The Magic Street Journal: Wizards Always Hurts The Ones They Love


In this edition of The Magic Street Journal, MTGS editor Alex Haggstrom gives a brief overview of financial investment concepts and applies them to Magic's secondary market. Her overview outlines the reserve list from the context of contract law, highlighting how the list influences Wizards' actions in Modern and even Standard. She concludes with a summary of the ways profiteers abuse this unregulated market to prey on players. There are no easy answers, but with heightened awareness, players can fight back against the abuse and demand necessary change.

Introduction

Once upon a time, the financial world of Magic was of little concern to the average player. A Mox or a Lotus might cost a fair bit of money, but those were the rarest of the rare. They were collector's items in a time where most players didn't concern themselves too much with the collectability of their decks. Card sleeves were rare compared to today, leading to many cards becoming damaged in the course of gameplay. Card condition was something players were aware of, but only in the backs of their minds, far from being something to fuss over. Economics as applied to Magic cards occupied a similar place in the backs of players' minds.


Former aliases include Mr. Grant and Mr. Mackenzie King.
This changed abruptly with the infamous release of Fourth Edition and the Chronicles expansion. While reprints weren't a new concept, the supply of a given card exploding created economic disaster for anyone who spent a great deal of money acquiring rare, expensive cards. Those Carrion Ants, once valued over $50, were now worthless, along with dozens of other under-printed and expensive cards. What was once something people didn't make too much noise over suddenly became a hotbed issue. Wizards' attempt to create good faith with collectors by creating the reserve list in response to consumer outcry is well-known to any Magic regular, and today's market has been shaped by it in ways beyond measure. The 571 cards on the reserve list can't be reprinted in any form, but the spirit of the reserve list applies to a far greater number of cards, meaning that hundreds if not thousands of cards exist in a pseudo-reserved state well beyond the intentions of those who originally made the list.

The Nature of a Contract

Everyone knows what a contract is. They're essential to everyday life and commerce, including things like buying or leasing a car, renting or mortgaging a home, opening up a bank account, and participating in regulated marketplaces like eBay. The stereotypical image of a contract is a many-page document you're asked to sign on the dotted line, or the absurdly lengthy terms of service agreements where you blindly click Agree. Contracts tend to be seen as lengthy, formal endeavours with page upon page of legalese attached to them. The reality, however, is that contracts can be formed in many different ways and encompass matters both significant and mundane. The concept of a contract as a written agreement between two parties is only one possible form. There are three basic types of contracts:

  • Written contracts: Written out as you'd expect. These can be single-page documents, thousand-page tomes, or anywhere in between.
  • Oral contracts: Verbally agreed upon by both parties. If I agree to sell you a card for $100 and you say yes, then we have a contract. It'd be a breach of contract for me to give you the card and for you to claim nothing was owed arguing that it wasn't written out.
  • Implied-in-fact contracts: Neither written out nor verbally agreed upon, but arrived at through acts and conduct. For example, if I perform services for you and you routinely pay me back within two weeks, you can't later claim to have an indefinite repayment period arguing that two-week period was never formally established. Past conduct created a contract. These kinds of contracts are the focus of this article.
A common misconception is that Wizards doesn't care about the secondary market. Wizards has claimed for years that they value having a healthy secondary market, and this influences their policy to such a degree that there were even concerns that Time Spiral's timeshifted cards might have upset collectors and speculators. These policies even led to Wizards creating special exceptions to Extended's rotation because they wanted to preserve the value of dual lands. The reserve list is the largest example of Wizards acting to preserve secondary market values and to take collectors' and speculators' concerns into account when making their decisions.


This used to be over $150. Now it's bulk.
Anyone familiar with the Yu-Gi-Oh! market is familiar with Konami's habit of printing extremely rare and valuable cards, only to reprint them as commons and destroy their value months later. Such extreme value shifts never happen in Magic. For example, Battle for Zendikar did not see a common or uncommon Tarmogoyf, reserve list or no. This is why the reserve list's former premium loophole had to be closed, as such reprints as Phyrexian Negator and Mox Diamond were easily seen as an attempt to get around the list. When the terms of the list were written, foil cards didn't exist. "Premium" didn't mean what it later came to mean, and Wizards' attempt to sneak reprints through in that manner was seen as deceitful.

