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Infamous Price Gouger Martin Shkreli Wants To Collect Rare Magic: The Gathering Cards

source: Mark Wilson/Getty Images
source: Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Infamous price gouger Martin Shkreli has found his next potential scheme, and it’s a little less glamorous than his shady pharmaceutical company: Magic: The Gathering. Shkreli posted on the MTG subreddit last night fishing for details about collecting rare Magic cards. He identifies as a “new and wealthy player” who collects “wine, art and other goods,” apparently unbroken by the reported $4.5 million in unpaid taxes he owed last February.

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Illustration for article titled Infamous Price Gouger Martin Shkreli Wants To Collect Rare iMagic: The Gathering/i Cards

The MTG community is currently embroiled in a debate over Magic’s reserved list, a list of cards that publisher Wizards of the Coast says will never be reprinted. Collectors benefit from the increased value of these rare cards, driving up their prices and reselling them for a pretty penny. Players, on the other hand, are furious. Because these older cards are financially out-of-reach, certain decks using those cards are nearly impossible to craft. To many, it reads as hostile to those who aren’t rich, something Shkreli, who drew controversy last year after he marked up the price of an AIDS drug by more than 5,000 percent, is intimately familiar with.

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Shkreli’s interest in MTG’s reserved list cards, professedly the Black Lotus cards, reflects poorly on so-called “entrepreneurs” in the Magic community, according to Reddit commenters. Some say that Shkreli’s curiosity will finally prove to Wizards that the reserved list is against the spirit of the game.

This isn’t Shkreli’s first foray into competitive gaming as an investor. Last February, The Daily Dot reported that the pharmaceutical CEO owed hundreds of thousands of dollars to League of Legends players he hired to compete on his amateur team. The team, Ex Nihilo, did not qualify for the League Champion Series.

When it comes to Magic, Shkreli said on Reddit that he plays “a little, but not competitively,” referring to MTG as “my game. Soon.”

“Please don’t make a big deal of this,” he added.

Senior reporter at Kotaku.

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DISCUSSION

This is actually coming on the heels of a lot of high profile buyouts of competitive staples that are on the Reserved List. Cards like Moat, Lion’s Eye Diamond, Gaea’s Cradle, and City of Traitors were recently bought out by speculators with the intention of accelerating the natural tendency of Reserved List cards to increase in price over time and as the player base of the game increases. The thing Mr. Shkreli seems to be unaware of is that there isn’t much of a market for Black Lotuses. You see, in Magic, there are various competitive formats, each with their own pool of cards that are legal. The two formats most affected by the Reserved List are Vintage and Legacy. Vintage is the Bugatti Veyron of competitive formats, the cards legal in it are of the highest power level and the decks are by far the most expensive. Legacy is closer to a Ferrari or Lamborghini, the card pool is powerful and many of the staple cards are very expensive, but it’s relatively more accessible than Vintage. By the basic rules of Magic, a player may have no more than 4 copies of any given card in their deck, the exception being basic land cards (Mountain, Forest, Plains, Island, Swamp). The reason I bring this up is because demand for competitively viable cards is partially dependent on how many copies of said card a deck wants in its optimal configuration. There’s going to be greater demand for copies of a 4-of (a card that a deck runs 4 copies of) than for a 3-of, 2-of, or 1-of. Those other cards I mentioned (Lion’s Eye Diamond, City of Traitors, etc.) are 2 to 4-ofs in the Legacy decks that play them. The problem with Black Lotus is that it is only legal in one format, Vintage, and in Vintage it is Restricted, meaning that while it is legal to have a Black Lotus in a Vintage deck, it is restricted to only 1 copy (as opposed to the standard 4) per deck. This, combined with the fact that Vintage is slowly dying as a format people play, means that the market of potential buyers is minuscule. The reason seasoned MTG speculators are buying out Reserved List staple cards for Legacy is because 1. Legacy (while also dying out as Wizards cuts off support for it) has a significantly larger player base than Vintage, and 2. Legacy has had a surge of player interest recently with the printing of Eternal Masters (an expansion set that saw the reprinting of a number of non-Reserved List Legacy staple cards). Black Lotus will always be the most expensive card in the game (it’s almost universally considered the most powerful card printed in Magic’s history) and will always have value to collectors, but what the novice Martin Shkreli seems to have missed is that the most dramatic price movement on RL cards has been on the ones that see play in Legacy and Commander (a very popular casual format where certain RL cards are legal).