Collectability is at the Heart of Magic: The Gathering
“Magictating” is defined as getting into the zone with your Magic the Gathering collection--thinking, planning, organizing, reminiscing about past games, and imagining future games. It is a combination of hard thinking about the game and calm meditation, reveling in the joy it brings you.
The furor developing over Jeweled Lotus is absolutely overblown. Now, before I move into things more, I’d like to share with you that my wife believes me to be a company man. Every time Wizard’s farts crossways she feels that I am all for it. She might be right, but it is not because I automatically agree with my MTG Overlords. I simply find myself rationalizing things from my own perspective, and I often arrive at a place where I’m either OK with what is going on, or I’m very excited about what is going on. I have been disappointed and I have disapproved, but not so much lately. I would like to go over why people are getting upset, explain why these reactions are misplaced, and expose the misunderstanding that is at the heart of these feelings.
I’ve heard several people calling Jeweled Lotus’ pre-order price unprecedented, but what about that incident in Ikoria? Didn’t we just see Spacegodzilla, Death Corona pre-selling for over $300. We did, and the price has since tumbled. The Godzilla card is only an uncommon, after all. Having a card that sells or pre-sells for over $50 isn’t as uncommon as you might think. In the past it’s been more a gamble on which cards would balloon up beyond that price point after release. However, with collector boosters and new extended arts and foiling treatments, it is easy to see why some cards can command such a high pre-sale price point. Complaining is, unfortunately, not new in the Magic: the Gathering community. Complaining about new things is actually something Magic players are notorious for. Whatever it might be, you can be assured there’s a vocal online portion of the Magic community that has plenty to say about whatever is bugging them. Not that complaining is wrong, but I feel that people are complaining for all the wrong reasons. The issues people keep having with Magic is not Magic’s problem, but rather the players’ inability to work with a fundamental aspect of the game: collectability.
To be clear, I don’t think it’s wrong to hype a set. I don’t think it’s wrong to release “pushed or exciting new mythics. I don’t think it’s wrong for Wizard’s to make money off a set. I don’t think it’s wrong to make some cards more collectible than others. I actually believe all of those things are essential parts of what makes Magic: the Gathering a multi-generational game.
Building a collection is part of the Magic: the Gathering journey. Playing and collecting are both parts of the game. I believe the dissonance that people have about Jeweled Lotus is really a dissonance that has come from their inability to reconcile that this game is a collectible card game. People keep getting upset over “game pieces” being unattainable. That’s just not true. The cards, all of them, are actually attainable. That’s not to say that every card is affordable for everyone however. If every card could be acquired by every person, then there is no reason to amass a collection of cards, trade cards, keep binders, or otherwise discuss new printings or treatments with any real enthusiasm. There’s a simple economics lesson here about wants and needs, but really let’s focus on what Magic needs as a CCG. A collectible card game needs to be collectible. Some cards have to be worth more than others. Supply and demand determine a Magic card’s value. It really is as simple as how many people want a card, and how many of them are available. That’s not a bad thing, and actually, it’s what makes this game collectible. Building a collection is part of the magical journey.
Being outraged over cards made to sell boxes is just ridiculous. The pace at which cards are determined to be powerful and format defining has increased over the years. However, chase cards have always existed. Shivan Dragon, Masticore, Tooth and Nail, Umezawa's Jitte, Force of Will, Force of Negation, Mana Crypt, Omnath, Locus of Creation, and now Jeweled Lotus are just a few examples of cards that get people hyped for a new set. The interesting part here is that unlike previous Standard based sets, and even Modern Horizons, Commander Legends’ prices will be driven not by the competitive community, but by the casual community. The kitchen table has always helped to drive demand for particular cards, but generally Commander and kitchen table players’ tastes have aligned with tournament professionals to some degree. So, we will be finding the push and pull of prices to be a bit different from what you might normally expect during a set’s release. Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Tarmogoyf were both cards that excelled equally well in tournaments, but weren’t cards that excelled equally well at the kitchen table. I must’ve sold or traded away at least three Tarmogoyfs while it was still over $100. Meanwhile, I kept my Jace, the Mind Sculptors, because they were actually still very powerful at the kitchen table. So, it will be a little different as Jeweled Lotus appears to be a powerful card for a focused and speedy deck, but in actuality it could just be OK. Ramping into your commander on turns 1 or 2 isn’t necessarily the way to win friends or games. Yet, it can also be a fun experience for some. I suspect the decks that will enjoy it the most will seek not to overwhelm everyone with immediate advantages, but will find a way to make it an incrementally valuable part of their deck’s machine. Think decks like Korvold, Fae-Cursed King or other “artifacts matter” and “sacrifice matters” decks.
