Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Eternal Masters Release Post-Mortem

Last weekend saw the release of the third premium reprint set for Magic: the Gathering: Eternal Masters (EMA).  Following in the mold of Modern Masters (MM13) and Modern Masters 2015 Edition (MM15), Eternal Masters reprinted a couple hundred cards legal in "eternal" formats: Vintage, Legacy, Commander, and Cube, for the most part.  Many EMA reprints were long out of print, and still others did not have any foil printing until now, due to age or having only appeared in products that did not include premium foil cards.
I barely have to tell you that EMA sold through at volume and has already been tremendously healthy for the store.  The post-mortem on this writes itself: Stores could only get a limited amount, so of course most of it sold out, and those who were inclined have a little bit to hold onto for later.  The set contents were in line with my expectations: with the Reserved List still off-limits, most meaningful cards for eternal formats are not reprint-eligible, so from among those cards not blocked, we got a smattering of nice ones and a shovelful of crap for booster draft usage.

My one "huh?" moment regarding EMA was that it reprinted nothing from the Portal, Portal Second Age, Portal Three Kingdoms, and Starter 1999 products.  These introductory sets were printed between 1997 and 2000 and were meant to teach and immerse beginners into Magic, back before there were such a thing as Intro Decks or today's curated Magic Duels app.  The beginner sets were not designed with tournament balance in mind, so cards appearing in them were illegal in sanctioned play until 2005, when Wizards of the Coast realized that they would cause no particular disaster if permitted in eternal formats.  Once the Commander format took off in 2011, some cards from the beginner sets climbed sharply in value, such as Imperial Seal, Imperial Recruiter, Ravages of War, Temporal Manipulation, and Grim Tutor.  None of the beginner cards are on the Reserved List, and with Portal Second Age and Three Kingdoms having very narrow themes and settings that aren't in Magic's normal multiverse, EMA seemed like the best landing spot for such reprints for years in either direction.  Where else are we going to see reprints of Capture of Jingzhou or Zodiac Dragon, honestly?  I suppose we will continue to wait.

I pre-sold a little less than half my allotment at $199, which now that everyone has 20/20 hindsight is being called excessively low by my fellow retailers.  How soon we forget the aftermath of Modern Masters 2015 when boxes sat unpurchased on eBay for months at $165 shipped.  And don't tell me you "knew" it was going to be better.  Everyone "knew" that about MM15 and everyone was wrong. (Though I do think speculators were excessively bearish on both MM15 and EMA out of self-serving interest.)  As late as the day before spoilers, the public was openly grousing that Eternal Masters was going to be bad and that there was nothing else in it but Force of Will and Wasteland.  I was content to absolutely guarantee nut on this set and immediately start turning that revenue.  Certainty has value in the world of business.  Then, the remaining half-and-change of my allocation sold out the door at effectively MSRP, aside from the cases I broke for singles.

If I had to do it all over again, I would probably have run the same promotion.  Discount and all.  There was a lot going for it.  But I would have made a couple of adjustments:

First, I would have put a tighter box limit on purchases.  A few carloads of players drove to the store from elsewhere around the state where their local box price was far higher, and bought in quantity.  I don't think I really reached them in a promotional sense because the odds of them becoming recurring customers was very low.  I did not sell any EMA online for this reason.

Second, I would have opened only a bare minimum of product for singles, probably nothing beyond the amount that my staff needed for our YouTube box break videos and draft commentary that they are editing up for publication.  I did not foresee that a large number of buyers on release night would be opening their boxes and just selling the entire contents whole hog to the store and re-loading until they struck out on value.  It was as close to casino gambling as I've ever seen in this industry, and I'm counting the era of illegal cash tournaments when I say that.  Those at least still felt like hobby game events.  This felt like a Keno room.  It was ridiculous.  I am well stocked on EMA singles now, in any event.

While the hype is hot right now in the immediate aftermath of release, this set will cool off.  The values of some cards that were high only due to absolute scarcity and not play utility have been completely demolished.  The values of cards that were in high demand have held reasonably.  At the end of the day the pieces for the key decks in eternal formats and key Commander builds will still be sought after, and there will merely be one more printing of them in circulation.  I've stated before that Wizards of the Coast needs to abolish the Reserved List outright and reprint cards into the ground, because this is a game, and people need to be able to buy the pieces to play their game.  But it looks like that kind of plan isn't on the table just yet.

This informs my choices for 2017.  I won't do the exact same thing; a deficiency of the modern military is that it's always ready to fight the last war.  But now I've got another bucket of data from which to assess my options for what we all presume will be a third Modern Masters installment.  Depending what kind of love I get from distribution, I may find another PlayStation-style promotion to be appealing again, or conversely I may decide that I am going to run at dead MSRP until proven otherwise and test the velocity based on what my audience size and revenue throughput are like at the time.  Whether I've got the new location open by then will also steer my decision.

I have a few articles in the works based on some social media work I've been doing lately.  If my readers have any questions, on whatever game store or comic store topic that happens to come to mind, feel free to ask them.

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