In Defense Of Rares

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I like the fact that Wizards prints good stuff at the rare level. I like the fact that Tarmogoyf is $35 — not Tarmogoyf specifically, but the occasional chase rares that everyone has to have at a tournament. And you wanna know why? Four reasons, and only two of them are business-related.

Tarmogoyf,” my friend David said thoughtfully. “It’s up to $10. Is it really worth $10?”

“I dunno,” I said. “I play Limited, not Constructed these days. I’m not really qualified to say. You trade a lot more than I do.”

“Well, that’s a lot for a card this early,” he said. “It’s good, but… ten dollars?”

Flash-forward a couple of weeks. “Now it’s twenty,” he informed me. “I just don’t see it being worth that much.”

“It’s showing up in a lot of formats,” I said. “Even Legacy. I haven’t really faced it, but given how cheap it is I can only assume it’s good. Besides, Evan Erwin said it was good and he’s never ever wrong.”

Today, as I write this — the last day you could have cards shipped and get them before States —Tarmogoyf is at an astounding $35. This is not inflation. We have only three left in stock, and I assure you that Pete and Ben are doing their best to hunt down every Tarmogoyf in the wild and get it for people.

The fact that we’ve sold down to a measly three of the hottest card in the season indicates that, like it or not, $35 is about the right price for us.

(If we were out completely, we might have have underpriced it — I mean, no duh we could sell them all for $3 a shot, but people would scoop every last one of them up and we’d have none left. Likewise, if we had forty or fifty copies of a chase rare hanging around in this pre-tournament rush, chances are good that we might have overpriced a bit. Like Goldilocks’ porridge capacity, three left is just right.)

Likewise, Thoughtseize. Again, it’s $30, but we have only sixteen left in stock, indicating that someone is buying them. That’s one mighty expensive rare.

The prices, in other words, are about what our market value will bear. The net result is that in some places, you’re going to have to pay about $140 just to get four cards in your deck. That’s a pretty hefty investment… And it comes hot on the heels of your $20-a-pop Shocklands all rotating out.

Wow, is that a lot of money.

To top it all off, I got an email from a kid that went something like this:

Tarmogoyf is ruining Magic. I want you to announce on Magicthegathering.com that everyone who sees a Tarmogoyf should rip it up.

“Magic is all about money these days. It’s not fair for Wizards to make all the good cards at rare! Let’s tear all the rares up!”

I wish I had the original email to quote, but that was the basic sentiment. And I imagined myself emailing Kelly Digges, my editor at MTG.com, to say, “By the way, my next column will be all about how you suck. Oh, and I’ll be encouraging random assaults upon strangers in order to commit acts of malicious vandalism.”

I’m sure they’d be okay with it.

But you know, though I use this column as a platform to complain about Wizards at times, I think I might surprise you by saying this:

I like the fact that Wizards prints good stuff at the rare level. I like the fact that Tarmogoyf is $35 — not Tarmogoyf specifically, but the occasional chase rares that everyone has to have at a tournament. And you wanna know why? Four reasons, and only two of them are business-related.

First off, printing hot cards as chase rares means that people open more packs. The more packs people open, the more packs Wizards has sold, and the more likely it is that they’ll keep making Magic cards.

This is something gamers are prone to forget. They often think that their happy entertainments fall straight out of Jehova’s nether channels and into their laps, without ever having passed through the dirty filth of finances.

The truth is, Wizards needs you to buy a certain amount of packs of each expansion to stay in business. Without that, they can’t afford to pay the members of R&D, they can’t afford to hold neat-O Pro Tours and States tournaments, they can’t afford to print the cards.

They need you to purchase as many packs as is humanly possible.

Hang on, I know what you’re going to say next. It’s something like:

“But Ferrett! The money Wizards loses from the people who get disgusted chasing after the latest Standard-legal rares outweighs the money they’d make if they just made everything common!”

And the answer? Yes, there’s definitely a balance to be struck there. If every card you had to have cost you through the nose, with no commons or uncommons to balance it out, then I’d agree that the format was broken. But that’s rarely the case. Usually, it’s one or two shattered rares, like Umezawa’s Jitte, and a bunch of lesser rares for the land base, and some hot commons and uncommons.

But you know what makes a tournament format tick more than the expense of your deck?


