Introduced in 1993, Magic: The Gathering is the world’s most popular trading card game, played by an estimated 20 million people. It should come as no surprise then that the collectible card game was recently inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame in Rochester, New York.
A panel of experts selected the Class of 2019, which includes Matchbox cars and the coloring book, based on innovation, longevity and ability to foster creativity or discovery through trade.
“The fact that it continues to maintain popularity is a testament to its revolutionary gameplay and constant evolution, making it engaging for beginners and experts alike,” said Hall of Fame curator Shannon Symonds. Magic: The Gathering will be permanently showcased alongside 68 previous winners, including G.I. Joe, the Big Wheel and alphabet blocks, in the Hall of Fame.
To better understand the significance of the game, we recently sat down with Ben Bleiweiss, general manager of StarCityGames.com and author of Magic: The Gathering Cards: The Unofficial Ultimate Collector’s Guide.
Antique Trader: Tens of millions of people play the game worldwide. For those unfamiliar, can you briefly explain the wild popularity of Magic: the Gathering?
Ben Bleiweiss: Magic: The Gathering is a collectible card game first released in the fall of 1993. The play of Magic is much like Chess in that you have to carefully move and counter-move against your opponent, and see the game turns ahead of what’s actually going on in the immediate board. Unlike chess, each “piece” (or card) in Magic has a different effect. You build a 60-card deck out of THOUSANDS of different pieces (cards) and try to come up with a strategy that will not only win the game for yourself, but prevent you from losing to your opponent’s strategy.
Magic has stayed fresh 25+ years past its release through constant innovation of set mechanics. Around 1,000 new cards are released annually, so strategies are constantly shifting and changing based on both the new cards, and the pre-existing cards. Magic is a highly portable game (since a deck is about the same size as a deck of cards), so it’s easy to transport for a game night, even if your main course is some other game (video games, board games). Each game lasts between five and 30 minutes, so in most cases, you can quickly play a game of Magic to pass the time before other activities.
Antique Trader: Not only do people enjoy playing the game they enjoy collecting Magic: the Gathering. In March 2019, a Black Lotus card reportedly sold for $166,100 on eBay. (In January 2021, one sold for $511,100) What’s going on in the collecting world?
Ben Bleiweiss: On the flip side of Magic being a game is Magic being a collectible. Magic had minuscule print runs in the beginning (there are only 1,100 of each Rare Alpha card, for example), versus the millions of copies of each card that exist today. The Black Lotus in question (that sold for $166k on eBay) was a Mint Condition Alpha Black Lotus. For those in other collectibles, this is about equal to finding a Mint 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle or 1962 Amazing Fantasy 15 (the comic book debut of Spider-Man). Of all the major toy/game hobby collectibles that are out there, Magic has proven to have the longest-lasting reach and price stability for the past two decades.
Antique Trader: You’ve been playing Magic: the Gathering since 1994. What significance does the game being inducted into the Hall of Fame have for you?
Ben Bleiweiss: It’s amazing! I remember being introduced to Magic in college during my sophomore year and I was immediately hooked. The fact that Magic has not only survived for this long, but continued to grow year after year has been nothing short of a testament to how solid the early foundations of the game were.
Richard Garfield (the creator of Magic) not only created a genre (Collectible Card Games) but made a game that is among the most popular in the world. Magic is printed in eleven languages, played in nearly 100 countries, and even has a marquee Netflix series coming out shortly. All in all, I’m glad that Magic: The Gathering received its due from the Toy Hall of Fame!