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The Black Lotus Documentary Explores What Makes Us Spend Small Fortunes on Pieces of Cardboard

This short documentary tells the fascinating history of the most valuable 'Magic: The Gathering' card ever printed.

by Matthew Gault
Sep 10 2018, 5:14pm

Image: Wizards of the Coast

If you play the collectible card game Magic: The Gathering then you know its name—The Black Lotus. It’s one of the rarest, most expensive, and most powerful cards in the game. A Black Lotus from Magic’s original print run recently sold for $87,000 on Ebay, but less pristine versions of the card routinely sell for a few thousand dollars. It’s the ultimate chase card.

When I was a kid playing Magic: The Gathering, the card shop owner I frequented had a collection of paper wrapped packs of random cards. For five dollars any kid could buy a pack of assorted cards, which were mostly crap. But we kept going back. Why? Because a large sign above the bin said there was one Black Lotus hidden inside. I tried my luck trying to secure that sacred chase card more times than I’d like to admit.

What is it about the Black Lotus and other such collectibles that makes people drop tens of thousands, sometimes millions, of dollars for a chance to own them? That’s the subject of YouTuber Rhystic Studies’ newest video —'The Black Lotus,' a 30 minute documentary that explores collectors' strange obsession with rare objects. For Rhystic, it all begins with Air Jordans.

In 1997, Michael Jordan—at the height of his career—played a game of basketball while suffering with the flu. After the game, he signed the shoes he played the game in and gave them to a fan. In 2013, that fan sold those shoes for more than $100,000. Rare comic books go for hundreds of thousands, people pay millions of dollars for stamps, and—now—Magic, Yu Gi Oh, and Pokemon cards sell for big bucks.

These are simple objects, pieces of plastic and paper, that—according to Rhystic Studios—fans imbue with special meaning which causes their prices to skyrocket. Rarity plays a huge part too, of course. There’s only one pair of flu-ridden Air Jordans. There’s only 1,100 copies of the original run of the Black Lotus and, thanks to something called the reserved list, that’s all there’ll ever be.

The story of the reserved list is the most fascinating part of The Black Lotus documentary. In 1996 Magic: The Gathering was selling well and publisher Wizards of the Coast was rushing to print cards to keep up with demand. Every new printing drove down the prices of rare and collectible cards, which irritated fans who enjoyed collecting the cards because they were rare. So Wizards created what it called a compromise—the reserved list, a collection of cards the company promised to never print again.

Wizards has added to that list, and revised it once, but the Black Lotus has remained a constant presence. It’s Magic: The Gathering’s ultimate collector’s item, and it just keeps gaining value.