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Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Eldritch Moon Release Post-Mortem

I've written articles like this for every Magic: the Gathering expansion released since this business blog began!  They are some of the most heavily read and linked articles on this blog, so evidently people enjoy these observations.  Good enough for me!  (Enough that I basically copy the template and write in the details afresh each time.)  Here, then, is DSG's experience with the release of Magic: the Gathering: Eldritch Moon!
No sooner had Magic returned to their best setting ever, the plane of Innistrad, a Germanic gothic horror realm, than they ruined it by mixing in the Lovecraftian eldritch tentacle horror of the Eldrazi, Wizards of the Coast's take on the Eldritch Abomination trope.  That's what Eldritch Moon is, and that's why the entire player base knew all along that the Eldrazi Emrakul was the culprit without having to hear anything beyond the title.

At first I thought my distaste at the mixture of the two horror subgenres was a pure function of my autism and that the player base at large would love it.  The set also included a broad focus on zombies, which are among my least favorite of horror creature types... all in all, I was looking square in the face at a set that I wanted no part of, from a player perspective.  I had to separate that out and decide what the customers would think.  In this business, it's not about what I personally like, it's about what my players want.

Turns out, at least some substantial cohort of my players agreed with me.  Box pre-orders were the lowest since Return to Ravnica, and I didn't exactly have a large allocation for that as it was the store's first Magic release back in 2012.  Competitive players don't buy super-heavily at the outset regardless, because they are waiting for the set's Pro Tour so that the pros can tell them what cards they have to play.  So in the early going, a new expansion tends to sell some modest stock to competitive players, and then mostly to the casual, Commander, and "kitchen table" player base.  This means the set's theme and setting take on an outsized importance.  And the response of many players to having zombies and tentacles jammed into their glorious Gothic hinterland has been: Nope.  It's two tastes that just don't mix.  It's like combining Pepsi and milk.

It didn't help that wallet fatigue hit hard in the wake of Eternal Masters, and with Eldritch Moon being the third of five booster releases in a six-month span.  We still have Conspiracy 2: Take The Crown in late August, followed by Kaladesh in late September.  Nobody doubts that Kaladesh will be gigantic.  Conspiracy is a big question mark.  With half the set comprising reprints, the excitement level will depend quite a bit on how saucy the first few spoilers are.  Nobody really thinks there will be fetchlands or anything really essential, but there is plenty of room for never-foiled Eternal staples such as Imperial Seal or Mana Vault, and crazy early foils like Crop Rotation and Goblin Matron.  Meanwhile, some number of dollars that might have gone to Eldritch Moon went instead to Eternal Masters a month earlier, and that's just life.

As I said last time around: Folks, this is a lot of product.  There is still a From the Vaults ("Lore") due in August, and Commander 2016 in November.  Even if they announce nothing else, how can most players possibly keep up with it all?  More on that later in this article.

Here is a quick bulleted list of what Eldritch Moon gave us:

  • A twist on the flip card mechanic: Meld.  Six cards in the set, paired, that each transform together into a single "big" card.  One of the Meld cards, Brisela, Voice of Nightmares, requires a mythic rare Gisela angel card and thus is the most difficult to assemble.  From among the tentacle-gorn gimmickry in the set, the Meld cards are at least the most visually striking.
  • Cards for Standard.  As I've said before, Standard players don't get to sit out any main-line expansion release.  This time is no exception.  There are cards very obviously "pushed" for Standard, such as the Spirits suite, Grim Flayer, Mirrorwing Dragon, and more.  Two new planeswalkers both appear promising: Liliana and Tamiyo.  Once the pros have announced what decks are good, a rush to purchase should follow.
  • Enough fat packs, threedux.  In fact, after the insanity of the special fat packs for the previous block, players appeared to have been conditioned to seek fat packs right away this time.  I ordered a lot of them and saw them disappear, while my supply of boxes, concededly big from the start, remains ample after release weekend.
  • The fourth ever foil TOKEN, after the Coldsnap Marit Lage token of a decade ago and the Helvault Angel and Demon tokens of 2012.  This time it was a double-sided Zombie and appeared only in prerelease packs.  Its value has been climbing steadily on the open market as Eternal format players gather the Zombies for their dredge and tribal builds.
  • Cards for Commander!  A werewolf legend!  And a spider legend!  And more big Eldrazi beatsticks!  Stuff for SuperFriends like Deploy the Gatewatch.  Stuff for generalized abuse like Mind's Dilation.  And,
  • PUMBAA.

Meanwhile, here is what Eldritch Moon did not deliver:

  • Heavy pre-order activity and significant release-weekend sales.
  • Rare lands of consequence.  As we've observed before, it's not that the players need to have it every single time, but rare lands tend to drive the value base of an expansion.
  • Marquee reprints from the previous Innistrad block or otherwise.  Nope, practically the entire set is new cards.  Seriously, they couldn't have dropped in Huntmaster of the Fells or something?  With all the Zombie tribal silliness it's absurd we didn't get a Cavern of Souls reprint.  Missed opportunities.
  • Modern- and Legacy-oriented cards.  The set is mostly about Standard, Limited, and Commander.

Attendance for the Pre-release tournament outperformed expectations, with a reduced allocation of 360 player slots sold very close to capacity.  It helped a lot that we had our new point-of-sale system working and fully capable of taking online pre-registration!  In fact, aside from a reasonable few hiccups, it worked very well and was a welcome relief from the chaos of the interim prereleases.

DSG opened big on cases this time because of the insane velocity of singles lately, and thus far it is proving a wise move.  With release weekend in the books we've still got 100% stock on non-foil Eldritch Moon cards and reasonable stock of foils.  The optimal labor scenario has us not doing case breaks on an ongoing basis unless we get a big buy opportunity at a great price, which meant attempting to get essentially the entire store seed stock in one shot.  It appears we did it.  There is no point in listing our yield as we basically opened plenty of everything.

One interesting wrinkle came up on release Saturday.  Some print runs of the set are having mythic rares appear only in packs with a certain wrapper, which varies from box to box.  The small sets, if memory serves, run with six counts of each rare and three of each mythic on the production sheets, so my suspicion is that this is just a coincidence of the math working out this way.  Hopefully if there is a more pervasive collation problem, Wizards of the Coast will address it.  I have not observed any difference in purchasing patterns resulting from the news.

Next week I have some more customer-facing topics to discuss, so hope you enjoyed this look at the second and concluding release of the Shadows Over Innistrad block, and we'll see you in August!

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