UNLOCKED: Returning to the Scene of the Crime

By: Travis Allen

Don’t miss this week’s installment of MTG Fast Finance! An on-topic, no-nonsense tour through the week’s most important Magic economy changes.

This article was originally posted 5/3/16 as ProTrader only. Due to the feedback received, I’ve chosen to make the part of this article relating to reprints public. Enjoy!

Not as Easy as it Looks

This all blends into a much larger discussion of reprints as a whole. It’s been a hot topic again recently, with the removal of Modern from the Pro Tour circuit. Without a Modern PT, there’s concern that WotCaHS (Wizards of the Coast, a Hasbro Subsidiary) won’t reprint nearly as many staples, and it will lead to players being priced out of the format. I understand the concern here, and it comes from a well-intentioned placed. However, reprints are not nearly as simple as “shove card X into set Y.” Check out this recent Rosewater Tumblr post on the topic:


He states it blatantly. Yes, we’d like to do something about making Modern more accessible, but no, jamming everything into Standard isn’t the right path.

Corbin Hosler had an excellent string of tweets not too long ago documenting one piece of this rather challenging puzzle. He probably should have made it an article, but he didn’t, so instead I’m stealing his content and using it for mine.

Chronicles was a disaster for Wizards back in the day, and it was cited by Aaron Forsythe as exactly what they wanted to avoid when discussing how to manage Modern Masters. It’s far safer to underprint a product like that than overprint, because overprinting can ruin future profits, and thus the health of the game as a whole. If it’s $400 for a tier one Standard deck and $450 for a tier one Modern deck, how many people would play Standard instead of Modern? Many fewer packs of the new set would be opened, and Wizards would end up cannibalizing their own product’s long term health for some short term profits. They’re already bad about that as it is with regards to MTGO. Do we really want paper Magic to begin experiencing the same failures as MODO?

Right Bullet, Wrong Target

One of the more common proclamations is that WotCaHS should give absolutely zero consideration to maintaining collection values of the enfranchised, so that new players can get into the format. Slash and burn card prices, screw the privileged elite, and let everyone into the party. It sounds great, right?

As someone who owns a set of Tarmogoyfs, let me say this: I don’t care if they reprint him as a rare in Standard. I don’t care if Goyf’s price drops. I’ve had them for years, will continue to have them, and wouldn’t sell them unless I was selling the entire damn collection, which is a long ways away. They represent only a small portion of my collection’s value.

However, I’m not the average player. Most people don’t own nearly as many cards as I do, and a $600 set of Tarmogoyfs is a much larger percentage of their total collection’s value than mine. If you reduce that number by $500, you’ve just taken a humongous chunk out of the average player’s Magic gross worth. Why punish those that don’t have a house’s value tied up in cardboard?

Going beyond that, assuming you don’t care about the 1% of Magic players that wouldn’t be bothered by a drop in Goyf’s price, what about all those players out there that are actively working towards sets? Nearly 4,000 non-foil Tarmogoyfs show up on Want lists right now on PucaTrade. Imagine spending however many months it may take to earn enough points for a Tarmogoyf, receiving it, and then finding out it’s showing up at rare in Eldritch Moon. Poof, there goes $100 worth of card value that you just spent six weeks grinding out. Is it fair to those players? Forget about guys like me, I’m not the one that a Standard reprint would hose. It’s all the mid-level players that those reprints really screw. Reprinting Tarmogoyf in Standard at rare is a dramatic example, of course, but you get the idea. Crashing card values doesn’t harm the hoarders like myself nearly as badly as it harms the thousands of people trying to scrape together a reasonable Modern collection.

It’s First Order or Something

Corbin spoke about how it’s important for WotCaHS to manage the cost of entry of Modern and Legacy relative to Standard, so as to avoid cannibalizing their own product. We talked about how crashing card values harms players, but not necessarily the players you’d expect it to. Now, let’s look at another facet: reprinting Modern cards tends to ruin Standard.

Here’s my for-fun theorem:

  1. Modern has many more sets legal than Standard
  2. As a card pool grows, it is tougher and tougher for individual cards to rise to the top
  3. Those that do stand out in a card pool are exceptionally powerful
  4. A format is defined by its most powerful cards
  5. Format defining cards are more desirable
  6. Controlling for rarity, the more desirable a card, the more expensive it is
  7. The most expensive cards are the ones most in need of a reprint
  8. Cards that would be identified as ideal reprints are exceptionally powerful
  9. The smaller a format, the more influence a powerful card exerts
  10. Therefore: Modern’s best cards will have a dramatic impact on any Standard format in which they appear

(Yeah yeah I know it’s not a valid or sound proof.)

