BISMARCK, N.D. (KXNET) — In past gaming columns, KX has looked at some of the most expensive cards from the latest Magic: The Gathering sets — but the history of these costly pieces of cardboard dates much further than one might expect. In honor of the game’s 30 years of existence (and the lull in between sets), it’s a perfect time to take a look back at the many different booster packs throughout MTG history and see which cards have stood the test of time when it comes to price, starting with the very first core set of the game – or should we say, the first three sets.
If one is to be entirely technical, while there is only one series of cards that is discussed when the topic of the first Magic set is referenced, this same series was printed three separate times. The first version of the pack, known as Limited Edition (or more commonly Alpha), consisted of 295 cards and was released on August 5, 1993. As a result of the game’s unexpected popularity, a second run of the pack (Limited Edition Beta, which added an extra seven cards to the mix) was printed in October that same year — and after even that sold out, a third run known as Unlimited Edition debuted that December. As these sets consist of more or less the same cards, it was only fitting to discuss them all at once.
Although this article was meant to highlight the five most expensive cards from this original set and its revisions, the truth is that every single one of the top five from these first three iterations are part of a certain group. They’re known as the Power Nine, and have gone down in history as not only some of the most powerful, but some of the most expensive single cards in any TCG. With that in mind, we felt it would be better to take the column and discuss all of them at once. That being said, it’s a great time to discuss the Power Nine and showcase everything they have to offer — as well as their massive price tags. Price data was taken from MTG sales site CardKingdom due to the number of Power Nine cards in varying qualities available, and only for versions of the cards printed in the original Alpha, Beta, and Unlimited sets.
One of the most universally-known and respected types of card in any format of Magic is known as the ‘Mana Rock’ – an Artifact that possesses the ability to be tapped for more Mana. As simple as this may seem, in a game where quickly gaining more Mana allows for stronger plays and early advantages against your opponents, this slight boost can make a tremendous difference. This is especially the case in the popular Commander format, where Mana Rocks are included in nearly every deck that exists (the most popular of these, Sol Ring, is in 84% of over 2,500,000 decks listed on Commander site EDHREC). However, none of these rocks are as famous as the original Mox line, which makes up a tremendous five of the Power Nine.
Each of these Mox artifacts features an incredibly simple premise: for no Mana, you can play the Mox to add an additional Mana of its color to your reserves until it is destroyed. As simple as this may be, there are many reasons why it’s so effective. Other Mana Rocks will often have costs attached to casting them to begin with, may force restrictions or damage on the player to produce their Mana, or cannot produce colored Mana which is often needed to use certain effects (even Sol Ring has a cost of one Mana and provides two Colorless in exchange). By contrast, the original Mox can be placed on the field for no cost, produce colored mana, and do both without any downsides. When your goal is to obtain as much Mana as possible quickly and without being hampered, it makes sense that they would be so coveted.
While the original five Mox artifacts have been restricted like all other members of the Power Nine, their legacy has not been removed from the game yet. In addition to other Mana Rocks taking their place in other formats, new, more balanced Mox gems (such as Mox Opal, Mox Amber, and Mox Tanzanite) are still frequently released as spiritual successors to the old legends, and provide Mana without spending it at the cost of some minor drawbacks. These new versions, although far less coveted than the originals, still make their way into plenty of decks and fetch their own hefty price tags, with one of them (Mox Diamond) having an average market value of over $600.
Currently, playable copies of all five of the original Mox are relatively costly on the market, and even an Unlimited version of any fetches a price of at least $2,200. On the higher end, these cards can be worth tens of thousands for an Alpha edition in perfect condition. Here’s a list of the prices available from Card Kingdom:
|Mox||Unlimited Price Range||Beta Price Range||Alpha Price Range|
|Mox Pearl (White)||$2,280 – $5,700||$5,600 – $14,000||$7,200 – $18,000|
|Mox Sapphire (Blue)||$3,720 – $9,300||$5,600 – $14,000||$12,800 – $32,000|
|Mox Ruby (Red)||$2,640 – $6,600||$4,400 – $11,000||$10,800 – $27,000|
|Mox Emerald (Green)||$2,440 – $6,100||$5,600 – $14,000||$9,200 – $23,000|
|Mox Jet (Black)||$2,920 – $7,300||$6,000 – $15,000||$9,200 – $23,000|
Rhapsody in Blue
When it comes to MTG, Blue, the color of thought and ingenuity, is notorious for the number of tricks up Blue players’ sleeves. Not only does it have exclusive access to a huge array of Counter Spells that can shut down an opposing play with ease, but also cards that can copy the abilities of others, steal or copy creatures and artifacts, draw cards, untap Lands, erase everything on the field, and even take extra turns. This was the case even in the early days of the game, Blue spells were mighty enough to take up a third of the Power Nine. These three cards —Time Walk, Timetwister, and Ancestral Recall, are not only considered the strongest Instants and Sorceries in the original set, but the entire game.
When use is discussed, Time Walk’s utility is obvious — taking an extra turn uninterrupted by an opponent is one of the most powerful effects in any type of game, and being able to do so for such a low Mana cost and without any drawbacks is even better. Even if one does nothing during this extra turn but draw a card and play another Land, this still sets them ahead of other players. Timetwister is an odder example, but one that can have an impressive ability — being able to not only mess with people’s Graveyards and hands, but also potentially completely refill a player’s empty hand.
