Indiana Jones and the Limited Print Runs

http://wp.me/p5VSx-1zEIndiana Jones Garruk

I keep seeing this argument all over the internet and I’ll address it here. The main complaint is about limited print runs: things like Commander’s Arsenal, Modern Masters, From the Vaults and SDCC “Black on Black” Planeswalkers.  These types of sets are hoarded by people which make them rare and hard for people to acquire. People need these cards, so why would WotC ever make it hard for players to get them? With the continued (and neverending) support of the Reserved List, WotC just cares about collectors. Screw the players, right? To quote the Reddit post that finally forced me to write this piece:

If your going to use that bullshit “secondary-market” or “collector’s will get mad”. I’m done. This is getting way out of hand. People are hoarding this shit like its gold. Its cardboard. I want to play a game. I mean half of these products are so rare and demanded with lots of $$$, that most of this shit is sitting sealed and unopened in some guys shelf, or he has multiples unopened because he’s looking to make a few dollars.

This is bullshit.

You don’t need these limited print run cards to play Magic.

Honestly.

I checked.

WotC doesn’t print these sets to make you mad. They do it because they can. And they should.

Listen, I get where this is coming from. Why should a few people get something special instead of everyone? This is the line of thinking that people were complaining about with the Helvaults for the Avacyn Restored prerelases. Some people received a  foil Demonic Tutors in their Helvault, the rest of us got rocks. That situation is a little different because everyone was expecting to receive the same thing, but a few stores got something better. WotC’s heart was in the right place, but they learned from the “feedback” (See: constant complaining) of players and I doubt a disparity like that is going to happen again.

The limited print run sets are different. WotC knows that these cards will be sought after, but they short print them and leave a majority of players unable to get them. Wizards of the Coast is a business, and the major goal of a business is to make money. One of the most successful ways to do this is a grow a customer base that has a loyal following and create a product/service that’s in demand. Magic does this wonderfully.

The Commander’s Arsenal, From the Vaults and SDCC Planeswalkers are for collectors who want to pay that extra money to get special versions of cards they might already own, basically having the customer “double dip” into buying a product that is almost exactly the same. To quote Mark Purvis:

[From the Vault] is meant to be a collector’s item, so we’re printing a limited number of them.

Every card in short print run sets are reprints. Save a few that were previews and were eventually printed in the next set, none of these cards’ game text is unique. My Scourge Dragonstorm plays the same as my FTV Dragonstorm as my Time Spiral Timeshifted Dragonstorm as my Modern Masters Dragonstorm. If all you care about is playing the game, then it doesn’t matter what set your card comes from as along as you have the card.

Once you have the opinion, “I want this version because…” you have become a collector. A dirty, dirty collector that you were just curing out a few moments ago.

Example: A normal deck of 52 cards is the same as another deck of 52 cards. If all you cared about was to play poker with your friends, it doesn’t matter which deck you play with. However, if you wanted to add some flair and play with a Game of Thrones theme, or your favorite Hip-Hop artists, or anything different, you care what the cards look like. These decks aren’t sold every store, so you had to search for what you wanted. This is just the same with Magic cards.

For it to be a collector’s item, the product has to be limited. If everyone had it, then it’s not collectible. You have two prime examples of this happening: 1990’s comic books and Beanie Babies. Everyone who collected these believed that they would be able to pay for college in a few years because they were “collectible”. What they didn’t realize was the fact that because everyone who was interested in the same thing had them as well, the demand for these items shot down. When you have something everyone else has (all things being equal), there’s far less interest in yours. They don’t hold their value.

Magic’s economic structure is better for having people with deep wallets and investing time and money into this game; they want people to develop an interest for the game. As Magic is a game between two or more people, you have to share it with others. This means that others will want to buy your product and so on and so forth. Because not everyone gets the same game out of the box, it means that you need to acquire what you’re looking for. If there’s no interest in it, then there’s no collectible/financial aspect; I have a promo Black Rider from the Lord of the Rings TCG; now that no one plays it in large numbers any more it’s near worthless (down from the high price of $40+ 10 years ago).

Magic is an expensive hobby, but just like any hobby you can dictate how much money and time and effort you want to devote to it. If you want the cards/collectibles that are hard to find, and highly sought after, you’re going to have to invest in it (time, money and/or effort). People are more connected with something the more they have worked for it. That’s part of the appeal of the game, to be emotionally invested in the cards. If Magic was worthless because it was overprinted and everyone had what they wanted, what would be the point to collect? There’s a reason why WotC doesn’t sell a complete set of their cards like Topps does with baseball cards: it doesn’t add collectability.

