Cassie delves into Magic’s latest foray into card scarcity — The One Ring.
It finally happened. After Priceless Treasures, Masterpieces, Neon Ink Foils, and serialized cards showed Wizards of the Coast (WotC) willingness to go deeper and deeper into hyper-scarcity, where they finally cannonballed into the deep end of the pool with The Lord of the Rings: Tales of Middle-earth. That’s right — the set will have a truly unique card: a one-of-one copy of The One Ring. This will be the first one-of-one card ever inserted into a booster where it has already become the subject of excitement, frustration, jealousy, anger, confusion, thrill, and hope across the Magic community. From people already making six-figure offers on the card the second it’s opened, to others pledging to throw the card into an actual volcano, The One Ring has already cemented itself as one of the most exciting cards ever printed. I mean, here I am, writing an entire article about a single card. Like, not just one <CARDNAME>, but one literal-single piece of cardboard. That’s pretty astonishing.
There’s a lot to unpack about here, though. How much is The One Ring worth? What should you do if you open it? What happens if nobody opens it? How much will this single lottery ticket shape the price of the Collector Boosters where you can find it, and will that change much once someone opens The One Ring? Is this type of hyper-scarcity good for the game, or is this a purely greed-motivated action? It’s time to delve deep into the Mines of Moria, seek out Gollum’s cave, and learn what we can about The One Ring.
Is The One Ring the First One-of-One Card?
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Believe it or not, WotC has been messing around with incredibly scarce cards for years. Back in the nineties, Richard Garfield had nine copies of the card Proposal printed, of which he used one to propose to his wife. There are roughly 110 copies of Splendid Genesis printed, celebrating the birth of his first child, and 220 copies of Fraternal Exaltation printed for the birth of his second child. None of these cards were inserted into boosters, though; these were given to friends and family. An unknown number of copies of Phoenix Heart were also printed and sent out as wedding invitations to celebrate his second wedding in 2016.
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WotC also printed six copies of the card Robot Chicken, these were gifted to the writers of the Robot Chicken TV series after a successful Pro Tour collaboration. Wizards of the Coast have also created three-to-four Heroes of the Realm cards each year since 2016, and these are awarded to members of one of WotC’s internal teams that have been highlighted for exceptional work that year. Each chosen team designs the card together, and each team member gets one of the cards with their name printed on it. These cards don’t have traditional Magic backs but are legal for use in Commander — as long as your name is on that card.
None of those cards have genuine one-of-one scarcity, though. To my knowledge, WotC has only printed one-of-one cards three other times in the history of Magic. Let’s talk about each of them in turn.
1996 World Champion
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The first one-of-one card printed is called 1996 World Champion, and was awarded to Tom Chanpheng after he won that particular title. The card was encased in Lucite from the start and is actually unplayable according to the rules as written. Chanpheng sold the card for $17,500 in 2001, and it hasn’t appeared on the market since then. It allegedly went on sale on eBay for $200,000 in 2017, but that listing was deemed a likely fake and removed before it sold.
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The next one-of-one card printed was Shichifukujin Dragon, made to celebrate the opening of the DCI Tournament Center in Tokyo, Japan. It was also encased in Lucite and was available for public viewing until the Tournament Center closed in 2003. The card currently resides in one of WotC’s Japan offices and has never been made for sale.
The third one-of-one card was only printed last year, called Post the Enchanter (not to be confused with the Secret Lair card of the same name), and it’s a functional reprint of Zur the Enchanter. Post the Enchanter was given as a gift to musician Post Malone, who is Magic’s most famous celebrity superfan by far. Post Malone spends a lot of time playing Magic and has basically been the dream brand ambassador for WotC. And as a thank you, they printed a one-of-one copy of his favorite Commander with a unique name and art. Post Malone has graded the card since, and it certainly has never been made available for sale. Since Post Malone famously dropped $800,000 on a graded Black Lotus, I doubt he’ll be moving on from his personal card soon.
What makes The One Ring different? Well, for the first time, everybody with $30 to spend on a Collector Booster has a chance to open a one-of-one card. The 1996 World Champion card was only available to you if you were a high-level Magic player in 1996, which I’d wager most of us weren’t. Heck, I was still in grade school, and I bet many of you weren’t even born yet. Shichifukujin Dragon has never been made available to the public at any price. Post the Enchanter was a gift to someone who is already one of the richest and most famous people on Earth. These cards are about as attainable as growing wings, and soaring above the clouds.
The One Ring is more like the golden ticket from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. The premise of someone with some spare change can theoretically open it gives it an element of excitement and myth. It’s like a lottery ticket mixed with the uniqueness inherent in The One Ring itself. And because of how exciting the whole The One Ring hunt is likely to be, I expect the card’s eventual value to be far higher than any of those other one-of-one cards if made available for sale. In fact, The One Ring could end up being the most valuable Magic card of all time.
