(If you are only interested in the data set of substitutes for RL cards, scroll to the bottom)
One of the most difficult topics to discuss in the Magic community is the Reserve List. It is difficult and rightly maligned as a topic of conversation because it’s the kind of thing that everyone and their little brother has a strong opinion about regardless of whether they have any idea what they are talking about. So, conversations quickly devolve along several predictable lines.
Someone will complain that the Reserve List is a tool to help big retailers keep profits. Someone will explain they already own all of the cards on the Reserve List but they want it removed anyway because it stifles the growth of Vintage and Legacy. Someone will point out that Wizards could get sued if they do violate the Reserve List. Someone will proclaim they want to see more counterfiet cards to “force” Wizards to do so anyway. And it goes on, with people retreading the same old arguments until they’re angry with each other and a moderator steps in to cut off the discussion.
What has always struck me as strange about these discussions is how narrow the perspective becomes. That is, for the most part, people do not argue about accessibility to Legacy or Vintage as such, but instead argue about how they want to own (or want others to own) very specific cards: Tundras, or Libraries of Alexandia, or Black Lotuses. Often the argument boils down to the thought that old formats need more of these particular cards to survive in paper, and if they don’t get them, then the formats are doomed to a slow and doddering death.
And yet, that is clearly not the case. New printings can and do influence older formats in a way that helps the formats survive in spite of the Reserve List. They can do this in two ways. First, they can provide effects as powerful as Reserve List cards without needing them. Dredge in Vintage, for example, requires essentially none of the Power Nine or even dual lands. Sure, Bazaars are expensive, but that was not always the case; they got expensive as a result of the Dredge deck. In Legacy, Eldrazi emerged as a contender and is built almost entirely with cards that are not on the Reserve List.
The second way that new printings can influence older formats is by providing alternatives to Reserve List cards. The Reserve List is very specific; it only prohibits reprinting cards in a “functionally identical form.” This is defined as follows: “A card is considered functionally identical to another card if it has the same card type, subtypes, abilities, mana cost, power, and toughness.” That is, so long as a new card has a different subtype or ability, for example, it is not prohibited by the Reserve List. No, you can’t print a Snow Dual because that’s a supertype change only; but yes, you can print a Mox Sapphire that pings everyone for 1 when it enters the battlefield.
My argument here is that Wizards can, and does, print cards that are suitable substitutes for those on the Reserve List. They even render some of them obsolete. Below, I wanted to share the data I’ve compiled so far to prove that Wizards can and does print cards that match or even exceed the utility of Reserve List cards. There is a concept that Wizards mentioned in the distant past called the “Spirit” of the Reserve List, but that means whatever you want it to mean and is a useless concept for discussion. More to the point, it has not traditionally stopped Wizards from printing non-functional substitutes for Reserve List cards.
I hope the reader will take away from this the idea that arguing about whether the Reserve List is good or bad, should stay or go, or is a vast conspiracy, is a pointless excercise. (Spoiler: It’s not going anywhere.) Instead, the hope of eternal rests in printing new cards. We, as a community, should be putting our efforts and dollars towards convincing WotC to keep printing new cards that substitute for or compete with Reserve List cards, not complaining about the policy.
Link to data set: