Eternal Masters Bubble Header

It’s time to have a dis­cus­sion that wouldn’t fit in my main set re­view of Eternal Masters. The vast ma­jor­i­ty of Magic games are still “Kitchen Table” games, even those tak­ing place at your lo­cal game store. The ma­jor­i­ty of Magic play­ers have also nev­er been to a Grand Prix, a Pro Tour Qualifier, or any com­pet­i­tive event out­side of maybe a pre-release, the oc­ca­sion­al draft, or a Friday Night Magic. Go to a game store dur­ing the week and you’ll still see a lot of cob­bled to­geth­er decks, kept or­ga­nized with rub­ber bands, in the hands of play­ers who can only af­ford to buy maybe a cou­ple of loose boost­ers a week. To some play­ers this is sac­ri­lege, but that’s still the re­al­i­ty of play­ing Magic for a ma­jor­i­ty. It’s easy to lose sight of these facts as an ex­pe­ri­enced play­er, but we are the mi­nor­i­ty, we just punch above our weight by the amount and val­ue of prod­uct we buy.

Getting new play­ers into the game and gra­dat­ing those ca­su­al play­ers into en­thu­si­ast play­ers is the most im­por­tant process for keep­ing Magic the Gathering func­tion­ing as a game as oth­er play­ers nat­u­ral­ly cy­cle out for var­i­ous rea­sons. There needs to be a smooth path­way be­tween the kitchen ta­ble and the pro-tour with as few road­blocks in the way as pos­si­ble.

Eternal Masters, a Ramp to Nowhere

In the­o­ry Wizards is sup­posed to al­ready of­fer these path­ways with their “Ramping Philosophy.” Mark Rosewater ex­plained it thus:

The idea is that we want to cre­ate a path for some­one who knows noth­ing about Magic to be­gin play­ing, and then have a se­ries of prod­ucts that al­low them to slow­ly ac­cli­mate to the game.”

That’s a no­ble goal and a sol­id mar­ket­ing strat­e­gy, but in prac­tice this ramp only goes as far as Standard. Even then that in­cline has been made a lit­tle steep­er by the death of the Event Deck and the Clash Pack which (at their best) pro­vid­ed guar­an­teed ac­cess to much need­ed stan­dard playable cards. Eternal Masters was sup­posed to bridge the gap be­tween Modern and Legacy in the way Modern Masters was sup­posed to bridge the gap be­tween Standard and Modern, but both of these lim­it­ed print-run prod­ucts have failed to make se­ri­ous head­way in open­ing up their re­spec­tive for­mats.

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Limited print-run prod­ucts may make a lot of head­lines, but to the vast ma­jor­i­ty of peo­ple ac­tu­al­ly play­ing Magic, they might as well not ex­ist. Of course Wizards of the Coast needs to cater to en­thu­si­asts to keep top end play go­ing, I’m not say­ing they don’t, but once in a while, they need to take their head out of that en­thu­si­ast bub­ble. Taking a fresh look will help them re­alise a prod­uct that no one can buy isn’t go­ing to do them any good.

Adding to the bub­ble ef­fect is the fact that Magic the Gathering is com­mu­ni­ty made up of play­ers that most­ly play in their pre­ferred formats/places, cre­at­ing many dif­fer­ent sub-communities. There are play­ers who only play Commander, play­ers who only play Limited, play­ers who only ever com­pete in Standard, play­ers who put all their re­sources and en­er­gy into a hand­ful of Modern or Legacy decks. There are sec­tions of the mar­ket, both ca­su­al & high­ly in­vest­ed, that have al­most no con­tact with the oth­er sec­tions of the mar­ket. This is com­pound­ed when you only look on fo­rums & so­cial me­dia, as Wizards does; Wizards only gets feed­back from a tiny slice of their most in­vest­ed user-base.

Who are Magic the Gathering Product For?

In short, Magic the Gathering is a broad church, but a only small seg­ment of that com­mu­ni­ty is di­rect­ly catered to. The prob­lem goes fur­ther than just preach­ing to the choir and cater­ing too heav­i­ly to es­tab­lished play­ers; Wizards is only cater­ing to a frac­tion of their en­thu­si­ast au­di­ence with their prod­uct line. This is ex­ac­er­bat­ed when prod­ucts meant to serve a ne­glect­ed seg­ment of the mar­ket, like Legacy, are only print­ed in such low amounts to ap­pease a hand­ful of wealthy col­lec­tors and card re-sellers such as Star City Games & Channel Fireball.

