Today’s article is a mixture of design and business. Oh, plus a little bit of predicting the future.
Between the From the Vault, Duel Decks, and various multiplayer product lines, WotC has created a lot of excellent ways for themselves to reprint cards that players want, but have limited access to because there were simply fewer of those cards printed back in the day.
Choosing what to reprint in any given product is not nearly as simple as “what do I wish I had more of.” There are a lot of things to take into account, such as:
– Does the card make sense in the product?
– Are we allowed to reprint it?
– How much value does it add to the product / how much value does it make sense to put in given the desired price point of the product?
– Will this card drive sales of this product?
For most reprints, the kind that appear in regular expansions and core sets, the only real question is “does this make sense here?” I want to impress upon you that for those products, nobody goes in thinking “what can I reprint here” but rather they are trying to fill card slots, and those slots have certain needs, and a reprint sometimes serves those needs better than a new card. Heck, Magic would play fine with 20% reprints per set, but the customer (that’s you) would get mad pretty fast if there were so many repeats so often. So they keep them to a minimum. (Core sets are an interesting exception, but their history has shaped them into what they are today. Also, until M10, they were the worst selling sets every year. Actually, probably even now, but I’m sure they’re a lot closer.)
My favorite recent “fly casual,” reprint was [card]Curiosity[/card] in Innistrad. I feel a little “I see what you did there” when I see this reprint. It makes perfect sense, and is almost like an inside joke – [card]Curiosity[/card] gets people killed in horror movies, and they already had a card with that name so… why wouldn’t they reprint it in Innistrad?
For the aspiring designer, the best advice I have on this kind of reprint is: don’t try so hard. Don’t reprint [card]Sakura-Tribe Elder[/card] when [card]Sylvan Ranger[/card] or [card]Borderland Ranger[/card] will do the job just fine. It’s easy to get excited about it when it’s the first time you are choosing a common to reprint, but you have to get into the professional mind set. You’ll be choosing a few reprints for each new set, and what works for the set is more important than the individual card. Will [card]Sakura-Tribe Elder[/card] eventually be the right card? Maybe. Even if it will never be right, there are other ways to get it reprinted, and the main line of expansion sets is not the place for personal-mission style reprinting.
The next level up is the multiplayer products. The cards in these are largely reprints, but there is also something else going on. Planechase has plane cards, Archenemy has Schemes, and Commander has new generals and lots of other new cards. There are new things other than reprints, which takes a lot of pressure off of the reprints. You don’t need your reprinted cards to do much work, other than be good in the deck. This makes multiplayer products a great place for low-rarity personal-favorites to be reprinted. You’ll note that [card]Sakura-Tribe Elder[/card] appeared in Archenemy and then again in Commander. Another good example of a reprint that works in the deck and also brings back a somewhat desirable card is [card]Thran Dynamo[/card] (in Archenemy). While not an expensive card, it is something that Commander decks often want, and is very fair in casual formats. It’s not so special that many players would know about it or go out of their way to get it (unlike the better-know, aforementioned [card]Sakura-Tribe Elder[/card]). Putting it in the product may have been more about increasing awareness of the card than about creating a supply.
Duel Decks are different from those multiplayer products because the reprints have to do a little more work. These decks don’t contain anything other than reprints (and sometimes one preview card), so the reprints have to do all the work required to sell the product. Equally important is how well the pair of decks play against each other. They have to be fun when they face each other 100 times in a row. Finally, these products also have a strong theme – the faction or Planeswalker that headlines the deck. So you are also restricted to cards that fit the theme. Chandra deals direct damage, and she loves fire. You don’t put in [card]Lightning Bolt[/card], because that’s lightning, not fire. It doesn’t matter if it’s “the best direct damage” or “the spell you most wanted to reprint” – you’ve got to stick to the theme as best you can. There is ready a great article about the design of Jace vs Chandra, if you are interested in reading more about it.
The last product type I want to talk about is the “From the Vault” line. The burden of making a deck is gone, and the allowed total value is higher than the other products. On the other hand, there are only 15 cards!
Let’s play product designer. The next product in this line is going to be “From the Vault: Realms.” (In another word: lands.) If you had to decide what goes into this product, how would you go about it, and what would you put into it?
Going back to our questions from before:
Does the card make sense in the product?
– So long as it’s a land, it will make sense.
Are we allowed to reprint it?
– There are a lot of exciting lands on the reserved list. [card]Library of Alexandria[/card], [card]Gaea’s Cradle[/card], [card]Diamond Valley[/card]… you simply can’t choose any of these.
– To a lesser extent, in a From the Vault product you don’t want to repeat a card from a previous From the Vault. [card]Strip Mine[/card], for example, won’t appear in From the Vault: Realms, because it was in From the Vault: Exiled.
How much value does it add to the product / how much value does it make sense to put in given the desired price point of the product?
