It is now the time to reveal The Secret History Of The Ferrett. This history brings up two very important points that you need to understand BEFORE I get into my rant about what a bunch of dithering nincompoops you Magic players can be, so listen closely:
I understand that many of you may think that I am just a feeble and impotent player, and not even a particularly good one at that; many of you believe that I wield no superpowers, and hold no particular sway in this Godless industry.
This is true.
Didn’t used to be, though.
Because The Secret History Of The Ferrett is that I used to be the guy who bought Magic cards for Waldenbooks.
Now this is a strange concept for those of you who haven’t worked retail, but the truth is that for every chain store there is at least one person back at headquarters who actually decides what products each store carries… and how much. One person has a HUGE freakin’ budget, and he gets to decide whether he should buy 20 copies of that new Eminem CD for your local Sam Goody, or maybe he should put 50 copies there and put it on sale. If you can’t buy Eminem that week, it’s because the guy didn’t buy enough.
In fact, generally there’s a team of people who buy things, split up by category. Walk into your local Borders and there is one woman who buys all the computer books for each of the 190 or so Borders stores. Walk into CompUSA, and know that in Houston there’s a guy who makes his salary by ensuring that the hottest PC Action games are out front and center when you want to buy them.
These jobs generally pay jack, as corporate jobs go. But there are two advantages:
1) You wield tremendous power, and all the sales reps have to kiss your butt.
2) You get free samples.
Now up until recently, when I quit my job and moved to Alaska to be with my wife, *I* was the guy who bought Magic cards for all nine hundred Waldenbooks stores.
With every release, I got at least a box of boosters and precons, and usually more. This was pleasant, and I did this for two years. I also figured out new methods of getting the right cards to the right stores, and our sales went up. This was also pleasant.
But there was one trend I caught before anyone else did, and boy do I wish I hadn’t:
That’s right. You are speaking to the first national buyer to spot Pokemon: The Card Game as a white-hot trend and support it with everything the company had.
I went literally millions over budget buying this thing, because I knew it was big. And it WAS. Bigger than anything we’d ever seen before; Pokemon cards outsold the new John Grisham novel, left Harry Potter sitting in the dust, bitchslapped Stephen King and made him cry. For the first time, CCGs MEANT something to Waldenbooks.
When Pokemon: Jungle came out this summer, Waldenbooks was the #1 card seller in America for Wizards. We sold a quarter million packs in six days. We took a huge risk by buying far more than we felt comfortable with, and how did Wizards repay our loyalty and risk-taking?
By shafting us like we were a Sussex coal mine.
Immediately they realized that hey, Waldenbooks shows this stuff has potential! We’d better sell this to Toys‘R’ Us, toot sweet!
And they became scum-sucking jerks. They lied to us about ship dates, changed prices without telling us, refused to return phone calls, purposely lost shipments which we later found out got routed to other vendors they liked better, were so incompetent they lost not one but THREE shipments, and basically acted in such an unprofessional manner that I still have fantasies about going to Seattle and ramming salt-soaked cactuses up their trousers.
There was nobody— and I mean NOBODY— I have dealt with in my five years of professional buying who were a worse bunch of lying jackasses.
Which brings me to POINT #1: I HATE WIZARDS OF THE COAST AND I WISH THEY WOULD DIE. I will be defending them later on, but realize that I hate you all the more for making me have to speak up for this leprous bunch of imbeciles.
But that wasn’t the worst part. Wizardlike idiocy I could deal with.
The worst part was the calls from nine hundred angry stores.
Every morning I would crawl into work and find twenty furious messages from stores, accusing ME of being an idiot. Why? Because they were out of Pokemon. THEY GENUINELY THOUGHT I DIDN’T KNOW. They somehow thought that I was not aware that Pokemon occupied the top five spots of our bestseller list, and I was sitting around waiting for someone to tell me what to do.
They were, in short, pissed off and dumb.
I tried to explain to them that EVERYONE was out of Pokemon, and that Wizards wasn’t giving us any more because they were dirty filthy slum-dwellers who couldn’t find our cards with both hands, a map, and a flashlight. They didn’t believe me.
Here I was, spending two to four hours a day ON TOP OF my regular job trying to track down frickin’ Pikachu-in-a-box for them, and all I was given was torrents of eternal ingratitude and ignorance. And I had to sit there and smile for them.
