When a price changes drastically, there's usually a reason for that, for example an unbanning, spoiling of a new card that complements a card, or some new tech. But why are cards expensive that, well, already are expensive? That's what I'm going to try to explore in this article series. This instalment, we'll be talking about Force of Will, arguably the best counterspell ever printed.
Aim of this article
Many articles require (some) background knowledge about formats, the metagame and price history of a card and similar cards. We also like to serve newcomers, casual players and infrequent players in the community who would like to understand how or why a card got to where it is now. If you have been dealing with Magic finance for some time, this article probably contains a lot of information you're already aware of. A card with a high price tag, which probably looks like a terrible card to new players. Why would you pay one life and exile another card to counter a spell? Or why would you pay while you can just play Counterspell for ?
A card that's not on the reserved list. Since we started measuring in 2012, Force of Will would cost you around $65, and has been hovering between this price and it's all time high of $110 around March 2015. The price has been briefly going up every time a Modern Masters set was released. Of course everyone knew that Force of Will wouldn't be printed in a MM set, it's not Modern legal, but these sets also increased the supply of other Legacy staples, which resulted in more people getting into Legacy and thus driving up demand. When Eternal Masters came out, the price went down around $10, because of the reprint. Currently, it sits around $70-$80. Shockingly, the Eternal Masters version is more expensive than the original print (which I personally prefer). The card was also printed as Judge Promo and as Amonkhet Invocation.
Force of Will was first printed in Alliances which was released in June 1996 as the second set in the Ice Age block. It was the first set to be printed on sheets of 110 cards. Since each common card and 5 uncommons cards in Alliances have 2 pieces of art, collectors view this as a 199 card set. It was the last expansion that featured multiple artworks on cards, since it made identification of cards by their artwork harder. This became more important, as Magic was printing cards in languages other than English.
There has been a gap of 8 months between Alliances and the set before that, Homelands, which was a not-so-popular set. This has been the longest period between two sets in the history of Magic.
Although Alliances did not introduce new keywords, it did introduce an alternate cost mechanic, also often referred to as pitch cards. Players were able to discard (or pitch) a card in the same color to pay for the spell. In two instances, of which Force of Will is one, it would also cost 1 life. The other cards from this series are: Bounty of the Hunt, Contagion, Pyrokinesis and Scars of the Veteran.
Force of Will is not Modern legal, and thus only played in Vintage and Legacy. In Legacy it is the 2nd most played card, after Brainstorm. These two spells are maybe two of the most defining cards of the Legacy format, and still makes Legacy what it is today. In Vintage, Force of Will is the most played card.
Without Force of Will, both in Vintage and Legacy, combo decks would probably run wild. The card makes sure that fast combo decks can't just simply overwhelm everyone in turn 1 or 2, since they either play against Force of Will, or they have to consider the possibility that they play against it and can't just run their combo out there. What is 1 blue card and 1 life if the alternative is losing, right?! It also enables you to tap out for something, to progress your plan or boardstate, and still be able to counter a back-breaking spell if you have to.
Since you have to pitch a blue card to Force of Will, you can't just jam a playset of the card into any deck. Generally, the rule of thumb is, that you need at least 20 other blue cards in the deck to be able to reliably cast it for its alternative cost. Don't think it's that uncommon to pay the full for FoW. In, for example, Legacy Miracle Control, which is a very reactive deck, you usually have a lot of untapped mana in your opponents turn, warranting it to just pay full retail for the counterspell. In this scenario, it's simply better to have card advantage.
Often, Force of Will is paired with Daze (in Legacy) or Mental Misstep (in Vintage) in a deck's countersuite, basically both fulfilling the same role: countering something "for free". One of my favourite Legacy interactions is pitching a Misthollow Griffin to Force of Will. It just feels so good to get maximum value out of these two cards!
I think in Commander, Force of Will is not very useful, especially in multiplayer. You can only stop 1 bomb from being played, but it does seem like an easy auto-include in a -heavy deck. I can imagine that in Commander, it can have the same effect it has in Legacy and Vintage. When the blue player is tapped out, your opponent might take a risk and go big, only to get wrecked.
But is it good enough to warrant having to exile a card? I think it might depend on your meta, since the tempo gain isn't going to outweigh the loss of card advantage presented by the card.
So... #ButWhy is Force of Will so expensive? It's a format defining card, keeping Legacy and Vintage healthy. Blue has been considered the strongest color in these formats, and FoW is definitely one of the reasons why. It hasn't seen a lot of reprints, but it not being on the reserved list, does keep the price somewhat in check.