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If You Are Not Happy with the State of Magic, Stop Giving Wizards Your Money


 In just the past week, we've had two new uproars in the Magic community. First, Wizards released a tepid and likely unhelpful banned-list update for Standard, featuring just Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath, when most of the community felt like Omnath, Locus of Creation was a bigger issue and that even if Wizards had refused to ban a chase card from its newest set, at a minimum, multiple cards needed to be banned. Second, just hours after the B&R update, Wizards announced a crossover Secret Lair drop featuring characters from The Walking Dead, but unlike past Secret Lair drops (which were reprints with new art and borders) and past crossovers (which were either silver-bordered or done in the style of the Ikoria Godzilla cards), the new The Walking Dead cards are brand-new tournament-legal Magic cards that can only be acquired through the Secret Lair drop, meaning the only release of the cards will be in a time-limited product. If you decide you need The Walking Dead Secret Lair cards after the clock has run out on the drop itself, your only option will be to buy the cards on the secondary market, potentially for a very high price. Given Wizards' unwillingness or inability to say that it will be able to reprint these cards, it can even be argued that the new Secret Lair drop marks the creation of a second Reserved List. 

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Of course, such uproars have been a common occurrence in the Magic universe over the past few years, and they almost always play out the same way. First, Wizards does something the community perceives as unwise, predatory, or otherwise harmful in Wizards' never-ending thirst for profits. This includes things like charging double for wildcards for Historic on Magic Arena (and in reality many parts of the Arena economy), printing exclusive cards outside of regular sets, cutting prizes and other aspects of organized play, choices on what gets banned (and what doesn't), $100 VIP Boosters from Double Masters and much more.

Second, the community freaks out with endless articles, videos, tweets, and Reddit posts about how unwise, predatory, or otherwise harmful Wizards' actions are to the game and the community.

Third, Wizards may or may not respond to the outcry from the community. In rarer cases, Wizards may even walk back the decision (see: Historic cards costing double the wildcards on Magic Arena). 

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Fourth: the community, despite its misgivings, buys the unwise, predatory, or otherwise harmful product, giving Wizards fistfuls of money and sending a clear message that even though we might complain, write angry emails, and post seething YouTube videos, the decision probably wasn't so unwise, predatory, or harmful after all. Then a few days, weeks or months later the process repeats itself.

The truth is that Wizards and Hasbro don't especially care what you say about them. They exist for one reason: to gobble up as much of your money as possible. You can yell from the rooftops about how horrible their decisions might be, but as long as you're running to your computer to pick up the latest Secret Lair drop and preordering the latest mastery pass on Magic Arena, you can send all of the snarky tweets and angry emails you want. They have your money, and you are now the proud owner of a product that you found unwise, predatory, or otherwise harmful. They won.

If you're not happy with the state of Magic or the decisions being made by Wizards and Hasbro, the only real way to send your message is to stop giving them your money. The only language that big corporations speak is dollars and cents. If you want your voice to be heard, you need to speak their language. 

As a Magic player and lover of the game, it's easy to forget that Wizards of the Coast is a business. Hasbro is an even bigger business. They exist to make money. Period. Since many of the individuals who make up Wizards are Magic lovers and Magic players too, it's easy to think of the corporation itself as a friend. It's not. Corporations (and Wizards is no exception) are soulless, greedy monsters. Friendship to them means that for two bucks, they'll beat you with a pool cue until you have detached retinas. Thankfully, over the past 25 years, Wizards' goal of making money has mostly aligned with the community's goal of having Magic be a fun game. Wizards creates formats we enjoy playing and makes cards for us to play in those formats. In turn, we give Wizards our money to play with those cards. Everyone is happy. Everyone wins.

At the very least, this was true for most of Magic's existence. While there were mistakes along the way, even during down times, it was always clear that Wizards knew that the best way to achieve its goal of making money was to make the best game possible. If you make a game that is so fun and so good that millions of people want to play it, the money will naturally follow, not just for the next weeks or months but for years and decades.

