I wanted to talk about the mythic legends that got spoiled within the last week, but I kept getting hung up on the circumstances of the leak. I’ve heard some convincing speculation, based on the cut of the cards, that the spoiler is close to Wizards—something which we could probably infer from the fact he or she had access to these cards in the first place. Assuming the UMad Leaker (in reference to the [casthaven]Urza’s Rage[/casthaven] that lead off the imgur set) works for Wizards, how wrong is what they did?

To get a accurate sense of this, it’s important to place it in the proper context. This leak hurt “spoiler season,” the period of time in which Wizards slowly releases information about an upcoming set. Spoiler season is a kind of shady business practice in the first place! During this period, Wizards attempts to use the strategic disclosure of key pieces of data in order to create a buying frenzy in their audience. They are intentionally trying to get people to engage with a product irrationally in order to drain more money from those people than they would were said people to assess the product rationally.

It’s one of the things that keeps Magic so fucking addictive: it has been created to be so, in everything from design to distribution.


Not that it’s going to get me to stop buying cards.

Not that it’s going to get me to stop buying cards.


Such a plan requires close control of the flow of information. In the past, when we last saw a whole set get spoiled (New Phyrexia), it was because Wizards had entrusted that data to the wrong people.* This is a bit of a different beast, and it’s one that’s going to be increasingly common going forward. When everyone carries a tiny camera with resolution that blows old spycams out of the water, and they can disseminate the information anonymously with the touch of a few buttons, it is harder than ever to safeguard data about physical products you are creating. Even Apple has problems with that, and they have significantly more resources than Wizards to throw at the issue. These days, even the folk you have running your printing press can puncture all that careful secrecy.

In many instances, we should want this. As companies get more political power, thanks to decisions like Hobby Lobby and Citizens United, oversight of their activities becomes increasingly rare. The only way to counter this trend in the law is for more brave people like Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden to stand up and speak out against the abuses that they can see due to their privileged permissions. It’s for this reason that I’m skeptical of any attempts to portray the act of leaking as some deep sin, no matter how stupid the data smuggled out may be.

But I should probably be explicit here—I think this was a stupid, stupid leak. This isn’t telling us any dark information about the inner workings of Wizards, and all the data leaked was going to be revealed within a few weeks anyway. This seems to be a leak stemming from petulance and poor impulse control, and not in the service of any grand plan or selfless scheme.

But that’s why this is such a fascinating litmus test. This isn’t the Pentagon Papers. This isn’t Exxon knowing about Global Warming in 1977 and suppressing research on the subject to promote their bottom line. This is some putz using their access to Wizards’ production line to ruin somebody’s (probably a coworker’s) day. This is some doofus ruining some of the spoilers given to Magic sites to promote their traffic, hurting the broader ecosystem. This is some turkey raining crap on all of our parades.

Whether or not the parade is ethical doesn’t change the fact that it’s shitty, you know?

Personally, I would rather see the leak of internal documents concerning their spoiler policy than some spoiled cards. I’d like to know whether or not they consciously model hardcore engagement to share traits with addiction. I’d like to know how much work they’re really doing behind the scenes to fix the persistent gender issues that come out in their cards and their art and their staffing decisions. Those leaks would have value, because they offer new insight into a company that primarily releases information for self-serving purposes. This leak has no value, though. And that’s the problem.


Or an excuse to turn a community against the "unauthorized" release of information!

Or an excuse to turn a community against the “unauthorized” release of information!


That’s why I am personally of the opinion that the moral failing here wasn’t just the act of leaking. There are good reasons to leak information, even anonymously. And it can’t be because the UMad Leaker hurt Wizards’ bottom line, because to prove that they would have to quantify the degree to which irrational purchasing decisions by their consumers drives the sale of Magic products. Even if they could quantify that in a trustworthy method, which I doubt, it’s not the type of argument they want to be making because it’s sleazy as fuck.

No, I think the moral failing here has a lot to do with the effect that this has had on their coworkers, the broad web of affiliated content producers, and their community as a whole. It’s easy for us on the outside to forget that Wizards is a workplace, just like any other, for a variety of reasons irrelevant to my point. Looking at this through the lens of a workplace, some dick ruined the work of a bunch of their coworkers, for apparently little cause, all to spoil some cards—hardly a worthy outcome.

And the morality of that play is pretty black and white: it’s a shitty thing to do to your coworkers.


The hoop skirt stands for sarcasm.

The hoop skirt stands for sarcasm.


So, is this the end of anyone’s world? No. Most people don’t even remember the New Phyrexia leak, and this too will fade in time. But, absent some compelling extenuating circumstance, and it would have to be a goddamn good one, this was an idiotic and valueless thing to do, and it ended up hurting more people than it helped. Because it helped no one!

I just want us to be clear that it’s not the act of leaking information that’s morally compromised. In times like this, many people are invested in pushing that line. They’re wrong, but that doesn’t make this particular leaker right.


Jess Stirba goes by the twitter name “Amateur Ethicist,” so caveat lector.


*And it’s even debatable whether or not the issue was with the person who shared the book or the practice that let him have such a precious object in the first place. I mean, Wafo-Tapa and Matignon were dumb for letting some internet peer pressure fuck up their relationship with Wizards of the Coast, but they really shouldn’t have been entrusted with the file in the first place. Who’s really to blame here?

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