Greetings, fellow magicians – this week, we’re doing something a little different. I often use this space to tackle broader Magic strategy or design theory. That’s fun, but so is doing something a little more grounded and direct from time to time. This week sees the much-hyped retail release of the Mystery Booster set, complete with a special list of foil reprints to drive up the value in each pack.
Aside from being almost a sneaky Masters set (at base booster prices!), Mystery Booster beautifully captures the novelty of Chaos Draft and Cube. Since I’ve touched on both those formats in the last fortnight, it only makes sense to count down the most exciting foils you can open in Mystery Booster!
WHAT MAKES A FOIL “GOOD”?
When it comes to ranking the 121 cards on the Mystery Booster foil list, I looked at performance in a few distinct categories. Firstly, the reprint equity: how hard was this card to obtain (in foil) before this printing? Even a foil reprint of your favorite card loses some impact if the foil was already in every store for a dollar.
Secondly, the playability. Very few of these cards are at the power level of Constructed formats they’re legal in. But they do include a lot of unique effects, meaning some are still best-in-class if you’re playing Commander or building a niche deck.
Thirdly, the aesthetics. Not all foils are created equal, and I strongly prefer foil cards where the art or card frame works with the foiling. My biggest regret with the list below is I couldn’t fit any enchantment creatures in, since the starfield card frame they use is incredible when foiled. Other good signs in my experience are subjects against large flat backgrounds, distinct highlights, and two-tone color profiles.
Of course, the hidden deciding factor is simply how much I want the card. This is a subjective list, after all! But while the whole list is full of sought-after loot, I hope you’ll agree with me that these ten are particularly exciting.
Puca’s Mischief is definitely a fringe include on this list, squeaking in over several other mono-blue cards to number ten. It’s a rare from Shadowmoor, a famously under-printed set, and one where the foils had an unusual, darker shade to them. Shadowmoor and Eventide are heavily represented in the Mystery Booster foils for this reason — the desire for reprints is high.
Aesthetically, Puca’s Mischief isn’t leaping out at me, but the mechanics are quite fun. It’s the kind of Commander card I like, offering some interesting opportunities in deck-building to do something powerful and consistent enough to justify itself. It’s not immediately game-ruining, and it won’t grind the game to a halt like Perplexing Chimera. That being said, the main reason I want this is due to another really nice foil: the promo Astral “Tokyo” Drift.
This card hasn’t really blown Modern away like Astral Slide fans had hoped, but I do have a couple of pet brews with it that I experiment with from time to time. One is a wild Puca’s Mischief deck where you swap your expensive permanent for theirs, then flicker yours to complete the one-sided trade. Since my Astral Drifts are already in flashy foils and the rest of the spells are mostly chaff, getting Mischief in an affordable foil may one day let me be the hero of my FNM. What more could you ask for?
Herald is also a card with a single printing in an under-opened set. Those after pure value will be much happier about Marrow-Gnawer, a very popular and expensive Commander. But no, we’re here for the art — an awesome demon (wait, Avatar?) chilling on his dark throne, dripping with shadows which make a foil look incredible!
The actual card design is also near and dear to me, and I’ve played it in a few decks over the years. So much flavor and interest is packed into the relatively simple line “Cumulative upkeep – Gain control of a land you don’t control.” Also, he’s a seven-mana 2/4 that you can play in less Spike-y Commander pods. A delicious deep cut of dark Magic.
One of a handful of bona fide tournament playable cards on the foil sheet, Scryb Ranger is emblematic of Time Spiral block design. It’s weird and seemingly out of color, has a ton of different things going on, and opens up some really cool deck-building choices. This has a few nice edges over Quirion Ranger, including Modern legality and some incredible Rebecca Guay art which will be worth chasing a foil for.
The green faerie mostly sees play in Legacy creature toolboxes, where the ability to untap Mother of Runes, Noble Hierarch, Stoneforge Mystic or Knight of the Reliquary goes a long way. Bouncing your own lands also has sneaky value in the Wasteland format! This is the kind of Legacy gameplay I enjoy, choice-rich and slow enough to make cards like Scryb Ranger worthwhile.
Zombies are one of Magic’s very best tribes, by all metrics you could measure. Along with Goblins, they have terrific flavor and a gamut of unique and playable utility options which let you build Zombie decks in a variety of styles and colors. Most of them should be playing Undead Warchief if the format allows, as this offers nearly double value of other (admittedly cheaper) lords with its price discount and +2 power per creature!
On top of being powerful and Timeshifted (barring three from Conspiracy, all the cards chosen for the Mystery Booster foils are Modern legal), Undead Warchief rocks the aesthetic scale with its memorable throwback art style and the beautiful older card frame. The original style of Magic foiling has a huge following among new and old players, and I include myself in that number. I’m excited to see a trickle of new printings which utilize it!
