This entry is part 3 of 10 in the series Community Contribution

Preface: For those of you unaware about how Yu-Gi-Oh! cards are printed, as of when I played, there were five rarities. They were common, rare, super rare, ultra rare, and secret rare. Each level added something shiny to the card. Commons were just ink on cardboard, rares had silver card names, super rares had foil art, ultra rares had gold card names and foil art, and secret rares had fancy shiny sparkly card names and sparkly foil art. I have no idea what’s been going on in Yu-Gi-Oh! for about five years.

Let me give you a brief history of me and CCGs. I started playing Magic way back during Odyssey block. A few friends had some cards and taught me to play. Their interest in Magic quickly waned and I hopped around in a few different groups of friends that played until no one I knew really cared about Magic anymore right around the release of Mirrodin. However, several of my friends had been playing Yu-Gi-Oh! for a year or so and we had been waging war trying to recruit each other.

Trust me, this article will say something useful about Magic eventually.

Long story short, I lost to numbers (though a few years later in Ravnica, they all decided Magic was way cool and Yu-Gi-Oh! sucked). So I started dumping my meager spending money from my high school job into Yu-Gi-Oh! cards. I had a bunch of super cool looking, powerful, and shiny cards like Mirror Force and Harpies’ Feather Duster. As I continued to play the game, I noticed the cards I had worked hard to buy were being sold in $15 (or whatever cheap amount they cost) pre-constructed deck tins. The decks were terrible, but they almost always had several really good cards reprinted in the tins; we are talking about staple level super, ultra, and even secret rares. This was infuriating to several people I played with, and at times to me as well. But I was glad to be able to pick up the staple cards I needed to make my decks competitive even if it was several months after the release and there were newer staple cards I could not afford play-sets of.

How was this system fair to the collectors, speculators, and the players of Yu-Gi-Oh!? Why bother pre-ordering a play-set or buying a full collection of the set?

The cards were always printed uglier. Upper Deck made sure when they reprinted valuable staple cards that the original retained some intrinsic value, because it would always be the nicest looking version of that card. For example, Monster Reborn (more or less an Animate Dead) was originally an ultra rare. When it was released in a tin, it was printed as a common, so everyone knew if you were the guy that has everything or the poor bastard just looking to have some fun with cardboard. This if the (only) way in which Yu-Gi-Oh! was better than Magic. Upper Deck reduced barriers to entry for players that were willing to be several months behind. You can’t afford that new $30 staple? Wait until Christmas and there will be a tin with it and five other cards you really wanted for half the price of that one.

Not only did this approach benefit the player base, but it had to have made Upper Deck more money. Once a product is out of its packaging, game publishers make exactly $0 every time that card changes hands. Upper Deck made sure to capitalize on selling more product; simultaneously giving their players more access to good cards and retaining the value of the original collections because the reprints were always uglier. I’m sure if I decided to pick the game back up today it would cost me an arm and a leg, but getting early expansion staples like Mirror Force ($2 for the common printing, $14 for the original) is trivial compared to picking up a Tropical Island.

I know WotC promised a bunch of people they would never do something like Chronicles again and made the reserved list. The reserved list serves only to price players out of formats (Legacy has skyrocketed lately and Modern is already as costly as Legacy was two years ago). Decklists costing hundreds to thousands of dollars only makes vendors money and helps speculators get off. The company that makes the game people are clamoring to play makes $0 unless they begin supplying the desired cards again.

Unfortunately WotC doesn’t have the same convenience Upper Deck had in making sure the precon printings would be substantially less valuable than the original since the only difference in our rarities is the color of a silly little symbol. They could do something awful like print a card with the title Tropical Island and the oracle wording on an all white, art-less card. I think players would sufficiently hate that to maintain the original card’s value, but who wants a magic card with no artwork? I would build an ugly-ass legacy deck if it cost me $100 and most of that went to my LGS and WotC instead of super-retailers like Star City Games. Perhaps WotC would increase tournament attendance, maybe even resurrect dead formats and make money while they do it. It would also reduce the barriers to entry many people are beginning to feel even with casual formats like Commander.

Another issue with the WotC printing policy surfaced with the release of Worldwake. Each time a Magic set is sent to production, a limited number of cards are printed and then they move on. There was an enormous demand for more Jace, the Wallet Emptier, and Worldwake packs were sold out nearly everywhere while it was still a current set for limited play. Clearly there was high demand for Jace. WotC could have capitalized directly by printing a pre-constructed deck containing Jace or they could have put in a priority order to get more packs of Worldwake on the shelves. Why should they care if one set is printed, sold, or opened more or less than another? If you have customers demanding a product, you have an opportunity to be making money.

Pre-constucted decks are a valuable tool in creating a game with lower barriers to entry and an expanding player base. Arbitrarily manipulating the game economy in favor of super-retailers and speculators with a reserved list, limited print runs of sets, and not re-printing cards for flavor reasons (why would something Vendillion be on Mirrodin?) does not benefit the game of Magic. While the banned list is another means to manipulate they game economy, a card should not be banned solely because WotC cannot figure out how to reprint it. Upper Deck has made sure to use the tools at their disposal to keep Yu-Gi-Oh! open to more players while selling more product and making more money. And that is how Yu-Gi-Oh! was better than Magic.

I still hope that one day WotC will give a huge middle finger to super-price-fixing retailers and speculators everywhere, side with regular gamers, and print whatever will make their game be played more.

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