Wednesday, April 25, 2018

The First Sin: The Reserved List

"These reprints, they kill me. I buy ten boxes to resell, and people like me keep WotC in business"--A shop owner, on Modern Masters.

It's a Wednesday, my work day is free due to dental surgery, and I'm here with nothing better to do. It's honestly the best time to start this series. I honestly didn't wish to even touch the Reserve list, due to it's controversial nature, and the fact literally everyone and their mother has said it's two cents about it. However, an article about the Sins of WotC can't even begin without their first, and arguable biggest double edged sword.
The person who is mentioned above is the brother of someone else quoted in a different article, and the two of them dived head into MtG early in the fall of 93. He went in for the possibility of profitability, while the other enjoyed the game. Together, they've created a shop that still stands, free of the will of WotC and the DCI. Shops like this were vital to the early health of WotC, along w/ the early sharks. When you're guaranteed to sell 10 boxes, an upstart needs that.
You see, in order to look at the Reserve List, without objectivity, we need to try to imagine ourselves as WotC in the spring/summer of 95. In three years, WotC went from being a small printing company ran in the founders basement on weekends, to being a major company, the three years had unparalleled (and more importantly unchecked) grow.

"Wizards also experienced explosive growth. I joined the company in May 1994, when there were about 50 employees -- already up massively from a year earlier, when only a handful of people worked at the company. By the summer of 1995, the employee rolls stood at 250 and climbing."--John Tynes, Death to the Minotaur, 3/23/01

In 1995, Magic's future was for it's first time, uncertain, the last year had been a strange roller coaster ride, Fallen Empires being a success, but being overprinted to combat price gouging, criticism of Ice Age featuring not only reprints, but cards with the same effect but different names, and well Homelands. 1995 isn't known for being a particularly good time for the brand. Further more, price gouging was going on locally, with many 'collectors' and stores hoarding onto pieces of cardboard.

For context, the comic Industry was about to have what's known as the 'comic crash'. While I won't get into the large details, speculator markets drove up the demand for comics, which could be overturned for a small profit just a few months after it's release, which the industry responded, with special edition covers, with one gimmick more gaudy then the last. The logic of hoarding comics for a small profit continued to cardboard, and it worked. Growth of the cards at this point were steady. InQuest #2 has an estimated value of Icy Manipulator at $85.00, when just a month earlier, it commanded an estimated value of $70.00. This is just but one example, but scans exist online to see for yourself. The main mentality was this trend would continue, since Revised did little to hurt the price of limited edition cards (and even unlimited edition).

"The cards aren't worth anything because WotC kept reprinting them"--Marco, reseller, 2009

In Early 95, 4th edition was released, and soon followed Ice Age and then Chronicles. These sets contained numerous reprints (Chronicles actually being an 'extension' of 4th edition). Naturally, in a time where playing the game was more important to most then having bling, the price of cards dropped. Though I can't find an immediate magazine, InQuest #7 released in Nov 95 had Beta Icy at a mere 25 dollars, with an estimated high of possibly 45. 
Some of the most notably hit were City of Brass, Carrion Ants, the Elder Dragons.

Just for example:                      #2 (June 1995) vs  #7 (November 1995)
City of Brass(AN)                             27.50                    10.00 (6.00 for Chronicles)
Shivan Dragon (Beta)                      25.00                    20.00
Carrion Ants(Leg)                           32.00                   18.00 
Nicol Bolas (Leg)                            30.00                    10.00
Dakkon Blackblade(Leg)                 25.50                    15.00
Killer Bees (Leg)                             27.50                    10.00

 If you were a speculator, and saw these reprints, and the number they dropped down, you'd be worried about the future of your investment. Numerous stores lost value from hoarding into cards, and some decided to close their doors (or did due to the comic crash that was looming around the corner).

However, WotC was answering a demand. 4th edition was a huge success, and so was Chronicles, and Ice Age (which was still initially being billed as a stand alone game). It just wasn't as successful for speculators. Numerous shops wrote in complaints, threatening to cut support of the game. As an emergency compromise, WotC introduced the reserve list.

First introduced in March 96, the Reserve List was a guaranteed list of cards 'never to be reprinted'. The list included cards up until Antiquities that were never reprinted, as well as all non-reprinted rares from Legends and the Dark. Further more, the 'rarest' cards from IA, Fallen Empires and Homelands were also on the list. In 2002, they decided nothing post Masques would be put on the list, and in 2010 they closed the foil and non-legal print loophole.

This was actually the worse thing they could have done, because it showed WotC was willing to buckle to the demands of people who aren't the players. It would be a grim foreshadow of what was to come two decades later, but for the time, it showed they were willing to compromise with speculators and resellers.

So why? Despite, with WotC financial woes, a revoking of the list, and a all premium set with things like Duals (even a limited set) would sell like hot cakes, and some fools would buy them even at 20 dollars a pack. This however, is pure speculation, because when the next crash on cardboard happens, it may be to late for WotC.

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