People frickin’ hated Standard when Affinity was all the rage, because you played Affinity or you died. (More on this in a bit.) It wasn’t fun for most of the population to go to a tournament and play against the same stupid deck over and over again.

And people hated Odyssey Block when it was in season, because it was the same two dang decks against each other, over and over again. Ooo, U/G Madness or U/G Threshold versus Mono-Black! What fun. Even though the arrival of Mirari’s Wake spiced things up at the end of the season, it was a grind of a format.

To paraphrase Roger Ebert, no great format is expensive enough. (As witness the fact that Vintage is alive and thriving, as is Legacy.*) And no bad format is cheap enough. If the format’s dull and repetitive, then it doesn’t matter how cheap the cards are — only the people in search of a qualification will show.

Sure, Wizards can drive people away by making all the good cards rare. (Which, I should add, they don’t.) But they’d do a lot more damage by creating an environment that encourages boring decks.

Keep that in mind, we’ll return to it.

Now, if people are chasing foils, Wizards is making money. You know who else is making money?


Selfish, I know. But SCG pays me the big bucks to work for them because they’re selling Tarmogoyfs. Those chase rares aren’t the main source of our income, but they certainly are a healthy part of it.

Every article you read on SCG is because we’re selling cards and packs. Every store that you visit that holds tournaments does so because they’re selling cards and packs. Everything you love is cemented by money, money, money — and the more packs people crack in search of a Tarmogoyf, the better it is for them and you.

Sure, it’s annoying to spend $35 on a single card — or, as is more likely, to draft the heck out of Future Sight in the hopes that you crack the Wonka Golden Ticket. But when you do so, you’re keeping Magic alive around you — you’re spending more money than you would have normally. It’s an expenditure for you, but it helps keep those guys in business.

It’s not just me, but all the stores in the nation. And I like seeing them healthy.

Money is important. Trust me on this one.

So we’ve established that rares are good for business… To a certain extent. You can kill the goose that lays the golden eggs by making everything rare, but in general fun trumps expense.

Burn those words in, chum: FUN IS IMPORTANT.

Now. Let’s go back to “Not fun.” You know what one of the least fun decks in the world is? A deck that so many people hate that there are actually cries in the MODO Casual Room that you shouldn’t play it?


Goblins are awesome. Why does the Goblin deck work so well? Because shoot, you don’t need that many rares. Gempalm Incinerator, Goblin Lackey, Goblin Matron, Goblin Ringleader, Goblin Warchief, Mogg Fanatic — all common or uncommon. You need maybe eight rares total for a good Goblin deck, and one of ‘em’s been reprinted in Tenth Edition in the form of Siege-Gang Commander. The other, Goblin Piledriver, is pricey but reasonable — and you can even substitute that if you want!

In other words, Goblins is the perfect example of a deck that anyone can build for a low price. It’s effective, it’s devastating when facing unprepared decks, and it’s awesome.

Why do people hate it?

Because it’s everywhere, and it’s good.

Seriously! People friggin’ hate Goblins because they can’t throw a rock without hitting one. And they’re everywhere because it’s inexpensive and it’s effective.

Wow. It’s cheap. And it’s everywhere. And people don’t like it.

What did I just say about encouraging an environment that features boring decks?

Gosh, making everything good a common kind of encourages that lowest common-denominator thinking, doesn’t it?

Likewise, hey! What was the deck we all hated before that? Why, it was Affinity! And Arcbound Ravager was the chase rare. But once you plopped down $80 for your Big Ravs, what was the rest of the deck? A bunch of crap commons and uncommons in the form of artifact lands, Arcbound randoms, Frogmites, Cranial Platings, and Thoughtcasts.

Affinity was cheap. (Comparatively.)

And again, it was everywhere. You couldn’t throw a rock at a tournament without hitting it, and it was so good that multiple bannings didn’t fix the problem. But more than that, it was so easy to build and so effective that everyone did it.

Let us consider, for a moment, what would have happened if, say, the artifact lands had been rare as well. Still think that Affinity would have been the scourge of your FNM, where you faced it in rounds 1, 2, 3 and 4? Of course not. Only the most devoted would have built it.

