Back in the dark ages of 93/94, we ain't had no fancy ass sleeves. We played our cards straight on packed snow while eating soup with our hands. When night fell we used the least water damaged ones as kindling to keep playing until the soup ran out. It was a simpler time, apart from the banding rules.
|I'm getting there.|
|Enter the pro's.|
|The first sleeves made to conceal play wear.|
|The Black Lotus Quest.|
Back in 1996, the $100 rewarded for the Chaos Orb or the $250 for the Black Lotus would cover the expense to buy an Orb or a Lotus respectively. Today, 20 years later, you wont find a Lotus for $250 anymore. But if you managed to complete a puzzle you could still easily trade it for the card depicted. In fact, for far more than that.
|Let the hunt commence!|
McDonald's Monopoly promotion held around the world since 1987. Customers at McDonald's would get tokens corresponding to property spaces on a Monopoly board with food purchases. Gathering certain combinations of streets would grant you different prizes, with cash rewards ranging up to the millions. But for the most desirable combos one of the tokens was almost impossible to find.
|I might spitball a guess to which pieces are missing.|
So how many puzzles are out there? My network of high-end Magic archaeologists is by no means all-encompassing, but it has grown to be fairly extensive, so I hope I can give a decent estimate.
I'd previously heard some off-the-cuff rumors that the total number printed in 1996 were just 12 for each of the rarer pieces. But after more digging even that seemed to be high. A certain European high-end collector, who is the only confirmed person to own both puzzles, said that 12 each surely was an exaggeration. He had been puzzling for two decades, and the only Lotus puzzle he had seen apart from the one he owned had been donated directly from the director at Ultra Pro. He had heard about a third one, but hadn't seen it himself. Chaos Orb is possibly a little more common, but still just ridiculously rare. The best estimate I've found is six copies of Orb piece #7 in circulation (the German collector had previously owned two of them by the way, but sold one in 2003). Additionally, I know of one Chaos Orb puzzle that was completed in 1996 and sent in to Ultra Pro for the $100.
It seems very possible that there were fewer Lotus puzzles made than Chaos Orb puzzles. It could also be possible that there are fewer total Lotus puzzles out there than Chaos Orb puzzles simply due to a few more Lotus puzzles having been redeemed as the reward was higher and players hunted them more fiercely. I've tried to get in contact with Ultra Pro to clear some of these things up, but I haven't been able to draw any answers yet.
Summer Magic sets by a good margin. As for how many were made? Let's try on the shoes of an executive at Ultra Pro. When they do these kind of give-away promotions, the rare pieces control how much money they are willing to donate to the cause. Sleeves weren't particularly popular in 1996, and they probably didn't earn that much per unit sold. So a few thousand dollars perhaps? I would be surprised if there ever existed more than 18 of the rare pieces total, probably skewing towards a few more Orb #7 than Lotus #9.
Many players seems to remember that these puzzles weren't that rare and want to recall that "friend of friend" who completed it. History and research seem to indicate that that is wrong. But I am still positive that one or another real rare piece is being tucked away in a collection somewhere, the owner being oblivious to the fact that this piece has a far higher price tag than an actual Black Lotus:
|Luckily the rare piece is the least exciting one.|
|Like a major collector in Sweden did a year ago. How's that pic for an Easter Egg btw ;)|