How Magic Beat the Bubble

I just mentioned the Planet Money podcast in Friday’s post, having supported a Kickstarter for one of their stories.

PlanetMoneyAnd, as I was catching up on some episodes this weekend I hit on one that was actually related to gaming – Episode 609: The Curse of the Black Lotus.  The game in question is Magic: The Gathering and the title refers to one of the early rare cards, the Black Lotus, that became very valuable in the secondary collector’s market.

Purportedly worth $25K in mint condition

Purportedly worth $25K in mint condition

The show description:

In a classic bubble — housing for example, or tech stocks or Beanie Babies — the fun ends in a crash. Things go belly up, and people can lose a lot of money.

The creators of the collectible card game Magic: The Gathering faced such a bubble. The cooler they made their cards, the more the resale value increased — and threatened to send Magic cards the way of the Beanie Baby.

Today on the show: how the folks who made Magic cards came up with a plan. A plan to once and for all conquer the science of bubbles, and make a collectible toy that could live forever.

And the whole thing is 17 minutes long, an easy and interesting listen.

5 thoughts on “How Magic Beat the Bubble

  1. ibaien

    i remember trading in high school with kids who would blithely walk the halls with the ‘power 9’ in their crummy plastic binders…and trips halfway across the state to the one electronics boutique that was selling packs of the legends expansion, $30 each…man, the late 90s were weird.


  2. Azuriel

    To be fair, Wizards also changed the rules of the game over the years to enforce a 4-card limit; prior to the change, you could have a deck with 20+ Black Lotuses or whatever. So that had some effect.

    From my own personal experience, the bigger limitation was simply a desire to, you know, keep my Magic-playing friends around. Out of the group of friends I played with, I was the only one going onto eBay and picking up deals like “4x every Common/Uncommon card” in each set that came out. Could I have purchased the very best Rare cards for $20+ apiece? Yep. And then my friends who only bought a few packs every month with stop playing with me. I still had better cards than they did, but not overwhelmingly so. Which tended to even out overall, as they would frequently try and gang up on me in our multiplayer matches as I was the bigger implicit threat.


  3. HarbingerZero

    I haven’t listened to the podcast, but I thought beating the bubble in games was a no-brainer: its called power-creep. Last MTG game I played I used my tournament ready deck circa 1997. I got beat by a $10 deck from Walmart played straight out of the box.


  4. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @HZ – That is not really the bubble that the podcast talks about. It isn’t about game play but about controlling the secondary collector’s market and keeping it from getting out of hand. This is a podcast about money after all.


  5. HarbingerZero

    Yeah, I guess power-creep doesn’t really take into account people who are collecting just to make money or just to…uh…collect. It only deals with people shelling out the money for gameplay reasons (ie, I don’t need to pay thousands for a Lotus on Ebay when I can get 4 copies of a non-restricted card for 10 cents a piece at my local game store that does everything the Lotus does, but better).


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