A pleasure delayed...
October 14, 2014 8:29 AM   Subscribe

In a Magic the Gathering unboxing video, when opening an alpha starter pack, the author is stunned by a Black Lotus.
posted by frimble (129 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
 
AHHH STOP BREATHING ON IT. PUT IT IN A VAULT. AHHHHHHHHH

That is amazing and I am jealous.
posted by Twain Device at 8:34 AM on October 14, 2014 [8 favorites]


Ah, the card that made me stop playing Magic The Gathering.
posted by KingEdRa at 8:36 AM on October 14, 2014 [4 favorites]


Gloves?? Seriously? Or is that part of the humor. These aren't exactly Mickey Mantle rookie cards or whatever.
posted by ReeMonster at 8:38 AM on October 14, 2014


I have no idea what was going on there, but there was a delightful lack of cussing.
posted by gwint at 8:38 AM on October 14, 2014 [5 favorites]


Not a single clean pair of pants were found after the filming of that episode.



Though interestingly enough I am hearing from people this might be a fake (yay internet). He might have used a re-sealed pack. The logic behind this comes from that fact that the possible variations of rates found in those packs have been very well documented / mapped out, and due to the position of those two rates on the original print sheet it would be impossible to get a pack with both a Black Lotus and Tropical Island together.

I don't know enough of about the rare sheets to comment on this but an interesting observation.
posted by edZio at 8:39 AM on October 14, 2014 [4 favorites]


I don't understand what this is...can someone explain?
posted by dfriedman at 8:40 AM on October 14, 2014 [4 favorites]


Gloves?? Seriously? Or is that part of the humor. These aren't exactly Mickey Mantle rookie cards or whatever.

Last year, an Alpha Black Lotus sold for $27,000. Yes, $27k.

I'd be wearing gloves and making a big deal of it too.
posted by evilangela at 8:41 AM on October 14, 2014 [19 favorites]


What I've read (see also: I can't speak to the authenticity of the statement) is that the ALPHA packs that was possible, but not Beta or onward.

Yes, a peice of .01c cardboard worth at least 27K.
posted by Twain Device at 8:41 AM on October 14, 2014 [3 favorites]


We should all be so fortunate as to have something we can get this excited about.
posted by vverse23 at 8:42 AM on October 14, 2014 [40 favorites]


I don't understand what this is...can someone explain?
posted by dfriedman at 1:40 PM on October 14 [+] [!]


All of the information was provided, you guys. You just gotta read. If this is real, this guy just happened to find an unopened, 20 year old, original starter pack of MTG cards, and also found one of the rarest/most valuable cards in that pack.
posted by FirstMateKate at 8:43 AM on October 14, 2014 [4 favorites]


It's a card that enables some very powerful attacks very early in a game.
posted by jeffamaphone at 8:44 AM on October 14, 2014 [1 favorite]


the lack of cussing was great. "holy mackerel!"
posted by ghostbikes at 8:44 AM on October 14, 2014


That's nothing. I have two copies of Blacker Lotus sitting in a box somewhere.
posted by theodolite at 8:45 AM on October 14, 2014 [8 favorites]


So somehow I managed to keep all those 1991 Topps cards that are barely worth the cardboard on which they are printed but lost my Magic cards from 1993 which might actually have been worth something? Good job, teenage me.
posted by zempf at 8:45 AM on October 14, 2014 [11 favorites]


I've got a bunch of "revised edition" cards sitting around and have periodically thought about selling. No idea whether the market is at a relative high now, but where would be a good place to inquire about selling these cards? I've got a few of the rare double-mana land types, and I imagine they might be worth something.
posted by msbrauer at 8:45 AM on October 14, 2014


update to my previous comment: Looked into and it might be 100% legit. Alpha starters didn't follow the same rules for distribution as the Beta set, which seems to be where some people compared it too. So yeah...HEAVY BREATHING!
posted by edZio at 8:45 AM on October 14, 2014 [3 favorites]


Gloves?? Seriously? Or is that part of the humor. These aren't exactly Mickey Mantle rookie cards or whatever.

These were considered super hot discontinued rares when I got into Magic temporarily in the mid-nineties. I sold a Mox Pearl back then for around $200 and that was no Black Lotus (though I truly shudder to imagine what I could get for a Mox Pearl now...oh, I see, they only go for $1k). No joke about the gloves.
posted by Edgewise at 8:47 AM on October 14, 2014


There's also the Schrodinger's Lotus effect - an unopened Alpha pack can be worth more than the value of the cards actually in it as the potential for a Power 9 card raises the value.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 8:48 AM on October 14, 2014 [6 favorites]


When I was 12 or 13 I played at a store where a dude had a Beta, misprinted black lotus.

I don't understand what this is...can someone explain?

The Black Lotus is a very powerful and probably single most infamous card (and definitely priciest) card in M:TG. You can't actually play with it anymore, so it's basically a crown jewel.

I've got a bunch of "revised edition" cards sitting around and have periodically thought about selling.

Revised price list. Keep in mind, however, regardless of what a price list says, a card is only worth as much as you can convince someone to pay for it.
posted by griphus at 8:48 AM on October 14, 2014


Additionally pretty much every single card in that pack is worth minimum of 20 bucks, and that is for the super common one. Most probably go individually for 50 or much much more.
posted by Twain Device at 8:49 AM on October 14, 2014 [1 favorite]


"holy ...bzrrrsh!"
posted by ghostbikes at 8:50 AM on October 14, 2014 [2 favorites]


It's great that this video focuses on the hands, because you can see him coming THIS CLOSE to doing something exuberant before he remembers what exactly would happen if he makes a fist.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 8:50 AM on October 14, 2014 [8 favorites]


Aw, that was great, he was so pleased! Made my day.
posted by alasdair at 8:52 AM on October 14, 2014


Question about gloves, though - are MTG cards like baseball cards, in that the condition is actually important? Can't you still play with a card even though it has a crease in it?
posted by Chrysostom at 8:54 AM on October 14, 2014


Man, this brings back some fond memories. I loved playing Magic when it first came out and was a fairly simple but beautifully balanced game. I've looked at it again a few times over the years, but to me the rules have just become woefully overcomplicated and the charm is gone. But this set, and The Dark ... man, that was some fun.
posted by jbickers at 8:54 AM on October 14, 2014


I have a bunch of revised cards too, and other cards from that era, but the prices really don't match what came before. If only I knew people in the future would really want dual lands.
posted by chunking express at 8:55 AM on October 14, 2014


A little bit more M:tG history for people. Alpha was an extremely limited release. As in, if you weren't living in Seattle in a few months time frame in 1993 you didn't see Magic. But even if you lived there you probably didn't even hear about it until Beta came out around 2 months later, or maybe even Unlimited a month or so after that.

The price for ANY Black Lotus is high, but Alpha is by far the highest because are equally as rare.
posted by Twain Device at 8:56 AM on October 14, 2014 [4 favorites]


At the games auction at GenCon, they divide (or maybe divided -- I haven't been in a decade or so) into different segments based on the kind of game: RPGs, naval wargames, air games, strategic-level games, etc. It was a good idea, so if you were hunting for some obscure set of 1/285 Warsaw Pact tanks, you did not have to set through endless Forgotten Realms supplements going up on the block. The other thing is that almost universally when I was there, the set starting bid was almost always $1.00. Sometimes the prices went up like helium balloons, but a buck was the near-universal default.

I was there once at the shift change from I dunno, let us say tactical air games, to collectible card games. After dozens of things like Richthofen's War and Dawn patrol and Air War and Wings being started at a dollar and picked up for eight or ten bucks, the first thing in the CCGs was a combination of Black Lotus and one other card -- I can't recall what, as I was never much of MtG player -- and the starting asking price was twelve thousand dollars or something. Although I forget the cards, I remember well the wave of laughter that swept the room. No one bid on it, and the MtG dealer who had hoped to go home a multi-thousandaire was disappointed.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 8:57 AM on October 14, 2014 [1 favorite]


Question about gloves, though - are MTG cards like baseball cards, in that the condition is actually important? Can't you still play with a card even though it has a crease in it?

You "can't" play with basically any of these cards anymore unless you're playing with friends who don't care about card restrictions. But generally you wouldn't want to play with e.g. a Black Lotus any more than you would sit down to read your copy of Action Comics #1. You keep that shit in mint condition in plexiglass or whatever.
posted by griphus at 8:58 AM on October 14, 2014 [4 favorites]


Fully Graded Mint Mickey Mantle online first result I see is 130k.

Full Graded Black Lotus online I see is 125k, so yeah, not Mickey Mantle, but not too far off.

I was hoping for BLACK LOTUS SIXTY FOUUUUUUUUUUUUURRRRR!
posted by symbioid at 8:58 AM on October 14, 2014 [2 favorites]


Question about gloves, though - are MTG cards like baseball cards, in that the condition is actually important? Can't you still play with a card even though it has a crease in it?

