Insert Column Name Here – What If Wizards Reprinted The Power Nine?

Read The Ferrett every Monday... at StarCityGames.com!A very old topic reared its ugly head in the forums in response to my article last week on 10th Edition. I’ve been editing the dang site for almost seven years now, and at this point I wish someone would drag this topic out back and beat it to death with a stick. But no, it keeps getting brought up, and so I figure I might as well flog this deceased equine with a few more savory paragraphs.

It burns, the losses do.

Here I am, playing Time Spiral Limited with a terrible, terrible deck because… Well, it’s what you do when you write a Limited Strategy column devoted to Sealed play. But on the other hand, Time Spiral Block Constructed is all anyone cares about, and Time Spiral itself is so old-hat that people are yawning just thinking about opening a Sealed deck.

It’s amazing how used to change we Magic players are, isn’t it? Three months and we’re already bored. I used to think that Wizards printed Coldsnap purely out of greed, but these days I’m starting to wonder whether they’re moving to a four-set-a-year paradigm to make us happy.

If Magic is around twenty years from now, my suspicion is that the Gleemax™ Auto-Card-Designer 3000 Program will release an entirely new computer-designed set every three days.

And people will be whining.

“Aw, set release 5,025.4? I got sick of playing that at noon. What else do you have?”

So I’ll discuss Magic “strategy,” such as it is, next week… But this week, let’s talk turkey. Or, perhaps more appropriately, let’s talk “cash cows.”

Because a very old topic reared its ugly head in the forums in response to last week’s article on 10th Edition. I’ve been editing the dang site for almost seven years now, and at this point I wish someone would drag this topic out back and beat it to death with a stick. But no, it keeps getting brought up, and so I figure I might as well flog this deceased equine with a few more savory paragraphs:

Why you won’t see the Power Nine reprinted.

Here are the problems with reprinting the Power Nine:

1) They break things.
Before you can grok the first thing about Wizards, you have to understand where their cash comes from. That money comes from people purchasing, you know, packs. Of cards.

The vast majority of these people purchase these cards to play Magic. (There is a small subset of people who like the pretty art or are anal-retentive collectors, but they’re a small enough market share that they can be discounted.)

But as you no doubt know, there is not one type of Magic. There are a boatload of variations on the game, including (but not limited to) Standard, Extended, Legacy, Vintage, Draft, Sealed, Block Constructed, Two-Headed Giant, Elder Dragon Highlander, 5-Color, Tribal, Star Magic, Chess, Rainbow Stairwell, and Ferdinand the Conqueror.

By far, the most popular type of Magic is a format I like to call “Type Who?”

Type Who? players don’t know about formats. They’re casual players who have never really been to a tournament, and they play with the cards they have. They have never read a Magic site like StarCityGames.com, never heard of the idea of a “banned” card, and in general play for fun at their table.

They also don’t purchase a lot of packs individually. There are a lot of them, but they don’t think about buying a whole box. They purchase onesies and twosies, and they may not even be aware that a new set is out until they see it at the comics shop. Think of them as a wide but shallow market; they buy a lot of Magic cards as a group, but not individually.

There’s not a lot that Wizards can do to appeal to the casual crowd aside from making good sets and hoping word gets out.

But after that, the two most popular formats? Standard and Draft.

Standard and Draft is where Wizards makes the serious cash… Because they can very directly affect how many cards they sell, simply by making good Standard sets.

How do they do that? By making these games as enjoyable as possible to play.

Sure, there’s a subset of people who will play “Whatever gets me the PTQ invite,” but I’d wager they’re not the majority. People like the prize, but they also want to have fun along the way, and the success of Friday Night Magic should tell you how much “fun” is a factor.

People love our Standard articles, no matter what the season is. And they love crazy Standard decks — if we show you something rogue, we’re up to our armpits in eyeballs. Standard is, in short, where it’s at.

