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Conspiracy Can Be Our Salvation, If We Let It


Over the past couple of years, one of the most prevalent conversations in the Magic community has been about the expense of the game (especially for older formats like Modern and Legacy) and the need for mass reprintings to bring down the cost of important eternal cards. There is very little doubt that the cost of Magic has exploded over the past several years as the game has increased in popularity. Even cards that were printed near the beginning of the mythic era in the Shards of Alara and Zendikar blocks are in woefully low supply compared to the current player base, which leads to some insane situations where players are force to pay $20 for uncommons and $10 for commons to complete competitive Modern decks. Of course, this isn't even considering the immense cost of building a Legacy deck, a format where a deck like Storm—a good bellwether because it hasn't undergone any massive changes or added many new cards—has doubled in price since 2013, from $1,250 to $2,500. 

It's easy to forget that the game wasn't always this expensive. Five years ago, Underground Sea was under $100, and as recently as 2013, it was in the mid-$130s. While spending $500 or $600 on a playset of a land is a lot of money, today you're looking at nearly $1,500 for just a playset of Underground Seas. The same is true of Modern uncommons and commons like Serum Visions and Inquisition of Kozilek, both of which increased by around 500% in just two years, going from "expensive for their rarity" to "is it really worth it?" 

Of course, there's a simple solution to this problem—reprint the cards to increase the supply. Wizards knows this, the players know this, and everyone know that this is the way to control the price of cards. The problem is that even though this conversation has been happening for year, Wizards hasn't really shown a desire to mass reprint staples from older formats. While cards do get reprinted, most of the reprintings happen in sets and products that don't do much to solve the price problem. To understand why past reprint attempts haven't been all that successful, we need to look at the two major ways Wizards has reprinted cards over the past few years (this is discounting random supplemental products like Commander decks, which do decrease prices, but typically contain few (or even no) chase constructed cards).

Masters Sets

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Now, it might not be completely fairly to label "Masters" set reprintings as a failure. If you look back over the prices of the reprinted cards, you'll see that being reprinted in Modern Masters or Eternal Masters does decrease prices and help limit further price spikes by increasing supply, but in most cases, these reprintings don't go far enough. Players aren't looking for Tarmogoyf to go from $200 to $150 or Force of Will to go from $120 to $90; they are looking for $50 Tarmogoyfs and $30 Force of Wills. The other issue with Masters sets is that they have been an endless source of complaining from the player base for a whole bunch of reasons. First, with the original Modern Masters, the major complaint was that the supply was too low. It was pretty much impossible to get a box or pack for anywhere near MSRP or even at all, in some cases. While this is a fair criticism of the set, it's also true that Wizards was just dipping its toes in the reprint waters for the first time since the Chronicles disaster, which isn't a justification for the lacking supply but rather an explanation.

With Modern Masters 2015, one big issue was the price increase. While supply was still limited, Wizards opened up the floodgates a bit more—if you wanted a box of Modern Masters 2015, you could get one pretty easily for around MSRP, which certainly was not the case with the original. However, the MSRP jumped from $7 per pack to $10—a change that wasn't well received by the player base, despite the fact that MSRP doesn't really mean much for limited supply sets (see: the From the Vault series). However, the biggest issue with Modern Masters 2015 was that the set contained a lot less value than the original, especially at the lower rarities. As a result, the perception formed that Wizards would make a great set but make it extremely limited in supply, so that nobody could get it for a reasonable price, or make a relatively lacking (and at the very least, extremely high variance) set and print it enough that everyone could buy it for near MSRP. Neither of these options is really all that appealing for players, and neither is ideal for decreasing prices. 

All things considered, the biggest problem with Masters-series reprints is the lack of supply. While these sets do decrease the prices of many cards to some extent (and often temporarily), the supply just isn't high enough to have the long-term impact that most players are looking for in their reprints. 

Standard-Legal Reprints

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Wizards also took a stab at reprinting some powerful eternal staples in Standard-legal sets, highlighted by Mutavault, Thoughtseize, and the fetch land cycle. On the surface, Standard reprints seem like the solution to the price problem, since the supply is massive. You can always buy boxes for MSRP, sets get redeemed from Magic Online, and the prices of really expensive cards normalize. 