Instead of try­ing to make every Magic the Gathering prod­uct ap­peal to every­one, Wizards of the Coast needs to de­cide which mar­ket a prod­uct is for and tar­get it ac­cord­ing­ly. Most of all, Wizards needs to en­sure these prod­ucts make their way into the hands of ac­tu­al play­ers. Eternal Masters is an ex­am­ple of how NOT to do this — a great prod­uct ren­dered com­plete­ly mean­ing­less by its in­sane­ly low avail­abil­i­ty. The frus­trat­ing thing is that Wizards has made strides in this area in re­cent years; their of­fi­cial sup­port of the Commander for­mat has been a re­sound­ing suc­cess, de­spite com­man­der 2015 be­ing some­what un­der­whelm­ing. Conspiracy, too, was a great ex­am­ple of how to do an un­lim­it­ed print run prod­uct that firm­ly fo­cused on a sin­gle as­pect of the game: mul­ti­play­er draft­ing.

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But the missed op­por­tu­ni­ties con­tin­ue. Modern Masters 2015 had a high­er print run than Eternal Masters, but was far too cau­tious on its reprints and over­ly pre­oc­cu­pied with its lim­it­ed en­vi­ron­ment. Wizards needs to re­alise the point of these reprint sets is first and fore­most to get bad­ly need­ed cards into the hands of play­ers where de­mand gross­ly out­strips sup­ply and avail­abil­i­ty is quite lit­er­al­ly dry­ing up.

Wizards has to re­alise it has a false per­cep­tion of what the mar­ket ac­tu­al­ly wants; if a ded­i­cat­ed play­er who fre­quents their lo­cal game store can’t even get hold of a sin­gle box of Eternal Masters, and those who do are pay­ing over the al­ready high MSRP/RRP, how is that avail­abil­i­ty meant to fil­ter down to the bulk of their au­di­ence, the ca­su­al play­er? As long as sup­ply does not out­strip de­mand, there is no dan­ger of de­valu­ing pre­mi­um prod­ucts or the sec­ondary mar­ket — the $10-a-pack price tag al­ready pre­vents the set be­com­ing bulk. The Magic the Gathering mar­ket could eas­i­ly ab­sorb a print-run or­ders of mag­ni­tude big­ger than what we got for Eternal Masters.

A Rich Man’s Plaything

If a ca­su­al play­er can’t grad­u­ate to Modern or Legacy be­cause the tools they need to do so are fi­nan­cial­ly un­at­tain­able, that places a brick wall in the mar­ket­place and in­ter­rupts that positive-ramp ef­fect. In short, Wizards of the Coast is leav­ing mon­ey on the ta­ble by not re­al­is­ing which side their bread is but­tered on and cater­ing to only the very top end of the mar­ket who have the mon­ey and con­nec­tions to get a prod­uct like Eternal Masters.

The per­ceived fi­nan­cial bur­den of sup­port­ed for­mats in com­pet­i­tive play also puts play­ers off from join­ing the game. If you’re not go­ing to sup­port a for­mat like Legacy prop­er­ly, then you need to re­place it with some­thing that ca­su­al Magic the Gathering play­ers can have ac­cess to. I’d love the see of­fi­cial sup­port for for­mats like Pauper that would re­duce the fi­nan­cial bur­den on peo­ple want­i­ng top lev­el game­play.

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The big thing I want you to take away from my ar­ti­cle is this: prod­ucts like Eternal Masters ar­ti­fi­cial­ly lim­it the size of the player-base and are out of touch with the re­al­i­ty of how most of Magic the Gathering is ac­tu­al­ly con­sumed and played. I’m a lover of back-to-basics, pull-up-a-chair-and-play Magic. I think it’s the real heart and soul of the game, even if the cards are from a mish-mash of dif­fer­ent sets and in highly-played con­di­tion.

Magic the Gathering is not about the big flashy mythics, it’s not about trade binders worth more than some people’s cars, and it’s cer­tain­ly not about keep­ing the pock­ets of un­scrupu­lous card re-sellers nice and fat. It’s about the de­sire of the new play­er who just wants to scrape to­geth­er enough pocket-money to play a trad­ing card game. That’s what dri­ves the Magic the Gathering mar­ket above all, and that play­er should be at the fore­front of everyone’s mind when flag­ship prod­ucts are be­ing pro­duced, not the small bub­ble of re-sellers and col­lec­tors.

It should be more about your pas­sion for the game and less about the con­tents of your wal­let.

Magic the Gathering Eternal Masters: Set Review
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John Sweeney
John Sweeney is a ter­ri­bly British man with a back­ground in en­gi­neer­ing. He writes long-form ed­i­to­r­i­al con­tent with analy­sis of gam­ing, games me­dia and in­ter­net cul­ture. He also does the oc­ca­sion­al video game ret­ro­spec­tive with a week­ly col­umn about Magic the Gathering thrown in for good mea­sure. He also does most of our in­ter­views for some rea­son, we have no idea why. A staunch sup­port­er of free speech and con­sumer rights; skep­ti­cal of agen­da dri­ven me­dia and sus­pi­cious of un­ac­cou­table au­thor­i­ty but al­ways hope­ful for change.