-In the past, Duel Decks were restricted to about $30 of secondary market value per deck, but I think this restriction has more or less been lifted. I think the more relevant question is:
What value will you leave for future reprinting?
– If you give customers everything now, what will you give them in the future? You should never put “all the best possible reprints” into the same product. The Magic Online Master’s Edition sets are a textbook example of this. They carefully used specific cards in each set to make sure there was enough excitement now, and still enough left to use later.
Will this card drive sales of this product?
– By asking this I do not, by any means, mean to tell you that every card must sell the product. I ask it because you have to know that there are some cards that drive sales, and some that are along for the ride. Taking this to the next level: once you have decided the cards that will sell the product in a big way to most players, maybe a couple of the other cards will sell the product in a small way to other players.
After discussing the goals and rules (as above) the next step is to make a big list of potential choices, from which we can cut down. Here is an example of such a list:
City of Brass
Grove of the Burnwillows
Maze of Ith
Tendo Ice Bridge
Urza’s Power Plant
Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle
This is not a complete list of possibilities, nor the ideal starting list. I made it quickly, so I’m sure I forgot some (and likely at least 1 that will actually appear in the product, of course). For illustrating my point, however, it will do nicely.
Next we pear down the list and make individual choices.
These products have tended to have cards from throughout Magic’s history. We don’t want all the cards to come from the first 5 years of magic, or the last 5, we want some from each era.
We also want lands that do different things, we want to show the variety of effects that lands have had, and we don’t want too many duplicate effects.
[card]Grand Coliseum[/card] and [card]City of Brass[/card] are extremely similar. We’re not going to put both of them into this set. Maybe [card]Tendo Ice Bridge[/card] also falls into this category? Of these three I want to choose [card]City of Brass[/card] for this product. It’s a classic, it has been reprinted before but not in black border since Arabian- oh, since the Junior Super Series foil. The white border ones are only $5, and the lowest price version usually sets the limit. (It is interesting to me that the JSS foil is $30 while Arabian Nights ones are $60 – but that’s another topic.) The 7th & 8th edition reprints are of particular note because they give us newer art. Before a certain date, the art was licensed for cards, not bought outright, so it’s a pain to do the paperwork (and it costs money) for the older art. Only a couple of cards will have new art commissioned for each From the Vault set, so that’s another thing that restricts what we can do.
Becoming a creature is another nice functionality we’d like to have show up. Such lands have been major players in all of Magic’s History. [card]Mutavault[/card] and [card]Mishra’s Factory[/card] are the nice options here. Factory was recently reprinted in Elspeth vs Tezzeret, driving the likelihood of it appearing here way, way down. ([card]Stalking Stones[/card] was also reprinted there, I notice.) [card]Mutavault[/card], on the other hand, has never been reprinted and is starting to become pretty expensive on the secondary market. I expect to see this in the real product.
There are also lands that prevent creatures from attacking you. [card]Glacial Chasm[/card], [card]Maze of Ith[/card], [card]Mystifying Maze[/card], some others I’m sure I forgot about. The art spoiled for this product is certainly [card]Glacial Chasm[/card]. It’s too soon to reprint [card]Mystifying Maze[/card], and I don’t think they want to reprint [card]Maze of Ith[/card]. There are a lot of cards on which to spend value here, and a land that stalls out the game and makes creatures worse isn’t something Magic is about anymore, and especially a land that does it so easily. [card]Glacial Chasm[/card], on the other hand, shows newer players what kind of crazy nonsense Magic used to contain. Looking at it makes you very glad R&D has learned so much over the years about what makes for fun cards. This reprint has humor and history value. For the customer who wants value and useful cards, this will be a total miss. For the Magic historian and lover of nutty cards, this might add a little extra interest to the product.
Speaking of crazy, do you think they could resist [card]Dark Depths[/card]? I couldn’t, so we shall include it. This land has historical impact as a huge part of Extended for a little while, and showcasing cards like that is another thing a From the Vaults product should do.
Extended Modern, wouldn’t it be nice if we could reprint some Ravnica Duals? Yes but there are a couple of problems with that. First, while very useful, they are not very exciting. They don’t “do” anything, and a card like [card]City of Brass[/card] is a more all-around color fixer for any deck. Second, there are ten of them. Can you reprint just one? Maybe you could, but you certainly can’t reprint ten of them in a fifteen-card product. We won’t be including these in our little game.
On a similar note, the Urzatron lands present a more interesting case. There are three of them, but they are exciting and a current Modern deck uses them, so the customer won’t get angry that you’ve used up multiple slots on them (well, not super angry, anyway). You’re going to have more “[card]Glacial Chasm[/card] slots” somewhere, so are Urza lands a good use of that space? I don’t quite think so. I think the product is just too small for them, and unlike a Ravnica dual, there is no way at all you could print just one of them as a representative. I’d expect to see these in a multiplayer product – perhaps one of the next set of Planechase decks will rely on them.
