Last week, I climbed to the top of the tallest mountain the world.
No, not mount Everest. I have the physique of, well, a Magic player and I somehow doubt climbing to the actual top of the world will ever be within my grasp.
I did, however, make it to the top of Mauna Kea. At 13,796 feet, it wouldn’t even be the tallest mountain in the continental United States. However, when you count from the mountain’s base on the ocean floor, Mauna Kea towers over Everest.
So all we’d have to do is drain the oceans and I’d have a pretty cool thing to brag about!
Anyway, in honor of my ascent, (and to be completely fair, all but the last few hundred feet were done from the air conditioned comfort of a Jeep Wrangler), I decided to explore the lofty air of Magic’s financial peaks.
The Ten Rarest Cards in the Game
Of course, rarity is a relative term. Truly unique magic cards are actually more common than you’d think. Even if you don’t count professional alters and/or Myr Enforcers that I drew pictures of fat people on with a sharpie, there are tons of miscuts and misprints that are truly one of a kind.
In any given collectables market, there are four different ways something can be rare:
A unique misprint. (I have a Planechase card miscut so badly that it’s half each of two cards, for example.)
A wide-release misprint. (Summer Magic, The infamous Billy Ripken baseball card, the stamp with the upside-down biplane.)
The first/best version of something. (Usually something short printed. Alpha/Beta, for example, or first pressing mint vinyl copies of famous records, the dark blue version of the Beanie Baby elephant that was worth over 2.5k in 1998.)
Deliberately produced rarities. (Something made specifically to be collectable. Judge foils. Limited edition prints. Willy Wonka’s golden tickets.)
Uniqueness is the hardest to value. I might have the only Mogg Fanatic where the red ink wasn’t applied to the top half of the card, but that’ll only take me so far in trading it. (Though to be fair, if I actually had that specific misprint I’d want at least $100 for it.)
When you start talking about the rarest of anything collectable, the only thing that really matters is the brag value. You might need 4x Force of Will in order to play Legacy on Sunday, but the only reason you need miscut Force of Wills is to brag to your opponents.
Jeter’s 3,000th hit ball? George Washington’s signature? A piece of the space shuttle? The reason these things have value is solely due to our desire to show them off. If you were the only person on earth, would you really care about memorabilia?
Of the three latter ways something can be rare, desirability differs by market. In stamp collecting, for example, wide release misprints (like the upside-down biplane) are valued far higher than limited edition stamps put out by the post office. In coin collecting, it’s all about getting the highest graded copies of highly prized coins that were in circulation. In Magic, a few of Wizards’ best promos still tower over all the rest.
In most cases, though, it’s a combination of those three latter categories that combine to give us the rarest, most valuable collectors’ items in a given fandom.
Of course, when you get up to the rarified air of Magic’s nearly-unique cards, value is all about finding the right buyer. Unlike with in demand tournament cards, you can’t just get a price comp on the game’s true rarities.
So where does that leave us? With no real concrete, quantitative way to measure the ten rarest cards in Magic.
The best I can do is to combine scarcity, print run, legend, and value in my mind and see what comes out the other end. There may be scarcer or more valuable cards I’ve left off, but in my mind this list is a pretty good jumping-off point.
As an additional note, finding out accurate information on a lot of these cards proved incredibly difficult. MagicLibrarities.net was an invaluable resource, and they have a very under-the-radar but incredibly knowledgeable community in the forums there. If you want to learn more about misprints, miscuts, and the early days of Magic, that’s an excellent place to start.
10) Black Lotus (Alpha/Beta)
Estimated Print Run: 1,100 (Alpha) 3,200 (Beta)
Estimated Value: $2,000 – $10,000
It’s actually quite absurd to think that only 1,100 Alpha Black Lotuses were ever printed.
That includes copies still sitting in closets and on dusty shelves, as well as every copy ever bent, creased, drawn on, or otherwise destroyed.
Let that sink in for a moment.
I could have selected any Alpha/Beta rare for this slot as they’re all equally scarce, but the legend attached to the Black Lotus is second to none. Ask any non-Magic player to name a card. If they can, chances are this’ll be it. Its art is iconic in the same way as Action Comics #1. It is timeless.
I would have thought the Alpha version would be quite a bit more valuable than the Beta due to being almost three times less common, but that simply isn’t true.
