With the spoilers of MTG Double Masters in full swing, criticism over Premium product has reignited on social media. There is outcry over the inherently predatory nature of Wizards' business model and how it takes advantage of those with gambling addiction. Not to mention the fact that it seems like Wizards is telling a vast majority of its players that you're too poor to play your game to paraphrase @PleasantKenobi.
To make matters more difficult, the world is still well and truly entrenched in the COVID-19 pandemic. To release this type of high-end Premium product when many people have and are about to lose their jobs or homes seems... a bit in poor taste.
As a person who has worked in sales and business for the better part of seven years, I feel the need to evaluate these criticisms based on what we know and understand. There is no doubt that Magic discourse can be quite toxic and plenty of valid criticisms get lost in the Twitter cacophony. So I'm going to take a look one by one at the most common criticisms I see in relation to this product. My intent here is not to convince you that Double Masters is a good product worth buying, but rather address what seems to be shallow and repetitive criticisms clogging up the discourse and making the spoiler season experience unbearable. Double Masters is too expensive for the common player.
Double Masters is Too Expensive for the Common Player
This is a complaint that I agree with and can relate to, as I too would like to be able to buy all the super cool Premium product that Wizards releases. One of the largest barriers to entry in this game is the price of product, both individual and sealed.
And indeed, the face value price tag of Double Masters is quite high. Prices range between $300 and $325 per box depending on where you look. That's quite a bit for a box with only 24 packs, right? To add to the sucker punch to your wallet, Wizards is also releasing the VIP Double Masters, which are currently pre-selling for $100 a pack.
Most people are not going to be able to afford a box of Double Masters, and not just because there is a pandemic out there. $300 is a lot of money, and god only knows what the cost of a draft would've been if stores were allowed to hold them. I would imagine a draft for this would be easily around $50 or $60. That is a price that most players either won't or can't even afford. And if even the "cheapest" way for a player to experience your Premium set is too expensive, then you have a problem.
Normally I would say that even if an individual is not able to afford to buy the sealed product itself, copies of the desired cards are going to enter the market, increasing the supply and bringing the cost down, at least temporarily. Premium Masters sets are vehicles of reprints. Their sole purpose is not to ensnare the vulnerable magic player into spending hundreds of dollars. It is also to increase the supply of chase cards into the market. And for the most part, these products have given players an opportunity to have access to cards that were too expensive before.
However, if your product is priced out of the hands of a vast majority of players, then how are you going to get enough copies into the market to even have that effect? Especially when we consider the reports that stores are expecting a much lower allocation of the regular Double Masters set. At this point, we would be relying on whales and stores and whoever else is willing to spend the $300 per box on opening enough product to make up for those who are priced out of it. I cannot say if that will work, but I will say I don't like being in that position.
That being said, I still reject the premise that Premium products like VIP or a Masters set is WotC's way of saying you are too poor to play their game. These products give WotC a way to put cards that are too powerful or old or whatever to put into standard back into the market while satisfying a demand in the market. Look at what happened to standard when he had Khans fetches legal. The cost of some of the competitive standard decks were approaching modern level prices. As much as we want them to reprint these expensive chase rares into oblivion, their options on that are limited.
So yes, Double Masters is certainly going to be priced out of the hands of the common Magic player. However, that doesn't mean the common player will not see a benefit down the line. There is enough perceived value between the box toppers and cards in the set that I'm sure a lot of product will be opened.
You Could Open "Trash" and "Lose" Money
This is true for almost every single sealed Magic product. I could buy a $5 standard booster pack and open 10 cents worth of secondary market value. Which in reality, is worth actually nothing. Dud packs have and will always be part of the game. Now, it may "feel" worse if you decided to take that gamble on a VIP booster or Masters pack, but at the end of the day every sealed product is a gamble.
It is always more cost efficient for a person to buy the singles they want than sealed product.
If you are treating Magic as a vehicle for investment, particularly if you've only entered into this sphere within the last five years, I would question your sanity. You need to put in a significant amount of capital and time investment in order to turn a profit. You certainly aren't going to do that if you're whimsically purchasing product and cracking it open rather than targeting specific singles.
Without the full spoiler, I can't do a full EV breakdown on this set, but it doesn't seem to be lacking in chase cards. As I am writing this, we are in day 3 of spoiler season for this set, but we know that
Jace, the Mind Sculptor,
Mana Crypt are some of the Premium mythics of this set. Call me a shill or call me optimistic, but I doubt that the set won't live up to its price tag.
Setting aside the math and speculations of price trajectory of these cards, I would like to discuss the inherent problematic thought process behind Magic players putting so much weight to the monetary value behind the product they are buying.
THIS IS A CARD GAME. IT IS A HOBBY. TO TREAT IT LIKE SOME FINANCIAL SCHEME IS DOING YOU A DISSERVICE AND POISONING YOUR ABILITY TO EVALUATE PRODUCT AND ENJOY THE GAME. STOP IT.
