Inside the £100,000 Magic Deck

By Stefan Keerssemeeckers on at

*Ping* 

Emiel's message to our Magic: The Gathering Whatsapp group popped up. “Look at this Commander deck I bought. It looks really weird LOL! Should I return these?”

Luckily, he didn’t. What started as a funny message ultimately launched Emiel van Daele into minor Magic fame and, indeed, fortune. His misprinted ‘Mystic Intellect’ Commander deck is doing its very best to change the life of its owner.

“When I opened the box I was a bit cross,” Emiel laughs. “I saw the weird cards and thought: oh man, I can’t even play these. I imagined myself trudging back to the store to return them; I didn’t remember where I put the receipt. What a drag!”

After the initial disappointment, he remembered an episode of the ‘Command Zone’ podcast, in which Jimmy Wong talked about quality control issues in recent print runs. “I shared a picture with him as an example, and he pointed me to the ‘Magic Misprints, Rarities and Oddities’ group on Facebook.” If anyone could tell him more about his find, the group - home to almost 40.000 collectors with a love for Magic’s ‘ugly ducklings’ - would be the best place to start.

Being a longtime Magic player, Emiel knew misprinted cards could be worth a bit more than normal ones. “I thought: what the heck. Maybe I’ll be able to recoup the cost of the deck, and make a little bit extra?”

It’s a kind of Magic

Once Emiel posted some pictures of his pre-constructed ‘Mystic Intellect’ deck in the Facebook-group, things got very weird, very fast. “Suddenly, I was flooded with offers; thousands of dollars at a time. I got buried in private messages, and my phone just exploded.”

Emiel remembers those first hours as exciting, but also quite unnerving. “I just couldn’t grasp what was going on! I posted the pictures out of curiosity more than anything else, so I used my personal account. I was thinking: Have I made a grave error?”

The wonky Mystic Intellect deck made a big splash among Magic collectors. Charly Traarbach (pictured up top alongside Emiel), a prominent Magic-player and co-organiser of the ‘Dutch Open’ tournaments, was instantly intrigued.

“I just thought: What a lucky guy!" Charly recalls, "Then I noticed Emiel lived close by.” He phoned Emiel, and asked if he could see the cards.

“At first I wasn’t too keen, to be honest," says Emiel. "Some stranger calling me to make an appointment…? After our call, I did some research and found Charly was a well-known figure in the Magic-community. I figured: well, this is not a guy who’ll try to swindle me, or stab me. Probably.”

Charly visited Emiel that same evening, in the dog days of late August. Despite the oppressive 30 degree heat, Charly developed a serious case of goosebumps while handling the cards. “I just wanted to see this aberration for myself. I didn’t fully realise Emiel’s luck until I saw the deck with my own eyes. I told him: I know you received some hefty offers, but I reckon you could get much more if you play it cool.”

The Fault In Our Cards

In game terms, Emiel’s deck is not special; it’s the fact the cards are hilariously messed up which makes them extremely rare, possibly even unique. The faults are immediately obvious. Almost the entire set is double-printed; each side featuring both a front and back. The images are also totally off-centre, as if the printer wasn’t properly calibrated. The ‘void’ cards of the sheet, leftovers from the printing process, also found their way into the box, somehow.

Three special ‘foil cards’ that are included in every Commander-set are okay; these are printed on another sheet and added later. “It’s impossible to be certain, but it looks like one of the test sheets was misplaced in the print run for another pre-constructed deck, in this case ‘Primal Genesis’," Emiel explains. "It seems to be the result of a human error, maybe multiple ones. It’s just unprecedented."

"I probably possess the most shoddy Magic deck ever," Emiel laughs.

Vodka-Fuelled Magic

Realising that selling unique Magic cards would put him out of his element, Emiel asked Charly to help out, offering a commission. Charly gladly accepted, and the duo took off on this strange adventure. An adventure that almost ended prematurely: a day after their meeting, someone offered Emiel $40,000 (around £31,000) for the deck.

Emiel was keen, proclaiming “This would fix my entire student debt!” But Charly approached the offer more coolly. “I laid out the situation," he says. "This could be a great offer, considering the discovery of another copy would send the value plummeting.”

