Part of me really wanted to leave the body of this article blank and just let the title stand for itself, but given how pervasive the bad takes are on this particular topic, I think it’s probably best that I walk through it in a bit more depth. If you don’t know what’s going on with the ban, you can see it over on the FAB homepage. Before we dive into why buying a banned card is only a good thing to do if you hate money, I want to pause to say that this particular ban is interesting. It’s not a strict power level ban; there are plenty of cards that are as or more powerful than Drone. The ban is because the card creates game states that LSS doesn’t like. To make a Magic analogy, this is like the Sensei’s Divining Top ban. The card itself wasn’t breaking the meta, but the play it supported generated game states that WotC felt were not enjoyable for most players. In the abstract, I don’t have any real problem with this sort of ban. I think designers identifying and correcting mistakes is perfectly fine, particularly in “living” games that are already planned around a changing set of components. Anyway, let’s talk money.
Why Buying into Drone is Stupid
This entire thing has been baffling to watch, but I usually try to figure out people’s logic, even if only so that I can go, “yep, that’s really bad logic.” So why do people think drone is going to go up? We’ve got two prominent arguments on that front (spoiler: they’re both bad, but we’ll get to that). First, some people think that Drone is now suddenly worth more because it is the first card to be banned and is an important part of FAB history (Note: this is not even technically correct. Go Bananas was banned and remains banned in Blitz and CC, and Ira was previously banned before later being unbanned when she was printed in CRU). The second group of people seem to be arguing that Drone is FAB’s first Reserve List card, and thus it will accrue value “because Reserve List”. Like I said, these are two really bad arguments, but they’re each bad for their own special reasons, so let’s address them in sequence.
I can see where people who don’t have much experience with CCGs might think that the card’s banning having historical significance could impact its price. That isn’t an awful instinct, but the thing to do is look at analogs. Magic’s first banning occurred in 1994 and included five cards. That was over 25 years ago, so, certainly that gives us the sort of scope to examine how these cards aged relative to cards of similar rarity in their sets. At that time, the Banned list included: Contract from Below, Darkpact, Demonic Attorney, Jeweled Bird, and Shahrazad. The first four of these were available in multiple printings, while the last was only ever printed in Arabian Nights.
In 1994, Shahrazad was the fifteenth most expensive card in Arabian Nights, and today she –I know the card is a sorcery, but come on, Shahrazad is a ‘she’— she is the… eleventh most expensive card in Arabian Nights. So, she moved up a couple spots for slight relative gains. The cards right around her are also similar in that they aren’t played anywhere these days but were iconic cards in their time –Erhnam Djinn, Guardian Beast, and Serendib Efreet beat her out, and she’s followed by City of Brass, Elephant Graveyard and Sorceress Queen.
Jeweled Bird was a mid-tier Arabian Nights single in 1994 and it remains so today. Of note, the reprint of Jeweled Bird in Chronicles can be procured right now for about fifty cents. When you look at those prices, it’s almost like the Arabian Nights copies are valuable because pretty much all Arabian Nights cards are valuable, but no one really cares about the later printings of this very historically significant first card to be banned (TM).
What about our other three? They were each printed in Alpha, Beta, Unlimited and Revised. So let’s see how those prices look today across those sets (we’re going to use Star City Game’s last listed prices since A/B cards are very scarce at the moment. The specific prices for any individual card aren’t what interests us here, it’s the relative price of the different versions and how they stack up against other cards in their respective sets). Going in A/B/U/R format: Contract from Below (Rare) 600/500/60/6, Darkpact (Rare) 400/200/20/1, Demonic Attorney (Rare) 500/300/20/3.
