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Before I do my first set review next week, and whilst I take some time to see how Battle for Zendikar will effect standard, I thought I’d take some time out to discuss some of the various mishaps and controversies that have plagued the release period of this set. Stories of allocation issues, price gouging, and downright dishonesty with the editorial at one of the most high profile sources of Magic the Gathering coverage and sales have all come to light. This is — once again — going to be an article more critical of Wizards of the Coast, game stores, Magic coverage, and the big card retailers, but if you’ve put up with me thus far I’m sure you’re used to my style of independent coverage.

Allocation Frustration

Stores not getting their full allocation, getting late product, or griping about their allocation is nothing new. These problems happen on some scale with every set release, and the proverbial show always goes on. Widespread reports about this have popped up this time around — unlike than the last few sets. It didn’t help that there were confusing messages being passed from Wizards of the Coast to game stores; with some being told print levels had been lowered by around a third — a claim I am very dubious on to say the least. And a claim that a PR person may have simply pulled out of their arse to appease an angry store owner after they only received “only 9%” of the fat-packs they were promised.

One store in Australia reportedly had their entire allocation re-distributed between other stores to make up a short-fall. Many similar stories have been circulating on social media with varying degrees of verification. It’s hard to tell what is and isn’t just normal friction between supplier and store, and the problems haven’t been sufficient enough to delay a large amount of pre-releases and events, but it would still be nice for Wizards to ensure they can meet demand for one of their core products. Not to don my tinfoil hat, but the launch of Battle for Zendikar seems to have been marked by a period of false scarcity in order to take advantage of the players willing to pay over the odds. Especially when you consider the next story.

Fat Packs of Cash

It’s an open secret that fat-packs usually don’t sell terribly well. They have long been the awkward middle child of Magic products; with booster boxes providing a significant discount on price per booster-pack. This means fat-packs only have a single print-run, and often languish in stores long after they’ve outstayed their welcome. You can generally pick them up once a set is on the wane for below MSRP/RRP. But when someone puts in a few full art lands suddenly everyone loses their mind!

Fat-packs have been routinely selling for upwards of £50 in the UK and $60-$70 in the US; a significant increase over their usual price, and ludicrous for an unlimited print run set. The only part of the product that has altered is the inclusion of 80 full-art basic lands. These packs are being treated like they are already an out-of-print set by stores looking to cash in. Honestly, it’s pretty much everyone doing it. Which is disappointing.

Let me beat you over the head with this: full art lands are going to be borderline worthless over time, and this price-hike has been done by cynical stores wanting to make a quick buck trying squeeze every penny of perceived value out of this set. Battle for Zendikar is probably going to beat sales records; every new set is the biggest set ever as Magic expands. As I explained in my “Fetch Lottery” piece, print-runs have gone up dramatically in size since the days of the original Zendikar. Full art lands are going to be some of the most common set-specific lands in Magic history. Every single booster-pack of the set opened puts another full art land into the marketplace; every fat-pack puts 89 full art lands into circulation.

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I think this is a short-sighted move by local game stores, and a cynical ploy by the big online retailers who have a massive allocation. They are acting to artificially inflate the price, and not engage in competition. If your local store is doing this then I would question their loyalty to the fans who keep them going in leaner times. This is a problem completely separate from Wizards themselves. We don’t know how big the print run was for these fat-packs so I can’t really fault them for under-printing them when we simply don’t know what the case is. I was hoping we could all get our fat-packs, and our nice amount of full art land, and people would calm down, but it seems we just can’t have nice things.

Both the professor from and Tolarian Community College and Jason from MTG Headquarters covered this topic very well — albeit one more politely than the other. Do not pay over the list price for a Battle for Zendikar fat-pack. It is just not worth it. The price of the land in singles is low, and not worth the extra money being charged for the fat-packs. You can get the 80 lands singularly for significantly lower than the price difference. It’s also worth noting that in the US, stores like Target and Walmart are selling the fat-packs for their proper price. So avoid the price-gougers at all costs. I would echo Jason’s raised middle finger.

Channel Fireball Buries Negative Coverage

On September 21st, 2015 Magic the Gathering Hall of Famer Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa published an article on Channel Fireball entitled “Everything That’s Wrong with Battle for Zendikar.” When a player with nine Pro Tour top eight finishes says he has reservations about the quality of a set, I sit up and listen. It’s a great article, and Paulo obviously has an excellent grasp on Magic mechanics and design so it’s well worth a read.

I was initially pleased with the refreshing change of pace from Channel Fireball. This is the kind of honest Magic coverage I want to see more of. Then the bullshit started.

First the date of the article’s publication was changed to September 16th, arguably in order to move it off the front page of Channel Fireball’s website. The site has since changed the date back to the correct date, but comments have been removed from and disabled on the article — plus it still hasn’t reappeared on Channel Fireball’s front page. There has been no official explanation other than the matter has now been “resolved,” whatever that means, and speculation is still rife about the circumstances that led to this occurrence.

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Gee, who could have predicted that the large card retailers were not the best people to be providing the most high-profile coverage? I mean what kind of genius could have foreseen Channel Fireball and Star City Games simply favoured hyping card-sales above all else and that editorial integrity and basic honesty would be an afterthought? Sometimes I feel like Doom Paul, and I should walk around a Magic Grand Prix with a mortarboard telling people they “should have listened” and “you could have prevented this.”

In all seriousness, I’ve noticed some people make these same points about Magic the Gathering coverage. The MTG criticism focused blog Kill Reviews has talked in the past about a “negativity shaped hole” when it comes to Magic the Gathering; a hole I am doing my part to try and fill.

A site that is a card retailer and has a close relationship with Wizards deliberately burying coverage critical of a product about to launch is exactly the kind of incident we can point to in order to show how untrustworthy the coverage from these outlets can be.

I wanted to get all the issues surrounding the set out of the way in this piece so I am able to judge the set purely on its own merits. Especially when you consider most of these problems are not directly Wizard’s fault, and it wouldn’t be fair to mark their product down because of some of these issues. An informed consumer is a better off consumer, and I think we can’t simply sweep controversies under the rug.

Equally I’m not trying to ruin anyone’s fun. The events surrounding a set can be important. They should effect your purchasing decision like with any product, but if you can avoid the bullshit, and just play some Magic then more power to you.

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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.