If Wizards makes a good Standard environment, more people show up, and more people buy cards to get the good cards for their fun decks, and they sell more boxes to dealers and hopeful players. If the Standard environment sucks, tournament attendance drops, and they lose money.

Remember when they banned Affinity out of the game? They didn’t do it because Affinity was unbeatable; they did it because Affinity was such a pain in the ass to play that tournament attendance was dropping. That’s an important point.

Okay. Now. Drop the brokenness of the Power Nine into the environment. Let’s even assume that you auto-restrict the Power Nine — and they haven’t “restricted” in Standard in years, but hey, it’s thinky-time, we’ll go with it — and envision what happens.

(Because if you don’t auto-restrict, the carnage of a cavalcade of decks sporting four Lotus, twelve Mox, four Time Walk is too hideous to imagine.)

Even given the restrictions, it’s probably a massacre.

Every Standard deck would want to play with at least one Black Lotus, the Moxen of your choice, and Ancestral Recall. Time Walk would probably get some serious play, though I’m not sure about Timetwister.

Now. When you have those in the environment, one of two things happens:

The game turns much more luck-oriented, because the rest of the Standard card pool isn’t that strong.
Who’s going to have fun at a tournament when you face a dope who lucks his way into first-turn “Black Lotus, Mox, Mox, Gleancrawler,” and you draw no removal before he kills you on turn 5?

Oh, sure, it means you start playing with “react or die” cards like Pacifism effects. But as I said, the rest of the environment isn’t that strong. The entire thing starts boiling down to, “Who draws the Power Nine cards and leaps ahead two or three turns?”

That is distinctly not fun. And even that assumes that the environment is so open that multiple Mox-based decks will be viable. I’d say there’s a reasonably good chance that someone will find a way to break the Moxes and Lotuses and Time Walks in Standard in such a way that one deck — like Affinity — rises to the top and cannot be budged out of it without considerable testing.

Like Affinity.

Hey, where’d Standard go? It vanished down the maw of reprints. Whoops. Say, is that where our profit margin went, too?

(Oh, and you think you’re complaining about finding the right cards now? Imagine what it’s like when every deck wants the same exact card. It’s much harder to trade for, certainly, even if you only need one.)

The rest of the Standard card pool is boosted to account for the reprints.
“It’s not just the Power Nine, it’s Force of Will! That’ll stop things from getting crazy!” And you know, that might work. Might. More on this later.

Now that we’ve looked at Standard, let’s look at Limited — and the good news, it’s not as affected. A free mana is strong but not broken, so the Moxes would probably be fine. Black Lotus would be ludicrous, though, particularly in a format that’s been increasingly dependent on tempo. Imagine you casting a Fomori Nomad on turn 2 instead of turn 4 or 5, especially on the play.

That’s a Fomori Nomad, mind you. An early vanilla 4/4 would be tough enough to deal with, but not impossible; hey, there are Thallid Shell-Dwellers and Judge Unworthies around, amiright?

What about a Dragon on turn 3? Or even, with a bit of luck, turn 2?

G and G.

It wouldn’t snap the format in half because it’s hard to break Limited, but the Lotus would warp some games into crazy wins. Still, we have those already sometimes, and there will be the inevitable times you draw The Lotus when you were looking for an answer (which is the moral equivalent of drawing a land), so it probably wouldn’t be that bad for Limited.

Except in drafting triple-whatever-the-format is, where someone can potentially pick up multiple Moxen and Lotuses and then a rare or two and whoops. That could be very annoying. But it’s hard to say without testing, so whatever.

2) They can’t be ignored.
“We don’t have to have them Standard-legal,” you say. “We can just exclude the Power Nine from the format!”

Okay, so we’re auto-banning. Not your worst solution. But it’s not your best, either.

Because I mean, why are you printing them if you can’t play with them?

Remember, Wizards wants to sell packs. They do this largely through three places:

1) The casual crowd.
2) Standard.
3) Drafts.

How will this exclusion affect people?