In the same way that a Penny Black is still a stamp even if it's got a crease on it... nobody's paying $10k for a card because they want to play it.
posted by kmz at 8:59 AM on October 14, 2014 [4 favorites]


Question about gloves, though - are MTG cards like baseball cards, in that the condition is actually important? Can't you still play with a card even though it has a crease in it?

You can't effectively play with an Alpha card anywhere other than in casual play with friends - and in that case, you can just play with homemade cards. A common way to test out decks before building them for events is to print out "proxies" for cards on paper, and put them in a card sleeve on top of a common card, so you can learn how the deck works before acquiring the cards.

Alpha cards are effectively for collection purposes only. And while card condition is a big deal in general, it's even more so for cards that are going to be only for collecting. So yes, the better the condition, the more it's worth.
posted by evilangela at 8:59 AM on October 14, 2014 [1 favorite]


Holy Guacamole. I'm pretty sure I have some of those Power 9 cards (Ancestral Recall, Time Walk, and Timetwister) in a binder at home. I never played blue much, so they're probably in good shape, too.
posted by qldaddy at 9:00 AM on October 14, 2014 [3 favorites]


Can't you still play with a card even though it has a crease in it?

In the same way that the Mickey Mantle rookie card works just fine taped into the spokes of your bicycle, yes.

It's collectible only for collection's sake, now. In fact due to gameplay balance issues it hasn't been a legal card to play in a tournament in years, other than in "legacy" games that allow old cards.
posted by CaseyB at 9:00 AM on October 14, 2014 [3 favorites]


arrrrrgh I should've known better than to go into a thread where people would be talking about how much the cards I sold for pizza money are worth today
posted by rifflesby at 9:00 AM on October 14, 2014 [4 favorites]


are MTG cards like baseball cards, in that the condition is actually important?

A lot of people play with all their cards in sleeves.

If this is real, this guy just happened to find an unopened, 20 year old, original starter pack of MTG cards, and also found one of the rarest/most valuable cards in that pack.

Well, it was only being filmed because of the first part, so that has a probability of 1.
posted by smackfu at 9:00 AM on October 14, 2014 [1 favorite]


For those disinclined to read, the Black Lotus is the card you would name if you were making a joke about valuable Magic: The Gathering cards. It's literally like the an original rookie Babe Ruth card - the holy grail and gold standard of collecting this particular thing. The reason for this is that in its early days Magic wasn't very well balanced (insert joke about "the more things change"). This lead to certain card combinations effectively solving the game, in so far that if you went first and got that combo, then your opponent would lose regardless of anything they did. The combo is here. The essential idea is that the Lotus can be played immediately for 3 [RESOURCE] of any type. In a typical game by an average player it would take three turns to get to that point. Combined with a spell that does damage directly to your opponent, and a spell that makes your own life into mana, you can instantly kill an opponent.

Because of the instant kill nature of this, Black Lotuses were drummed out of circulation (channel as well, I think - Fireball is still a staple card, at least the last time I bought a core set). Almost instantly Black Lotuses were banned from tournament play, or limited to one per deck. Therefore this is a card that was already rare because of the limited number of Alpha and Beta cards (the first two releases), and because it is literally a rare (occurs in limited production over the entire set), and it has never been reprinted. It's also, objectively, a fantastic card, and allows you to do things like the above instant kill combo.

That's why it's valuable.
posted by codacorolla at 9:01 AM on October 14, 2014 [24 favorites]


For an asset to be worth something you have to have a willing buyer and a willing seller who can agree on a price. That's what I want to hear more about: who are the buyer(s) for for this, why are they willing to spent $27k, and what do they do with these cards when they get them.
posted by 2bucksplus at 9:03 AM on October 14, 2014 [3 favorites]


Has it ever been figured out what the single most damaging legal first-turn hand in Alpha or Beta is? Four lotuses, two moxes and a fireball I assume?
posted by griphus at 9:03 AM on October 14, 2014


(I guess one of the Moxen would need to be a Ruby.)
posted by griphus at 9:05 AM on October 14, 2014


Not that great of a hand though you would have to blow your whole hand and still be left with a living opponent.
posted by Ferreous at 9:06 AM on October 14, 2014


Brings back bad, bad memories of a time in my life during the early 90s when boyfriend * was playing Magic 16/7 instead of looking for a job or doing anything else even remotely useful or productive.

* And it turned out, he was only using me as his beard anyway. If I needed a TW for anything, it would be Magic cards. Yearrrgh.
posted by sockerpup at 9:08 AM on October 14, 2014 [3 favorites]


who are the buyer(s) for for this, why are they willing to spent $27k, and what do they do with these cards when they get them.

Answers:

1. Magic players (or insert your own derogatory term here, because if I did it myself my comment would be instantly deleted)

2. See answer 1.

3. Probably put them in plastic, throw them on a shelf, and wait for the day they need to do what Steve Carell did in 40 Year Old Virgin: sell his shit on eBay so he could get laid.
posted by ReeMonster at 9:11 AM on October 14, 2014 [1 favorite]


Okay, four Lotuses, one Mox, a Fireball and a Fork for 22 damage.
posted by griphus at 9:11 AM on October 14, 2014


As above, most damaging first turn hand is a land, Lotus, Channel, Fireball. Lotus for two green and a red, channel down to 1, tap land for whatever, fireball for 20.

There have been other first turn wins. Combo Winter (as it was introduced to me) was a particularly horrid time. The anecdote (without proof) was that someone managed a first turn win with Memory Jar as the key piece at a pre-release event. The most recent example I can think of (stopped playing things that weren't cubes 4 years ago) is the deck 'Ravager Affinity' that was really something that ought not have passed through the play testing phase for that set. A friend of mine had a deck of mostly lands that could, on a perfect 7 card pull, win on the first turn. Fastbond, crucible of worlds, zuran orb, something that let you sack lands for cards, a fetch land, the coliseum from Odyssey Block, I'm pretty sure a mox was involved, and I forget the rest.
posted by Slackermagee at 9:11 AM on October 14, 2014 [1 favorite]


This is why I still love Shandalar, the Microprose Magic version's single-player campaign. Through gathering artifacts and exploiting certain opponents' capabilities, you could turn off the 'n of one card in your deck' restriction, collect the Power 9 and other heavy hitters and have them duplicated until you had the degenerate deck of your wildest nightmares.

This plus the gloriously dimwitted AI made it a Magic experience unlike any other. Give a fan-updated version a try!
posted by delfin at 9:17 AM on October 14, 2014 [4 favorites]


My confusion stems from the fact that there are a lot of comparisons to baseball cards, but baseball cards don't really DO anything. You can collect them, and if you want to try to get all Pirate left-handed relief pitchers of the 80s, great. But MTG is a *game*, so you do something with the cards.

I get that this card is no longer legal, and that in general things in good condition are worth more. But these seem like they have two value components [Oh man, that's really rare] + [That has a lot of value in playing MTG].

But thanks for trying to clarify.
posted by Chrysostom at 9:17 AM on October 14, 2014


1:Lotus
2:Lotus
3:Lotus
4:Lotus
5:Fireball
6:Mox Ruby
7:Time Twister

Would be pretty good. 4 Lotuses gives you 12 mana of anything you desire, and the Mox is just more free mana, so 13 total. You need 1B2C for Time Twister, so set that aside. You now have 10 free mana for Fireball, 9 of which is damage. You've just started the game with a 9 point lead on your opponent, a fresh hand, and 13 mana on the board. If the rest of your deck is nothing but direct damage and life gain, then you're pretty much guaranteed to win.

On preview, yeah, I forgot about Fork, but that's probably next after Channel-Fireball.

If you're interested, the early super powered stuff is called the Power Nine.
posted by codacorolla at 9:18 AM on October 14, 2014 [1 favorite]


That's what I want to hear more about: who are the buyer(s) for for this, why are they willing to spent $27k, and what do they do with these cards when they get them.

Yeah, why don't they spend that money on something useful and important, like a diamond?
posted by dephlogisticated at 9:23 AM on October 14, 2014 [12 favorites]


I get that this card is no longer legal, and that in general things in good condition are worth more. But these seem like they have two value components [Oh man, that's really rare] + [That has a lot of value in playing MTG].

For all intents and purposes the Black Lotus is a baseball card at this point. Someone likely wouldn't be playing with one once they got it, much like someone wouldn't flash a Mickey Mantle card around at a swap meet. Instead it's probably more like a value holder, or a fetish object for a rich collector (I'd imagine a lot of Silicon Valley boy billionaires were probably magic players at one point, and owning a Black Lotus would be a thing they might do on a lark). Anyone interested in playing with a Black Lotus in a real game can either download one of the many magic simulators out there, and play with any card they desire, or they can print proxies off the Internet, sleeve them, and play that way. However, the card has been banned from tournament play, and therefore might as well not exist within the gamespace.

Ironically, the Black Lotus is a really good card, which has lead to it being banned, and therefore not worth much other than as a collector's object.
posted by codacorolla at 9:26 AM on October 14, 2014


You "can't" play with basically any of these cards anymore unless you're playing with friends who don't care about card restrictions.