I believe part of that is due to the false belief that Alpha cards aren’t legal for tournament play. (They are, but they need to be played in opaque sleeves. Like, um, the sleeves everyone uses for every tournament.) Part of it is also due, I think, to the fact that some people like all their cards to match. The rounded corners just weird some people out.
So what is a black-bordered Lotus worth?
Channel Fireball has $3,000 listed as their price for an Alpha Lotus, but they’re out of stock.
Star City has them listed for $2k played and $2.5k NM, but again, none are in stock. And none are likely to be anytime soon.
Checking eBay listings, Troll and Toad has been trying to get $4.4k for their EX+ Lotus, but have had no bites over the last few months. There’s a reasonable looking Alpha Lotus for sale on eBay right now for $2.7k, but it’s from a personal seller and its authenticity is unverified. That’s the cheapest one you’re likely to find on short notice, though.
When you get up to graded copies of the card, though, things get REALLY crazy. In April 2010, a story circulated online about a seller looking to get $89,000 for what he claimed was “the only BSG 10 graded Beta Black Lotus in the world.”
While that may be true, it does overlook the fact that there are a few lotuses graded 10 by PSA that have seen the market and haven’t done nearly as well. I did find a sale in March of 2005 for a confirmed PSA 10 Beta Black Lotus at $6,000 on eBay, and I’ve yet to find any other concrete data suggesting they are worth more than that. I’ve heard rumblings that they’ve been sold “as high as $15,000” and one rumor of a $20k sale for a mint Alpha, but nothing I could confirm.
Due to inflation, I would imagine getting around $10,000 for a PSA/BSG 10 Alpha or Beta Black Lotus would be quite doable. Until someone shows me a sale for $15k or more, though, I have trouble saying that the card is worth that much.
9) Textless Saga Foils (& Textless Foil Lightning Bolt)
Estimated Print Run: Unknown.
Estimated Value: $500 – $1,000+ Each
It was the summer of 1999, and foils were just hitting the scene.
At one of the pro events that year, a rumor started flying around the venue. Someone had found a foil, textless version of an Urza’s Saga card in a pack of Japanese Urza’s Destiny! When someone else confirmed it, the vendors began rising the prices of those packs until they were three times retail. They still sold out by the end of the day.
To date, about 10 different foil textless cards have been confirmed, both with square and rounded corners, including many of the best cards in Urza’s Saga (Gaea’s Cradle, Serra Avatar, Karn…they weren’t chosen by accident.) Also among them was a textless 4th edition version of Lightning Bolt.
At final count, it seems as if the Lightning Bolt and Serra Avatar were the most common, but that isn’t saying much. These things are super duper rare. I have no way of getting even close to an accurate print run on ‘em, but I’d guess less than a hundred total exist.
There is some controversy in the rarities community over whether these are true misprints or actually test prints. A misprint implies that a mistake was made and inadvertently published. A test print implies that they were actually testing something here, such as a new foiling process.
To me, it seems most likely that these were part of a promotional product that were scrapped before the idea was finished. Perhaps Wizards was going to release some proto FTV set or tournament prize giveaway, but decided not to and scuttled the cards. Somehow, several that didn’t even make it to the text printer ended up in boosters. That would put these firmly in the misprint camp, as they weren’t being printed to test anything.
I do know one of the bolts ended up on eBay last year, but I can’t find any information on what it ended up selling for. In fact, I can’t find a single sale for any of these cards at all. The chances are good that they’re even rarer than they seem, and perhaps only 1-2 of each actually still exist.
I certainly believe a well-publicized auction of one of the better cards would have no problem clearing $1,000, and might be more in the $2,000+ range.
8 ) Exodus and 8th Edition/Judgment Test Prints
Estimated Print Run: 3 per card?
Estimated Value: $500 – $1,000+ Each
In December of 2007, Magic Librarities member Wizard1 shocked the high end collectable world by coming back from Worlds with several cards that he claimed were from a test print run Wizards did to try out a new card face. He said that there were three full print runs of 8th edition made, one non-foil and two different versions in foil. That was it. Just three. He claims that most of them were in the hands of an anonymous private collector, but that he had managed to pry a few free to show the world.
His claim may have been accurate, but it was muddied slightly by two things:
1) One of his cards was Adarkar Wastes, a card emphatically NOT in 8th edition. So the process would have had to have been attempted very early in that set’s development period.
2) Later on, additional test prints from Judgment with the same border showed up. (Including fan favorite Squirrel’s Nest!)
