Black Lotus vs. Szechuan Sauce: The Better Investment?

The sauce is the boss. (Logan Praznik/The Quill)

If you’ve got money and you want to turn it into more money, you might think of buying stocks, investing in real estate, or starting your own business. If you’ve got more dollars than sense, on the other hand, you might want to put it into Black Lotuses and/or McDonald’s Szechuan sauce.

First, some background on what you may be getting into. The Black Lotus is a card in the popular trading card game, Magic: the Gathering. It was only printed from late 1993 to early 1994, around the time the game first came into being, and is such an advantageous card that it’s been banned from most competitive formats of the game, and in those formats where it’s still allowed, its use is restricted. Nevertheless, Black Lotuses, especially those from the original Alpha and Beta printings, command a fortune.

Meanwhile there were two runs of McDonald’s Szechuan sauce. The original run of the “Szechuan teriyaki dipping sauce” was served with Chicken McNuggets in 1998 to promote the release of Disney’s Mulan. Though its discontinuation was rather uneventful, it eventually rose to fame through a recent episode of Rick and Morty in which the sauce was mentioned (and perhaps idolized). This drove fans of the show to demand the sauce, which had by that point dwindled in supply to a few stray packets and jugs, causing what to be remained to be sold off for gigantic sums. Eventually, McDonald’s made a limited, one-day-only run of the sauce to select restaurants on October 7th, 2017. That alone, however, was not nearly enough to satiate fans’ hunger for the sauce, so it remains a rare commodity.

How much is each actually worth? As of writing, some sellers on eBay are attempting to sell Black Lotuses from the Alpha and Beta sets, in 10/10 condition, for around 100,000 USD. Much more likely to sell, however, are those in rougher shape – a recently-sold Beta-edition Lotus graded at 6.5/10 went for 7500 USD, plus shipping – and cards from other printings, as well as reproductions and “proxies” (fake cards not allowed in serious competitive play, but sometimes used in informal games), can be had for even cheaper.

Meanwhile, an original-run 64 oz. bottle of Szechuan sold on eBay last August for just over 15,000 USD to electronic music producer deadmau5, who proceeded to distribute it, with McNuggets, to concertgoers in Toronto, to much applause. More recently, another bottle claimed to be “the LAST” sold for 25,700 USD. For obvious reasons, though, reproduction Szechuan makes up the overwhelming majority of sales. A single packet regularly sells for around 50 to 100 USD on eBay, though some more rabid fans have spent more – one woman even got a 2004 Volkswagen Golf GTi for her sauce.

So, which one (if either) is the better investment? Szechuan is, for now, better in the short term. Its lower price makes it more accessible to potential investors, and as a consumable, is sure to grow rarer as Rick and Morty fans grow unable to deny themselves a taste any longer. However, McDonald’s have announced that they will release “more – a lot more” of the sauce this winter, though still only in the United States. That, and the novelty and hype of owning and tasting the sauce will eventually wear off. This devastating, Econ 101 combo of higher supply and lower demand will cause a drop in prices, meaning you’d be wise to stay away from Szechuan sauce as a long-term investment, at least until the dip (pun intended?) comes.

Black Lotuses, on the other hand? They’re safer in the long term, as Magic publisher Wizards of the Coast (as far as we know) won’t be making any more of them, and even if they did, a select few people with lots of money would probably still be on the lookout for an original Alpha or Beta Lotus. The pitfall here, then, lies in counterfeit cards. Bootleggers are getting better at making Magic cards that look and feel just like the real thing, and theoretically, once fakes get good enough, someone rather unscrupulous could buy a score of them, flood the market with cheap, counterfeit Lotuses, and possibly cause a downturn in prices and consumer confidence. For now, though, systems of grading the quality of cards keep people confident that a multi-thousand-dollar Lotus is the real deal, even if the astronomical prices of mint ones may be just another case of tulip (lotus?) fever.