Vintage is a real format people play. Often with proxies since the originals are ridiculously expensive.
posted by Dark Messiah at 9:26 AM on October 14, 2014 [8 favorites]


AH! I nearly forgot about this and its my favorite play in any card game. Also, fair warning, my memories of the minutia involved are getting hazy.

There was a deck called 'Dragon'. Hilarious combo deck that won by way of fireball or something direct effect. That's not important. What's important is that if you weren't going to win and you were playing it right, you could BSOD the game and force a draw.

It would probably be helpful to go over the list of characters involved with this combo first.

Lands - for the uninitiated, lands provide a resource (mana) by being temporarily expended each turn (being tapped, or tapped out). At the start of each turn, they un-tap for use again. When lands are played, they typically come into play untapped.

Worldgorger Dragon - A low cost, hard hitting creature with a 'draw back'. On playing it, you had to remove all other things you owned in play from the game. When it died, you got them all back as if you had just played them.

Animate dead - a cheap enchantment that was played on a dead creature, bringing it back into play. On removal of the creature from play, this enchantment goes into the trash (graveyard). If this enchantment is removed from the creature, the creature goes back into the graveyard.

So now, the combo: you discard the dragon from hand on turn one via a variety of methods, you usually had some redundancy in this as it was the critical step. You get any amount of land down. One would be sufficient. You reanimate the dragon, the dragon enters play, the dragon 'eats' the land and the enchantment, the dragon dies because it ate its own enchantment, the land and enchantment come back, you get resource from the land before the enchantment hits play (its complicated and (was?) called The Stack) and brings the dragon back to repeat the cycle. Continue until you have infinite mana and can one-shot your opponent.

How do you blue screen this? By not having another creature in your graveyard. The combo cannot be voluntarily stopped short of the other player removing a piece from the game mid-combo. If they can't (and it was likely), the combo continues until time is up or a ref calls the game a draw.

You blue screen the game... it was beautiful.
posted by Slackermagee at 9:26 AM on October 14, 2014 [27 favorites]


Christmas 1993 or 1994, my aunt and uncle, who have never known me well, gave ma an M:tG starter pack. I'd never heard of the game, and I think I might have opened the thing once and not understood anything about it beyond "nope, not for me." I set the pack aside somewhere.

I play casually now, and whenever I go back home I search like mad for that pack. I have no idea what's in there but it's worth a couple months rent, I'm pretty sure of that, at least.
posted by Navelgazer at 9:27 AM on October 14, 2014


Everyone once in a while I remember about the Power Nine and it just sends me spiraling down a rabbit hole of absurd M:TG hands. A friend and I used to play with Apprentice back in the day and I still have a screenshot somewhere of a game where he managed to get several thousand tokens into play in three or four turns.

Also, there was a recent-ish card that was said to be the most powerful/broken card since Skullclamp and I cannot for the life of me remember what it was. It was a red creature that I think had a very cheap direct-damage ability. The art looked like a Dimetrodon shooting out lighting bolts or something.
posted by griphus at 9:28 AM on October 14, 2014


But these seem like they have two value components [Oh man, that's really rare] + [That has a lot of value in playing MTG].

I agree it's a bit confusing. It seems like the rare cards were equally distributed, so why would one in particular be worth more money to collectors? Especially since it was known as a "special" card even back when it was released.

I'm sure part of it is just name recognition. And I guess maybe people actually played with these cards back then, so they tend to not be in pristine condition.
posted by smackfu at 9:30 AM on October 14, 2014


I gave two shoeboxes full of 94-era MtG cards to my ex's little brother when I got to college.

*bangs head against desk*
posted by echocollate at 9:35 AM on October 14, 2014


He might have used a re-sealed pack.

When my kid was 5 or 6, he was into Digimon, which (you may recall) was a knockoff of Pokemon, created AFAICT to cash in on the willingness of kids and their parents to buy packs of cards. Anyway, there were 5 "rare" "power" cards that were useful to have for some reason, and you might find one in every 5-10 assorted packs.

So, in an attempt to engineer the Bestest Christmas Evar, I bought a pile of packs, found the cards, and had the card shop re-seal the packs so that I had 5 guaranteed winners. (They weren't happy about doing that, but were willing when I explained that I wasn't trying to return the duds or anything.)

Fast forward to Christmas Day, and my kid opens his presents, finding "rare" cards in pack after pack! Unfortunately, I had neglected to account for his lack of statistical sophistication, so he didn't realize he'd hit the lottery five times in a row. Oh well. "Best Dad" thwarted.
posted by spacewrench at 9:36 AM on October 14, 2014 [24 favorites]


well, holy shit. I was a playtester in 1993, prerelease. Still have the cards, but not sealed. guess I better dig 'em out.
posted by mwhybark at 9:41 AM on October 14, 2014 [7 favorites]


It seems like the rare cards were equally distributed, so why would one in particular be worth more money to collectors?

In addition to what codacorolla indicated above, the monetary values of cards are generally set at a time when the card has usefulness. The more useful the card, the more expensive it is to buy that single card from someone willing to sell. The Black Lotus was very useful and a great addition to literally any deck, so the value skyrocketed.

Cards that aren't reprinted or reissued, like many of the older cards, don't generally gain or drop in value individually. So part of the worth of a Black Lotus over other rare cards is that, at some point, it was useful and more expensive and the relative value has been inertial since then.
posted by griphus at 9:42 AM on October 14, 2014 [1 favorite]


I never played Magic.


I don't suppose my canisters of pog are worth anything.
posted by Ray Walston, Luck Dragon at 9:44 AM on October 14, 2014 [4 favorites]


As above, most damaging first turn hand is a land, Lotus, Channel, Fireball. Lotus for two green and a red, channel down to 1, tap land for whatever, fireball for 20

Actually, the land has to be a mountain, or more likely in a deck that would contain this combo, a Taiga, as the lotus only gives you one colour of mana, not three of any colour each. And the green is required for the double green cost of Channel. Sorry to be nitpicky, but getting the correct land makes this combo even more impressive if you can pull it off.
posted by wyndham at 9:50 AM on October 14, 2014


A pox on your moxes and lotuses. Whatever their market value, I could never get that excited about cards that did nothing less pedestrian than give you mana quickly. The rare discontinued card I really wanted back in the day was the Chaos Orb, because you got to throw it at your opponent.

...On reading that link, it's clear that you weren't, technically, supposed to throw the Chaos Orb at your opponent. Whatever. I maintain that chucking a Chaos Orb shuriken-style at the smug face of somebody who just Channel-Fireballed you is an apposite response, whatever the damn card says.
posted by prize bull octorok at 9:50 AM on October 14, 2014 [5 favorites]


It's so me that I eventually got rid of all my (mostly alpha) MtG cards (Except a handful of Legends booster packs that I'll open some day when the spirit moves me - guess I should record the event, huh?) but went to great lengths to assemble a complete collection of Shadowfist...

At least they still play Shadowfist. I wasn't sure.
posted by Naberius at 9:53 AM on October 14, 2014


from the wikia entry: "The Alpha rulebook contains a fantasy tale called "Worzel's Story" by Richard Garfield which was removed for the Beta release. Alpha deck boxes also lack a UPC on the bottom."

holy shit, my cards are alphas. I always thought they were betas.
posted by mwhybark at 10:05 AM on October 14, 2014 [10 favorites]


I never had a black mox, but I had the rest of the power 9, multiples of them in most cases. Back in the early 2000s during a nasty extended period of unemployment, they (and other cards from that period) basically paid my rent. My brief few months of MtG playing in 93/94 turned out to be a very good investment!
posted by tavella at 10:08 AM on October 14, 2014 [1 favorite]


Super easy way to tell the difference in individual cards: Alpha cards are slightly smaller. ALL other releases are the same size (except the Oversized cards found as freebies in boxes)
posted by Twain Device at 10:09 AM on October 14, 2014 [1 favorite]


holy shit, my cards are alphas. I always thought they were betas.

You should film yourself going through them.
posted by drezdn at 10:09 AM on October 14, 2014 [4 favorites]


I've been meaning to write a bunch of blog posts about the economics and value of Magic Cards. There are a lot of sites and people who do this, but they are concerned about the up and down price, when to buy and when to sell (usually in the context of making money). I want to take a slightly larger picture, and consider it in the view of economic theory (as least as much as I understand).

The value of a Magic card depends on a bunch of factors, but there are a few broad categories. Supply factors are simpler, such as rarity (in the print run), and rarity (number of cards printed). Demand factors are a lot more complicated. The demand of a card can depend on its rarity itself (lots of Alpha cards have been reprinted, those reprints are basically worthless, but the actual specific Alpha printings are worth a lot because they are rare). Then there's the power level of the card. Outside of some specific cards like the Power Nine, the power level of a card can be viewed objectively (what does the card do?), and subjectively (is this card powerful in the right context?). In this case, the context is what's known in the Magic community as the "meta".

