Defending the Capitalistic Nature of Wizards of the Coast
When Art and Profit Clash
Wizards of the Coast, the company that only learned it owned a million dollar IP in the year 2012, has been under scrutiny as of late. In in a world where the mere notion that a hobby should cost money is seen as taboo, Magic the Gathering has received negative attention thanks in part to its new set, Double Masters (DM), thanks in part to what many call an over priced experience. But I feel many fans are being overly harsh to what is my favorite game of all time.
And I do mean of all time. In a time where self-expression is what sets the auteurs, content creators, and recreational Mine Craft Junkies apart from a 9-5 business man, MTG allows for near infinite level of customization. A hobby that is as much a collectible as it as a competitive experience, MTG really is a unique breed of cardboard.
Acceptance is a Flat Circle
The trading card game is a medium that is near comparable to that of video games, despite the flat rectangles existing long before Pong was first played on a CRTV. It wasn't long ago that video games were not considered “art” by the majority. Before The Last of Us crashed onto a zombie crazed society, Roger Ebert claimed “Video Games Can Never Be Art,” a quote still brought up to this day despite Ebert being long deceased. While the majority of the public's opinion may have changed, you'll be hard-pressed to find a Mom in the Mid-West say that Call of Duty is art. You'll have an even harder struggle convincing her that MTG was like that of interpretive dance when it came to self-expression.
By the same merits, before GTV V's profit eclipsed Hollywood's biggest blockbusters, comic books were seen as disposable as the Sunday Funnies. Before them even, film preservation and conservation was laughable. Watch London After Midnight and convince me otherwise that even film wasn't taken seriously or seen as low art by the general public or corporate big wigs.
But what does this have to do with MTG? Magic, like Video Games before it, and the comics and films before them, is in its infancy when it comes to the true potential of not just the game, but of the art form as well. It was less than 100 years ago that the government asked kids and parents to recycle copies of Captain America in order to fuel the war effort, now a near-mint condition copy goes for close to a million-dollars While there were 100's of failed comics that released during WW2 and before, few, will collect the same price tag for collectors. If comics were just a footnote in American history, Captain America issue 1 would be collecting dust like my copy of Back to the Future on Laser Disk. But they aren't, they are art, they are collectible, they have value. Magic is a collectible, Magic is art, Magic cards have value, and Wizards of the Coast shouldn't be demonized for treating it as such.
Capitalism on Dominaria / A Tolarian Trick
The central theme of the online debate surrounding DM is “Capitalism Bad,” and this “product isn't for you.” While this issue has calmed down as of late, it was the rhetoric from Tolarian Community College that inspired me to sit down and write. The Prof is one of MTG's most prolific content creators and someone who is objectively very well educated.
A former Community College Professor in real life, his reviews on Magic's last two forays into the world of paperback books, is a masterclass in literary dissection. But recently, The Prof has taken an almost antagonistic approach to Wizards of the Coast, most likely to appeal to his fan-base, who also shares a similar attitude towards the company. Recent examples include snide remarks to their Community Manager about competitive play and telling Wizards they should be thankful for his free promotion. This, of course, is regardless of the fact that the Prof's entire career and livelihood now revolve around the trading card game Wizard's of the Coast created, but I digress. Despite his new snarky attitude, he's an intelligent person, one that clearly should know better than to perpetuate these three myths.
1. Double Master’s price should be in line with a Standard Draft Booster
2. Wizards of the Coast is pricing players out of the game and essential pieces of the game are now inaccessible to players
3. Double Masters will not lead to reasonable and affordable reprints
The Variant Issue
While all three myths are related to each other, they can be discussed individually. While the price of Double Masters has yet to be officially revealed, and may never be explained due to the lack of MSRP, it is assumed they will be $16.99. While this may seem to be four times the price of a standard draft booster, realizing each pack of DM has two rares, changes that line of thinking. Considering Modern Horizons launched a little over a year ago, with packs ranging between 7-10 dollars a pack, it isn't unreasonable to have DM at near double that price.
But Prof goes further to say that the price of DM should be the same price as a $4 draft booster because there are no additional fees when it comes to printing DM. The set-up, workforce, and equipment used to print a sheet of $4 standard draft boosters is the same method used to print a $17 DM booster. I would not call this line of thinking ignorant to supply and demand, because Prof knows better. The Prof is implying that Wizards of the Coast should purposely lose money on each pack sold, and tank the price of in-demand cards, so more players can play Atraxa? This logic implies that any item in demand, no matter when it was created, should be sold for the same price, for the rest of time, and completely ignores the fact that Wizards has a problem with OVER PRINTING.
If there is one thing that Ashiok and a 1990's variant of Spiderman have in common, it's overprinting. Going back to the Comic Book industry, Wizards already sees the side-effects when you overprint variants at such a rapid pace. Variant arts from recent standard sets are, in some cases, lower in value than their regular printing, at least for a short bit of time.
Variants are supposed to be in high demand and highly sought after, and high value. There is a reason they call it “cracking packs,” slang easily derived from the euphoric dopamine drip of gambling $4 to potentially get a high-value card. When you take the collecting aspect out of a collectible card game, you lose what makes seeing new cards exciting. I understand the secondary market exists to buy the game pieces, but many people prefer to buy just the packs. Call it unregulated gambling, but I call it a collectible. The idea that DM is too expensive implies that every Magic player is poor, and doesn't want their collection to grow in price.