Why, then, can't Wizards simply change the list like they have in the past? After all, for a while, they added new cards as expansions were released, and even removed a number of non-rare cards in 2002, allowing for then-potentially-controversial reprints like Clone. The answer lies in how the list has grown from a simple promise to something people base financial decisions on. The game was much smaller and there was less need for Wizards to adhere to an ironclad promise back when the list was more malleable. As the game grew and people's financial dependence on that promise grew along with it, there needed to be a strong, codified policy that people could count on to remain stable over the years.
That's why the current wording of the list's terms indicate that no future cards will be added, and why there will never be cards removed from the list again like there was in 2002. People with binders full of Sinkholes may have been in the minority of voices when the 2002 revision was made, but even if that same level of "overwhelming public support" demands future changes to the list, Wizards simply can't follow that demand. That last change was the line in the sand, and Wizards is now stuck honouring it.
The problem is that Wizards' promise is, in effect, twofold. First, it is an explicit promise that the 571 cards on the list will never be reprinted as a sign of good faith and their desire not to interfere in the secondary market. Second, it represents an implicit promise to preserve secondary market values through their other policies and actions. Players, collectors, and stores all buy and sell cards on the basis that Wizards will honor their word and continue to take the same approach to the secondary market. However, they buy and sell all cards, reserved and otherwise, knowing Wizards won't interfere with their value significantly. Were Wizards to break that pattern, then under the doctrine of promissory estoppel, they would be liable for that resulting loss in value.

This is why there's an implied contract between Wizards and Magic consumers. Wizards hasn't explicitly stated any intent to preserve card values beyond the 571 cards on the reserve list, but their actions to date have implied that very intent. Collectors and stores act upon this promise in good faith, trusting Wizards not to deflate the secondary market and thus damage the value of their collections and inventory. Whether intentionally or not, Wizards has entered into a contract with unforeseeable results. This is one of the reasons Wizards gave for creating Modern: They wanted a non-rotating format that "doesn't have the card availability problems of Legacy."

It's a shame this couldn't have been the case.

Risky Actions Have Consequences

In finance, there exists something called risk. There are two essential categories it falls under:

  • Specific risk: The risk inherent to a single investment. If you invest all your money into one business, then the likelihood of that business succeeding or failing determines the odds of making a profit off the investment or seeing your money go down the drain.
  • Market risk: The risk that the entire market will result in losses. If you invest all your money into hundreds of businesses, then the only thing that could bring them all down at once is something that affects the whole market, such as a recession.
A diversified investment portfolio eliminates specific risk, leaving only market risk. This is because, as one investment decreases in value, others will increase. For example, a loss in Apple's share value because their new product flops could be matched by an increase in Samsung's share value as people switch brands. In Magic terms, one eliminates specific risk through a collection encompassing cards from Vintage, Legacy, Commander, Modern, and Standard, alongside other collectibles such as sealed product. If a number of cards go down in value, your collection is unaffected as this is often matched with gains to other cards.


If you traded only in USD, you'd be worse off than trading in both.
(Image © Market Realist)

All it takes is a look at this year's Modern Masters 2015 set to see this effect in action. A sufficiently diverse Modern collection would see a loss in value of the reprinted cards, but would also see a corresponding increase in value in cards not reprinted, such as Snapcaster Mage or Blood Moon. This is in line with Wizards' implied contract with collectors: Any action done to benefit players will not come at the cost of negatively impacting the overall Magic market. We'll sometimes see higher-value reprints in From the Vault or Commander reprints, with a Modern Masters release or two tossed in, but these are always done in such a way as to benefit stores' and collectors' interests just as much if not more so than players.

To illustrate how a diversified collection eliminates the risk of losses stemming from low-key reprints, SaffronOlive at MTG Goldfish recently published an analysis that shows Modern, as a format, has actually gotten 25% more expensive than it was six months prior to that writing, despite the short-term value losses created by Modern Masters 2015 Edition. However, turn this on its head: A sufficiently large Modern collection has gained 25% in value. If someone were to treat Modern cards as an investment rather than game pieces, they'd sleep safe with the knowledge that Wizards' actions are to their overall benefit. This is also why we can never see Modern Masters 2016 with a $4 MSRP, unlimited print run, and a large number of Modern staples. To print such a set would collapse enough value that even a diversified collection wouldn't absorb the losses.

