Sunday, June 11, 2017

Make a Single Change, Test it

(Updated to reflect Metamorphoses 2.0 from Mark Rosewater June 12, 2017)

Yeah, that simple. That's the one and only principle Wizards should have followed. And here we are. Standard is still not fun. Aetherworks Marvel into Ulamog; gg. And we are already past a whole slew of bannings.

I want to shift from the negative to the positive. Next week there are supposed to be many announcements by Wizards. Here is what I hope to see:

1. (will happen Summer 2018) A core set no later than Summer 2018, or a product that serves the function of the missing core set. It does not have to be a core set, it just needs to do what the core set did, which is to provide a slew of simple cards for new players, and to keep the broken strategies in the expansions in check.

Actually, there is no No.2 for me. I am not clamoring for the undoing of the reserved list, and I am happy with all of the other products I will never buy, such as the $10 reprint sets. Oh, wait, I thought I was shifting to the positive.

2. (as expected, will not happen) A recalibration of the Modern and Legacy reprint sets to $4 packs instead of $10 packs. I know this will never happen because Magic does have a core of players who are willing to spend $200 to $300 on a newly issued booster box of classic reprints. To date, I have bought zero packs of any of the Modern Masters sets, Conspiracy, or Eternal Masters on paper.

And here we have an example of a missed opportunity, at least from my own troll-wannabe perspective. I spend about as much money as what many spend on Modern Masters and Eternal Masters exploring other TCGs, especially Yugioh, just because I can't see myself paying $10 for a pack of Magic reprints. I love to crack packs, but not $10 packs, and I don't care what's in them if I am paying $10. It's a psychological price point I cannot reach. It's like paying $20 for a hamburger. No, I am not doing that.

Wizards cannot listen to me here. I can only state that this is what I do, and maybe there are enough Magic players out there who could make Wizards as much money as they make out of $10 reprint packs if they went to $4 reprint packs. I don't see this happening, which means that I will continue to pass on reprint sets, except online.

If I am correct, as TCGs have matured, and TCG players have aged, there are more players like me. I am not a one-TCG player. I am a multiple-TCG player. I play and collect Magic, Pokemon, and Yugioh. I have dabbled in Cardfight Vanguard and the now-defunct World of Warcraft TCG, and I am also dabbling now in Force of Will (not the card, the TCG). In this multi-TCG world, Wizards needs to compete differently than it did when it could count on most of its players only playing their TCG. I think even five years ago, if Magic entered a rough spot, players would take a break and not play any other TCG. I am willing to guess that today, instead of taking a break from Magic and playing nothing, the same players will switch to other TCGs, and in some of those cases, not come back to Magic. As the big three TCGs mature, taking a break from one means focusing on one of the others. And there isn't a hierarchy here. It's not like all great players drift to Magic, and all scrubs drift to Yugioh. With three very mature TCGs, a good player with money to spend can get the same 'fix' in Magic as he/she can get out of Yugioh or Pokemon.

Magic continues to have the advantage in the Local Game Store (LGS) segment of the TCG world, but with the rise of online play, I see this segment getting smaller in the years to come, which is a shame, because face-to-face play is fun, even with the occasional cheating that goes on in the paper world. The casual market that is fueled by online play is the elephant in the room. Unless LGSs install computers and people go to an LGS to play MTGO, the LGS is in a slow decline to obsolescence.

What does this mean? This means that Wizards can no longer design sets in a vacuum that ignores the existence of other TCGs. The most important change that Wizards will need to make in this new, multi-TCG environment is to be price-competitive for reprints. Wizards needs to shift from premium reprint pricing to reprint pricing that matches the price of Standard sets. And until this happens, I will pass on every single reprint set on paper no matter what cards are in it. I can always play those cards on MTGO, and I can even play reserved list cards on MTGO.