Tribal Thriftiness #106 – The Reserved List, The New Policy, and Budget Players

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Monday, March 22nd – In the wake of Wizards’ new Reserved List policy, Dave explores the impact that this new stand will have on budget players.

Getting my column delayed last week means that the parameters have shifted for this week’s column – but ultimately not by much. I still want to talk about the Reserved List, although now I get to do so in the warm glow of Wizards’ newly-unveiled and quickly-poo-poo’ed-by-the-community-at-large rehash of the Reprint Policy, unveiled Thursday morning.

The long and short of the new reprint policy can be summed up by this line:

“These premium cards [mentioned in the announcement as being printed in FTV: Relics or as Judge Promos] will be produced and distributed as specified. Thereafter, Wizards of the Coast will not print any physical, reserved-list card in a tournament-legal version, either in premium or non-premium form.”

Essentially, they’ve taken away their loophole.

This, clearly, was not the desired result, if you take a look at Twitter and at forum postings. “Legacy is dead,” proclaimed at least a dozen forum denizens. My guess is that the squeaky-wheel contingent of Chicken Littles is the group of people who had a vested interest in the Reserved List dying a fiery death and the reprinting of Legacy staples – the people who want to play Legacy, but don’t own Legacy staples already. What I think is being missed is:

1) Wizards already does PLENTY to bring in new players and keep existing players. They have that segment of the target audience covered. They don’t NEED, at this point in time, to make drastic changes to try and keep players interested – they’re doing a perfectly fine job with each new set they publish. All the bean-counters need to do is look at the sales of M10 and Zendikar to realize that they don’t have any problem selling the new stuff. But the Reserved List addresses a portion of their demographic that’s more difficult to maintain – the collectors.

2) Even the destruction of the Reserved List never guaranteed that Wizards would reprint dual lands, Legacy staples, or ANYTHING, really. They’ve had the ability to reprint good Legacy staples like Force of Will all along, and haven’t.

But lemme tell you – I could care less about this announcement. It barely impacts me, if at all – and here’s why:

Why The Previous Version Didn’t Impact Budget Players

The Reprint Policy, as it stood before this week, did a very good job at what it was designed to do – maintain value for older cards so that collectors wouldn’t feel threatened that their collections would suddenly lose a tremendous amount of value. But the value of those cards still relied on the power level of the card itself; the edition mattered very little in the grand scheme of things. No one’s shelling out three hundred bucks to pick up Alpha Benalish Heroes. Sorry, Benalish Hero. Prices on cards on the Reserved List were either high (and getting higher), thereby placing themselves out of reach of a budget player, or low enough that they could be purchased if so desired. A budget player knew, after years of living with the Reprint Policy and the Reserved List, which cards were likely never going to be a part of their collection, and they proceeded accordingly – they avoided non-Proxy Vintage, or they built an inexpensive Legacy deck, or they avoided tournaments altogether and just played casually. If they had cards that suddenly gained in value, then it was a lucky windfall.

I guess it’s possible that some of us bemoaned the fact that we’d never have dual lands, or Moxen, but I know I accepted it a long time ago.

That’s not to say that high-profile reprints aren’t interesting to budget players – they are. The Timeshifted cards in Time Spiral, for instance, were pretty popular because it gave players another crack at great cards like Akroma, Angel of Vengeance and Call of the Herd – cards that were $10-15 in their heyday in Standard. But a budget player doesn’t necessarily have $80 to spend on a set of fetchlands; reprinted dual lands wouldn’t bring the price down to a manageable level, it would simply make for another set of $30-$40-a-piece cards that budget players can’t afford. And my grandma would rise up and lead a revolt if they reprinted them in a Standard-legal set – Jaces and Baneslayers are enough of a monetary impediment, thankyouverymuch. It took her forever to get all the Cryptic Commands and Thoughtseizes for Faeries.

