From the very beginning, Magic: The Gathering has had its cycles of cards with series of somehow similar cards in different colors or affecting different cards. Perhaps the most famous is the Boon Cycle from Alpha Limited Edition, giving each color three of something at instant speed for a single mana. The Boon Cycle had four Common cards – Healing Salve, Giant Growth, Dark Ritual and Lightning Bolt – and one Rare card, Ancestral Recall, reflecting that the game’s designer, Richard Garfield, knew that there was a difference in the power of the five cards of the cycle.
Initially, differences in power level were supposed to be ironed by giving more powerful cards a higher rarity, since it was not expected that players would purchase more than a starter deck and perhaps reinforce their collection by buying a booster pack every now and then.
Now, as we all know, Magic has turned out to be an arms race, not unlike the global arms race the world had only seen end of right before the game was released. Just like the two superpowers in the previous four to five decades, players were willing to make great economic sacrifices to achieve dominance. And one of the most powerful weapons to stockpile in the early days of Magic (before the game had any restrictions on the number of copies each player could arm their decks with) was Ancestral Recall, the blue member of the Boon family.
White managed to prevent three damage or increase the life total of a player by three; green could temporarily boost power and toughness with three; black turned one mana plus a card into three mana; and red dealt three damage. Well life begins at 20 and more is easy to come by. So pumping creatures and gaining some extra mana and direct damage all came in a variety of flavors with several options to choose from – even if the boons of green, black, and red are still playable in some formats and decks. Ancestral Recall offered something a bit harder to come by: card draw.
By offering a player three cards at instant speed by only paying one mana, this card has never been surpassed or even approximated by later cards. This is why Ancestral Recall is a very close second to Black Lotus when it comes to ranking the strongest and most sought-after cards ever printed in the history of the game. And it is without comparison the strongest non-artifact among the thousands of Magic cards.
Limiting the number of copies of Ancestral Recall, four in a deck was simply was not enough to quell its power, so the card had to be eventually restricted to a one-off. Being on the Restricted List of Vintage also automatically left the card banned in Legacy, when that format was launched, and today Vintage is alone among the most popular formats in allowing the card to be played at all. Ancestral Recall is also one of the main reasons that you will never or at least almost never see any serious Vintage deck not playing blue. The card is simply a must in all decks for its unsurpassed value.
However, despite its limited legality, the pure power in combination with its collectability given the cards legendary history, and the fact that the card is on the Reserved List and that it was only printed in Alpha Limited Edition, Beta Limited Edition, and Unlimited Edition, still makes Ancestral Recall one of Magic: The Gathering’s most expensive cards. (The card sells for a minimum of 3.000,00 € per near-mint copy.) It is only surpassed by Black Lotus, so just like that card, it is almost a safe bet that over time its price will keep setting new records.