Crucible of Words – The State of Design? by Cyrus Bales
In light of the recent “State of Design” article on MagicTheGathering.com, I’ve decided to take a look at the business decisions and how the game of Magic has been run from a player’s perspective.
Now, whilst a lot of people disagree with the creative decision happening in magic, like combo and control being actively stripped from standard and the colour pie’s peculiar turn, wizards are insisting that Magic is more popular than ever and have the sales figures to prove it, or do they?
This started way back in Shards of Alara, infamous for creating the new Mythic rarity, which remains a bone of contention for a lot of people. The concept was met with a swathe of internet moaning, but Wizards had already embarked on it so that was it, perhaps if it had a negative effect, they’d rethink.
However they knew this would not be the case, since the reduced supply of mythics with the increased demand thanks to cards like Elspeth, Knight Errant and Baneslayer Angel forced singles retailers to buy A LOT more product, some needing to purchase almost twice as much to meet the demands for these cards.
This made two things happen, it pushed up the secondary market prices of these cards, and more importantly for Wizards, it drastically increased sales. So, Wizards could use these sales to justify mythics and claim the game was more popular and selling better than before.
Flash forward to this year, Innistrad block is the best-selling set ever apparently. The inference made by Wizards of the coast is that Magic has never been more popular, and let’s be fair; Innistrad is a great set. However this also ties in with something else Wizards have done this year, cutting prize support, but how does this impact sales?
Those FNM’s where Wizards would give away a free booster per player, they no longer have that expense; and the same goes for higher level events like PTQ’s. But people still expect prizes, so the tournament organizers then have to buy that prize support from wizards to meet the expected levels, driving sales even further, and there are A LOT of Magic events in the world. Turning a cost, into a profit, this will obviously make the sales figures and general health of the business look a lot brighter.
There are a few other tricks they’ve pulled out recently, Commander is a good example. I’m a big fan of the support they are giving to the format, however the obvious Legacy plants in some of the boxes is a sneaky trick to drive sales.
Most people I know have taken their Flusterstorm and Scavenging Ooze out of the EDH decks they’ve bought since they’re not that great in them anyway. It seems as if their only purpose in the sets is to create format staples in a niche product that forces it to sell a lot more than it should.
Is is Sustainable?
Really, there are a lot of ways that a business can give the impression of a better selling product or a more successful company, but the issue is that these tricks are not sustainable. Sure, there are plenty of tricks still to come I’m sure, however this doesn’t feel like the way I as a player want this game to go. As long as they have business tricks, they can justify just about anything by “duping the stats”, so the trend towards aggro whilst forsaking the pillars of the game that are combo and control becomes an easier transition for them.
So what’s next? Well we have the five different pre-release options for Return to Ravnica and Gatecrash which means a lot of stores are running five pre-releases instead of two. Sure, this doesn’t mean everyone will be doing all five, but I imagine they are looking at selling somewhere between 40-60% more entries to pre-releases which definitely grinds up the sales figures a bit more.
Also, we now seem to have 3 large sets and only one small set a year, which is the reverse from how things were, I’d be genuinely surprised if Return to Ravnica didn’t become the best-selling set of all time regardless of its quality. Also we have more Commander products soon, so Legacy players, get your wallets ready.
Thanks for reading, and thanks for sharing.