Should Wizards of the Coast Have Printed Expedition Lands? by Joseph Dunlap
As the most recent Magic: The Gathering set, Battle for Zendikar, was prepared to release, Wizards of the Coast touted a new feature. Players who opened booster packs of the latest set had a random chance to find an “Expedition” land, or an extended art printing of one of many Modern staple lands.
Expeditions in Battle for Zendikar encompassed all ten Ravnica shock lands, all ten fetch lands (Onslaught and Zendikar), and extended art of the dual lands from Battle for Zendikar. The current Fair Trade price for the Battle for Zendikar dual lands ranges from £30-45 ($45-70 USD). The Fair Trade price for shock lands ranges from £55-65 ($80-95), except for [card]Steam Vents[/card], which is currently valued at £85 ($130).
The price tag on fetchland Expeditions? Anywhere from £80-245 ($125-370).
The probability of opening an Expedition of any kind in a booster pack? Somewhere around 0.8%, slightly higher than opening a foil mythic rare.
Many of you by now may have seen the latest batch of the Oath of the Gatewatch spoilers and noticed something very interesting with the new Oath of the Gatewatch Expedition lands. While these leaks are not yet confirmed, the general consensus within the community is that they are real, and if this is the case then it appears to me that Wizards of the Coast have used Expedition lands as a means to opened the floodgates to more priceless treasures. This of course will have implications on the game itself, so as usual I went to the Magic: The Gathering community with a question: Should the Expedition lands have been printed?
Reprinting and Gimmicks
One of the first opinions you’ll find in the Magic community is that the Expeditions were nothing more than a cash grab. Even more than that, many feel that they set a precedent for using gimmicks to sell an otherwise low value set, but we’ll discuss that point a little later.
Along that same vein, the question was posed as to why Wizards of the Coast chose to print fetchlands as Expeditions rather than just reprinting the Zendikar fetchlands as part of the Battle for Zendikar set, as was done last year with the Onslaught fetchlands. The problem with this scenario is the fact that all ten fetchlands would be in the Standard format at the same time, which is a whole new set of problems.
Why, then, were Expeditions printed?
One possible reason is a throwback to the Priceless Treasures of the original Zendikar set.
What were Priceless Treasures? In Zendikar booster packs, players had a random chance to open a valuable card from the early days of Magic: The Gathering. These were not reprints. They were cards once held in the Wizards of the Coast vault and redistributed to the Magic community via randomly selected Zendikar booster packs. Most were from the Reserved List, so it was a way for Wizards to make the reserved cards available to the public without violating the Reserved List reprinting policy.
Just how valuable were some of the Priceless Treasures that were opened? Among them were the Power Nine and the original Dual Lands, so the answer is “very valuable”.
The problem with the Priceless Treasures promotion? Wizards didn’t tell anyone about it. Not even store owners were aware of the promotion until reports sprung up worldwide of customers opening up cards worth anywhere from £100 to, in some cases, ten times that amount. Pandemonium ensued.
This time around, Wizards has learned from their mistake. Expeditions were a promotion we knew about well in advance, and even though nobody’s opening up cards from the Power Nine, the Expeditions still give us the rush of opening a booster pack hoping to beat the odds and open a valuable Magic staple. Regardless of one’s assessment of the overall value of Battle for Zendikar, Expeditions are an effective promotion that sells packs.
On that front the Expeditions appear to have been a success, so from a business standpoint, it was a good idea.
Selling a Weak Set
As we’ve already mentioned, the most common viewpoint you will hear when the topic of Expeditions comes up is that they were an obvious gimmick designed to sell a low value set. It is true that Battle for Zendikar only has two cards valued at over £10, but chances are these same people would also agree that the price of Standard is currently through the roof.
Right now, the Khans of Tarkir reprinting of Onslaught fetchlands are worth almost double what they were a year ago. It is undeniable that the barrier for entry for Standard is higher than it’s ever been. On the topic of set values, cards in Khans currently valued over £10 are the five fetchlands. In Fate Reforged there are two cards over £10, and one is [card]Ugin, the Spirit Dragon[/card] at £30. In Dragons of Tarkir there is still a handful of valuable cards with its most expensive, [card]Dragonlord Ojutai[/card], right around £10.
In Magic Origins? Four valuable rares, and [card]Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy[/card] tops out at £45.
Let’s not fool ourselves here. The problem isn’t the value of Battle of Zendikar.
For the sake of argument, let’s entertain the idea that the problem is the value of Battle for Zendikar. In this scenario, Wizards of the Coast accidentally printed a set that wasn’t as expensive as players would have liked, so they jammed in Expeditions at the last minute to sell packs.
Never mind that Expeditions appear to have been a planned throwback to the first Zendikar block, and Wizards plans out sets years in advance. Never mind that the cards selected for Expeditions were Modern staples that players are always clamoring to get their hands on, and that selling weak sets with gimmicks is not a sustainable business model.
Never mind that the primary reason for the value depression for Battle for Zendikar is the high volume of packs bought for Expeditions and the amount of fat packs bought for full-art lands. Never mind that a secondary reason for the set’s low value is the hyper-powered cards printed in previous sets that overshadow a well-balanced, fun set full of synergy that will only be truly appreciated once the block completes with Oath of the Gatewatch, and ultimately when the previous sets begin to rotate out of Standard and the overall price of the format begins to depress to a manageable level.
No, apparently the only logical explanation here is they were printed simply to sell packs of a weak set.
Mythic Rarity Issues
Before we move on, a point does need to be made about the rarity of Expeditions. On the surface there appears to be no problem. “Expeditions are very rare to find, so it adds to the excitement of opening a pack,” you might say, and I also said just awhile ago. But it bears mention that in this way, Expeditions are problematic due to their rarity.
When Wizards of the Coast first announced mythic rarity in 2008, Mark Rosewater followed up with a Making Magic article entitled The Year of Living Changerously. In his article, Rosewater has this to say about the intent behind mythic rarity:
We want the flavor of mythic rare to be something that feels very special and unique. Generally speaking we expect that to mean cards like Planeswalkers, most legends, and epic-feeling creatures and spells. They will not just be a list of each set’s most powerful tournament-level cards.
We’ve also decided that there are certain things we specifically do not want to be mythic rares. The largest category is utility cards, what I’ll define as cards that fill a universal function. Some examples of this category would be cycles of dual lands and cards like [card]Mutavault[/card] or [card]Char[/card]. That also addresses a long-standing issue that some players have had with certain rares like dual lands. Because we’re making fewer cards per set, in the new world individual rares would be easier to acquire because each rare in a large set new appears 25% more often.
Earlier this month SaffronOlive of Mtggoldfish published an article questioning whether Wizards has stayed true to their vision of what a mythic rare should be. He points out that in Shards of Alara, mythic rares were confined to planeswalkers, legendary creatures, and a handful of nonlegendary cards that just felt “epic” (five out of those six were a cycle of 8CMC creatures that were too expensive to be considered tournament staples).
The article goes on to point out different moments in the years following Shards where a mythic card become an instant tournament staple, and due to its rarity, fetched a hefty price tag. Some broke the spirit of mythic rarity altogether. Some major examples were the utility of [card]Lotus Cobra[/card], the lack of uniqueness and epicness with [card]Linvala, Keeper of Silence[/card], and the grindy nature of the non-epic [card]Deathmist Raptor[/card]. Fate Reforged saw a huge swing away from the original spirit of mythic rarity with four tournament playable nonlegendary mythic creatures of converted mana costs ranging from 1 to 5. A clear argument was made that Wizards had perhaps strayed from the flavor of what a mythic rare was intended to be.
Just over a week after the Mtggoldfish article was published, a fan left a question on Mark Rosewater’s blogatog asking if Rosewater had seen it. Rosewater replied by saying the article misunderstood his quote concerning mythic rares. When asked for clarification, Rosewater said that his statement that mythic rares would “not just be a list of each set’s most powerful tournament-level cards” had been misinterpreted to mean that mythic rarity was not intended to produce any tournament-level cards. He clarified that his wording implied that while mythic rares would often be tournament playable, that wouldn’t be the sum total of their purpose.
A similar policy, or promise, Wizards has regarding card printing is the Reserved List. It is a policy that preserves the spirit of the “olden days” of Magic and protects the secondary market and card collectors. The spirit of the Reserved List promise is that a card on the list would never be printed in any form, but there was a time that Wizards strayed from that spirit. For awhile Wizards experimented with printing premium foils of certain cards on the List, but the subsequent outcry caused Wizards to tighten that loophole.
