Magic: The Gathering isn’t a cheap game. This is a statement that could apply across the board in terms of ways to play it, but we’re specifically talking about the paper version here.
It’s a well-known fact that even a Standard deck will often set you back a couple hundred dollars, and frankly, it’s kind of absurd to expect people to have to invest that much money in a game just to be competitive. We think this needs to change.
A quick lesson on economics
Now, we’re not going to bore you with this bit too much, but it’s worth quickly glancing over the financial side of MTG, given the topic of this article. So, Wizards of the Coast makes money by selling boxes and packs of cards, not by selling singles (Secret Lairs excluded to a degree here). Why then, does the secondary market even matter to them?
Well, each pack and box needs to have a potential value above the amount that people pay for it in order to be worth buying. People would still buy packs to draft with, and probably still buy boxes because of the joy of opening packs. but it would undoubtedly impact how many packs are opened if the pack isn’t worth as much as you paid for it, even though that’s often the case once you’ve opened it.
As such, while Wizards doesn’t directly benefit from the price of cards in the secondary market, they do still need to keep cards above a certain level. Otherwise, they’ll lose sales on their end. While it’s nice to imagine Wizards as a company that cares about the game above all, they’re still a company at the end of the day, and they do need to make money as well as make a good game.
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Does MTG actually have scarcity?
Yes, we said we’d get the finance bit over with quickly, but this all needs explaining, and hey, sometimes it’s good to learn stuff. Now then, the secondary market is based on supply and demand; if there are only three cards out there, but nobody wants them, then they’re worthless, even if there are thousands of cards out there, if twice that number are after the card, then it’s worth a lot more.
Scarcity in MTG is weird, because it’s effectively not actually a thing, at least not an organic one. While the cards on the Reserved List have legitimate scarcity, and the inability to reprint them also means that all of those cards will eventually decay and therefore disappear from the game entirely, most cards in MTG don’t actually have real scarcity.
Instead, what we have is whether or not Wizards are going to reprint something, and how much of that thing they’re going to print. If Wizards wanted to, they could literally trash the value of the game and make every card cost less than five dollars, outside of the Reserved List, by simply printing more of the boxes that those cards come in, or by specifically releasing boxes filled to the brim with cards that cost a lot.
Why cards should cost less
Right, with all of that out of the way, let’s get into this. As it stands, MTG is pay-to-win. You might not like hearing it put like that, but let’s use an example. If you’re playing with an aggro deck that costs $500 and your opponent is using the same strategy but only has a budget of $50, even if you’re the exact same skill level, you’re going to come out on top of that 9/10 times. That’s not because you’re a better player, but because you’ve been able to invest more.
There are entire formats completely locked off for the vast majority of players because the decks are too expensive. If you tell a new player that the best format in the world is Vintage, that’s completely irrelevant unless they’ve already got a house to sell to fund it. These more expensive formats are inherently gatekeeping, and it sucks because the formats would be far more lively with more people in them.
When you take away the cost of the game, the game is still fun, but it’s now accessible to far more players. Everything then really is down to skill, and you can argue that someone’s financial investment in the game is indicative of their commitment to it, but that’s utter nonsense. MTG would have far more players if it was cheaper, and it would also encourage a lot more people to not only get into the game, but also experiment. We’ve no idea how many fun decks are locked in the heads of people who can overcome the paywall that MTG places in front of all of us.