So Magic: The Gathering has done the unthinkable, it has brought me joy and then straight back to anger, I am currently FURIOUS at Hasbro and Wizards of the Coast, the idea that I maxed out all of my mother’s credit cards purchasing the once-in-a-lifetime Fortnite Secret Lair cards, and now the companies are planning to release something even more amazing. How the fuck is someone supposed to keep up with all these fantastic cards and investment opportunities of a lifetime?
But we obviously need to mention what is going on here, because even if you are a long-time fan of Magic: The Gathering, you may not be familiar with the “Alpha” and “Beta” print runs, which collectively act as the first release in the history of the trading card game, featuring some of the series’ very most memorable pieces of cardboard, and which for a number of reasons, have never been officially reprinted in anything amounting to a significant quantity, until now.
The copyright holders of Magic are celebrating thirty years of creating goods and services in exchange for capital by doing exactly that, effectively reprinting their Beta set in the form of a “30th Anniversary Edition“, because it is thirty times more expensive than the typical Magic: The Gathering product, giving speculators and whales the opportunity and thrill of putting their cards in a plastic sleeve and then allowing them to sit untouched in a storage cabinet or facility, due to the fact that playing or even staring at them could potentially impact their resale value.
Mr. Hasbro has once again recognized that nobody actually plays Magic: The Gathering anymore, and much like the ancient Indian predecessor to chess, the rules and mechanics of Magic are mostly speculative and presumed. I tap the “Island” card with my finger and it does not produce a raindrop. So because of this, the real game is now in using printing presses to mass-produce an artificially-scarce product, on the path to a world where white nerds think they can put their children through college if they open one more pack and find that delicious Black Lotus.
The trading card industry is the perfect example of the psychological impulse that one will work harder for a reward if they do not know what the actual reward will be, and the games of luck and chance that were once relegated to unscrupulous establishments in Democratic-controlled states have now become the foundation for physical and digital toys, a society that cares deeply about the fragile state of my mental health, because there is significant sums of money to be made off of it.
So quite shockingly, in a world where businesses are playing for the Donkey Kong world record, but with their revenue reports, the unpaid interns who weren’t even alive when Magic: The Gathering was launched have now discovered that it is possible to increase year-to-year operating revenues by printing trading cards which share the names of other cards — cards which have commanded significant amounts of money throughout the years — and then randomly inserting those new cards into new releases.
So like most things that Wizards of the Coast has done in the last thirty years with Magic, this Anniversary Edition is being seen by the die-hards as a little bit of a “jumping the shark” moment, much like that thing the company did two weeks ago, and that other thing the company did four weeks ago, hopefully to be commemorated with a limited-edition Secret Lair card that states the player cannot be attacked by creatures without flying, depicting Urza as he water-skis up and over a hungry merfolk.
But even at a time when there are too many Magic: The Gathering releases and way too much physical product, Anniversary Edition has found notoriety beyond the norm by acting as the most flagrant assault on the infamous “Reserved List”, a list of cards Wizards of the Coast pinky-swore that they would never ever print again, in order to preserve their market value for the hoarders. It’s the timeline where Harry Potter never gets a Second Edition because it would threaten the value of my First Edition, which then threatens the value of my First Edition because there’s no Second Edition that will give new audiences an appreciation for the First Edition, you dumbasses.
Enough of the obvious, however, because everyone involved in the production of Anniversary Edition is side-stepping those questions by claiming the cards will not be legal for use in the officially-sanctioned tournaments which drive value for chase cards, and particularly the open-rules “Vintage” format where genuine Alpha and Beta cards are a mainstay, reminding me of that “old-timers” softball league where you are only allowed to compete if your bat was used in a Major League game played before the twentieth century.
So as you can imagine, these events are predictably calling into question the concept of scarcity and rarity in a world where scarcity is now mass-produced, and even children can “own” the rarest and most valuable cards, provided they have a blank playing card and a felt-tip marker. It’s a world where unauthorized Chinese companies can now create Magic: The Gathering reprints close enough to the real thing that all my friends are wondering how I managed to get four copies of the rare Fred Flintstone card where he is smoking Winston cigarettes.
