Last updated on October 30, 2020
There are some legends in the world of gaming that incite a reaction from those who know of them. Some envy their power, wishing they could steal their traits and characteristics. Some laugh them off, thinking that they’re overrated, larger than life, or overhyped. And some dream of them, as if they can provide a sense of direction or a goal.
“The Power Nine” is a set of nine Magic cards that hold prestige above any other standard printing of a card. Originally printed in Limited Edition Alpha, these cards are the nine most powerful cards of Magic’s history. Icons of the game, they’re banned in every non-Vintage constructed format and have never been reprinted after 2nd Edition (Unlimited), causing them to be the most valuable Standard printing cards ever.
So, what’s the story behind these cards? What’s their background? Why have they stayed at the forefront of the collective MTG player base?
Why are they so infamous?
Mox Sapphire (Limited Alpha) | Illustration by Dan Frazier
What is the Power Nine?
When Richard Garfield developed Magic in the early 1990s, there was no precedent for balance. So, when the first ever set came out, there were cards that were weak and cards that were incredibly strong.
Enter the Power Nine. These nine cards single-handedly took over for their own unique reasons and traits and have shaped the world of MTG since their first printing.
The Power Nine consists of:
These nine cards changed Magic completely and are hailed as the most powerful cards in the game.
The Black Lotus
Black Lotus (Limited Alpha) | Illustration by Christopher Rush
If we’re going to start anywhere, it may as well be the beginning.
The Black Lotus is infamous. It’s the poster child for the collectability and power of the whole of Magic and is hailed by everyone as the most iconic piece of power.
For this reason, it’s both the rarest and most expensive MTG card. Ever.
To buy an Alpha Black Lotus, you’re looking at up to $100,000 USD depending on quality and wear.
Black Lotus (Vintage Masters) | Illustration by Chris Rahn
It also commands a high premium due to its iconic art, drawn by beloved legendary Magic artist Christopher Rush, who sadly passed away in 2016. A signed Black Lotus would fetch a very high of a price. The art depicts a Black Lotus flower and has nice tones with an alluring palette.
When it comes to gameplay, the Black Lotus is a phenomenally powerful card. Being able to play a 4-mana spell on turn 1 is insanely good, especially with the abilities of popular cards in the Vintage format. It also works well with Yawgmoth’s Will in tandem with cards such as Lion’s Eye Diamond for storm decks to generate a bunch of mana quickly.
Ancestral Recall (Limited Alpha) | Illustration by Mark Poole
Three for the price of one.
The card simply says, “Draw three cards, or force your opponent to draw three cards” The oracle text today reads: “Target player draws three cards.” It has one of the most viscerally powerful effects within the game.
Now, you might be wondering, “Drawing three cards doesn’t seem too powerful, why is this so broken? We have effects like Divination for two cards.” I had this question when I started the game, having come from Pokémon, where drawing multiple cards is a common part of the game.
But in Magic, cards like Brainstorm, Ponder, and Preordain are banned in Modern (though Brainstorm was never been legal) for their ability to seamlessly look at three cards and cantrip to get rid of unwanted cards with cards like fetch lands. Ponder and Brainstorm are also restricted in Vintage for the same reason. So, an instant speed cantrip + Divination is already very busted, but at the cost of a single blue mana, Ancestral Recall can already generate a huge amount of card advantage.
Ancestral Recall (Ultra Rare Cards) | Illustration by Raoul Vitale
Plus, cards like Snapcaster Mage that let you reuse your Recall can make it even better. Draw a mass of cards for a low price? Yes, please.
Recall’s other mode has a purpose, too. It can be used as a win condition in some cases. Before the multiple rule was added, Magic was a bit like the wild west. Recall was even one of the large reasons for this rule.
You could run a deck with 35 Ancestral Recalls and 25 Black Lotuses, drawing enough cards to force your opponent to draw their whole deck, They’d lose because of state-based actions, and you’ve just won yourself the game. This is a deck that would cost more than a low-priced house in some places!
Recall was also printed as a part of the Boon—enter Hades players—cycle. The Boon cycle contains five 1-mana cards that have an effect involving the number three. These are Healing Salve, Dark Ritual, Lightning Bolt, Giant Growth, and, of course, Ancestral Recall. The former cards were all reprinted after Alpha/Beta/Unlimited, but Recall never was. Ancestral Recall is also a higher rarity than the others in the cycle, which could indicate that Richard Garfield already knew that it’d be extra powerful.
Time Walk (Limited Alpha) | Illustration by Amy Weber
Let’s do the time walk again…
Time Walk is a 2-mana extra turn spell.
Yeah, this card is nuts.
