Sam Stoddard joins us today to discuss the issue of diminishing accessibility in the Eternal community. Sam is the author of the well-known Fearless Magical Inventory, and has made multiple appearances on the Pro Tour. He hosts the In Contention Podcast and has written for many Magic the Gathering sites in his elongated tenure in the game.
Legacy and Elder Dragon Highlander have done a tremendous job recently of keeping the
prices of old cards on the rise. Three or four years ago, you could
pick up a revised Tropical Island for around 20 bucks. Today,
you'd pay at least $40. The prices on some of the historically more obscure cards like Grindstone have seen even greater rises. Even older power-uncommons like Wasteland have begun to hit $15. This is good for
dealers, who have an even deeper set of cards to make money on, and
Wizards, for whom it solidifies the 'collectible' nature of the game.
There is a limit to all good things, however. Although we've seen a few $50 standard rares in the past few years (Tarmogoyf and
Baneslayer Angel come to mind), they never suffered from long term card
availability issues. Short term, yes, but enough of these exist that
they are still shuffled around pretty regularly. You may not want to
pay the cost of the cards, but you can find them. Not so with cards
like The Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale or Imperial Recruiter. These
cards are in short supply, and their cost reflects that. Recruiter is
now a $150 card, while Tabernacle, if you can find one, is approaching
$270, making it currently the most expensive land outside of Beta.
We are getting close to the time where action is required keep Legacy, and Eternal formats in general, within reach
of most players. Almost every pack of sets like Legends and Portal 3
Kingdoms in the wild has been opened. Cards are still being lost,
stolen, destroyed, or otherwise removed from circulation every day. If
the demand stays anywhere near the same level, the prices will
continue to increase. In addition, as the oldest Magic cards approach seventeen
years of being shuffled in decks, we will begin to see more and more
of them becoming tournament unplayable due to condition. I believe we
have come to the time when Wizards needs to develop an official policy
on using proxies in sanctioned events.
Now, when I say proxies, I don't mean the letters FoW scribbled on the
back of a land and put in a sleeve. Ideally standards can be set up to
ensure that the presence of these cards disrupts gameplay as little as
possible. Proxies should be standardized. This is where Wizards would
come in. They could easily print a number of semi-blank cards that
players could fill in. Two of each color, and for artifacts (one frame
for creatures and one for spells), and a land card. Create a formal
requirement for these to be filled out with complete information. The
card name should appear in small text in the top right, and in much
larger text in the picture box. You would fill your deck list out like
normal, but you would also list all of your proxies in a special
section of the registration sheet. If you were found to have falsified this
information in a deck check, you would be awarded either a game loss,
or disqualified. If a proxy has incomplete information, is illegible,
or otherwise looks shady, a warning can be issued.
While that is a start, I also think it is important not to simply
allow any number of proxies a player wishes. There has to be a
balance between preventing extreme cost and availability issues from
choking a format, and retaining the collectible nature of the game.
Five proxies per deck seems like a good number to allow. In addition,
you don't want proxies to simply become a way for people
to purchase fewer cards. This should be a way to ease card availability
issues. With that in mind, the rule could state that you can only proxy
cards which haven't seen print since a certain date. Ten years would
let you proxy Force of Will, Imperial Recruiters and Ravages or War.
FIfteen years would let you proxy only the sets before Homelands.
This aging solution also means that you don't need to restrict proxies
to only sanctioned events in Legacy and Vintage - the age restriction
automatically removes them from Standard and Extended. If Wizards ever
wants to sanction EDH, then they can do so and keep this rule in
There must also be a penalty for playing with proxies. My first idea
was to allow the player with the least proxies to choose play or draw,
then roll off in case of a tie. That seemed far too drastic. I was
discussing the idea of sanctioning proxies with my friend Matt
Kransteuber, I came up with a few more reasonable ideas:
1) Proxies become a part of your tie breakers at the end of the Swiss
rounds. Each proxy in your deck (up to 5) removes one percentage point
from your Opponent Match Win when the final standings go up. This
means that if you go x-0-2 or x-1, you will probably still top8 a
tournament, but the more proxies you have, the worse your chances of
top8ing with an x-1-1 record. Because this is adjusted after the final
round of Swiss, your number would not effect your opponent's
2) Proxies cost a sideboard slot (up to 15 proxies). In this scenario,
if you want to play 43land but you don't have Tabernacles, you can
make the decision to not get the card, but you will only have 13
sideboard slots. This would provide a solid incentive for people to
acquire the actual cards for the deck, but allow them to compete
Matt had a third way, which he felt was more fair:
3) You can proxy up to 5 cards, but you pay an additional entry fee
for each one. I'm not sure what the exact correct price would be, but
something in the $1-2 range seems reasonable. This would be marked on
your sheet, and if you were found to lie about it, you would be
I ran this by another friend and legacy player Andrew Cooperfaus who
pointed out that the extra money involved here would go a long way
towards encouraging more tournament organizers to run legacy events.
At two dollars a proxy, it wouldn't be unheard of for a TO with good
turnout to earn an extra three hundred dollars at an event.
I don't think that any of these solutions are perfect. Each has
serious implications for the format, but I think they are a good
starting point. If the classic formats are going to continue to see
the kind of growth they have in recent years, something has to be done
to ease the point of entry costs. I don't believe that any of these
solutions would severely hurt the average price of legacy cards, but
it would keep the most expensive cards from creating a format that has
distinctive tiers of decks based solely on card cost. The older Magic
becomes, the more important this issue becomes. There will come a time
when card condition and availability becomes a breaking point for
older formats. The more proactive Wizards is about it, the better
chance that time will be far in the future.
Editor's Note: I feel strongly on this issue, and rather than distracting from Sam's great post with a followup article, I want to add a few things that are my own responses to his ideas.
1) You must find a way to ensure that proxies do not replace the use of the cards themselves. By allowing 5 proxies, you essentially zero the playable value of the top 5 cards in a format. Obviously that math isn't 100% correct but by allowing a small penalty
to replace a card that's $200 or more, you're playing with fire.
2) You must give players an incentive to play with the real thing. This is tied directly to point 1. An extra 10 dollars a tournament doesn't make financial sense. I'd rather play 10 tournaments with proxies than buy a Tabernacle and a slew of other power cards. Trading a sideboard slot is pretty drastic, but I think that is the level on which we need to be. Players need to lose a competitive edge by playing with proxies to remove finances from the equation altogether. If your deck can handle a 10 card sideboard, you can proxy 5 cards. 5 should really be the limit, and that might be too high for Legacy. Revised Dual Lands are still abundant, although somewhat expensive. The bottom line is, we're concerned with cards like Power and Bazaar of Baghdad and Tabernacle, not cards that can be had for the price of Standard's elite rares.
My suggestion a while back was to circumvent the Proxy issue entirely and dodge the Reserved list clauses by printing a significantly limited quantity of promotional, commemorative Power 9 cards. They would be on the old borders, with original art, but would be premium cards (which the Reserved list would allow) with a date stamp like a pre-release card. Wizards would then hold something akin to what Star City Games is doing with their Legacy 5K schedule, and distribute these cards to the Top 8. Give Top 8 a set of Power, and give 9th place a "Wild Card" shot at the last piece. This also preserves the integrity of the Top 8 and discourages prize splitting. This would have to be done tastefully, carefully, and with the guarantee that they would not just keep printing more and more copies of Power. Look how the Judge foils don't really effect prices of their regular-print analogues. This is the best way to introduce more Power into circulation without sliding down the slippery slope of proxy cards.