For the past several years Wizards of the Coast has been fundamentally changing the business practices around the Magic: the Gathering property in ways that are arguably unethical, and surely against stated intentions of the company toward Magic in the more than two-and-a-half decades of its history. Promises broken. I’ve watched these changes from a distance, not partaking in them, “speaking with my wallet” if you will. But I’m obviously in the minority and Magic makes record amounts of money on these broken promises. Congratulations.
I know that certain members of management do not like that the fan-made format of EDH (Commander) has become the most popular Magic format. And since the secondary market is where Commander players spend most of their money, Wizards has been trying to find ways to monetize the format. You guys tried to create a rotating Commander format that used the Standard card pool (Brawl) that was implemented half-heartedly or just plain badly. The next attempt, and a much more successful one, was to break the oath to “stay out of the secondary market” by reprinting cards, not in randomized booster packs, but essentially “to order” in packaged sets you called Secret Lairs. Even the name makes them seem like you are getting an exclusive special thing, and you had to order in a very tight window. This plays on human nature and the “fear of missing out” and is predatory. But hey, money is good, right?
Magic is addictive. It’s nicknamed “cardboard crack” for a reason. And more than ever Wizards has taken advantage of that addiction in the games’ fans in recent years. You guys are like a drug dealer doling out hits of desired cards and teasing that just around the corner will be “a new and better high” to keep demand rising.
Along these same lines you began offering many more “premium products.” High priced masters sets, collector boosters, set boosters, Mythic Editions, Deluxe Collection, et cetera, that don’t cost much more to create or manufacture, but are priced at a premium, sometimes three or four times as much as a “regular” Magic pack. Many had alternate art and/or frames, which though a “gimmick” that often made them not even look like Magic cards, I’m sure the company was pleased to discover that collector/players ate them up to have something special like some players feel about foil cards to “bling” out their decks. Most of these products have more foils to appeal to this old desire, but you guys couldn’t even get those right and they would often curl so badly it became a meme.
I’m not one of these collectors. Never cared for foils. Hate Magic cards that don’t look like Magic cards. Don’t care for frameless and extended art cards. Would have preferred that the card frame never changed with 8th edition and had retained the original frame, which ironically has recently become one of these “special treatments,” that customers desire more than “normal” Magic cards that drive demand and I’m sure increase Wizards’ bottom line. Nice.
I’m a player. Love to play. I miss the days where I could recognize a card at a glance from across the table and know exactly what it does, but now the same card can have five or six different treatments and they all look so different I have to ask what each card is and it is not often the “name” I recognize to know its function in the game. I want the cards to look cool and evoke the feeling of the Magic game universe, but I mostly want them to be functional. Oftentimes lately Wizards has been screwing that up. Companions? Hogaak? How many ban worthy cards in Standard? Bans in EVERY format in 2019-20, even Vintage? That’s not to mention general power-creep.
Though I’ve dreamed about it, I don’t own a game store and I am glad I don’t. The way Wizards of the Coast has been screwing over the local game stores that have been the game’s bread and butter for so long is appalling. The whole direct to consumer model hurts them and the distribution of booster boxes of new sets lately is designed to harm these shops while increasing Wizards’ overall direct sales. I went into two game stores looking for singles a week after release of Strixhaven as I have done previously and was told that they didn’t get the amount of product they had asked for so they could not open packs to put singles in their cases. And I also suspect that product shortages of sets like Time Spiral Remastered, and probably Jumpstart and others are deliberately designed to drive up demand for Mtg product in general and make sales on a bait-and-switch type of tactic. I also hear complaints about lack of support for organized play of various sorts.
And I believe that brings me to, in my eyes, the most egregious offence Wizards has perpetrated in recent years. In February, when I read that you were going to be announcing crossover Magic products with Lord of the Rings and Warhammer 40K, I thought it was some kind of joke and almost checked the calendar to see if it was April 1st already. After 28 years Wizards is going to open Magic up to outside IPs? When you announced the Walking Dead Secret Lair other players seemed concerned about the scarcity of these unique cards where I was more concerned that a TV show set in modern times was getting black-bordered “ad” cards in my sword and sorcery fantasy game that had been its own protected thing for so long. Many of us objectected online, but I guess not vehemently enough. It was just weird. But there were only a few cards and they might be “scarce,” so I might never see them in a game and if I did, maybe I could ignore them a few times. But now Magic is going to have very many cards from other IP’s in the game and I won’t be able to shrug them off on occasion and ignore them.