Two more categories from which I might consider taking a representative are the fetch lands and the [card]Karoo[/card] lands. On a personal note, I really want to make the older fetch lands more available, but in the end I would likely rather spend my value elsewhere in this product. So they are out. [card]Karoo[/card] lands, on the other hand, do a pretty neat thing, and they are pre-selected for having the perfect representative: [card]Karoo[/card]. I mean, we call them [card]Karoo[/card]s, and I bet a ton of players have heard that and don’t even realize it’s the name of an actual Magic card.
Speaking of value… (look, I’m working hard to make transitions here!) One place you could spend value effectively is on Wasteland. It has not been reprinted (and [card]Strip Mine[/card] already has been, as I said above) and there is a lot of demand for it. More than any card we’ve picked so far, it would really sell the product. Destroying other lands is a thing that (a surprising number) of lands do, so I expect to see it in From the Vault: Realms. If not Wasteland, [card]Tectonic Edge[/card] is a strong contender. It’s from a pretty recent set (and far less valuable), but not that recent, and you do want a good spread of cards from different eras.
A more recent card I do expect to see is Time Spiral’s Vesuva. Because it copies other lands, what more could you want in a product devoted to the coolness of lands? Yes, I know that this argument puts Sculpting Steel into From the Vault: Relics. Perhaps I would have tried that, but I think copying a land is far more unique than copying an artifact.
There are a couple of lands that cause creatures to fight. [card]Arena[/card] and [card]Contested Cliffs[/card] are the two that spring immediately to mind, and I would be happy with either one as a choice here. It’s a close enough call that it could go either way. We’ll choose [card]Contested Cliffs[/card] today, because it is specific to Red and Green, and we already have the White-specific [card]Karoo[/card]. It will be nice to have lands that represent each color.
There are two more white-oriented cards I want in our realms: [card]Kor Haven[/card] and [card]Karakas[/card]. I don’t want both, and we’ve already got [card]Karoo[/card] on White. Probably we’ve run out of art slots to do [card]Karakas[/card], but if not, I would choose it as the next card. It’s quite famous and interacts with everyone’s favorite card type: Legends.
You want more lands that interact with Legends you say? How about [card]Eye of Ugin[/card]. I didn’t have it on the list above because it was more recently printed, but it’s a fine choice for this product. It is/was used in multiple formats, and it does something none of the other lands we’ve chosen do (fetch a creature), in a cute contrast to [card]Karakas[/card], which gets rid of a creature (sort of). This also brings up an important design lesson. You often make those lists to cut down from, but you can’t trap yourself into only looking at those lists. At some point you have to go back to the wider ocean of choices and look again to see if you’ve missed something.
There are some other lands that help you play bigger spells: [card]Ancient Tomb[/card] and [card]Temple of the False God[/card]. The latter was reprinted in Commander decks, so I’ll take [card]Ancient Tomb[/card] for this product.
That’s eleven down, four to go. Well, really it’s three to go, because one of them will be a pre-print. A card from the next fall set that we really know nothing about. Let’s call that card “Contraption Scrapyard” for now.
Down to the last three card choices, it’s time to see what’s missing. We don’t have any Black or Blue mana symbols yet, so we could use some of those. [card]Mutavault[/card], [card]Wasteland[/card], and [card]City of Brass[/card] should do a good job selling the product, but perhaps we could use one more highly desirable card? By myself it’s not as easy to have a gut feeling on that. Certainly, were we in R&D we’d be asking for help or suggestions at this point.
Glancing back at our list, I see [card]Volrath’s Stronghold[/card] as a good “includes Black Mana” choice, and Rishadan Port as a highly desirable card. Personally, I dislike the game state [card]Rishadan Port[/card] can create, but as I’ve said in previous articles, you can’t only design (cards and) products for yourself. So we’ll add both of those to our list.
Finally, I want a Blue-ish land, and I suddenly thought of the hideaway lands as a type of effect that was very cool and different. [card]Shelldock Isle[/card] could be what we’re looking for. Unlike mana-creating cycles, it feels a lot less awkward to put in just a single hideaway land.
So here is our version of From the Vault: Realms. It’s sort of a prediction, but I don’t expect to be right on more than 5 of these, and even that might be aggressive.
[draft]City of Brass
Eye of Ugin
Along with one pre-print in Contraption Scrapyard (the new land from the upcoming fall set)
One of the biggest reasons I can’t exactly predict what would be in this product is that each designer is different. Depending on who you put in charge of a project, you will get a very different result. Perhaps equally good, but still different. What would you choose as the reprints for From the Vault: Realms if you were in charge?
T, exile two Scraps from your graveyard: Assemble a Contraption.