A debate almost as old as Magic itself, the conversations about the Reserved List never stops; people argue about whether or not it is necessary, who it really serves, and what type of effect is has on the game. To be blunt, abolishing the Reserved List probably would have no major effect on the market.
Guilds of Ravnica: Mythic Edition
The conversation continually happens but has become a spotlight topic again with the announcement of the Mythic Edition of the Guilds of Ravnica expansion which is to include a “Masterpiece” set of Planeswalkers – think of them like a From the Vault (FtV) set full of Planeswalkers. This is viewed by a large portion of the community as a quick cash-grab by Wizards of the Coast – and it absolutely is. I am not sure about the size of the print run, but 10,000 of these sets would sell out in minutes and earn Wizards/Hasbro a quick $2.5M in revenue. Because of this release, I have personally seen quite a few people making the argument that this is a tell-tale sign that Wizards/Hasbro only cares about profit and therefore will soon be dismantling the Reserved List so that they can create tournament-legal products that include them and become high-priced exclusives.
Don’t get me wrong – it is definitely their primary interest as a publicly traded company to find ways to make easy money, but to this I say, “What in the world are you talking about?” The Reserved List is somewhat of a coveted policy among all Magic stakeholders (regardless of individual opinions) and is widely viewed as Wizards’ number one commitment with their intellectual property. If Wizards can so easily print money with their premium products, what possible incentive is there for them to make a move that creates massive amounts of negative public relations and removes a large portion of what confidence is left of their word? I cannot seem to find one. One might argue that it would be to support the players and give them the cards they need to compete in Legacy and Vintage events at a reasonable price.
Market Prices Will Always Have an Effect
The problem with that line of reasoning is similar to the one that asserts that this product should have been distributed through Local Game Stores (LGSes). One of the issues seen with LGS exclusive products is the tendency to instantly markup the price to current market prices at release. Even though a FtV set had a Manufacturer Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) of around $30, it was very common to expect to pay $60+ at release and possibly much more than that as the item appreciated. Let’s look at Magic’s most prized card – the Black Lotus. Pricing is difficult to place, but even a Heavily Played Alpha Black Lotus can easily fetch a price of around $10,000. If Wizards reprinted the card do you really think the price would be affected much? We’ll look at it in two different scenarios:
Wizards reprints the card in a Standard set
They would have no choice but to place such a powerful card in the Mythic rarity slot in order to prevent the set from being too saturated with it. This means that there will be a relatively low quantity of the card added to the market. Look at any high value card that gets reprinted – do the values of the originals ever sink that low? There are of course exceptions to everything, but generally speaking, older and heavily demanded cards don’t tend to be affected by a huge magnitude – that is coupled with the fact that cards at that power level are usually upshifted in rarity from their original. The effect on the original Lotus’s price would be small to moderate, but the issue that would happen is that the boxes would become much too heavily sought after and drive the price of the reprint instantly into hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars. This causes the Expected Value of the box to skyrocket and then the market price would follow; the boxes would instantly become unattainable for the general market. However, the product could be distributed another way.
Wizards creates a supplemental premium product that includes expensive Reserved List cards
Similar to the previous scenario, market pricing would instantly drive up the price of this hypothetical product. This causes retailers to, again, severely markup the price to match current market conditions. At least with a Hasbro Online Shop release, some are able to get them at their actual MSRP. This also does not take into consideration that older players or collectors will still place a higher value on the original versions of the card, especially Alpha, which helps mitigate some of the lost value.
It is easy to overlook the effect on the market until you understand why Wizards does not constantly reprint high value cards and it is a concept referred to as “reprint equity”.
Obviously, Wizards does not pack its expansion sets with cards that have high market prices. We will go over this from two perspectives – Wizards as a game designer and as a for-profit company.
As a game designer, Wizards tries to protect its player base. By not stuffing too many highly priced reprints into a set, they are preventing their product from being marked up heavily while it is on the shelves. That would keep players from buying their products and therefore harms their users’ ability to purchase their main product. On top of that, the game still needs to stay balanced, so it’s not as if a stack of random reprints can be thrown into a set. There are several factors considered when designing a set, such as power level, balance, and flavor. As the designers of a popular and complex game, Wizards cannot arbitrarily throw reprints into sets.
Now as a for-profit company, Wizards has an incentive to sell as many products as possible. This causes set designers to stretch the reprints out a little thinner between sets because that creates an incentive for people to keep buying them. I am not defending this practice as a consumer, but as a business it only makes sense to do it.
Let’s just say that Wizards decided to do it anyway. This does not mean that every heavily sought after Reserved List card would be instantly reprinted, if at all. The Reserved List is a promise not to print certain cards, but abolishing said list is not a promise that they will be reprinted. There are cards not on the Reserved List that are relatively high value and have limited to no reprints which shows a conscious decision on Wizards’ part not to reprint those cards whatever the reasoning may be. And even if Wizards decided to reprint some or all of these cards, you can bet their releases would be far apart and shifted in rarity. This leads to a small stimulus in supply, but the overwhelming demand would have little trouble absorbing this new supply and marking it up. Look at a card such as Scalding Tarn, a non-Reserved Card. It was just reprinted about a year ago and its market price still sits at around $70, which is already higher than a majority of the cards actually on the Reserved List. The thing about Magic Finance is that it tends to be more demand driven than supply driven – you can have a full set of Power 9, but if nobody wants them they’re just cardboard with ink.
So what do you think about the Reserved List, is it necessary or an artifact of Magic’s history that needs to be retired?Let me know in the comments. You can also reach out to me on my YouTube channel’s twitter account: @mtg_vc.
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