Every trading card game has those rare cards that are so few and far between, getting a glimpse at one in real life feels special. In Pokémon Trading Card Game, you’ve the likes of the pre-release Jungle Raichu, or the Pikachu Illustrator, and in Yu-Gi-Oh there’s the original print of Dark Magician Girl, or the Chinese Blue Eyes White Dragon. For Magic: The Gathering, there’s the Power Nine, the most valuable of which is Black Lotus, and one’s about to become available – if you’ve got the money for it.
The Power Nine are a set of cards that stretch right back to the roots of Magic: The Gathering. They were all part of Alpha, Magic’s first set, reprinted soon after as Beta, and then reprinted again as Unlimited to round out the initial printings in 1993. The differences between the three are cosmetic – Beta has slightly sharper corners than Alpha, and Unlimited introduced the white-borders, now synonymous with core set reprints. You can find versions of the Power Nine from all three, but Alpha’s what you’re looking for if you want those sweet, sweet originals.
One of these coveted treasures is now up for auction on eBay, from a seller that’s used to handling such prizes.
“The first bonus check I ever received turned me into a Magic investor when I could finally buy back my childhood memories and the cards I’d never played with,” David Edwards, the owner of DM’s Alpha Set on the PSA Registry and an avid collector of PSA 10 graded Alpha magic cards for the past 13 years tells us. “I had, long ago, owned a Time Twister, Mox Ruby and Time Walk, but was able to purchase the entire Power Nine with that check.”
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.
The current seller had a similar experience, recounting the first time they saw a Black Lotus in person.
“It was a Beta one in the summer of 1995. At my local card store Chadwick’s Friday night Magic tournament, there was an entrant who was a local college student that had used his student loans to buy one, and he was shuffling without sleeves,” the seller says. “I remember calculating how many months of allowance it would take for me to afford one and it was a long time!”
This new auction is for a Black Lotus signed by Christopher Rush, who was one of two-dozen artists commissioned by Wizards of the Coast to draw that first wave of cards. Here’s an old Tumblr post from Christopher, authenticating the signing. He’s one of the great TCG creatives, having worked on Pokémon and Netrunner in addition to Magic. He designed that lovely backing art on Magic: The Gathering, and the five colored mana symbols. An architect for the whole mythos, he sadly passed away in 2016, making this Black Lotus representative of the fading memory of this wonderful game.
Regardless of who wins it, it’ll be interesting to watch history change hands in real-time, and to see what it costs the winner.