I’ll explain the meaning of the title in a minute. If you’re an old school wrestling fan, you may already know, but I’ll get there.
Personally, I try very hard to stay on the outside of the business side of trading card games. I prefer to focus on enjoying the hobby, and with Plague League providing a space for other players to enjoy the hobby. I also typically lean towards “the company that owns the game knows what’s best for the game” over “YouTube Rudys’ know what’s best for Magic”. But then we saw The Walking Dead x Secret Lairs announcement.
Prof released a video recently and spent the last five minutes telling all his viewers about all kinds of games that they can play with the $50 they shouldn’t spend on TWDxSL.
Not that I really have to tell you. You have seen it by now. You can’t scroll Twitter, or browse YouTube without seeing it.
The heat that the existing Magic the Gathering community is bringing at Wizards of the Coast seems to be getting ignored. And I think I know why.
Wizards is hotshotting the territory.
In pro wrestling promoters typically build up to a stable fanbase, and then book their events to keep fans coming back next month. Sometimes though, when they need a big money infusion, or they need to cook the books to sell the promotion off, they “hotshot the territory”. They book wrestlers and write storylines that are so big and over the top that when they’re done, going back to wrestling as normal feels boring, and fans drift away. It’s a great way to bring in new fans in the short term, but is not a sustainable model.
If you want to see it in action, take a look at WWE’s “Attitude Era”, and then the “Post Attitude Era”. Or, the difference between The Rock & Stone Cold Steve Austin and John Cena & Roman Reigns.
Wizards of the Coast is hotshotting Magic to bring in as many new players as they can right now, and because they’re not true carnies as wrestling promoters are, they probably don’t know the drought that’s coming at the end of this new Secret Lair era.
They’re fundamentally changing the product. The new art cards, the Secret Lairs, the at-release-format breaker cards, this is all new to the Magic ecosphere. And it marks a tone shift from game publisher to collectibles publisher.
Rudy said it best a couple months ago. With, I think it was a Double Masters video, that Wizards is pushing towards a sports card model with art cards, and all the full art, showcase and blahzy-blah card styles. Redropping old set releases into current releases. It’s all very familiar to baseball card collectors.
Look back at the last round of product releases from Wizards of the Coast. None of them do anything to move the game of Magic the Gathering. They don’t do anything to address player concerns with the Standard cycle, they don’t really address the Fetch Lands issue, and they certainly don’t do anything to bring down the barrier to entry to eternal formats like Vintage.
What they do is focus on Magic the Gathering as a collectible product. The releases have all created a new pool of cards with accelerating scarcity. They are marketed at gamers, but really they’re for collectors.
What I’m afraid of is that this model of set design is not sustainable. Because it isn’t. Eternal format players are not going to buy these non-rotation format products. They’re going to feel ignored and pushed way by the publisher, and Magic the Gathering is headed towards a drought.
New buyers are not going to become players. They’re going to buy the cross over product that fits their fandom and they’re going to disappear. Existing players are going to find new games that reward them for playing, as Professor says, like Legends of Runeterra. Which means that Wizards is creating a bubble. Add the pressure of the eventual end of the pandemic and a return to people getting back to old lifestyles and going out more rather than staying in and playing games, and the post-bubble burst era for Magic the Gathering is looking very bleak.
How is this avoided?
This is avoided very simply. Magic the Gathering is a game. The focus must be on the game and not the collectible assets within the game. Every card should be playable. Showcase cards should be abandoned immediately, and IP cross overs like The Walking Dead should either lead to an isolated format, or as everyone else has pointed out, be silver border cards, excluding them from existing game formats.
These crossovers are not a bad thing for Magic, but they’re doing it all wrong. Secret Lairs could be it’s own format.
Hear me out.
Instead of booster packs, Secret Lairs could be a stand-alone silver border format. Instead of just 5 cards featuring TWD characters, a TWD deck. Instead of the Power Rangers as playable cards in MTG (because Hasbro owns that property, too), a Power Rangers deck.
Use Secret Lairs as a kitchen table format to introduce proper Magic the Gathering to new players. What a great tool a Walking Dead deck would be for us to introduce Magic the Gathering to our friends who still wear their Heisenberg t-shirts to parties.
At the end of the day, though, Wizards of the Coast is headed down a dangerous road. They’re leading us towards a drought, and it is wildly preventable.