Magic: The Gathering is a fantastic game designed by very smart people who are good at what they do. I want to get that out there right at the start to show that I do actually like this game a whole lot. I’ve played the Pokémon and Yu-Gi-Oh! trading card games but Magic: The Gathering is the one that has grabbed me the most. Between the great card design, fantastic art, and emphasis on storytelling through the game itself, it really is the game for me. I want to make that clear because the rest of this article is going to be rather negative, as I’m honestly pretty concerned about the game I love. A lot of the business decisions Wizards of the Coast has made recently have left me puzzled and worried.
Throwing Queer People Under The Bus
The War of the Spark: Forsaken novel was a disaster on almost every level. Between poor characterization and a clearly rushed writing style, I think it’s fair to say that nobody really liked it. I don’t blame the author for this, by the way. In many ways this book feels like a checklist he was given and a very tight deadline to fill that checklist in. But there was one passage that caused an uproar. A passage so heinous that a lot of people, myself included, completely lost all faith in WOTC’s story department.
For context, people have been reading the relationship between two female members of the main cast, Nissa Revane and Chandra Nalaar, as romantic for a number of years now. There have been snippets in numerous stories to indicate that Chandra was not straight. And to see this felt like a punch in the gut. To have years of build to a conclusion many queer fans wanted just squashed in such blunt and unkind terms felt like a betrayal. I was one of the many people severely disappointed by this revelation. This was an excellent opportunity to publicly show support to their sizeable queer fanbase with some major representation. But they pulled the plug at the last minute like the cowards that they are.
Speaking of cowardice, let’s talk about Autumn Burchett. They’re a professional Magic player from England who is well known for winning the first Mythic Championship competition and becoming the first nonbinary person to win a tournament at that level. But at Mythic Championship VI, WOTC pulled a colossally inconsiderate move. Autumn had written trans rights slogans on some of their basic lands to protest WOTC’s continued association with transphobic conspiracy theorist artist Terese Nielsen, but was told by WOTC to remove them from their deck, despite the alterations not breaking any of the rules for competitive Magic. This was a bad move with bad optics, because WOTC clearly valued the money they make with Nielsen more than the comfort and support of their queer fanbase. This turned a lot of people off the game.
The Whole Cow
This is one of many things that Magic seems to have picked up from AAA videogames: taking away what we used to get for no cost and then selling it back to us for additional profit. The most egregious example of this is the reduction of access to Magic story. The story of Magic: The Gathering is key to a lot of people’s enjoyment of the game. Seeing characters change over the course of their adventures and seeing that reflected in the cards is an excellent hook for keeping people invested. You used to be able to keep up with the story on the main website, but that changed with May 2019’s War Of The Spark set, where the story would instead be released in hardcover novels that you have to pay for with no official free alternative.
Masterpieces were another big one. Whether they were called Invocations or Masterpieces or Inventions, they were a very cool idea. Basically, every normal booster pack in certain sets had a small chance of a special art version of a desirable card. These were received very well by the community for adding an extra fun element to cracking packs for Limited play because you might get lucky and get a cool bonus. But those are gone now as well. Instead, they’ve ramped up production of special art cards but made them exclusive to more expensive Collector Boosters and limited-time Secret Lair products, again making us pay extra for something we used to get for free.
Secret Lairs were a cool idea in theory. Basically, they’re existing cards reprinted with new art or frames printed to demand for a limited time, and (usually) with prices slightly lower than they would be on the secondary market (we’ll get to that). Initially, this seems great. It lets people who want these cards to buy them for semi-reasonable prices and get cool new art for them at the same time. I was okay with them in the beginning but I quickly developed a distaste for them. Between low printing quality, problems with sending them out on time, and high shipping costs to areas outside the US, there was a lot to dislike. But the worst thing is their reliance on the increasingly prevalent phenomenon of FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out). Most of these products are only available for 24 hours, after which they’ll never be available again. This is a psychologically manipulative tactic to get people to spend money on things they might not even want for fear of missing out on it.
Magic is a game played with cards that you can collect primarily by buying randomized booster packs. These are small pieces of cardboard that cost pennies to print, yet some of them cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars on the secondary market. The Reserved List (a list of cards that Wizards has promised to never reprint in a tournament-legal manner) means that some cards will never go down in value again. But the biggest offender in lack of reprints is fetch lands. These are cards that you can use to find specific lands in your deck to make the color of mana you need to cast your spells and play the game. They’re basically required to play at competitive levels in formats like Modern and Legacy. Even casual formats like Commander benefit from them. But for some reason, they haven’t seen a meaningful printing since 2014.
These are pieces of the game that you are required to have four of in a normal constructed deck, and a single one of them can cost upwards of $80 US on the secondary market. This makes playing the game extremely inaccessible and prices a lot of people out of playing formats. Fact of the matter is, these cards are game pieces. Magic should be a combination of luck and skill, not a competition of who can afford the best cards. That’s not fun, and this game is supposed to be fun, right?
The biggest kick in the teeth was a product called Secret Lair Ultimate Edition, a reprinting of five of the ten fetch lands with new art sold exclusively at local game stores. The catch? It was being sold for $350 US, and sent to stores in extremely limited quantities. $350 US for a box containing five small pieces of cardboard is downright insulting to the consumer. We have been asking, begging, for a meaningful reprint of these cards for years now, and this is what they came up with.
Double Masters and Premium Products in General
Wizards of the Coast has been increasing production of more expensive premium products in the last two years or so. They’ve done Secret Lairs, Collector Boosters, Masters sets, Modern Horizons, Mythic Editions, and more. Look up what all of these are if you’re curious, but they all come down to products that are more expensive than the standard set releases. The most recent one they announced was called Double Masters, a set where the gimmick is that you get two rare cards instead of the default one in every booster pack. The catch? A single booster pack of 15 cards is predicted to cost around $16 US. That’s four times the $3.99 US cost of standard booster pack for the same number of cards. An excuse that they like to trot out a lot these days is that these products are “not for everyone.” In response, here is my well-reasoned and carefully researched reply:
Why can’t it be for everyone? What’s so wrong about making the game more accessible to more people? These are marketed as products for collectors, or people who don’t mind spending extra money on nicer looking versions of these cards. The problem is that these products contain desirable game pieces that you need to play the game, and aren’t available for a reasonable price on the secondary market. Being told it’s not “for you” can only happen so many times before it starts to feel like the whole game is not for you. Wizards of the Coast is telling you they see that you’re too poor to enjoy their game, and their response is “we don’t care.” They’re chasing big spenders to the exclusion of the rest of their consumer base which is a great way to make a short-term profit but it’s unwise in the long term. That money is going to dry up, and when you’ve spent years excluding the average consumer, good luck getting them back. It happened in the mobile game market, and it’s probably going to happen to WOTC as well.
I could keep going with this. From the shady monetization of Magic: Arena to the gutting of organized play and removal of official coverage, WOTC has made a lot of mistakes recently. They’ve made enough of them in a short time that I’m getting genuinely concerned about the game and the company. This all reeks of corporate greed from higher-up executives chasing profits over everything else. I’m sick of seeing them make bad decisions and I’m especially tired of hearing their excuses instead of admissions that they made a mistake. Do better.