This was why fetchlands could never have been in Battle for Zendikar. Despite Mark Rosewater's insistence that the reason was there would be balance issues with all ten fetchlands existing at once in Standard, the Zendikar fetchlands couldn't have been reprinted even if balance wasn't a concern. Khans of Tarkir reprinting the original set of fetchlands caused prices to go down for those lands, so causing the Zendikar fetchlands to lose that same amount of value would send a bad message to consumers. Immediately after Mark Rosewater announced the Zendikar fetchlands wouldn't be reprinted, their value shot up tremendously, more than making up for the lost value due to the Khans of Tarkir reprints. While this may not benefit players, it fits with Wizards' promises and actions throughout the history of the game, and we can expect similar decisions in the future.

The inclusion of fetchlands in the Zendikar Expeditions sub-expansion carries interesting implications for their price future, as well. To date, Wizards has not followed up high-profile limited promotional printings with Standard printings outside the San Diego Comic Con promos, so it's safe to say that we won't be seeing the Zendikar fetchlands again in Standard for a good, long time. Not only would it break their standard behaviour to date, but it would fly in the face of reprint equity. Zendikar Expeditions has generated a lot of hype, and it would be prudent from a financial standpoint to let that field lie fallow for a while before returning to it, lest the Zendikar fetches lose their lustre with the Magic player base. For a more detailed view of how Zendikar Expeditions affects Wizards' future decisions, refer to my previous article. For now, though, expect to see a price increase to these necessary cards that benefits investors, collectors, and stores rather than the players who need such cards to compete in Modern at a high level.

Wizards' Limited Options

One of the biggest talking points about the reserve list is that Wizards could, in theory, print "snow duals." That is to say, dual lands with slight alterations so as to skirt the exact wording of the list. The wording of the reserve list disallows this specific example as snow is a supertype and thus isn't a valid exception, but there are any number of ways to achieve the same effect of having inconsequential changes that get around the terms as written. Two possible permutations of this are as follows:


These cards' abilities or subtypes are slightly different than Underground Sea, and so don't contravene the reserve list.

Wizards would still open themselves up to serious repercussions by printing them.

The reserve list might have started us down this path, but it's the contract between Wizards and Magic consumers that ultimately dictates what Wizards can and can't print. This is why the "spirit of the reserved list," as Mark Rosewater put it, is inviolate. That spirit isn't within the reserve list itself, but in fact is a simple way to refer to Wizards' implied contract. Slight tweaks that don't violate the stated criteria for functional equivalency, such as different subtypes, are just as problematic as wholesale reprints. Cards need "significant enough tweaks" to pass muster, and even things like Fork becoming Reverberate are against the "spirit of the reserved list." Functional equivalency as spelled out in the reserve list isn't the primary issue because it has little bearing on what can and can't be printed outside those 571 reserved cards.

Players talk about many other workarounds, such as legalizing gold-bordered cards as long as they're in opaque sleeves to cover their unique backs or printing more off-color-bordered cards in the future. These fall within that nebulous "spirit of the reserve list," because as we've established, the letter of the promise matters far less than the spirit used to establish this contract. Any attempt to print such cards en masse or to add a large number of existing cards to the tournament-legal card pool would be seen as an attempted end-run around the list, a bad-faith move that could carry significant repercussions. No matter what Wizards does, they have to be careful not to upset a status quo relied upon by many Magic consumers.

But what happens if Wizards does print Forgotten Cesspool or the alternate universe Dimir Guildgate? Balance issues could arise in Legacy and Vintage, but decks don't generally need more than four of a specific dual land. No, the bigger problem is demand for Underground Sea would plummet. Players would simply switch to the new, cheaper option. Underground Sea's value would suffer. As a result, Wizards would be breaking their promise not to act in ways that specifically undermine secondary market values. This would send shockwaves through the Legacy market, creating market risk that harms consumer confidence. It sends a message to Wizards' investors, suppliers, and distributors that they intend to play fast and loose with their promises and contracts. After all, they just did it with the reserve list, so they could easily do it again with their business partners. Wizards could well experience less investment, a lower share price, and less favorable conditions with their supply chain. This is on top of the potential lawsuit they'd face for breaking the "spirit of the reserved list," i.e. for breach of contract.

