Opening Magic Cards


Aged something like ten, mum and I went to Jurby Junk. They were famous in The Isle of Man. “WASH YOUR HANDS”, mum would always say after we had been, with such unfamiliar fervency that I was convinced it must have been a place of plague. And yet still we went, and being me, even then I went deep.

I only had a very small amount of pocket money. Mum had vast distaste for children who had large amounts. As far as I remember it was 10p a week. Back then that was a Beano and two penny sweets, but I wasn’t set on the Beano every week. I might have saved almost 20p by the time I went to Jurby Junk. I wasn’t given the shiny coins – (although I would occasionally find them). I had to store up.

Mum was always in a hurry when we were there. She would come, look at one section, and immediately want to leave. I suspect it was clothes she was after and she usually knew quickly when there was nothing. “Come on boys,” we would get, having literally just arrived in this treasure trove of interesting things. “One second, mummy!” I had found a bucket full of knock-off Star Wars stickers. I was trying to find one of each. I couldn’t afford one of each though so I had to leave the ones I didn’t like – Luke Skywalker yawn etc.

I spent 14p on Star Wars stickers. That was all the money I had.

I just found them, mixed in with a load of childhood junk. They aren’t worth much even now, even though they were made by FasCal (Fun Products Intl) in 1977 and “Darth Vadar” and “Millenium Falcon” are spelt wrong. I could probably get about fifty quid for the lot though, which is in keeping with inflation. I’m not gonna sell them though. Some of them might go on the back of future laptops. They don’t take up enough space to be problematic to store.

That was ten year old me. I haven’t changed. The stakes have gone up, but the instinct to buy paper with all the money I’ve got still sits strong, more’s the pity.

I was in Uruguay with Extreme-E, feeling like I had genuinely made myself a part of the team. The next season had just been announced. I felt a relief fall over me. Guaranteed work, I thought, and part time. Wonderful work. A valued member of a good team making something important. Work that resonates with my values, in a team that gets me and values and understands what I do. Ha.

Magic the Gathering were celebrating their 30th Anniversary. That’s a trading card game I used to play as a young man. I still occasionally play online these days but I long ago sold all my valuable cards. Still, I got sent a link to a YouTube channel because the internet knows I still dabble. Jake and Joel are Magic. It was an eloquent critique of a product I hadn’t heard of, critiqued by someone who HATED it. A musjudged Magic 30th anniversary celebration product. It had an absurdly high price tag. £1000 for 4 booster packs. Random selection inside. No other option. £1000 in the UK after tax. $1000 in the US, in the same way that digital products always gouge UK buyers. No guarantee of value. You are opening RANDOM packs.

You could easily spend £1000 for £100 worth of product. Each booster contains one in 113 possible rare cards. Of those rare cards, only 9 are actually worth enough to justify the investment, and many are absolutely worthless considering the price of the booster. A Purelace from one of somebody’s four £250 boosters just sold on eBay for £22.48.

“The Power Nine”. That is all anyone is looking for out of those 113 cards. The rest is gravy. You want one of these: Time Walk, Ancestral Recall, Time Vault, one of the 5 coloured Moxes, and, of course, the unique and famous Black Lotus, the most valuable trading card ever. Find one of them from Alpha or Beta in your uncle’s attic, and you’ll never need to work again. One in good condition sold for over $800k at auction. By weight I suspect that an Alpha Black Lotus in pristine condition will be the most expensive thing in the world.

These £1000 packs are just proxies though. They aren’t tournament legal. “We have to vote with our wallet,” he said on YouTube. “We have to show HASBRO this isn’t the way forward.” But… what if nobody buys these? What might the Lotus be worth to collectors if most of the set gets pulped? Is it worth rolling the dice? Value is only by consensus, and HASBRO, who recently purchased Magic, have given no sense that they are going to do anything other than run something lovely into the ground through greed. The price tag on this set is symptomatic of that greed. I really hope they listen and go another way with it. Anyone trying to keep up is already stretched to breaking. But maybe… maybe they restricted the print run here? Despite my purchase…

My father was a contrarian. “If everybody says one thing, do the opposite,” he taught me that lesson early and I’ve lived by it for better or worse. I checked the comments on all the videos about it. Everybody hated the product. Hundreds of people were actively flaming it. I looked at other videos. Nobody wanted this thing to succeed. Nobody was gonna buy it. So… well I had to, even though it was a lot for me… More now I see that the work I was confident would repeat hasn’t repeated – short sighted… it’ll cost them. But they have to discover that themselves.

On a lunch break, I logged in. I put £1000 on my credit card, bought the most unpopular product in MTG history, and waited for the randomly selected boosters to come.

A bit later, Jake and Joel ran a video showing that the sale had been taken down before everything sold. Apparently only two people (!) had bought to the UK market. Likely a nonsense statistic, but it got my hopes up if I was just one of two. You’d need to spend something like $110k to give yourself a good chance of a Lotus. Nobody is crazy like that, but we all hope for luck. And if nobody bought it the scarcity rises.

What I knew for sure is that I had laid down serious money on a massive gamble with a controversial product.

It arrived last month. I sat on it for ages. Didn’t dare look. It was just in my bedroom looking at me. I ordered white gloves on the internet and watched some opening videos. I finally opened it under a camera on a red velvet cushion the other day and made a video. In retrospect I’m very glad I made the video considering what I opened.

I won’t keep you in suspense. The very first pack I opened yielded the fucking holy grail of magic cards. I never ever thought I would open a Black Lotus. I opened one. “You are playing it cool in the video, but your hands start shaking,” observed Rhys and Brian.

Yes I’m playing it cool. It’s just a proxy. It’s not tournament legal. But this is a very very scarce product. I have opened something rare. And when a booster goes for £250 then I’ve opened something valuable however you look at it. In a way, the mistake HASBRO made was in giving this product for free to lots of vocal YouTube commentators. In doing that relatively freely, they made it look much less exclusive than it is.

I sent the Lotus off to Florida today to get encapsulated and authenticated. “Wasn’t this Magic 30th thing a really… expensive product?” asks the mild guy at the CGC UK Headquarters. “Yes. I was told not to buy it. So I bought it.”

It’s a collectable not a playable so I’m paying to have it graded and boxed. It was momentarily handled by me in white gloves on video and now it is in a plastic sheath. It’ll get a very very high grade. Then I have to decide whether to sit on it or flog it, which is to do with HASBRO and the secondary market. I valued it at £7200 for insurance. It could go up, it could go down. But someone sold one for that many dollars, and this product costs the same in pounds as dollars. But… crikey. For a bit of cardboard…

I kept that fucker QUIET. Only a select few of my geek friends. The product is SO controversial that I might even end up getting flak online for this blog. I haven’t put the video on YouTube or any of my other rares up for sale yet. And, for those of you in the know, I was incredibly lucky. Thank God. As well as the Lotus, a Tropical Island, Birds of Paradise, Word of Command, a retro frame Blaze of Glory and two Sol Rings, one common and one uncommon. I could sell everything but the Lotus and still make back my stake. Cardboard. It’s the new gold.

Geek OUT.

Author: albarclay

This blog is a work of creative writing. Do not mistake it for truth. All opinions are mine and not that of my numerous employers.

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