Saturday, January 12, 2013

Rare Magic Cards and Numbers Extant

Whenever the reserved list comes up in the Wizards forum the same old argument is revisited: for as long as the early very rare and most playable cards-for example, Black Lotus, are not reprinted, some of the most broken and storied cards in the game will not be played by the vast majority of Magic players. The format that allows a single Black Lotus to be included in a deck is the Vintage Constructed format. Suffice it to say that very few players in Magic play Vintage. There are some who play Legacy, in which almost any card can be played, but the Black Lotus is banned. Even Legacy gets very little play.

[The Black Lotus is the most famous Magic card. The power nine are the nine cards that are considered to be the most powerful and famous cards ever issued, with the Black Lotus being one of them. There is a tenth card that has been added (Library of Alexandria) and that is why sometimes you will come across the term Power Ten]

Its a fun conspiracy theory to think that Wizards has a massive stockpile of cards, especially from the Power Nine (P9), that they can release on command. This is very unlikely. The company may have a vault with a dozen Black Lotuses....maybe, and that would be it. There is a very long history in stamps and coins with examples of why the stockpile never happens: its because in the early years Wizards needed to sell the cards for its very survival.

The 1000 Black Lotuses sitting in the garages and attics of the world is another impossibility. By the basic rules of rarity almost every human being that is within the same building as a Black Lotus, has searched through their cards, found it, and done something with it: sell it, keep it safe.

Most likely, the total number of Black Lotuses extant is approximately twice the number of those that can be easily traced, if that.

...and I guess I should explain a little more about the collecting viewpoint:

There is "type" collecting, in which all Black Lotus printings are bunched into one and have any to represent it check the collector's box. Anyone who defends the reserved list is effectively a type collector.

There is "explicit" collecting, in which each printing of the Black Lotus is a "thing" to collect, and no matter how many more are reprinted, the demand is always there for the original alpha and beta printings. The latter group has no use for the reserved list.

In stamps and coins type collecting is less prevalent than explicit collecting, and that is why I was saying that anyone coming from those hobbies to Magic has no use and will not understand the need for a reserved list (and I am one of them).

...and fleshing this further, if the type collectors are also those who play Vintage competitively, then what we have is a very small group of current players in a format keeping a very large number of potential players out of the format by defending the reserved list. If this is what is really going on, Wizards will have to decide which players to keep happy: the current small number of Vintage players, or the potentially very large number of future Vintage players if the P9/P10 were to be reprinted in large enough quantities (say, equivalent to current expansion Mythic Rares).

As Magic moves into a longer-running game, in order to keep the total number of players on the increase, each of the formats needs to be kept alive by a supply of playable and accessible cards. Standard is the cash cow right now. Modern is half-dead and Modern Masters should help it be something like Standard. Legacy and Vintage are pretty much non-existent when we do the population ratios (10,000,000 players versus, say, 10,000 players is 0.1 percent). Something could be in the corporate plan to help Legacy if Modern Masters succeeds, and then if the Legacy product that boosts the format works, next will likely be the revamping of Vintage, maybe even with new cards only for that format that will diminish the relative power of the P9. And of course, the P9 would have to be reprinted.