Foils are cool. They are shiny (and most of us Magic players are a little ADD, so shiny = awesome), give our decks a little prestige, and just feel like they have more power than their plainer versions. Likely because of the “feel” of playing with foils and the odds of getting one in a booster pack being about 1 in 70, the monetary value of foil cards is significantly higher than nonfoil copies. On average foil cards trade for 1.5 to 2 times more clams, depending on how often the card is played and how cool the foil looks.
For example, a foil Delver of Secrets (arguably the most played card in Standard right now other than Seachrome Coast) sells on StarCityGames.com for $7.99, while the nonfoil Delver is 50 cents. Seachrome Coast sells nonfoil for 14-15 dollars, while a foil is only $25, so not quite a full double value. I’d say alot of the difference has to do with how awesome foil double-sided cards look as well as the extremely low chance of getting a Delver in foil.
Other foils might be complete jank if the card is not played in constructed formats and doesn’t look cool all foily (this is the case for most cards, really). It really does come down to how cool a card looks in foil when it’s all sleeved up in a constructed deck. Also, you’re not cool if your EDH general isn’t in foil.
Some people have figured out how to make proxies out of foil cards while keeping the foily part intact. EDIT 8/2/12: There used to be a great Youtube video that showed how to make them, but it was made private, so the old link that was posted here no longer goes anywhere. I’ll keep my eyes out for another similar video. Let me know if anyone finds one as well.
Magic Online has foils too! I know what you’re thinking…why on earth would a computer program make foil versions of cards when you can’t truly experience the effect by playing with the card in your hand and seeing it without the aid of a monitor? MTGO does a really crappy job of making a card foily too…it just adds a purple “glare” effect to the card (see the picture below) to emulate the holographic foily-ness of real cards. Total lameness.
As a result, “foil” (or “premium” as Wizards calls them) cards are hardly worth any more than their regular versions, and many people try to avoid them altogether because of that stupid purple haze. Liliana trades for around 20-21 tickets (remember, 1 ticket = 1 dollar in MTGO money) while the purple haze version only goes for 24 – 3 dollars more for the foil version of one of the most expensive cards in the set! Compare that with the difference in real life – $30 for regular, $70 for foil on StarCityGames.
In case you can’t tell, the Stalker on the right is the “foil” version. Try to visualize that purple haze moving the entire time to get the full effect. Lame, right?
Let’s recap. It’s not really any fun to open a foil online like it is cracking on in real life. There’s no real added value in the foil version of the card. And playing with them is actually more annoying than entertaining. So then, why did Wizards program them in? Did they think we would go nuts over purply animations and buy more packs from them? Who knows, but we’ll just have to live with our crappy internet holograms and just pretend that we’ve opened something actually good instead of just an awkward-looking version of jank.
But wait! There’s a loophole to all this violet violence! SET TRADE INS! That’s right, when you acquire one of each foil in a set, you can pay 5 bucks and trade in your online cards for REAL ONES! Yes, those terrible, worthless MTGO foils become cash money gold insanity in your pockets. I haven’t done the math, but given such differences in value between online and paper foils, you could probably buy a whole foil set of Innistrad online, trade it in, and sell the paper set on eBay for quite a good profit. Heh heh stupid Wizards, giving us free money and tricking us by making it look stupid.
UPDATE (1/23): Having just opened a sealed pool online and getting 4 foil rares, tied with 2 flip card rares made me have 12 rares in a 6-booster pool. So even though they’re dumb to look at, foils online still boost your sealed pools with rares just as much as they do in real life.