The issue with Commander’s Arsenal was a simple mistake: WotC completely underestimated the demand for the product because of the price tag. With a new product that’s not uncommon (See: When Magic first came out). With a specialty product like this, it’s not easy to start a second run just like they can with a normal card set such as Return to Ravnica. WotC has got this smartly covered: if you do want to buy a special limited print run product you have to go to your LGS, not your Walmart or Target. This product isn’t for everyone. It targets established, entrenched, invested players instead of the person who’s first contact of the game is a Duel Deck that they found in a large box store. There are more of these players than WotC realized.

I thought that I would want the SDCC Planeswalkers. After all, they were going to be worth value because they were rare. But after some thinking about it, I decided against it. I really don’t like the M14 Planeswalkers that much (three of them are reprints and I’m fine with that), and I don’t like the style of the “Black on Black” look; I only wanted the cards because they were going to be worth money. While that’s a perfectly valid reason but that, for me, means I don’t have interest in seeking out this limited print run. Magic has gotten to the point in its history to be able to cater to people with different tastes and income streams. If people want to spend $500 on 5 cards in a limited print run, have at it.

This post isn’t here to berate people who feel cheated out of something. Yes, it stinks that a majority of players won’t be able to afford what their heart desires to make their deck or collection as financially sound as possible. But we’re talking about reprints from cards that are available in booster packs. Magic, and you, can survive if WotC produced nothing but regular sets. If you really want these cards, you can acquire them.

It just takes time, money, and/or effort.

That’s just the reality of a collectible card game.

Postscript:

This is tangentially related: Card Availability. There’s a difference between finding promos of a card versus not being able to find the card. This is the heart of the issue with the dreaded Reserve List. WotC said they would never print a certain set of cards again (and yes, from my discussions with them, they are dead serious about this. You cannot change their mind. Yes, they hate the Reserved List too). There will come a time when Revised Dual Lands will become so expensive that it will completely price new people from playing Vintage/Legacy. I believe that the Power 9 has almost done this to Vintage, but we haven’t seen the effects to Legacy just yet.

But it’s more than just the old dual lands. This is why Modern Masters was printed and distributed the way it was. I already talked about it here, but the quick recap is this: Modern is a format where they can reprint everything. It will just take time as these types of releases aren’t planned a month in advance. Modern Masters was a test and I believe a highly successful one. We will see a followup to Modern Masters.

But it can be more than just an other set of reprints; by adding in Mutavault and Scavenging Ooze in M14, WotC is giving us more access to cards that are needed to get more people into older formats. Some Planeswalkers are getting cheaper as well, which helps out with the Casual crowd. With the focus of the Spring Duel Deck being Planeswalkers from the previous set, you’re guaranteed to get two foil Planeswalkers from the past block for $20. And they aren’t just your LGS either, but at Walmart and Target. They are trying to get more cards out. Remember the “Priceless Treasures” promotion of Zendikar? I swear, they really do want us players to have the cards that we want to play. It just takes time to work all of this so it doesn’t break the game.

Be patient, please.

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7 thoughts on “Indiana Jones and the Limited Print Runs

  1. Fair comment. One thing I think you overlooked is the situation that arises when a card from one of the commander products becomes a key card in a legacy deck- shared less agent, Baleful strix, scavenging ooze, etc. in these cases it does become problematic for there to be limited print runs because then people actually ‘need’ the cards in the sense of having an optimal deck, and having to pay $100 for a playset of one of those cards is obviously very annoying when they’re an uncommon that was printed 8 months ago. What do you think about this?

    • I really didn’t to this, but MTG products get released in three levels: set, supplemental, and limited. Set is sold everywhere (LGS and big box) and can be printed in multiple runs. Limited is only sold in LGSs and has a single run (Modern Masters was the exception). Supplemental is sold everywhere, but only has a few print runs.
      Since printing new cards in supplemental products is a new concept, WotC is seeing how it goes. Luckily it hasn’t been too bad. Flusterstorm was a Judge promo and Scavenging Ooze is in M14 as well as a DotP promo. I can see supplemental products helping each out when it comes to a more limited supply. The new Commander product will focus on Shard colors, so both Shardless Agent and Baleful Strix could be printed in that set. At the moment, it seems like WotC is waiting a year plus to see if any of the cards make an impact before finding a spot to reprint it. There’s not much they can do before hand due to scheduling. As for Legacy/Vintage players who need these cards, well, they can trade for or buy the products and use the rest as trade fodder. Unfortunately, there’s no perfect answer.

