Magic The Gathering:
- Print Runs
- The Reserve List
- Buying Cards
Purchasing The Power Nine
Since I created this website I have avoided including personal stories, trying instead to focus on the impartial presentation of information, and occasionally hosting articles by other contributors. However this year I recently reached a colleting milestone, and have decided to write an article in a departure from this precedent.
I started playing Magic in 1995 when a friend’s older brother from Seattle came to town and dropped off a big box of revised and chronicles cards that he was no longer using. This started a long journey, which is still ongoing today. The local toy store had packs of Ice Age, Homelands, and Alliances, which we purchased and made incredibly inefficient 80 card decks with too few lands, no removal, and lots of large creatures.
When I was 10 years old my mother purchased my brother and I the Magic The Gathering Official Encyclopedia. In 1996 there was very few online resources, and very few of them included photos, so this encyclopedia introduced me and my brother to many of these cards for the first time.
I remember being fixated with the page of cards that were "Discontinued", which was all the cards that were printed in Unlimited, but not reprinted in Revised. This included cards which me and my brother became obsessed with such as Chaos Orb, Lich, Raging River, Cyclopean Tomb, Two Headed Giant, Illusionary Mask, and of course: the Power Nine.
The Moxen were not interesting for a 10 year old (fancy lands), neither was Timetwister (an expensive Wheel of Fortune), or Ancestral Recall (card draw was very ‘meh’), but Time Walk seemed like the most amazing card ever printed. For a 10 year old, then number of times I had lost a game when “if I just had one more turn, I would have won”, was innumerable. It also had arguably some of the best art of any magic card from that era, a blending of sci-fi and fantasy.
At age 10 I purchased a Chaos Orb from Troll and Toad online for $80, and received and incredibly HP Orb, which was the pinnacle of my collection at the time. Anything more expensive than that was still firmly in the realm of unobtainable. Power Nine cards were $150+ and a Lotus was $300+.
When I turned 11 and started Middle School, I put away my magic cards and forgot about them entirely for the next 20 years until Christmas of 2016 when my Brother and I discovered our old cards again. It was a slow burn after that which included us dabbling with both Modern and Legacy, neither of which was quite what we were looking for. I remember telling someone at a game night that I missed the old frames and hated flip cards and planeswalkers, and they said to me: “I think you are looking for Oldschool, you should check out Edwin the Magic Engineer on Youtube”. He was right, Oldschool was exactally what we were looking for.
Both my brother and I dove head first into the Oldschool format, and started building fun budget decks, both agreeing that we would never spend the money on Power Nine.
By the middle of 2018 I had an epiphany in the shower. I could reasonably afford a few pieces of the Power Nine, but would only pick up three pieces. Mox Ruby, Mox Emerald, and a Timewalk. Two of the cheaper Moxes and the Timewalk I had always wanted.
November 2018 I was laying on a rooftop in Manilla. I had just finished mobilizing the biggest project of my career to date, and it had gone very well. So well that I had just received the first sizeable bonus of my career, and decided it was time to pull the trigger on a piece of power. I was laying by the pool sipping a Pina Colada browsing TCGPlayer on my phone when I saw that MTGSeattle had listed an HP emerald online. I emailed them directly asking for photos and the pictures they sent across were perfect. It was just my kind of power, heavy play but not gross. They then dropped the price another $100 and I snapped it up before someone else did. Total cost including shipping and tax: $1,300.
I saw a Time Walk listed on Ebay by a brick and mortar store in the city where my brother lives. They listed it at a reasonable price, and I contacted them by email to see how much of a cash discount I could get if I bought it in person. We went back and forth a few times but eventually the owner stopped replying.
On Christmas eve I was visiting my brother and got a message from the seller: “I can do $1,300 cash today”. I had $500 in my wallet, and knew I could get $300 max from the ATM. I asked my brother to take out another $300, and then borrowed money from my father for the first time in over a decade to make up the rest. We drove down to the strip mall where the card shop was, and peeked around looking for the shop before we finally found it. When the owner pulled it out I couldn't believe how nice it was, I light tested it and louped it before laying out the money on the countertop. I remember we turned the lights off in the entire store so I could light test it. As I was leaving one of the patrons of the store asked: “you gonna buy the full set?”, and I replied: “no, just picking up three pieces”.
The third piece was much more spontaneous. I woke up one morning and checked TCGPlayer (my usual routine), and saw a Ruby listed for $900 with no photos (about $400 under its market value at the time). The seller had really horrible feedback, but when I looked though their feedback, none of it was for fake cards, it was all for delayed shipping and horrible seller communication. I Googled the store name and found an email address for the store and sent him an email asking for pictures. It was super HP, but they were good enough pictures to tell it was legit, and he had the card in hand. I asked my brother what he thought and his reply was: “you are gonna regret it more if you pass on it than if you buy it and have to get a TCG refund”. I pulled the trigger and it showed up in 5 days 100% authentic and well packaged.
