Among the thousands of cards in the Magic lexicon, a healthy handful stand out as exceptionally rare, valuable or powerful – and most are a combination of the three. Prices for these exceptional cards can exceed $10,000, so if you were playing Magic about 15 years ago, you’ll want to dig through your closet and see what you might have.
Basic trading card quality rules apply here, so all Magic cards are worth exponentially more if they’ve never actually been abused by being utilized in a game or stuck in a bicycle spoke or used as a beer coaster, so fortune favors the lonely and/or sober.
Additionally, almost all of the cards come from the very first releases of Magic, which emerged in three phases. ‘Alpha’, the very first release of Magic cards, happened at Origins in 1993. This inaugural set consisted of about 295 different core cards, all with black borders, and about 2.6 million were printed. When these sold out, a second printing called ‘Beta’ was printed up, with an additional 7.3 million cards. This collection was the same core set, but issued with corrections and a slightly more square shape (which has been used for every subsequent set). Finally, when these sold out, the far more common ‘Unlimited’ edition came out, consisting of the same cards, but with white borders, a few more corrections. A fourth printing, unofficially called ‘Summer Magic’ or ‘Edgar’, was to have revised further issues, but because of printing problems and more card errors, most of these booster boxes were scrapped. A few did emerge from the warehouses and made their way to England, though, and remain highly sought after.
Because of the quantities of these cards that were printed, Alpha is usually worth more than Beta, which is worth more than Unlimited. The following list of uber-cards is almost entirely pulled from the fabled ‘Power 9′ collection – cards that are exceptionally more powerful than the rest of the cards in the game. It’s also worth nothing that sealed booster packs from any of the early releases can sell from $10,000 to $1000, easily.
1. The most valuable Magic card in public release is the Black Lotus, which currently averages around $1500 for a near mint Beta edition. The Alpha edition has notably sold for over $10,000 in one or two rare cases, and like most collectibles, professionally graded editions of the card just get wacky. While the card is basically a nigh-invulnerable explosion of pure death magic, it also works in any possible deck that the player might choose to make, as it isn’t mana-color specific. Early adapters of the game weren’t just rewarded with super-powered cards – if they held onto these things for about ten years, they could afford about 5 years worth of rent. Or bail money, which is the opposite of rent. As long as you don’t have the reprinted ‘Collectors Edition’ of the card, you have money in the bank. It’s times like this that I wish I could go back to my 14-year old self and tell him to buy the heck outta this game so that future-me could go to a good college.
2. Speaking of time travel, Time Walk comes in as the second most valuable wide-release card in the game. It’s a card that cheaply, but assertively, informs your opponent, “screw you, I’m taking another turn.” While a player generally gets to start fresh at the beginning of their own turn, your opponent’s resources remain tapped out. Your monsters are now fresh as belligerent daisies and can make another violent attack, easily penetrating any flagging defenses, easily dealing a game-ending blow when played at the right time. The Unlimited edition of Time Walk has recently sold at auction for prices around $500, while a Beta finished up at over $700, and the original Alpha is nowhere to be seen. Like the Lotus, this is another one of the ‘Power 9′ cards.
3. Also part of the Power 9, the third most powerful and rare cards are the five Moxes : Mox Pearl, Mox Ruby, Mox Jet, Mox Emerald and Mox Sapphire. All of these are Artifacts, or magical items, like the Lotus, and all of them entitle you to an anytime, anywhere source of magic, like an iPod with Andrew Bird on it, or a never-ending carton of Whoppers. Since magic, or ‘mana’ is pretty much the lifeblood of everything that you summon onto the gaming table, any card that gives you fast mana is usually pretty popular. The Unlimited editions of these cards round out at about $300, while the Alpha and Beta versions have recently topped $700.
4. Ancestral Recall – the card that allows you to painlessly add three turns worth of weaponry to your hand in short order, was recently valued at about $700 on eBay for a Beta edition. Of course, you can also force your opponent to draw three cards, which sounds exceptionally generous – unless they’re out of cards and playing in ‘Vintage’ format, wherein one suffers an automatic loss if you cannot draw a card when you are required to do so. Such is the nature of the blue cards. Like my second girlfriend, they’re master manipulators – they get inside your stuff and mess it up hardcore, but at least they don’t call you when they’re drunk at 4 AM and admit to various infidelities with overweight dorm-mates. Again, this is a Power 9 card.