That doesn’t mean Wizard1 was wrong, it just means that the real story of these is still unknown. I have no idea how or why they left Wizards, and I don’t really know what they are worth or how many were printed.
It does seem accurate to me that Wizards would attempt a new card face around that time, though, since the real one appeared only one block later at the end of Onslaught. That makes it very likely that these are true Wizards-made test prints.
The story for the Exodus test prints is very similar.
When Wizards was thinking about adding foils for Urza’s block, they decided to try several things out. Metallic versions of Fork and Shivan Dragon were even produced by third party companies as possible foil alternatives that never caught on, and one might consider those to be among Magic’s top rarities as well.
Ultimately, they ended up trying 19 different foiling processes on one card from each color in Exodus, the latest set. Oath of Lieges in white, Mana Breach in blue, Plaguebearer in Black, Fighting Chance in red, Survival of the Fittest in Green, Memory Crystal as an artifact, and City of Traitors as a land. Because there were no gold cards in Exodus, they also tested out Visions’ Pygmy Hippo.
The 19 separate foiling processes ranged from very dark to very light, silver border to black border, shooting star to no shooting star.
It is unclear how many of each were printed.
I haven’t been able to find any sales data on these cards either, as they all seem to have been made as private transactions between Magic’s highest-rolling pimps. MTG Salvation member Occam seems to have the best collection of test prints, and I am hopeful that he might come out of the woodwork and answer some pricing questions at some point. Otherwise, I will say that copies of the best of these cards (City of Traitors and Survival for sure, as well as the better 8th/Judgment cards) probably push $2,000 while the lesser ones are probably worth around $500-$700. Again, though, it’s all about finding the right buyer.
7) Fraternal Exaltation
Estimated Print Run: 220-250
Estimated Value: $1,000+
Magic creator Richard Garfield has made three cards for his own personal use, and all three are on this list. This is the first of them. It is the most recent and it is the most common.
This card was printed in 1999 to mark the birth of Richard Garfield’s second child, and was sent in the birth announcement to his friends, family, and a few WOTC employees. A few have actually hit the market, so getting a price on this one is actually possible.
According to a MTG Salvation forums mod in 2006, one of these sold on eBay for around $1,000. Another closed back then for about $1,000, but the reserve was not met.
According to an Ask Wizards column in 2003, there were around 250 of these printed. However, other estimates put the number at 220, which would mean that two sheets of these cards were made. That second number seems much more likely to me, as two sheets of cards would be far easier and cheaper to print than the round but arbitrary figure of 250.
6) Splendid Genesis
Estimated Print Run: 110-150
Estimated Value: $2,000+
The second Richard Garfield vanity card, this one marks the birth of his first child. It was only distributed once, in the birth announcement. That meant in order to get one you had to be either a close friend of theirs or a higher-up working in Wizards at the time.
Wizards puts the print run for this at 150, but it’s more likely that the 110 estimate is the correct one. With 110 cards to a sheet, that would be the easiest ‘small’ number of cards to have printed.
Troll and Toad boasts that you can buy this card from them for $20,000 – if they have one in stock..
I found a NM one that sold for $2,500 in July of 2009. Another sold on eBay in January of that year for just over $1,700 (after converting from the Euro to US currency.) I found a few that sold closer to $1,000, but those sales were several years older.
I can’t find a sale from the past year or so, but I’d imagine you could get $2,000 without too much trouble.
5) Hurricane (Blue – Summer Magic)
Estimated Print Run: 25-75
Estimated Value: $3,000 – $4,700
When most people think of the most valuable card in Magic, they think Black Lotus. But I’d guess blue Hurricane is easily #2. It’s certainly the most iconic misprint in the history of the game.
Blue hurricane came about mostly because of another famous misprint: Serendib Efreet. When Revised hit the presses, that card was famously printed with a green border. Coupled with the generally washed out printing quality of the set, Wizards decided to go with a different printing company for the second run of the set in the summer of 1994.
Unfortunately, summer Magic (also called ‘Edgar’ due to a big green ‘E’ on the packaging) was no better. The correct artist for Plateau was still uncredited, and this time Wizards decided that the print quality was too dark. Most famously, though, Hurricane was printed with a blue border.