Thank You Non-Essentials
Don't get me wrong, DM is expensive, and anyone who purchases Double Master VIP Edition is Moby Dick, but you'd be misguided to say the cards included are essentials. Once again, all hobbies are expensive by nature. You'd be hard-pressed to find a hobbyist, whether it be kite flying, War-Hammer, model shipbuilders, train collectors, who say their hobby is cheap. Accessible entry? Yes. Cheap to maintain and grow? Impossible.
I can only speak for one format of MTG and its ease of accessibility: Commander. The most popular sanctioned format is Magic the Gathering, has never been easier to get into thanks to yearly Commander Deck releases that can be found everywhere, including Target, Walmart or Amazon for under $40. Now, $40 for cardboard may seem expensive, but $40 is still less than a monthly phone bill or a AAA video game on sale, and this investment will appreciate in value. The logic that exists in one's mind that you need the “best” cards to play Commander is a fallacy, at least in regards to what people think are “the best” cards.
Truly, Commander is about self-expression, not about playing the best cards. A game type more akin to Mario Party than a competitive one on one duel. And Wizards is not even printing the best cards in Double Masters. What little we have seen of DM are reprints of two popular Commanders, Kaalia of the Vast and Atraxa, Praetor’s Voice. Two creatures my playgroup refers to as Old Magic. Like Riku of Two Reflections, these boogeymen were the pinnacle of Commander dominance in 2016-2017.
Now, with an evolved, faster meta, you'd be hard-pressed to find a playgroup that runs these cards and also wins. While Atraxa continues to be an All-Star in many circles, calling her “essential” is a misnomer. Essential implies that a card is strictly needed to play the game. Only two things are vital in MTG, lands, and friends. Calling Atraxa essential also feeds into the false narrative that self-expression isn't a cornerstone of MTG.
Nine times out of ten, a new player just starting, won't even be thinking about running “the best Commander” They will be so infatuated by the massive list of Commanders, and probably settle for a mono-colored or two-colored commander, that does cool stuff. They will see their lands they have, or the basics they give away for free at their local game store and build based on what their friends recommend. Any good playgroup wouldn't let their friend build a four color deck on their first try. After they talk to their buds, they'll check out the display case and purchase an unplayable eight drop that was built for new players. The blissful ignorance of a new player not knowing what is good and what is “bad” is what makes Magic brilliant. And he will end up winning with that card.
Now this is a complaint I heard from many voices on Facebook and Reddit, that the price of DM will not lead to many of these cards lowering in price on the secondary market. Perhaps this is true. I can see their side of that argument. But it’s not an argument that is exclusively relevant to DM and the price per pack is not completely indicative of the secondary market change of reprints.
Battlebond was a $4 draft booster which was criminally undervalued at release in 2018, and if released today, I’m sure would be $10 a pack. The set saw the reprint of a largely desirable card: Land Tax. Right before Battlebond launched, Land Tax was priced at $35.70 cents. When the new version was released, it held a price of approximately $18 for six months. Two years later, both versions sit at $40 dollars each? What happened? Despite Battlebond being a $4 draft set, Land Tax is now worth more than it was before it was reprinted. You don't have to attend Tolarian Community College to understand supply and demand, because the Prof doesn't teach it. Simply put, Land Tax was sought after by many, many Magic the Gathering players…but not enough to spend $35 dollars on it. However, for half the price? You have a deal.
The players who wanted the card bought said card. With more copies in the wild, and more new players entering the format, they will see more copies of Land Tax on their table than ever before. Does this mean Land Tax failed to garner a reasonable reprint? No, supply and price finally caught up with the demand. So yes, while you can argue that DM will fail to reprint cards at a reasonable rate, you could say that about every set that’s ever existed and every Mythic in print.
Thousand-Year Storm crept up on me and reminded me that FOMO exists in MTG and explains why many players blame Wizards for a “lack of reprints” when really it’s a case of “you snooze you lose.” It’s important to strike gold when an interesting card at mythic rarity is spoiled and is something that should be instilled in new players. Thousand-Year storm was a two dollar mythic rare in a hugely successful standard set, not a chase rare from DM. The card is now worth 8 dollars and continues to trend upwards.
It is a strange time to play Magic the Gathering and a strange time to be Wizards of the Coast. I don't believe Hasbro realized the type of property they owned until 2012. This has been cited as a year when Magic sales exploded with year over year popularity increases. This evident by their Pioneer format only including cards from Return to Ravnica and beyond. Like Dungeons and Dragons, Magic the Gathering has finally gone mainstream…as mainstream as something as niche and geeky as Magic can get. This was a company that I would argue squandered its IP. As a kid, no one I knew played Magic, they played Yugi-Oh and collected Pokemon without having any idea how to play. I blame a lack of a cartoon on that one. It wasn't until 2012 when they realized Commander is the best way to play Magic, their older cards had value, both as a collectible and a play piece, and that they should make it easy to play online.
Duels of the Planeswalkers and MTGO don’t really count in my book. The fact that Hearthstone has a Five Year advantage on the mobile game front, and Magic Arena is still not on phones, is an embarrassment. Considering this is the company that created Transformers, it's crazy it took until 2019 for Hasbro to finally commit to giving Magic it's own show, with their CGI trailers being a great start in expanding the game to mainstream audiences. It wasn't until 2012 that Wizards knew they had a serious IP on their hand. One that is an art form, a competition, a collectible, all rolled into one, appealing to all matters of players while pleasing none of them. Please reprint Fetch Lands though.