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Sam Stoddard on Proxies in Eternal Formats

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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
effect.

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
tiebreakers.

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
without them.

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
disqualified.

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.

Kelly Reid

Founder & Product Manager

View More By Kelly Reid

Posted in Uncategorized

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11 thoughts on “Sam Stoddard on Proxies in Eternal Formats

  1. So you're saying you'd rather "print" out-of-print cards than re-print out-of-print cards? No matter how you slice it, you're depressing the value of the original cards. Keep it something not complicated. Print new versions that are distinct from the old. The old copies are valuable for rarity, both copies are valuable for utility.Direct cash-based meta-gaming? In-game incentives incurred by using functionally equivalent items? How would Standard players feel if you could buy sideboard slots for 5$/card ? This is pretty flagrant.Reprint replacement for any copy of the old cards? You didn't suggest this in your article, but it would get more copies into circulation, and raise the value of the old cards? Maybe you could give two copies to extremely well-kept copies. Kind of like stock "Splitting."

  2. I know wizards has a strict policy on reprinting cards. But lets face it, the older card formats are outrageous. I'm sure if you did the math the average price of a Legacy deck pushes $100 or more. This eventually will lead to the slow down and maybe even the eventual dissoultion of different formats. Personally I was intrigued by the EDH format but then once I watched a tournament I was cured. It's just too expensive. I'll stick with standard thanks.I'm not saying they should reprint the power nine or anything but what about reprinting Force of Will? Older cards like that. Just reprint them with a white border or something to make them less collectible than the originals.Who knows what the real answer is. But it definately is a real problem.

  3. I've said it before : Kill the reserved list. This presents opportunities to reprint Legacy staples in order to stay off this tide.Their 15 year old 'promise' will put a knife in Legacy and Vintage faster than the rising values would ever hope to.

  4. I'm sure if you did the math the average price of a Legacy deck pushes $100 or more.You're kidding, right? The average Standard deck is well over $200. Boros plays 12 fetchlands at $15/ea. Some decks play 4x Baneslayer, which is currently pushing $60.Mono-red Goblins is a competitive Legacy deck and can be made under $200, but that's "cheap" for Legacy. An average Legacy deck will be closer to $500, but the appeal is that Legacy staples never rotate. Harder to get into it, easier to stay current. Tropical Island's good forever.The real problem is not the Legacy staples so much as the corner cases. Justifying the purchase of 4x Underground Sea is the fact that you'll use it for any and all B/U decks. Moat and Tabernacle both are expensive and also only see play in one deck each. That's a lot harder to handle.

  5. All of you guys are missing a key point – proxies would increase that standard of play in tournaments by removing the financial aspect from deck choices. It would allow more people to play more, better decks. The related metagame shift would be inconsequential because wizards does it already every time a new set is released.I am one of the players who would play a lot more magic if it weren't for the huge cost involved. I dont mind spending $50 in gas to get to an event, but asking me to invest $400-$500 to play in that event is way over the top. I am sure, especially with the current economy, that there are thousands of other people in the same boat as me. I still end up playing standard (I have a full set of fetches from drafts once a week since ZEN came out, and have never bought a card that was more than $5). Sure, I can't play Junk or something with Baneslayers, but I still can make 90% of competitive decks, and that definitely hasn't stopped me from winning a few tournaments.If the players like me could play extended, legacy, even vintage (actually, Ive played 15 proxy vintage – its like $20 for a deck) there would be a new age of great players and amazing decks. No competitive player could logically say that is a bad idea.

  6. I have to weigh in on this one. Before I start let me say I have an 1832 Eternal rating mostly from playing a ton of Vintage. I have been a booster of Vintage in Colorado for years and I am a fan of the format. Proxies are terrible. Part of Magic is that it is a collectible card game. This means that sometimes you do not have the cards you need. Fact is the gathering of the cards for eternal formats is PART of the game. And an important part. By allowing proxies you invalidate the actual cards and the work that goes into getting them. You also take away an important part of the metagame. Some decks are built a certain way specifically due to the lack of power cards. (fish and goblins are good examples)The best way to handle the card shortage is to print more cards. This will have a small impact on the original cards values, but if done right, can help the community more than it hurts. From the Vault exiled is the best example of this. Boxed sets with specific cards in them that have limited print runs. It's even better if the new cards look really lame. If they look bad the older cards will hold more value. I have always thought that the Eternal formats could use an injection of cards. It's just finding the right manner to do it.

  7. I still have never heard of strict proxy system that seems fair to both collector and player.Either the players have to give up playing a format, or change the format to give up cards they don't own (like playing legacy instead of vintage.) There are plenty of other formats beyond eternal – if you don't have the cards, then switch.Unfortunately Magic costs money to play. A lot of money. Whether its $15 for a draft, $10 for a preconstructed deck, or $1500 for the Power 9. You either shell it out, or stay at the kitchen table.Magic (Wizards of the Coast) doesn't have to pander to the best players. It doesn't need to include everyone. It's a product. You buy it. WotC owes you nothing beyond what's on the sales counter.In the end WotC will side with whoever pays them. So unless you've got a real argument that they are getting less money because people have to buy their cards, try to think of a solution that's best for players AND best them.When God gives you lemons, find a new God.

    1. Here’s a solution. Chinese counterfeits. There are consequences to every action or inaction and that’s the consequence so if wizards owes me nothing then I owe them nothing and look forward to the arrival of my shiny new counterfeit cards.

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