The problems I have with this are many fold, the IP and genre intrusion after nearly three decades just being the largest. The integrity of the game is and forever will be, broken. I also greatly resent that ’real’ Magic cards are suddenly and essentially being used to advertise other intellectual properties to the loyal fans of the game. Then you turn around and sell the ads to your customers. I can’t say for sure how exactly money changes hands in these deals, but it seems fairly obvious Wizards got some of AMC’s ad budget for that season of The Walking Dead to produce that Secret Lair, and probably Netflix money for the Arcane and Stranger Things Secret Lairs. I’m wondering also if the advertisers have to pay more for unique cards like Walking Dead and Stranger Things and less for reprints and re-skins like the Arcane Lair. Certainly the unique cards will draw more attention from players. Wizards is adding a Games Workshop IP to Magic, but GW is not adding Magic IP to Warhammer? I can’t help feeling you are getting paid on both ends. It at least feels “tacky” and decreases my enjoyment of both Mtg and the properties it borrows from. I can’t do it.
And I am irate that there is no way I can opt out seeing these cards in my games unless I entirely change the way I play Magic. See, one of the reasons I fell in love with the game in the early 90’s is it seemed I could go into any game store in the country, sit down and start shuffling a deck and most of the time, in less than an hour I’d have someone I had never met before asking to play a game. This became harder to do once more official formats were added to the game as players didn’t always have the same format deck on hand. Commander brought this back. Being a casual format, nearly everyone has a Commander deck and EDH players were the type looking for casual pick-up games. I can’t avoid my opponents playing UB cards without coming off as a jerk, because they are “official” Magic cards. Also, I really can’t avoid playing them myself without being at a disadvantage with players who have no problem with outside IP’s in Magic. I’m between a rock and a hard space it seems.
And in time the game will no longer be Magic: the Gathering but a Magic-like game where a bunch of IPs “exist together.” It will be like the LEGO Movie of collectible card games, but unlike the LEGO Movie it won’t be funny, nor LEGO (or maybe in Universes Beyond 2028, it will be?). I am a LotR fan but I don’t want to see Frodo and Gandalf in Magic. I’m a Stranger Things fan but I don’t want to see Eleven and Sherif Hopper in Magic. I’m not a fan of Warhammer 40K but also don’t actively dislike it. Maybe some players do despise these properties? What more do players do when, in the future, you make a deal to UB a property they HATE? The Fortnite Lair announcement got a lot of blow back, but I neither knew there was such hatred for that property nor do I find reprints as offensive. How many players will Magic eventually lose to this kind of disappointment?
Then we can also worry about reprints. Is Wizards going to have to make another deal with Middle Earth Enterprises to reprint indemand cards from the LotR set five years down the line? Are we not going to see reprints of staple cards? Are you going to be able to print them in future Commander decks not totally themed to the outside IPs? Will we have a whole new Reserved List because of it? It just causes all kinds of possible issues. But perhaps Wizards has thought all possibilities through and has answers to all these questions. The Magic versions coming to “the list” six months after the Secret Lair drop is welcome, but Wizards is not going to go that with every non Secret Lair card like from the Warhammer or LotR set. That’s a problem still but I feel like since they are not coming until late 2023 and 2024, you are just using time to “take the sting” out of it and get players used to “New Magic.”.
But then again your track record for thinking and planning ahead has not been all that good in the past few years and this goes along with issues of game design and game balance. With all the overpowered cards Wizards has printed and whole new rule design mistakes like Companions for instance, how can the players trust Wizards of the Coast to make good game design decisions when they also have to make game mechanics to fit outside IPs, the companies who own them and the fans of those IPs? What happens when fans of LotR are unhappy with how weak the Fellowship characters are compared to existing Mtg characters or just not what they expected? The Forgotten Realms set experienced some of this. Will this cause Wizards to design future UB sets with increasing power so we get a whole new power creep?
And what makes it doubly upsetting is most issues could be eliminated if they were silver-bordered like the My Little Pony promos. Or “skins” of existing cards like the Toho Godzilla cards. They would function as advertisements for those IPs while requiring agreement to actually use in games of any kind. Maybe you could have compromised with a completely different border treatment such as a mostly black starfield border or something. Would they sell as well?
Today’s Wizards of the Coast will always make the decision that brings in more money it seems. To hell with consistency. To hell with promises made. To hell with 28 years of precedent. To hell with the integrity of the game. To hell with your own integrity it seems.
I can’t stomach the idea of seeing these cards across the table from me. I either have to completely change the way I play Magic or quit playing altogether. If I can not adequately distance myself from Universes Beyond cards, I will have no choice but to stop playing Magic, as much as that hurts me. It’s really a game breaker for me.
You know, I expected something like this if Magic ever faltered. If it ever seemed to be dying I thought Wizards would attempt to inject new life into it by licencing in outside IPs. I figured it was a sort of “ace in the whole” to keep the game afloat. But it turns out Magic just had its biggest year ever and amidst a global pandemic, to boot. So why now? You threw away your ace in the hole. You “jumped the shark,” and for nothing. Um, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it?
So for the past 25 years (since high school) it has been my dream to work for Wizards of the Coast as I am a big fan of both Magic and D&D and dabble in game design myself, but now I have no desire to work for Wizards. The company has become something I no longer want to be a part of. I’m sorry to say that I have lived long enough to see my heroes become villains. That's about all I have to say.
Thanks for a few decades of a good thing,