Insider Trading – The Ugly Side of Promo Cards

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Thursday, November 13th – In the follow-up to his last article about Promotional cards, Ben looks at the ugly end of Promo cards. Does Wizards have the right strategy for distributing Promotional cards? Are there too many or too few promo cards out there? And what happens when a Promotional Card is more common than the regular version of that card? All these topics and more are in this week’s Insider Trading!

Hello everyone, and welcome back to Insider Trading! In this week’s column, I’m going to take a look at the ugly side of Magic Promotional cards. This article is a follow up to Insider Trading – How Wizards is Tanking the Value of Promo Cards. Well, in the ensuing three weeks between that article and this article, Wizards has made the following announcements:

1)”Play Friday Night Magic Get a Promo Card

November 14th – December 12th

Forge your destiny! Play Shards of Alara in at least two FNM tournaments between November 14th and December 12th, 2008 and receive one Hypnotic Specter* promo card in your next MPR mailing!

Magic Player Rewards is a free program that rewards DCImembers for their participation in sanctioned Magic: The Gathering tournaments with never-before-seen textless spells.

All registered MPR members, with up-to-date mailing information on file, are welcome to participate. FNM results will be reported to the DCI by all Tournament Organizers on or before December 18, 2008**.”

This is the Hypnotic Specter promo that can be found here. This Hypnotic Specter Promo was originally given out as the “big” Player Rewards promo for playing the most sanctioned matches at the time. (Other cards from this series were the Textless Foil Wrath of God, Damnation, and Cryptic Command – which, thankfully, are much better than predecessors Hypnotic Specter and Psychatog).

This Hypnotic Specter was originally advertised to be the participation prize for this past Saturday’s State/Provincial Championship tournaments, but was swapped at the last minute for Dauntless Dourbark. This leads me to believe that Wizards probably had a big ol’ stack of Hypnotic Specters lying around, and someone thought it would be a good idea to give them out as an FNM prize. Is this a good thing? Yes and no.

Yes, because I’ve already spoken to a number of people who are going to make a point to attend two FNMs in the period mentioned above, in order to grab a Specter. This means that this promotional card, even though it’s a reissue, has achieved its intended purpose – getting people to play in FNM, and making those people feel like it’s a worthwhile reward. New people will play FNM (good for Wizards), people who already play weekly FNM will get a little something extra (customer rewards, value added), and stores will see increased attendance (good for business). In addition, the Specters were originally intended as part of the Players Reward program, and even though it’s years after the fact, they are still being used for the same program (albeit through different means). So file this one under “seems to be a good reuse of a previous promotional card”, unlike the following:

2) “This winter, we want to help you to sell Magic booster boxes with a pretty hot added value promotion! When you sanction your December FNM, U.S. locations will have the option to opt in to the “Euro Land pack consumer added value” promotion. If you do, we will send you 6 packs of Euro Lands with your FNM prize kit. The Euro Land packs contain five lands, each featuring artwork that depicts real-world locations in Europe. These booster packs were first distributed in limited quantities in Europe in 2000, and are pretty rare in the U.S. Give one away to customers who buy a display of Magic boosters to heat up sales this winter! To participate, click on the ‘opt in’ option below: My Friday Night Magic location would like to participate in the “Euro Land pack consumer added value.” To participate in this promotion, I agree to give a Euro Land Pack to the first six consumers who purchase any display box of Magic: The Gathering from November 28th 2008 to January 31st, 2009 at my retail location. I further agree to give Wizards of the Coast, Inc consent to promote my location on Magicthegathering.com as a participating retailer for this promotion. Participating locations will be sent six Euro Land packs in the Friday Night Magic prize kit mailing in November. Offer valid only for existing Friday Night Magic Locations.”


Euro lands are packs of five lands that depict real-world locations in Europe. They were given out with the purchase of certain, specific booster Boxes of product… in Europe. They were (information courtesy of MagicLibrarities.net):

Blue Pack: Nemesis Booster Box
Red Pack: Prophecy Booster Box
Purple Pack: Invasion Booster Box

Now keep in mind peeps, we’re talking about a promotional pack of lands, which depict real-world European landmarks, that were given out in Europe to European customers who purchased Booster Boxes and mailed in their PoP (Proof of Purchase) to their friendly neighborhood European distributor.

