At the Gathering – PTQ Musings and Reservations

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Thursday, April 1st – Recently, I played in the PTQ for San Juan in Boise. I played decently, but not well enough, obviously. I had high hopes for DDT, but I made a number of bad plays that inevitably led me to a mediocre day. Most importantly, though, I let my own tilt ruin the day for me.

Recently, I played in the PTQ for San Juan in Boise. I played decently, but not well enough, obviously. I had high hopes for DDT, but I made a number of bad plays that inevitably led me to a mediocre day.

Most importantly, though, I let my own tilt ruin the day for me. Allow me to explain in further detail. In the first round, I am playing against a Zoo deck armed with Bant Charm. I lose the first game when I try to Dark Depths combo on turn 3, but he has the Path to Exile for the blowout. I should have waited until I could sculpt a better hand to protect my legendary token. In the second, Thopter Sword gets going, and I finish it quickly with a Marit Lage. As we go into the deciding game, my picks up his deck, pile shuffles it once, does 2-3 overhand mashes, and then pile shuffles it again, then presents. I call a judge, as that doesn’t seem sufficient, but the judge informs me that two shuffles constitutes random. We move on, and I lose the third.

The worst part is that I allowed this to put me on tilt for the rest of the day. The Boise scene isn’t known for its stellar judging, as I heard lamented throughout the day, but either way, this was still a winnable match for me, and I essentially gave myself an excuse to do poorly that day. There’s probably an entire article’s worth of content on mental excuses, and perhaps I’ll tackle the subject one day, but I certainly didn’t play with any sort of hunger for the rest of the day, only a lackadaisical desire to get some tournament-condition practice in, since we have another PTQ soon.

StarCityGames.com own Gavin Verhey finished ninth on tie (heart?) breakers, and I was pleased to see that two of my losses were to top 8 finishers, but I honestly expect better of myself.

That being said, I did still have a good time with friends, including dinner with GP: Seattle Top 16 finisher Stan Bessey and the rest of the fun crew in Boise.

Moving on, I’m sure we’ve all seen the Reserve List announcement from Wizards of the Coast. It’s an interesting piece of news, and certainly seems to be exactly the opposite of what was predicted by Ben Bleiweiss and Stephen Menendian after their trip to the Mothership’s Mothership. I want to take some time to analyze exactly what the announcement means, and what potential effects it will have on the future of Legacy. I also want to examine some of the potential reasons Wizards of the Coast chose this path.

First of all, let’s look at the exact announcement:

Wizards of the Coast recently previewed Phyrexian Negator and Masticore as premium cards that will appear in 2010 Magic® products. Although our reprint policy allows for these premium versions, concern from the community about future reprints has prompted us to alter the policy. Below are all premium versions of reserved-list cards that will be released in 2010:

Duel Decks: Phyrexia vs. the Coalition (March 19)

Phyrexian Negator

From the Vault: Relics (August 27)
Karn, Silver Golem
Memory Jar
Mox Diamond

Judge Promos (various)
Phyrexian Dreadnought
Thawing Glaciers
Wheel of Fortune

These premium cards will be produced and distributed as specified. Thereafter, Wizards of the Coast will not print any physical, reserved-list card in a tournament-legal version, either in premium or non-premium form.
The updated reprint policy can be found here.

Wizards of the Coast actually tightened the policy instead of loosening it, which was the expected result. I think the reason for this is largely threefold.

1. Legal protection: There was talk bandied about for lawsuits, covering a variety of different injuries, many of them eligible for class-action status. No one could be sure how the judgment would play out, but the only winners in such an action would be the lawyers. It would be bad press for Wizards of the Coast, cost a lot of money in lawyer fees, and the business upsides wouldn’t necessarily be as large as hoped. That’s assuming they win. If they lose, they would also have damages to pay, which is further injury, and potentially very dangerous, as Magic has a very large player base, a large amount of which could potentially claim damages. Again, I don’t know how such a lawsuit would play out, but even just defending a case is costly.