5. Timetwister is the last of the ‘Power 9′ block of cards, allowing all players to reshuffle and reuse all of their exhausted cards. While the Beta card is worth about $300, it’s still nothing to scoff at. Again, Timetwister is a blue card – arguably the most powerful and dangerous color in the game.
6. Not willing to settle for only nine ‘Power’ cards, three more cards are sometimes referred to as part of the ‘Power 10′ – not unlike the various Fifth Beatles. Sure, they’re great, but they don’t really fit perfectly into the established set. Two cards from the first major expansion, ‘Arabian Nights’, have this honor : Library of Alexandria and Bazaar of Baghdad. Neither of these were actually even rare in their printed quantities, but their power in the game makes them highly desirable. The third major card in the ‘Power 10′ set is Mishra’s Workshop, from the ‘Antiquities’ set. All of these currently sell for around $130 to $300.
7. The Wizards website states that the rare ‘blue Hurricane‘ card is one of the most sought after cards in the game. Since Hurricane is a green spell, the misprinted blue version is especially rare. It was only included in the aforementioned ‘Edgar’ set, which was accidentally shipped to England. Hurricane itself is a very common card from the very first set of Magic, but the blue version is something like the philatelist’s ‘Inverted Jenny‘ or the numismatist’s 1933 Gold Double Eagle. Is there a word for a Magic card collector?
I usually just use ‘nerd’. Lovingly, of course, as I’m one too.
8. There have also been a small group of cards which have never been available for sale to the public, produced completely outside of the regular sets. Only two different and completely unique official cards were produced. Both were painted by Christopher Rush and designed by Mark Rosewater. The first unique card, called Shichifukujin Dragon, was created exclusively for the DCI Tournament Center in Tokyo, Japan – which was, at the time, the largest single place for organized playing cards. The card’s name actually refers to Japan’s seven deities of good fortune, and the creature itself has the ability to become more powerful with each turn, slowly and infinitely. Most players would deny these as being ‘actual’ Magic cards, given their special circumstances and inutility in game play. Those people would be spoilsports. When it comes to ultra-rare cards, players sometimes make ‘proxy’ cards for fun – regular magic cards with a new face pasted to them to act as a substitute for an otherwise inaccessible card.
9. As I’ve mentioned before, game creator Richard Garfield created three cards for three personal occasions. The first one, Proposal, was slipped into a game between Garfield and his girlfriend, and had the ability to propose marriage. Fortunately, the one time that it ever entered a game, it worked. Because of the personal nature of the card, the image has never been published, and only three people in the world were given a copy – Garfield, the printer at Carta Mundi, and Quinton Hoover. Unfortunately, Hoover’s card was stolen at a convention and has never been recovered.
The other two were printed in quantities of about 100 or so and given to personal friends of the Garfield family – birth announcements for their two children, ‘Splendid Genesis‘ and ‘Fraternal Exaltation‘.
10. Remember those two unique cards? The second is called 1996 World Champion, and was given to Australia’s Tom Chanpheng. You can probably guess why. After this card was printed, all proof copies, and the printing plates, were destroyed. Last we heard, this card was stored safely at Tom’s place in Australia, and in a screwdown case.
After sending Tom a quick inquiry, he had this to say :
“I sold the card in 2001. In late 2000, I started up an internet cafe and things were going well so I was thinking about expanding, right on cue I got a phone call from someone representing an anonymous collector who was interested in buying the card. I didn’t want to part with the card but he made a good offer and I needed the money to expand the business so I sold it. The price I sold it for was $17,500US. I thought it was a good offer at the time. I have no clue how much it would be worth now.”
So, this price tag officially marks it as the most valuable Magic card. Once Tom started up the cafe, he fell out from the official tournament scene, but still has his old cards and plays from time to time.
And that’s the 15th anniversary of a little card game called Magic – a thing that’s inspired many, and somehow altered the course of countless lives. If that’s not enough reason to take it seriously, I don’t know what is.