  2. Yes, God yes. I have been close to my breaking point with some of the ridiculous entitlement going around in regards to the SDCC promos recently. One of the dumbest things I have been seeing are the people who seem to only really want the promos because they are worth money, but also want them to be available reasonably to anyone who wants to buy them, as if they would at all retain any of their value. People keep missing the point that none of these promos are required to play the game.

    One thing that bothers me most is the asinine “rich get richer” argument. So many people I have seen say “Well, isn’t it nice that Wizards is rewarding only those players who can afford to travel across the country to a Convention by giving them even more money”. As if: A) Special events should not be special B) SDCC is only open to some super-elite wealthy group and C) Wizards has some plan to deprive the average player from ever getting anything of value. It is all a value argument. For the people who complained that they “couldn’t afford” to go to SDCC, the fact of the matter is that they probably just have a different value on things like that than the people who did go to SDCC. Maybe they bought 2 boxes of every expansion and a box of Modern Masters this year instead of saving some of that money for a trip to Comic Con. Maybe they genuinely don’t have very much money to put into the hobby, in which case complaining that some other people somewhere were “lucky” to have the chance to spend $60 on 5 cards is not really any kind of valid argument, since it is unlikely that the people arguing this would be willing to spend that kind of money on the game in the first place.

    There are also the people who complain about Modern Masters being a limited print run by saying “Well, Wizards isn’t really supporting Modern, because I can’t afford the most expensive Modern cards, and MM didn’t change that.” Listen, the most expensive cards in a format are ALWAYS going to be the most expensive cards in a format. At the point where cards like Tarmogoyf and Bob are worth $10 each, either Wizards has over-saturated the market to the point where basically no card has any value over any other card (which would KILL your LGS and every online retailer), or the game is dead. What most of there people fail to have noticed is that aside from the few marquee mythics in the set, MM has reduced prices on many Modern staples (as well as just cards that are in the Modern card pool) basically across the board. Spell Snare went from an $8 uncommon to a $3 uncommon. Cards like Glen Elendra Archmage, Engineered Explosives, Glimmervoid, Knight of the Reliquary, Blinkmoth Nexus, Kitchen Finks and Maelstrom Pulse have all dropped in price by approximately $5-$10 each. And that is not even to mention all of the $1 commons that are $.50 now and all of the $5-$15 Commander and Casual rares that are now $2-$5.

    In short, while it would be wonderful for everyone to be able to get every card that they wanted, it would also negate any value or reason for those cards to be desired in the first place. Yeah, the SDCC promos look pretty cool, but if every player at your FNM is running 4 copies of the SDCC Chandra in their decks, then they aren’t special anymore and might as well just be M14 versions.

    Sorry this has been like a super-long mini article that basically covers the same territory as your post, but I have been bottling all of this up for a few weeks and finally needed to just say it somewhere.

  3. IMO this applies more to special versions of stuff like the sdcc walkers, no one has any reason to gripe about those since there are regular versions easily available. But there is lots of reason to gripe about the way limited releases are being handled. When you put a foil worth several hundred dollars in a $50 limited release product all you’ve done is ensure that said product will not be available to most people at anything close to msrp and to me at least that’s a problem. Wizards isn’t directly to blame and I’m not asking for $10 goyfs but the speculation, holding, and secondary market gouging are also not healthy for the game and wizards should at least be trying to control it rather then adding fuel to the fire. I’ve been around since 94 and there have always been people saying the sky is falling but there are more angry people now then I’ve ever seen and I’d be very surprised if the powers that be didn’t know it despite their seeming inability to address it.

  4. While you have decent reasoning in the context of someone wanting a version of a card that functions that same as another, you’ve missed the mark on the real issue: The availability versus demand of a card that won’t be reprints outside of limited products.

    You can’t put the SDCC Planeswalker promo set in the same bucket as FTV or Modern Masters – the cards those promos were based on are still widely available and in most player’s budgets. You can’t say the same for JTMS, which is a Legacy staple; or Mox Diamond; or many cards that Modern and Legacy players (and even Commander players, to an extent) are in desperate need of that are printed on those limited products, but in such limited quantity that they serve as a tease more than anything.

    In not angry at Wizards because I won’t get a foil Hymn to Tourach; I’m angry at Wizards because JTMS is $120 USD and my only chance to afford to get 3-4 copies for a deck would have been a reprint. I’m mad because Modern Masters was limited enough that I didn’t get to draft with it because stores hiked the prices up and the prices increased on the cards that needed reprinted most, rather than decreased.

    Wizards is alienating players as their game becomes harder and harder to afford. While the knee-jerk reaction to SDCC was ridiculous, there is ample reason to call foul on the other limited print run products that could be a chance to make Magic more enjoyable less expensive.

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