So, essentially, extra turn spells have a rate (in the modern era) of costing a variable five mana, a la Time Warp. This is very much because of Time Walk’s existence. The sheer amount of power having two turns in a row is on the play is wild. It gives you a turn advantage over your opponent early in the game. It also can result in a win later on with an extra turn giving you the chance to get around haste or even allowing another untap step!
This card is pretty strong and, even though it doesn’t have as rich of a story as other Power Nine cards, the art is fairly iconic. It depicts a skeleton walking down a path of other skeletons. It’s fairly intriguing, and there’s even a myth of some interesting unreleased art depicting the same skeleton.
It may not be the flashiest of the Power Nine, but it’s definitely up there with the strongest.
Mox Jet (Limited Alpha) | Illustration by Dan Frazier
The Moxen are five 0-mana artifacts that tap for one mana of that Mox’s color. These cards are the ones that are referenced the most in modern-era Magic because “Mox” is basically a name for a “0-mana artifact that taps for one mana.” Think Mox Opal and Chrome Mox.
These cards are strong because of their ability to essentially act as second land drops on early turns. They allow for strong turn 1 and 2 play and usually work as lands in cubes they’re available in.
Moxen are jewelry, which means they look very pretty, and the cards are very iconic looking for this reason. They were even available for purchase as jewelry a while ago, so it’s safe to say that these are as iconic as the Lotus itself.
Timetwister (Limited Alpha) | Illustrated by Mark Tedin
Every rule has an exception…
Timetwister is very weird, as it’s the “weakest” of the Power Nine. That’s not saying much, though. The card is pretty situational since it needs a bit of play around it to work as well as it can. But when it works, it goes off hard. It’s not banned in EDH but is banned everywhere else it can be.
There have been many cards printed of a similar power level, but they’re never as efficient for formats like Legacy. Things like Echo of Eons is great in the format, but Timetwister would be too good. The card has a lot of imitators, and so it’s the one that doesn’t really feel as iconic to some, but it’s definitely my second favorite of the nine.
The Power Ten
Some dub the Power Nine as a Power Ten since other cards of similar power were printed in the same timeframe, but a few cards fit the bill here.
Commander sweetheart Sol Ring is seen as the sixth of the Moxen since it provides an extra mana on turn 1. It’s often contended as a first pick for drafts over anything but Black Lotus and Ancestral Recall.
Lord of the Rings
Library of Alexandria is card draw on a land so it’s pretty good at keeping card advantage up. Since it’s also on the reserved list, it commands a high premium similar to the Power Nine. Later printed cards like Mishra’s Workshop and Tolarian Academy do as well.
Why does the Power Nine Exist?
As I already mentioned, Richard Garfield probably knew how strong the Power Nine was, so it’s interesting to look into why these cards exist.
One possible reason (the most popular theory) is that ante meant that playing too many cards in your deck would mean risk of a high value loss. Because ante was banned in DCI-Sanctioned events because of anti-gambling regulations (I know, shocker!), the mechanic ceased to exist in Magic. So, that wasn’t much of an issue.
Contract from Below | Illustration by Douglas Schuler
This is really interesting, as it makes me think that they used ante as a balancing mechanism which led to a huge power discrepancy.
Another reason could be that WotC wanted to sell lots of sealed product in Alpha/Beta/Unlimited to generate interest. So, they put powerful cards in those sets at a high rarity, incentivizing players to buy more packs. But they probably didn’t realize the extreme power of the cards when printing them, a practice seen in modern power creep.
Of course, they may just have not known the power of the cards before releasing them. This is highly unlikely, but it’s still a possibility!
If there’s one thing that the Power Nine is known for, it’s their worth. The cards command a huge premium because of the reserved list.
Buying a full set of Alpha Power Nine would cost over $50k. A Beta set would be around $25k. It’s hard to find a market value on the black-bordered variants of the cards, though, since they’re only sold on high-end Facebook groups.
Black Lotus (Ultra Rare Cards) | Illustration by Steven Belledin
Unlimited Power Nine is also fairly expensive. A full set of it would cost over $15k! It’s absolutely mental how expensive these cards have become.
“If these cards are so sought after, why doesn’t Wizards just reprint them?” I hear you ask.
This is just before being burnt at the stake by those who swear against the abolition of the reserved list, but every coin has two sides!
The Reserved List
Wizards’ reprint policy, also known as the reserved list, is a policy made after the printing of Chronicles tanked a bunch of cards’ values.
The aim was to create a list of cards that would never be reprinted to make sure that collectors wouldn’t lose their money in the future. This has plagued the game since it happened, making formats like Legacy somewhat inaccessible because of their reliance on original duals.
The Power Nine is the most expensive collection of cards on this list, which adds to their premium even more. So, as it stands, Wizards will never reprint these cards.
