People are paying close to $100,000 for rare 'Magic: The Gathering' cards that they compare to early bitcoin investments and predict will one day be worth millions

  • “Magic: The Gathering” is a wizardry-inspired card game from the early ’90s that has a cult following even today.
  • Several rare, early-print editions of the cards are worth thousands of dollars, with one particularly hard-to-find card selling for close to $US100,000.
  • But one investor thinks this is just the beginning of the cards’ value. Get in early, he says, and you could make millions.

“If the Black Lotus gets $US70,000 tonight, it will be worth millions in about 20 years,” Bryan Goldberg told me last week over the phone.

Goldberg – a tech entrepreneur and self-described geek who owns a stable of media sites including Bustle, Elite Daily, and now Gawker.com – is predicting the outcome of an eBay auction underway for the Black Lotus, the most powerful card from the trading-card game “Magic: The Gathering.”

At the time of our conversation, bids for the coveted Black Lotus hover around $US60,000. Goldberg is betting that the price will balloon by $US10,000 in just a few short hours. If his call is right, Goldberg estimates that the Black Lotus’ value will compound many times over in the coming years. By 2038, he predicts, it will be worth a minimum of $US1 million.

“Magic: The Gathering” isn’t a new trend or an emerging fad like CryptoKitties. The wizardry-inspired card game came out in the early ’90s and precedes Pokémon by about three years. The people who play it are “nerds, geeks, and people who grew up as nerds and geeks,” Goldberg said. Today, many of those same “nerds and geeks” are tech-savvy millennials who spend thousands of dollars on select cards from their beloved game.

“In my childhood, I was completely absorbed by it,” Goldberg said. “The game today is the best it’s ever been. It’s a wonderful game. It’s not just fun to play – there’s so much nostalgia for it.”

Goldberg says he invests in the cards for the same reason he’s bought up companies or bitcoin: He thinks it’s going to make him a lot of money.

Just how much money?

“I think it will double or triple my money many times over,” Goldberg said. The payoff, he says, will be similar to investments in cryptocurrencies like bitcoin or ether, with the potential to make early investors extremely wealthy.

“In 2018, it’s hard to think of any investment opportunity that’s even remotely in the same ballpark as bitcoin,” Goldberg said. “With these cards, I feel like I found an asset class that could really be huge. If this does what I think it can do, it could be a fantastic investment.”

Magic: The GatheringYouTubeA man holding up packs of ‘Magic: The Gathering’ cards at a Las Vegas showcase in April.

Goldberg estimates that since the ’90s, billions of “Magic: The Gathering” cards have been printed, with more and more decks released all the time. Today, you can buy a 60-card “battle deck” for about $US10.

The cards’ collectability emerges from a select group of early-print editions and a few cards that have been retired from print altogether.

Some of these cards are so powerful in the context of the game that the player who holds them would almost always win by default, Goldberg explained. Because this ruined the fun for the rest of the players, the card makers agreed early on to stop printing them, making the likelihood of owning them today extremely rare.

Many of the existing editions have been lost or badly damaged, with very few surviving in mint or perfect condition. Goldberg says he believes that only 40 mint-condition Black Lotuses remain in circulation today. While he declined to disclose the exact number he owns, Goldberg said he had bought up a meaningful percentage of the remaining first-edition, mint-condition Black Lotuses.

Magic The Gathering Black LotusYouTube/openboostersA mint-condition Alpha Black Lotus.

This group of rare Black Lotuses might be compared to early-edition baseball cards, some of which sold for millions of dollars decades after their release.

But the earning potential for “Magic: The Gathering” cards is even greater than for those faded sports collectibles, Goldberg said, mostly because the game is still incredibly popular.

“It’s exploding,” Goldberg said. “The people who were kids when it came out are grown-ups now who have made money and can afford to buy them.”

Of course, there’s the very real possibility that Goldberg could be wrong. After all, Beanie Babies were also once a highly sought-after collectible that fizzled out in popularity years later.

But Goldberg is correct that “Magic: The Gathering” is still incredibly popular.

If you’ve never heard of the game before, it might be because the community is, as Goldberg put it, “small and private.” Online, however, enthusiasm for “Magic: The Gathering” is widespread.

Magic the gatheringYouTubeOne YouTube video in which a collector discovers a rare ‘Magic’ card in a vintage deck has more than 6 million views.

On YouTube, for instance, a single video of someone buying a collection of cards for $US21,000 has more than 850,000 views and hundreds of comments trailing below. It’s not uncommon for videos of people opening decks of cards, brokering trading deals, or examining vintage decks to accrue hundreds of thousands of viewers.

One video on YouTube embodies the “Magic: The Gathering” zeitgeist particularly well.

In it, an unseen collector meticulously slices through a vintage deck with a scalpel. For 10 minutes, he painstakingly flips through the deck, card by card, his hands sheathed in blue plastic gloves so as not to damage them. Right around the eight-minute mark, the collector strikes gold: Embedded at the bottom of the pack is a mint-condition Alpha Black Lotus.

“Holy … blrsh!” he shouts. “That’s a freaking Black Lotus! Oh my God! That’s an Alpha-freakin’-Lotus!”

With shaking hands, he starts to cry, or laugh, or maybe both.

The video has over 6 million views. Some commenters say they have watched the 10-minute video multiple times, over and over again.

And YouTube is only the beginning of the “Magic: The Gathering” community’s pervasive online presence. Reddit, Twitter, blogging sites, and Facebook all suggest a deeply engaged community. There are in-person gatherings as well – like tournaments with thousands in attendance, Meetup groups, and themed weddings, to name just a few. (There’s also a well-populated Pinterest page documenting various ideas for “MTG”-themed celebrations.)

For Goldberg, the money is just one part of the game’s appeal – a pleasant bonus he didn’t quite expect.

So, was Goldberg’s prediction of the Black Lotus’ value at the auction accurate?

No. As it turns out, he was way off, by more than $US15,000.

Around 1 a.m. the night of the auction, Goldberg shot me an email.

“Holy shit,” he wrote. “~$US88,000 for the Black Lotus … that is way more than I would have ever guessed even when we were on the phone. Tonight was insane.”

Bryan Goldberg emailZoë BernardGoldberg’s email.

Cameron Kunzelman, a reporter for the gaming site Kotaku, later described the $US87,672 purchase as “a lot of money for a little bit of cardboard.”

“Should rarity and cultural prestige account for an $US87,000 price tag?” Kunzelman wrote. “That’s maybe a little bit high for me.”

Goldberg’s bullish prediction that the card will one day be worth $US1 million or more could end up being wrong – but the recent auction shows there’s also a very real chance he’s right. In 20 years, that same piece of cardboard could be worth more than a house.

At the very least, it’s a good reminder that value is relative. Maybe there’s not much of a difference between precious minerals, computer-generated lines of code, and laminated cardboard after all.

There’s another Black Lotus, in mint condition, up on eBay.

The asking price? $US100,000.

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