The casual crowd doesn’t understand this crap.
Seriously. Remember that I said they don’t get formats? Making a complicated ban list right at the beginning of a format would ruin States, or Champions, or We’re All Happy Countries With Vaguely-Defined Borders or whatever the heck they’re calling it these days.

Telling the casual crowd, “Here are cards! They’re awesome cards! Oh, but even though you just bought them five minutes ago at this store, you can’t play them in tonight’s tournament,” is not good. They’re gonna feel ripped off… And given that a fair number of casual players get introduced to serious tournament formats via the gentle crack that is Friday Night Magic (and then, hopefully, become power buyers as they go for the gold ring of Going Pro), having a format that discourages playing with the new cards is not good.

Sure, you can draw the distinction. You’re old hat. But remember the day when you opened that first crazy-uber-power rare Of Your Dreams? That Force of Nature, or that whatever?

Now imagine being told, right after you opened it, that you can’t play with it. Not in this format. That’s an illegal deck, go home.

Not good.

Also, this assumes that casual players will understand that Moxes and Black Lotuses are good. A lot of them don’t get it. Really. I’ve talked to many people and had to explain why Black Lotuses were cool. They might not even want the Lotuses, and then trade them away, and then feel completely ripped off.

Again, not good.

The Standard crowd wanders off.
Most people’s willingness to purchase cards would drop when you got told that hey, if you open this card in a pack, it’s not something you can ever use to win a PTQ or your Friday Night Magic. In other words, there’s a darn good chance you’ll open a fourteen-card pack that is, effectively, missing a rare because that Lotus? Not good for any Constructed format you play.

(“Oh, they don’t have to make them rare!” you cry. Oh yes they do — they want to sell lots of packs. You think they’re going to make the chase cards common? Get real.)

So what do those Standard players do with all of those spare Lotuses? They probably play some format where they can use their cool new cards — in other words, something that’s not Standard. In other words, by simultaneously printing and banning the Power Nine cards, Wizards effectively gives an incentive for people to stop playing their cash cow format. (Or to split their attention, which doesn’t always end well.)

Not good.

Sure, Wizards could come up with some sort of crazy parallel-dimension format that uses the Power Nine that’s not Vintage and not Standard. I guess. But how much effort do they want to go to?

Drafts become marfinally less exciting.
Not affected all that much, except that rare-drafting is now a lot less fun. Cracking a Mox that, for all competitive purposes, is relegated to usage at Day Two at Worlds, is not the thrill it could be.

Plus, if it turns out that the correct strategy in draft is to always first-pick the Mox (which I doubt would happen, but hey), that’s not exciting. That has all the thrill of first-picking a bounceland. How exciting is mana development? Boring.

3) They can’t be beaten.
Let’s go back to the casual crowd for a moment. Remember them? Arguably the biggest consumers of Magic?

How many copies of Shock do you think they’re playing if they own Lightning Bolts?

This is a casual crowd, remember; they play the best cards they have. Those cards may not be housed in great decks, but the players don’t want to play with watered-down cards. The whole reason why Wizards created the Standard format was because having all the cards ever printed in the same card pool made it impossible to play anything but the best of the best.

If you had access to, say, Psychatog, why would you really bother with any other finisher in U/B? If Akroma, Angel of Wrath is around, why would you try to put a Serra Angel in a non-Angel-themed deck?

Fact is, there are cards that are just better. If you’re a casual guy, you’re never going to play Temporal Manipulation when you have access to four-of Time Walk.

In other words, once Wizards sells the Moxen to this crowd, they’re never going to excite them with anything less ever again.

I know; I am that guy. You guys can dork around all you like with your shocklands and painlands, but I have a full set of forty old-school dual lands. Why in heck would I bother to go trading for a Temple Garden when I have 4x Savannah laying about?

Oh, maybe I might want some Temple Gardens to flesh out my mana base… But I’m not gonna go nuts for them. If I open them, cool, but I don’t need them.

I have better.