Again, astute readers will notice a theme in this list. Anybody who runs their hands over the rich, polished surface of Magic long enough becomes intimately familiar with the burrs, those weird cards which generate trivia questions and allow for unforeseen interactions to arise. Sundial is a prince among such cards, highlighting (along with notable Mystery Booster snub Time Stop) the power of the phrase “End the turn.”
Sundial is in my favorite category of build-arounds, because it does a few cool things just on its own and then a ton more once you add other cards. Off the top of my head, you can counter spells, end combat after first strike damage, permanently exile things with blink effects like Flickerwisp and Astral Drift, and make your Sedris, the Traitor King into an extremely efficient reanimator.
Celestial Kirin has been one of my preferred Commanders for about four years. The art is memorable, and it really pops against that foiled sky background. Plus, the design offers one of the more unique tribal builds in Magic and has even gained some Constructed viability with the printing of Ugin’s Conjurant — the “KamiGeddon” combo.
Blowing up everyone’s lands may be outside your idea of fun, but there’s still a lot to be said for Celestial Kirin in Commander. I love decks which almost seem to fight against themselves, and a creature tribal deck that constantly destroys its own creatures leads you to reconsider many of the cards people are sick of having to play in such archetypes. If you enjoy attrition strategies and politicking around the ability to kill almost any permanents, here’s my list to start you off. I’ve long ago agreed with my group to allow hybrid-mana cards in mono-color decks, but until the Rules Committee catches up, make sure to check with your group about them first.
Glittering Wish is a card that really sells its own concept. One of the few “wish” effects legal in Modern (at least until recently), Glittering Wish offers lovers of toolbox decks a beautiful opportunity, as well as raising the play count of underexposed gold cards. Who would play Rest in Peace when you can wish for Wheel of Sun and Moon (also a beautiful card in foil!)?
However, wish cards simply aren’t functional in Commander, so for now, this is a competitive format darling only. But as a beautiful key to unlocking funky deck designs, I’ll be very pleased to own an actually-glittering Wish.
Reaper King is like Sundial of the Infinite: weird in so many ways that it’s notable almost for that alone. A creature costing anywhere from five to ten mana, with one of the most blatantly busted tribal effects of all time stapled to one of Magic’s least represented tribes. The weakness of the Scarecrow card pool alone makes Reaper King an intriguing puzzle, albeit one that most people seem to have answered with Rite of Replication kicked.
Still, with such an appealing concept conveyed effectively through art and flavor text, Reaper King has been highly sought-after for years. It would be even more expensive in foil but for a recent Secret Lair drop which thankfully boosted the supply. Still, if you want the original Jim Murray art (and really, you do), this is your best chance to get hands on The King.
We’re getting into some real peak personal hype levels here. Braid of Fire ticks all the boxes for this list: obscure Coldsnap rare, oddball but playable build-around effect, beautiful art which threatens to melt your eyeballs when viewed in foil. It’s a work of art.
I also love Braid of Fire as a small monument to the changing rules of Magic. In Coldsnap, it was already a conscious throwback some ten years to when upkeep costs were an evergreen part of the game. Representing the cost of maintaining a standing army, the concept is universal in tabletop war games, and important enough to early Magic that we got a whole phase just for handling it! But a few years later, Braid itself became a damaged relic. The concept of “mana burn” was removed from the game, effectively deleting the card’s ultra-flavorful drawback.
Luckily for Commander players, the card actually got better in all non-flavor aspects and is a powerhouse in any deck with enough mana sinks you can use in your upkeep. I play the card in Grenzo, Dungeon Warden — but if I can get a foil copy, I can also add it to my prized all-shiny Jaya Ballard, Task Mage list. And surely, getting your hands on obscure grail foils is what this Mystery Booster foil sheet is all about?
Well, I certainly think so; I’ve doubled down here and made both of my top two cards I’ve long desired for my own Commander decks, but never managed to justify at their price. Scourge takes the cake over Braid of Fire because this dragon was rocking a $30 price tag for the NON-FOIL version; being a mythic rare from the original Conspiracy will do that to you.
Considering the obvious Commander appeal of this affordable extra-combat-enabling dragon, I was never surprised to see the foil for sale at over $80. Just a little disappointed. Finally, though, Wizards has come through. Now, Scourge of the Throne will be more accessible to those upgrading red Commander decks!
The fact that Mystery Booster packs are being laced with valuable staples like this and Sen Triplets signals the chance for more niche reprints in the future if the right product presents itself. For now, enjoy the rush of drafting these splashy bombs in the Cube-lite environment of Mystery Booster, and the reassurance that your box contains some extra shiny treasure!
Tom’s fate was sealed in 7th grade when his friend lent him a pile of commons to play Magic. He quickly picked up Boros and Orzhov decks in Ravnica block and has remained a staunch white magician ever since. A fan of all Constructed formats, he enjoys studying the history of the tournament meta. He specializes in midrange decks, especially Death & Taxes and Martyr Proc. One day, he swears he will win an MCQ with Evershrike. Ask him how at @AWanderingBard, or watch him stream Magic at twitch.tv/TheWanderingBard.