Abe’s Pimp List

Many casual players love to trick out their decks with flash and splash. Foils, promos, foreign cards, signed cards, and more all have markets with certain segments of the causal gaming market. While everyone who wants some bling knows that a foil Forbidden Alchemy is better than a normal one, after that, there is a lot of dissent. What about the Friday Night Magic promo version? Is it better than a normal foil, or is it worse? What if I have a normal Japanese Forbidden Alchemy or a foil English one? Today, I thought I’d share with you my personal pimp list. Which cards are the top when it comes to tricking out my deck, and what do I look for?

I’m lucky. I’ve had Abe’s Deck of Happiness and Joy built before Urza’s Legacy released. Abe’s Deck of Happiness and Joy is my banner deck. Today, it’s a five-color Highlander deck with more than 2600 cards. At one time, it was a sixty-card tournament deck that was doing well in local Standard tournaments. Then, it was changed to Extended, and then to a hundred-card fun deck, and then to Five Color, and then to just a giant Highlander deck. When I play Commander players with it, I select a stack, grab a Cromat (because he’s not in the deck) and make him my commander.

Why is it lucky that this deck has been around so long? Because foils began in Urza’s Legacy. I can still remember a foil Ring of Gix clocking in around $50 at the time—it was the foil Jace, Architect of Thought of its day. Since my deck has been around a while, I’ve had a lot of opportunities to collect foils for it (and other cards) down through the years. I liked pimping my deck out with shiny, old, and unusual stuff. I picked up some Alpha cards for it back when they were banned from tournaments, and I acquired an Alpha Sol Ring, Balance, Demonic Tutor, and Copy Artifact for about $10. (They are a bit beat, too, but it’s still an amazing deal looking back.)

Today, a lot of foil versions of popular casual cards are worth a ton of money. The Commander effect is in full swing, as many players seek to splash the cash on fancy versions of normal cards. Luckily, I was able to acquire a lot of foils or Korean versions of older cards before they had a lot of value on the secondary market. For example, I picked up a foil High Market when it was a crap rare for a couple of bucks. I’m lucky my deck has been around for long enough to develop value from the rising value of cards.

Pimp is in. We’ll look at some cards and see what I consider to be the pimpiest, moving on down.

The Trump Card – Signature of an Artist

Artful Looter
As I begin to discuss the pimp value of cards, I’m going to leave out one signed by an artist. Any card is improved with an artist’s signature. Because of this, it doesn’t fit into any category. A signed foil is obviously better than an unsigned foil, and a signed Beta is obviously better than an unsigned, and so on. Getting a signature is a powerful way to trick out your deck, and even your prettiest cards are made better, in my mind, with a signature.

Get signatures for yourself at conventions or large tournaments that often feature artists. My favorite signature is an Arnie Swekel Swamp. I was playing him in a prerelease, and I beat him, and I asked him to sign my Swamp (which he has painted), and he agreed. So, I have a Swamp he signed from the deck that beat him in the Sealed event. Despite it not being a fancy Swamp that was foil or Japanese or anything, it’s still my favorite Swamp because of that story.

Basic Lands

We’ll start at the top and work our way down

Great Wall
Guru Lands – I love the Guru art and the lands they are on. At the time, I acquired a set from trading online, and the set was worth about $50 bucks. Later, someone gave me an Island for my birthday when it was a $20 card. Today, these have become the default pimpiest card for those who can afford them, and as such, they have a massive value. They are not worth a hundred bucks each, so I’d recommend you steer clear of them.

APAC, Euro Lands – These lands were promos that depicted scenes from the real earth as lands for Magic. Some of them are easily identifiable as a real-world scene. In those cases, you might prefer more Magicy lands. (For example, the Plains that depicts the Great Wall of China is a bit obvious.) The art is rarely seen because these lands were printed in small runs. It also has some very interesting and beautiful land art, such as the French Forest and the Fire Swamp in Taiwan. I love these lands.

Other Promo, Alternate-Art Basics – The next rung of land for me are those lands that have unusual art and were released only as promos. The first I recall were the lands from the Arena league a long time ago that were all one big picture. There have been several releases over the years of alternate-art basics that have not been released anywhere else. Good basic land art is often copied for new sets or releases such as the Commander decks. These are not, and that makes them special.

