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The Tales Told By Secondary Markets





Most digital card games either completely forbid trading between players or severely limit their options. It’s one of the main reasons why the CCG moniker became more prevalent than TCG – collectible card game versus trading card game. 

This is pretty odd when you think about it. Having additional barriers in the digital space compared to the physical format, but Gods Unchained aims to overcome these limitations.    

You may already be familiar with GU’s market-leading blockchain tech that’s promising true digital asset ownership, or how it mixes up traditional card game strategies – but today, we’re taking some time to tell a few very different stories that explore how and why some cards find value beyond their gameplay implications.

Featured writer, Luci Kelemen, explains...

More than just a tool

You can do whatever you want with a Gods Unchained card. That’s the big promise of this game, the impact of which is hard to quantify this early in its development. 

Those of us who experienced an “analog” childhood likely remember playing with a variety of toys, repurposing and combining them, often beyond their intended use. This is not something you get to do in the world of digital card games: a card is just a card, tied to your collection, often impossible to trade if you’re no longer interested in playing. 

Most digital card games opt for the CCG – collectible card game – route instead, foregoing trade options altogether for crafting and uncrafting options to fill up your collection. They are black holes. No matter how much time or money you put in, you won’t get any of it back. The resale potential of your Hearthstone collection is precisely zero. 

There are many reasons why this is the case. In some scenarios, the game developers simply don’t have the infrastructure to provide such a marketplace. Or perhaps the ability to control the transactions for digital goods beyond their platform. Ultimately, when asset value comes into the picture, you either need to rely on unique technology or stringent regulation – neither of which are readily available or desirable for traditional publishers, where your purchases are tied to your account and their servers.

There’s also Steam, pretty much the biggest digital game platform on our blue planet, and they’ve had great success with cosmetics and a plethora of fancy items with no intrinsic in-game value. Which project of theirs tanked massively? That’s right, it was Artifact. The ultimately-still-a-CCG project that originally had no ways to unlock cards by playing and only offered the Steam Marketplace as a means to trade. Where in turn they took hefty cuts and only paid players back with Steam credits that - you guessed it - could only be used to… buy stuff on Steam

Even though the cost of a full Artifact set was well below that of a physical card game, and you received enough card packs with your initial purchase to recoup the cost after dumping them on the market, the initial reception was so poor the developers walked back on many core tenets before the entire project was pretty much abandoned. Inadvertently turning “we’re in this for the long haul” into another entrant in the pantheon of gaming memes.

Turns out, Artifact gave players no incentive to play competitively, or to build a collection and invest in the ebb and flow of the marketplace. You couldn’t legitimately cash out and always needed to worry about a potential flood of newly printed versions of the cards you already owned, bringing up the supply and cutting into potential market value.

Gods Unchained has none of these issues, mostly thanks to secondary marketplaces. We’ll get back to those in a minute, but it’s worth looking at a few examples from different trading card games to figure out what gives specific cards such intrinsic value.

Insane power: Black Lotus and The Power Nine

Here’s a simple one: game-winning cards will be popular among the players of a card game. We like to win, and if something is so good it pretty much guarantees it will become popular pretty quickly. 

As in the case of the following examples, if the developers also decide those cards were brutally overtuned and opt to ban or otherwise limit them in competitive formats. Just to reiterate, this is something that just won’t happen with your standard digital CCG: it will just be nerfed, you get your “money” back in form of some sort of a token, and you will never get to play with that card in its original form again.

The Black Lotus is the stuff of legends, even outside the Magic community. It comes from one of the earliest sets of the game, and its effect was so powerful that it’s famously been said that it would improve any deck you put it into. Essentially, it is a zero mana card which gives you three mana for the turn when played. 

You can see how incredibly powerful that is, and how the tempo and combo advantage can instantly lock your opponent out of the game in certain scenarios. Today, it is only allowed to be played in Vintage – the format which lets players choose cards from the entire Magic library – but even there, it is restricted to a single copy.

An original version in near-perfect condition sold for $87,000 USD in the summer of 2018, making it literally worth more than its weight in gold – or plutonium, for that matter. 

However, it isn’t the only card of its kind with such game-breaking capabilities: members of the Magic community know it as just one of The Power Nine, a collection of similarly overpowered cards printed between late 1993 and early 1994. The team behind Magic the Gathering has a specific list of cards known as the “Reserved List”, with cards which will never be reprinted in order to keep secondary markets balanced.

Though certain cards were eventually removed from this list, members of The Power Nine will likely never be taken off of it, especially considering how their value is still rising. Needless to say, they still dominate tournament environments where they’re allowed to be played.

We’ll let you discover the rest of The Power Nine for yourself if you’re so inclined, but here’s a taster: Time Walk is a two mana card which allowed you to take an extra turn. Fun fact: during testing, it was worded as “Target player loses next turn”, but many interpreted the card wrongly, thinking the targeted player would lose the entire game on the following turn. Turns out, this was the least of the card’s problems.

Rarity: Crush Card Virus and Pikachu Illustrator

Sometimes, cards are valued highly because they are incredibly rare, regardless of their power level. In many cases, it’s simply the ravages of time, loss or copies getting damaged over time which physically limit the number of available cards on a given marketplace. Occasionally, this rarity is artificial: special promotional or reward cards can also accrue incredible value. 

Recently, a copy of The Pikachu Illustrator from the Pokémon TCG sold for €54 000, which may seem insane until you consider that there are only four copies in circulation in the entire world.

Okay, maybe it’s still insane. But that’s collectibles for you.

Of course, Gods Unchained also has its own take on this kind of special card with Mythic cards: special one-of-a-kind cards with unique abilities. Such assets will inevitably weave in and out of the Marketplace over time. You can check out a recent interview with a man who sold his Atlas discovered in a random pack for 210 ETH ($31,000 USD) here!

It’s pretty clear that rarity always has a certain economic value attached to it. Supply and demand interact in finicky ways, and if interest is high, having one of a precious few (or the only copy) of a given resource can be incredibly valuable in and of itself.

There are also examples of such special cards given out to big tournament winners. Going back to Pokémon, the No. 1 Trainer card is a reward given out to the winner of the Japanese World Challenge tournaments, a golden ticket of sorts for competitors who can directly return to next year’s edition without having to grind through the qualifiers just by showing this card. They actually have no in-game value, but they still go for five-digit sums because of how special they are.

A similar example from Yu-Gi-Oh is Crush Card Virus, also handed out as a reward to successful players at the Shonen Jump Championship, which also happens to have an added lore-related interest to it: one of the protagonists of the manga refers to it as a key element of his deck. No wonder people are willing to fork over huge sums for a copy of the card: everybody likes to be a hero!

Fractional investments and other stories

So that’s a quick background on some of the unique influences that can impact card game economies, regardless of whether you’re interested in playing the games in question. 

Though Gods Unchained is still in its infancy, we’ve already seen a small-scale story of secondary market playing a role in card value. Remember the A Real Man phenomenon from the opening week of trading? A group of people decided to buy up every single copy of the card – despite it having no competitive relevance at the time – to turn all meteorite versions into a diamond by way of fusing.

While this has nothing to do with meta decks or the grind to Mythic ranks: it serves as yet another layer of intrigue - a different way to interact with the Gods Unchained ecosystem - but, by no means necessary to engage with if you just want to play the game.

~ Luci Kelemen

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