It is endlessly amusing to me when a privileged adult first finds out that corporations are not on their side. I highlight the privileged not out of any animus—I certainly have plenty of privilege of my own—but because it’s primarily the privileged who can make it to adulthood without realizing that corporate America doesn’t give two shits about them as individuals. Of course, soon after that initial chuckle my empathy kicks in, because it is a little disheartening. People are starving, cold, and now lead poisoned, all because our country has put the corporate entity at the head of our moral schema.


Because corporations are people, don’tcha know? But, unlike the rest of us, they’re people with no moral responsibility, no chance of seeing the inside of a jail cell, and hundreds of actual human beings acting as its various cells and organs. The corporation is the American ubermensch, and it is similarly psychopathic, having been severed from any meaningful consequence to its actions.


I mean, even failing CEOs these days have golden parachutes, crafted from a pool of money that in a better age would have been pension plans for its average workers. But our better age is gone. It’s been squandered by a generation that couldn’t see past the enticing lie of the Southern Strategy, or the anti-civic opiate that was their Morning in America.


These days even Adam Smith would fail to recognize our current economic system as capitalism, in which companies openly buy the influence and backing of the government with no concern as to whether or not their conduct is honorable or just, elements of the social system that Smith himself thought would cut against the human tendency towards predation. That has not come to pass, and our degraded version of the Invisible Hand is giving us proles the middle finger, because publicly traded companies now have a duty to maximize shareholder value. That means sucking as much money out of the consumer, and as much labor out of the worker, as they possibly can.


The context for this particular anticapitalist rant comes from the recent decision of Wizards of the Coast to more aggressively police their intellectual property in Wizards Play Network stores. That’s a fancy way of phrasing what they’re really doing: trying to kick proxies out of their play spaces. And perhaps this would have been perceived as less outrageous by the consumer base were it not for a) past printing of proxies, both full cards and card blanks, b) the specific requirement that this policing extend not just to fancy proxied cards, but to marked up commons and lands as well, and c) past articles and Vintage tournament support for partial proxy decks.


Not the most diplomatic way to put this.

Not the most diplomatic way to put this.


People, particularly those in the Vintage community, for whom this is most relevant, feel betrayed. There’s a lot of anger directed at Hasbro right now, and given that the Vintage buy-in is basically the Power Nine, it’s anger from a relatively privileged group of people. If Magic is a luxury good, this change basically pisses off the people who were leasing Ferraris. So the betrayal is colored by this surprise that a corporation would do something vaguely scummy for profit.


But even within the realm of outrage, this one rings a bit false. See, Hasbro has a legitimate reason to push Wizards to enforce a policy that comes off so petty: intellectual property laws are really fucked up. Hasbro’s just trying to play by the rules of the game, which require constant profit margins to maximize that shareholder value, and in doing so it’s run into the complicated swamp of copyright protection, in which Hasbro is just a small player. These are rules set by companies with far more at stake than mere Magic cards, and that’s why the rules are so skewed in favor of weird rituals like IP protection.



Wizards currently is having an issue with Chinese printing presses making cards that are fundamentally indistinguishable from Magic cards. These knock-offs, these forgeries, are sold as proxies. If Hasbro wants to find a legal solution to this issue, it needs to undermine the argument that the forgers are acting in good faith. And, in the legal mindset, that means having evidence of an aggressive and public practice of cracking down on these forgeries, so that no reasonable juror could believe that these proxies could be legitimately trafficked.


That’s a lot of hoops to jump through to prove something that many of us would find self-evident: forgeries are bad.


If you don’t like this, that’s okay! It’s a sucky situation, and I’m sure Wizards isn’t thrilled with having to put out statements that piss off some of their consumer base. But, at the same time, this is actually not a bad precedent for them to set, at least if you care about the health of the Legacy and Vintage scenes.


That might take a second to unpack. First off, the biggest issue facing those two formats is the limited pool of cards. This is because the formats are based on what were likely power errors in the early days of the game. It’s most obvious in Vintage, with the Power Nine, but it’s not much better in Legacy, where the original Dual Lands are a requisite to play most decks. Now, this is not a restriction that needs to exist, it does so primarily due to Wizards making a poor decision in the wake of the backlash to Chronicles. That decision was the creation of the Reserve List, which singled out a bunch of the rares from back in the day and promised that they wouldn’t reprint them ever. The last time they bent that promise was in Duel Decks: Phyrexia versus the Coalition, and people got pissy about it even though the card reprinted (Phyrexian Negator) was no longer remotely playable in any format. That backlash made them double down on the policy.


The pressure on the Reserve List has been somewhat offset through the use of proxies. Ten (or so) proxy Vintage Tournaments really cut down on the cards you need from the Reserve List, and in doing so they cut down on the number of people who will advocate on behalf of an abandonment of that commitment. Now, people who have a history of playing Vintage are more incentivized than ever to push for reprints.


In addition, by not just slavishly complying with past policies because they once made a public statement contrary to a policy shift, Wizards is giving themselves the room to evolve on the Reserve List as well. I doubt we’ll ever see them reprinted in a proper set, but we can likely gather from MtGO that the main impediment to Wizards putting out a paper product like Vintage Masters is the Reserve List. That’s what’s screwing over those two ancient formats, not some overreaction about proxy tournaments.


But again, understanding where they’re coming from doesn’t change two basic elements of this situation: Hasbro is going to act in their short-term financial interest, and Hasbro doesn’t give a shit about the health of Magic formats beyond said interest. Sure, it sucks, but if you want that to change you need to fight not against the company that makes the game we all so love, but fight against the system which makes Hasbro push for short-sighted policies that only benefit their bottom line. So long as those are the incentives that the for-profit publisher of Magic cards is facing, there will be decisions like this one, and in turn there will be anger directed at Magic’s corporate masters.


But it’s misdirected rage. Basically, in the parlance of our modern age: “don’t hate the player, hate the game”.


Jess Stirba is in favor of a well-regulated capitalist economy with safeguards against regulatory capture and other industry abuses.

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