and Chronicles. The two sets are white bordered, reprint-only sets, and are both Standard legal. In total, the two sets reprinted roughly 500 cards, many of them for the first time, given how early in the game’s lifespan they were. Unfortunately, many collectors took umbrage over the reprinting of some specific cards in Chronicles, namely the Elder Dragons. They had seen these reprints as damaging their investment in the game, and demanded some kind of action by Wizards as a company to secure the collectable nature of the game.

In early 1996, Wizards of the Coast officially announced the Reserved List (the Official Reprint Policy). This was a list of cards Wizards of the Coast promised to never reprint or make functionally identical reprints of. The company reserved the right to reprint them in non-tournament legal form, as well as in premium form, which allowed them to include them in Champion decks and as oversized promos, the latter of which still continues to this day.

The full list of cards in the Official Reprint Policy here.

How did the Reserved List change over time?

The initial list included all cards from Alpha / Beta, Arabian Nights, Antiquities, Legends, and The Dark that had not been reprinted in either Fourth Edition or Chronicles. They would then establish that, with each new expansion, a percentage of the rarest cards would be added to the Reserved List to ensure the value of Magic as a collectable asset would endure.

In 2002, Wizards made what would end up being the last major change to the Reserved List. After the release of Seventh Edition in 2001, which saw the reprinting of classic card Serra Angel, it was pointed out that the value of the original printings of the card went up, not down, from the reprint. Wizards decided to leverage this increase in value to end additions to the Reserved List, as well as knock off a bunch of old commons and uncommons that had been lingering on said list, such as Demonic Tutor, for a notable example. They further said that, starting with the 1999 expansion Mercadian Masques, new cards would not be added to the Reserved List moving forward.

There would be one final change, smaller in scope but very impactful, to the Reserved List in 2010, and it would be triggered by the word “premium”. For a while, the premium loophole in the Reserved List had allowed Wizards of the Coast to reprint cards from the list as foil promos. This is how we ended up seeing cards like Survival of the Fittest and Wheel of Fortune as foil Judge promos with gorgeous new art.

Wizards decided to further experiment with this strategy by reprinting some Reserved List cards in From the Vault products and, finally, in a Duel Deck. The reprint of Phyrexian Negator, an iconic Reserved List card, as the foil face of a Duel Deck caused some amount of controversy within the community. Wizards responded to the outrage from collectors by eliminating the premium loophole in 2010, essentially eliminating that as an avenue for reprinting these cards.

It’s worth noting that, while all of this is going on, Magic: the Gathering Online came into existence, and the Reserved List didn’t impact digital versions of the cards. Black Lotus, Timetwister, Library of Alexandria… They’re all available on MTGO, and many players got their first chances to play with them via digital formats. Vintage, if anything, has thrived online much more than it has in paper, though it’s still a relatively small format. It’s also worth pointing out that MTGO Cube drafts have gone a long way to expose players to these cards.

Lastly, Magic Arena is now the primary vehicle to play the game digitally, but even that client has provided players with access to some cards from the Reserved List, albeit only briefly. There was one event one year that allowed players to use preconstructed decks that included cards like Black Lotus, Mox Pearl, Ancestral Recall, and such. It wouldn’t surprise me if, given that these cards are all programmed into the client already, that we see them pop up in an Arena Cube one day.

Will the Reserved List ever be removed?

In the years since then, the general discussion has seemed to shift overwhelmingly against the existence of the Reserved List, both from the player base and also from specific employees within the company. Mark Rosewater, head designer for the game, has often cited Thunder Spirit being on the Reserved List as randomly being a headache when it comes to designing Limited formats.

The rise of Commander in the last decade as a major format of the game has also contributed to this, as dual lands, Gaea's Cradle, Wheel of Fortune, and Timetwister are some of the most desirable cards for that format and many of the cards fetch very high prices on the secondary market. The announcement of the “Lost Legends” in Dominaria United has brought the discourse back to the forefront once more.

Wizards of the Coast employees have stated that the Reserved List isn’t going anywhere. Mark Rosewater’s Blogatog FAQ states overtly that he’s not even really supposed to discuss the Reserved List at all. Very recently, former Wizards employee Bill Stark has stated overtly that the Reserved List can’t go away because of legal ramifications that he believes could bankrupt Wizards of the Coast. He also implied that Wizards of the Coast could and should print functionally identical versions of the cards with trinket text to differentiate them from the originals, while also using that trinket text to prevent both from being played together.

Unfortunately, Mark Rosewater (and I believe others) have commented in the past that doing something along those lines would go against “the spirit” of the Reserved List. It seems, at least for the time being, there’s no real way for the company to do away with this troublesome policy.

Lost Legends and Priceless Treasures

Wizards of the Coast, has done two promotional events to distribute cards from the original print-run boxes. The cards do not violate the Reserved List policy as they are already existing copies of the cards but are only redistributed.

Priceless Treasures from the Zendikar set included old cards inserted randomly into boosters, from Black Lotus to Sliver Queen that are not part of the main set. They were not reprints, they were old cards physically collected by Wizards of the Coast and then inserted into the new boosters.

In Dominaria United, Lost Legends are cards from the original Legends set, obtained from an old warehouse by Wizards, physically opened, then put into Collector Boosters.

Where do you stand on the existence of the Reserved List, and how do you feel about cards that fetch high prices?

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My name is Jose Manuel Lopez. I've been playing Magic: the Gathering since 1999. I was previously a paper tournament grinder for several years, but shifted my competitive focus almost entirely to digital with the release of MTG Arena. I also am an avid Cube designer, and I'm relatively active within a niche Cube community which focuses on Spike-oriented Cube design. I've played every major format competitively at one point or another, and I play Commander semi-regularly, as well. I love Magic, it's my favorite game, and I play it and/or talk about it almost every single day. I often say that Magic is like pizza, since even "bad" Magic is still Magic, and that mantra pushes me to engage with the game and the overall Magic community regularly to both keep up with what's going on in Magic, and also try to share my passion for the game with others.

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