Okay, got that off my chest. Moving on.
Just kidding. I would honestly like to expand here. I understand that this is a collectible card game, and that many people truly enjoy the financial aspect of the game. I am one of those people. I also understand that for many of us, if we are going to spend hundreds to thousands of dollars on something, we want to be secure that it is worth it.
However, this hyper fixation on what the secondary market value of cards has reached an unhealthy point. Most of us cannot and will not ever put in the amount of initial time and capital investment it takes to turn a profit. Not to mention, a magic card does not have real monetary value outside of the point of sale. Trust me when I say that after negotiating the price with the seller (which will be below market), paying website fees, and shipping costs, the gain you make from a flipping cards is less than you think.
They Rarity Shifted Cards Up to Inflate the Value of Their Product
On July 20th, Wizards issued a correction to the description of their product pertaining to what was in the VIP packs.
So technically, you may open a card that is normally marked as either a common or uncommon but has been rarity shifted for their borderless alt art version. Mildly problematic, but not as much as you would think. Let's look at
Pre-Double Masters, Expedition Map goes for about $4, depending on where you source it from. The Double Masters normal reprint version is at about $1.5, but its borderless version is currently listing around $40. Can you honestly tell me you think a valid source of complaint is that you might open a common as your box topper or in your VIP pack? If there's anything we have learned from Commander and other specialty product is that rarity doesn't have as much as an impact as we might initially think. Particularly if the new card art is as well done as this one is.
To be fair, I am evaluating these cards based on their presale price. That price is surely to come down as cards enter the market and people try and recoup their initial costs. However, as we have seen from numerous other premium version of cards, many of these cards will reclaim their initial value and even surpass it.
This Set Would Be Great if it Were $8 a Pack
It's Wrong to Tell Players a Product "Isn't for You"
I am not sure I understand this particular critique. Magic has an incredibly diverse consumer base and not everyone enjoys Magic the same way. Market segmentation does not mean that the needs being met by a particular product at a particular time are not valid, just that it is validating and appealing to other needs.
Take the newest announcement from today. As part of the Comic Con at Home, Mark Rosewater did a panel revealing a new kind of booster, called a set booster!
This is a really perfect example of why market segmentation is a good thing. The cards you open in a draft booster are placed with the priority being on the health of a draft. A collector booster can serve those players more interested in collectible, high end, alt art cards. The set boosters are for people who want to open packs but want to get the higher powered cards of the set. All these types of products are priced differently and made for different players. The existence of one does not negate or invalidate the existence of the others.
They Shouldn't Be Releasing This Product During a Pandemic
Since Wizards designs and prepares sets months and even years in advance, it is unrealistic to criticize them on this. However, I do believe that there is a bombardment of product and has been for awhile. While market segmentation is valid, particularly in a game like Magic where player interests are diverse, the absolute avalanche of product is overwhelming. It makes it even more difficult when chase cards are scattered throughout the product releases that would mean someone feels compelled to buy a product they wouldn't have otherwise.
They Are Taking Advantage of People with Gambling Addictions
Ok. There is a lot to unpack here but let me first just say... Stop this right now. Addiction is a legitimate and terrible thing. It is a word and state of being that is serious and carries weight. Casually throwing the word around does not make your argument stronger, but in fact undermines it. There is a difference between being financially irresponsible and having a legitimate gambling addiction. Are you in pain or experiencing anxiety because you are not buying Magic product? Are you engaging in destructive behaviors in order to be able to afford buying more Magic product, like stealing?
No? Ok then.
Secondly, this has been WOTC's business model from the beginning. Anytime you purchase a sealed randomized product, you are taking a gamble. Which is why if any one is telling you to do anything but purchase singles, you should probably not be taking any finance advice from them.
That being said, there is a lot of pressure to keep up with Joneses so to speak. The constant release of product, the ever-evolving formats themselves, and just the rush of opening packs and seeing if you got the golden ticket can easily suck a person into spending more than they would normally.
The reality is that marketing is inherently predatory, and all companies engage in it, Wizards included. They are constantly trying to answer the question of how to get you to buy something you do not need. And so yes, by extension, if a person has a gambling addiction or addictive personality, they are more susceptible to falling to these strategies. There certainly are people who spend more on this game than is wise and part of that is due to the currently employed marketing strategies. However, there is a difference between being irresponsible and having an addiction.
Double Masters isn't perfect. It comes at an even less than perfect time. While I do believe there are valid criticism out there, a lot of what has been put into the ether is overblown considering the lack of information we have and/or is a critique on capitalism in general than anything else. While that's nothing to be dismissive of, where does that actually get us? A constant and never ending cycle of product being released and then magic players being reminded capitalism sucks?
Spoilers, we knew that already.