A Guide to Card Rarity in Magic: The Gathering
Card Rarity in Magic: The Gathering
Each Magic card has a symbol located in its middle-right side; the symbol's shape tells you what set the card is from, while its color denotes the card's rarity. Rarity doesn't technically affect game mechanics, but the rarer a card is, the more complex its effects usually are.
As a general rule, rarer cards tend to be better—and cost more money. Some cards even change rarity between sets, often leading to confusion among fans; to alleviate the issue, here's everything you should know about card rarity in Magic: The Gathering!
Number in Standard Booster
Pauper format only allows commons
Rarest level attainable in old 8-card boosters
Given to complex cards to keep drafts fast
1/8 chance to replace rare
Introduced in 2008 "Shards of Alara" expansion
Booster Bonus Card
Sharp-eyed readers might notice the above numbers only add up to 14, so what's a booster's fifteenth card? Depends on the set, but it's often a basic land (many packs also contain a sixteenth marketing/token card).
Designated by a black mark, commons are the most abundant card type, composing 10 of a booster's 15 cards. They're the only rarity allowed in pauper format and generally have simpler effects and cheaper prices.
True, most effect-less "vanilla" creatures fall into this category, but don't make the mistake of underestimating commons—several warrant play even outside pauper, including spells like "Opt", "Lightning Bolt", and "Return to Nature".
Identified by gray/silver set images, uncommons come three to a pack. Most legendaries are at least of uncommon rarity, and while they're not as elusive as rares, uncommons can still pack a big punch.
Recent uncommon powerhouses include "Risen Reef" for tribal element builds, draw-punishing "Underworld Dreams" (which was formerly a rare), and the blue-punishing "Mystical Dispute" counterspell.
Highlighted by their gold symbol, rares only come one to a pack (zero if replaced by a mythic). Like how commons can still be great cards, rares aren't automatically good, but they generally offer stronger and more complicated effects. They also tend to require more mana, though many exceptions, like the above "Dawn of Hope", buck this trend.
Lands can be rare too, including tempting multi-color lands like "Shadowblood Ridge".
Nonexistent until 2008's Alara block, mythics possess red-orange symbols and usually have a 1/8 chance to replace the rare in a standard booster. That said, your chances of getting a specific mythic are only about 1/2 of getting a specific rare thanks to the smaller mythic pool, so try not to sweat the details. Planeswalkers used to be mythics by default, but have gradually been entering other rarities ever since War of the Spark.
These cards contain many of the strongest and most complex effects, and you'll often pay a pretty penny for them, so be sure to sleeve any you find to keep them in good condition. That said, while mythics tend to be better, they're not all winners, so don't feel pressured to include one when you have a superior lower-rarity alternative available.
All four card rarities—even commons—have a small chance to be a foil card, easily distinguished by their rainbow-tinted holographic colors. Foils don't provide gameplay effects and are purely for aesthetics, but generally cost much more than non-foils, so count yourself lucky whenever you pull one. The exact chance of a card being foil varies from set to set, but is currently 1 out of 45. Might not sound like much, but a big increase over the previous 1:65 ratio.
Though listed as rares or mythics, special promo cards aren't ever found in booster packs. They can be obtained through various means, sometimes given as prizes in tournaments or as extra incentive to purchase booster boxes (which contain 36 packs apiece).
Wizards of the Coast attempts to make promo cards only moderately powerful so that players who can't afford them can still build competitive decks, but some (like "Nexus of Fate") definitely see competitive play.
While not a standard designation, 2006's Time Spiral block included purple-symboled "timeshifted" spells. Corresponding with the block's three themes of past, present, and future, these were cards from prior sets, color-shifted spells of the current era, or ones bearing mechanics that would appear in future expansions.
Each Time Spiral booster contained one timeshifted card, making them comparable to rares, although their original forms range from common to rare.
Although they don't have their own symbol color (they're simply listed as mythics), masterpieces are reprinted versions of other cards. These are unique since they're allowed to contain mechanics no other cards in a set have and because of their special art styles, usually taking up an entire card frame.
You might consider masterpieces the secret fifth MTG rarity; the chances of obtaining one vary from set to set, but generally, only one in 2,000 boosters have one, so they fetch incredible prices when sold. Their types differ in each set; Kaladesh had artifact masterpieces, Amonkhet had gods, and so on.
Should proxy cards be allowed in official events?
We've now covered all types of rarities, letting you know what to expect from each. Remember that cards can change rarities, which could make previously expensive spells much more affordable.
While not really a rarity, there's also proxy cards, paper printouts substituted for the real thing. These let casual players access pricey cards without bankrupting themselves, but few official events allow them (and some gaming groups discourage them), so be sure to check an event's rules before using. But for now, share your thoughts on proxies and I'll see you at our next MTG countdown!
© 2020 Jeremy Gill