(There are a number of other supply and demand factors at play, but I'm going to focus on just these, especially for Constructed formats.)

Think about paper, rock, scissors. In that game, if your opponent throws paper, your scissors is worth a lot, your rock is negative, and paper is neutral. But if they throw scissors, values change. Magic is a complicated enough game that there isn't a single "best" deck. There are certainly decks that are better than others, but at the top level, in competition, decks generally have their strengths and weaknesses. The meta is basically paper, rock, scissors write large (and more complicated). If a particular deck is doing really well in tournaments, some players will build decks that are strong against the ascendant deck, preying on its weaknesses. The classic triad was aggro-combo-control, but that's changed a lot in the few years, with pure combo not being designed for.

(Incidentally, there have been times when a specific deck is just better than all the others, or near enough so as not to matter. This usually leads to bannings, so that not everyone is playing the same deck and the meta is restored. The most recent time this happened was probably the Caw-Blade era, though Delver got close.)

So what's the objective power level of a card? Well, that depends? There's what the card says. And then there is what the card costs (that is, how much resources [mana] you need to spend in-game to play the card). Let's look at three cards. Ancestral Recall is one of the Power Nine and one of the most busted cards in the game's history. It does something very simple, it draws you three cards. Why is that valuable? Well, without getting too deep into theory, drawing cards is powerful. It gives you more options, more things to play. Ancestral Recall is worth $1000+, depending on printing, condition, etc. So drawing three cards is powerful, and a card that does that is worth a lot. But wait, a recent card, say Jace's Ingenuity, does the same thing. But instead of costing a single blue mana (Island is OP), it costs two blue mana and three more mana, for a total of five mana. And because of that, Ancestral Recall is objectively better than Jace's Ingenuity, though I have a friend that could make various arguments for why that wasn't true (he trolls at a high level). So when considering the "objective" power of a card, you need to consider not only the effect, but the cost of playing that card in game. And that's not even considering the speed at which you can play the card. Both Ancestral and Ingenuity are instants, which basically means you can play them whenever, and this is very important and valuable. Many (most) cards can only be played on your turn, at specific times.

Let's consider a third, and very recent card that's been getting a lot of play, Treasure Cruise. It does the same thing as the other two cards, it draws you three cards at instant speed. But it costs 8 (one blue, seven other mana)! Surely that means it is worse than Jace's Ingenuity, which only costs five (granted double blue). Well, Cruise has a second ability, Delve, which means that you can reduce the cost of the card by doing something. What this means is that you can effectively cast Treasure Cruise for less than 8, and casting it for a single blue mana (the cost of Ancestral Recall) is not only possible, but very likely in decks built to do just that, making it a virtual Ancestral Recall in many circumstances. Not in the same way, since you probably won't be able to do that without building a deck designed to do that, and probably not until turn three or four at the earliest. But still, this is powerful enough that there is talk of banning Treasure Cruise in some formats.

The other demand format to consider at the moment is subjective power level. As mentioned, in Magic there is a meta. Some decks, and the cards that make up that deck, are better in certain circumstances. What cards are available in the format you're playing in, what decks are being played, what's good against those decks, etc. So a card like Nightveil Specter was basically draft chaff in the format it was released in. It's a neat card with a restrictive mana cost and was nothing special, it didn't have a deck to play in. But then Theros was released, and new cards were added to the Standard format (the predominant constructed format) at the same time old cards were rotating out. Decks that existed or were strong before fell out of favor, weaker decks became better, and entirely new decks came into existence. Specifically, two of the most popular (and successful decks) of the last year or so were Monoblack Devotion and Monoblue Devotion. And Nightveil Specter was a key player in both of those decks, for a variety of reasons not worth getting into at the moment. So a card that was worth a dollar was suddenly worth $15 (I can't access mtgstocks at the moment). We just recently had another rotation, so Nightveil Specter is no longer legal in Standard, and its price has dropped, and is dropping. There is less demand for it, because it can't be played in a deck that needs it.

Again, there are a bunch of demand and supply factors that matter in the price of a card. And I should really get my own blog and write about this. I wanted to do a final paper on this topic for a recent econ class, but after spending thirty minutes explaining it to my professor I decided to choose a different topic after seeing the grimace on his face.
posted by X-Himy at 10:11 AM on October 14, 2014 [22 favorites]


holy shit, my cards are alphas. I always thought they were betas

To tell by the actual cards, Alphas have waaaay more rounded corners. Betas have normal corners. Grab any card from any set, and compare the corners to your cards. If they're the same, you've got Beta. If your cards are way more rounded, like to the point that you could tell the difference between them by the back, which effectively makes them a marked card, then you've got Alphas.
posted by wyndham at 10:12 AM on October 14, 2014 [2 favorites]


Of course, ultimately the value of card is whatever people are willing to pay for it. A Black Lotus is only legal in one Constructed format, Vintage. Vintage is rarely played, partly because the necessary and powerful cards such as Lotus and Moxen are both rare and expensive. Even then, you can only have one Black Lotus in your Vintage deck (because it is restricted). So, Black Lotus can only be played as a one-of in a format that barely sees any play, but it's still incredibly valuable because collectors are willing to spend the money to put it in a vault. Remember that Magic is a CCG, the first C is for "collectible".
posted by X-Himy at 10:15 AM on October 14, 2014


Telling the difference between early printings of Magic cards can be very tough, especially once we got into Chronicles and the weird things they did with symbols. I've used this guide before, and found it very helpful. Let's just say that I have spent a lot more time than I would care to admit squinting at bezels.

But differentiating between Alpha and Beta is all about the rounded corners.
posted by X-Himy at 10:17 AM on October 14, 2014 [1 favorite]


There's a bit in Cryptonomicon where Randy stops in with some people playing an MtG-like card game where the text notes that occasionally players find a card labeled "YHVH" or "The Entire Thermonuclear Arsenal of the Soviet Union."
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:19 AM on October 14, 2014 [2 favorites]


Using Alpha cards, the most damage you could do in a turn would be:
3x Black Lotus
1x Ruby Mox
1x Channel
1x Fireball
2x Fork
... for a total of 60 dmg.

For a guaranteed 1-turn kill every game you need the following deck:
20x Wheel of Fortune
30x Black Lotus
10x Feldon's Cane
...
First draw your 7 cards +1 for going first (if you don't go first then you lose) - You need to draw at least one Lotus and one Wheel for this to work. Put down all your Black Lotus cards, then use all the Lotus for red mana. Cast all your Feldon's Canes (if any), then play Wheel of Fortune to force all players to discard their hand and draw 7 new cards. Then repeat until your opponent cannot draw anymore, at which point they automatically lose (not being able to draw is an auto-lose condition). You prevent yourself for drawing out by using Feldon's Cane which allows you to put your discard pile back into your draw deck.
______________________________________________________

Oh and here is my -true- story about Chaos Orb:
In the first tournament I attended there was a decisive match in the quarter finals. A large group of us (the eliminated) were watching the match, this one player (lets call him Derek) was in dire straights and his opponent was being a real jerk about it, egging him on and laughing at his misfortune. So this player brings out a Chaos Orb (still legal at the time), and his opponent proceeds to tell him how useless of a player he was for playing with that card. Without a word, Derek picks up the Chaos Orb and fligns it right at his opponents face, hard, in perfect ninja-master style. The card bings off the other player's forehead, spins down and lands on all his lands (which he kept in a neat little pile right in front of him), thus destroying them all. The whole place goes silent for a split second... then everyone bursts out laughing. The opponent got so flustered that he then proceeded to make a few key mistakes and lost the match. There has never been a finer display of karma in any CCG tournament since.
posted by Vindaloo at 10:23 AM on October 14, 2014 [23 favorites]


guys, these are the only Magic cards I have ever had, I don't have any later ones to compare them to.

The box lacks the UPC, the rulebook has the story, and the deck was handed to me by Richard at a now-closed tavern (well, there's a tavern in the same building still but it's a different business) called Lost Lake Saloon or something similar on Lake City Way. My bandmate's roommate got involved with WotC very early on and roped our whole Capitol Hill hipsters and rockers social circle into checking the game out.

This was, what, spring?

it was totally clear the game was going to be a huge hit, as we all started obsessively playing it. We burned out before release, though, and after Christmas that winter as kids started camping out upstairs in Cafe Paradiso playing we'd occasionally kibitz, but basically we went back to rock and roll and booze. and drugs - one of the roomies in that apartment OD'd in the classic Seattle heroin panic manner. Poor kid. his name was Evan, and he had waist length white boy dreds, and he was a fencer. RIP, Evan.
posted by mwhybark at 10:29 AM on October 14, 2014 [8 favorites]


... for a total of 66 dmg. *corrected*
posted by Vindaloo at 10:29 AM on October 14, 2014


I had a rule about Chaos Orb (and Falling Star): I instantly concede if you cast it, and we never play again.

