Modern Technology

Two weeks ago, in The Unwilling Speculators, I wrote about the Modern format and how its affordability (or lack thereof) is quickly spiraling out of control. The article got some good discussion going—thank you to all the commenters who contributed.

The article wasn’t intended to be another “blame Wizards” piece. I can only fit so much into one article, and in this case, the problem statement was big enough to stand on its own. Today, I want to talk about solutions. I promise these won’t be ridiculous pie-in-the-sky solutions, either. These are ideas that are feasible, easily implemented, and won’t destroy Wizards’s business model. I’m not going to suggest that [card]Tarmogoyf[/card] be the next FNM promo.

Obviously, Wizards can’t snap its fingers and fix all the issues with Modern’s affordability. There is no silver bullet here. Nor do I expect that Wizards is interested in keeping super tight control of the secondary market. At this point, though, Wizards doesn’t seem to have any handle on it at all.

So here are three simple suggestions that would help make Modern an affordable and accessible format. They are small changes for Wizards that would make a world of difference to players. Here we go.

1. Tell Us What Reprints Are Planned

Wizards knows this stuff far ahead of time, so why not just reveal it? The information would create some stability in the secondary market.

Take, for example, [card]Bitterblossom[/card]. When Wizards unbanned this card, they did almost everything exactly wrong from a secondary market perspective. They created a shock and it touched off a nasty storm of speculation, panic buying, and real demand.

Now, we know we have a Modern event deck coming our way at the end of May. That was announced on January 9, nearly a full month before the DCI Banned & Restricted List update. Conventional wisdom is that the deck will be a black-white tokens deck.

If that is true, why didn’t they just say it? Imagine how much less painful this would have been if they announced a reprinting of [card]Bitterblossom[/card] in the event deck along with its unbanning. Players could then make a rational decision about whether to buy the card now (maybe they want it for Pro Tour Born of the Gods) or wait until May and pick it up at retail (if they just need it for Modern PTQ season). Instead, players are forced into the “now or never” mentality because of the risk that they are wrong about the event deck. Releasing information like this can cut down on panic buying significantly. Wizards can erase the fear of missing out just by telling us what they already have in store for us.

Announcing reprints as early as possible is also a good way to reduce speculation. Most speculators are going to stay away from cards that already have a reprint scheduled. Granted, the reprint has to be timely—I would venture to guess that announcing fetch lands in 2015 would actually cause a short-term spike, not a drop in price. That’s not because this approach doesn’t work, it’s because the fetch reprints are already overdue and Wizards would be confirming another year or more without them. In contrast, if Wizards is planning on printing something useful in Conspiracy this June (like [card]Noble Hierach[/card]), revealing that now would curb speculation over the next few months and allow the price to begin deflating immediately.

2. Stop Wasting Time Developing Limited For Reprint Sets

Modern Masters was a great Limited set. Almost everyone who played it had good things to say. The problem is that a great Limited environment was a secondary goal for the set, and the primary goal of getting more Modern cards into circulation was not nearly as successful. Besides, 2013 already had Return to Ravnica, Gatecrash, full RTR block, Magic 2014, and Theros Limited to occupy us. We weren’t hurting for something to draft.

We need reprints if Modern is going to be affordable. Limited playability is nice, but it’s just icing on the cake. If development of a Limited environment is delaying the set (Vintage Masters, ahem), Wizards should just drop it. It’s far more important to get the cards out there.

Want to know where the fetch land reprints are right now? Stuck in Development at Wizards while they figure out which landfall commons and uncommons make the best Limited environment for the 2015 release. I’m sure drafting the exalted/infect deck will feel great for the one month I get to do it next June, but it’s pretty far down my wishlist as a player. Finishing my set of blue fetches is much closer to the top.

Conspiracy will give us more of the same this summer—a quirky new Limited format that no one asked for with some, but not enough, reprints mixed in. Conspiracy will be fun. Modern will be more expensive than ever.

Wizards created a format entirely out of reprintable cards, and now they should reprint them. Create the card file, get it to the printer, get it in stores, sell packs. Done. I don’t care how the set plays in Limited if I can get the cards now. I want fetch lands this summer so I can PTQ, not a deep and nuanced draft experience in 2015.

It’s time to get over the Chronicles thing. It was over 18 years ago. The truth is that we need another Chronicles. Make it happen, Wizards.

3. Define Its Role In The Secondary Market

This is the most important one, in my opinion.

