Earlier this week, Wizards of the Coast made major waves when they announced their plans for the 30th Anniversary Edition release for Magic: the Gathering.
To celebrate 30 years of the world’s first trading card game, WotC was going to go back to the early days of Magic, by reprinting hundreds of classic cards from the early days of Magic. Legendary cards such as the famously valuable Black Lotus are going to be available for purchase once again and with their original artwork intact. It seemed like a great way of honoring the game’s history, and in seeing how far the game has come since 1993.
The only issue? The cards would not be legal to use in sanctioned Magic events, since many of them are on the game's Reserved List. Oh, wait. That's not the only issue. A set of four booster packs will cost $999.
Needless to say, fans of the game did not take this news very well. Magic players took to social media to express their incredulity at the extraordinary price. A post on the main Magic subreddit has more than 2,000 comments, almost all of them negative. Positive reactions seem pretty few and far between.
When you set aside the initial reactions and the vitriol, however, is this offering really that bad? Well… yes, it is. But it’s not entirely bad.
Let’s take a look at the pros and cons, and see how WotC could have made this celebration a lot more celebratory.
On a conceptual level, reprinting these long-lost cards is a great idea.
Many of the newly-reprinted cards, such as the hilariously chaotic Chaos Orb and all of the Mox cards, are either banned or restricted in most competitive formats, and some have not been reprinted in an extremely long time. If you wanted to get your hands on an actual printed Beta Black Lotus, for example, you would have to pay more than $40,000 for it. These reprints aren’t substitutes for the more-valuable originals, but they would represent an accessible alternative for lots of contemporary casual players and collectors.
Many are complaining because the cards included in the 30th Anniversary Edition are not tournament-legal, but really, this is only a major negative when combined with the exorbitant price. The fact that these cards are not tournament-legal are THE reason WotC can bring back so many of these cards that would otherwise have never seen the light of day again. There’s nothing inherently wrong with a celebratory set that’s only for collectors, or for unsanctioned play for that matter. I personally would rather see these cards in this format than never see them again.
One detail that I greatly appreciated was how each WPN store is getting a free display, with premium stores getting three. With more than 6,000 such stores in existence, this is how a lot of these booster packs are going to be distributed into the world. I can see a lot of these $250 booster packs being given away as coveted prizes for in-store tournaments. This is partly ruined by the fact that each display only has four packs in it, however. Those boosters are not going to go a long way for any individual store.
Let’s not beat around the bush: the $999 price tag is horrendous.
With four booster packs per display, that’s $250 per pack. An entire box of Dominaria United boosters of any kind costs less than a single 30th Anniversary Edition pack. With each booster pack containing 15 cards, that gives us an average cost of $16.67 per card, which is even more expensive than the cards found in most Secret Lair drops (those tend to run approximately $10 per card).
The cost alone would be bad enough, but what makes it even worse is that spending the full $999 will leave your collection woefully incomplete. When you spend $30-50 or so on a Secret Lair drop, you know that you’re at least getting the entirety of that drop (certain astrology sets notwithstanding). The full 30th Anniversary Edition set consists of 297 cards, each of which has two different borders, along with 16 tokens. Anyone who would want to collect a full set of these cards would likely be dropping tens of thousands of dollars to do so. Meanwhile, the people who are only buying a single display are rolling the dice on what will be in their packs. If I’m going to be spending a thousand dollars on 60 Magic cards, I had better get exactly what I’m hoping for.
I’ve seen a handful of takes on Twitter suggesting that this is actually a good product, as it allows WotC to target collectors directly without affecting the game itself.
I emphatically disagree, and furthermore I think these takes are entirely missing the point. WotC should not be trying to target collectors with this event. This 30th anniversary celebration of the world’s most popular collectible card game should be something that everyone can access and enjoy.
For comparison, in the game Destiny 2, developer Bungie recently celebrated their 30th anniversary by giving all players a free new multiplayer activity and weapons, while additional celebratory content would cost players $25 to unlock - not a small amount of money, but something that’s within reach for most players. Additionally, Rock Band 4 is celebrating its seventh anniversary by giving everybody three free songs.
Magic: The Gathering’s anniversary celebration should be more INclusive and less EXclusive. Only targeting collectors with lots of money to spare seems extremely tone-deaf.
What could have been
It’s likely that one big reason for the high cost is the fact that this is a limited print run. With 30th Anniversary Edition, Wizards of the Coast is basically rolling out a new set with all of the production costs associated with that, but without the widespread sales that usually make up for those costs. Everything is more expensive when it’s done in smaller quantities. This leads us to a new possibility: why not ramp up production and make this a full print run set?
This may sound strange, but hear me out on this.
I think this collection of cards would make for a delightful limited-only set. There could be in-person and online draft tournaments where players can experience what the early days of Magic were like, with no attempts to rebalance the cards for the modern day. It would be different, it would be fun, it would be pretty silly, and it would feel like a true celebration that all Magic players can participate in.
Then, once the celebration is over and we’ve moved on to another set, everyone who participated will still have their collector’s items to keep. They could keep the alternate backs on the cards, enforcing that none of them are tournament-legal in any other setting, and the core game would not suffer one bit. This would make this anniversary release feel more like a massive festival, instead of an exclusive gathering at the WotC country club.
It’s unclear if WotC will be changing any of their plans, despite the heat that they’re currently getting from all corners of the Internet. With the set being released next month, it may be too late for them to pivot and make any changes, which would make for a much sadder 30th anniversary celebration.
Here’s hoping there are some changes going forward, and this turns out to be an anniversary that everyone can properly celebrate.