Remember back in the intro that I talked about how the underlying problem with card prices is the growth of the game, where we have a Rise of the Eldrazi player base amount of Inquisition of Kozileks for a Shadows over Innistrad-sized player base (which is likely at least 100% greater, and possibly even more)? Basically, what happens is the Magic family has doubled in size, but the parents are still trying to get by on the same amount of groceries, which leaves a lot of hungry children. Standard reprintings fix this problem. Suddenly, Thoughtseize goes from a Lorwyn player base supply to a Theros player base supply (actually, an even greater supply than the average Theros rare, thanks to the original printing), which is how $60 cards become $15 cards. Better yet, these reprints fix the supply problem for a much longer period of time than limited supply reprintings. Thoughtseize is still dropping in price, and Mutavault is essentially the same price as its post-rotation low years after rotating from Standard. 

Unfortunately, Standard-legal reprints have their problems as well. While players loved the opportunity to get Thoughtseize and fetch lands on the cheap, there were still a ton of complaints, mostly because people didn't actually like playing with (or against) these cards in Standard. People were running polls asking how much Thoughtseize is ruining Standard, while Mutavault showed up in every Standard deck and ruined the format by making it too expensive. And if you think these complaints were rough, the fact that fetch lands created the most expensive Standard in modern history, spawning not just endless complaining but articles and even parody articles, really ratcheted up the bad feelings. With all of these reprintings, the initial reaction from the community was positive, with everyone being happy that the prices of some really powerful and important eternal cards would drop; after a few months, the chorus of "boos" drowned out the good feelings about the reprintings and priced decreased. 

Now, this might come as a surprise, but Wizards does actually listen to the community more that just about any other company on the planet (and sometimes too much, because we don't always really want what we think we want). As a result, Wizards had backed away from these types of reprints altogether, stating that Modern staples are simply too powerful for Standard. While I don't necessarily agree with the statement (I think that there are plenty of Modern staples that would be fine in Standard), it's really hard to blame Wizards for backing away from these reprints, since the community reaction ended up being so negative. 

Conspiracy: The Third Way

This brings us to Conspiracy 2. Based on the original Conspiracy, I wasn't expecting much in terms of important reprints. While everyone knew that cards would be reprinted, the "chase" reprints from the original Conspiracy were fringe Legacy cards like Exploration, Pernicious Deed, and Misdirection and some Commander favorites like Mirari's Wake, Edric, Spymaster of Trest, and Altar of Dementia. We had a single card that I would consider a true Legacy staple (even though it has declined in popularity recently) in Stifle, and we didn't see a single meaningful reprint for the Modern format. 

It's not that the original Conspiracy reprints were unsuccessful; actually, these were incredibly successful at bringing down the prices of the reprinted cards. Not only did all of the major reprints drop significantly in price, from $15, $20, and even $40 down into the $5 range, but it's been two years, and apart from some very slow growth in casual staples like Altar of Dementia and Reflecting Pool, prices haven't really increased at all. That's the beauty of Conspiracy—it has the supply of a Standard-legal set (without any concerns about power level or the price of Standard). It's literally the perfect spot to reprint cards if the goal is to make a meaningful dent in their price, not just for a couple of months but for the long haul. As such, it's not that the original Conspiracy reprints didn't work; it's that the reprinted cards simply weren't all that meaningful for constructed formats. Based on this, I was expecting more of the same from Conspiracy 2—a handful of fringe Legacy cards, some Commander staples, and not much else. 

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As a result, it was fairly shocking to see Inquisition of Kozilek and Serum Visions among the Conspiracy 2 previews. Inquisition of Kozilek is the fourth most played card in all of Modern, and Serum Visions is 11th (not to mention Birds of Paradise, which is less important financially because it has a million printings but a Modern staple nonetheless, coming in 39th on the most played list). These are cards that are near the top of every Modern player's wish list in terms of reprinting. It wasn't that long ago that we were paying $100 for a playset of Inquisition of Kozilek despite a (meaningless) event deck reprinting, and $15 each for Serum Visions—absolutely absurd prices for an uncommon and common. In fact, it had gotten so bad that Thoughtseize was literally the budget substitute for Inquisition of Kozilek.  

All by themselves, the reprintings of Inquisition of Kozilek and Serum Visions in a set with supply akin to Standard-legal, expert-level expansions would be hugely important and represent a massive philosophy shift from Wizards, whose recent reprint sets have been either extremely limited in supply or lacking in value. However, Wizards went even further, literally packing Conspiracy 2 full of value. 

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While the original Conspiracy contained some expensive Legacy cards, none of them come anywhere near Berserk in terms of price. In fact, Berserk alone is worth nearly as much as the big reprints from the original Conspiracy put together. And that's not even considering Show and Tell, the $50+ sorcery that makes many powerful combo decks in Legacy tick by cheating Omniscience or Emrakul, the Aeons Torn into play. Meanwhile, Burgeoning is quietly $30 based on extremely low supply and casual demand, while both Phyrexian Arena and Burning Wish are fringe constructed cards (Burning Wish is close to a staple in Legacy), commanding about $10 per copy. 

