I get it, I really do. As soon as that image of Jace, the Mind Sculptor showed up as a preview for From the Vault 20, the community collectively shit their pants. I could sit here all day and post responses from Twitter, Facebook, Reddit and some of the MTG Google Groups and it would be one outrage after another. The most common complaint, and the loudest, was about availability. How will anyone be able to buy this thing if dealers gouge us on prices? Jace is too expensive. Only the wealthiest of the wealthy will be able to get their hands on this thing and we’ll all be unable to get a foil copy of Fyndhorn Elves all so Wizards could put the flashiest of flashy cards in this box set.

You know what? This is a good thing. This is a great thing, actually. It is further evidence that Wizards knows what they’re doing, and are the best in the business at what they do. Wizards has one responsibility: print Magic cards for people who want to buy them. This seems very straightforward but the big caveat is that there are many different varieties of people who want to buy Magic cards. I am going to briefly discuss and explain the dichotomy of people who want to buy Magic cards and then explain what products Wizards produces which are designed for that group.

Casual Players: These are the bread and butter of Wizards’ customer-base. Casual players get excited by every new card that Wizards produces because it’s an opportunity to do the two things that make casual players happy: open new packs and play Magic. Casual players don’t care about competitive decks. They don’t care about what’s banned and restricted in Legacy nowadays. They just want to have fun, whatever that means for them, while playing Magic. They buy packs and open them because it’s enjoyable. They put together decks full of Angels and Elves because it gives them satisfaction. Wizards makes the Deck Builder’s Toolkit, Duel Decks, Planechase, Commander, Archenemy and the Holiday Gift Box for casual players. Fat Packs and Starter Decks are also for this demographic. They get to open packs and play Magic. What could be better?

Amateur Competitive Players: Casual players who are enticed by Friday Night Magic and Game Day will move from the kitchen table to their local gaming store and start slinging spells for prizes. This is a large demographic, though not as large as the casual player-base. Wizards designs the annual core set with this player in mind. Limited environments need to be accessible and entry-level constructed decks should not be a major hurdle for this consumer. The Event Decks made for game days for each expansion are designed for Amateur Competitive Players just getting into the scene. Players get a reasonably priced competitive deck that is perfect for Friday Night Magic and other weeknight events at their LGS. Wizards performs admirable in this venue. We’ve now covered the largest number of planeswalkers.

Competitive Players: Now we get to your PTQ grinders, Grand Prix competitiors, and Game Day champions. These players are usually the local cream of the crop competitively. They take the game seriously and play to win. The Expert Expansions are designed for these players and they consume them voraciously. These are the folks handing deck-lists over to whomever is behind the counter of your LGS because they know exactly what cards they need to play for the next PTQ or SCG Open. They don’t open packs to get cards, only because it is a lot of fun to do. They know that pack of M13 doesn’t have a Thragtusk in it, but it’s fun to check, and they were gonna order a playset online tonight anyways. There are no boxed sets designed for these players. Occasionally however a product like Planechase or Commander will have a single that is important to Competitive Players and they’ll acquire them as needed.

Casual Collectors: These may be players, or they may not be, but they are interested in the collectible part of collectible card game. For some it may be acquiring premium angel cards. Others want to collect every copy of a single piece of art or a specific basic land, or premium planeswalkers, or promotional cards, and so on and so forth. This is a very broad range of collector we’re dealing with and they have very eclectic taste. In the sports card world these are people who collect all the cards from their favorite team, or their favorite players, or entire sets of base cards. It isn’t a valuable collection necessarily, but it’s a collection and when it’s complete the collector achieves a sense of fulfillment that makes every late night spent sniping eBay auctions worth it. Wizards attempted to cater to this demographic with products like Premium Deck Series and the Alara Block Premium Foil Boosters. However, these were not well received because of the diversity of this group. It turns out they don’t need anything special, because they will collect whatever appeases their individual taste.

