Prices of Magic cards and classic Nintendo games skyrocket in a frenzy of nostalgia

NEW YORK — Americans have become obsessed with collectibles, driving up the prices of trading cards, video games and other memorabilia from their youth. The frenzy has brought small fortunes for some, but deep frustration for those who still enjoy playing games or trading cards as a hobby.

Among the most sought after – and even disputed – objects are the relics of the childhood of millennials. These include copies of collectible cards such as Pokemon’s Charizard and Magic: The Gathering’s Black Lotus as well as Super Mario Bros. game cartridges. from Nintendo. Some cards sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars, and an unopened Super Mario game recently sold for a record $2 million.

This isn’t just a case of opportunistic collectors looking to cash in on a whiff of nostalgia triggered by the pandemic. Apparently everyone is looking for a slice of the pie.

But while some collectors and investors are seeing dollar signs, others are complaining about the breakdown of their tight-knit communities. Players looking to play in person again post-pandemic are unable to find the game pieces they want; if parts are available, prices have gone up astronomically.

“Prices are going up and access is going down,” said Brian Lewis, who operates a YouTube channel under the name Tolarian Community College.

The collectibles frenzy has been fueled in part by YouTube personalities. Logan Paul, who has 23 million subscribers on YouTube, has made several videos in which he simply opens boxes of vintage Pokémon cards, promoting the prices he has paid and garnering millions of views.

“It may be a booming industry, but it’s still big business. Brands want to reach those audiences,” said Justin Kline, co-founder of Markerly, an influencer marketing agency. He estimates Paul can bring in six figures per video in ad revenue.

The hype has collectors scrambling to find out if their Pikachu or Mox Emerald could be worth a fortune. To do so, they are turning to filing services, which have been inundated with orders, some with a waiting period of more than a year.

In response to record demand, companies are releasing new versions of games, including premium products at higher prices. It is unclear whether the momentum is sustainable, at least as far as prices are concerned.

But the frenzy goes beyond trading cards. The US Mint earlier this summer released a 100th anniversary collection of the Morgan silver dollar, considered by coin collectors to be one of the finest designs ever made. The products sold out within minutes.

There have also been record sales of vintage video games, from Legend of Zelda to Super Mario 64.

Meanwhile, the trading card community is seeing its own high prices as players scramble to find coveted pieces for their collection.

A mint condition Black Lotus from Magic: The Gathering, the first set known as Alpha, sold in January for over $510,000. This price is double that of a card in similar condition sold six months before in July 2020.

Austin Deceder, 25, mainly buys and sells cards on Facebook and Twitter as an intermediary between players wanting to get out of their games and new players. Deceder had a used Black Lotus card that he says he sold for $7,000 in September 2020. “We’re there now and the price of that same card has doubled.”

Austin Deceder, displays a Black Lotus Magic card in his home office Friday, Aug. 27, 2021, in Kansas City, Mo. Prices for vintage trading cards and video games that Deceder and others buy and sell have skyrocketed over the past few months much to the chagrin of fans. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)PA

It’s not just ultra-rare cards that are seeing inflation. Take the widely available Magic: The Gathering card named “Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer”. The card, featuring a spectacled monkey sitting on a treasure, cost $30 earlier this summer. The card now sells closer to $90, Deceder says.

Not everyone is happy, however. Some enthusiasts say the frenzy brought out the worst in fans and speculators. Nowhere is this more evident than among Pokémon card collectors, with its motto “Gotta Catch ‘Em All!”

Boxes of Pokemon Trading Cards were regularly sold in hobbyist shops and big box retail stores. Fights have broken out, forcing chains like Target to restrict the number of packs an individual customer can purchase. The Pokemon Company says it tries to print as many cards as possible to keep up.

“Almost the entire Pokémon community has gone sour,” said Shelbie, a Pokémon video creator under the name Frosted Caribou on YouTube. Shelbie, who declined to give a last name to avoid being the target of harassment, said some harassment in the past has come from some of the biggest collectors in the community, particularly when she talked about prices.

But the renewed interest has been good for business and Wall Street.

Hasbro’s Wizards of the Coast division makes the “Dungeons & Dragons” tabletop role-playing game as well as Magic: The Gathering. Wizards revenue doubled to $406 million in the second quarter.

Meanwhile, private equity giant Blackstone bought a majority stake in Certified Collectibles Group, a company that classifies collectibles like trading cards, in July for $500 million.

Whether this is good for players who have long been involved in these hobbies is unknown. Long-time collectors are likely to make money in the future, but those who have recently entered these communities can buy overpriced cards, touted by those who will benefit the most, said the leaders of the community.

“There’s a whole subculture now that uses Pokemon as scholarship. I don’t know how these people can look at the community and say it’s healthy,” Shelbie said.

Timothy C. Mayo