Between the lines

Rulers make bad lovers,
You’d better put your kingdom up for sale.

— Fleetwood Mac, “Gold Dust Woman”

I haven’t played in a sanctioned Magic tournament for a long time – since the Worldwake pre-release, in fact. It’s been so long that my DCI number is actually inactive. I have no intention of re-activating it any time soon, but old habits die hard. I mostly identify as a collector now, and tend to pre-order cards just because I like the art (how beautiful are the new pieces for the Ravnica dual lands, by the way?) or something else about them. And yet, it’s hard to entirely stop assessing cards’ game text and/or power level.

From that point of view, I’m not entirely pleased with what I see in Return to Ravnica. I don’t think it’s really possible to deny that power creep is a real thing at this point, when there’s a 5/5 creature for four mana with a beneficial ability that is clearly intended to be played only in limited settings. It took me (and my master’s degree in economics) ten minutes to figure out how to use the overload keyword – so much for reducing complexity. And why in the Abyss are unleash and detain even keywords at all? And can you even imagine how miserable Standard is going to be with Snapcaster Mage and the blue guilds’ charms?

 

Everything about this block positively screams “this is not what it seems.” What do I mean by that? Only that so far, it seems to be on track to replicate many of the mistakes made by Time Spiral – we’re told that that block failed because established players got it and non-established players didn’t. But what reasons have been used as the ones we should buy Return to Ravnica (note the name, by the way)? The guilds are coming back? Well, why should you care unless you saw the guilds the first time around? If you started playing during the Scars of Mirrodin block, you probably don’t even know who Isperia and Niv-Mizzet are, much less why you want to play with them. Further, out of the last three blocks, two of them have been returns (rehashes) of popular old settings, and the other was an attempt to cash in on the turn-of-the-decade horror trend. That, to me, says something quite different from “best year in Magic’s history for the xth year in a row.”

But hey, at least the art is still good.

Forgotten lore

I’ve got a quick story today, one that has been floating around the aether for a while. It originally appeared in Scrye magazine, and as such was at risk of being lost for ever now that we rarely get news from any place where people don’t flame you for playing the “wrong” cards in your deck.

Steve Guitar of New Brunswick, Canada, was surprised
when a customer at his shop showed him a Goblin Mob
theme deck from Scourge. The problem with the cards?
The card backs were from the Wizards of the Coast’s
Harry Potter CCG.

“I called Wizards of the Coast, and they told me I couldn’t
be right,” said Guitar, owner of B&T Cards in Bathurst, New
Brunswick. “I told them I was looking right at the cards, and
they definitely exist. The customer wanted to give them back
to me. He just wanted a new deck.”

Guitar put the deck up for bid on eBay. “I checked the
next morning, and it was up to $210. I thought that was
pretty good.” The final bid was $13,100. Guitar split the
money with the original customer.

The buyer is a man from North Carolina, who, Guitar
said, isn’t even a Magic player or collector. He told me he
just wanted something unique to give to his granddaughter.
At press time, the check from the buyer was in the pos-
session of Guitar and attorneys on both sides were verifying
the legitimacy of the check and the cards, but Guitar was
confident the transaction would go through.

This is not the first time such a printing error has
occurred. In 1994, several Magic cards from the Fallen
Empires set were printed with card backs from the
Wyvern CCG.

The moral of the story? (Implying there’s only one.) The collecting community is real, and it goes far beyond the silent majority that favors the Reserved List. There’s a market for whatever you’re selling – no matter how bad, crazy, ugly, or useless it seems. And there’s not only one thing about Magic that people enjoy.

The beaten path

“There is no book or teacher to give you the answers, to show you the path. Choose your own way.”

— Ezio Auditore, in Assassin’s Creed II

So, you guys remember the time I confessed my affection for repacks, right? Well, I was on Black Ninja’s website, as I sometimes am, and I saw . . . well, probably you can guess what I’m about to say, if you followed that link. If you just run the numbers, do the ratio, 4,000 Magic cards for $97 is a ridiculous deal. I’d probably take it right now if I were closer to done sorting my current collection.

There is, as we know, a love-hate relationship with repacks among Magic players. Some people use them to start their collection, but then “graduate” to buying single cards for their decks from retailers. Others ignore them altogether, deriding them for the characteristic lack of power cards (the last large set I bought had not a single copy of Incinerate, an old, often-reissued, and iconic red card); and if they buy unsorted sets at all, it’s only from new sets (ZOMFG Standard!!1). Still others presumably buy them frequently – these people are not represented in the online community, but their existence can be inferred from the fact that so many online retailers offer repacks, and many different kinds of them too.

If that last statement is a surprise to you, try to consider it from such a buyer’s point of view. Someone who had a playgroup that wasn’t interested in tournaments or Standard in general could find this very appealing. To someone who started recently but is interested in Magic’s history, a 4,000 card Black Ninja repack is rather like the TCG equivalent of one of those “Sounds of the 60s” compilation albums. Or maybe – and in this age of economic collapse, I suspect this is more common than any of us think – they’ve had the experience of looking up a card in the Standard section of a site like Troll and Toad, multiplying the price by four, and coming up with a number well over $100. Maybe they’ve gone to buy a “junk” rare after it was mentioned in a casual-play article on a popular website like MagicTheGathering.com or Star City Games, only to find that its price has doubled over the weekend because 15,000 people read the same article they did.

Money is more like time than it is like any commodity or resource: if you enjoyed the result, spending it wasn’t a waste. Which are you likely to enjoy more: four cards that have a “use-by date” in the eyes of the so-called community, or 4,000 cards that, in effect, last for ever?