This Is The Reason The Black Lotus Is Worth $30,000 And Why That Magic The Gathering Youtuber Is Right To Be Excited

By Steve Buja , Updated Oct 15, 2014 10:53 AM EDT
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Recently, one supremely lucky Magic: The Gathering YouTuber scored the motherlode: a mint condition, 1993 Black Lotus from the Alpha set, the first printing of the legendary card game. His reaction, seen below, is perfect. I was geeking out alongside him.

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An unplayed Black Lotus is worth about $27,000, and the highest graded Lotus (signed!) is going for $125,000. Let me repeat that figure again: $125,000. As in, an entire 4 year college art history degree can be funded one the proceeds selling one of these cards. Only 1100 of the rare artifact cards were ever printed. Hell, the starter pack he opened was alone worth six grand. An unopened 20 year old deck? Who even had the patience to hold onto that for that long?

We are very happy, if not a little jealous, and while I still have literally every single one of my Magic cards in boxes (dating back to 1994) and can rightly understand why he is thrilled, other people might not be so understanding. To outsiders, the Black Lotus looks...boring. It is a low cost Artifact; not even an Artifact Creature. It lacks both power and life, and cannot deal any direct damage whatsoever to the other player.

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The card's ability is simple: 'Add three mana of any single color to your mana pool, then is discarded. Tapping this artifact may be played as an interrupt.' So it gives you Mana. What's the big deal?

The deal is that Mana is everything in Magic, but especially back in the rough and tumble days of 1993. The game was not nearly as polished as it is now. Richard Garfield, the game's designer and Wizards of the Coast were still figuring out how the mechanics operated. Hence they endlessly released the cards over and over again (they went through Beta and Unlimited phases before landing on the Revised edition, which became the standard). Back then, there were some enormously overpowered cards. Nine to be exact, known colloquially as 'The Power Nine'.

The Power Nine consists of the five Moxen, zero mana cost artifacts that could add one mana of a particular color (Red, Green, Blue, Black, White) to your mana pool. Ancestral Recall, which allowed players to draw three cards for the cost of one blue mana. It is part of the Boon subset of cards; each color had a card that cost one mana that gave 3 of something, be it life, damage, etc. Time Walk, which gave you an extra turn for two mana and Timetwister, in which each player shuffled their hand, deck and graveyard together and drew seven new cards. To get into the specifics of each, we can save for another time. But of all the Power Nine, the Lotus was the most deadly.

On its own, the Black Lotus is good, but not great, but Magic is a game of combinations and strategy. The victory conditions of any Magic game is simple: reduce your opponent's life from 20 to 0.

The Black Lotus allowed you to accomplish this on THE VERY FIRST TURN.

To accomplish this, you needed four things: a Mountain land, Fireball, Channel and the Black Lotus. On your turn, you can play a single land. Play the Mountain, and then for the low cost of nothing, put your Black Lotus out on the field. Land suffers no summoning sickness, so you are able to use it the first, same with artifacts.

Use the Black Lotus immediately, giving yourself three green mana. Cast Channel and convert 19 of your own life into 19 colorless mana. You now have that 19 colorless, 1 red and 1 remaining green mana (from the Lotus) in your pool. Tap the mountain and cast Fireball, which costs 1 red mana and X, where X is the number of mana. Put your 19 extra mana into the fireball and then add the final green mana still in your pool for a 20 damage Fireball.

Victory is yours, and your opponent has not even gotten a chance to play any cards.

And that, my friends, is why the Black Lotus is worth so much. It's also why it is officially banned from all tournament play, except Vintage formats; and even then, players are allowed only one in their deck. Because also, if you're playing someone who owns four Lotuses, you should probably just concede on principle.

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