When I got into Modern, it was specifically because it was a non-rotating format that would be substantially less expensive than Legacy. Did Wizards ever promise that outright? No, of course not. It was certainly implied, though. There is no reason to create a new eternal format where every card is reprintable if you don’t care about the secondary market. I couldn’t afford Legacy then and I can’t afford Legacy now. I thought I could afford Modern based on what they said, so I jumped in. I, like many others, was under the impression that Wizards would play an active role in managing the affordability and accessibility of the format. Was I wrong? If I was, I would like to know now so I can stop feeling guilty about my half-baked Modern collection, sell it, and play Limited full-time.

I think it would be a huge step forward if Wizards just came out and told us how they view themselves in the Modern secondary market. They should define “affordable” and “accessible” for us, and say whether or not they really care about those things. They should tell us whether they are going to get more aggressive with reprints or whether this is it.

They shouldn’t be dodgy about it either. I know I can get a Modern deck for $300, but I want to play tier-one decks. I’m far past the point in my life where I’m okay getting crushed by someone just because he spent more on his deck. Is Wizards comfortable with $1,500 tier-one decks? $2,000 decks? $3,000? As players, we need to know, guys.

I also understand that Wizards doesn’t want to piss off collectors and stores with massive inventories. My question is, “Are you going to do it anyway?” If that group is untouchable, fine, it certainly appears that way right now. Just come out and say it.

By telling the player base where they see Modern going financially, Wizards will empower each one of us to make the best decision for our Magic-playing future. None of us are quitting the game, let’s be honest, but I for one would really like to know if Modern is what I thought it was when I got into it.

If Modern is just a Legacy reboot, do accessibility and affordability even matter?

What we shouldn’t have to deal with as players is sitting around waiting for Wizards to reprint cards to make Modern less expensive only to see the opposite happen. There are plenty of other ways to play. We want answers. I think we’re entitled to them.

As I said, none of these things are going to change Modern overnight. They are simple by design, Wizards could essentially implement all of them tomorrow. At this point, they would be welcome changes.

Thanks for reading.

About the Author
@acmtg   -    Articles Anthony is your typical started-during-Revised-then-quit-then-came-back-years-later Magic player. He enjoys the financial aspect of the game the most, mainly because it lets him use his analytical side but also because it makes up for the money he hemorrhages drafting on MTGO.

6 comments on Modern Technology

  1. Anonymous says:

    Your article goes through three major points, (1) announce reprints farther in advance, (2) don’t develop limited for reprint sets, (3) define it’s role in the secondary market. While I can agree with you on your third point, I’m I strongly feel that you’re wrong on the first two.

    Announcing reprints farther in advance would have a disastrous effect on the secondary market. If WOTC were to announce their reprints 5-6m in advance (as you suggest they should), it would only serve to raise the prices of the staples NOT reprinted. A perfect example is the Zendikar fetchlands. Within a day of announcing that MM would not reprint the fetch-lands, their price jumped a measurable amount. If you know that a staple isn’t going to get reprinted for half a year (which will often include the entire modern season), it becomes safe to do things like “buyouts” knowing that even if WOTC does decide to reprint your investments, you will have plenty of time to cash out. Looking to the original RAV shocklands for example, while everyone knew that gatecrash would complete the cycle, the RAV fetchlands didn’t drop in value until after the set came out. The reason for this is that if players need cards for decks and are left with the choice of either (a) not playing the deck or (b) paying a little extra, they will almost always choose the latter. This will be just serve to intensify the already large problem of speculators on the MTG market.

    Regarding your second point, you miss that the overwhelming number of packs opened are done so for limited. As much as people like to joke, WOTC is not printing money in a set like MM, they’re printing a game. That set is going to be opened by people wanting to play with the cards they open, not just to slightly reduce the price of staples. The difference is that if WOTC just printed packs without limited in mind, people opening it would be doing little more than just gambling (hoping to open an above average price pack) with a rapidly depreciating price (as more packs are opened, the price of the cards does go down). Also it’s worth noting that MM was one of the best limited formats EVER and was as close to a paper cube as I figure we would ever get (though this years product may well prove that wrong).

  2. I’m going to chime in and disagree on the second point as well. Modern Masters was hugely successful partially because of how unique it was as a draft format. Look at GP Vegas as the example where some 4K people showed up in the largest GP ever, and it was a limited event. If all Wizards is looking to do is reprint cards to decrease their price on the secondary market they’re more likely to annoy players than attract them. Modern Masters was a loved draft format because people could play with some of the recent classics and powerful combos in draft without having to go for a phantom format like Cube.