So with cheaper and easier options for playing Magic: The Gathering than there have been at any point in the history of the game, it’s not hard to understand the other reason for the controversy of Anniversary Edition, where long-running fans of the series have been driven to conniptions by the idea of a trading card set that retails for two-hundred-and-fifty dollars a pack, featuring cards derided by players as “proxy cards” that are “not real”, because they cannot be used in those tournaments.
But nevermind how everyone on Reddit should be forced to take a beginner philosophy class at gunpoint or forfeit their participation in society — and then be shot anyway, because they post on Reddit — because those familiar with the sports trading card industry can only be surprised that this course of events did not play out sooner for the pre-eminent collectible card game, where we drop the pretense that the cardboard has any intrinsic value, on the path to a high-stakes form of gambling that depicts the heroes of my favorite athletic universes, now at prices reaching over a thousand dollars for a single pack of cards.
So in this instance, baseball cards have become the time-traveler that was warning us about the future of Magic, I would compare the modern sports card industry to a drug hit, but “compare” is an inappropriate word, because the whole business relies on the same neuropathways and channels that drugs do, I think, maybe. It’s a world of paper and cardboard where the most insane psychological experiments first resulted in “inserts” and “parallels” and “refractors”, to cards featuring cut-outs of historic and rare sports memorabilia, on the path to the destruction of items autographed by American presidents.
There’s absolutely no more damning an indictment of the times than a 21st-century mass-produced trading card set that features one tiny piece of a 19th-century artifact, and on the path to creating a trading card that features a tiny piece of Thomas Baseball’s legendary baseball bat, constructed from the wood used in his crucifixion, you finally realize that the Taliban’s destruction of artifacts and landmarks from antiquity would have been better received if they had simply called it a lucrative business opportunity and sold the rubble on a store shelf.
So the result is a little like the first time that you boot up Diablo and you experience the ones and zeroes and visual assets that amount to a “rare item”, it’s the coolest goddamn item that you have ever seen in your life, you want to show it to all of your friends at the Nerd Academy, until days later, when you are knee-deep in Legendary Epic Relics and you have driven the Treasure Goblin population to extinction, and you finally realize that you should probably do something better with your time.
Which is to say that it’s no longer enough to destroy one baseball jersey on the path to a trading card that allegedly celebrates baseball culture. Destroying one baseball jersey is now blase and routine. You need to destroy two baseball jerseys. And then four. And then eight. And then you need to reprint the most famous cards in the history of Magic: The Gathering, because you’ve created so many short-print cards that “foils” and “Mythic Rares” no longer get anything more than side-eye.
The result is that everything becomes garish and offensive and ill-conceived on the path to the drug hit, and then eventually, the drugs stop working. The sticker shock of Anniversary Edition will wear off, the price point will become the expectation for the new drug hit, potential and former fans of the game will get priced out and move on, while a tiny percentage of gambling addicts will be exposed for exactly what they are: Great customers who are committed to the intellectual property of Hasbro and their affiliates.
So for those of you who think this is the moment that Magic: The Gathering has officially run its course, just know that we are probably a handful of years away from the Magic card which features a piece of an actual Black Lotus, or a trading card that is actually autographed by Omnath, Locus of Creation. Fortunate for all of us that it is unlikely to happen soon, given that Omnath is currently in prison on federal weapons charges and will not be seeing daylight or landfall for a very long time, due to his incarceration at an off-shore facility.
But until that moment, 30th Anniversary Edition will represent will the high point in Magic history for a fool and their money, until members of the Hasbro corporate board realize that even if there are fewer and fewer fools who are willing or able to play a game of financial chicken, the remaining fools will be committed to the excessive acquisition of paper goods that have been determined valuable by other fools in a consumer market. So some of you will complain and then pay up like the cowards that you are, and the rest of you will happily chow down.
As for me, the hope is that I’ll have paid off the significant debts that I acquired from purchasing the Fortnite Secret Lair cards, and by the time I sort out my credit rating, I’ll be raring and ready to go for the Magic: 37th Anniversary Edition celebration, just in time for Omnath’s parole hearing.