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Collectibles and Staples – Can They Exist Independently?

One of the biggest causes I champion for is the ability for people to engage with the older formats of the game. Magic is at its best, in my opinion, when the wider tapestry of Magic’s mechanics and game pieces are available – leading to interesting puzzles to solve, innovation in deck building and fun and interactive games of Magic the Gathering. Unfortunately, now more so than ever, Magic’s older formats like Modern and Legacy are inaccessible to newer players and those on a lower budget thanks to collectibles and staples.

Recently, I did a video looking at the crazy secondary market price of the Ampersand Store Promo version of Tiamat, from Adventures in the Forgotten Realms. Whilst this Mythic is available in its normal guise for around $10 at time of writing, the rare promotional variant from the “Love Your Local Game Store” promotion, is approaching $1,000. And whilst Tiamat isn’t ripping up any Legacy leagues right now, it’s cool to see a more affordable variant alongside the super rare collectible.

Tiamat (Ampersand Promo)Tiamat (Extended) (Alternative art)Tiamat

One of my takeaways from the video was that promotional, sought-after cards can exist in the same space as relatively affordable format staples. I believe strongly that Magic would benefit massively from the idea that the desirability and collectability of Magic cards should be focused in the cosmetic or the rare variant nature of the cards. People can clamber over one another for an Alpha Birds of Paradise for example, but having regular reprints of such an iconic and desirable mana dork means that there are cheaper versions available to be played with. I use this example in particular, because without a booster product reprint since Conspiracy 2 (excluding Mystery Booster), Birds of Paradise has crept back up to a $10 rare once again.

This brings up a question of just how cheap a format staple should be. Is $10 reasonable for a four-of Constructed all-star? Can we go lower? It’s really hard to say, and to be frank, I am just not sure where to put that at right now.

All I know is that the game as a whole suffers and has huge barriers to entry when cards rocket in price. More players engaging with more ways to play will only help the game to grow, and support the ecosystem surrounding it. I use the term “Super Staple” to refer to new cards being printed that are so pushed, it’s evident that they were designed to rock the boat, or be played heavily in constructed. From Oko, Thief of Crowns, to Solitude through to Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer – we have seen a lot of these in recent times.

The latter two of those “super staples” came in a premium priced booster product, only serving to push their price higher, as less of them exist in the wild than a Standard card like Oko or Underworld Breach. I think Wizards does this on purpose to create more desirable chase rares, and to generate reprint equity – at the detriment to the game and the players. I would suggest that this just isn’t necessary, when we know players will chase blinged-out and shiny variants of their favorite cards.

 

Header - A Reserved List for Art?

If we, at least for a moment, accept the argument that chase rares should be variants, instead of functional game pieces – it opens up other discussions. Should we see particular frame or art variants never reprinted, or more sparingly? Perhaps, a sort of Reserved List for art?

Perhaps this is a controversial avenue, what with the Reserved List itself being a dreadful decision in the eyes of many, but the feelbads of the Reserved List’s existence comes in the gatekeeping and barriers it creates to people playing the actual game. This is why we see movements to adopt proxies and gold-bordered versions of cards as legal in tournament settings for Legacy and Canadian Highlander.

Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite (Phyrexian)Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite (Phyrexian)

Recently, we saw Wizards of the Coast burn more bridges by re-printing the Phyrexian language version of Elesh Norn into a Secret Lair; this is a reprint of a variant of a card that was originally a judge promo. The judge promo was a reward, and a thank you, for judges in the program that keep competitive play alive. Rightfully, some felt rather frustrated and upset that this unique reward diminished in price and sentimentality over night because Wizards wanted to sell some product.

Consider this – that that Phyrexian Praetor was never reprinted, with an open promise from the company to back it up. This would guarantee the cards collectability and secondary market price rising over time. Then Wizards could have commissioned a variant art work, or different frame treatment – giving us more accessible variants to play with, but without diminishing the value of people’s existing collections. Everybody wins.

Well, not quite.

To sound like a cynic, Wizards wins out by re-using old assets. No new commissions, no cost, less work, no new licenses. Re-packaging an existing version of a card, and a sought after one like the variant Norn, all but guarantees sales at a lower cost to them. This means more profit. I hope, after the backlash, they avoid doing this in future.

 

Header - A Personal Favorite

Thalia, Guardian of Thraben

Thalia, Guardian of Thraben is a fantastic example of all of this. Recently printed into Standard, she is currently able to be opened in regular draft booster or bought as a single for around $3.

Thalia, Guardian of Thraben

The World Magic Cup Qualifier promos that I play in Death and Taxes are still selling for over $60. If they never reprint this variant, then they will do nothing but go up in price. I know this, because they still hold a lofty price tag for a luxury piece of cardboard, in spite of there being 11 different printings of the same functional Thalia as of the release of Double Feature this year.

At risk of sounding selfish, I like that these incredibly sentimental pieces of my collection will continue to grow in price, whilst others can still pick up and play with one of my favorite cards in all of Magic at a reasonable price tag. This is the dream scenario for the future of Magic.

 

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