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Beyond the reprints, there are a ton of potentially expensive new cards, which will help eat up the expected value of the set and drive down prices. While I'm hesitant to take current prices too seriously based on the prices of the new cards from the original Conspiracy, you can argue that all of these cards are better (and potentially more eternal playable) than any new card from the first Conspiracy outside of maybe Dack Fayden (Council's Judgment is good but almost exclusivly a one-of, while Recruiter of the Guard and Sanctum Prelate are much more likely to find homes as four-ofs, if the pan out). As a result, the current value of Conspiracy 2 is off the charts—we've never seen an high-supply reprint set with this much value before. 

Right now, the average value of a Conspiracy 2 mythic is $18.08 at retail prices. Consider you'll open an average of 4.5 mythics per box, that's just under $81 in mythics alone. As for the rares, even counting every rare with a retail price of $1 or less as valueless, the average value is $3.36, meaning you'll get another $105 in rares from a box. And remember, this is counting cards at their new prices, so Berserk is $60 instead of $100 and Burgeoning is $15 instead of $30. 

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Now, these numbers aren't designed to encourage you to run out and buy a box. While it is looking likely that boxes will be plus EV at current retail prices, the main takeaway here is that the prices on these cards are going to drop and drop hard. This isn't Modern Masters or Eternal Masters, where extremely limited supply caused prices to do funky things; you'll be able to buy Conspiracy 2 at big box stores, and even though the set is oozing value (we didn't even talk about the chase uncommons like Beast Within ($4.99), Ghostly Prison ($7.99), and Serum Visions ($2.99)) boxes are still readily available at MSRP and likely will be for the next year or even more. This means that Conspiracy 2, like a Standard-legal set, will have to get to the point where the value of the cards in the box are worth less than the box, which means we'll see prices drop 50% or more from current presale prices, which are already meaningfully cheaper than the original printings. 

We Need to Do Our Part

Considering how amazing Conspiracy 2 is for all of us who have been asking for powerful and expensive reprints in sets with large supply, you'd think that the Magic community would be overflowing with joy regarding the new set, but this isn't exactly true. In fact, I've actually heard quite a few complaints about Conspiracy 2, and I've even made a couple myself. One thing that worries me is that, much like reprinting Modern staples in Standard-legal sets, if we complain too much, Wizards simply isn't going to print another Conspiracy 2-type set, and to rein in prices, what we really need is Conspiracy 2 more often, like every year often, rather than less often or not at all. So, let's talk a little bit about some of the most common complaints I've heard about the new set and the reprints within. 

1. Inquisition of Kozilek shouldn't be a rare (and other rarity upshifts). I started with this one because I'm as much (or more) to blame as anyone else. Now, in all fairness, I think this is true. If you look back over the history of one-mana targeted discard with some type of restriction, it has always been uncommon (Blackmail) or even common (Duress). Of course, Inquisition of Kozilek itself has always been printed at uncommon, most recently in the Modern Event Deck, where rarity was just semantics, since the supply of all of the cards was the same, regardless of the printed rarity. It's a worrisome trend that every constructed playable card gets bumped in rarity whenever its reprinted, and Inquisition of Kozilek is just another step down that path. So, all in all, I'm still holding to the my belief that Inquisition of Kozilek should not be rare. 

On the other hand, I'm starting to regret making a big deal about it, because it won't have a huge impact in the real world. Yes, based on some purist, old-timey view of Magic, Inquisition of Kozilek is an uncommon, but the big deal here is that Inquisition of Kozilek is going to be cheap—incredibly cheap. I would expect that, considering the value packed into Conspiracy 2, it will dip under $5 in the not-too-distant future, and it's not impossible for it to fall closer to $2.50. If it had been uncommon, it wouldn't be considerably cheaper, so in reality, the "it should be uncommon" argument doesn't especially matter, apart from the precedent it sets. The bottom line is that, even though I think Inquisition of Kozilek is an uncommon, I would much rather have it reprinted at rare than not be reprinted at all. If a bump in rarity is what it takes to get more supply of these cards, it's a trade-off worth making. 

2. Inquisition of Kozilek doesn't fit the flavor of Conspiracy 2 (and another "flavor fails"): I'm a big supporter of the idea that Magic means a lot of different things to a lot of different people, and while I have become more in tune with the Vorthos aspect of the game over the past couple years, I'm still very far from a flavor person. As such, I don't want to tell anyone they are wrong for disliking the flavor aspects of Inquisition of Kozilek in Conspiracy 2, because this view is perfectly valid. 