Wizards claims to have destroyed all the product from this print run, but we know that isn’t true. At least six cases have been confirmed to have been discovered, mostly in Tennessee (Texas?) and England (Ireland?). I’ve also heard rumors of other large sightings as far away as Eindhoven in the Netherlands.
Most estimates place the number of rares that still exist in the single digits, which still means there are likely more than 30 blue Hurricanes out there. (It’s an uncommon.)
User Magic61983 in the Magic Librarities forums has an outstanding price guide for Summer Magic, which puts the last two blue Hurricane sales at $3,000 and $3,700 respectively.
Just last month, however, one sold in Japan for $4,700 USD. It could be the exchange rate, but it seems as though this card is still on the rise.
4) Serendib Efreet (Summer Magic)
Estimated Print Run: 5-25
Estimated Value: $7,000+
Blue Hurricane may get all the chicks, but it’s Serendib Efreet who can claim the title of “most valuable card in Summer Magic.” In fact, the Summer Duals regularly sell for as much or more than Blue Hurricane, despite being hard to recognize as different at a glance.
The Efreet, by contrast, is one of the easiest Summer Magic cards to know if you have considering its normal revised printing had the wrong art and border. It also didn’t come back in 4th edition, so these are the only white-bordered copies of the card printed with this art. Ever.
Unfortunately, being easy to identify doesn’t matter too much when there might be less than ten copies of this in the world.
One of these sold on eBay last year for just over $7,000, so I’d imagine that price is still fairly accurate.
Estimated Print Run: 9
Estimated Value: $15,000+
This was the card that Richard Garfield used to propose to his wife.
Only nine of these cards were ever printed, and they weren’t done by Carta Mundi. They were printed on an IRIS printer and stuck to basic lands during the fall of 1993 while Magic was still in the process of becoming a worldwide phenomenon.
One copy was used by Richard Garfield for the deed in question and given to Lily afterward. (Though it took him four games to draw it!)
6 were handed out to members of his wedding party. The eighth went to the artist, Quinton Hoover, and the ninth went to David Howell, the guy who designed and printed the card.
Quinton Hoover’s copy of this card was stolen at an event in Japan in 1999 and it hasn’t been officially heard from since. However, according to one of the experts on the Magic Librarities forums, one of these cards did hit the market somewhere in Europe in the early 2000s. Back then, it fetched what would be about $10,000 USD today adjusting for inflation and the exchange rate (but not the appreciation of the card).
Sometime in 2008-2009, an anonymous seller claimed to have one of these and turned down two separate offers for $15,000. The card then dropped off the map once more.
While there is an image of this card floating around online, David Howell claims on his blog that it is not the real illustration for the card. Lily Garfield has asked that the image of this card not be distributed publically, and that request has been honored. I won’t do her a disservice by even running the fake one here.
So if you even want to see this card, you’ll have to become a close friend of the Garfield family. Good luck!
2) 1996 World Champion
Estimated Print Run: 1
Estimated Value: $20,000+
There was only one of these cards ever printed, and the plates/test prints were ceremoniously destroyed afterward. It’s incased in Lucite and mounted to the trophy given out that year, so not even its owner can run it in a deck.
I’m ranking this as the second-rarest Magic card ever only because it actually was sold at one point. Tom Chanpheng, the 1996 world champion, let it go in 2001 for $10,000 cash.
I’d imagine that it would fetch at least $20,000 today.
1) Shichifukujin Dragon
Estimated Print Run: 1
Estimated Value: $20,000+
There’s a reason this card is slightly less well known than the 1996 World Champion – who outside of Japan can pronounce its name?
It was produced for the opening of the DCI tournament center in Tokyo as a way to embrace Magic’s growing popularity in Asia (though why not print the card in Japanese) and all but one copy of this one were ceremonially destroyed as well. The DCI center closed in 2003, and the card now hangs in the head office of Hobby Japan.
While the 1996 World Champion may someday be sold again, this Dragon is probably not going anywhere. According to the broken English on their website, Hobby Japan has been going strong since 1969 and I doubt they’ll be looking to sell this off anytime soon. And unlike Proposal, where it would be hard to prove your copy was the stolen one, people WOULD ask questions if this thing disappeared and then ‘mysteriously’ hit the market a few months later.
That is why I believe Shichifukujin Dragon is the rarest Magic card of all time.
Hilariously, FindMagicCards.com lists this dragon’s value at $15.29. Additionally, White Lion Games will give you $352.94 for it. What a deal!
Until next time –