The Danger Of Cool Reprints

Why shouldn’t Wizards just drop the policy and make us all happy with affordable Moxen and Time Walks and Sinkholes, oh my? There is a simple reason… And it’s all about YOU!

The Wizards’ Reprint policy is one of the more complex issues Wizards has to deal with. A strong case can be made for revising, or even scrapping it.

As has been noted, most players would benefit from reprints. I’m always happy when Wizards reprints a good card that I enjoy playing with and own a full set of, since then I get to play with them. I also think that the trade value will almost never be hurt by such a reprint, since the decrease in scarcity is more than offset by the increase in demand. Does anyone out there think, for example, that an original Tradewind Rider would go for less at StarCity if they were reprinted in 8th or an expansion?

The”interest of the many” argument gets even clearer when we look at the idea of reprinting Type I cards in some sort of special edition. Most of us own few if any of the big Type I cards, so we wouldn’t lose anything by it. And yes – if you could buy Moxen, Sinkholes, Moats, Abyss, and the like, at a reasonable price, I would very likely buy them and start playing in Type I. Heck, I’ve already got the full set of duals!

And what happens then? Well, if I’m really into it I start thinking that maybe it would be cool to trade for a real Mox or two. Or a whole set. And my white-bordered Ancestral just isn’t nearly manly enough, is it? I would be willing to bet serious money that the trade/sale value of the power nine would be higher in an environment where Type I was popular (but with access to cheap copies) than where Type I is obscure (but you can only play with the real stuff).

If that’s the case, why have a reprint policy at all?

If I recall correctly, it basically came down to Legends and Chronicles.

Legends was the ultimate collector’s set. Ask around and you’ll find plenty of people who bought packs, opened them up, sold the bits and turned a profit. I’m fairly sure (it’s hard to check from Germany) that Legends was the set where a significant prepayment and subsequent shortage of product meant that Rob Dougherty turned a decent investment into an entire store.

Then came Chronicles. Lots of Legends cards were reprinted, and in ample supply. Suddenly the prices fell sharply, and people who had chased their Legends cards were furious. Wizards realized that there was an implicit contract with their players; they couldn’t use rarity and collectability as marketing tools and then dump reprints on the market whenever collectors had done well. If they did, their players (and especially their collectors) would never see lasting value in their cards and wouldn’t buy them.

The odd thing is that the circumstance of Legends could not repeat today. For one thing, Wizards will almost certainly never get supply and demand so out of balance. For another, card prices today are driven primarily by their tournament demand – many of the high-priced Legends rares were horrible cards; even if they were still rare, they wouldn’t be nearly as expensive now as they once were. Similarly, the price of the Power 9 has drifted down over the past several years even as the number of people playing Magic has gone up, because there is so little demand form them from tournament players.

The result is that the chase rares of any sets will probably cap out at an absolute maximum of $30 or $40; the more controlled ratio of supply and demand will prevent Calls and the like from getting much higher. (A nice test would have been if Fact or Fiction was rare…)

So let’s sum up. The reprint policy is probably out of date; not only are prices unlikely to reach Legends levels again, the current card market is such that tournament use has replaced collectability as a primary driver of value. Most players would benefit from an elimination or substantial change of the policy, and I imagine that a substantial majority would vote for such a change.

So what’s the problem? Why shouldn’t Wizards just drop the policy and make us all happy with affordable Moxen and Time Walks and Sinkholes, oh my? There is a simple reason… And it’s not the one Ferrett suggested. (His makes sense too, but it’s quite different.)

Wizards made a promise.

If Wizards changes their policy, they will have to be extremely careful about how they do it. They might track selling prices of Type I cards and offer to buy back the originals at the average price over several months. They should certainly do some very careful research. And then they should apologize for making the majority very happy.

Or they shouldn’t change at all.

Wizards has a lot of deals with its players. Some of them are explicit; if you win a PTQ, you get to go to that Pro Tour. Some of them are implied; if you make the gravy train, there will continue to be a Pro Tour for you to go to. There are countless others. Packs will have rares. Bad tournament situations will be remedied, eventually. Sets will continue to have good art, introduce new mechanics, and have fun flavor text.

The bottom line is that we invest a lot of time and money in Magic – and it takes faith to keep doing that. I’ve written before that I think Wizards should reveal a lot more about its process for deciding whether player X cheated and why the penalty should be Y – and the main reason is that without disclosure, it is harder for us to have faith in the process.

But what happens to faith if and when they change the reprint policy? Even though I’d personally be happy and most of their customers might be happy with the change, it would signal very clearly that Wizards didn’t consider even their explicit promises firm. That’s not a good way to build trust. So if they want to do it, they have to be very careful. They have to show us that they’ve got overwhelming support, that they’ve taken more than fair efforts to make sure no one got screwed, and they’ve got to show us that it’s a step they take reluctantly, in response to our demand, rather than proactively.

They should never seem to want to break their word.