Mishra, Eminent One
1, Nov, 22

MTG’s Latest Commander Product Is Causing Controversy

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Article at a Glance

For better or worse, there is no doubting the impact that Commander has had on MTG in recent years. Following a steep rise in popularity, Commander has become arguably the most popular format in MTG. Subsequently, Wizards has sensibly reacted to appease this devoted player base. Later, we have recently seen more Commander-focused products than ever before being released in recent years. More often than not, these products have been welcome additions to MTG’s release calendar. However, not every product can be as wildly successful as the Warhammer 40,000 Commander decks. The upcoming Commander decks for The Brothers’ War are one such example. Despite being a few weeks away from release, these preconstructed decks are already upsetting players with their controversial design. 

Retro Tinted Glasses

As a set that goes back in time and revels in the history of Magic: the Gathering, Wizards is releasing many retro-inspired products for The Brothers’ War. In the set, for instance, players will be able to get their hands on Retro Artifact cards in every pack. Schematic and serialized versions of these cards are also available to make them even more special and exciting. Beyond being much-requested reprints of essential and interesting Artifacts, each of these Retro Artifact cards features the classic retro frame. With many cards seeing this retro-inspired card frame for the first time, these artifacts are expected to be expensive. Despite it being wonderfully nostalgic for players who predate 2003, not all fans love the retro frame reprints that Wizards have been indulging in. Subsequently, The Brothers’ War Commander decks have been receiving a surprising amount of hate online. 

In a divisive move, Wizards of the Coast is only printing The Brothers’ War Commander decks with the retro frame. That has understandably upset many MTG players who don’t like the look of the retro frame. Subsequently, this move has quickly turned away many potential customers from the product. Reddit user u/ImpendingSingularity stated, for instance, “I hate the old frames too so I’ll pass. But happy for the old timers who like it.” Following the announcement of the entirely retro-framed product in September, these “old timers” were eager to show their support. Reddit user u/The_Giant_Moustache eagerly stated, “woah, big fan of this. I wasn’t interested in them beforehand, but now….” At the time, this sentiment was echoed through a remarkably positive Reddit post. Since then, however, it appears that opinions about the forcibly retro-infused Commander decks have soured. 

It’s Retro or Nothing

Recently, Magic: the Gathering’s Lead Designer, Mark Rosewater, has been beset by players complaining about the new old retro frames. Kicking off this trend, Tumblr user blaze-1013 stated, “please don’t do another product all in old frame.” In their question to Rosewater, blaze-1013 noted that while it is a neat throwback, they “find it really hard to read a lot of the cards,” so much so that it’s straining their eyes. Following this complaint, Rosewater turned the question back on the community, asking, “how do people feel about the retro frames.” This, in turn, revealed a lot more players who were dissatisfied with the look of retro frames and their prevalence. 

To try and defend the seemingly hated cards, fans of the retro frame quickly took to their defense on Blogatog. Question Mark, beeodoresknees, for instance, stated that “just so you know, some people are really looking forward to opening a product produced entirely in the old frame.” Similarly, alexgids442 lept to the defense of Retro frames, claiming that “the Brother’s War commander decks being completely in retro frame made then an instant preorder for me.” Responding to alexgids442 Rosewater revealed that, somewhat surprisingly, personal preference isn’t the problem. 

Clearing up the situation, Rosewater explained that instead of personal preference being the problem, “the issue being raised is more this. Alternate frames are great. It’s cool that there are different aesthetics for cards, and players can opt for the look they like. Magic, though, should have a suitable default that players can always have some access to. To some players, continuity of look is an important aesthetic choice, so they always want to have the ability to access the default version. That’s the issue being raised.”

A Surprise Statement

While Rosewater’s response touched upon a valid point and a growing concern within the MTG community, some players felt that it was a little disingenuous. Tumblr user crossingpaths, for instance, stated, “this honestly rings a little hollow for me considering other choices the company has made. If that’s the case, then shouldn’t this same mentality also be applied to Universes Beyond and allowing the option for players to opt into MTG or non-MTG properties on their cards if they so choose?” 

While Universes Beyond Secret Lair Drops have been promised Universes Within reprints, not all Universes Beyond products are getting the same treatment. For instance, the Warhammer 40,000 Commander decks and Tales of Middle-Earth Draft set are notable exceptions. Notably, Wizards have stated time and time again that they reserve the right to make select Universes Within reprints. Many players aren’t satisfied with this approach, however. Just as some players don’t like retro frames, others don’t like Universes Within cards due to their unique aesthetic. 

Unfortunately, despite Rosewater’s statement, this approach won’t be changing in the immediate future. Responding to crossingpaths, Rosewater stated, “we are making far too many Universe Beyond cards to be able to make two versions of every card.” This may not be what players who hate Universes Beyond want to hear, but it is for good reason. “At bare minimum, we don’t have the artist bandwidth to do it (let alone the cost and other logistical issues).” These issues aren’t nearly as prevalent for alternate frames, with Rosewater stating, “making various frames is well within our abilities.” 

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