If the entire game was centered around manual dexterity, then that would be ok. But... screw those cards. =)
posted by andreaazure at 10:30 AM on October 14, 2014


It's literally like the an original rookie Babe Ruth card - the holy grail and gold standard of collecting this particular thing.

Not to even try to out-nerd this amazing video and thread, but jeez, people, Honus Wagner.
posted by RogerB at 10:33 AM on October 14, 2014 [2 favorites]


isn't there a "gox mox" card that makes all your bitcoins disappear?
posted by bruce at 10:37 AM on October 14, 2014 [9 favorites]


So somehow I managed to keep all those 1991 Topps cards that are barely worth the cardboard on which they are printed but lost my Magic cards from 1993 which might actually have been worth something? Good job, teenage me.

On the other hand, if it weren't for all the people tossing ephemera like this in the trash it would never become all that valuable in the first place. If all the people kicking themselves for failing to hold onto their Alpha-release cards (and such like) had actually kept them, they'd sell for a fraction of the cost.
posted by yoink at 10:37 AM on October 14, 2014


Sigh. I had a Black Lotus back when I briefly played MtG. I knew nothing of the game and traded it for a couple of worthless cards. I kind of doubt that it was an alpha...but might have been.
posted by maxwelton at 10:38 AM on October 14, 2014


Black Lotus are in such a limited run and are so sought after, I'd be surprised if everyone selling them RIGHT now caused a noticeable dip. Could be wrong though.
posted by Twain Device at 10:41 AM on October 14, 2014


Many of the old powerful cards - like the dual lands - are actually more played now and more valuable than in years, because Type 1.5/"Legacy" became a real tournament format. Legacy is pretty much by definition all of the old cards (all of all the cards) *minus* the Power 9 and craziest stuff, though, which are officially allowed only as one-ofs in "Vintage"/formerly Type 1. Which is very very seldom played as a WotC-sanctioned format requiring all the real cards - Vintage tournaments do exist but you usually get ten or so "proxy" stand-ins for cards of your choice (decks are still pretty expensive) with genuine power cards (beta/unlimited usually, alpha is a rare thing unto itself) frequently offered as top prizes.
posted by atoxyl at 10:42 AM on October 14, 2014


So when does MC Frontalot's bassist show up?
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 10:43 AM on October 14, 2014


Gloves?? Seriously? Or is that part of the humor. These aren't exactly Mickey Mantle rookie cards or whatever.

No, they aren't. This card is worth more (at least to quick ebay searches it looks that way).
posted by el io at 10:49 AM on October 14, 2014


The other thing about Black Lotus is that is basically the most objectively powerful card in the entire game, because it breaks one of the two main limiting factors in the game, and it does it for free.

There are two major limiting factors to Magic, the amount of mana you can generate and the amount of cards you can draw. Most of the broken stuff in the game involves bypassing one of these limits. For competitive decks, you'll have 60 cards, of which about two-thirds are going to be spells. Not all of those spells are going to be useful, depending on the context, but if you draw enough cards you're going to find a card that is going to be useful, often your win condition. Sometimes the act of drawing the card is itself a win condition.

Mana is limited because you can only play one land per turn (lands are the source of mana). Thus, assuming you can play a land on each of your turns (that is, you have some in hand), on turn one you can cast something costing one, on turn two you can cast something(s) casting a total of two, etc. In this way, I can't cast a giant expensive creature on turn two normally, and just kill my opponent.

Some cards let you play more than one land per turn (Rampant Growth), but most of those cards have limitations in the number of extra lands you can play or in how much mana they themselves cost for that effect. Some cards (Fastbond) don't really have that limit and cost very little. Losing a life doesn't matter in this context. Fastbond is a broken card for this reason.

The other way to generate extra mana is through non-lands that generate mana. There are cards known colloquially as rituals (thanks to Dark Ritual), which give you a positive net amount of mana, but that mana is temporary. Then there are permanents that generate mana, usually as an effect. The classic creature is a Llanowar Elf. Turn one I play a forest and a Llanowar Elf, and then on turn 2 assuming I play a land I now have three mana available to me. I am ahead of the curve as they say. There are also artifacts that can add mana, as an effect.

What makes Black Lotus (and the Moxen) so broken is that they do this without restriction, and they do it free. A Black Lotus is essentially a ritual. But Dark Ritual costs you one mana, and that mana has to be black (which means you need to generate that color), and the resulting mana is going to be black. Black Lotus can generate mana of any color. It's also free (and colorless), which means that you can play it in a deck of any color, and generate any color you need. It's more versatile.

Moxen are a bit more like lands. They come down for free, tap for mana immediately, and unless removed will stick around to continue generating mana. They are basically lands in that respect. So instead of being limited to one land per turn, you can play two or more. And importantly, you can do that early in the game. Late in the game, going from six available mana to seven available mana is not a big deal, in fact it might be a sign that something is going wrong. But going from one mana on turn one to two, three, four, or five (or more) is broken beyond compare. If my opponent plays a tiny goblin on turn one, and I play a giant dragon on turn one, I will probably win that game.
posted by X-Himy at 10:54 AM on October 14, 2014 [7 favorites]


This is not the Juggalo thread I was promised.
posted by dr_dank at 11:29 AM on October 14, 2014 [1 favorite]


griphus: You are referring to Grim Lavamancer.
posted by KMB at 11:37 AM on October 14, 2014


Is Grim Lavamancer a reissue of a different card? I definitely remember this thing being an electric dinosaur.
posted by griphus at 11:43 AM on October 14, 2014


yes I know dimetrodons are not dinosaurs
posted by griphus at 11:44 AM on October 14, 2014


This makes me wonder why exactly rookie cards are near the pinnacle of valuable cards. The time between being a rookie and a star is only three or four years, and you would think people (or even kids) could just go back into their "junk" card pile and find the rookie cards. At least enough to drive the values low.
posted by smackfu at 12:15 PM on October 14, 2014


Because the only baseball cards worth anything are very old and nobody has junk card piles from 1956. There are so many baseball cards floating around from 1980 onward that they are mostly not worth the time or effort.
posted by Justinian at 12:28 PM on October 14, 2014


The other thing about Black Lotus is that is basically the most objectively powerful card in the entire game, because it breaks one of the two main limiting factors in the game, and it does it for free.

I'm going to get super nerdy about a game I haven't even played in 5+ years but (you personally probably know this is for bystanders) in MtG theory - yes, that's a thing - the factor of what you can play on turn X is called "tempo" and the factor of how many cards you have available to play on turn X is just called "card advantage." The biggest card advantage exploits are considered at least as powerful as Black Lotus depending on context. Ancestral Recall - one blue mana for three cards, as an "instant" i.e. playable on opponents turns (the exact implications are too many to explain here) - is also often declared strongest of the first run "power" cards. And less "free" but perhaps even more game-defining *once they hit play* are Yawgmoth's Bargain and Necropotence, which offer a fairly unbounded exchange of life - which you start with plenty of, really - for cards. That 's enough to either get your crazy combo win condition together right away or for a more "basic" strategy to power right though the hump of emptying your initial hand like a nuclear battery.
posted by atoxyl at 1:18 PM on October 14, 2014 [1 favorite]


A lot of people on the outside do not understand what a complex and excellent game MTG is (the level of complexity and excellence obviously varies with expansions and mainline sets). The skills you need to be very good at MTG translate to all sorts of other games and endeavors. For quite some time high level MTG served as a feeder system for high level poker, for example. I have no idea if that's still true.

I've always felt that drafting tournaments separate the real experts from the dilettantes. You can't just go online and find out what the current top meta decks are when you've got to assemble a competitive deck on the fly with incomplete information.
posted by Justinian at 1:26 PM on October 14, 2014 [2 favorites]


A lot of people on the outside do not understand what a complex and excellent game MTG is (the level of complexity and excellence obviously varies with expansions and mainline sets). The skills you need to be very good at MTG translate to all sorts of other games and endeavors. For quite some time high level MTG served as a feeder system for high level poker, for example. I have no idea if that's still true.

I've always felt that drafting tournaments separate the real experts from the dilettantes. You can't just go online and find out what the current top meta decks are when you've got to assemble a competitive deck on the fly with incomplete information.


Everything in this comment is true. I like it a lot better than poker actually, but unfortunately it's a commercial product owned by WotC, so it will always be pay to play without anywhere near the rewards of high-level poker. As alluded to in this thread, the full text of all the cards *is* available online, however, and there are programs that will help you use this text to play casually with *any cards you want* for free.

Draft play - where a group of players purchase fresh randomized packs and select from them according to some pattern to make decks on the fly before spending the rest of the event playing with these decks - is the only kind I really miss. It's pretty fun for ~$12. I have friends who still do it a lot through the online client.
posted by atoxyl at 1:33 PM on October 14, 2014 [1 favorite]


Magic theory fascinates me too, and I need to go back and read some of the more of the classic articles. But I might quibble on your definitions of tempo and card advantage. Card advantage is roughly correct, it's how many cards you have, but what it really is is how many useful cards you have in comparison to an opponent. A pure burn deck gains card advantage by killing an opponent quickly, making all of their cards with a cost of 4 or higher useless. And by playing no creatures, making all of their conventional removal useless. Their card advantage comes less from having more cards, but my reducing the number of effective cards that their opponent has.

