This week, I’m going to look at two hot-button issues in Legacy, the recent changes to the Reserve List and the banning and unbanning policy. The former is the issue of Eternal formats right now, an important one that Wizards of the Coast spent a bit of time on, including flying our own Ben Bleiweiss out to talk to them about the secondary market of older cards and the possible effects of reprints. The latter, unbanning and banning, is a ripe issue to talk about because it’s been brought up by Aaron Forsythe, who works at Wizards and participates internally in plenty of discussions about format health. On the back of a giant Grand Prix and 2010 being the Year of Legacy, it’s worthwhile to take a step back and look at some concerns and questions about the format in general.
The Reprint Policy Revision
Wizards’ revision of their reprint policy, strengthening it by closing the promotional foil exception, will have profound effects on Legacy. At a time when it seemed like even some of the staff of Wizards wanted to do away with it, it was curious that such a revision came about so quickly. Read that first paragraph and ask yourself why community concern mattered when it came to strengthening the List, but apparently, not anywhere else in analyzing its worth. Unfortunately, it didn’t come coupled with an article to explain the revision of policy and why it’s a great thing for the game, which has left me and many other players puzzled about the change.
One common belief about how it came out, that Hasbro’s legal department quashed the conversation, doesn’t really stand on legs. Briefly put, an essential part of a lawsuit is proving damages, and that would be a very strange proposition to handle. There was no contract between Wizards and you, the player. Contracts have specific ingredients that are not present in the Reserved List. It could potentially be considered a warranty, but then again, it would likely only be a warranty if you purchased the cards directly from them and not the secondary market. The most credible legal threat is that the sheer cost of repelling a class-action lawsuit, though that can be mitigated by a good corporate counsel. So to sum up, I don’t think it was a legal fiat handed down from within Wizards or its parent company.
So, then, what was it? There was a strong movement to end the Reserve List, but I saw little about closing the foil loophole; I don’t think it was part of the conversation regarding the Reserved List itself, only coming up when we were looking at ways to get more cards on the Reserve List into the player stream. In effect, then, Wizards has said “we will be eliminating any discussion on repealing the List by strengthening it instead of discussing its merits.” This is an important distinction because some foils can affect the prices of regular cards, like if they’re printed in a Duel Deck, but other times, they remain on par or far higher than the original card’s price. Judge Foils are a specific example here; consider the prices of Sol Ring or Balance in Judge Foil and the prices of white-bordered copies; the scarcity of those Judge Foils made them attractive and thus, more expensive. Wizards cutting the potential for printing copies of cards that will not affect the price of pre-existing cards was a more extreme move than they had to do if their goal was just to assuage collectors that no, Sliver Queen will not be in a Duel Deck.
Next, we know that Legacy is coming up in Magic Online, so this may have been a hint that players should pick up online Magic instead of paper Legacy. However, the online Classic formats carry their own set of problems and highly-expensive cards, so that seems unlikely. Ever tried to buy Force of Will online? Sure, Imperial Recruiter is only a few tix, but dual lands and other staples rack in at unbelievable prices, not to mention Invasion-block cards like Fact or Fiction that have been pricey since the inception of MTGO.
Finally, there may be a new format emerging from this; consider if Wizards made a format, Ancient Extended, that used all cards from Masques-block onward? They could reprint with abandon, without as much concern about hyper-expensive manabases or Legends Enchant Worlds limiting entry and enjoyment. At the same time, such a format would gut out some of the coolest elements of Legacy, cards like Survival of the Fittest and Natural Order, and would sit as a perfectly strange format amid many others.
Maybe you’ve picked up that all of these ideas are just speculation. It’s unfortunate that with such a staunch decision from Wizards, we get even less explanation than when a card is banned. At this point, the change is written in stone, but transparency in this regard would help fulfill Wizards’ plan of player retention. In the legal profession, we have both a decision from a court and their explanation of how they came to that conclusion. That lets people predict what will happen in the future and figure out the motivating goals of the courts. Currently, as far as Wizards’ communication is concerned, we get many decrees but very few actual explanations. A few years back, I read a book called “If Aristotle Ran General Motors,” which focused on using Aristotelian ideas of truth and beauty, among other things, to make a business run efficiently and effectively. Study after study found that when corporations were honest with their employees and customers, profit and satisfaction went up. Can we get a bit of truth, a bit of explanation, from the company that we spend a lot of time with, support and appreciate? How can a company be truly excellent without conversation?
