MTGSalvation’s rumor mill is talking about the new Phyrexia vs. the Coalition duel decks. They have found a photo of the product, and the foils visible through the packaging seem to be Urza’s Rage and Phyrexian Negator. Reprinting Negator seems to violate the Official Reprint Policy. Must mean Magic is dying, right? That’s what I’ve always said, right?
Could be I was wrong. Could be a bit more nuanced than that.
Let’s start with the basics. The reprint policy is a Wizards statement of what cards could be reprinted, and what cards never would be reprinted. The entire reprint policy is here.
The Reprint Policy includes a list of the 572 cards which Wizards has said that they will not reprint. The list begins with Ancestral Recall, and ends with Yawgmoth’s Bargain. However, most of the cards on the list are not broken monstrosities. The list also includes a bunch of “what do they do?” cards, like Kudzu, Golgothian Sylex, Invoke Prejudice, and Nova Pentacle. The list even includes some dreadful cards, like Sorrow’s Path. (Best reason for having the reserve list — never having to open a pack and finding Sorrow’s Path.) (And yes, I built a Sorrow’ Path deck too. But that is like swimming in ice water or eating lutefisk. You do those things to show you can, not because you enjoy them.)
But I digress. Let’s get back to the policy. Here are the important bits.
Official Reprint Policy
Primary to the value of purchasing Magic cards is the concept that each card will maintain a reasonable value over time. Because we’re sensitive to this issue and to the ramifications of reprinting cards too soon or too often, we try to make decisions that won’t negatively affect card collectability over time and that will enhance the value of cards you purchase.
To maintain your confidence in the Magic game as a collectible, we’ve created this Magic: The Gathering card reprint policy. It explains why we reprint cards and lists which cards from past Magic sets will never be reprinted.
The complete list of reserved cards appears at the end of this document. Reserved cards will never be printed again in a functionally identical form. A card is considered functionally identical to another card if it has the same card type, subtypes, abilities, mana cost, power, and toughness. No cards will be added to the reserved list in the future. No cards from the Mercadian Masques set and later sets will be reserved. In consideration of past commitments, however, no cards will be removed from this list. The exclusion of any particular card from the reserved list doesn’t indicate that there are any plans to reprint that card.
This is the current reprint policy. It is not the first reprint policy. When the game was created, there was no reprint policy, of course. It evolved over time. To understand what it is and why it is, it is worthwhile to look at what firestorm generated an official reprint policy in the first place.
Going way back, Wizards began the policy of taking cards off sale / out of print. Some original plans called for each set to be stand-alone, and to go completely away. This soon evolved into the concept of a core/base set that stayed around, and expansions that lasted for a limited time. The core set lost the broken cards that came out of Alpha / Beta / Unlimited (I’m looking at you, Power 9), but most of the rest stayed around in 4th Edition and so forth. Expansions, like Antiquities, Arabian Nights, and Legends, went off sale.
Legends was sold during 1994. About 35 million Legends cards were printed. When they were gone, they were gone. Once the packs were gone, the cards started to climb in value. Back in those days, the Elder Dragon Legends, like Nicol Bolas, were some of the more expensive cards. Collectors and dealers paid big bucks for those cards.
The following year, Wizards released two sets that had a huge impact on these cards, and their prices. The first was Italian Legends, which “reprinted” Legends — albeit for the first time – in Italy. Italian Legends was a smallish reprinting of Legends, but it did mean that the cards were suddenly available again.
The second bombshell was the reprinting of the Elder Dragon Legends in Chronicles. Chronicles was white bordered, but it was in English, and very widely released. The numbers dwarfed the original Legends. Legends entire print run was about 35 million cards, or roughly 19,000 copies of each rare. Chronicles had a print run of 180 million, in 12-card booster packs. The boosters had three “uncommons” in each pack, and the uncommons were a mix of the U1s, which showed up once per uncommon sheet, and U3s, which showed up three times. With 15 million boosters printed, the number of white-bordered Nicol Bolases was somewhere around 100,000. Put another way, Wizards printed five times as many Chronicles Nicol Bolases as there were Legends copies in print.
The price of the Legends versions tanked. Collectors, and dealers, were outraged.
In response, Wizards created the reprint policy — in effect, a promise to not reprint cards in this way again. The reprint policy carved out most of the older cards that had never been reprinted, and promised not to reprint them again. This original version of the policy included uncommons and, I believe, at least some commons.
Later on, the reprint policy — or at least the list — was trimmed. The commons and uncommons were removed. All cards that had been previously reprinted were also off the list. The previously-reprinted list was pretty significant. A lot had been reprinted, one place or another.
