From the Vault is one of the few high-end collectible offerings that Wizards of the Coast produces. Since its inception it has been one of the most hotly debated products with collectors enjoying its uniqueness and value and the common folk raging at the secondary market value. This year’s collection, FTV:Angels, will focus on one of the most popular tribes among the common folk and it’s likely that the war between Magic’s own 1% and 99% could reach it’s highest point yet.

Knocking on Heaven’s Door

What’s the point of From the Vault?

Who is this product for?

Why should I be interested?

These are some of the questions that have been floating around the internet since last week’s announcement of this fall’s installment of Magic’s annual high-end collector box set. The series is now in its eighth year dating all the way back to 2008’s From the Vault: Dragons. That original offering was a big hit with the community and today you’ll have difficulty locating a sealed box, now worth $200 according to Star City Games. The fifteen dragon and dragon-related cards within spanned a wide range of cards from tournament playable (Kokusho) to barely playable (Draco) and from extremely rare (Thunder Dragon)  to exceptionally common (Dragon Whelp) and from iconic (Shivan Dragon) to forgettable (Ebon Dragon).

What made the set so successful in 2008 was a variety of things. The novelty of it all was certainly one of the major factors. This was the first edition of something new. Wizards was just expanding into box sets off the success of Elves vs. Goblins in 2007. Shortly after From the Vault: Dragons was the release of Jace vs. Chandra and a year later marked the beginning of the now defunct Premium Deck Series line. In addition to the novelty of the times the set had a lot of value for collectors. The contents including plenty of highly sought-after dragons and the rise of Commander (then known as EDH) greatly contributed to the increased value of legendary creatures like Nicol Bolas and Rith, the Awakener along with Bladewing the Risen.

Seven years later we’ve seen a variety of From the Vault sets come and go now with some of them fetching a very high secondary market price and some barely breaking double the original MSRP of $34.99. With almost a decade of products behind us and a new set on the far horizon can we finally answer the questions above?

What’s the Point of From the Vault?

This question is actually deceptively simple to answer. From the Vault is a gift given to retailers by Wizards of the Coast. Since the box has a retail value of $35 it’s relatively inexpensive for your local game store to acquire it from Wizards. Then, it has the opportunity to turn around and get rid of it for whatever price it wants. Some stores will just take the easy road and raise the price to $100 or $200 and sell to the first people who walk in the door willing to pay. Other stores will seize on the opportunity to put the product up as prize support for a tournament. 20 players who are all interested in spending $10 on a Standard tournament to win the box plus some packs or store credit could pull in even more cash depending on what kind of gaming supplies and snacks your players consume.

This product has two other fringe benefits. First off is the ability to use this product as a vehicle to reprint cards that may have never been printed with a foil version, or simply haven’t had a foil printing in a long time. For From the Vault: Dragons this was Thunder Dragon which had previously only been printed in Starter 1999 and would later be printed in Knights vs. Dragons. The FTV version remains the only foil version of this dragon. Plenty of cards have been given this benefit including Burning of Xinye and Hymn to Tourach. However, this benefit is very minor when you consider that there are many supplemental products printed annually that Wizards could find a way to slip these in. But that may impact the overall value which brings us to the second fringe benefit: appeasing collectors.

Who is this Product For?

Collectors of Magic cards don’t have a lot to be excited about these days. Even foil Mythic Rares aren’t really all that “rare.” Depending on how playable the card is, there could be anywhere from a few dozen to several hundred copies available from the online secondary market at any time. Dealers at conventions are also generally loaded with plenty of foil mythics that they buy in bulk from players. The collectible part of the collectible card game still exists, but the extreme rarity of the base sets died out a long time ago. Today the staples of a high-end collection are mostly cards that were printed more than 10 years ago, and some more than 20 years ago.

So in comes Wizards with an idea to help collectors get something new to add to their collections. Voila: It’s a box of premium alternate-art cards with a unique foiling process and a very limited print run. In the sports trading card game this is known as short printing and helps to increase the value of things like rookie cards. By limiting the production quantity Wizards increases the value of the cards inherently. Just like that you have a (literally) out of the box product for collectors. This is akin to the trading card industry’s movement to create special collectible cards by inserting pieces of memorabilia into them.

Why Should I Be Interested in Angels?

Are you a collector? If you have no interest in the collectible part of this collectible card game than you’re done here. You really shouldn’t be very interested in From the Vault. It has minimal if any impact on the rest of the game’s day-to-day operations. You could go on living your life ignorant of its existence and maybe once in a while you’ll see someone playing with an alternate art version of a card and just shrug.

But what if you do like to collect things? Maybe you just like pricey, shiny objects? Maybe you are a completionist who just wants everything? Maybe you really, really, like angels. Whatever it is you collect, you probably have an interest in this set, and you’ll probably be let down. Maybe your favorite angels will have been left on the sidelines. Maybe you hate the foiling process. Maybe you can’t afford the $200+ price tag that this set has the potential to attract.

The bottom line is that From the Vault is a very strange product. Wizards creates it to reward its retail stores but ultimately the annual box set angers a large portion of the player base. Non-collectors see it as a waste of Wizards’ limited time and resources. Collectors see it as a failure to deliver the very specific things they individually enjoy collecting. It’s a lose-lose situation for Wizards from a brand perspective and yet they still do it, every year, for the past 8 years. That’s how much Wizards loves your local gaming store.

Oh, and if you happen to own a gaming store, you’re probably very, very interested in this box set.

The Quick Hits

  • The deck lists for Elspeth vs. Kiora have been released finally and there are some neat inclusions like four copies of Accumulated Knowledge [Daily MTG]
  • Hall of Fame member Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa presents his doctoral thesis on what’s wrong with the Modern format and how to fix it [Channel Fireball]
  • The 2014 Magic Online Championship has finally been announced. Yes, there is a championship for people who have the patience to play MTGO [Daily MTG]
  • Carmona Alexandrino presents a tournament report from what could be one of the final Momir Basic dailies ever [PureMTGO]
  • Matt Sperling shares his challenge to Paulo’s doctoral thesis by arguing that there’s nothing wrong with the Modern format [Channel Fireball]
  • John Dale Beety shares his initial thoughts on the Magic Origins announcement [Star City Games]
  • Hallie Santo talks about risk assessment and playing intuitively and learning from your losses [Gathering Magic]
  • Could team Pro Tours be returning? Everyone would certainly hope so [Quiet Speculation]
  • Magic will be at PAX East and yours truly will be on-hand to live-blog the Friday panel, get some exclusive interviews, and nab some Sarkhan pins [Arcana]
  • Last but not least, Gerard Fabiano makes his case for the health of the Modern format [Star City Games]

Wallpaper of the Week

I really love dragons and I think the Tarkir dragon evolution is really awesome. Ojutai is the leader of the feathered dragon brood and is seen here in all their glory on our desktops. Unfortunately the colors are a bit neutral and while the highlights are fantastic the positioning of Ojutai behind my desktop icons is pretty lame. For those two issues Ojutai gets knocked down from an A to a B. Otherwise, it’s an awesome piece of dragon artwork. Also I’m sad that there are no scale birds, or scale dragons even.

Grade: B+

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. Each week we will take a look at the past seven days of major events, big news items, and community happenings so that you can keep up-to-date on all the latest and greatest Magic: the Gathering community news.

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