Because of how good the cards in Modern need to be to see considerable play, they will by their nature impact Standard heavily. We don’t need to look far to see evidence of this. When Thoughtseize was reprinted, it had a tremendous impact on Standard as a whole. Remember Mono-Black and Pack Rat and Desecration Demon? Standard was 50% MBC mirrors for six months. Even without those support cards, Thoughtseize would have been a key player in that format. In fact,  that Temur was basically non-existent in constructed Magic during that time can certainly be at least partially attributed to the presence of Thoughtseize.

Similarly, the fetches in Khans of Tarkir did a lot to Standard. Do you remember what the decks looked like before Shadows over Innistrad? They were all four color messes. Fetches, in combination with the battle lands, were responsible for that. You could make the argument that fetches wouldn’t have had such an impact on Standard had the battle lands not been printed, but that’s sort of the point — WotCaHS needs to bend over backwards to make sure these higher power cards don’t screw everything up.

Heck, look at two newer cards, Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy and Siege Rhino. Neither one is a reprint, but they’re both seeing play in older formats. And while doing so, also made Standard all about them the entire time. Standard only has a handful of exceptionally powerful cards in it at a time, and all the meaningful cards in Modern are exceptionally powerful.

This isn’t to say that Standard can’t accommodate for these cards whatsoever. After all, each of these reprints had to exist the first time, right? Sure, but don’t forget what these looked like the first time around. Tarmogoyf, in conjunction with Garruk Wildspeaker, was a pillar of Standard when it was legal. Cryptic Command was key in 5c Control, another top Standard deck. Snapcaster Mage was all over Standard for two entire years. Did they “ruin” Standard? Probably not. They definitely warped it though.

I fully admit that any card could be reprinted in Standard and the format could be shaped to accommodate it. A great example of this was Mirrodin, where they brought back Atog and Terror. Terror had been an amazingly powerful piece of removal prior to Mirrodin block, but with artifact creatures everywhere, it seemed much less impressive. At the same time Atog, which had been garbage in the past, was now impressively useful on a plane with so many artifacts.

Yeah, we could have Snapcaster Mage in Standard and not have him be the most important card in the format. But it would mean almost no playable one mana instants and sorceries, and the two mana ones would need to be powered down too. Not just in the set he’s legal either. You’d need these restrictions in place in the block preceding him, the block including him, and the block following him. That’s a year and a half of Magic sets that would need to be designed within strict guidelines, just to allow for a single card to be reprinted. And what about the other reprints going on at the same time? And what about the blocks even further out that are impacted by the presence or absence of those one mana instants or sorceries in adjacent blocks? You can see how making room for a single powerful card can impact years worth of Magic design. When Rosewater talks about how difficult it is to balance reprints, he’s not kidding.

QED or Something

I’m not saying reprints aren’t helpful or necessary, because they absolutely are. Without them, formats tend towards stagnation, and if reprints are simply not an option whatsoever, as in Legacy, there is only one conclusion. However, shoving multiple highly-desired cards into Standard sets comes with a host of problems that go far beyond simply costing a handful of enfranchised players some value. WotCaHS runs the risk of alienating burgeoning players, crashing markets, cannibalizing future Standard sets, and driving players out of the game altogether. When you consider how bad the consequences can be, and how many ways there are for things to go poorly, it should come as no surprise that they’re (rightfully) erring on the side of caution.

11 thoughts on “UNLOCKED: Returning to the Scene of the Crime”

    1. My suggestion to Wizards: sell boxes that contain 33 packs of the current standard set and 3 eternal packs. The eternal packs’ packaging has different artwork and the cards inside them are reprints (primer card inside them explain that some are not standard legal, but useable for modern).

      Standard sells, people have a chance at getting the reprints they need.

  1. You kind of just state two things that seem to be just stated, but might be wildly inaccurate.

    First, you say that Modern and Legacy are just better. Second, you say that Modern doesn’t change.

    These two things are wildly inaccurate. Or rather, I don’t think we have enough data to make accurate claims with regard to Modern.

    Modern is pretty young compared to the 20 year history of Magic, at what, nearly 5 years old? Justin Bieber has been famous for longer than Modern’s been around.

    We don’t have a lot of data to actually support that any assertion of Modern being static one way or another. Remember Eldrazi Winter? Monastery Swiftspear? Khans fetches? Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy? Hell, Gurmag Angler, a *common* from Khans block, affected Legacy.

