Decoding The Grotto: An Introduction To thr33som3s

by | Sep 12, 2022 | Adoption, Latest, NFTs

Even though he’s an NFT.NYC award-winning artist who sells out on multiple chains and his Henesis piece DP001 is a cornerstone acquisition of the Tezos Permanent Collection (in Tezos’ largest multi-edition sale to date), there’s still a fog of the unknown around thr33som3s.

thr33som3s was recently named as one of only 31 artists to make the Tezos Foundation’s inaugural online permanent art collection exhibit.

XTZ News would like to thank Neil Queen-Jones for the following article.


Even though he’s an NFT.NYC award-winning artist who sells out on multiple chains and his Henesis piece DP001 is a cornerstone acquisition of the Tezos Permanent Collection (in Tezos’ largest multi-edition sale to date), there’s still a fog of the unknown around thr33som3s

How you describe him and his notorious Grotto community tends to be dependent as much on your own view of what defines an NFT, as well as what you had for breakfast as it does the project itself.

Is it an NFT project? A baseball card-based jpeg game? A reliable way to guarantee returns on your investment, as shown by floors that rose by 250% during the bearish downturn and its 4.49m tez market cap? A place for switched-on collectors and artists to escape negative sentiment and cynical power moves? An art project that offers a satirical commentary on the scene? An experiment in mechanics that is defining the possibilities of the medium? An expansive franchise that allows key collectors to shape its future? A vibrant community that’s a hub for some of the most influential artists (Laurence Fuller, Jenni Pasanen, Von Doyle, Waambat, and many others are all signed to thr33som3s teams) and some of the top collectors in the Tezos space? An expanding media empire, with its own podcast and regular Twitter Spaces?

All of the above apply, although it depends on what you want to get out of the NFT space and what side you dress on.

One thing most people in the Tezos art space can agree on – including long-term holders – is that it’s a complex project that requires time, effort, and commitment to crack it, and that it can be pretty impenetrable to those whose noses are pressed up against the glass looking in. Hopefully, this article will help clear some of the mystery and allow you to see what’s actually going on.

An explanation for the cladding that shrouds the project is thr33som3s’ attempt to combat bad actors in the space who seek to game the system, a theme he explored in the recent Trashcan drops, where he used a #teztrash mint to smoke out those who bot drops or view art as quick flips by punishing those who ignored basic instructions.

That was a rare instance of him doing a public swap, as his drops are handled via Google forms and Wheel Of Names spins in his Discord channels. You could argue that it’s a quaint, old-school way of handling things in the age of the smart contract, but it’s just an honest acknowledgment that the tech to protect the equity of a clean drop isn’t there yet and can be easily exploited.

So, if you aren’t in the Grotto then your odds of picking up his primary drops are slim – but there is a path you can follow, and those steps will teach you all you need to know about how thr33som3s functions.  

“All he does is paint over old-school baseball cards, right?” Technically, that’s not wrong, but the key to understanding thr33som3s is that utility and mechanics are central to everything, and that every single one of those painted old-school baseball card mints retains a function and value, even if it’s not immediately apparent.

In keeping with the sports flavor, the key drops are broken down into seasons, with some more creative support mints happening in the post-season spell.

Each season introduces a new team: the first was the NFTs, featuring a squad full of bizarro paintings of the likes of DotPigeon, Beeple, Mad Dog Jones, and X-Copy, while the most recent was the Elephant Men, a high-grade absurdist reimagining of the 1980 movie that even David Lynch would probably find a bit too surreal.

Each of the eight teams have built up their own sets of fans who are now paid to play for them – but we’ll get to that in due course. The cards for each team are dropped one at a time and are split into two types: bases and chases.

If you’re lucky enough to get base cards #001-005 then you’ll get chase card #006, get #007-011 to get chase #012 and get #001-012 to get chase #013. Getting chase cards #014 and #015 tends to involve something arduous, like resolving the Middle-East crisis, working out who still buys Kid Rock albums or burning valuable thr33som3s pieces you hoped to one day sell at Sotheby’s.

Then there are the insert cards, such as the Val3ntin3 cards that were airdropped throughout the Tezos space earlier this year and the recent #teztrash mints.

Whereas the highly sought-after base cards tend to cost upwards of 100tz minutes after their drop and up into the thousands of tez as time goes on, inserts are low-cost, high-edition pieces that might not be tempting to collectors – but these are the oil that grease the Grotto wheels.