Tempo is more about maintaining incremental advantage. Sometimes that means being able to produce more mana quickly and get out a fattie early. But a classic tempo deck, say Delver, has little to do about mana. Turn 1, you play a Delver of Secrets, turn 2 you flip it and start swinging for three in the air. Then, you're going to be protecting that incremental three in the air by countering your opponent's spells, either countering their creatures and removal, or by directly removing their creatures with something like Lightning Bolt or Doom Blade. Depending on the format and the build, you might be putting equipment on to start making it hit harder, or you might be playing other small creatures that can deal large chunks of damage in different ways. That might be a Grim Lavamancer, or a Monastery Swiftspear in recent builds.

In this deck, most of the cards don't cost more than two mana, most cost one. The real trick of tempo is to put your opponent on a clock. Make them play your game, have to respond to your plays and actions, and constantly disrupt their plans.
posted by X-Himy at 1:35 PM on October 14, 2014


Justinian, I love draft, it's most of what I play. But there is a definite value in the player. It's been argued that Legacy, and especially Vintage, are more about the pilots than the decks. That true success in a format comes from knowing the deck, playing the deck, knowing what the deck can do, what it can do against specific decks, and lines of play in various situations. This is especially true in eternal formats where you may play with the same deck (roughly the same) for years. A good player can win in matchups that are stacked against him if they know their deck well enough and their opponent does not. All the netdecking in the world won't give you the skill to play a deck well, or correctly.

And that's with your simple decks, I'm not even talking about Doomsday decks, which basically involve memorizing a list of five card piles.

Drafting is a skill, and it's a different skill than playing Constructed, or even a specific Constructed format. Both are necessary to be a good player at the tournament level. Magic is complicated and complex enough to contain both.
posted by X-Himy at 1:45 PM on October 14, 2014


I agree completely that skill is still the determining factor in Constructed. Sorry if I implied otherwise. I meant that playing a decent draft player will show you if you are any good more obviously than playing a decent Constructed player. You can fool yourself about why you lost in Constructed to a greater degree in my opinion. "Oh, I got mana screwed.", "Oh, I got mana flooded.", "Oh, he just had a lucky starting hand." and so on. With Draft if you don't know what you're doing you end up with a deck that is ridiculously outmatched in a way your deck can't be under most circumstances in Constructed.

As I said that doesn't mean that the skill differential isn't just as important in Constructed, only that I think it isn't as immediately obvious to a player when they are truly outclassed.
posted by Justinian at 1:49 PM on October 14, 2014


Oh, oh, talk Mana Curves to me baby. MTG theory is sexy.
posted by Justinian at 1:51 PM on October 14, 2014


First draw your 7 cards +1 for going first

You don't get to draw anymore on the first turn of the game if you're going first.

Also it's not very hard to do infinite damage with a starting hand. I mostly play the modern format (legacy is too expensive for someone who's only been playing a year), but if you're allowed to use Black Lotus then play a Mountain, two Black Lotuses. Those pay for a Deceiver Exarch, which you then enchant with Splinter Twin. This creates an infinite number of token copies of the Deceiver Exarch (since each token has the "untap target permanent you control" clause, so you untap the original Deceiver Exarch and use its ability given to it by Splinter Twin to do it again) which all have haste (which means they can attack the turn they're played). This is the basis of a popular modern combo deck (but of course without the Black Lotuses which are only legal in Vintage).

The next, perhaps more interesting question is what is the highest non-infinite amount of damage one can do on the first turn of the game with 7 cards of your choice and no cards in your library? The highest value I've heard was a few months ago in this reddit thread where someone found a way to do an amount of damage that is over 3 billion digits long.
posted by DynamiteToast at 2:03 PM on October 14, 2014 [4 favorites]


You don't get to draw anymore on the first turn of the game if you're going first.

That is true now, but it was not the case back when Channel-Fireball made its way around.
posted by Vindaloo at 2:10 PM on October 14, 2014


That is true now, but it was not the case back when Channel-Fireball made its way around.

Right, I didn't realize that's what you meant. Sorry.
posted by DynamiteToast at 2:14 PM on October 14, 2014


I was just trying to close the gap a little between the way you were explaining concepts and how magic players actually talk about them. I didn't mean to imply that tempo advantage is synonymous with mana acceleration, though I think most people would consider that the most basic example, and not at all that it's about playing expensive things - what I was trying to get at is that tempo is concerned with the sum of what each player has going for them by turn X (in terms of actual damage dealt but more so threats or useful effects which remain in play and even changes in card advantage over time) which depends on what each player could do on turn X-1, which in the early game is restricted more by mana than anything else. Delver of Secrets - actually that's actually after my heyday of playing, but what I get from looking at it - seems to be good fundamentally because it's mana efficient, because it does a lot for a one-drop, which means you don't have to spend your second and third turns developing a threat, which means you can do the things you listed to neutralize your opponent's plays. So if there's something I'm leaving out of this it's that the other side of tempo is defined, as you suggest, by the fact that each player's options are constrained also by the number of turns left before the current game state resolves to somebody losing.
posted by atoxyl at 2:24 PM on October 14, 2014


I don't want to claim any expertise either, I've been playing for the last five years, but I've been interested in the game since I was a young one and my aunt sent me all of her quintuples and up from her early days of tournament play (a few years ago that same aunt sent me 100+ pounds of cards, which I sorted through with friends and sold a good portion of the money cards for $2700+. She said she held back on some cards, but since she had sent me duals and four Force of Wills, I couldn't imagine what. Apparently there is at least one Moxen in the family).

What's interesting about Magic theory is how much of feedback loop there is these days. The classic triangle of aggro-combo-control has long since been discarded. Wizards explicitly tries to avoid making combo (which I'm broadly defining as going infinite I win sort of combos) a thing in Standard, while accepting that in the wider non-rotating formats there is only so much policing you can do when considering a set of tens of thousands of cards.

They've also weakened some of the main parts of control: cheap counterspells, efficient removal, and good sweepers. Hard counters now generally start at a CMC of 3 (usually with a small benefit tagged on like in Dissolve, and most counters can be quite situational. Similarly, removal is a lot more conditional these days, Path to Exile is too strong, and so is Doom Blade. So you get removal that is good against certain things, but not others. And Wizards has been open in saying that they think that a 4CMC hard sweeper is too good. Supreme Verdict was okay because of its semi-punishing color requirements, but now we have stuff like End Hostilities. And the difference between 4 and 5 mana when it comes to sweepers is wide.

They've seriously upgraded the power level of creatures while downgrading the power level of spells. This is a conscious thing, and while there is a portion of the playerbase that complains that this is "dumbing down" the game (sample comment "all you do is turn dudes sideways now"), I don't agree. There is now a lot more room for tempo and mid-range decks, and those archetypes have a lot of variety within them. Combo, in various forms, exists in Constructed formats other than Standard.

And all that said, the last few Pro Tours were won with fairly classic Esper and UB Control decks. And Pro Tour Khans of Tarkir had a field full of Jeskai Ascendancy combo decks. The Jeskai combo deck is apparently a beast in Modern, to the point of calls for immediate banning (I've been a bit too busy with work to really keep track). In Standard it exists, in a different form, though the lists I've seen seem really fragile.
posted by X-Himy at 3:13 PM on October 14, 2014


I was never all that good at magic, but I did have a full set of dual lands and a bunch of other pretty nice stuff at some point.

My very first booster had an Ali from Cairo, and as the card shop I was at with my friend who was introducing me to the game had only Arabian Nights at the time, I had an otherwise pretty useless collection of cards. Since I knew nothing, my friend convinced me that land cards were both necessary and kind of rare and that it was fair to trade me land for Ali. He was also a few years older than me and had been playing for a while.

I never really forgave him for being such a lying dick to me about that.

I gave my entire collection to someone - in the box I made out of sheet metal in shop class, no less - so he could make an offer at buying them, then my entire city was evacuated for a flood, I shortly afterwards left for college, and never saw him or them again.
posted by flaterik at 3:39 PM on October 14, 2014 [1 favorite]


A friend and I used to play with Apprentice back in the day and I still have a screenshot somewhere of a game where he managed to get several thousand tokens into play in three or four turns.

A couple weeks ago, I ended up with approximately 2↑↑7 tokens, pretty much the crowning achievement of my "copying shenanigans" deck.
(Opalescence + Parallel Lives + Ink-Treader Nephilim + Rite of Replication + Mirrorweave, in case you're wondering.)
(They all promptly died to a Day of Judgment. That single card probably destroyed more creatures than have ever been destroyed in the total history of the game prior to that.)

posted by NMcCoy at 4:02 PM on October 14, 2014 [2 favorites]


Using Alpha cards, the most damage you could do in a turn would be:

Makes me wonder what's the most damage you can do in Hearthstone.