    This isn’t even taking bans into account.

    I think the thing to realize was that Modern was kind of an accidental format. They didn’t mean to have the powerlevel or any sort of the interactions it has.

    Modern isn’t a format that was designed to begin with. None of the sets were meant to played with each other. Remember, it came out in 2011, with the start of the format being in 2003! The reason why it’s 8th Edition is entirely arbitrary. 8th Edition is when we got the modern card frame.

    It wasn’t mechanics that set the stage for Modern, it was aesthetics!

    Imagine in 2008 someone saying that Kamigawa was going to have some of the most broken cards in a wildly popular format for hardcore gamers, and they’ll be mostly uncommon(with an uncommon costing 30 bucks!). You’d be considered insane.

    It was meant as a replacement to Extended. Whose life seemed to only exist for the Pro Tour.

    So now we have a format where the power level is extremely variable dependent on what set has wrecked the power level lately.

    That’s a problem. That’s potentially a bigger problem than just the price of Modern being the same price as Standard.

    What do they reprint in the face of Oath of the Gatewatch? What do they reprint in the face of Shadows over Innistrad and Eldritch Moon? For the next set after that? and after that?

    So Standard will keep pushing Modern.

    Right now, Standard is also really good right now. There’s what, 5 or 6 deck archetypes that dominate? The power level delta between tier 1 and tier 2 decks are thin enough that it’s hard to know what’s Tier 1 and what’s Tier 2. Even G/W Tokens and Bant Company and Esper Dragons are having problems being consistently Good.

    The problem Modern has, is that it’s the Classic Rock of Magic. When you look at the whole of it, it seems like it doesn’t move. Then next thing you know Kid Rock is on the oldies station and everything has changed.

    I also don’t think Modern will ever be as cheap as Standard, but clearly the price could stand to come down. And maybe Standard also needs to get cheaper too, 45 bucks for Avacyn? Is there some kind of Madness going on in the Magic community?

    1. Let me be a little more clear, I meant to say, “You say that Modern rarely changes.”

      I didn’t mean to put words in your mouth.

      Still, Modern is young. We don’t have a lot of data. Cards are wicked expensive.

      Wizards should probably do something.

  2. I just really hope the “feedback received” calling for this to be unlocked came from paid up subscribers……….

    Seems less and less reason to bother being a paid up subscriber at all, really – especially those of us outside the US.


    1. I voted and pushed to unlock this. I think it’s worth unlocking for everyone to read.

    2. I’m sorry you feel our ProTrader isn’t as useful if you live outside the US. Unfortunately, because none of the writers live in Europe, we’re blocked from using many of the buying and selling resources over there. We can’t even use the services in order to educate ourselves. I think the best takeaway from our content for international users is card discussion, metagame analysis/prediction, and casual staple discussion. That type of knowledge should translate across borders reasonably well.

  3. See I’m a UK paid user and i find the price worth it on a monthly basis. I originally paid to read Jason’s stuff but that’s now free. However, i am still happy to pay to read articles daily and to make sure i can keep on reading the free stuff too, as there is a cost to someone for it.

  4. Then don’t reprint them in standard, but in supplemental sets. As someone who sold 40 duals for $120 dollars prior to 4th Edition I could care less is someone’s Tarmo is devalued. Prices go up and down. Supply and demand… and they know that Tarmo can be reprinted. Anything not Reserved can be. They know the risks. Make Standard events desirable enough to keep people wanting to play them. Something has to be done about Eternal and it’s not happening fast enough.

    1. I agree, but this is exactly what Wizards is doing. People are annoyed with the glacial pace of Wizards’ actions, but they’re doing precisely this. Every freakin’ summer we get sets chock full of older playables – Modern Masters, Conspiracy, Commander, now Eternal Masters — what more do ya want, brah?

      It’s true that Wizards is not blowing their whole reprint wad in a single set. It’s also true that the machine of Magic Finance is making cards reach their maximum possible prices faster than ever before. There is an argument about both these things.

      But we need to give WotC credit: they ARE addressing the problem. And doing so responsibly.

  5. Price does matter. It’s a sad and kind of disquieting fact when discussing a game designed for little more than fun and frolic. But there are now numerous people who collect Magic: The Gathering and don’t even play it! But, these people deserve their hobby as much as the rest of us deserve our hobby to play. So, within reason, compromises must be made. Value must exist beside play. It’s akin to the people who collect classic, first edition novels, but don’t read them.

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