Let’s look at a different card from those sets that is also widely banned. Wheel of Fortune is banned in all competitive formats except Vintage where it’s restricted (though paper Vintage is functionally dead as a format due to cost of entry), and, very significantly, it’s legal in Commander. It was printed in ABUR as well as a 2010 promotional Judge variant under a now-closed loophole in the reserve list. How do its ABUR printings stack up? Wheel of Fortune (Rare) 4000/3000/1200/500. Hmmm… so what stands out to me is that the three banned cards that are not legal in any format are only really valuable in their Alpha and Beta printings, but Wheel of Fortune which is almost universally banned, but is allowed as a one of in one dead format and one extremely popular casual format is quite valuable in every single printing. Actually, it’s so valuable that the Revised Wheel of Fortune is worth more than the Alpha versions of most of the three cards that are banned in all formats. It’s almost like, all AB cards are valuable due to extreme rarity and being a historically notable banned card isn’t really worthy of a premium. Among other Alpha Rares, the three banned cards rank in the lower middle to low end of the price range. Contract, the most valuable one, is tied in price with Will-O’-The-Wisp… that legendarily significant card that is remembered by essentially nobody who wasn’t playing in 90s.
In short, none of the initial banned Magic cards ever went on to gain a premium over other similar, not banned cards. Shahrazad did the best because she was printed in exactly one set and she has an effect that is easily among the most unique effects in the game (she is the only non-silver-bordered card that actually references the game of Magic, as far as I know). Being banned does not help a card’s price; it actually tends to hurt it quite a lot. Remember Wheel of Fortune? You know what those $500 Revised copies were selling for when it was only legal in Vintage and Commander was just starting to be a format that people were aware of? $2-5. That meteoric rise in price is fueled entirely by it suddenly having an actual use.
We touched on it briefly in the previous discussion, but let’s shift our attention to the Reserve List argument. For those not in the know, the Reserve List is a set of cards that Wizards of the Coast has promised to never reprint into Magic. We’re not going to argue about whether it’s good or bad for the game, nor are we going to go over how it’s been altered at various times and cards have come on and off it. We just care about the generally accepted concept of a Reserve List: a list of cards that the publisher has promised they will not print again. It’s been like a thousand words since I mentioned the actual banning announcement, so let’s go back and take a peek at what it said again, “With respect to this ban, Drone of Brutality will be removed from future printings of Welcome to Rathe Unlimited.”
Now, maybe the page has some really tiny text or there’s secret info hidden in the code or something, but I’m having a hell of a time figuring out where it says that they’ll never print another copy of Drone of Brutality on that page , and I also can’t see where it says that they’re introducing a Reserve List. It looks to me a whole lot like what they said is “we’re not putting any more copies in WTR Unlimited.” So, there is no FAB Reserve List at this point in time, and there is no promise that Drone will never be printed again. If anyone tells you otherwise link them to this article from LSS and demand that they show you a more recent press release from LSS that contradicts it, if they expect you to take them seriously.
Could Drone Have Value?
This is actually an interesting question. Alpha foil Drones are going to have value because all Alpha foils are going to accumulate value – it’s why people were buying them in bulk at the end of 2020. But will Drone specifically see an outsized gain in the long term? I think the odds are quite bad unless we get a Commander scenario. That is to say, if a new format is introduced, and the format becomes very popular, and Drone is legal in it, and Drone is good in it, then Drone will very likely shoot up in value. But in that scenario, you aren’t betting on Drone because it’s banned, you’re betting on Drone because you think it will be good in that currently non-existent format. You can do this type of speculation, but you need to understand that that’s what you’re doing. I’ve previously argued that if popular multi-player PvP format or popular multiplayer PvE format happens, Coax a Commotion will likely spike because it would likely be extra powerful in such a format. Even if all of that came to pass, it’s important to note that, because there is no FAB Reserve List, LSS could and likely would (if prices got too high), reprint Drone in a “FAB Commander” product.
Right now, Drone’s value is specifically located in the foil alpha versions, but if you’re getting into foil alpha rares, I’d personally target ones that people can actually play. Sigil of Solace, the potions, or Snatch all seem like they have a lot more upside to me because people can, you know, actually play them. In the short term, I fully expect to see Drone spike. People have already started the hype train and money will be lit on fire. Remember the $1300 Cold Foil Kayo. Who knows how long prices will hold up at an inflated level, but I fully expect that in 2 years no one will care about Drone, barring the scenario outlined above or an unbanning. Personally, I’ll be going through my boxes as soon as I publish this piece and getting my Drones on ebay because if people are dead set on throwing money away, I might as well try to catch some of it.
*Header Image – Contract from Below by Douglas Shuler