Magic The Gathering, The re-print
The Digital and Tangible Ramifications of the Magic The Gathering Re-print Policy.
Chris Kuehl is the COO of MTGOAcademy, a leading Magic gathering retailer on PlayerAuctions. He has played Magic: The Gathering on and off since 1994 and Magic: The Gathering Online since 2005, and was recognized by Wizards of the Coast for community contributions through his invitation to the 2011 Magic Community Cup.
In this guest post, Chris Kuehl explains the impact of the reprint policy on the physical and digital versions of Magic The Gathering by recounting Magic’s history from its formative years to its present incarnation.
From its conception as a collectible card game, Magic set down the path of greatness, but its journey would not be without obstacles. As the company responsible for creating Magic, Wizards of the Coast underestimated the public’s reception to their game.
Magic The Gathering
The cards sold out shortly after their July 1993 release. Another, larger batch was manufactured and released in December 1993 (Unlimited Edition, this time white-bordered), but it also quickly sold out. After Revised Edition was released in April 1994, many players were already clamoring for a chance to get a hold of many of the hard-to-acquire cards found in the Alpha, Beta, Unlimited, Arabian Nights and Antiquities sets.
Unfortunately, with much greater supply created than any previous set, Chronicles and Fourth Edition had a much more drastic effect on the secondary market (and consumer confidence) than Revised Edition or Unlimited Edition had even hinted at. Many of the newly reprinted cards that were at a premium and highly sought after by collectors prior to the release lost a significant amount of their secondary market value. The experience, while negatively polarizing, taught Wizards of the Coast that they had to protect the collectible integrity of their product.
Many of the newly reprinted cards that were at a premium and highly sought after by collectors prior to the release lost significant portions of their secondary market value.
The Reserved List: To Protect and Serve
To understand what reprinting means to Magic, one must understand the distinction between the products that have been released. Products (sets) are amalgamations of mini products (cards). At any given time, sets are either actively distributed through retail outlets, or they are discontinued from distribution. The cards in discontinued sets are further split into two categories: those that contain items that are on the reserved list and those that are not, and which can be produced at a later date. (I’ll explain this reserved list in greater detail in a moment.) These classifications control how Wizards of the Coast can influence supply (by printing more cards).
At any given time, sets are either actively distributed through retail outlets, or they are discontinued from distribution.
In the aftermath of Chronicles and Fourth Edition, collectors shared their outrage over the discontinued sets, which they spent time and money to track down and acquire, suddenly becoming available at every local hobby shop in sealed booster packs. Wizards of the Coast, realizing that they had betrayed the trust of their consumers, had to regain it quickly. So they came up with a no-nonsense solution.
The company made a list of cards that they promised never to reprint from discontinued sets, a promise which also covers the printing of cards that are essentially the same version of a previous card but with a different name,so that collectors would no longer have to fear another Chronicles-like secondary market catastrophe. The list included all the cards from Alpha that had rotated out of print before Fourth Edition, along with all the rarest-uncommons (for sets without rares)or rares from Antiquities, Arabian Nights, Legends, The Dark, and Fallen Empires. (Rares and uncommons are two of the frequencies at which cards may appear in sealed packs.)
Since its inception, the reserved list has evolved in minor ways. The first changes started with the release of the Ice Age set and went through Urza’s Destiny: all the rares would have only one opportunity to get reprinted in a base set, and after that they were added to the reserved list— never to be printed again.
Then leading up to the release of Urza’s Destiny, Wizards stated that cards would no longer be added to the reserved list. And later in 2002, the uncommons and commons from early sets were removed from the reserved list. And cards like Juggernaut saw reprints, even though they had initially been on the reserved list.
Since its inception, the reserved list has evolved in minor ways.
In the most recent update to the reprint policy in 2010, and in response to several premium printings of cards on the reserved list, Wizards stated that they would no longer reprint tournament-legal versions of cards on the list in any capacity, such as promotional (including judge promos) or limited-edition-release (including From the Vault) premium cards that were seeing printings at the time. Up until this change, special-release, premium printings were seen as legitimate workarounds to the policy.
Additionally, Wizards has also explained why they reprint cards in the reprint policy:For [Wizards of the Coast], the Magic game is first and foremost a supreme game of strategy and skill [and secondly a collectible]. We choose to reprint cards because we believe
(a) the cards we reprint make for enjoyable game play, and
(b) all Magic players deserve an opportunity to play with these cards. Any card that isn’t on the reserved list may be reprinted.