This brings us back to Expeditions. The rarity of Expeditions, as was pointed out earlier, is a little more common than that of a foil mythic rare. That’s right, Expeditions are rarer than mythic rares. Sure, it’s a one-time promotion. Sure, it’s basically a “premium foil” reprint, but when Wizards attempted premium foil reprints of cards on the Reserved List, the backlash from the small percentage of players with interests in the List forced them to rethink that practice.
The only saving grace for Expeditions is they are not technically “part” of the Battle for Zendikar set, and as such are not inherently playable in Standard. They can be written off as auxiliary, a way to generate excitement for players who might otherwise overlook the set without having a noticeable impact on the Standard format.
One last thing, while we’re on the subject of impact…
Do Expeditions Make Staple Lands More Available?
That’s the big question, isn’t it?
For starters, Expeditions provide premium foil extended art versions of all ten fetchlands and all ten shock lands, both of which are heavily played in Modern. This in itself makes them high on demand, which coupled with their extreme rarity drives their price to roughly five times the cost of their original printings.
Were Expeditions printed to lower the price of staple lands? Short answer: no. They were printed to provide a luxury item for diehard Magic: The Gathering players willing to sink money into making their decks and collections shinier. Expeditions had no noticeable impact on the average price of fetchlands and shock lands. There simply weren’t enough of them to have an impact, and they weren’t intended to.
So what does affect the price of staple lands?
When shock lands were reprinted in Return to Ravnica, the average price of the original printings gradually fell until they reached a resting point nearly a year later. Since then the more valuable shock lands have slowly rebounded, but the newer printings exist as a cheaper alternative to purchasing the originals. After Onslaught fetchlands were announced to be reprinted in Khans of Tarkir, the price of the original printings plummeted and most have continued to fall in price.
So what happened when Mark Rosewater revealed on his Blogatog that Battle for Zendikar would not reprint the Zendikar fetchlands?
Before we answer this question, it’s important to note that Magic players had been expecting for months that the Zendikar fetches would be reprinted with the new Zendikar block, in the same way that the Ravnica shock lands were reprinted in the new Ravnica block. Rosewater’s announcement that the fetches would not be reprinted was posted on August 5. Over the following day, all Zendikar fetchlands shot up in price as players scrambled to get their hands on what they had been sure would be reprinted and cheaper to obtain. [card]Verdant Catacombs[/card] and [card]Misty Rainforest[/card] doubled in price in just a few hours.
The Zendikar fetches gradually leveled off a little bit over the next few months, but the damage was done. There mere idea that the quantity of Zendikar fetchlands in the Magic card economy would not increase was enough to permanently drive prices up.
Instead, Wizards gave us Expeditions. Let me be clear that I strongly believe, and have already stated, that it would have been a bad idea to have all ten fetchlands in Standard. Standard is already expensive as it is. Players were expecting a reprint of the Zendikar fetches, and Wizards wisely wasn’t ready to do so.
Should Expeditions Have Been Printed?
Let’s look at all the points that have been outlined.
There is a large contingent of the Magic community convinced that the Expeditions were shoehorned into Battle for Zendikar to generate hype for an otherwise low value set, but no matter how you look at it, it simply isn’t plausible.
Expeditions are premium foils at a rarity close to that of foil mythic rares, and while they are not technically “part” of the Battle for Zendikar set, an argument can be made that they break the spirit of mythic rarity.
The price tag on lands that were reprinted as Expeditions has been unaffected. Players originally assumed Wizards’ intent was to make these staple lands more available to the public, but this was not the case. Wizards wanted a promotion that would be a fun callback to the Priceless Treasures of the original Zendikar, generate excitement for opening packs, and provide an outlet for players wanting premium foils of cards that previously did not have them.
Expeditions have had a minimal impact on the game of Magic, but they provided a momentary buzz in the community. They provided new artwork for heavily played cards, but not in a large enough quantity that everyone would have them (such as the Battle for Zendikar full-art basic lands). As such they are a special commodity that avid collectors will seek out, and a new or casual player who opens an Expedition in a booster pack will now have a means to further build his or her collection.
Everyone is happy. The secondary market is untouched, the collectors have their trophies, and local stores and players benefit.
In that way, the Expeditions were a success.
Community Question: Should Expedition Lands Have Been Printed?
So, what are your thoughts on the matter? Do you think Expedition Lands should have been printed, or no? And if so then why? Please let me know your thoughts in the comments below.
Thank you for reading, thank you for sharing,