Full-Art Foils – The foil lands that are full art (Zendikar or Unhinged for example) are just breathtaking. They are truly something special, and I wish we’d get some promos of full art from older sets in foil. Can you imagine a set of full-art foil lands from the next category?

City in a Bottle
Alpha or Beta – I like the old-school lands in black border next. You can acquire them for fairly cheap, and you have the oldest cards in the game as a result. They look timeless, and you will fall in love with the first set all over again as you play them! (The Arabian Nights Mountain fits in this section.)

Asian or Russian Foreign Foils – Unlike some of my casual friends, I do not have a preference for Japanese over Chinese or Korean for my pimp art. Any Asian foil looks good, and it doesn’t matter if you can or can’t read it because it’s a basic land. One of the issues with foreign cards in Casual Land is that many opponents have no idea what a card does, and if I have a version they can’t even read, it can be hard for them to remember what I said it does. That disadvantage is not in play for basics, so they are more desirable to me today as basic lands. I’m not actively seeking any new Asian versions of cards for my deck anymore. (There was a time when I bought a Japanese box of Visions and three Asian boxes of Nemesis for $30 a box and other stuff, but no more.)

Foils, Promo Foils – Promo foils of a land that already exists are on the same level as a normal foil to my mind. They are all nice to look at, particularly if you have an attractive land art looking back at you!

Black-Bordered Non-Foils from Unusual Sets (Portal, Portal Second Age, Unglued, etc,) – I still have some of these in my various decks as I run out of foils. I consider them cool enough to make the cut, but I don’t go down any further. I want all basic lands in Abe’s Deck of Happiness and Joy to be at least this level.

Cards from the First Year of Magic

We have a lot of powerful cards from this era still in decks—particularly noncreatures. Here’s where I lay the line.

City of Brass
English, Black-Bordered Original Printing – I prefer Alpha and Beta for cards such as Balance and Shivan Dragon or anything else from this era. You want a Legends Land Tax over a Fourth Edition one and an Arabian Nights City of Brass over the Chronicles one.

Promo Foils – Some promo foil cards have been made of this era’s cards, and they are very collectible. In every case, I prefer the original. I’d rather have a Beta Balance than the judge-foil version and an Alpha Sol Ring over any promo. I’d rather play an original City of Brass over the foil one. For the original cards, in my mind, the first English printing has more panache.

Foreign Black-Bordered – I managed to pick up a few black-bordered dual lands from this era in French, and they look amazing. I traded heavily for them online when they were about $25 each, and I still adore them to this day. I remember cracking a Chinese Fourth Edition starter I bought from the local store for about $8 and seeing that Chinese, black-bordered Nevinyrral's Disk and falling in love. That’s the only time I have played a foreign over a foil—because I was the one who cracked it. But otherwise, I’d replace it with the foil promo, so I replaced a Chinese, black-bordered Shivan Dragon with the one printed in From the Vaults.

Later Foils – These cards regularly saw reprint after the introduction of foils. Foils from a reprint that are not promo are less in my mind. Take Rukh Egg. If I’m going to play one, the first one should be an Arabian Nights copy. Then is the promo version from the prerelease. Then is a foreign, black-bordered copy of the first art. Finally, a foil from the run as a rare is the last truly pimp Rukh Egg. (I have a very pretty foil Mahamoti Djinn in my deck with the pretty art from Tenth Edition. Sure, if I had an Alpha or Beta copy, that one would replace it, but it works.)

Portal or Portal Second Age Printing – I’m not sure why, but a Portal or Portal Second Age Earthquake is cooler than a white-bordered Revised copy. A lot of playable cards from this era were reprinted in a black-bordered Portal set. Take a look at cards such as Armageddon, Wrath of God, Hurricane, and more. This is the level I want all of my cards from this era to be at in order to consider them pimped.

Cards from the Pre-Foil Era

The next group of cards I consider for my pimping are those made pre-foil era. They are printed in larger numbers, and you start to see more foreign languages appear. Here are Abe’s ratings for those cards.

Gaea's Cradle
Promo Foils – Now we see something unusual happen. For the first few sets, I prefer an original printing, but for the next sets, I’d rather have a foil promo. For example, I would rather have a foil Gaea's Cradle than a normal copy in my deck. I would rather play the judge-foil Hermit Druid than the regular version. You get the idea. I just like the foil pimpage from sets that didn’t have those foil cards.