(http://www.wizards.com/magic/tcg/article.aspx?x=magic/products/reprintpolicy, retrieved April 19, 2014)
Modern Magic: The Reprintable Era
Magic’s various play formats define a large portion of the non-scarcity demand of cards. These formats are collections of sets that are grouped to be played together (excluding cards that have not been printed in one of these “acceptable” sets). Cards may be used in a format if a card with the same exact name is in one of the acceptable sets, even if that particular card was printed in an “unacceptable” set.
In 2011, Wizards of the Coast announced the creation of the Modern constructed format. A non-rotating format in which cards from Eighth Edition forward are legal. At the time, the best alternative for a non-rotating format was Legacy. It was (and is still) hampered by card availability problems that stem from the original list of reserved cards. Since Wizards’ hands were tied when it came to meeting demand for Legacy singles cards. They created a similar, smaller format for which they had no restrictions about what could be printed again. This new format gave Wizards the competitive outlet that they wanted while maintaining their ability to reprint older cards without breaking their social contract to the players and collectors.
By the time 2013 arrived, and Modern had been featured in Grands Prix around the world and a few Pro Tour events, Wizards actualized their power to reprint cards not seen in Standard-legal sets en masse for the first time since Chronicles. Modern Masters, a limited-print-run release, hit the shelves with the sole goal of adding additional cards to circulation from sets as far back as 2003’s Mirrodin.
It was everything Chronicles wasn’t — a well-received, interesting collection of cards that not only did not reduce a lot of cards’ secondary market values (past the short term); it actually increased the prices of key cards as the product release brought more attention to the uses of such cards in the competitive Magic: The Gathering scene. The set’s release showed that while Wizards wouldn’t renege on their promise to forego reprinting earlier cards to stimulate competitive play with older sets, they would surely aim to maintain a healthy balance between supply and demand with Modern-legal sets going forward!
Digital Reprints & Their Effect on the Secondary Market
These tools have kept the price of Magic Online competitive decks much lower than their paper equivalents as the formats become more defined by discontinued cards.
(The following prices and deck lists were retrieved 4/19/2014. Average mid online price from major bot networks, in Magic Online event tickets. Average mid paper price from major price aggregate, in U.S. dollars.)
Compare Legacy Decks (Format contains discontinued sets and cards on the reserved list)
Compare Modern Decks (Format contains discontinued sets but no cards on the reserved list)
Compare Standard Decks(Format contains only actively printed and distributed sets)
Wizards has maintained a moderately aggressive stance for releasing additional cards into the discontinued sets card pool in magic the gathering. And the result has made the formats with discontinued sets much more affordable than their paper equivalents. The Legacy format is a wonderful example of the extreme effect of the reservedlist on competitive Magic card prices. The three decks showcased are between 50 to 75 percent cheaper on Magic Online than the paper counterparts! And the disparity will only get greater. As paper cards on the reserved list become scarcer on the secondary market and Wizards continues to add additional supply to Magic Online!
Speaking of reprinting cards on Magic Online. One of the most striking examples of the difference the reprint policy makes between the two media is embodied in something announced last year. Vintage Masters, a set almost entirely composed of reprints. Which is scheduled for a June 16, 2014. The release will contain cards that have not been printed since Unlimited Edition. This will also include the holy grail of Magic: The Gathering: the Power Nine.
“[W]ith the release of Vintage Masters, Magic Online players will have the chance to possess the power!” – Mike Turian, Digital Product Manager, Magic Online(http://www.wizards.com/Magic/Magazine/Article.aspx?x=mtg/daily/other/10212013/vintagemasters, retrieved April 19, 2014)
Benefits for Both Media
Some malign the existence of the reserved list and others laud it. But the overall Reprint Policy has benefited both paper and digital Magic but in opposite ways. The paper version of the game maintains an elite core of collectibles. This also has the ability to sustain newer play formats indefinitely through limited-scale reprinting to meet demand. The digital version of the game has no long-term supply barrier to those looking to enjoy playing with cards. Throughout the game’s illustrious past and the ability to make quick, limited-scale supply additions. Often, player enjoys both kind of media. Whichever media the player decides to experience, they are ensured of making Magic will happen.