What strikes me about this whole conversation is Mason's comment about art and specifically the Ramones:
If you’re a musician or know musicians, there’s a very good chance that you could create an album that’s better than the first, self-titled Ramones album. Record those same songs, but with a little bit better, more modern, production quality. The musicianship was pretty bad on that 1976 record, so with good musicians, you could tighten it up. Maybe record slightly more emphatic, more melodic vocals. Add just a touch of autotune.
Would your album be better? Almost unquestionably, it would improve on the original.
But would it be a “good album?” Of course not. You didn’t do anything unique. The initial statement that the Ramones made with that album is the important thing, as are all the myriad influences that it had on cultures worldwide. There’s not a punk or indie rock band anywhere that isn’t influenced by that album (even if it came passed down through other bands in between them and the Ramones).
He's got a point, but the comparison is unfair. The Ramones' first album came out in 1976 and their last album came out in 1996. I'm sure they didn't try to literally recreate their music from that first album over 20 years, but they put out 14 albums. How many of them had problems? How many were really good? I don't know anything about The Ramones but it's fair to assume that at least one of them was not as good as that first album. They were all "works of art" though. Imagine if The Ramones had not died and were instead still touring today. Imagine if they finally got the recognition they deserved and their fanbase started doubling or quadrupling year to year. Now imagine they put out a new album, meant to appeal to everyone. How many Ramones fans would cry that they "sold out", regardless of the album's sales? If it sells well, then clearly they did "sell out" and if it doesn't sell well then it sucked and they can't stay in touch with their fans. How many people would be able to distinguish whether the album was meant to appeal to everyone, or if it was the next Ramones album, another "work of art"?
This seems like the crux of Mason's argument, that Magic "sold out". Magic today is about appealing to a huge population of gamers, most of them much more casual in nature than people the game was originally played by. But not advertised to. Magic was always trying to reach a massive audience, everything that came out was desperately trying to get you to buy it. They had numerous failed product lines, numerous failed sets (and even blocks) by financial metrics. Today Magic is finally reaching a massive audience and selling well. The design of the game is bent towards this goal, but not necessarily tainted by it. I enjoyed Ravnica: City of Guilds when it came out, so much so that I even have a blog detailing why: http://www.mtgsalvation.com/userblogs/technik4-blog/9362-an-homage-to-ravnica-blocks-development. I also enjoyed Return to Ravnica and bought quite a bit, in fact it was the first time I've ever bought 2 boxes of a set, which I repeated for Gatecrash but not for Dragon's Maze. By any financial metric I enjoyed Return to Ravnica more than Ravnica, after all I spent more money on it. I even convinced my girlfriend to buy a box of each set (again, not including Dragon's Maze).
My own personal evaluation of the set? Well, I guess it's time to write another blog since this post has wandered off pretty far. I think Mason should too, since he got caught up in his own bias against Mark Rosewater and failed to deliver.