Robert Chesley

Editorial: Does Magic Need A Better Distribution System?

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There has been a lot of arguments going on Twitter over the past few days on card availablity and “speculation”. Most of this stemmed from the fact that there are many high roller type speculators that are looking to make a “quick buck” on Magic Online. There was some admittance that there have been some “market collusion” on the fact that many of the staples for various formats are gobbled up by some of the bigger players online.

Magic, and by extension Magic Online, is one of the most unique games on the planet. There are high stakes tournaments every weekend. There are even moderately high stakes games online day and night. Magic is at an all-time popularity high. They have been selling record numbers of cards since Magic 2010 game out in summer of 2009. We’ve seen a monster growth in not only tournament players, but players looking to “invest” in the Magic Market. Once upon a time, Magic’s economy was dictated by players. No one really sought after cards for future gain. Or if they did, it was on a much smaller scale. According to some of the more popular Magic community members on Twitter, there was a major buy of the card Force of Will for the online market back when the card was about a twenty dollar card. We’re not talking about someone who purchased an extra playset or two to inevitiably sell later. This person bought thousands of copies of this essential card.

I don’t have the exact number of Force of Wills that entered into the system on Magic Online, only Wizards has that number. But it seems to me if someone was able to purchase even close to a hundred copies of a card like Force of Will that would in turn drive up the price of the card. That is simple supply and demand of a capitalistic system that we obviously use on Magic Online. What happened was eventually a huge boon of players joined Magic Online. Legacy, one of the top tier formats, showed up and now everyone wants to play test for the big money tournaments on Magic Online. And understandably so, Magic Online is the best tool in the universe to play test day and night against the best competition in the world. So, as anyone can plainly see, we had a huge influx of players and not enough copies to go around and the copies that were around are sold at such a high price that many of these players were “priced out” so to speak.

It must be frustrating to see from Wizards standpoint. You have a metric ton of players who want to play in these tournaments or want to play these cards online but you have an entirely different subset of players who want to invest and make money off of the game. There has got to be a better distribution system to get the cards into the hands of these players. For Magic Online at least, Wizards can print practically any card they want. They can set up drafts that use specific sets. They can release “Master’s Editions” and sell packs that contain many of these staple cards. Though there are some restrictions on how they can use this, they can always come up with “a new Master’s set” and put the more problematic cards into these categories. But as we’ve seen even that isn’t enough. Hoarders will hoard the cards as soon as they are available to the market. Because some people have such a high bank roll they are able to buy up any available copy of any sought after card, then set the price and trickle out demand. This hurts the game. I personally have yet to really find any copies of some Legacy staples as I’ve tried to reenter the MTGO scene. It’s a daunting and difficult task. Even if you have the money, the time, and the effort the necessary cards are just “not available”. If they ever do become available they are snapped up so quickly that it leaves a lot of players just sitting around asking “well what can I do about it?”

I’ve had a few suggestions about what we should do about it. Only Wizards controls how cards are printed and distributed. They have made some efforts with “event decks”. I think those are a great way to combat some of it. Giving players a deck skeleton that features actual “tournament viable” cards in them is a step in the right direction. The only real issue comes down to that Wizards probably won’t be putting Mythic or really valuable sought after cards in these types of decks. This makes the most sense for Wizards. Wizards doesn’t really make money directly off of the secondary market. They are in the business to sell packs of cards. However, the only way you can get some of the best cards in the game is through packs of cards. Dealers and mega-stores buy huge quantities of booster boxes for the sole purpose of cracking them and selling the singles to the general public. The problem arises when the secondary market can dictate the cost of Magic. I feel that some of these systems are outdated for the growth that we’ve seen in the game recently.

What is my suggestion? Well, for starters lets figure out a way to get more of the “best” cards into the hands of the players who want them. The biggest problem with card prices is that there are far more tournament players out in the world then there was even five years ago. We need to cater to this audience. There needs to be another way that the top tiered cards can get into the hands of these players at a more reasonable price than what is currently offered by the big sites on the internet. There should be event decks or duel decks that include cards that are actual staples of the format. Force of Will shouldn’t be a luxury for the ultra rich or the super lucky or both. If we want to continue to have growth in our hobby than having all the cards for all the top decks being crippling financially can’t be a good thing for the game. I’m not saying that these cards should be easy to come by, but they shouldn’t be unobtainable either. Maybe you release a set of event decks on a rotating basis that they are only in the online store for a few weeks at a time. Or there is a limit that each address can buy.

My other suggestion is to put out more “Master’s Editions” that focus just on the cards that are relevant for the formats that it is geared towards. Why would people buy these packs if they just end up with “the shaft”? Price them a little bit higher, but give us a better return on the investment.

The other drastic change that I would like to see happen is changing the distribution in booster packs. Instead of getting one rare or mythic, we should be putting two rares in packs. That was every pack gets a rare, and sometimes a pack contains a mythic and a rare. This would increase the supply of many of the more popular rares. It would also give more people incentive to crack packs of cards if they had the opportunity to get “more value” for their money. I think having the one rare, three uncommons, and eleven commons made sense close to twenty years ago. But the only way we can make buying booster packs a better option for established players is by giving them far more value then they would if they just went to the shop and bought singles.

I’m not saying that all my ideas are perfect or are best for the game. But something has got to give. We are seeing events dwindle because of card availability and we are seeing inflated prices because of this trend of speculation that has swept the Magic playing populace.

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