Previously we gave the story of the rarest card in Magic history, the 1996 World Champion. While there was only one known to exist, there is one other card that has a grand total of one left on the planet: the Shichifukujin Dragon.
While the 1996 World Champion is straightforward in being a unique, one-of-a-kind card for a winner, the Shichifukujin Dragon doesn’t exactly have the same history. So what made it so special? To get that answer we need to go back 20-25 years ago.
In the mid 1990s Magic was just beginning to go overseas. It was doing well enough in North America and was beginning to show promise in Europe. Over in Japan, it was expanding with enough speed that a Duelists' Convocation International Tournament Center was in the works in Tokyo. It was a sign that Magic had really made it in the Asian market.
By 1996 the center was ready to open, but they wanted something unique to really show their commitment. So they asked Mark Rosewater and artist Christopher Rush if a unique card was possible. They agreed, but they wanted to make it something representational of the country.
Shichifukujin was chosen as the base name. Shichifukujin in Japan is the the seven deities of luck, and since the Center was just opening, they decided that a good luck charm was appropriate. With Rosewater designing and Rush illustrating (making it into a Japanese styled dragon) they presented the 6RRR creature to the Japanese, only to be asked for a good mechanic to go on the card. This put WotC in a bit of a bind. Because of the timing of the request, Rosewater only had an hour to think one up.
Luckily the quality of the myth and art prevailed: as there were seven deities in Shichifukujin, the Shichifukujin Dragon card would be a 7/7 thanks to the seven +1/+1 counters it enters play with. We’ll let Mark Rosewater explain:
“I looked for a mechanic that played into the card's seven-headedness. That is where I came up with the idea of the seven +1/+1 counters," he says. "Somehow seven heads got me thinking of hydras and I came up with the idea that it could grow new heads. But to do so it had to make itself more vulnerable for some duration of time. As I played around with the card I came up with the idea of losing two +1/+1 counters to get three… at the end of the turn.”
This was met with approval, and after an extremely limiting printing where all but one of the cards was destroyed, the one and only Shichifukujin Dragon card was presented to the DCI Tournament Center on Opening Day in 1996.
The card stayed there for seven years until 2003 when the Tournament Center was closed. Since then it has resided at the Hobby Japan Head Office in Tokyo.
It also has frequently been on display, both at Grand Prix tournaments around Japan as well as the Hobby Japan offices. And some deck box and life counter artwork has come out featuring the dragon, the card itsef's printing still officially stands at one. The Shichifukujin Dragon can also not be played in any kind of tournament due to the unique status of the card. (Sorry vintage and EDH players!)
Today it remains the second rarest card in Magic history and remains to be one of the few official cards to have never been played in a match.
But, in comparison to the privately owned 1996 World Champion Card, the Dragon can be seen publicly in all its glory. That is, if you’re ever in the Tokyo area at some point in the future.