You don’t often see Vintage players going nuts trading for four-of Lotus Blooms. Why? Because their decks don’t need ‘em. Vintage players are a vibrant community, but they don’t need to buy a whole lot of cards to keep their decks strong. It’s maybe one or two new cards per format.

Wizards will tolerate this, but they don’t like that. They like happy Standard players, constantly cracking boxes to get that new chase rare. They like novice casual players who’ve never seen a Force of Will or a Mana Drain, thinking that Cancel is the absolute bomb.

Once Wizards cracks that egg, they will effectively lose a whole generation of casual players to that set. The casual guys will view whatever set that comes next as total weaksauce, unless it’s more powerful than the best cards in Alpha.

(Man, I wouldn’t wanna see that set.)

As such, you might salvage Standard by making all of the cards mega-strong… But then you lose the Casual base. Not your best maneuver.

(Those of you were around when Mercadian Masques succeeded Urza Block will remember how tame it all seemed then. I hated the brokenness of Urza, but Masques felt like I was playing with teddy bears.)

4) Encore?
Wizards reprinting the Power Nine is it. They literally can’t do anything flashier. It’s something the players have been clamoring for since Revised, and if they did it people would come back to the fold from miles around. Folks who stopped playing come The Dark would hear about it, and, intrigued, return.

And they could never do it again.

This is their one shot. After this, there will be no emergency revivals; their collective wad is shot. Nothing they do would ever beat it…. And I’d like to think that Wizards is smart enough to realize this.

When you see the Power Nine reprinted, you should mourn. This means that Magic is dying, and Wizards is simply trying to scrape the last of the cash off of the bottom before they throw the barrel away.

What About The Masters Edition?
”They’re reprinting old and powerful cards in Masters!” you cry. But I do have some ripostes here.

1) That’s online.
These cards have never existed on Magic Online before. Wizards likes that, because Wizards is in a bit of a bind; they want to sell all the cards themselves to you directly, without these annoying middle men like StarCityGames.com. That way, they reap the entire profit from their $3.69 pack.

But if they do that, they alienate the reseller. And the resellers are, largely, the people who rope in the casual crowds. Most people learn to play Magic with people, so they can’t rely on the power of MODO.

Thus, reprinting cards online is an awesome deal. They can say to the resellers, “Hey, you had these once,” and the resellers can’t get that mad, because they really did have access to them once (assuming they were open at the time); Wizards is just filling gaps, not robbing them of money from new cards. And Wizards gets all the money this time.

But there’s something else they can say to retailers to placate them:

2) People need to test for Legacy.
That’s right; Wizards understands that MODO has become a valuable testing tool for the Legacy format, and not having the best cards online hurts them. They start losing people to Apprentice and Magic Workstation, which is bad for both them and the retailers.

So they print a special set that allows you to prep for Legacy! Not all the cards; just the ones that you want to see. And that’s not a Standard thing, that’s a special MODO-only set, so there’s little danger of confusion. Heck, they can warn you about the illegality right on the pack!

(I should add, of course, that this is just my guess as to why Wizards is printing the Masters set. It could be once we see the cards that it’s just a lot of old cards that casual players love, with tournament guys being hit incidentally. I have no more knowledge than you do, and given that I hate spoilers, I probably will continue to have no more knowledge than you do right up until the day it comes out. So I could be wrong on the reasoning behind the reprints, but the effect on retailers will stay the same.)

It’s a good solution. And, in any case, it’s not the Power Nine.

(I hope. Because if you can buy a Mox in the Masters set, well, you can crumple this whole article and throw it into the wastebasket. But I’m willing to look foolish, for I believe I am correct.)

So you can say to the retailers, “All right, it’s on MODO. But stock up on those dual lands, me hearties, because chances are good people will be playing the cool MODO Legacy and want to try it out in real life.”

What About Home on the Strange?
We have a very special guest artist this week on Home on the Strange — someone who’s done work for us before twice, and it hasn’t worked out particularly well either time.

You can see it for yourself.

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