Serious Collectors: And now we come to the crux of the community outrage. These are the big spenders in the Magic collecting world. In the old days, when StarCity Games still had forums, I spent a lot of time on the General Discussion forum. My favorite thread, and the favorite of many, was the Pimp thread. This was a place were Serious Collectors shared their prized possessions. Everything valuable was on display here. Most common would be the power-nine, complete foiled vintage decks, mis-prints, alters by famous artists like Terese Nielsen and Ron Spencer and other incredibly valuable cards. Summer Magic rares would pop-up occasionally as well as some of the original test foil printed Lightning Bolts. If it was worth a lot of money you could bet that it would show up here. The first product Wizards ever made to cater to this player was promo cards. Some came from buying books and some came from attending conventions. They were short-printed and very hard to obtain. I could write a whole piece on the history of promo cards but today they are a staple of the game. Early on they were viewed as something given to the privileged few and a blight upon Magic’s landscape. Sound familiar?

Today, while Wizards still makes premium cards and promos, they also make high-end boxed sets. These include the one-shot Commander’s Arsenal and the annually offered From the Vault set. FTV debuted in 2008 with the reprinting of 15 iconic dragons from Magic’s past. This is the kind of product that the serious collector is always looking for and Wizards delivered with a bang. The original set could only be purchased at GenCon and it was a huge hit because it had immediate re-sale value. A new limited-print box has been offered every year since then and each one has been a fantastic collector’s piece.

But, it is an expensive collector’s piece. Here is where we find the dichotomy between the Serious Collector and everyone else on this list. Money. The community is outraged about products like FTV because they are expensive. They promote price gouging on the part of dealers and store-owners and those lucky individuals who can acquire these products at retail and turn them over in the secondary market for a nice profit. What is really driving the outrage? In short it’s the gap in economic class between the haves and the have-nots.

It turns out that the customer-base of Magic has its own little 1% community, and they are the serious collectors. Wizards creates one core set, three expert expansions, fat packs, duel decks, intro packs, event decks, premium cards, promo cards, toolkits and casual box sets all to provide product to 99% of their consumers. Then, once per year, they print a 15 (or 20) card box set that is for the 1% and the community becomes outraged. Normally this box set is only worth two or three times its retail value and the outrage is minimal. However, with the Commander’s Arsenal and From the Vault 20 that profit-margin has increased substantially and the outrage has followed suit.

What’s important to remember in all this outrage is that Wizards does not collect a dime of money on the secondary market. When an individual acquires FTV20 for $50 and turns around and sells it for $400, they hand over zero dollars to Wizards of the Coast, who made this possible to begin with. As always Wizards is thinking about its consumers first. All of its consumers in fact. From the casual player who is thrilled to hand over $20 to jam Duel Decks with his best friend at the kitchen table all the way to the hedge fund manager who enjoys collecting Magic cards and pays $400 on eBay for a sealed copy of FTV20, every single consumer is being treated fairly by Wizards.

So next time you feel outraged over a product like From the Vault 20, remember who is actually able to profit from these products. It isn’t Wizards. It’s the 1% of serious Magic collectors who once every year (or twice when Commander’s Arsenal came out) are given a gift by Wizards of the Coast; a gift that Wizards asks virtually nothing for in return. If you’re still unhappy just take Matt Jones’s advice: “All in all they should do some targeted marketing towards haters like me like this: From the Vault: 20, we won’t even bother telling you its contents – we just saved you $40 and the trouble of fighting a bunch of psychos for the cards.”

