Playing cards illustrated by the greatest science fiction and heroic fantasy artists of the moment, the blockchain to make unique digital works of them, a series of novels to accompany the story … Welcome to the magical world by Cross The Ages. Designed by the young Marseille startuppeur Sami Chlagou already at the origin of a video game distribution and production company, this project aims to turn the passion of a generation for collectible cards and role-playing games into a business as disruptive and speculative as the cryptocurrency market.
The thirty-something is not a novice. Since he was nine years old, he has put together a beautiful album of cards Magic: The Gathering, one of those games – like Pokemon, Dungeons and Dragons, or Warhammer – which brings together millions of fans around the world. This game, imagined by the mathematician Richard Garfield in 1993, has carved out a worldwide success because of the number of its protagonists (more than 20,000!) Who cast and counter many spells in a moving space-time, and the immense complexity of its rules which evolve over the game.
The hardest game in the world
Two American researchers from the universities of Georgia and Pennsylvania recently compared it to the games of go and chess which, unlike Magic, have defined limits such as the size of the board. To do this, they coded the powers and properties of each card and submitted to the computer for a two-party analysis. In the case of failures, determining a winning strategy is calculable. “Impossible to achieve with Magic because of the pharaonic number of hypotheses. This game has the highest computer complexity quotient known, ”concluded mathematician Stella Biderman, who organized the experiment.
To play, you need to build a collection of at least 60 cards that you get in stores, where they are sold in packs of 15. In each pack, eleven are common, three are a little less, and one more. rare, gives superior powers. For enthusiasts, over 20 million followers worldwide, building a winning hand, for sure, is a never-ending quest. “You have to make sure that each card works in symbiosis with the others and get some that can give decisive advantages,” explains one player. The oldest are the most sought after. Wizard of the Coast, publisher of Magic (acquired by Hasbro in 1997) has set aside 572 which will never be reprinted. The only way to get hold of them is therefore the second-hand market. And prices are skyrocketing.
A card sold for $ 511,000
At the end of January, a very rare and in perfect condition version (with a so-called PSA rating of 10) of the Black Lotus card from the game’s Alpha series, of which there are only seven copies in the world, was sold for $ 511,000 on eBay. “It is to say the summits which await the rarest”, exalts another player. Three cards in particular await their quotation: Proposal, Splendid Genesis and Fraternal Exaltation, produced in a single copy each to mark three key moments in the life of Richard Garfield: his marriage proposal and the birth of his two daughters.
Published in 1909 in less than 200 copies, the T206 Honus Wagner baseball card representing the former baseball player considered to be the best of all time hit the market by winning on May 23 for the record sum of $ 3.751 million. “The same madness awaits the Magic”, judges an investor. It is an American collector, Jonathan Medina, who launched their speculative movement in April 2010, by recounting in long posts his quest for the “pack to power” to reach the ideal hand he was aiming for. By swapping series of cards 98 times in the four corners of the planet, he writes that he has managed to collect several of the out-of-print editions he was aiming for, including a Mox Pearl, one of the nine extremely rare cards printed at the end of 1993.
Since then, exchanges have become more professional around marketplaces such as MTGStocks, Cardmarket or TCGPlayer. No authority regulates transactions there, leaving a law of supply and demand fueled by nostalgia. “Like me, the first players are now in their forties and earn enough their living to afford the cards they dreamed of during their teenage years,” explains our investor, who swallows up a good part of his savings in these risky transactions .
New collectors are entering the card space as another investment avenue to diversify their investment portfolio.
Nicole ColomboGeneral Manager of Collectibles and Trading Cards at eBay
The eBay platform on which a large proportion of collectible cards are exchanged, all categories combined, recorded a 142% growth in transactions in 2020 with 4 million additional cards sold. Pokémon tops this chart with a record 574% increase in trade in one year, followed by basketball and baseball sports cards. Magic The Gathering is in fourth position. “New collectors are entering the card space as another investment avenue to diversify their investment portfolio. We expect this trajectory to follow the same pace in 2021, ”says Nicole Colombo, general manager of collectibles and collectible cards at eBay.
Sami Chlagou, the Marseille entrepreneur, has made it part of his business: his company Cartapapa which trades Magic over-the-counter recorded transactions last year for around 12 million euros, generally carried out during competitions. internationals which each time inflame thousands of players. “We speak English most often, but also Phyrexian, the imaginary language spoken by one of the peoples of the series. It keeps the legend alive and it’s addictive, ”recognizes one of those fans who crack down on the trading stands.
With the blockchain, this industry could still take a new speculative flight. The technology now allows a digital object to be assigned an unfalsifiable serial number called a non-fungible token (NFT). Even virtual, a work can therefore be authenticated as unique, like a certificate guaranteed the signature of a great master, and its value explodes.
A virtual work at 69 million dollars
During last March, several artistic proposals thus tagged found takers with wealthy amateurs: from the first tweet posted by the creator of the social network Jack Dorsey, auctioned for 2.5 million dollars, to the digital work “Everydays: the First 5.000 Days “Signed by Belgian crypto-artist Beeple (Mike Winkelmann) sold by auction house Christies for more than $ 69 million …” We are witnessing the beginning of a new chapter in the history of digital art. Artists have been using data storage and software to create works and distribute them on the Internet for over twenty years, but until now there has been no real way to own and collect them. With the NFT, all that has changed ”, explained the auctioneer in a press release published the day after the sale.
Collectible cards should not escape this phenomenon. French start-up Sorare is one of the first to enter this segment by allowing football fans to buy and sell digital NFT cards of their favorite players who can compete against each other in a world championship. Launched in March 2019, the game claims more than 50,000 users and a volume of cards exchanged multiplied by 70 in one year. At the end of February, it raised 40 million euros (notably from the American Benchmark fund) to develop its global community.
Two hundred experts mobilized
The cards in the game Cross The Ages will also be digital and provided with an NFT serial number which will make each one unique. The universe in which the players will evolve – an imaginary continent where two civilizations of wizarding lords and humanoid robots oppose each other – has mobilized almost 200 writers, screenwriters and other blockchain experts. The investment amounts to nearly 1 million euros and, by backing his game to a new cryptocurrency (Edra), the Marseille entrepreneur hopes to raise 12 million euros to finance his development.
The first book of the saga will be released in September and will be followed by seven others, published on a fixed date each year, with a code allowing to obtain a free card drawn at random from among the 360 that will be published each season. “All are numbered works of art, made by artists who have worked on the greatest hits of recent years such as’ Avatar ‘,’ Star Wars’ and ‘Game of Thrones”, details Sami Chlagou. On Instagram where the entrepreneur is gradually lifting the veil on the game, already 60,000 curious people have spread the word.