Eventually the pair decided to reject the offer and wait. At the time of writing no other defective deck has surfaced, so the decision seems to have paid off. “I bought this thing for three tenners; let’s just see what’s going to happen,” Emiel recalls thinking at the time.

As of now, nineteen cards have been auctioned in ‘The Magic Misprints, Rarities And Oddities’ group, for a mind-boggling $44,000 (around £34,000). “When we put up the first couple of cards, we hoped to make a couple of hundred dollars, maybe,” Charly says.

Emiel chimes in: “They went up to quadruple digits in no time, so that was when we hit the vodka. The run-up to the whole auction was so stressful and weird, it seemed like a miracle this was really happening.”

Emiel with his deck.

The $100,000 Deck

While the results of the auctions were wonderful, Emiel and Charly also found they were fast becoming good friends, as well as minor Magic celebrities.  “I’ve been playing Magic for decades, and suddenly I’m at the centre of this misprint-community I didn’t even know existed before," Emiel says. "I haven’t come across any envy at all; everyone in the Misprint group is very interested and supportive. People are making YouTube videos about my cards, it’s just unreal.” That's no exaggeration: recently our playgroup attended Magicfest Utrecht, where whispers about 'the guy with the 100,000 dollar deck’ were ubiquitous.

“It is wonderful to receive messages from all over the world," Emiel says. "Not to mention meeting so many positive people who love Magic so dearly. It does take me to strange places; meeting collectors at motorway restaurants like I’m some kind of Tony Soprano. It still feels weird to leave home with cards that are worth so much.”

For Charly, though, this isn't as unusual. “Well, even though Emiel’s deck is very valuable - life-changing even - some dedicated collectors lug around binders containing half a million dollars worth of cards. I’m not downplaying any of this, mind you, just putting it into perspective.”

Dean, a Magic collector and member of the Misprint Facebook group, obtained the coveted Sol Rings in the ‘Mystic Intellect’ deck; a very powerful card in game terms, as it greatly accelerates your ability to play other cards.

“I didn’t have a high-end, misprinted version of a Sol Ring," Dean says. "At first I was really happy I finally could use this one in a vintage deck. I just like to build something that’s incredibly ‘pimped out’. Then, I realised that there might be another one, as the deck was double-printed. The money I paid really was a lot for me, but as an investment it was quite cheap. Smaller collectors like myself can’t compete with dealers or people who have collections worth millions or tens of millions. It really means a lot to me that I, a regular guy, have these unique cards. Cards like these give the little guy an edge: money isn’t an issue with large collectors, so you’d better have something they just can’t buy anywhere else.”

Mystic Intellect Misprints

Before the auction is over, Emiel will more than likely be able to pay off his student debt multiple times over (callously forcing our playgroup to come up with a new running gag). To celebrate this unique occasion he bought a Timetwister card from the Unlimited set; a card that seemed way out of reach not too long ago. As for the rest, he’s still undecided. “I’ll probably pay off a chunk of our mortgage, and one of my dreams is to have a Mortal Kombat II arcade cabinet. My wife wasn’t too happy about my hobbies collecting Magic cards and video games, but recently she seems a bit more positive!”

Helping Emiel with his find also had some positive effects for Charly. “Although I didn’t set out to increase my reputation – I just wanted to witness Magic-history and hopefully prevent Emiel from getting swindled – it has also helped me a bit. Recently, I got messages from people asking me to take a look at their misprinted cards. If you think you might have something special, you can always join the Magic Misprints, Rarities and Oddities group.”

It'll be a while until Emiel gets over his good fortune, however. “I was talking about the whole situation with my cousin David, with whom I’ve played Magic since the Ice Age expansion (1995)," he says. "I compared this extraordinary stroke of luck with winning the lottery. He didn’t quite agree. He told me: ‘We’ve been playing this game for years and years; and somehow you hit it big through your favourite pastime. It’s even better than a lottery; it’s like grabbing Willy Wonka’s Golden Ticket!’"

"And I think he’s right… can you believe it?”