Asian Original Set – I mentioned earlier than I had picked up a box of Japanese Visions on the cheap. I still have an Undiscovered Paradise, Desertion, and Vampiric Tutor from that box in Abe’s Deck of Happiness and Joy. They look amazing today, and I really got my money’s worth from that box! A lot of casual players really love Korean cards from this era, and I have to admit that Korean is probably the prettiest one. I have a few Korean cards such as Portcullis and Erratic Portal running around. They look really nice. However, a Chinese Temporal Aperture I play looks really good, too, so again, I’m a fan of any of the Asian languages here.

Portal Printing – A handful of decent cards from this era are in Portal and Portal Three Kingdoms, and they are good enough to play as well. Cards such as Thundermare and Prosperity are decent for causal. I prefer a Portal card to the first printing.

Original Printing – It appears that a lot of people are picking up reprints of cards from this era in new borders over cards with old borders, and that’s a real disappointment; I’d rather play my Stronghold Wall of Blossoms than pick up some from the Planechase printing. If I can’t get the FNM foil or an Asian Wall, at least I can make sure I play one from the first set. From this era, the original cards are always better, barring an amazing art from a later set.

Cards from the Post-Foil Era

Now it’s time to look at the grand list in all of its glory. What level of pimpage is on top?

Expanded-Art Promos – Because of how rare they are, I consider any expanded-art promo to trump a normal foil promo. Therefore, I would put the expanded art Fireball above a foil promo Fireball. (However, as a card from the first set, I would place an Alpha or Beta one at the very top). These cards are nice to look at and play.

Promo Foils – I really deviate from the community on this one, I know. I would rather have the prerelease Sword of Kaldra than the foil Sword of Kaldra from the set or an Asian foil Sword from the set. I would rather have the alternate-art Jace from Jace vs. Chandra than the various Jace Beleren foils from Lorwyn on. I would rather play From the Vaults Memory Jar foil than my foil I already had from Urza’s Legacy. I don’t know why I disagree with the casual pimping community so much, but my preferred weapon of choice is the promo foil. When looking at promo foils, I always prefer alternate art to normal versions. (This is not true if the new art sucks. I’m looking at you, Knight of the Reliquary.)

Asian Foil – Just like a lot of other people, I like a nice-looking Asian foil. I don’t have any Russian nonlands yet, so I’m not sure where they would fall. They may not be in this category or they might. Eventually, I’ll get my hands on few and make a decision, but again, I’m not actively seeking foreign cards these days because of the issues of playing with them at causal tables. It’s one thing when you have a regular group of people who meet up for Magic each week—they know the cards quickly enough if not already. But at a Magic store with a lot of pickup games, foreign cards become problematic.

Loxodon Warhammer
Foil – Foils are my baseline of acceptability. I actively seek to upgrade the other categories to this one. Foils are good. They are the base level of shiny and pimping. Yes, foils!

Alternate-Art, Non-Foil – If you have to play a card from this era and you can’t find a copy that’s shiny, this is the next thing on the list. For example, if I’m all out of old or foil Counterspells, I’ll run the alternate-art copies from Jace vs. Chandra. I can run the alternate-art Ghostly Prison from Commander or the alternate-art Loxodon Warhammer from Knights vs. Dragons. It shows that you are trying. This is also where I’d place non-foil, alternate-art promos, such as the old Incinerate promo from years ago.

English Original Set – Below this are normal cards. I’d rather play an English card from a normal set than an Asian one. If I’m going to force someone to play through a card he can’t read, it should have some level of pimpiness to it—if that makes sense. A modern set that’s Japanese or something with no other elements is easy to acquire and has little pimp factor. The exceptions to this are the new cards printed in Commander and Planechase that have no foil versions, so an Asian version becomes your default pimp level.


Tricking out decks is a lot of fun! It’s also a blast to try to predict where the next price bump is going to go for casual players, so you can procure the cards you need before they inflate. It took a while after Commander became popular before foil versions of some cards jumped in value. I’m sure we’ll see new cards become heavily played and jump in foil value as well, but what are they? That’s an interesting question for tomorrow. I thought I’d share with you my personal pimp list for acquiring and showing off my collection. Let me know what you thought of the article!

See you next week,
Abe Sargent