    1. Anonymous says:

      This is true and also a fallacy. They made a great draft format, then made the supply so limited due to not wanting to kill value of reprints that very few got to play it and those who did didn’t get to play for long. A great limited format and a set to introduce high dollar reprints should be seperated, which I think is what he is saying.

      I still have never done a single MMA draft since I worked every draft day my LGS held for the set and it really sucks.

      Their print run of mma didn’t actually get a good game experience to many players (4k at a single gp is not a significant amount in the grand scheme) and also didn’t get any significant numbers of reprints in circulation. It failed on both goals by trying to achieve both.

  3. Mike says:

    Again, on point three, you are expecting Wizards to behave like a central bank. Wizards is great at making games, but is not in the business of forecasting or econometrics. It really has no interest in maintaining price stability. If anything, it would like to push as many people into standard as possible so that they blow 100 plus dollars on that play set of blood baron vizkopas that won’t be worth fifty cents once they rotate.

    Wizards’ only real task is figuring out how much they can stretch people’s before it simply becomes inaccessible and people quit…. I thought this would keep a cap on legacy card prices, as the player base would stagnate as prices increased. Honestly, I never saw revised underground sea going to $200. I just could not imagine that many new players going the ranks of the legacy crowd and be willing to pony up the dough when other options were available to them. No doubt, it is hard to see the legacy player base growing when staples like Wasteland are $500 dollars or higher. At that point, wizards will face a choice. Either let the eternal formats stagnate or just reprint the damn cards. As someone who sees magic as a hobby, not an investment, I prefer the latter. When eternal formats essentially become zero sum, with card stocks so limited that someone has to quit the game and sell their cards so that new players can join, nobody wins. Not Wizards, not players, not even speculators. If nobody plays, cards are worthless!

  4. I believe that people can say whatever they want about draft flooding the market. It is true on MODO where you are constantly drafting day in and day out. I think people tend to overestimate the amount of paper product opened in draft. Sit at any LGS on a friday and start counting. I bet casuals open way more packs than drafters. That aside I think that maybe with four draftable sets coming out a year it’s ok for Wizards to make one bad to draft. If they wanted a non rotating format that they could reprint in, just do it.

  5. abc says:

    Hi- question/comment from a very casual player who has never played Modern (I quit the game after Invasion, then got back in with RTR). I always thought/assumed that WotC had no tangible interest in interacting with the secondary market, so are prices on the secondary market something that genuinely concern them now, or is the idea that WotC should regulate secondary market prices of out-of-print cards just an unrealistic expectation that fans of the game cling to out of a sense of fairness? For example, does WotC really care that Goyfs are well past the $100 mark? Does that affect the company in any meaningful way? There’s not much incentive for the company to take measures to rein in prices on the secondary market unless it can be clearly demonstrated that those prices are in some way hurting the company’s profits. Based on Modern Masters, it seems WotC actually benefits from having high-dollar cards on the secondary market. Modern Masters got huge amounts of hype and pre-orders b/c everyone was buzzing about the chance to open high-dollar cards like foil Goyfs, Bobs, etc. Would WotC have sold as much MM if Goyfs were $15 and Bobs $7 prior to the set’s printing? It seems unlikely. That hype over the expensive cards worked well for WotC; they sold more product. Thus, from the company’s perspective, there’s no reason to bring down prices on the secondary market (and that’s assuming there’s a way they can do so).

    Re: opening MM, it’s Limited appeal, etc:That same hype that boosted sales for the company worked against casual players, like my wife and I, who hoped MM would represent a chance to get some of the Modern cards at a reasonable price. We were excited to buy MM at the MSRP of ~$7/pack. The hype, however, pushed prices on packs and boxes so high right out of the gate that we ended up not buying a single pack and we were really disappointed that something we were looking forward to got priced out of our range before it even hit the shelves. We can afford some $4 packs from time to time for fun, or a $100 for a box of a new set that appeals to us, but $12/pack and $250/box? At those prices, it turned out that the reprints that were supposed to lower prices were still too pricey for us to purchase. Our LGS was caught in the middle- if they sold the packs for MSRP, people gobbled them up just to put them on ebay at $12 each, but if the store charged $10-12/pack, they actually had some trouble moving them. I have zero info on the local MtG community, but locals were apparently not able or willing to pay that much for MM packs, and the store ended up stuck with some boxes for a long time after the pre-order craze was over.

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