22, Jul, 23

Cyclic Reprints are Endangering MTG Product

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Article at a Glance

Magic has always had card cycles since day one. Certainly in the early days of the game, it made sense to give each color a different variation on a theme. Over the years, though, Magic has evolved considerably – not just in card composition but also in color pie variations and game mechanic complexity.

With Commander Masters spoilers finished, one thing ever present was the fact that if they spoiled a single card of a cycle, that effectively meant they spoiled all of the cards in that cycle. However, Commander Masters is predominantly a reprint set. Therefore, could this set have freed up space for more popular and necessary reprints in place of the least popular cards in a cycle?

I Still Don’t Know What a Cycle is and I’m too Afraid to Ask

One of the earliest card designs was the idea that each color got a single card that gave you a “three for one.” These cards were called “boons.”

The original five boons, Healing Salve, Ancestral Recall, Dark Ritual, Lightning Bolt and Giant Growth are part of the DNA of the game. The template of making a cycle of cards for each color, or color combination, has persisted over the life of the game.

Game Balance?

That being said, Healing Salve was the weakest boon on day one and Ancestral Recall the absolute strongest. So strong, in fact, that it was later changed to Unstable Mutation, never reprinted, and eventually added to the Reserved List. On a side note, damage prevention and redirection worked entirely differently back then, so even though Healing Salve was never great, it was functionally more effective way back when. The idea to have balance among the colors by giving them each a card made sense. Unfortunately, the end result was not balanced at all. To this day, three of the boons are played extensively in every format that allows them. Giant Growth is a draft worthy card at best and the aforementioned Salve is a relic of a forgotten age. Three out of five is not bad but it’s no home run.

Lightning Bolt was reprinted recently in Double Masters and Giant Growth in The Brothers’ War. Was it necessary to reprint the entire cycle of boons for these sets? Of course not!

Nostalgia?

This is Wild Mongrel, one of my absolute favorite cards in Magic. It was released as part of a cycle of 2/2 Hounds for two mana in the Odyssey set in 2001. Compared to the other Hounds, this one has unbelievably stronger. With removal cards like Shock and Dark Banishing in the format, the Mongrel could pitch any card in hand and simply not be killed. Furthermore, it worked perfectly with the Madness mechanic from Torment that allowed you to cast free Basking Rootwalla or budget priced Arrogant Wurm. Truly a perfect card at a perfect time. The only issue? This was a one out of five cycle.

The Mongrel was reprinted in Ultimate Masters alongside other synergistic cards. What wasn’t reprinted? The other barely playable Hounds from the cycle. Ultimate Masters is a good example of a reprint set meant to deliver not only financial value but also needing to include a fair amount of low cost creatures and removal to be a functional draft set. Wild Mongrel delivers on multiple levels without needing four fairly awful cards to also get reprinted.

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For the Sake of Reprinting?

It’s obvious from EDHREC popularity, the number of supplemental reprints and secondary market pricing that Jet Medallion would like yet another reprint. Ruby and Sapphire are also fairly popular as well. However, on a numbers level and from a game play stand point, the green and white Medallions are significantly worse than the other three. White generally cares a lot about white mana symbols in spells and it’s important to keep up a white mana for cards like Swords to Plowshares. Green, on the other hand, is the color of both mana dorks and ramp spells so a one generic reduction in costs is relatively bad value for most green decks.

While the Medallion cycle is not a bad one to reprint (again) it does not make sense for this product. Why not reprint these cards in Commander decks, like they’ve done twice before? Were there really not more compelling options, especially for white or green? Annointed Procession, Sylvan Library or Worldly Tutor all seem like significantly better targets for reprints.

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Speaking of Reprinting and Drafting

Stop me if you’ve heard this one. We got a reprint of The Great Henge in The Lord of the Rings: Tales of Middle-earth. Well, we’re getting another one in Commander Masters. Certainly this card has gotten absurdly expensive in just the four years since it’s initial release and it drastically needs a reprint. It’s a little weird to have back to back reprints, but this is a special art treatment specifically for LotR. In any case, this is a perfect example of a much needed reprint. The only problem? There are a ton of cards not getting reprinted in favor of bargain bin cards that see limited play, have limited potential and have no financial upside.

In this case, a lot of good lands throughout Magic’s history were reprinted as LotR box toppers. However, Commander Legends appears to have not gotten the memo. Not only are the mana bases of the new Commander decks lackluster they are also, you guessed it, cycle based.

Mark Rosewater has mentioned “Highly desired reprints are a resource that we have to allocate across our various products. Any one set only gets so many.” This may be the case, but there’s also room to be more intelligent with allocations. How about not reprinting entire cycles when you can divide those across sets?

Others have mentioned rightfully that it certainly seems like cards were reprinted simply to make drafting more stable and Mark’s answer for them is “Removing draft wouldn’t allow us to reprint more cards you want. It just gives less purpose to the other cards.” What? The purpose of cards in a reprint set is to reprint cards in high demand. Period. Reprinting entire cycles where only one or two cards are exceptionally in demand makes zero sense and obviously takes up ‘resource allocation.’

Taken separately, these statements might seem to make sense. Taken together in light of back to back reprints on some high value cards, but not others, makes me doubt whatever kind of reprint math they are using. Furthermore, why reprint a bulk rare that is under a dollar when they could instead reprint uncommons and commons, at the same secondary market price, that see significantly more play? Reprinting the entire Confluence cycle instead of Arcane Denial or Nature’s Lore seems like a poor move across the board and this set is full of these types of decisions. What would be a better way to approach this?

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The Solution?

The real solution, then, is not to reprint entire cycles of cards simply because they are a cycle. Fierce Guardianship is necessary, Deflecting Swat is incredibly high value and Deadly Rollick is a strong include in many decks. Obscuring Haze, on the other hand, is by far the least played, least popular and lowest monetary value of the free Commander spells from the Ikoria Commander decks. Is this what a high demand card looks like? No.

The next lowest value and lowest played of the free Commander spells is Flawless Maneuver. This card was already recently reprinted in the Rebellion Rising Commander deck. Those decks are in the bargain bin now. Why is this card getting an additional reprint and so soon? Why are both of these cards robbing the “resource allocation” of Commander Masters and preventing better cards from getting much needed reprints?

Historically speaking, other reprint sets have had no problem with excluding cards from cycles in favor of the best cards, the ones that see the most play, and the ones that are most useful in a draft environment. Some readers might think that if Wizards did not include some of the cards from a particular cycle that would lead to players not being happy and wondering why cards are missing from the cycle? No. What makes players happy is the chance of opening up cards they need and cards they will use, not cards that have been tested and found wanting by the MTG community at large.

No one wants to open up a Healing Salve and forcing it to be included in a set, at the expense of including another card, makes no one happy. Every card can’t be Ancestral Recall but if every card was Lightning Bolt or Dark Ritual or an occasional Giant Growth, every player would look forward to ripping open a pack a lot more.

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