Immediately after getting the first three pieces I decided I needed one more, an Ancestral Recall: the best piece of power. It was outside of my budget, but I knew I needed that raw power for my oldschool deck. I scanned Ebay daily until I found one that was listed by a shop I knew, so I emailed them to see if they could take 10% off the asking price. They agreed, and we had a deal. Total cost including shipping and tax: $1,750
Now that I had the Timewalk and the Ancestral it was obvious I really needed a Mox Sapphire to make my blue splashes more consistent, and give my UR Counterburn the option of showing double blue on turn one. I found one for a good price on Ebay and then made the purchase. The seller cancelled the order and told me (the card was more HP then he had originally thought, and didn't feel comfortable selling it, but I assured him I was aware of the condition and didn't care, after some back and forth he eventually shipped it to me. Total cost including shipping and tax: $1,750
I decided I needed one more piece of power (and then I would be done for sure), a Mox jet. Me and my brother had decided to go to GP Vegas in 2019, and play in the old school event at the GP, as well as an off site event. I was playing UR Counterburn with a black splash and the Jet was a key piece I was missing. I decided I would pick one up at the GP before the event. It was the first GP for both me and my brother, and the first real MTG event either of us had ever attended. I showed up a day early to give myself time to make the Jet deal, and walked around for 6 hours looking at cards, and getting price quotes on the cards I was selling. I finally found a very nice MP Jet for $1,600 cash with roller lines (which I love), and needed to come up with the cash. I sold an LP alpha illusionary mask to a Chinese buyer for a good price, sold some fetch lands, and two Italian invoke prejudices to come up with the money, and then purchased my prize.
I had been putting off buying a Timetwister because I considered it to be the weakest piece of power, but after GP Vegas I knew my deck was missing the blue draw seven. On Christmas Eve 2019 a Timetwister popped up from a seller I knew on discord which had a faint crease in the middle but was a very attractive price, so I purchased what I was sure was my last piece of power. It was my first time buying a card that expensive from an individual without any buyer protections, so I was very nervous. In hindsight I was too worried, the seller was one of the most respected online vendors at the time, but I was very relieved when it arrived without any issues. Total cost including shipping and tax: $1,800
Looking at my power seven, I knew that I would need to at least get a pearl. It would make my dead guy ale build much stronger and then I would at least have the complete set of Moxen. I checked discord daily until a seller I knew listed a great MP copy at a good price, and I bought it. I was less nervous buying from an individual this time and it arrived without any issues. Total cost including shipping and tax: $1,320.
Before he shipped it he asked me if I was looking for anything else, and I said I was done buying power, and I now had all the pieces except for Lotus. He sent me a photo of an HP lotus and said he could let it go for $6,250. I declined.
In 2020 I decided it was time to make a move and pick up a lotus. It was the last piece of power I needed, it would go in ever Oldschool deck I had, if I ever wanted to finish a set of unlimited I would need it, and if I ever decided to try out Vintage I would want it. The price for an HP lotus had dropped down to around $6,000 on TCGPlayer at the time, so I started looking a stores with HP lotuses for sale, and what their buylists were, so I could try and cover at least 60% of the cost with trade in. I had lined up what I was going to sell planning to make the purchase when I visited Portland in December. A few weeks before my trip the price of power exploded, and all the HP lotuses were now listed for $14,000. At this point I shelved the idea of a Lotus, and resigned myself to the fact that I would never buy one. The cost of one was now in total more than what I had spent on the rest of my power combined. I just couldn't bring myself to buy one.
About a year later towards the end of 2021, the prices of Lotuses had come down a bit, and all the Alpha cards I had been purchasing since 2017 had gone up in value quite a bit. I found a seller in Arizona with a very nice MP copy for $12,000 and arranged to meet with him in person to make the deal, Looking at the Card Kingdom buylist I could sell around $8,000 in Alpha cards and dual lands, and then around $4,000 in cash would give me the money I needed to pick up the Lotus. My “cost basis” would be around $7,000 based on what I paid for the alpha cards and dual lands, and that was a price I could live with. I sold most of the cards to CK, ended up selling a large piece via Facebook, and had the $8,000 I needed in my PayPal account. A day before the deal the seller started to get cold feet and said he had gotten better offers for the card elsewhere. He said he would still honor the deal, but would do so reluctantly. I appreciated him giving me the option of forcing the deal ahead, but I allowed him to back out. I had just seen a nice MP Alpha Time Walk listed by an online seller, which had always been a dream card of mine, and I considered much more cool than a Lotus. Unfortunately when I asked for pictures from the store I was able to tell that the card was a clipped re-back and I had to cancel the order. Fortunately a seller I know very well from Scandinavia messaged me a few weeks later with an Alpha Time Walk, and few bank transfers later I had my Alpha Time Walk.
About a year later towards the end of 2022, someone from my brothers local play group reached out and asked him if he was still looking for a Unlimited Lotus. He said that he was (for me), and got some pictures sent his way. The seller had a beautiful NM copy, and a very nice LP copy (graded BGS 8). I contacted the seller and told him both copies were way to nice for me, but if he was interested in some high end cards I was selling we might be able to make a deal. I contacted him directly and sent him the card list. He was interested in all the cards at 80% of their market value, if I could add another $7,000 in cash on top. I told him it was a deal, but tried not to get my hopes up too much. It had now been two years since I had started looking for a Lotus, and already had two deals fall through.
We arranged to meet in the airport before my flight out of the country, me with 50 or so Alpha Beta and Antiquities cards and $7,000, and him with the BGS Lotus. We set up at a table in the airport, he looked though the cards, counted the cash and we shook hands and made the deal. In some ways it was the culmination of a 4 year long journey, and in other ways it was the end of a journey which started in 1995 looking at the pages of the Magic the Gathering Encyclopedia.
It felt great, but also strange like there was nothing left to hunt for, and also weird that I now had a piece of cardboard worth more than any car I had ever owned.
The timing of the purchase was also quite unique, considering the strange economic times we are in, and WOTC printing collectors edition cards again for the first time since the 90's.
I am holding on to the lotus for now and enjoying looking at how perfect it is, but sometime in 2023 I might trade it down to a HP or MP players copy to match the rest of my power. Or maybe this is the start of me upgrading all my power to LP copies. Only time will tell, but I look forward to whatever is coming next.