ragavan, nimble pilferer
12, Oct, 22

According to MTG Creator, Cards Weren't Supposed to Exceed $50

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Article at a Glance

Wizards’ newest products mark what is likely a cornerstone in Magic: the Gathering’s history. For the first time, we are seeing Wizards sell a non-tournament legal product for an incredibly high asking price of $999. If this product succeeds, we will likely see products that MTG players cannot even imagine. Considering the potential impact of this controversial product, some MTG players are starting to dive into MTG’s history. It turns out that Richard Garfield, the creator of MTG, did intend these cards to age as collectible items. He did not, however, intend for players to get priced out of playing the game. In his own words, “these $40-$50 cards is going out of the ballpark.”

Magic as Richard Garfield Intended

A Reddit thread recently appeared highlighting this short interview with Richard Garfield. This video, created 13 years ago, captures Garfield’s intentions on the MTG secondary market. These cards were meant to gain value as time passed, which they definitely did. Garfield compared his intentions to those of stamp collectors:

“I wanted to see the parts collectable in the sense of stamps where, you when you go to a post office to buy stamps, you don’t expect them to immediately be worth $10 when you spent $2, but overtime, they can be special. That’s where we aimed it.”

The interesting part of this interview, however, is the conversation following the collectability of these cards. As it currently stands, Magic is way more expensive than Garfield may have imagined. Richard Garfield states here that any cards approaching the $40-50 range shouldn’t ideally be doing so for gameplay reasons:

“My intuition is that having a $20 card is about right. If these $50 cards are being driven by non-play elements, like a foil, that’s one thing. I don’t really care about that. But, for players, I don’t really see that as being a good thing. I think there’s a limit.”

Modern Horizons 2

ragavan, nimble pilferer

While I don’t think Garfield ever thought that individual MTG cards could potentially go for a Million dollars, most of these insanely priced cards are not due to playability but to scarcity. Compare this to Modern Horizons 2. This recently printed set is a direct expansion of one of paper MTG’s most popular formats: Modern. The cards in this set were so powerful that they completely took over and warped the Modern metagame. We are left with a set with multiple cards that far exceed the $50 price tag. Here are all the cards from Modern Horizons 2 that are worth more than $50 US in their cheapest forms:

  • Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer
  • Solitude
  • Endurance

The ideal $20 competitive staple that Garfield may have intended for a format as the exception has instead become the norm. Here are all the cards worth $20 or more (except for the three already mentioned) from Modern Horizons 2:

  • Urza’s Saga
  • Fury
  • Misty Rainforest
  • Scalding Tarn
  • Esper Sentinel
  • Grief
  • Cabal Coffers
  • Verdant Catacombs
  • Murktide Regent

The printing for these cards is recent enough that collectability should not be the source pushing these cards upwards. The sole reason why these cards are expensive is because of playability. According to this 13-year-old interview, prices like these would worry Garfield’s mentality about pushing players out of the market.

Read More: MTG EDH Players are Opening Faulty Product for Insane Value!

Magic as Collectables

There are two flipsides to this coin that Richard Garfield mentioned in this short interview. The first is that cards that are more expensive than $50 due to non-play elements are not cards that concern Garfield. Another issue is that cards that fit into BOTH of these categories are pricing MTG players out of playing older formats. The best example of these cards is Dual Lands.

volcanic island

Dual Lands are in a bit of a bad spot because they are potent tools pricing people out of specific formats while being unreprintable because of the Reserved List. These lands are, essentially, the best land cards ever printed in MTG. There are no other instances of land cards that give you two colors, have the basic land types and have absolutely no setbacks. Shock Lands, like Steam Vents, for example, do follow each of these, except that there’s an additional clause that requires the user to pay two life if they want to use the land immediately.

Dual Lands most notably see play in Legacy and cEDH; competitive Commander. While playing without them in Commander is not the biggest deal, you are losing out on a strict advantage by not using them in most scenarios (it doesn’t matter as much if you’re a mono-colored deck).

Legacy is a much bigger problem when you factor these in. The quality of your deck improves drastically between playing Shock Lands and Dual Lands, but so does the price. Four Volcanic Island, for example, can run an Izzet Delver player for about $2400 on average, according to TCGplayer sales. You could get a damaged playset for cheaper, but Near Mint copies also far eclipse the price offered here.

The problem here is that there aren’t any cheaper versions of Volcanic Island than this. Want to play Legacy’s most popular archetype? That’s the ground floor for entry. Compare this to a game like Yu-Gi-Oh!, where there are extremely expensive copies of a card, but there are also common copies of those cards available for less than $10. Don’t get me wrong, the game still has expensive play pieces, but prices are laughably small compared to MTG.

Read More: MTG Unfinity Cards are Already Seeing Constructed Play

Price Vs Excitability

Another topic that Richard Garfield talked about at length during this brief interview was the balance between having price points that are exciting enough to get players to open booster packs. You don’t want cards to price players out of playing MTG, but you also want there to be an element of excitement when opening these randomized booster packs:

“Now, having $20 cards is probably going to push some people out of the market, but I would want to see some compromise about a price point where the game’s exciting. It’s exciting to bust packs open because there are these valuable treasures in them but, yet, people don’t feel priced out of the market.”

What does the Community Think?

An Offer You Can’t Refuse by Dallas Williams

It’s safe to say that a lot of people agree with Richard Garfield’s commentary of the game. MTG has scaled heavily since this interview and, while the buying power of $50 has declined over the years, it’s safe to say that MTG has far exceeded those prices.

A lot of Redditors share their own thoughts in relation to Garfield’s ideology:

“It is because of the margins. Magic could be so so much more widely played, have more of a public image, and hell, even be more profitable, if it was allowed to be affordable at the higher levels.” – Goatknyht

“So many of my friends won’t even entertain the idea of their kids learning or playing magic because they feel it’s cost prohibitive and would rather spend that money on organized sports.” – Thousandshadowninja

“IMO having a good card economy is all about having the expense of the game come from treatments / variants / age but having base level copies be easily accessible.

I would argue Magic has largely gotten better about this in recent years with all the “booster fun” emphasis but sadly they still release premium products with exclusive access to game pieces that makes the base level copies too expensive. 30th Anniversary and MH sets (regarding the new cards not reprints) being the worst offenders.

Pokemon is still far better at this than magic but it’s also a bit of an unfair comparison because their player community is just so much smaller than magic so demand for base level copies is lower.” – drown_like_its_1999

With the rise of the 30th Anniversary Edition, it’s safe to say that some MTG members now feel like they are being priced out. There are cheaper ways to play MTG, like online Standard, that are more budget-friendly. That said, even those decks cost hundreds of dollars to put together nowadays. Hopefully, sometime in the future, MTG players will have access to common game pieces for more affordable prices. As Garfield ends his interview, he admits, “we’re not gonna be able to choose a point that’s good for everybody and everything but, for me, these $40 and $50 is going out of the ballpark.”

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