The biggest reprint engine was Fifth Edition. Fifth Edition came out just as Wizards was about to split Constructed Magic into Type 1 and Type 2, or Standard and Vintage as we would now call them. The new Standard would use newer cards, but excluding older sets would eliminate some tournament staples. The solution was to pack Fifth Edition with those cards — cards like Necropotence and so forth. Fifth Edition was huge, topping the scales at 449 cards.
Wizards had also made some other special sets at that point. In addition to Chronicles, Wizards had printed an early version of the Duel Decks — namely the Beatdown boxed set and Deckmasters: Garfield vs. Finkel. I can’t remember if the rewrite to the original reprint policy was before this, after this, or designed to enable these special sets.
I wish I had more information on why certain cards are on, or off, the official reprint list. I can’t find the original articles announcing the list and the changes. I do know that Wizards removed Commons and Uncommons in 2002, but I don’t know what else influenced the choices.
For example, the official no-reprint list on the Wizards website includes nine Exodus cards. Exodus has 44 rares. Oath of Ghouls cannot be reprinted (no matter — Oversold Cemetery is just better), but Oath of Druids is not on the list. One of the five Licids is on the list. Exalted Dragon is on the list, but Spike Weaver is not. (Probably because Spike Weaver was in the Battle Royale boxed set, but I’m not sure exactly when that came out.)
Wizards has found various ways of reprinting cards in the past. Chronicles was clearly a mistake, and one that Wizards did not repeat. The original Collector’s Edition had a different outline/profile, and the World Championship decks had different backs. These were not tournament legal, and appear to have been discontinued. However, the early boxed sets, such as Beatdown and Deckmasters, have evolved into the current special product lines: the Duel Decks, From the Vaults, and the Premium Deck Series (e.g. Slivers). All of these seem likely to continue.
To date, though, none of these have included cards off the restricted list.
Wizards also prints special foil singles, of various flavors, in various ways. These include player rewards, FNM foils and “judge” foils. Aaron Forsyth described such cards in an Ask Wizards answer from 2005.
“Friday Night Magic prizes are foil versions of commons and uncommons. We like to stick with cards that are Extended legal so that players will have opportunities to use their prize cards in sanctioned play if they so choose. The ideal FNM foil looks different than the original foil version of the card in some way beside the ‘watermark’ in the text box. For instance, we’ve been choosing prize cards that were not printed in the new (post-Eighth Edition) card face, such as Rancor (January’s prize card), so that the prize Rancor stands out from older foil Rancors.
“Player Rewards promos used to be token cards, but we’ve made the switch to using textless spells recently, like Terror. Our criteria for those cards is that they’re common or uncommon instants or sorceries that are Standard-legal. The more well-known a card is factors in, but we’re willing to lower the bar a little on that requirement since the people that will be receiving these cards are very active in the tournament scene.
“The last set is what we call ‘judge promos,’ and that is where we pull out the big guns. The judge promos are foil versions of popular older cards (that are usually rare), and are sent to or handed out to DCI judges as a ‘thank you’ for all their hard work. These cards are chosen solely on their coolness factor, and whether or not any of them might be reprinted is not considered. (Some, like Phyrexian Negator, cannot be reprinted thanks to the Reserve List, which does, by the way, allow for special premium versions of cards on the list to be made.)”
That last statement — that the reserve list does allow for special premium versions to be made — appears to be correct. Here’s the relevant portion.
All policies described in this document apply only to non-premium, tournament-legal Magic cards. Wizards of the Coast has and may continue to print special versions of cards not meant for regular game play, such as oversized cards.
Judge foils are foils — in other words, they are premium cards. Wizards has long printed them as a special way of thanking judges (and others, such as the coverage staff) for their efforts at big tournaments.
Phyrexian Negator was a judge foil at one point. I don’t know the official number of judge foil Negators printed, but I would estimate that it was probably in the 5k-10k range, based on the numbers given out at the events I worked, times the number of judges, etc. It may be more. (Truthfully — I don’t know. I know Ingrid and I collected two dozen plus over the years, working maybe a third of the events where they were distributed. Figure an average of 100 judges / reporters / others per event.)
For comparison, the original Phyrexian Negator was printed in Urza’s Destiny. We don’t know the total print run for Destiny, but Exodus, the similar set from the previous year, was estimated at 180 million cards. With 44 rares in the set, approximately a quarter million original Negators were printed.
It is also interesting to look at the price of original Negators and judge foils. The judge foils are more expensive than non-foil originals, but the Urza’s Destiny foil Negators are worth more significantly more than the judge foils.
You know, I suspect Ben Bleiweiss will write about this soon. Hope I’m not stealing his thunder.