How Much Will The One Ring Be Worth?
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Unfortunately, our last data point on the sale of a one-of-one card is twenty-two years old and thus is basically irrelevant. The One Ring will definitely sell for more than the $17,500 that the 1996 World Champion sold for back in 2001, that’s for sure. Lucky for us, one-of-one cards actually show up all the time in the sports card-collecting world. An eBay search of “one-of-one card” shows us over a hundred thousand active listings, with 5,800 sold over the past 90 days. Granted, not all of those will be true one-of-one cards, but that gives you a good idea of how common the practice is in that part of the trading card industry.
The price of one-of-one sports cards varies a lot. The most expensive one-of-one that sold over the past 90 days that I can verify was a 2019 Nolan Ryan and Shohei Ohtani dual autograph baseball card. It went for $22,500. The cheapest was this “rare created card” Mickey Mantle that went for a buck. For real, though, quite a few one-of-one cards sold for less than $10 due to them being less desirable players from less desirable sets.
The One Ring is likely worth a substantial amount than any of those sports cards, though. While individual one-of-one sports cards can be worth tens of thousands of dollars, the fact that sports card collectors are used to that level of hyper-scarcity means that the scarcity itself doesn’t add any additional value. Sports card companies lean on uniqueness enough that having any given one-of-one card isn’t that special in and of itself; it’s all about having the right card, from the right year, with the right players. It’s different in Magic, though, because this is the first one-of-one card ever made available to the public. It’s not just about having The One Ring — it’s about having the first true one-of-one in Magic history.
It won’t just be Magic collectors after this card, either. The Lord of the Rings is a wildly popular franchise with an even larger fanbase than Magic. Some of the bidders for The One Ring may be folks who haven’t even played a game of Magic but believe that this card will be the crown jewel in their The Lord of the Rings collection. Right now, there is one standing offer for The One Ring: $100,000 or “beating the highest reputable public offer.” It comes with a catch, you have to sell it to this particular dealer before revealing to the public that you opened the card. The dealer in question has a well-known (and somewhat controversial) reputation in the community, and I do not doubt that the offer is legitimate. I also don’t think you should take it.
When you’re looking at a collectible on this level, the biggest money tends to be quiet. Some people have hundreds of thousands of dollars to splurge on things like this, but they tend not to make massive, splashy public offers. The best reputable private offer is likely going to be a lot higher than the best reputable public offer, which is likely why the dealer in question added that you have to sell it to me before telling anyone about it caveat to their bid. The best way to sell a card like this is to have a heavily publicized auction and let every prospective buyer duke it out.
My best guess for a sale price is in the $500,000-$700,000 range. That said, I could see it selling for as little as $200,000 or as much as $1,200,000, depending on numerous factors. While I expect WotC’s future one-of-one cards (and there will be more) to make this one feel slightly less special, the fact that it is the first, and also based on The One Ring, should allow it to tower over the rest for decades to come. This card is a huge deal and will remain so for as long as Magic exists.
The One Ring’s Effect on Tales of Middle-earth Collector Boosters
Universes Beyond: The Lord of the Rings: Tales of Middle-earth – Collector Booster Box
Universes Beyond: The Lord Of The Rings: Tales Of Middle-Earth
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It’s still far too early to know where Collector Booster prices for this release will settle, but it is worth noting that The One Ring preview caused Collector Booster Box pre-sale prices on the TCGplayer marketplace to jump from $410 to $450. That’s a price increase of roughly 10%. It is possible that part of this jump was due to the rest of The Lord of the Rings: Tales of Middle-earth previews, many of which also looked sweet, but Draft Booster Boxes continued to drop in price during that event. It was Collector Boosters, where the special The One Ring is found, that saw a small spike.
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To do any real calculations for the value that The One Ring might add to each Collector Booster, we’d have to know the total number of Collector Boosters printed. Unfortunately, WotC keeps those production numbers to themselves. The best estimate I can find is from a r/mtgfinance post about The Brothers’ War Collector Boosters and serialized cards. We know that serialized cards were in less than 1% of Collector Boosters for that release, and 63 cards got the serialized treatment, numbered out of 500. That gives us at least 3.15 million The Brothers’ War Collector Boosters.
One of the bigger dealers also ran a contest during the Lost Legends promotion to estimate the number of Dominaria United Collector Boosters printed based on Legends drop rates and the number of Legends boxes shown in the reveal video. That effort came up with an estimate between 250,000 and 500,000 Collector Booster boxes, which is between three million and six million packs. Since the numbers make sense between these two estimates, I think we can safely say that this is a pretty good idea of how many Collector Boosters are printed for a typical set.