Dance, little monkey! Dance for the stupid masses!
Which brings me to LESSON #2: WHEN THERE ISN’T ENOUGH TO GO AROUND, MAKING EVERYONE HAPPY IS A MUG’S GAME.
And you know what?
Wizards is doing their best to make you teeming masses happy, and all you moes can do is complain, complain, complain.
As much as I hate the thieving, unscrupulous jerks that are Wizards: The Company, all I can hear is you folks complaining about one thing… then bitching when they fix it. Observe!
· Tempest is too fast. We need to slow the game down. Whoa, Mercadian Masques is too slow.
· There are too many power cards around in Urza’s Saga. We should fix this. Mercadian Masques is a really boring set.
· I really, really hate crap rares like Illusions of Grandeur and Necropotence. Boy, Wizards doesn’t know what they’re doing when they print these overpowered cards.
· Nothing is worse than combo decks. Except banning cards which stop combo decks from firing too soon— who do they think they are?
· Wizards should print less cards and think them through more often and the tournament scene is really dull with new cards only coming out three times a year.
The frustrating thing for Wizards is that each player wants something different… but the one thing they ALL agree on is that Wizards is a big dumb company who doesn’t know what they’re doing. Meanwhile, none of YOU seem to realize you’re all grousing about entirely separate things, and that it’s logically impossible to satisfy all of your needs.
In this case, it’s not enough solidarity to go around. And this annoys me.
So let’s go and refute some of the bad things that people say about the hated Wizards:
1) THEY SHOULD COME OUT WITH CARDS LESS OFTEN AND TAKE THEIR TIME. The problem with this theory is that there’s not enough of a sales increase in it.
The math is simple: with only two card sets to sell every year, Wizards would have to sell 50% more cards on EACH of their twice-a-year releases to make up for that lost third release.
Now ask yourself: If a set was real quality, would you buy one and a half times as many packs?
Then ask again: Even if YOU would, would everybody in the world?
The answer: No.
Quality doesn’t count for quite THAT much in the business world, I’m afraid to say, and the big rush of card sales comes in the first eight weeks.
(There are also all of these wonderful subarguments that say,“Hey— if the game is better, then it will attract more players and Wizards will make more money!” Here’s the deal, Sparky: Take your next paycheck. Cut it by a third. Then try explaining to your landlord that you don’t have the money NOW, but EVENTUALLY you’ll make a lot more because you have quality product. You hope.
(The lesson? Are you really going to risk guaranteed profit now for a nebulous future? Didn’t think so.)
When the next set comes out, save all of the spoiler reviews— there will be many— and go back six months later to see what percentage of people got the true power cards right. You’ll find that the vast majority of reviewers blow it on a consistent basis. It’s no great feat picking out the drecky cards, but there’s almost invariably one or two ridiculously overpowered cards WHICH NOBODY CATCHES, and one or two“broken” cards that turn out to be duds.
Let’s take Mercadian Masques, for example. Everyone said that Squee was completely broken and unfair— which he wasn’t— and underplayed the impact of Rishadan Port, which IS an environment-changing card. Likewise, when“Donate” came out, most of the reviews *I* read said that it was an interesting card but probably not tournament-worthy.
Now, suddenly that the NecroDonate came out and surprised all of you, it’s OBVIOUS that it’s overpowered. What’s the lesson here, children?
If YOU, the great mass o’ public people, can’t pick‘em consistently, then how can R&D be expected to get them right every time?
Sure, I know what you say next: They’re professionals. They should know everything. They should, in short, know much more than the teeming masses who do writeups. But their job consists of anticipating every single matchup and combo that millions of rabid fans are going to try to put together and break… which is, quite frankly, an IMPOSSIBLE TASK.
This is not flipping burgers at McDonald’s, folks. Fitting cards and complex math into an already-vast equation of possibilities is rather like… programming! And expecting Wizards R&D to produce consistently good and fair cards is like expecting your IT team to design a bug-free computer program. Everyone wants it, but it can’t really be done.