Fundamentally, the reserve list is a scapegoat, a strawman that suits the needs of profiteers: investors, collectors, and speculators. Focusing on it means we aren't focusing on the deeper, underlying issues of why Wizards' options are so limited. As long as Wizards is constrained by their implied contract to maintain card values, they can't act in a way that's favorable to players. We'll continue to see Modern become more and more expensive. Legacy will go the way of Vintage. Eventually, Modern may even have to go the way of Legacy, a new "Postmodern" format will emerge, and the cycle will repeat.

Market Abuses

The problems facing the Magic market are only exacerbated by the fact that it's completely unregulated. We saw the problems of an unregulated market with the value of Bitcoin over the past few years: Price manipulation caused it to peak at over $1,000 USD, but this was fundamentally unsustainable, and the current exchange rate as of this writing is under $250 USD. We see similar things in the Magic market. For instance, look at poor Fist of Suns: $2.30 USD as of January 9, 2014, spiking to $12.40 in merely three days, before slowly cooling off to be worth only $3.50 as of this writing. Both examples follow the classic price trend of a market bubble:


Image (c) Dr. Jean-Paul Rodrigue, Holstra University
It's an interesting point of comparison to several Magic price trends, especially ones that have been manipulated. For comparison's sake, let's look at the price trends of five different cards that exhibit significantly different price histories. To start, here are graphs of the price trends of Pearl Lake Ancient and Dramatic Entrance, two cards whose price hikes were sudden and short-lived. Linear regression equations and coefficient of determination are provided for completeness' sake.


Prices per MTG Goldfish history. Linear regression performed on data series of 100 points each, showing linear equation and coefficient of determination.

Pearl Lake Ancient spiked tremendously on October 12, 2014, shortly after its release, reaching a peak of $5.80 before rapidly cooling off and ending at $1.20, only 2/3 of its initial preorder price of $1.80. Vendors who attempted to exploit this price spike by canceling orders were left in the cold, because Pearl Lake Ancient returned to its original value extremely quickly. This is different from how spikes on non-Standard cards work, as many non-Standard Magic price spikes settle at a higher price than before the spike because no new supply of the card enters the market. People simply aren't opening older packs anymore, so they can't settle at a similar price like Standard cards such as Pearl Lake Ancient. Regardless, the data are clear: This was not a sustainable spike, and the vast supply of Khans of Tarkir entering the market sank the card's price like a stone. Overall, this was fairly harmless in the end, as players could wait out the spike and can now obtain the card cheaply.

Dramatic Entrance, by contrast, wasn't spiked by hype, but by outright fraud. Unlike Pearl Lake Ancient, Dramatic Entrance retained a portion of its spiked value. This is due to the fact that no one's opening Shadowmoor packs anymore, so there's nothing to compensate for the supply that left the market and never reentered after people believed the hype, bought copies of the card, and never resold them. The linear regression of its price changes 50 days before and after the spike indicates that there should be future growth, similar to the price trends outlined below, but its price as of this writing has actually fallen further, and despite the projection, there are no future growth prospects for this card. The people who got in at $0.70 have realized their gain due to this fraudulent movement, but the only ones to get notable value are speculators, investors, and fraudsters, not players.

In both cases, and in the case of many spikes throughout the Magic market, the "despair" phase is absent. Why is that? Price memory, or the fact that once-expensive cards "remember" their previous values and don't sink as far, is the first step, but we have to dig deeper into why that happens so often. Magic cards have some manner of inherent play value, while a Bitcoin is just data sitting on one's computer. Magic card values tend to be very elastic—players' aggregate demand for a card doesn't change that much when that card's price changes. Compared to other unregulated financial instruments, Magic cards offer a number of advantages to the discerning profiteer.