I had always thought that reprinting cards on the no-reprint list risked alienating dealers. After all, StarCityGames.com has invested lots and lots of dollars in their inventory, based on the assumption that Wizards would not suddenly flood the market with anything that would undercut the value of that investment. For example, at the moment, SCG has about 15 tournament-legal Black Lotuses in stock, selling for $750 – $2000. The buy price is $450 -$800 for Unlimited copies, and far more for Alpha and Beta Black Loti. SCG can’t risk buying these cards for this kind of money if there is any chance that Wizards will include them in M11, because that would mean that prices would fall through the floor.
I have always thought that if Wizards shafts the dealers in that way, then the dealers would not trust Wizards again. They would not risk investing in chase cards, which would dry up the supply of singles. No singles dealers would mean that getting cards for Constructed would be tough, and Constructed tournaments would suffer. As Constructed tournaments disappeared, drafters could not sell their cards, meaning that Limited would also spiral down, and Magic could easily fail.
Wizards may not get revenue directly from singles sales, but singles sales clearly support Magic as a whole.
But maybe that is overly simplistic. Maybe, if Wizards releases a limited number of restricted cards at a time, it could do so without harming Magic as a whole. I could speculate on that, but hopefully Ben will say more. Unlike me, he actually is a dealer.
Let’s assume that’s what Wizards is doing. Duel Decks: Phyrexia vs. the Coalition is intended to be an example / trial / test-bed / inaugural for controlled, limited releases of cards on the restricted list.
It will be controlled / limited. Wizards can control exactly how many copies of each Duel Deck are printed. Maybe that was the goal.
If so, then I’m sure Wizards has a very carefully worded explanation article scheduled to appear sometime soon. I would expect it to be in Maro’s column, or maybe something by Forsythe or someone from Brand. Either way, Wizards would explain exactly what has changed with the reprint policy, and what dealers can expect.
That article does not appear to be out, yet. If you ever wonder why Wizards hates unofficial spoilers, this is probably a pretty good example. By the time Wizards will get its own message out, it will be drowned out by the mashed and mangled versions coming from articles like this one – and from the forums.
Assuming that this is what is happening (and that we are not all being taken in by bad photoshoppery), then Wizards is re-releasing old cards. I see these old cards falling into four categories: bad, fun, once good, and staples.
The bad cards are just that — bad. They are overpriced, underpowered, or simply don’t do anything you would want to do. There is no reason at all to reprint these. No one wants a Sorrow’s Path — even a shiny one – in their Duel Deck. No one wants one anywhere else, with the possible exception of collectors. Collectors, however, will want the original, if that’s what they need to finish their collection of The Dark.
The next category is full of cards that are fun for the Constructed casual players — the folks that love to build strange and unusual decks. These include cards like Sliver Queen, Eureka and so forth. The cards are fun and people like them. The downside is that the cards are often quite valuable. Sticking two of these cards in a Duel Deck — Serra Avatar vs. Sliver Queen, for example — could mean that the singles price of the two visible cards alone could be way higher than the MSRP, and that could be a problem. Maybe — I don’t have any real data on what such sets could be priced at, and what that might do to the singles market and dealers.
The third category is cards which were once chase rares for Standard, Extended, or even Vintage, but whose time is long gone. Both Phyrexian Negator and Urza’s Rage (the other card visible in the Duel Deck packaging) fall into that category. These are often fine old cards, and it is always nicely nostalgic to play them once again. They won’t hurt dealers, since they have already depreciated. (Urza’s Rage was once $20, now it’s $2. Etc.)
I do have one comment about this duel deck set, however. I want to say it now. Negator and Urza’s Rage? REALLY? I played Negator, back in the day. You never, ever want to play Negator against a deck with burn. Negator sucks against burn. Against anything with direct damage, you sided out Negators immediately. Making Negator the face of the Phyrexian deck — well, maybe the idea is to show that evil doesn’t win.
But I digress.
The next category is cards that are still tournament-playable. These are more problematic. They have value now. The dealers are trading in them now. The Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale is worth a fortune, and everyone is trying desperately to find them, because they are very good in Legacy. On the flip side, how much would you have to charge for a Duel Deck that had one in it? Even if the MSRP was $39.95, how much would retailers actually charge? Tabernacle is a $250 card, even worn.
Stuff that good is probably going to stay out of Duel Decks, and probably even From the Vaults sets. It is simply too expensive, and too esoteric. It is only used in one deck archetype. Legacy can probably survive, even if Tabernacles stay really expensive.