For each one you burn during a season drop, you get an extra chance of hitting a base card. Holders have been known to burn up to 600 each in one pop – but given that they cost a fraction of a tz at primary and it’s possible to win multiple cards, each worth around 100-150tz while a chase is live, the numbers back that kind of ballsy move.

Each of the insert categories has a secondary function: oranges have a bidding function, yellows are for team events, pinks have a stacking payment aspect, while the different hues of Marlenes are used to create ‘painted’ pieces, like the quadsom3s and painted Exes.

This counter-intuitive play – destroying something to create something new – is the key mental adjustment any Grotto member needs to go through.

This notion of utility and mechanics are central to realizing the power of NFTs: using one piece to unlock access to something far greater. If an art scene is to formally grow from this space, then thr33som3s’ exploration of increasingly complex mechanics represent the seeds of a concept art, parallel to the visual aesthetics that define the space and shape what gets collected.

The Grotto’s open to everyone, but feeling the full benefit takes time and effort. That commitment is always rewarded, as thr33som3 ensures that holder perks are fairly distributed and reflect those who are engaged and play their part in the project, whether they’re a veteran or a newcomer.

That involvement isn’t just the passive collection of pieces: the Grotto is very much a part of the whole performance piece, as shown by the new 3ph3m3ra drops, which commemorate key community moments and capture the culture around the project.

Once you join the Grotto, you’ll find yourself in the Bleachers, where long-term holders guide newcomers around, helping them acclimate to the ecosystem, with the weekly LFG(b) voice chats complimenting the weekly podcast in terms of breaking down what’s in play.

You can take part in the drops, but you’ll do your chance of hitting a base card the world of good by picking up key items, adding to the insert burn mechanic.

While the main wheel spin is a free-for-all, each drop has other wheels for utility pieces: if you’re competing for card #008 and hold an #008 from a previous season, that will give you an extra shot (older cards will give up to three slots).

Owning a quadsome puts you on another wheel – and then there is the wheel for Swipe holders, etc. etc.  The possibilities for holding a piece which returns a future spin on the wheel seem endless, once you get the hang of it.

If you want to really get your feet under the table in the Grotto, then you would be wise to scoop a Swipe. It’s arguably the most powerful piece in the project, and sums up what thr33som3s is all about: utility is everything.

As well as giving holders their own shot at drop wheels, it also grants access to the inner sanctum of the Grotto (holding a thr33zi3s ETH piece – the first ever large-scale hand-painted generative project – is the only other way that happens) and allows you to take part in all of his drops: the recent Girlfri3nd and Faux SOGs drops and the thr33smas mints were all only available to Swipe holders.

Oh, and if you ever want to attend an IRL Grotto event and get a taste of the lifestyle in the flesh, you’ll also need to have a Swipe in your back pocket.

The other innovative play in the Grotto is the idea of being paid to collect thr33som3s pieces.

Earlier this year, the eight different teams became actual franchises and were sold to major collectors, who now run them using a legit sports management model and are able to use the intellectual property for commercial purposes.

Each team has a front office, with a general manager, head of social media, and other roles, from head of analytics to head of merch. They manage a squad of players, who work collectively to help the team complete the most sets of full chases in the hope of winning that season’s championship.

These people are all PAID to do this, using the thr33p3nni3s token. Each season drop is treated like a regular game day, with the teams facing off one on one, with the winning team earning a thr33penny reward.

How can new collectors get involved in this? For the price of $250 in thr33p3nny, you can join the roster of active players and will receive 10 rookie cards, which themselves have a value upwards of 40tz each.

These cards have their own drop wheel spin, giving newcomers a greater chance of hitting. You then have the choice of trying to convince a GM to sign you – based on either the strength of collection or life skills that the team could use – or you can stay as a free agent.

There are social and material benefits to being on a team, as franchises will work together to help their players hit chases, but that comes at a price, as you compromise your autonomy and ability to sell any pieces you win.

Free agents don’t have that concern and can turn a decent profit by selling to teams looking to complete a chase.

This tightly structured, hugely popular set-up is reflected by the floors. DP001 was bought by Misan Harriman on behalf of the Tezos Foundation for 9,999tz, from a 1tz primary.

All recent season 9 drops were airdropped for a maximum of 1tz and now command up to 555tz.

That’s if gains are your goals, but as thr33som3s has said: “Come for the 100x, stay for the family”.

The constant ingenuity, creativity, and social solidarity is arguably unmatched in the space and is shaping up to become one of the premier projects, not just on Tezos, but in the whole NFT space. The best time to get into thr33som3s was June 2021; the second best time to get into thr33som3s is now.  

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