For comparison's sake, let's analyse two cards that exhibited high price jumps, but for purely natural reasons:


Prices per MTG Goldfish history. Linear regression performed on data series of 100 points each, showing linear equation and coefficient of determination.

Goblin Guide's price history is interesting because it contains a large number of peaks and valleys. These actually average out over time, as the sinusoidal shape of the graph shows. Most of Goblin Guide's price movement is natural, and a qualitative analysis of its price history bears that out. Burn, Red Deck Wins, and other red aggro decks in Modern and Legacy are traditionally a budget player's way into the format, and Goblin Guide is often the biggest buy of the deck. This creates a bottleneck that increases price as more players all compete for a limited supply of Goblin Guides, which only tends to increase when Modern's off season and players sell their Modern cards.

Snapcaster Mage has fewer peaks and valleys, but it contains much the same overall movement. Like Goblin Guide, it serves as a price bottleneck for Modern and Legacy, and with the announcement it wasn't going to be reprinted in Modern Masters 2015 Edition, players scrambled to buy their copies before an inevitable price spike. While this spike has cooled off to some extent, Snapcaster Mage's final price is on track with its linear regression. In one sense, it's about where it's "supposed" to be taking its overall movement into account. Despite no significant influx of supply into the market, Snapcaster Mage's price spike didn't result in any significant overall price jump in the long term. The market for the card is healthy, as players who only play Modern when it's in season sell off their copies at season's end, ensuring supply is never truly choked.

Naturally, then, speculators know that if they buy in at a certain price, their long-term value only goes up, even if only by marginal amounts, because they can bank on cards regressing towards their natural growths, or on spiked cards retaining a portion of their spiked value, netting an overall gain. This only encourages speculators to manipulate the market to inflate as many card prices as they can, which has the effect of hurting players, who now need to spend considerably higher sums of money to buy in to certain formats because prices are increasing faster than they should. It's deeply unhealthy, especially for non-rotating formats, and Wizards' contract with consumers only exacerbates the problem by providing a guarantee that there will be little to no first-party intervention to stop profiteers' shenanigans. To that end, here's an outline of several common price manipulation schemes that pop up in the Magic market so they can be more easily identified:

Pump and Dump


Bonus points if you're hyping a Legacy deck
with a reserved Legends rare.
Quick, everyone! This new deck is doing extremely well! It made top 16 of this one big event and now all the pros (or at least the ones writing for us) are raving about how great it is and how it's going to take the format by storm! We're aggressively buylisting low and selling at a generously low markup of only 500% of its previous value! Everyone, get in on this awesome new tier 1 deck today!

And then the deck underperforms, the price crashes, and once the heated emotions have cooled everyone wonders why they just fell for this scam the third time this year.

This abuse stems from the ethical dilemma facing sites that try both to sell you cards and give you game advice. If you managed a site like that, and you just picked up a few hundred copies of a promising Standard card, would you want to publish articles critical of it, when that might hurt its value? Wouldn't you prefer to publish articles praising it, since that might cause it to increase in value? In this way, writers for sites with that business model aren't analysts or strategists. They're salespeople. As one prominent site explicitly includes in their writer's guide, their articles exist to sell cards and to promote the site. Nothing more.

It's basically the same issue that infamously plagues video gaming journalism: The publication's revenue stream stems from the very thing they're supposed to be objective about. It creates an irreconcilable conflict of interest that calls their very integrity into question. I'm not naming names because I don't want to see any witch hunts against Magic writers or organized movements against Magic sites, but there is a problem that needs to be brought into sharp relief for the good of the community: Those organizations can't have your best interests at heart when they have to weigh whatever they say against their bottom lines. They blatantly exploit your trust to boost sales, and as players, we need to stop acting like we can blindly trust their advice.

Poop and Scoop

Quick, everyone! This old deck is doing extremely poorly! It hasn't made top 16 of these big events in like a month! All the pros (or at least the ones writing for us) are talking about how its time has passed! We're aggressively buylisting these cards at reduced prices so you can get rid of your copies while you can still get some value out of them! Everyone, switch to this awesome new tier 1 deck today! (Which we may or may not be pumping at the same time!)