2. Consumer Confidence: The best way I can phrase this is care of Zvi Mowshowitz, via twitter: “One more time, everyone: A company that doesn’t honor their commitments can’t make credible commitments. So WotC honors their commitments.” Having worked in Sales and Service for the better part of a decade, I can easily say that customer confidence is a huge part of a successful business. If a company doesn’t take care of its customers in the way they expect, it doesn’t survive. This is the very reason for the original creation of the Reserve list, to stabilize customer confidence. Magic, and by extension Wizards of the Coast, is a far more closely knit customer relationship than almost any other hobby. How many hunters know the names of the gun designers? How many Weekend Warriors on the Basketball courts get to rub elbows at tournaments with David Stern? The fact of the matter is that Wizards of the Coast is much more closely tied to its fan base than most any other hobby. That has its bonuses and its drawbacks.

Furthermore, Wizards of the Coast may feel it will gain more customers in the long term by breaking the Reserve List than it will lose, but it may not survive the intermediary period. They have first- hand knowledge of this with Dungeons and Dragons Minis, which was a thriving, growing brand. However, Wizards of the Coast decided to revamp the game and game rules in order to make it more attractive to newer players. In doing so, they lost a core group of players that were already heavily invested, and the Tactical Miniature Combat game died as a result. The game was not able to survive the intermediary period until new customers became interested.

3. Market Stability: One issue many customers were concerned about, myself included, was the destabilization of the market if reprints were suddenly a viable option. We all know about Supply and Demand curves, at least the basics, and a drastic shift on either of those curves can cause drastic changes in the market. Furthermore, shifts in one sector can affect other sectors. An announced reprint of the Dual Lands in M11 would have been potentially catastrophic to the singles market as card prices would have taken crazy and drastic turns, some with no reason at all other than speculation. (Insert Kelly Reid joke here.) Yes, Dual lands would have been affected, but we may have seen all sorts of cards being dumped, causing a flood to the marketplace, and making Magic a dangerous hobby. Yes, it is a game, but part of the benefit of that is the ability to have something to show for your effort. My wife knows that when I die, she can sell the fruits of my labors and gain some of it back. Any Magic player who claims that the value of their collection is meaningless is likely lying, possibly to themselves. Look at any trader jockeying for the best deal, and monetary value is used. The fact that these cards have VALUE means that you can potentially recoup your investment. If that value becomes unstable, it loses value as a potential hobby, because the ability to “cash out” later is one factor. Look at it this way: in a down economy, game sales do rather well, because consumers are looking to get the most bang for their buck. A family of 4 to the movies: 2, maybe 3 hours of entertainment. Buy a copy of a board game: Replayability. More value, in any fashion, is a boon to a game, and the games that are successful maximize their value in as many ways as possible.

Personally, I wanted a Reserve List that prevented them from mass producing the cards, but still made them able to reprint them. I would have been in favor of a Reserve List that said they would never be printed in Core or Block sets, or other mass- produced products. I think that as we see Legacy continue to grow, we will reach that upper limit of what the format will support. It may not be in the very near future, but it will occur if the game continues to grow. Just like populations are self-controlling by way of available food or space, so too will the Legacy population be capped by the limited nature of the cards. We’ve already seen this occur with players who are priced out, although to be fair, at any non- zero price point, there will be someone priced out. Even at a price-point of zero, players may be priced out by time costs.

However, a format needs to continue to grow to stay vibrant and viable. A stagnant player base, even if there are new players through churn, will not elicit enough positive momentum to stay alive. Vintage has seen this happen, and the attempted remedy was Proxies, which has been debated as to the actual benefit of that policy. One interesting corollary brought by Stephen Menenedian on that very topic was how players stopped “valuing” Power 9 since they could be proxied, and thus lost that emotional attachment to the cards. Many players had the same concern towards Reserve List reprints losing their “specialness” as a card of history and fable.

Overall, I would not be surprised to see similar reprints in the future, probably something similar to that offered by our own Patrick Chapin. Here’s an example:

Isle of the Dead
Tribal Land: Zombie Island Swamp
T: Add U or B to your mana pool

That card is technically allowed under the reprint policy. Something to think on.

Until next time, this is Jeff Phillips, reminding you: Don’t make the Loser Choice

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