(I really hope that game gets a puzzle mode eventually)
posted by ymgve at 4:04 PM on October 14, 2014


I was into MTG back in the early '90s from Beta through Legends or so? I want to say it hit just before xmas '93 or 94? I've since rebought those $15 starter kits to play with the old crew on a lazy night, as well as going to a tournament or two.

One of the guys at the first tournament I ever played in had a binder with a a couple of pages of Alphas. No Lotus, but a couple of moxes and a Time Walk.

When my parents redid their basement a couple years ago, they made me bring my box of old MTG shit home. I went through it and ended up selling a handful of 3E(?) dual lands and rares for like $1600 on channelfireball.com. There is a bit of website-y back and forth, then you ship it, then they look at it, more website-y, you get a check.

Pretty easy money for stuff I wasn't using any way, shape, or how. Shit, I can forsee a future where I would use discarded gold around my house to fix my cable box, or form some sort of alien contraption, or kill some Cybermen, I have zero use for a 3E Underground Sea.

YMMV. Most of my stuff was in great condition, I was extra anal about sleeves.
posted by Sphinx at 4:13 PM on October 14, 2014 [1 favorite]


I had a stack of old Batman: The Movie bubblegum trading cards from the 80s, the full set (they still had that genuine gum smell to them), plus almost-full sets of Batman Returns and T2 trading cards. Swapped the lot a couple years back for store credit at a comic book store, which I then used to buy a complete run (to that point) of The Unwritten, which I read like two issues of and then gave away to the RSPCA thrift shop because I couldn't be bothered. The whole state of affairs is a massive sham but still, good times. It was like my own little Wall Street except without the blow.
posted by turbid dahlia at 4:46 PM on October 14, 2014 [1 favorite]


I told my brother we should sell our old collection a few years back. He said no and I let the issue slide. Recently he sent me a spreadsheet with the value of the current collection and I had to double check the decimal places because last I heard Revised dual lands were $15-20. Well not any longer!
posted by fraxil at 4:51 PM on October 14, 2014


Excuse me, can I please have a derail, if anyone here will entertain me?

I briefly played Magic in the mid-90s and enjoyed myself, it seemed like a smart game. Along with most of my friends, I dropped it after a year or two, can't remember why, but I haven't touched a Magic card in about 20 years. Now my boys are into Pokemon. They don't play it properly - because the rules are total crap, or so it seems to me. But their mates are into it, it's still popular in primary school.

I wouldn't mind seeing if I can divert their attention into a game that is actually playable, and that I would play with them. Maybe they'd get some friends going along at school too...

So my questions are. Firstly, is it still an enjoyable game that's reasonably easy to pick up, if you just want to play it casually (that's how I remember it)? Or has it been ruined by a professional scene, special editions, nerfing etc? Pokemon in comparison seems like it was a bad game to begin with, and made unbearable by special packs that don't work with each other.

Secondly I have no idea at all how the editions work. With no interest in tournament play, does this matter, could I buy any old decks and have them work, or do I have to stick with a recent edition? What if they love the game and want to start buying additional packs?

Thirdly, would this sort of thing be suitable? It's 1000 cards for $60. it seems we could get quite a few decks out of it, have several each and give several to friends.

Anyway, thanks in advance if anyone can help.
posted by wilful at 4:56 PM on October 14, 2014


They've seriously upgraded the power level of creatures while downgrading the power level of spells.

I'm pretty well aware of the general trends over the years, and as you might guess not particularly a fan, though some leveling of creatures and spells - mostly buffing of creatures really - was absolutely called for. My least favorite thing is when they take the feedback loop too far and try to design certain deck concepts into a format. Which is not to say it's all downhill - they've gotten a lot better at not cluttering up sets with totally useless cards too. But I like constructed best when there's a real sense of experimentation and discovery and insane complexity, which is why I like formats where new cards interact with old ones. And in those formats 4CC basic counterspells don't pique much interest.

Given free choice of traditional archetypes I'm a sucker for well-tuned combo (manaless ichorid blew my mind and of course long.dec *I* think is fun) best but back in the day trying to play in actual 1/1.5/old school Extended tournaments card-cost restrictions meant I actually played more cheap aggro or aggro-control. I don't know what happened to some of my cards (unfortunately including the revised duals which increased 4-8x (?) in value when Legacy became a thing) but I still have my old sentimental favorite mono-red deck in once piece. Heh, Fireblast - talk about tempo (and bluffing!) cards.The fact that Legacy did become a thing I thought was brilliant - at least at first it was incredibly diverse. But there's no way I'm ever going to spend more that a couple draft sets' worth playing this game at this point.
posted by atoxyl at 5:00 PM on October 14, 2014


are MTG cards like baseball cards, in that the condition is actually important? Can't you still play with a card even though it has a crease in it?

Can't you still trade baseball cards even if they have a crease? Same idea applies.
posted by yohko at 5:13 PM on October 14, 2014


So my questions are. Firstly, is it still an enjoyable game that's reasonably easy to pick up, if you just want to play it casually (that's how I remember it)? Or has it been ruined by a professional scene, special editions, nerfing etc? Pokemon in comparison seems like it was a bad game to begin with, and made unbearable by special packs that don't work with each other.

Secondly I have no idea at all how the editions work. With no interest in tournament play, does this matter, could I buy any old decks and have them work, or do I have to stick with a recent edition? What if they love the game and want to start buying additional packs?

Thirdly, would this sort of thing be suitable? It's 1000 cards for $60. it seems we could get quite a few decks out of it, have several each and give several to friends.


Magic is more complex than it was when I started playing, and there's a lot of fiddly bits with the rules. Specifically the order that stuff happens in. However, nearly all new packs come with a "here's how you play magic" rulebook, and I'm sure that sort of thing is easy to find on YouTube. I learned to play when I was about 12 or so, and I was by no means good at it, but had the basics down enough to play. So I would say that any age from 10 and up would probably be a good starting point.

Editions don't matter at all. Generally speaking the first card ever printed works with the last. Editions are themed, so you might see specific rules for specific editions, but everything is designed purposefully to work together. Buying additional packs will work with whatever decks they currently have built.

My personal experience with buying a giant box-o-cards was that it was 90% crap (like, hard to even put a deck together with), 5% stuff that was outright unusable (like, foreign language cards in Korean), and 5% cool stuff that could actually work in a deck. I would advise against it. Instead, Wizards of the Coast puts out premade decks that are guaranteed to work to a certain extent. You can even find packs that have two of these decks together. For sixty dollars you could get two pre-made decks and 4 boosters. The kids could learn the game with the premade stuff, and then use all of the extra cards to customize the existing decks. They also sell "fat packs" that include a lot more land (the basic resource of the game) in addition to the stuff I mentioned above.

To be honest, Magic is designed as a money-suck. Other options you could look at is a self-contained card game (with some elements of collectibility) like Dominion or Ascension. These are both games where you build a deck using cards that are the same throughout each play session (and can be enhanced by expansions). This is compared to Magic, where you come to the game having already built a deck out of cards you own independently. The themes might not be as approachable as Magic, which probably fits very well with teen boy power fantasies (unless your kids dream of being a feudal lord). The learning curve for these is pretty gentle. We taught my nephew when he was around ten, and now he frequently wins games against me and my brother at age 13.

A sort of half-way point are games called "Living Card Games" which encourage constantly buying sets and players building their own decks, but reduce all of the randomness that one finds in opening a pack of M:TG cards. They're also themed with recognizable stuff, like Star Wars, and might be more appealing. I haven't played these, so I don't know if the learning curve would fit your kids' age limits.
posted by codacorolla at 5:39 PM on October 14, 2014 [4 favorites]


For sixty dollars you could get two pre-made decks and 4 boosters. The kids could learn the game with the premade stuff, and then use all of the extra cards to customize the existing decks. They also sell "fat packs" that include a lot more land (the basic resource of the game) in addition to the stuff I mentioned above.

Also worth considering as a starting point: one Deck Builder's Toolkit per person -- 100 lands per box, four random boosters, and 125 semi-randomized cards. Fewer cards overall than ebay, but the 'semi-randomized' means that they've picked cards that all sort of work together, and then given you some of them. It's specifically designed as starting point for people to try building their own decks -- they come with 'suggested deck themes' that should work with some of the cards you get. MSRP is around $20 American, but actual prices fluctuate (as does availability).
posted by cjelli at 6:11 PM on October 14, 2014 [1 favorite]


In 1994 I begged my parents for Magic cards. They bought them for me ... two packs of manna only. After an extremely frustrating day with a friend trying to figure out how to play, I gave up.

I still don't understand why people choose to pay big money to WotC rather than just print their own cards at home.
posted by miyabo at 6:34 PM on October 14, 2014


Because it's not simply a card game it's a collectible card game. That word is important.
posted by Justinian at 6:40 PM on October 14, 2014 [1 favorite]


Firstly, is it still an enjoyable game that's reasonably easy to pick up, if you just want to play it casually (that's how I remember it)?