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The Lord of the Rings: Tales of Middle-earth isn’t a Standard-legal set, though. It’s a smaller Universes Beyond release and might have fewer Collector Boosters because of that. It also might not, and there’s no genuine way to know that. Since we’re playing in the world of estimations anyway, I’m going to use the three million pack figure going forward since it splits the difference between what we know and what I suspect.
So, how much of the EV of a single Collector Booster is just The One Ring lottery ticket? If we use a $600,000 estimate for the value of that card and divide it by 3 million packs, we get $0.20 per pack. That’s far less than the ~$3.25/pack increase that happened after The One Ring preview, and it shows just how excited people are about the possibility of opening this card.
If people were truly rational economic actors, then The One Ring would only have a negligible effect on the price of The Lord of the Rings: Tales of Middle-earth Collector Boosters. People don’t behave like that and if they did, then nobody would buy lottery tickets unless the EV of a ticket was equivalent to its purchase price, which they are not. Instead, people will think about the possibility of opening a card that can pay for a nice house, and pony up for booster after booster. After all, it’s better than a lottery ticket, right? If you don’t open The One Ring, your consolation prize is a bunch of other sweet cards.
If The One Ring is opened fairly early on in the set’s life cycle, I don’t think it will affect the price of these boosters much. They’ll be worth a few dollars more than they would be otherwise, and then that will drop off after the card’s opening, and then that premium will disappear, and most people won’t really notice.
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On the other hand, the longer we go without opening The One Ring, the higher and higher the price will get for the remaining Collector Boosters. Folks will realize that their odds of snagging the card go up with each pack opened, and there might even be a frenzy at some point where existing boosters double or even triple in price. I’ve even seen some speculators talk about how if they opened The One Ring, they wouldn’t tell anyone until after they’ve finished doing a pump-and-dump scheme on existing Collector Boosters and made even more money off everyone else’s excitement to open the card.
Thankfully, it’s unlikely that anyone with that mindset will open the card. I would suggest that anyone who wants these boosters should snag them close to release day, though. You don’t want to get stuck fighting on a potential speculative run on the remaining packs if The One Ring hasn’t been found yet, especially since the card may be opened by someone who has no idea what it is or simply socked away in a sealed box in someone’s closet for years.
Is The One Ring Good for Magic?
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The existence of a one-of-one card has proven somewhat controversial, especially for a community still reeling from the frustrations of Magic 30th Anniversary Edition. After all, why should WotC put so much focus on yet another thing that most people will never be able to own? Shouldn’t they be trying to make the game more accessible and affordable for everyone else?
But here’s the thing, unless WotC moves to an entirely different business model, something that has never been on the table, they have to put valuable and expensive cards in their booster packs to drive sales. That’s going to happen, and it’s non-negotiable. A big part of the reason that many people shell out hundreds of dollars for boxes of Magic cards is the thrill of opening valuable and exciting cards. If every card were super cheap, nobody would buy packs. They’d simply go online and buy the cards they need for a fraction of the price.
So, how do you print expensive cards? One way to do it is to make sure the game is full of rare and expensive spells, and then slowly reprint them. Not enough to tank the price, but enough to drive sales. That way, you can rinse and repeat this cycle over and over. It works, but it means that certain cards will always be expensive, while others have the potential to shoot up in price.
The other option? Cosmetics. If you have a card that’s worth $3 in base form but worth $300 in some splashy refractor foil form, then you’ve introduced a chase element that doesn’t make the game more expensive. Anyone who wants to play can snag the $3 card, while collectors can go for the $300 premium version. Everyone’s happy.In reality, a hybrid model works best. You need some cards to be worth money so that the premium foils of chase cards are sought after and to ensure that the percentage of booster packs that feel bad to open doesn’t get too high. But make no mistake: WotC moving further toward high-end cosmetic variants will make the game cheaper for the regular player and is pretty much just a net good.
The fact that The One Ring is in Collector Boosters might make the boosters a little more expensive at first, but it will almost certainly keep the price of all the other cards down. More people will be cracking these packs than ever, hoping to find The Precious, and they’ll be selling plenty of the cards they don’t want from those packs on the secondary market. More available cards keep the supply up, which keeps the prices down. WotC gets to sell more packs, anyone who wants The One Ring can chase it, and the rest of us can get the other cards at a discount. It’s a win/win for the game and the players.
Ultimately, that’s why I really love the existence of The One Ring. It’s basically an opt-in promotion that you can have fun chasing and obsessing over if you want, but you don’t have to think about it at all if you don’t. It might cause higher Collector Booster prices at some point but lead to those singles being cheaper and more accessible on the secondary market. Plus, it’s just pretty neat that someone out there will get a one-of-one card despite not even being a famous rapper or the 1996 World Champion.