Shifting over to the practicality of this decision, let’s look at the effect: prices for cards in the secondary market will be stable or rise for desired cards. Remember last week, when I told you that you’d be pleased to get your Karakas for $20? Click on the link to the card and see how the price has changed in a short period. That’s a small example of a larger phenomenon, which also includes speculation and hyper-reaction. Wizards has done something with this policy that removes almost all risk from collecting Eternal cards. As weird as it is to say, removing risk from a system can really crater it because it can drive people to be unwilling to sell at most any cost, drying up the supply. When there’s no “dump period” like after an Extended season rotates and cards like Engineered Explosives or Dark Confidant drop several dollars, there will be no market fluctuations for Reserved List cards, meaning that, like watching the meter while pumping gas, the price will steadily climb. At some point, prices will plateau or players will be priced out. I’m not a Chicken Little and I’m not a Pollyanna about the situation, and my predictive powers are limited because I’m definitely not an economist (but Steve Menendian is, and I hope we’ll hear from him on this!).
But my hope with ending the Reserved List? My best hope? Was that some collector or speculator would lose all of their money on their investment and then end up a modern-day Emperor Norton, lovable and crazy, who would walk down the street with a costume and sabre while common folk whispered about “how unfortunate it was that he lost it all when Ali From Cairo crashed.”
Banning And Unbanning In Legacy
Aaron Forsythe recently asked on Twitter for comments about what cards that players would want banned or unbanned in formats, and why. I’m unsure if this was a genuine solicitation for comments or one of those tricky Web 5.0 Twitter Marketing Theories to generate traffic. Certainly, the time for unbanning in Legacy has been postponed until after the American Grand Prix in Columbus, Ohio later this year; an unbanning could cause the next Flash situation, and I think Wizards wants to avoid that. The format is healthy enough without bannings (or rebannings, glancing at Entomb). So the next cycle that matters to us is the September Announcement, which means a lot of time for thoughtful discussion and also for wharrgarbl. I’d love to see Land Tax back in the format and I’m a little disappointed that it sits in confinement while Lion’s Eye Diamond romps freely around tables.
The bannings and unbannings are a large enough factor in Legacy that again, it’d be nice to have some transparency and truth from Wizards regarding what their policy is. Does it sicken you that we have to rely on a 2005 article to figure out what banning criteria are? Is it a little strange that we don’t know whether cards are banned for being expensive when Legacy was created, and how much that factors in? I don’t demand a rubric, but I would request something a little fresher to explain whether time constraints matter when executing a card’s action (Shahrazad, Sensei’s Divining Top) or how price affects it (Illusionary Mask, Mana Drain) or sheer power play into deciding that Entomb is good for the gander but Earthcraft is not. The reality is that Legacy is the second-most popular format for the DCI, behind Standard and it deserves some more attention in this regard.
So what is an effective Banned List management policy for the future? Would a policy that all cards over a certain price were banned? It sounds kind of ridiculous because it’s unprecedented, but one of the underpinnings of Legacy at its inception was accessibility of the format to Eternal players. Are we so married to our Dual Lands that we would never forsake them for Ravnica Duals? Do we want to handle cards like The Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale, which is possibly the best card in the format and is nearly impossible to find, much less acquire? This is where a clear statement about the goals of the Legacy format from Wizards would be helpful for crafting a good policy about the format’s future. Another possibility is printing more cards that answer powerful Legacy cards; Chalice of the Void was superb for Vintage, and it’d be nice to see something that encourages monocolor strategies, along the lines of Magus of the Moon.
In other news, I’ll be doing a series of interviews with Legacy players and their signature decks in the next few weeks, which should give you a double perspective on some of the hottest strategies around. I’ll also be extensively covering sideboarding strategies with these decks, which is one of the biggest secrets in making them work. I also plan to do a city guide to Columbus, Ohio for the Grand Prix and I’m trying to figure out a good time to publish it; certainly, knowing the close hotels now is useful, while knowing the best restaurants in the area is better when we’re closer to the actual event. Feedback is, as always, welcome in this regard as well as the general themes of this article.
Until next week…
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