Tricky Islands - Inside the MTG Basic Land

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Daniel Clarke

2 minute read

Learn more about Magic: the Gatherings most loved and hated land - the Island!

The Island!

If you love collecting basic lands, you should probably know of some of the most elusive and odd basic islands out there. True, some of these examples have counterparts that span the basic type, but Islands, after all, may just be the best basic in the game Magic: the gathering- their relative values, against that of the other basic types, would seem to suggest this is true. 

The shooting star size is the only way to tell these printings apart

The shooting star size is the only way to tell these printings apart

You may be wondering why there are two pictures of the same island above. Oddly enough, they are two different prints. The one on the left is a promo version released with a set of basics for the 2000 Arena League. On the right is a set foil from Mercadian Masques. Notice they have the same set symbol, dateline, collector number, etc. The only differentiation is the size of the shooting star. On the promo, the star is ever so slightly smaller. Without a side-by-side comparison, it’s nearly impossible to know which version you have.

Misprint promo of the first available foil islands!

Misprint promo of the first available foil islands!

While on the topic of Arena League promos, the 1999 Urza’s Saga lands gave us this little gem. What might be the first set of promo foil lands released, the island can be found without a set symbol. It is not clear how common this misprint is, but the prices seem to indicate it’s not exceptionally rare.

Near the top of the most expensive and rare islands.

Near the top of the most expensive and rare islands.

By far, the rarest core set printing in Magic’s history are cards from Summer Magic, AKA Edgar. These basic lands are challenging to find and one of the most valuable basic lands (as much as 10x the worth of an Alpha version). Not bad for a white-bordered card that only differs from revised by a “1994” before the artist name and with slightly more saturated colors.

Guru Island!

Guru Island!

Guru lands have been the apex of the basic land choice for a while- The island alone is worth around $1000 at this writing. Guru lands can be identified in a few different ways. A graduate cap set symbol in foil bronze leaf is a one-of-a-kind for Magic. Also, the art box displays a color gradient and some hemispheric sun lines that give it a pretty incredible aesthetic. By teaching a specified number of new players on how to play Magic, and then mailing in a clipped out coupon, WotC would send you a guru, randomly selected from the five basics. In the recent past, the artist Terese Neilson was released as an artist by WotC, making it unlikely we will see any more work by her.

A weird partial set!

A weird partial set!

Another super cool but kind of weird Arena Promo is the 2001/2002 beta-art island. It was part of a would-be cycle cut short after only two lands- the island and the forest. It would be incredible to get the other three, especially a Doug Shuler beta mountain (299/C). 

Chinese Portal Lands

Chinese Portal Lands

Saving the most obscure for last! When Portal was printed, the Simplified Chinese basic land cycle was given unique art. These lands have become highly desired by collectors of basic lands. Since most collectors were unaware of their existence until relatively recently, there were two decades for these seemingly ordinary cards to get disbursed and thrown out, destroyed, or lost- and not sleeved or put in binders. Finding a complete set of all 15 is a challenging and expensive task but a must-have for the Magic: the Gathering basic land aficionado. 

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