These lands have been out of circulation for nearly eight years; they have a set value based on a very established supply-and-demand, and are considered highly collectible. Now, this is the ugly – who at Wizards of the Coast thought it would be a good idea to take Euro Lands, and send out thousands of packs to the United States (never mind a similar promotion not-as-tied to FNM participation in Europe, where thousands of more lands are being distributed)? Why Euro lands? What are the pros and cons to this idea?

People might buy a box of Shards of Alara to get a Euro land pack.

The value of Euro Lands is severely compromised; sorry if you bought these thinking they were rare!
Stores are not easily accountable for the six packs they are sent.
Only six players (or one player buying a case of product; is it one per customer?) will get Euro lands.
Giving out Euro Lands in the United States makes absolutely no sense.

And this, folks, is the ugly side of Promotional Cards – unnecessary market saturation.

Okay, fun activity time! Arrange these four Planeswalkers in the order of play they are seeing in Standard!

Ajani Vengeant
Elspeth, Knight-Errant
Sarkhan Vol
Tezzeret the Seeker

More fun activity time! Arrange these four Planeswalkers in the order of their current value!

Ajani Vengeant
Elspeth, Knight-Errant
Sarkhan Vol
Tezzeret the Seeker

Time’s up! Here’s the list:

Ajani Vengeant
Elspeth, Knight-Errant
Sarkhan Vol
Tezzeret the Seeker

Sarkhan Vol ($30)
Elspeth, Knight-Errant ($27.50)
Tezzeret the Seeker ($25)
Ajani Vengeant ($10/$6)

Wait, what now? The most played Planeswalker is the least valuable one? On the surface that makes no sense – a lot of a card’s value comes from the amount of play it sees (either casually or competitively), and a card seeing the most competitive play should be worth more than three other cards which are seeing significantly less play! Compare to the Lorwyn Planeswalkers, which line up perfectly to amount of Standard play seen:


Garruk Wildspeaker
Ajani Goldmane
Jace Beleren
Liliana Vess
Chandra Nalaar

Garruk Wildspeaker ($15)
Ajani Goldmane ($7)
Jace Beleren ($6)
Liliana Vess ($6)
Chandra Nalaar ($4)

So why is Ajani Vengeant in the tank? It’s the ugliest side of Promotional cards – market glut. Ajani Vengeant was given out as both the Prerelease and Release foil for Shards of Alara. Tens of thousands were distributed worldwide, twice in a period of two weeks, to places that were loosely accountable for their distribution.

What was the intended distribution for Ajani Vengeant? One given to each person entering a Prerelease or Release flight. However, this was not always the case. Some stores were sent 24 Ajani Vengeant, only ended up with 8-10 players, and gave 2-3 to each player. Well intentioned to the players, but extremely detrimental to the value of the Ajani, and to the rules of how to distribute these Promos.

Even more ugly – retailers who advertised on E-bay that they had “Ajani Vengeant in hand, ready to ship immediately” before the Shards Prerelease even happened! If you logged onto E-Bay before the Prerelease, you’d not only have found hundreds of auctions for Ajani Vengeant, but numerous auctions advertising people who were brazenly not only breaking street date, but flaunting the #1 rule of getting these promo cards – they are for promoting the events to the players (hence the name Promotional cards!), and not to sell on E-bay to make a quick buck!

Yes, I have heard that Wizards has come down pretty hard on some of the people who broke street date on both Ajani Vengeant Promos, and on Shards sealed product, so this wasn’t a crime without any consequence. The problem is that, even if everyone operated in a world where all of the Ajanis were handed out as intended, there were simply a ridiculous number of them put into circulation all at once. Would this have been alleviated if there were different Prerelease and Release cards? The answer is “likely yes,” because the value of other high-demand Prerelease and Release cards (Figure of Destiny, Korlash, Demigod of Revenge) have been largely unaffected by the widespread distribution of these cards as either the Prerelease or Release card.