On the other hand, we all have to make concessions for the greater good of the game, and it might be that Conspiracy is the place where the Vorthos community has to make a few concessions. The problem is that there really isn't a high-supply way to reprint a card like Inquisition of Kozilek while also meeting all the flavor requirements. Wizards clearly thinks the card is too powerful for Standard, pulling it from Battle for Zendikar block after initially putting it in Oath of the Gatewatch, so the one "perfect flavor" reprinting spot is off the table for other reasons. Of course, it could be put in a Masters set where flavor isn't really a consideration, but we've already talked about how Masters reprints really aren't good enough to keep prices in check. 

I would argue that having some number of off-flavor reprints is a necessary evil, because there simply isn't a way to reprint some cards in an effective yet flavorful manner. All in all, having $5 Inquisition of Kozileks for the next two years will have a much more profound, positive impact on the game than any damage that being a bit off flavor might cause. The same thing holds true for draft purists who think of Inquisition of Kozilek as a "bad" limited card (which it is in general, but especially in a multiplayer format). Isn't having a few "bad" limited cards a fine trade-off for having more accessible constructed formats?

As I mentioned before, my big worry here is that if we complain too much about these little things and forget the greater good that's happening, Wizards will listen to us, and we'll lose one of the only places to get mass reprints of these type of cards. 

3. Conspiracy 2 is more "Eternal Masters" than Eternal MastersI've seen a ton of people complain about this, but in reality, this is a great thing. A product that has the supply of a Standard-legal, expert-level expansion but with cards like Eternal (or Modern) Masters at "normal" MSRP is exactly what we've been asking for. Sure, they could have put Berserk in Eternal Masters at mythic and it would have dropped from $100 to $60, and technically it would have made Eternal Masters a "better" set (assuming it replaces a low-tier mythic), but isn't it better that Berserk is a mythic in Conspiracy 2, so that it ends up at $30 (and quite possibly even less)? We should encourage Wizards to put as many expensive reprints in Conspiracy as possible, not discourage it so they can put more expensive cards in super-expensive, super-limited sets like Eternal Masters that a huge percentage of the player base won't buy anyway because of the price tag. 

4. Wizards is just doing it for the money. First off, I'm sure this is mostly true. That is pretty much the entire idea of a business. Sure, they are filling Conspiracy 2—a set with a lot of draft-centric rares, Conspiracy cards that aren't legal in other formats, and weirdness that won't be playable in constructed—with powerful and expensive reprints so that they sell boxes and turn a profit. Agreed. But why is this a bad thing? This seems like one of those situations where Wizards' goal of making money lines up perfectly with the goal of many players (to have mass reprinting of expensive Modern and Legacy cards). This is a win-win. Wizards gets to sell product and make money so they can keep making us more Magic cards, and we get dirt-cheap copies of Modern and Legacy staples. This is what we want to have happen on a regular basis. So, rather than grumbling that Wizards is making money, we should be thrilled that they were willing to throw caution (and a lot of reprint equity) to the wind and make a set like Conspiracy 2

Conclusion

Wizards does listen to us, and sometimes our endless complaining gets us what we want, and then we realize that it wasn't really what we wanted after all. A great example of this was the Modern Pro Tour, which Wizards returned to the schedule after a lot of pressure from the community, and then the Modern Pro Tour ended up causing a bunch of semi-rational bannings, Eldrazi Winter, and a whole bunch more complaining. Of course, I'm talking to myself here as well, since I love to complain as much as the next Magic player, so don't take it personally. 

The bottom line is this: a set that is unlimited in supply and stuffed full of expensive staples is exactly what we've been requesting for years. Conspiracy 2 is one of these sets and hopefully the first of many. Wizards is (finally) doing its part with mass reprints that will impact the prices of Modern and Legacy staples (not to mention random Commander and casual cards), not for a month or two but for years. Now, we have to do our part and be happy and enjoy playing with the cards. What we don't want to do is nitpick away at Inquisition of Kozilek at rare, random flavor failings, how we opened a "bad" (but expensive) card in our draft, and other fairly trivial aspects of the set. If we do that, we risk Wizards listening to us again and killing the golden goose that can lay the reprint eggs we so desperately need. 

Anyway, that's all for today. As always, leave your thoughts, ideas, opinions, and suggestions in the comments, and you can reach me on Twitter @SaffronOlive, or at SaffronOlive@MTGGoldfish.com.


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