Back then, Magic was broken, to say the least. These nine cards were huge contributors to this, since you’d have spells like Ancestral Recall, letting you draw three cards for one Blue, or Time Walk, that gave you an extra turn. The Mox gems, one of each color, granted one mana when tapped, and cost nothing to play, meaning you could have double mana for nothing turn one, and because the original rules didn’t prohibit the amount of any one card you have in your deck, early strategies were kind of ridiculous and spam-heavy. They all pale in comparison, however, to the Black Lotus.
A beautiful, shadowy flower that costs nothing and generates three mana of any color when sacrificed. If you get it first turn, that combined four mana can kickstart all manner of strategies that will likely put your opponent on the defensive in a way they’ll never recover from. It’s lethal, and that versatility means that it swiftly became coveted among collectors of Magic as more cards were released and the community grew. Sure enough, today the Black Lotus is worth a small fortune, fetching around six figures in public auctions. Last year on eBay, an Alpha printing fetched $250,000, and before that, another went for $166,100 in 2019, jumping up from the peak of just over $89,000 of 2018. The value is rising, as Magic: The Gathering stares down its 30th anniversary.
You can’t really play it any more – it’s banned in everything except vintage, where it’s limited, and even then, you’ll probably get some odd stares if you just happen to throw out one of the rarest cards in the whole game.
You’re better off playing Blacker Lotus from Unglued, a satirical Magic set that features ludicrous descriptions and effects. Blacker Lotus requires you to literally tear it up for four mana. It costs around $20 for one, but worth it for the reaction on an unsuspecting opponent. The closest thing to a Black Lotus reprint was when it and the rest of the Power Nine were brought into Magic Online, via the Vintage Masters set, where it was designated a Mythic Rare. If you’d like one without having to remortgage your house, you’ll need to go digital.
That said, you can find copies of it from Beta or Unlimited going for slightly smaller amounts. Sub-$10,000, if you catch the seller and the market on a good day. But an Alpha printing, that’s the real prize.
To speak candidly, when I got into Magic: The Gathering as a teenager in the noughties, the Black Lotus had a real meta-mysticism to it. This card game that had years of lore behind it, had a real life holy grail in it, something that an increasingly small number ever got to see in-person. Occasionally a friend would go to a tournament or event and say they got to see one in some collection. Doesn’t matter if it was true, to us it was like this person had been on an expedition and caught a glimpse of the vaults of God. It made playing and collecting feel bold and exciting to our young, fantasy-obsessed minds.
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