Why The Loophole Didn’t Help

With the loophole, Wizards could, if they so desired, print a From The Vault box set that had the Power Nine in it. They could even suggest that its MSRP be over the standard MSRP for a From The Vault set – let’s be generous and say $49.99. The problem with the loophole is that it’s ultimately dependent on the secondary market – probably more so than the current singles. We all saw FTV: Exiled (whose MSRP was $34.99) selling – at RETAILERS – for double that, or more. StarCityGames.com currently has 18 for sale, for a hundred dollars apiece. Releasing the Power Nine in a FTV set would probably explore what the upper limit would be on retailer markup. A boxed set like this would not be beneficial to budget players.

The loophole gave them the ability to include one here and there – and this could have been good for budget players. It not only gives them a new influx of the card into secondary resellers (and traders), but also provides them with a way to buy the card, for a reasonable price, and feel like they are getting their money’s worth. The popular example was that they wanted to include Sliver Queen inside the Slivers Premium Box, but couldn’t because it was on the Reserved List. Had they done so, it wouldn’t have been enough to drive up the retail price of the box set – and if it did, you could still drive to your local Target and buy them for MSRP. (At least, my Target had them for a good long while.)

But one reprint, here and there, over time, is still not going to suddenly make Legacy more attractive.

Judge foils are even further from impacting a budget player, since the cards are promotional giveaways and usually command decent price tags immediately after their release. Fifty-dollar fetchlands and Natural Orders are even further outside the average price point of a budget player. A budget player has nothing but time on his side in this case; if he really wants a Judge Foil Burning Wish, but can’t afford to drop $25 on it now, he can wait, save, and eventually buy it when the cost goes down, as they eventually do. A budget player is dictated more by his budgetary concerns than by what format he wants to play, or what deck he will play in a format.

Why The New Version Doesn’t Impact Budget Players

A lot of the complaints about the new Reprint Policy seemed focused on the increasing cost of Legacy as a format. Legacy is front-and-center thanks to StarCityGames.com own Open series, as well as the enormous Grand Prix that just took place in Madrid. If you are looking at playing Legacy any time in the near future, you are already looking at a fairly huge investment for most decks. Dual lands, Force of Will, other lands like Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale, other staples like Entomb or Natural Order – man, the price tags on those top decks quickly add up. So let’s face it – if you’re on a budget and looking to play Legacy in the immediate future, the price tag on dual lands, whether they be $40 or $100, probably is not going to matter to you either way. You’re going to pay your car payment, and then look for a cheaper deck to play with, or a deck that uses a lot of cards you already have. The top price for cards you aren’t going to buy anyway is immaterial to you.

The Pipe Dream

Would I like to live in a world where budgetary concerns and card availability didn’t impact deck choices? Sure. I guess. I mean, I’d be out of a column, but whatever. But I don’t think having the ability to reprint Every Single Card Ever necessarily precipitates that. I don’t even think reprinting Every Single Card Ever would make that happen. There are way more Baneslayer Angels in print than Black Lotuses – and neither are within the amount of money I am willing to spend on one card. And let’s face it – not being able to just reprint whatever they want forces Wizards R&D to come up with new ways to get where they want to be. It forced them to create the Ravnica shock-duals, and those are absolutely great. I’d rather be looking forward to what we’re getting in the future, rather than be forced to keep looking backwards at things I’ll never have.

I’m looking forward to getting more information about how and where this decision was made, though – and how it went so quickly from “they’re going to ditch it!” (the general consensus as you got to the end of Ben Bleiweiss or Stephen Menendian articles about their conference at WizardsHQ) straight to “they made it more constrictive?” Right now, the particulars are keeping mum and may never disclose what happened.

One last suggestion: What would be GREAT would be if they updated the Reserved List every three months, like the Banned and Restricted Lists. This way, they could take into consideration recent tournament results and participation, look at the rising cost of playing the formats they want to support, AND give collectors plenty of advanced warning and time (if desired) to sell off pieces that might depreciate in value. But that seems like a lot more work than what they’ve done.

Next week – another PTQ in my neck of the woods, so it’s possible you may get to read more about Dragonstorm. Follow me on Twitter for updates all weekend!

Until then…


dave dot massive at gmail and davemassive at twitter and facebook.