More recently, it feels like something has changed. Maybe it was Hasbro putting out a bunch of money to build Magic Arena and wanting to see return on its investment. Maybe it was long-time CEO Greg Leeds getting booted for Chris Cocks in 2016. Maybe some other Hasbro franchises doing poorly put increasing pressure on the ones performing well to pick up the slack. It's hard to say with certainty, and it could be any or all of these things, along with many others. Regardless of what caused the change, at least from the outside, it feels like, today, rather than making the greatest game possible and trusting that players will reward it with profits as a result, it seems like Wizards' primary focus is to squeeze as much money out of the community as possible as quickly as possible. The actual game of Magic? The cards that make up the game? Those are inconsequential. 

This might sound hyperbolic, but when you actually start to look at the last several years of Magic, it's hard to feel like Wizards or Hasbro cares about the actual game of Magic all that much. Before getting into all the gory details, I should say that when I say "Wizards "or "Hasbro," I'm talking about the organizations themselves rather than the individuals who make up the corporations. I have no doubt that most of the people working for Wizards care deeply about Magic (and probably don't care that much about money. It's well known that Wizards pays many of its employees below-market wages and can get away with it because, for some people, working on your favorite game is a dream job, which makes money is a secondary concern). 

So, why does it feel like Wizards / Hasbro doesn't really care about Magic and only cares about making short-term profits? The list is depressingly long.

First and perhaps most obviously, the quality of Magic cards themselves has greatly degraded over the past few years, with most set releases being marred by stories of expensive foils curled like Pringles. Despite paying lip service to the problem, years have passed, and we're still dealing with the same issue. The only reasonable conclusion is that Wizards / Hasbro doesn't care to fix the problem (considering that foil curling wasn't a major problem before the last few years, we know that Wizards knows how to print high-quality cards—it did so for 20 years before the current issues came to be). While the reason why isn't exactly clear, an easy and safe guess is that it costs more to print higher-quality cards. Since the community keeps giving Wizards money (even while complaining about the quality of their cards), there isn't any reason to improve the product. If Hasbro thought it would be more profitable to print Magic cards on used napkins pulled from a dumpster behind Taco Bell with an underpaid, Magic-loving intern, I have no doubt that it would.

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Second, we've seen nearly all Magic constructed formats suffer greatly over the last few years. The last year or two specifically were especially bad, with Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis ruining Modern post–Modern Horizons, companions taking over literally every format before their unprecedented errata, Oko, Thief of Crowns dominating Standard (and most other formats) in a way never seen before by a planeswalker, and seemingly monthly Standard bannings. While these problems might not impact kitchen table casual players playing formatless Magic for fun, for Spikes, other deeply enfranchised players, and most digital players on Magic Arena and Magic Online, the instability of formats has been a huge problem. Beneath everything else, we play Magic because it's fun, and most formats have at least gone through periods of not being all that fun over the past couple of years, and we've had some periods of time where you could argue that most or all formats were broken and unfun at once. 

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Perhaps an even bigger issue format-wise is that Wizards' attempts to fix the formats have either been too slow (Hogaak Modern, Oko Standard) or just flat out haven't worked (with Fires of Invention's banning leading to Wilderness Reclamation's dominance and Wilderness Reclamation's banning leading to Omnath, Locus of Creation's dominance and Omnath, Locus of Creation's dominance leading to the banning of Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath, for some reason). Traditionally, this would seem like a huge problem for Wizards, but as best as we can tell from Hasbro's quarterly statements, Magic's profits keep increasing. When you can print exclusive, time-limited Secret Lair drops and release a new product every couple of weeks, the money will keep flowing, even as players step away from actually playing the game. It's pretty clear at this point that Magic's profitability isn't closely tied to the health of the game and its formats, at least in the short term, which is a problem. If Wizards makes just as much money when its game and its formats are unstable and at times arguably unplayable, then why bother trying to balance formats? 