Yes, absolutely. I play super casually and don't really keep up with the scene. My friends who do keep me up on major developments and stuff but it's absolutely possible to casually play M:TG as long as you have people to play with. You can get a solid deck or two out of a fat pack (and maybe a bit of trading) and a pre-made deck you purchase outright can definitely put up a fight and be fun to play.

A friend of mine, with whom I've been playing for about 15 years now, plays M:TG online and says you can get pretty far spending zero dollars, which is more than you can say about the card game.

I still don't understand why people choose to pay big money to WotC rather than just print their own cards at home.

The amount of work it would take to do that to create a deck that you could actually play a game of M:TG with is not inconsiderable. Doing that while trying to maintain some sort of equivalent system of artificial scarcity -- which is absolutely a contrivance to get people to spend more money, but at the same time is absolutely essential to something like M:TG being fun -- is probably more trouble than its worth for most people.

Also, the ability to play M:TG for completely free through unsanctioned online clients has been around since 1996. The problem is once you have access to all the cards, you lose an important part of the game and suck the fun out.
posted by griphus at 6:42 PM on October 14, 2014


By "create a deck" I mean physically craft a set of cards you can easily shuffle, deal, etc.
posted by griphus at 6:42 PM on October 14, 2014


One word if you're thinking about Magic, is that the "core" sets (with a year affix) pull stuff from across nearly the entire run of the game. The named expansions cater more to specific themes, and almost always feature cards unique to that expansion. Like a recent one called Innistrad was about Undead and Creatures of the Night fighting with Humans. The core sets might be slightly better introductions, since they tend to have all sorts of classic card archetypes across the years.
posted by codacorolla at 6:48 PM on October 14, 2014


I played a little around Revised edition, then quit for about a dozen years, and now I'm back into it. Unfortunately, I haven't been able to find my old binder of cards, but I didn't have anything spectacular anyway. I did find my box of less-valuable cards--the most valuable one probably is Hymn to Tourach, which was a garbage card at the time, but has now risen to about $1.50.
If you're just playing with family & friends, you can include any cards in your deck. I play the Standard format, which has a low cost of initial entry, but is a constant money pit, because as new cards are created, older cards become no longer usable in Standard tournaments. (They still can be used in other formats, or casually.) I probably spend close to $900/year on it. Cards don't leave the "eternal" formats like Modern and Legacy on a schedule, so although initial costs are higher for a viable deck, the valuable cards don't significantly decline in value, especially because the brokenly-powerful cards, such as Black Lotus, will never be reprinted, so there's no chance of a new influx depressing the market.
I haven't seen the Power Nine played in person, but people do play with old and valuable cards. I've seen a local player use a deck with multiple copies of Candelabra of Tawnos, which run about $375 apiece.
The new card Jeskai Ascendency has enabled a new effectively-infinite combo in Modern. It says "whenever you cast a non-creature spell, all your creatures untap and get bigger, plus you may choose to draw a card and then discard a card." It's powerful with the limited card choices in Standard, but absolutely bonkers if you have access to the wider world of the eternal formats. As mentioned, there are creatures that you can tap for mana, and also cards that let you draw more cards. So you can tap your creatures for mana, play a card to get more cards and untap your creatures, discard a card if you don't like what you drew, tap your creatures again for more mana and more cards... Meanwhile, your creatures are getting big enough to kill your opponent. It wins pretty consistently if it makes it to turn three.
There's a group of ten Magic champions who have an on-line Vintage league that plays on Tuesday nights, so it's broadcasting right now at Twitch.tv/magic. If you want to see just how degenerate the game can get when the players have access to the Power Nine, here's an opportunity.
Core sets' days are numbered. They recently announced that the 2016 set will be the last one (until they change their minds).
posted by Tool of the Conspiracy at 7:12 PM on October 14, 2014 [1 favorite]


Magic is more complex than it was when I started playing, and there's a lot of fiddly bits with the rules.

I'm not sure that's really true, depending on when you started. When we're talking about the complexity of the game, we should really only consider the core rules, individual mechanics and attached rules matter, but only when playing with those cards, and usually there is text printed on the card explaining it.

In the last few years, Wizards has revised and tweaked certain rules to make things more sensible and less odd. The biggest thing is making combat damage no longer go on the stack, which removes a whole lot of confusing feel-bad situations. They've also simplified certain design situations and just generally gotten better at templating and keywording.

In terms of getting someone new into Magic, I'd go with some Intro decks or the upcoming new product, called Clash packs. Intro decks are preconstructed, designed to be easy to play, and usually come with a booster or two in it already, so you can get extra cards and make tweaks. Or, if you go to your Friendly Local Game Shop, there is a good chance that they will have a pile of Magic teaching decks, which Wizards gives out specifically so stores can give them out for free. They are 30 cards, a single color, and are great for teaching (I used them to teach an ex, after she asked, ASKED, to learn Magic).
posted by X-Himy at 7:26 PM on October 14, 2014 [2 favorites]


If you are interested in playing casually and don't care to buy cards or deal with human people, I recently bought Magic 2014 on Steam for $10 and have had some fun times playing against the computer with various pre-assembled decks. It has a nifty feature where you unlock more powerful/rare cards by playing against the computer, and a deck editor where you can choose to remove any cards you like from each pre-built deck as you unlock additional ones. It's obviously not as social as the actual game would be, but it's a heck of a lot cheaper for someone like me who likes the pretty artwork and the logic-puzzle aspect of the strategy.
posted by Zephyrial at 7:27 PM on October 14, 2014


Yes, Magic 2014 on Steam is a good way to get your feet wet and learn Magic. In my opinion though, its weak point is that it's unnecessarily difficult to react to your opponents' plays. I think slowly, and the game sometimes moves on before I can decide on a play. (Magic 2015 is also available for $10, but has poor reviews.)
posted by Tool of the Conspiracy at 8:03 PM on October 14, 2014


Doing that while trying to maintain some sort of equivalent system of artificial scarcity -- which is absolutely a contrivance to get people to spend more money, but at the same time is absolutely essential to something like M:TG being fun -- is probably more trouble than its worth for most people.

I'm not even really sure what you mean about scarcity being essential to the fun of the game. If you are thinking of the idea of building a deck with limited resources, any "serious" tournament player will invest enough to have one or two decks built exactly (or very close) to spec at any given time and probably will proxy others for testing purposes. Players at the highest level *do* have access to all the cards - if they don't own it a friend/teammate will. These people enjoy the game enough to play it more than most anybody but for them buying cards is just a hoop they have to jump through to have a real chance of winning. Yes, I *have* met purely casual, adult players who insist on real cards but they're the ones *I* don't understand. Playing on Apprentice (or the modern equivalent) you can impose whatever deck-building restrictions you want!

The main reason to actually buy cards to *build a deck* is to be able to play in the big official events. The main reason to actually buy cards to draft is that it's convenient, and if the winner gets first pick of the night's rare cards (as is often the rule) then that provides a built-in prize structure and trading/bargaining opportunities. So trading and selling artificially rare cards can certainly be part of the fun but, like, there are a lot of things one can trade or sell. Mostly the point of spending money on cards is to be part of the main MtG social scene and to have a change of winning more money/cards than you put in.
posted by atoxyl at 9:23 PM on October 14, 2014


A friend of mine, with whom I've been playing for about 15 years now, plays M:TG online and says you can get pretty far spending zero dollars, which is more than you can say about the card game.

I know people who have managed to get a lot of "free" play out of Magic Online by funneling all their draft winnings (including selling the cards) into buying into the next draft. This *does* work in real life but in both cases obviously only if you're pretty well above average as a player. I didn't think there was any true free play option but I could be wrong? I don't know what they give you to start out.
posted by atoxyl at 9:32 PM on October 14, 2014


A deck of real cards is necessary for small official events too... I play every Friday night at my local game store, but I've never traveled more than twenty miles to play.
In Magic Online and in real life, you can make it a self-sustaining hobby, but you have to seed it with at least a hundred dollars if you want to do it. Otherwise, you'll be completely outclassed no matter how good you are.
For my seven-dollar entry fee at my local store, I've won a single four-dollar pack two weeks in a row, and I consider it a win. Other people at the store (such as the guy I played against last week who was using $150 basic lands) consistently win multiple packs, so they're able to fold those winnings back into their decks.
posted by Tool of the Conspiracy at 10:05 PM on October 14, 2014


My favorite is putting together and playing against casual decks that don't have any straight-up infinite combos, but that are chock-full of synergy in cards from all across Magic's history. There are a lot of fun situations that can come up when you're not building OMG So Competitive decks for tournaments.
posted by rivenwanderer at 11:10 PM on October 14, 2014


Lost Lake Saloon or something similar on Lake City Way

oops, just realized this is wrong - it's in Shoreline on 99.
posted by mwhybark at 11:15 PM on October 15, 2014


$100k estimate on ebay.
posted by erebora at 4:10 PM on October 17, 2014


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