Rules Lawyer | Illustration by Sean Murray
Is the reserved list legally binding? Technically, well, I have no clue. I’m a
‘professional Brian David Gilbert fan’ writer, not a lawyer! But, from what I’ve read, players could sue Wizards if they tried to abolish it. I don’t think WotC wants that headache.
Maybe one day, we’ll get our reserved list reprints. But, unfortunately, many of us are worried that this’ll never happen.
The Power Nine and Vintage/OS-style formats will probably be out of reach in paper for those wanting to play with the real thing.
There are other ways to play with the Power Nine, though…
How to Play the Power Nine
It’s easy. You draw the card, pay the costs (or don’t), and then put it onto the stack. But how do you play with the Power Nine?
Seriously, it seems like there’s no way to play with these cards without selling your house, so how do people play with these cards? What formats are they in? Why does my pet tortoise want to chew my copy of Oko, Thief of Crowns all of the time ? These are all very important questions.
Giant Tortoise | Illustration by Richard Wright
There are many different rental services that can help you get to grips with Vintage, and honestly? Vintage can be cheaper than Modern at times. The format is fairly degenerate, however, and so it can be hard to find your footing.
Formats like Canadian Highlander and Old School have their own communities and regulations on what’s allowed, so it’s best to track down some of them for the details. Most of these communities allow you to play on free playtesting platforms or with proxies, though.
It’s pretty hard to play these cards in constructed because of their power, so I honestly think the best way to play with them is in other ways.
Doubling Cube | Illustration by Mark Tedin
Vintage Cube on Magic Online is a great way to play with the Power Nine, and a great cube! It’s fun, highly competitive, and easy to get the hang of.
I have a soft spot for Vintage Cube. My first ever piece of Magic content was on it and, although I didn’t draft power, I would definitely not be writing this right now if it weren’t for Vintage Cube. So, go Vintage Cube!
I’d definitely recommend playing the Magic Online Cubes. They’re fun and a good way to get started! There’s a new one every few weeks and they cost around 10$ to enter, with the ability to break even at 2-1. I highly recommend doing them at least once if you want to play Cube on Magic Online.
If you want to make your own cube using Power Nine cards, there are resources on how to build cubes all over the net! But I recommend the Professor’s video on Cube to get started:
MTG Arena actually had the cards for a short little event back in December 2019. Will we ever see them again? Who knows, but the cards were absurdly powerful in these events, and also absurdly fun to play with.
Don’t worry though, they won’t be printed into Standard! At least, I hope not.
Fun and Crazy Trivia
So, the Power Nine has a lot of fun trivia around it because of how much gravitas and myth the cards have. Some of the tales from the vault have become some of the most legendary stories ever.
Fact or Fiction | Illustration by Matt Cavotta
“Pack to Power” was a project started by Johnathan Medina, the start of which was documented in his article on CoolStuffInc in 2010. The aim was to open a pack of cards and trade up to a piece of Power. It’s a thrilling read, so I won’t spoil how it happens, but it’s definitely worth taking a look through if you have the time.
In 2011, Chas Andres published a story called “Pack to Power” on ChannelFireball inspired by this, talking about how he opened up a pack of Zendikar and traded his way up to a Mox Sapphire. It’s super interesting and goes into detail on his path from a single pack to one of the Moxen. For anyone wanting to trade, his series “Traderous Instinct” is really good. I think it’d be a bit harder today, but I’d love to try it for myself if I had the time.
There have been many stories of people finding Power in their attic or basement or at car boot sales in a box of old Magic bulk. How true they are, nobody knows, but it’s probably happened at least once! I think the most interesting thing about it all is that Magic somehow survived the times when people moved on and grew into a game spanning many cultures and communities. It’s really awe inspiring to see how a collection of nine cards can represent so much more than that.
Ancestral Recall (Vintage Masters) | Illustration by Ryan Pancoast
Special printings of the Power Nine have been made for the winners of the Vintage Championship, usually oversized so they can’t be used in tournament play. Magiclibrarities has a whole archive dedicated to seeing these marvelous cards.
Well, that’s the Power Nine. A hefty series of cards with a lot of history. They really are an icon of the game we love, and the game probably wouldn’t be the same without them!
Let me know what you think in the comments down below. Did you enjoy reading into this fascinating topic? Do you have a story about an experience with the Power Nine? Do you also have a tortoise who likes chomping on overpowered planeswalkers? Let us know down there and check out our other articles for more interesting topics.
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But, for now, that’s it from me. It’s been great going into depth about the Power Nine, so I hope that you found it as enjoyable as I did.
See you next time, and have a good one!
Whisk Away | Illustration by Zack Stella