In terms of Ancestral Recall, the idea behind its effectiveness is simple. Anyone who plays TCGs can tell you how important the ability to gain extra cards (and thus, have more options) is — to the point where cards like Pot of Greed that simply let players draw more end up being revered as some of the strongest in their franchises. For the cost of one Blue Mana, Recall performs even greater, allowing the user to draw three cards at any time due to its identity as an Instant spell (you can also have your opponent do it instead, but this is less than ideal). This card was actually part of a cycle known as the ‘Boons’, which were one-Mana effects themed to the different colors — but while the others in the set range from useful (Lightning Bolt, Dark Ritual, and Giant Growth) to downright pathetic (Healing Salve), and have all reappeared in multiple sets, Recall is the only one that has never been reprinted due to its notoriety– making it a strange outlier among the Power Nine, which otherwise consists of a complete set of cards and three standalone entries.
In regards to spiritual successors, cards like Brainstorm also allow players to draw three cards like Recall, but also requires two to be put back on top of the deck, and direct reference Ancestral Vision gives the same effect four turns after the card is played. Ironically, one of these successor cards (Treasure Cruise) also ended up being banned in Modern format. The same idea of successors can also be seen in the other two Blue spells — particularly Time Walk, which sees alternate versions in the likes of Time Stretch (which allows the player to take two extra turns for a much higher Mana cost) or Red spells Final Fortune and Last Chance (which causes the player to immediately lose after their extra turn). Timetwister, too, saw many successors at much higher Mana costs — most notably Sway of the Stars (which also affects players’ life totals) and Day’s Undoing (which balances the ability by letting the opposing player use their new cards first).
The Blue spells are typically considered to be the ‘middle ground’ when it comes to Power Nine pricings: while higher on average than the Mox, they do not come near the average cost of a Black Lotus. Still, their price tags are nothing to scoff at — especially TimeTwister, where a high-condition Unlimited version can match Beta cards.
|Card||Unlimited Price Range||Beta Price Range||Alpha Price Range|
|Ancestral Recall||$3,200 – $8,000||$4,800 – $12,000||$11,200 – $28,000|
|Timetwister||$4,800 – $12,000||$8,000 – $20,000||$11,600 – $29,000|
|Time Walk||$2,320 – $5,800||$4,800 – $12,000||$9,600 – $24,000|
The Legendary Lotus
If anyone is familiar with the world of expensive Magic cards, Black Lotus is the first card that typically comes to mind, and for a very good reason. Not only has this innocent-looking plant been deemed the leader of the Power Nine, but it has also gone down in history as the kingpin of both pricey and powerful cards. But don’t take KX’s word for it — take that of former professional MTG player and writer Zvi Mowshowitz, who stated in a 2005 article that “There has never been a deck in the history of Magic that would not have loved to get its hand on one of these, and that’s a statement that cannot be made for any other card. If you’re starting up a game, you want a Black Lotus. There are no conditions on that statement.”
Black Lotus has a simple effect: after playing it for zero Mana, a player can sacrifice it to add three Mana of any color for the turn. While it might not seem as profound as something like the Mox, the fact that the card can be played for free and used immediately is essential, that the Mana provided could be a color of the player’s choice, and the ability to include multiple copies in a deck led to players being able to quickly dominate the game before their opponents had a chance to respond. In more modern formats, even having one copy of this could quickly get out of hand, and create huge swarths of bonus Mana thanks to cards that allow players to copy or recycle artifacts like Daretti, Scrap Savant or Anrakyr the Traveller.
Even though Lotus, too, has since been banned, the card’s legacy goes far beyond just the cost placed on its name. The ‘Lotus’ series of cards has grown over the years to include a variety of takes on this powerful effect, each with its own caveats to granting powerful boosts. While some of these are more simplistic (Gilded Lotus repeatedly provides the bonus for a cost of 5 Mana to play, and Lotus Petal only provides one Mana), some of the more interesting variants on the card can obtain their own high costs — with Jeweled Lotus, one of the newest versions, seeing a cost of $70 due to its impressive use in Commander format.
Despite the higher prices that the Mox and Blue spells carry, they cannot come close to the cost of a Black Lotus. Even without taking into account different sets, the price for an Unlimited Lotus already surpasses the Alpha and Beta costs of many of the other Power Nine — and an Alpha Black Lotus can fetch over $50,000 at the very least.
|Card||Unlimited Price Range||Beta Price Range||Alpha Price Range|
|Black Lotus||$12,000 – $30,000||$23,200 – $58,000||$64,000 – $160,000|
Strangely enough, these spiritual spin-offs and fellow Lotus cards aren’t the only versions of the Power Nine. Two of the game’s joke sets (Unhinged and Unglued) also offered their own takes on these cards. Some examples of this would include Jack-In-The-Mox (which lets you add Mana depending on the results of a die roll) or Mox Lotus, a fusion of the Mox cards and Black Lotus that provides you with infinite Mana (no, really). The most peculiar of these, however, is Blacker Lotus, which goes above and beyond and provides four Mana to whoever uses it — providing they’re willing to tear the physical card into pieces in order to do so. We’re not sure it’s a good trade-off nowadays, especially since this effect has made it one of the most expensive ‘Un-Cards’ to ever be printed.
Our series on the most expensive MTG cards per set will continue as usual in the next column, where we’ll be talking about the game’s first official expansion pack. But until then, we hope you’ve enjoyed this in-depth overview of the Power Nine!
What do you think of these cards? Are the prices worth the effect? Let us know your thoughts on our Facebook pages!