On the final weekend in May, Magic: the Gathering held a massive tournament in Las Vegas (and also in Chiba, Japan and Utrecht, Holland) that shattered attendance records, included at least one wedding, tons of cosplay, and one card opened from a new, current pack that ended up being worth almost $15,000.
There are a lot of factors involved in the making of that megavaluable card. First, let’s talk about the events. Grand Prix tournaments are Magic’s biggest events. The weekend of May 28 - 31, Wizards of the Coast ran three of them, one in Vegas, one in Chiba, and one in Utrecht. Only, that’s not entirely true — attendance at the Vegas Grand Prix was so enormous it was split into two concurrent GPs, run at the same time in the same venue. The 7,500 players in Vegas obliterated the record for largest Magic tournament, the 2013 Las Vegas Grand Prix, which hosted 4,300 players. Add in the attendance of Chiba and Utrecht, and there were roughly 20,000 people playing in a Grand Prix at the same time.
So it’s easy to see why that weekend was a big deal for Magic fans. The Vegas event gets so huge partly because it’s Vegas and everyone wants to head to Sin City to party and play. The Vegas GP has become sort of a Magic Convention, with dealers, artists, talented cosplay, and yes, someone got married at the GP this year.
But the Vegas GP is also huge because of the format. It’s a sealed deck tournament, meaning you open random packs of cards and build your deck with whatever you get. The set used for this Grand Prix is called Modern Masters, and it’s somewhat unusual among Magic sets. It exists primarily to keep in print certain cards that are essential to another Magic format, a constructed deck format called Modern. It’s meant to be an accessible format, but some of the cards are becoming hard to find, driving up the price. Modern Masters is a set made up entirely of reprints to alleviate this problem.
Wizards sent me a draft set of Modern Masters (this is the second MM set, so technically it’s Modern Masters 2), and it revealed some pros and cons of this kind of release. The upside is that the people who put together Magic sets could design Modern Masters specifically for drafting — opening packs, picking one card, passing the rest of the pack. That let them build in a bunch of really fun themes and strategies incorporating cards and mechanics from past Magic sets. Veteran Magic players will enjoy being able to draft decks that combine Affinity and Metalcraft, tribal Changeling Spirit decks, or cast an Eldrazi and protect it with Cryptic Command. It’s definitely a lot of fun to draft.
The weird thing about the set is that each pack costs $10. That’s more than double the cost of a regular Magic booster pack (although it was cool that the Modern Masters 2 packs came in recyclable cardboard sleeves instead of foil wrappers). A lot of cards in the set are worth quite a bit of money, and the high per-pack price point helps maintain that — the reprints put more copies of those cards in circulation, but the originals don’t nosedive in value, which I suppose protects collectors.
There’s one more thing to understand before we get to the $15,000 card. At a Grand Prix, the top 8 do a draft. If you’ve drafted at your store or with friends at your kitchen table, drafting is super fun. You might think it would be cool to get to the T8 of a Grand Prix and draft for a serious prize. Nope. I’ve been around when the Top 8 of a GP was going on, and it is the least fun Magic experience I can imagine. There’s an insane time limit for each card you draft, and you have to be really careful to not look around or talk, because that’s against the rules. It looks absolutely miserable.
That brings us to the Pascal Maynard incident. There is one card in Modern Masters 2 worth more than any other: Tarmogoyf. It’s simply a creature that’s cheap to cast but can become overwhelmingly huge under the right circumstances. Some Magic packs randomly hold “foil” versions of cards that have been treated with an iridescent sheen, and these cards are more rare and worth more money. A foil Tarmogoyf out of Modern Masters runs about $300.
Maynard was in the Vegas Top 8, and in the second pack of his draft, he opened a foil ‘Goyf. Now, Maynard is a pro player, so (according to other pro players) he’s supposed to be hardcore, focused only on finding the right cards to build his deck and win the tournament. Stuff like shiny foil $300 cards shouldn’t even enter his thought process. The deck he was drafting was not going to be able to use the Tarmogoyf — there was a worthless common spell in the pack that fit his deck much better. But he’s human. He had less than a minute to decide. In a Facebook statement later, Maynard said:
The truth is that I thought taking this foil Tarmogoyf, was worth more than the percentage I get from having 1 Burst Lightning in my deck. I didnt do it for the actual money, I did it because I thought this X amount of money could possibly mean going to more Grand Prix.
So he took the ‘Goyf. A lot of other pro players took to social media to excoriate the man, while all us kitchen table Magic fans were like, “Of course you take the foil Tarmogofy!” It blew out of proportion, as things do. So Maynard put the foil ‘Goyf on eBay. It has a special stamp on it that assures its authenticity as a one-of-a-kind foil Tarmgoyf (Wizards handstamps the cards drafted in big tournaments to prevent cheating, and each event’s stamp is unique). He decided to split whatever he made from selling the card with Gamers Helping Gamers, a charity that provides scholarships to gamers.
The auction ended at $14,900, which was a legitimate bid. There are more expensive Magic cards, but only a very few from Magic’s earliest, never-to-be-reprinted sets, and in impeccable condition. Never from a fresh pack of new, in-print cards. To paraphrase someone on Twitter, “The more famous the card became, the more it was worth; the more it was worth, the more famous it became.” It took a weird confluence of factors in a niche community to create controversy and ultimately a bizarrely valuable memento of the biggest Magic tournament ever held.