The Quick Hits

  • Over the past 20 years the Magic community has been quite resistant to change. Mark Rosewater reviews the laundry list of changes that Wizards made to the game that caused outrage from the community. Most of these are entertaining but my favorite will always be the people who quit over the Sixth Edition rules change. If you miss playing with Interrupts you should reconsider your hobbies. [Making Magic]
  • Heather Lafferty interviewed all-around good guy Joey Pasco. The takeaway from the article is that Joey is really into Magic, JRPGs and Football. One of these things is not like the other. Actually none of them are like the other. He’s an eclectic dude. Go read the interview. [Gamer Boy, Gamer Girl]
  • Gathering Magic is having a party before GenCon and they stole our idea for business cards. Seriously, Matt Jones just got the first batch of Hipsters of the Coast make-your-own-token business cards. They’re sweet. If you run into one of us at an event make sure you snag one. [Gathering Magic]
  • Did you know Travis Woo is a basketball player, trainer and coach? Pretty awesome. I’m actually very interested in the increasing amount of crossover between athletes and Magic players. Our own Matt Jones plays basketball and I play ice hockey, since I know you were wondering. [Woo Brews]
  • If you think that Magic is for people who play Magic and that the community isn’t growing to include a large number of fans of the game then look no further than the Ignite Your Spark contest. You don’t need to be good at, or even play Magic to dress up as Jace Beleren. Just ask our resident Beleren cos-player Tim Akpinar. [Magic Arcana]
  • John Dale Beety is also disappointed that the Meddling Mage did not make into the PTHOF. His suggestion, which I’m not sure I agree with but I like the direction he’s going in, is to create a special selection committee to review players from before 2005 (the creation of the PTHOF) for special eligibility. This isn’t too far removed from the idea I proposed last week which would allow for the originators and builders of the Pro Tour to be recognized for their contributions to the tour. [StarCity Games]
  • Mike Linneman is creating a Vorthos Timeline for Magic’s history. It’s a bit difficult to explain so here’s Mike’s description: “What should be included here are significant events and things that an art, flavor, or storyline player will care about: the canon of sorts that you argue about—that riles you up and elicits an emotion, for good or ill.” If you’re interested go check it out. [The Vorthos Timeline Project]
  • GP Oakland is gonna have some sweet playmats. If you’re into that sort of thing you should probably find a way to acquire one. I wonder when MagicCards.info will add a section for official Magic Playmats. [Channel Fireball]
  • Conley Woods wasn’t in Amsterdam this week so he had an opportunity to sit back and watch the coverage of the BIGGEST EVENT IN THE YEAR OF COMPETITIVE MAGIC. If you’ve been following along at home you shouldn’t be surprised that Conley has a few things to suggest on improving the quality of coverage, many of which echo the issues raised not too long ago over at StarCity Games. [Breaking Through]
  • This week we give all the props to friend-of-the-blog Anthony Lowry for landing a gig writing for SCG. Lowry is a native NYC Magic player who worked his way up the rungs at all the local gaming shops in all five boroughs. He began his writing career on Tumblr, landed early on in LegitMTG’s youth, was called up to play triple-A ball for TCGPlayer.com and has finally gotten his shot at the big show with StarCity Games. His first at-bat was a solid RBI double. Go enjoy it. [Focus. Progress. Will.]
  • Wizards dug up a transcript from the experience of Dave Howell, then production manager at WotC, at GenCon in 1993, just after the first printing of Magic. Among the most exciting things to happen were the possibility of distribution deals with Waldenbooks and B. Dalton bookstores. Only one of these three things is still around today. RIP bookstores. [Magic Arcana]

Wallpaper of the Week

I’m usually not a fan of monochromatic wallpapers like this one, but the new art for Cruel Ultimatum is just so exciting that I can’t resist Nicol Bolas. If you’re wondering what Sarkhan Vol did wrong here, it was using Jace, the Mind Sculptor as his desktop wallpaper. Nicol Bolas strongly disapproves. Strongly. Don’t make the same mistake Sarkhan Vol made.

Grade: A+

The Week Ahead

The fourth phase of the beta testing for Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn will run from Friday morning EST through Monday morning EST. So when next week’s What We Learned seems half-assed and even more poorly written than usually, don’t say I didn’t warn you.

What We Learned is a weekly feature here at Hipsters of the Coast written by former amateur Magic Player Rich Stein, who came really close to making day two of a Grand Prix on several occasions. The goal is to take some of the events and articles polluting the Magic world, strip out the chaff (tournament reports, game theory, economics) and give you our superior opinion. Complaints are encouraged.

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