And then the deck in question performs reasonably well, those cards' prices go back up, and once the heated emotions have cooled everyone wonders why they just fell for this scam the fourth time this year.

This is related to the above abuse, and is a bit less blatant because it's not as intuitive. It's easy to understand why someone profits off hyping something up, but it's easy to slip criticism under the radar. Like pump and dump, poop and scoop is seen in markets for financial securities, and it's equally fraudulent. There being no governing body for Magic card transactions, there's nothing to prevent a seemingly helpful site in abusing your trust this way. Always stay vigilant and never trust anything at face value when the source is someone who can profit off "helping" you.

Pyramid Schemes

Tell you what, everyone. I'm going to set up a system whereupon you can get free points for referring people to my trading service, which can be used as currency to pay for cards sent through it. The more points you have, the less money you need to spend. Sure, these points are useless outside this system, and I can take the system down at any time and leave all of your points totally worthless, but think of how many you can accumulate through referrals! Or if you can't find anyone else who'll sign up, you can donate to us and we'll furnish you with some shiny new points ourselves! Granted, these points might not even keep a stable value as compared to government-backed fiat currency, and their exchange rate might be on a steady decline, but you dodge those pesky transaction fees anyway, so just keep farming referrals and you're fine!

Let's not mince words. I'm going to name names this time because there's really only one perpetrator here. Pucatrade is a pyramid scheme. Much like Bitcoin, Pucatrade involves maximizing value by getting in early and getting others into the system. Pucapoints are much like Bitcoins themselves, having no intrinsic value and only being useful as a medium of exchange while the service that generates them is active. Getting into Pucatrade late means you have less opportunity to benefit from the system, much like trying to start farming Bitcoins late. You're simply going to make less pucapoints than those who got in early, and you'll be using them at a lower value. The service has to end one day, and when that happens, those who've stocked value in pucapoints are going to be left in the cold. They'll never be compensated for the value they just lost.

Bitcoin is easily recognized as a pyramid scheme, and while Pucatrade claims that pucapoints "are not a virtual currency," they're used for transactions within a system and can even be sold off for real currency. They're primarily obtained from activity within the system, similar to mining Bitcoins, but with the added methods of referring new members and from financial contributions to Pucatrade itself. The system only works as long as a critical mass of people make use of it, but that critical mass needs to keep growing in order to handle all the new points entering the system. Like with Bitcoin, true value isn't in holding on to the medium of exchange, but by using that medium of exchange to obtain real value. Regulated, government-backed currency can be held onto, invested, and otherwise carries value in and of itself. Bitcoins and pucapoints don't. Both should be avoided, not embraced.

Third-Party Reprints

The elephant in the room is how some players choose to fight against these price inflation schemes. Increasing card prices through artificial means pushes players into an untenable position. The costs of entry into a format become so large that counterfeiters can make fairly large profits selling at or below market price. If a piece of cardboard with a picture of jewelry on it can sell upwards of $1,000, then it seems reasonable to assume that someone might seek $1,000 in revenue for relatively minimal outlay. Counterfeits are getting better all the time, so it should be easy to pass off high-value reprints as the real thing.

Yet those aren't the kinds of third-party reprints you see most often these days.

Nowadays, third-party reprint services offer huge lots of Vintage, Legacy, and even Modern cards for as little as $2 per card if you buy a large enough lot. Certainly, counterfeiters don't have to shoulder the risk of having their cards discovered to be fake, since that's on the players buying them, yet that's not the fundamental reason they take this approach. They're after profit, just like any business, but the profit is simply greater in supplying players with "passable proxies" rather than creating false collectibles. The goal isn't to exploit collectors, but to furnish players with replicas. Counterfeits may be fairly cheap and relatively easy to spot when you know to look out for them, but the counterfeiters' technique is improving all the time, and there will eventually come a point where their product is much more difficult to tell from genuine Magic cards. Even if one can tell through rigorous testing, the odds of a third-party reprint going through such testing after casual inspection are minimal if they pass that first muster. Their purpose isn't malicious at all, either, as one anonymous poster on 4chan's /tg/ elaborates:


Not everyone buying these are malicious or intend to fool others. Many just feel alienated and frustrated by Wizards' reprint policies.
Make no mistake, third-party reprints are not the root problem. Like any product, no one would make them or improve upon them if there was no demand. They exist because players believe that legitimate sources are failing them, that Wizards doesn't have their best interests at heart. People weren't nearly so interested in third-party reprints before Magic's costs ballooned out of control. Before Tarmogoyf ballooned up over $100. Before high-tier dual lands broke the same barrier. And before opportunistic profiteers staged buyouts in order to spike prices for their own gain. Unchecked price jumps across entire formats frustrated and alienated these players. Yet when one speaks to them in spaces where they can be honest, where the community won't ostracize them and turn them into pariahs, one doesn't see fraudsters out to deceive unsuspecting innocents, but people who no longer feel they have a place in a game they love too much simply to quit. Callously shunning them with "deal with it or get out" rhetoric only causes harm. To understand where the counterfeiting epidemic comes from and begin to understand how to stop it, we need to treat the people who buy third-party reprints as human beings with valid and understandable feelings.

It's easy to blame the counterfeiters for their actions, but they wouldn't have a market if Magic players could play the game at prices more agreeable to them. There will always be people who want things to be cheaper, but blatant profiteering has resulted in prices so inflated that a growing number of players, feeling priced out of the game, now seek extralegal solutions to their problems. Counterfeiting may have existed since the game's inception, but has never been so truly epidemic as it is now, because there hasn't been any demand for counterfeits on this scale before. Make no mistake, counterfeits exist in unprecedented qualities because players are buying them in unprecedented quantities. They perform a highly demanded function Wizards refuses: Making formats more playable. That is why this section is titled Third-Party Reprints: It's not to legitimize counterfeiting, but to describe the role counterfeit Magic cards fill in the market.

Wizards' solution to the problem is constrained by their implied contracts with collectors, but they need to act to ensure the game's premier Constructed formats are more affordable to a greater number of players. Buying into a single deck piecemeal over the course of months is the province of Eternal formats. Modern shouldn't require that same level of financial dedication, especially when a ban list update can render a player's investment worthless from a play perspective. If Wizards can accomplish this goal, if they can lower the barrier of entry into Modern to a more affordable point, then they remove the incentive for players to seek third-party reprints. Continuing to attack counterfeiters for providing those third-party reprints ineffectively focuses on the symptom, not the disease.

The consumer-side solution to counterfeiting is simple, if implausible. The game needs to stop being treated like a market to exploit for profit and start being treated like a proper game. By forcing card prices ever higher and pressuring Wizards to protect card values to the detriment of players, profiteers encourage other parties to supply needed cards to players at more agreeable prices. The onus is on profiteers to stop exploiting the market and players not to accept their shenanigans. If players showed the same ire to those inflating card prices as they showed to those who buy third-party reprints, profiteers with a presence in the community might just think twice before jumping on an opportunity. Make no mistake, $150 Tarmogoyfs and $250 Underground Seas are a market failure, not successful investments.

Conclusion

The road to hell is paved with good intentions. Wizards created the reserve list to increase consumer confidence at a time when the market was flagging and the game itself could well die off. Over time, however, this goodwill was abused to the point where Wizards' promise now results in a contract to act in ways that harm players. It's not Wizards' fault, but the fault of those who see Magic more as an investment than a game. It's the fault of those with binders full of dual lands, with longboxes full of Tarmogoyfs, who either never play or play extremely rarely. It's the fault of those who buy out specific cards with the expectation of profit, and the sites who purport to give you objective strategic advice while also trying to sell you cards. It's the fault of naked, unrestrained greed.

This isn't to cast doom and gloom over the game, but to raise awareness of the fact that there are two opposing forces in the Magic market: Profit and play. What's good for one harms the other. It may be too late for Wizards to annul their contract with consumers, but it's never too late to fight back against blatant price manipulation and market abuse. Players simply need to know their interests are being exploited, and gain the financial literacy to know how to avoid the worst of it. Increased awareness may not solve all of Magic's problems, but it can keep them manageable and minimize the harm to Magic's primary consumers: Not those who seek to profit off the game, but the players who seek to have fun with the game.

When it comes to exploitative profiteering, just say no.

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