Squeaky wheel Magic players have consistently been complaining about change and new things for over 20 years. I know, because I’ve listened to it. I’ll continue to listen to it, but I won’t be pulled into it. I’m often more on the side of being excited by the changes and how those changes will affect interactions with my existing collection. Old cards becoming better is exciting. Collectible games allow for this sort of flux in not only a card’s playability, but also its monetary value. Having a card that was laughably fringe become a tournament or kitchen table powerhouse is exciting. I would like to offer a case in point:
I remember a friend named Ian who had collected pages of Death's Shadows. He had foil pages, and artist signature pages, and I think he even had a page of alterations. Well, that was before Death's Shadow became an actual deck. He just loved the card, the art, and enjoyed collecting them. I admit that I have a pet collection of Bog Imps that ranges into the 100’s. Death's Shadow, for those that don’t know, is now a staple deck in the Modern format, and was a heavy favorite for quite some time. So, as you can imagine, as tournament players started picking up more and more of these to play with, the price went up and up accordingly. The windfall that must’ve come his way when those cards suddenly appreciated in value (both monetarily and play-wise) is part of what makes Magic so much fun. His collection could now be leveraged in trades and store credit. He could easily expand his collection by shifting its value from solely Death's Shadows, to maybe picking up some chase mythics or old-school cards that he previously couldn’t afford. I’ve been doing this sort of thing for over 25 years, and it is a big part of what keeps me buying and playing this greatest of CCGs.
Being mentally stimulated by Magic’s innovations is what keeps players returning to this game. Plenty of people have left Magic, but so many of them return time after time. There’s always something new to consider, and new developments in the game help you reassess what you want from the game. This happens in small and large ways. Dredge decks were a tremendous shift for people. Some players even say playing a Dredge deck doesn’t count as playing Magic. Yet, it is Magic. It made older, and fringe style cards, like Bazaar of Baghdad into amazing powerhouses that were now worth much more. That’s truly an incredible and exciting facet of this game. We shouldn’t be upset about the collectability of cards. We should embrace that new and old cards are collectible at varying degrees. We need to embrace how collectability isn’t static, and that also makes this game an even greater joy to collect. Hanging on to cards and suddenly finding that they are worth more is a special sort of serendipity. That does not happen when a game is not collectible. Cards become disposable and worthless, and altogether much less exciting. Collectability keeps people in the game, and brings them back in as well.
I’ve been amassing my collection for years and years. So, am I just a guy that can only see from atop my pile of treasure? Hah! No, and I often find myself thinking along the lines of someone that is just starting this game. Perhaps part of that is because I’ve run a club that teaches kids to play Magic. It’s been a fulfilling joy to share my love of this game with so many others. When someone starts playing, then they have also started collecting. Adding more and more to your collection is an important part of Magic. You don’t buy decks pre-made and never change them. You don’t buy all the game pieces and replay the board game each time. You start your collection, and you keep collecting, it grows with you. You trade and save and buy and sell and buy again. You remember packs you open and trades you make. You build memories with your collection. You build memories while playing. The mythos you develop from Magic comes when you go to your LGS, pick up a new card or two, and then play them with your friends. I’ve bought several boxes of Commander Legends, and I’d like you to know that if I don’t get a Jeweled Lotus, then I’ll be bummed. However, I’ll also take some time to look at what I have collected from this set and others, and look to parlay that into a Jeweled Lotus. That collector’s journey to acquire one would be even more fun and meaningful than if I open a Jeweled Lotus in my first pack.
Take care, and best of luck in Magic and life!
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