There are just too many variables. You can MINIMIZE the number of bugs, but in the widespread Windows environment, they’re just a fact of life… and broken cards are also a fact of life. Note that none of the major cards by themselves were broken, but they BECAME broken in the presence of other cards. Tolarian Academy only became a real bastard when somebody combined it with Stroke Of Genius and Mind Over Matter.*
And occasionally, a card causes a GPF in the system. Then they issue a patch, in the form of a banning. Then everyone goes nuts and claims Wizards is wrong again. (Okay…. they were completely wrong when they banned Dark Ritual. They’re not the brightest at FIXING bugs. And yet I digress.)
You know what? It’s a tough freakin’ line to walk, and they’re never going to make anyone happy. When you can all decide what you want, Wizards will provide it. But first ALL of you have to decide whether you want speed or long, slow games; powerful fun cards that might be broken in the right combo, or unbreakable, not quite-so-fun cards; rares that all work consistently and lack surprises, or“crap rares” that Wizards throws in now and then to see what the players will do with them (like Necro or Dream Halls).
When you make up your mind and speak as one, they’ll do it. They want you to buy the damn cards.
But until then, they’re struggling. Do you realize what a task it is, not to have to design just for ONE game, but for SIX games in every release? Not only do you have to contribute cards to Type I, II, and Extended… but you have to keep the Sealed Deck and Booster Draft and Multiplayer players happy, too. Balancing that out can’t be easy, but they try… and with Mercadian, they succeeded admirably, providing the most challenging Booster Draft to date, stabilizing the wild swings of Type II, and one of the most balanced Sealed games I’ve seen in a while. It doesn’t contribute a lot to Type I or Extended, nor is it a powerful Multiplayer game… but then again, without power cards that’s a difficult task.
Basically, you folk want it all. And complain constantly that you can’t get it.
I am willing to bet right now that Wizards R&D spend their days grousing about YOU.“They have no idea what cards we kept OUT, man. They don’t know what we kept off the streets because it sounded cool— but WE CAUGHT IT. But do WE get any credit…?”
Here’s the deal: Wizards R&D makes mistakes occasionally. They’re programmers, and programmers cause bugs now and then. And every once in awhile, they get sick of the tide of“we want better cards!” and let one slide out— even though they think it MIGHT be broken— because sometimes it’s not.
Remember, Yawgmoth’s Bargain was a“broken” card, too. It’s powerful… but it’s no Necro. Learn the lesson.
3) WIZARDS ARE POWER-MAD TYRANTS. In this you are correct…. but you give them no reason NOT to be. There are two reasons for this:
1) As long as you folks keep shelling out money, Wizards will feel entirely happy. And their sales on the last few sets of cards were up, last I checked.
2) Until you folks get together, decide what you want, and refuse to buy until this thing is done, nothing will happen.
Meanwhile, you all scamper about like a bunch of lab mice on crack complaining and complaining and complaining about how dumb they are.
THEY’RE not dumb. They’re making money off this. You’re dumb for continuing to buy cards and somehow thinking that anything other than changing their profit margins will make them budge. People like Jamie Wakefield who leave Magic and refuse to come back until the conditions are changed… Well, they might make a difference.**
In short, Wizards is doing the best they can to satisfy your various needs, and until you all unite and decide what’s best— combo or creature? Slow or fast? Type II or Sealed?— they CAN’T DO IT. Wizards are a bunch of leechlike trash who should have their nether regions cut off and turned into Hacky Sacks, but I sympathize with their never-ending effort to make a lot of gripey people happy… and I know I wouldn’t want their job.
So stop the bitching.*** They’re not devils— they’re doing the best they can in the face of a split market. And I hope sincerely that when the bottom falls out of Pokemon they go Chapter 13 and have to sit in rotting dumpsters, licking the insides of discarded Snickers bars for nutrition.
A man can dream, can’t he?
NEXT ARTICLE: I See Dead People, But You See Weasels
*— However, this is not to say that Wizards couldn’t stand to get more outside input on the cards they’re unsure of, holding“Break This Card” contests and the like for money. But this IS cheap-ass Wizards we’re discussing here.
**— But Jamie, ya left at the wrong time. I’m a Green Mage. Trust me, I know.
*** — Although I fully intend to write a “what you can rightfully complain about Wizards” column at some point in the nebulous future. I’m sure you’ll all be linin’ up for THAT one.