One has to wonder, though, if this is similar to the case of Reya Dawnbringers for 10th Edition Magic Game Day. On that one day, Wizards simultaneously held 10th Edition launch parties across the world, and each participant was given a Reya Dawnbringer foil card commemorating the event. However, these Promos were overproduced as well, and the supply of them far, far exceeded the number of players showing up to these events, so tens of thousands of excess Reya Dawnbringers flooded the market.

This might not seem to so bad, except Reya Dawnbringer was one of the hottest casual cards in Magic pre-10th Edition, fetching prices of the upwards of $15 (we could not keep Invasion copies in stock at that price, prior to the reprint). The reprinting of Reya Dawnbringer in 10th was going to be a big selling point for the set, because it truly was a card that would motivate people to want to open 10th Edition packs…

Until Wizards overprinted the Promotional version so badly, that it completely tanked the value of the card. To this day, nearly two years after the release of 10th Edition, the value of Reya Dawnbringer still has not recovered – not the Invasion version, not the 10th Edition version, and certainly not the Magic Game Day Promotional version. In two years, the supply has still not dried up, and you can readily find these promos all over the place.

Imagine Wizards of the Coast was going to reprint Sliver Queen in 11th Edition (which would not happen because of the reserve list, but that’s once again another article for another week). Sliver Queen is the crown jewel of the casual universe right now, pulling in an upwards of $30 for a single copy. Casual players would certainly see the inclusion of Sliver Queen in 11th Edition as a reason to open 11th Edition packs (and please, no debates about whether or not it’s worth it to crack packs versus buying singles; the answer is “it depends on the set, because it certainly has been worth more to crack packs for certain set releases, and it has not for others, depending on the overall value of Rares and Uncommons in that set”).

Now imagine there’s this Magic chance to get a Sliver Queen in your 11th Edition pack, people are excited about Sliver Queen, and then Wizards says “Hey, wait! We realize that Sliver Queen is one of the main cards that casual players are going to want from 11th Edition! We know that casual players are much more likely to buy our sealed product to crack than tournament players (outside of draft product, in which case it doesn’t really matter exactly what the rares are, as long as the set plays well)! Instead of making this a selling point in the set, let’s make sure that we can flood the market with Sliver Queens on the day of release, so that any player who wants to end up with four copies can get them through trading (or other means)the day of release! That way, they won’t have to buy packs anymore! They can just have them for free for showing up to one tournament! That’s much better than picking a card likely to pull a demographic that wouldn’t normally attend a release event!”

And that, my friends, is the Ugly side of Promotional cards – cards that, instead of promoting, damage the bottom-line for Wizards. They do more harm than good; they discourage people from opening product (why crack Shards when you can easily get Ajanis? Why crack 10th when you can easily trade for Reyas?); they encourage shady activities from various vendors; they devalue cards that otherwise would have a high value and desirability; in short, instead of being Promotional cards, they are instead bad for the long-term health of the game, and for the short-term goals of Wizards of the Coast.

Normally I don’t like ending on such a negative note, but the real only constructive advice about these types of cards – The Reya, The Ajani, the current Euro land promotion – is “for the love of Pete, don’t do it!” Serious lack of judgment here – anyone could have told you it would be bad to have the same card for both a release and prerelease (just from a flooding standpoint; never mind the disappointment to players who played in both events, but got the same card twice) – (and to be fair, word is that this will not happen again*). And to the Euro Lands, and all of the Saga-era promos given out at Nationals – bad idea! Don’t weaken the foundation of Promotional cards that have been out-of-print for nearly a decade! The message players take from this is “hey, they could redistribute these promotional cards that I have now at any time, without warning, so how can I attribute a concrete value to them when Wizards is not playing along with the assumed game – that a Promotional card is given out for a specific purpose, at a specific time, and I can count on the value being based on that card not reentering circulation for no good reason years after the fact?”

Next week: Let’s talk about 11th Edition and some base set philosophies, eh?


* This is from a transcript with Wizards R&D.