Of course, there is a huge question as to what will happen over the long term. While it's possible that Magic's profits can keep increasing as the game itself declines for a few years, it seems like eventually, some players will move on to other hobbies and pursuits. If the community crumbles, streamers and content producers move to other games, and players no longer have a coherent organized play system to strive toward, then will people keep buying Secret Lair and other supplemental products? My guess is that the answer is no. Over the long term, being a fun, playable game is a prerequisite for selling Secret Lair drops and other supplemental products. Perhaps I'm wrong and Magic has turned into an IP-licensing vehicle rather than a game, and the game itself no longer matters, but this seems unlikely. While Magic has an extremely dedicated fan base, many of whom are arguably addicted to the game, sooner or later, many players will hit rock bottom and perhaps seek help and move onto other healthier relationships.

Third, based on the combination of bannings and cards seeing print, it does feel like Wizards' current design strategy is to print cards that are so powerful that they are either clearly or potentially harmful to the game itself because these cards look good on the front of a booster pack or booster box and help to sell products. In just the past few days, it seems like the community has mostly come to grips with the fact that Wizards wouldn't (or couldn't) ban cards from Zendikar Rising in Standard, even though banning cards from Zendikar Rising is necessary to make the format enjoyable and balanced simply because those cards are currently selling booster packs and draining wildcards from accounts on Magic Arena. When you add in how long it took for Wizards to ban newly printed cards like Oko, Thief of Crowns or Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis even though they were dominating their respective formats in unprecedented ways, we have what looks like another clear example of short-term profits (selling more Zendikar Rising, Throne of Eldraine, or Modern Horizons today) trumping the traditional slow-and-steady plan of making the game as good as possible and trusting that profits will come as a result.

And all of this doesn't even consider things like the state of organized play (a muddled, confusing mess, rather than the envy of the gaming world it was just a few years ago), tournament coverage (which, at this point, is mostly a meme of production issues, adult-themed pop-ups, and people relieving themselves), and declining Twitch viewership (even when adjusted to account for Wizards inflating the views of major Arena tournaments last year by embedding the stream in various websites as a form of advertising). 

Despite all of these issues, if Hasbro is to be believed, Magic is more profitable than ever (they essentially stated as much during yesterday's live stream that was so poorly received the comments are now turned off on Youtube), and it is expected to continue to become even more profitable over the next few years. This is because no matter how bad things get in our favorite formats, no matter what sketchy things Wizards does with the Arena economy or how many Secret Lair drops is prints, we love Magic, and we keep giving Wizards our money, trusting that the new bannings, the next set, or the next rotation will be the one where Wizards has a revelation that the path it is currently walking, while profitable in the short term, will very likely lead to destruction in the end and changes course. Even as I'm writing this article, I'm waiting for my booster box of Zendikar Rising Collector Boosters to be delivered and planning a Commander Clash episode featuring the legends from the Walking Dead Secret Lair drop, addicted to and feeding the beast that is Hasbro just like everyone else, even as I watch decision after decision that I believe could greatly harm the game I love over the next few years.

This isn't a call to boycott or anything like that. Even if it was, what's the point? A cardboard crack addict isn't going to give up their drug of choice. Instead, this is just a reminder to the community: your words, tweets, videos, and Reddit posts mean little to Wizards and less to Hasbro. All they see is the bottom line. As long as profits keep going up, it doesn't matter if customer satisfaction is going the other direction. Complain all you want, but what truly matters is where you decide to spend your money. If there is a product or decision that you feel crosses your personal line, the only way to send that message to Wizards and Hasbro is by voting with your wallet. Everything else—the tweets, videos, rants, posts, and emails—is just noise, lost in the splashes and shouts of the big pool of our money in which Wizards and Hasbro swim.

Conclusion

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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