Would it have solved the ultimate problem of Affinity dominating the top 8? Absolutely not. Affinity would still have chalked up an unreasonable number of wins. But while it still would have walked away with its share of Top 8, it wouldn’t have dominated the round-by-round play so thoroughly. You would have seen a greater variety decks during the tournament — and probably had a better time — even if you still lost to that darned Affinity.

But, wait! There’s more! Odyssey Block! You had — wait for it — the all-common build of U/G Madness versus the “maybe Nantuko Shade, maybe not” Mono-“Mostly Non-Rare” Black. And again, it’s what everyone played because they could afford to.

The problem with making all the good cards common is that everyone will then build that deck. That sounds good, but really having that mixture of rarities ensures that not everyone can play the same deck.

In its own weird way, a prohibitive expense promotes variety. Because we all know the standard PTQ advice during the Extended season: Even if it’s not very good, some players will be packing Goblins. Why? Because they have the deck built, and they’re not changing it.

(Also because Aggro sometimes just wins… But you and I both know that a lot of Goblins players at PTQs aren’t using that logic.)

That expensive rare encourages people to look elsewhere. “Well, crap, I can’t get four Tarmogoyfs,” they say. “Is there anything I can build without the Goyf?”

Usually, they can. It often takes a while, but they can. Which again, encourages more decks.

Then we have the final issue: By Gosh, let’s say that Tarmogoyf — which we can all agree is at least troublesome, if not b-b-broken — was, in fact, a common. And a hideously broken one. People are already complaining about having to face it everywhere.

Folks, you don’t know everywhere.

If Tarmogoyf was both broken and a common, then it would literally be in every deck, bar none. Sure, the top-tier players will find a way to get it by hook or by crook — I wouldn’t generally expect a player at a Pro Tour to not play a deck thanks to card scarcity** — but the lower-tier players won’t. They just won’t care that much.

Which is to say that it’s possible, though unlikely, that you might get through the pre-Top 8 rounds at States without dealing with Tarms at all. And at least you have some chance that it won’t be the Goyf in every other round, mainly because there aren’t enough of the dang things to go around.

Here’s a question: if there was a card that was utterly snapped in half and metagame-warping, would you rather every person in the room had one, or only certain people had one? Your answer may differ; this isn’t a clear-cut call by any means. But from a “fun” perspective, I think it’d be better to play in a metagame where everyone didn’t have a metagame-warping card, just so that I might have a shot.

How fun would it be to play the “Deal with Goyf or die” game every time? What? You don’t like it now?

Well, what if everyone had one?

Because that’s what arguing for “Goyf as common” effectively gets you. That spread doesn’t make the game more strategic; it just makes every game about racing for the ‘Goyf first.

Heck, I remember Flametongue Kavu when it was prevalent. Wasn’t much fun; it ruined a significant portion of my cards, mainly because one of the rules was “Your creatures survive Kavu or go home.” That wasn’t cool; everyone had FTK if they wanted it. And Shriekmaw may be further proof of that rule, if certain Magic writers are to be believed.

The issue here is that rarity acts as a filter. It encourages diversity. It ensures that not everyone gets to play the best deck, or even the easiest deck. And that, in turn, makes things more fun (even if Wizards’ creating an interesting block-to-block crossover with the card mechanics affects it more).

I like rares. And I’m glad they’re here.

Now excuse me while I go to try and find an Akroma, Angel of Wrath and a set of Garruk Wildspeakers for my W/G multiplayer deck. I hear those cards are awesome, and….


How much?

Oh, dammit.

The Weekly Plug Bug
Last week, we revealed the big secret of Tanner’s party: Izzy and Tanner are getting married! Without telling anyone! And Karla’s passed out on the couch! And now, Izzy explains the plot as she welcomes new people on-board. Stay tuned!

Also, I feel that our other editor’s webcomic isn’t getting some love, and since he won’t plug it, I will: Go check out Ungrateful Dead. It’s getting good. And cute.

The Ferrett
[email protected]StarCityGames.com
The Here Edits This Site Here Guy


And to you, I say, “When I can get a set of Moxen merely by drafting the latest set — something I’d be willing to do anyway, and thus effectively getting some of the best cards in the format as a bonus in the course of normal play — you may talk to me. Until then, here is this hand. You may talk to it.”

** – Though I know it does happen.