Legacy is very popular now, and Wizards is sponsoring Legacy GPs once in a while. Having lots of Tabernacles may not be that important for Legacy, but the dual lands are. Almost every Tier 1 Legacy deck in existence runs duals, and anyone who wants to come to the event probably needs duals. On the other hand, duals are both scarce and expensive. Wizards might really want to get ore into circulation, and the best way to do that might be to introduce duel decks with some of these lands as singletons. Imagine pairing a good dual with a “bad” one. For example, the Duel Deck might be Ajani Vengeant (with Plateau) versus Circu, Dimir Lobotomist (with Underground Sea.) Total print run of 5,000 copies, and they would sell out very, very fast — but they would get new duals into player’s hands.
Be expensive as all get out, though.
Maybe sell the duals “individually”? Form the Vault: Dimir might be a way to package Underground Sea and a fourteen other UB cards of marginal value would still sell.
Hopefully Ben can bring some data and expertise to bear on the question of whether releasing, say, 3,500 copies of a chase staple like Underground Sea would do to the value of the existing card stock. For reference, approximately 325,000 copies of each dual land were printed, in Alpha, Beta, Unlimited and Revised. (Assuming I did my math correctly.) Releasing 3,500 copies would be about a 1% increase in the total print run — although it would be a much greater increase in the percentage of cards currently in the market.
For comparison, I calculate that roughly 28,500 copies of Black Lotus could be played in tournaments, if they could all be found. (That’s using a 10.4 million card print run for Limited, plus 40 million for Unlimited, divided by 15 cards per booster and by 117 rares in the set.) If you created a From the Vault: Lotus and Friends set and limited the printing to 1% of the initial print run, that would only add 285 new Black Loti to the card pool. That would hardly be enough to rejuvenate the Vintage marketplace. While some would be snapped up by collectors, dropping two hundred plus new Lotuses on the marketplace might hurt dealers. Worse yet, assuming that Wizards prints 285 copies of FtV: Black Lotus, how could they distribute them? My state, Wisconsin, has 100 retail outlets selling Magic. How could you reasonably and fairly spread 285 copies of something that good, fairly, around the world? And if you could, what would retailers charge for it? It’s not going to sell for $34.95, even if Wizards does make that the MSRP.
I have thought about other methods by which Wizards could release controlled amounts of the older cards. One possibility is to make draft packs, and include the chase cards as Mythics or “super-mythics.” The model could be the new Alara block foil booster packs. These 15 card boosters include a mix of cards from all three Alara block sets.
In theory, Wizards could print an “Old Stuff Block” booster. Each pack would contain one rare, three uncommons, ten commons and a land, coming from one of several sets. This could include Unlimited, Arabian Nights, Antiquities – maybe even Legends. The card lists would have to be modified — you probably would not want to use all the different versions of some cards, and the ante cards and dexterity cards (Chaos Orb, Falling Star) would be excluded. The really chase cards — including all 39 of the cards removed from Limited to create Revised, except for ante, etc., could be made Mythic.
First, such packs would be very strange — and probably very bad — to draft. Early sets were not designed for Limited play. That might not be a show stopper, however. I doubt that the majority of the Alara Block Foil packs are being used for drafts.
Second, opening the packs might turn into nothing but a giant Lottery. Let’s do some quick math. The total number of rares in Unlimited, Antiquities, Arabian Nights, and Legends is somewhere around 200, depending on how you count U2s and U3s. Of these, you have to remove the ante cards and Chaos Orb / Falling Star, etc. After that, let’s make the chase cards Mythics. These would include the Power 9, Library of Alexandria, Tabernacle, Time Vault, Illusionary Mask, Bazaar of Baghdad, Mishra’s Workshop, Moat, etc. – say 25 cards get tagged as Mythics. If Mythics were to appear once every 10 packs, a Black Lotus would be opened once every 250 packs.
Assuming that Wizard wanted to increase the overall supply of Black Lotus cards in print by 1%, that would mean that they could print about 70,000 such packs. That sounds like a lot, but it is not. Even old sets, like Chronicles and Exodus, were printed in numbers two orders of magnitude higher. Exodus had a print run of some 12 million boosters. If you really include a lot of old cards, and have some money cards, a lot of people will want to buy a box, and many more would want to try drafting, at least once or twice. Wizards could even do release events, etc. But, to do that, it would need to print enough product. I don’t have numbers, but needing to print 100 million boosters is not unreasonable.
Including 285 Black Loti in these packs would mean that a Black Lotus would be opened once every 350,000 packs. With 25 such super-Mythics, you would open one roughly once every 1,400 packs.
I think priceless treasures had better odds. I think the lottery might too.
I’m pretty sure that this is a solution. However, fortunately for all of us, this is not my decision. A lot of people both smarter than me are working on it, and they have a lot more time to work on it.
If, however, Duel Decks: Phyrexia vs. The Coalition really does include Phyrexian Negator, then this may indicate that we are starting to see the results of that work. It will be interesting to see this develop.
“one million words” on MTGO