Thanks, I Hate It: The Acorn Controversy

TobiH

As a little Christmas present, Wizards gave us early news about next year's Unfinity. It's the fourth—or fifth?—entry in the silver-bordered Un-/fun line. Or is it? In any case, there's a lot going on here. At least, there's more than meets the eye. At the very least, there's more than meets the eye easily.


unfinity

'Tis the Favorite Season, All Year Round

The preview season for Midnight Hunt, including the attendant Commander decks, lasted from September 2 to September 13. Previews for Crimson Vow went out between October 28 and November 8. Last week we got a first look at cards from Unfinity. This means seven of the past fourteen weeks had spoilers in it. Of course, in between, Wizards announced something like eighteen new Secret Lairs, but, at this point, who's even counting those? (I did. Eighteen is the actual number.)

The community has complained for months about feeling flooded, overwhelmed, and getting jaded with the constant bombardment of new products. To which Wizards responded with a sympathetic: "Previews for Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty begin January 27."

I'm just kidding. That's not an actual quote. The actual quote reads, horribly, "Before we close out 2021, we'll share some details, artwork, and a few previews from Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty [sic], then share even more in the lead up to our debut video and previews in January 2021."

It may seem like a bold choice to move previews to January 2021. After all, that's eleven months into the past. But it's hardly a move that should surprise anyone by now.

Cannot Catch 'Em All

All Magic cards come from Wizards. Even if you buy singles, someone somewhere first had to open and buy the boxes whence these singles came. For every player who owns a playset of Goldspan Dragon, people had to crack an average of about 493 Kaldheim packs, almost fourteen boxes. These boxes should yield four copies of all the other mythics in the set as well, along with two playsets of every rare, but still. That's a lot of trees.

Note that I'm only accounting for extra copies of the regular foil kind, and I'm using Draft Booster packs and boxes in my calculations. The numbers for Set Boosters and Collector Boosters are supposedly better but suspiciously hard to come by, so one can only assume they must be worse relative to their cost. If you've got nothing to hide, then why hide it, right?


2001
2021

My numbers might be off. Super special showcase treatment alternate-art versions one through five may well reduce the necessary investment by a relevant fraction. It's possible I missed a product. If you notice any such error, please do complain but be aware that you're still making my point, which is: Who can keep track of all of these releases? Which, in turn and in fact after the many turns of this long-winded intro, brings us straight to Unfinity.

Fun for the FOMO-Stricken

Wizards keep repeating the mantra that not everything is for everybody anymore; nowadays customers get to pick and choose what Magic product they like and can leave aside what they don't. That's all neat for casual players. It's a great business model too, one that saw Wizards' second-quarter revenue this year grow to 218% of their second-quarter revenue last year, all while, flabbergastingly enough, the corresponding profits climbed to 260%.

However, if you're serious about Magic, it doesn't quite work like that. You don't even have to be a degenerate collector. It's not exactly a niche interest to keep up to date with, say, the most popular Constructed format. Yet competitive Modern players needed, at various points throughout 2021, mythics both from Standard and from Modern Horizons 2. If Wizards were serious about the pick-and-choose approach, then there's no reason to make Rick, Steadfast Leader legal in Legacy. I mean, sure, this particular card isn't relevant to the format. But as soon as something like Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer is available exclusively via some Secret Lair at $99.99 plus shipping plus taxes plus fees plus extra taxes, Legacy players will have to sell off one of their kidneys or approximately half a dual land.

Right. Unfinity. It was one of the most highly anticipated releases of the upcoming year for everybody serious about Magic because we assumed we could finally safely sit one out. It promised a much-needed reprieve, time off to catch a breath. What we expected from initial teasers was a silver-bordered set that for once wouldn't add any new cards to any format. Well, the joke's on us because of course it does, and of course Wizards found the most inelegant way to make that happen.

Keep or Müll?

Are the following cards legal for sanctioned tournament play?


keep or mull

The answers are, in order from left/back to right/front: yes, yes, yes, maybe with a bit of leniency from the head judge, yes, yes, and hell no. How many did you get correct?

The first is an official printing of Anguished Unmaking, the next a perfectly fine Swamp, then comes an equally proper Decree of Pain (all of which you can actually buy on Cardmarket). The middle spot is tricky: an altered Kenrith, the Returned King (also available on Cardmarket) whose original art has been painted over with a cool spin on the meaning of "returned." Going by the book, this makes the card too hard to recognize and thus ineligible for tournaments. However, if the Kenrith isn't thicker or otherwise marked when sleeved, the head judge might look at it, look at the other Wizards-approved cards here, look at this paragraph from the rules again, and give a hearty chuckle before ignoring it.

Next are a Snow-Covered Plains and a Grim Tutor from upcoming Secret Lairs (not yet listed on Cardmarket at the time of writing). The final card, however, is a fan-designed Treasure Map / Treasure Cove proxy that is literally illegal to sell, mustn't ever see play in tournaments, and rings no more alarm bells than the others. Had I first seen it on the other side of the battlefield, I would have mistaken it for a real Secret Lair piece too. Luckily, I first saw it in this tweet.

Let's try this same game again. Which one of the following two cards is legal for sanctioned tournament play?


the cheese stands alone barren glory

Correct. The Cheese Stands Alone is purely for fun, whereas Barren Glory is serious business. The silver border and the expansion symbol give it away.

Got time for another round? Legacy tournaments will allow one of these two but not the other.


saw in half killer cosplay

Yes, Saw in Half and Killer Cosplay both are from Unfinity. Both have the same black border, the same expansion symbol. So why is one legal? How? If you know the answer, well, good for you. If you don't, here's one more exercise. Corporate needs you to find the difference between these two pictures:


water balloon game water balloon game

Hint: The Water Gun Balloon Game on the right would have made every changeling a Teddy Boar and would have introduced pink as the sixth color into gameplay. Would have—because it is merely an incorrect image that Wizards put into their article by accident. Think of the Un- cards and their little in- jokes what you will, but that is hilarious. The difference between these two pictures is so tiny the publishers themselves didn't even notice! In an article, no less, whose main point was to let the world know that it will have to make sure to note the difference going forward! If anything legitimately invites schadenfreude, it's hypocrisy of the do-as-we-say-not-as-we-do type showing its face and falling flat on same.

In the article, Mark Rosewater recounts how Wizards realized that over half of their card designs for Unfinity would work in black border. Next he makes a leap. "That then led us to our big idea: what if there was a way to express 'silver border-ness' that didn't require a silver border?"

Well, here's an idea. It's not a big idea, but hear me out. What if you expressed "silver border-ness" in the tried, tested, traditional—not to mention eponymous—way that everybody already knows and loves and that doesn't require a major upheaval? How about you give these cards a silver border? Granted, silver is expensive, but I'm sure your printer can find some cheap combination of pigments that'll look close enough. If you have a set that's half black border and half silver border in spirit, why isn't it half black border and half silver border in reality?


acorn

Instead they decided to give the different cards different holofoil security stamps, this glittery spot on the lower border of a card's text box. An acorn-shaped stamp adorns Unfinity cards not suitable for competitive play, while those legal in Legacy and Vintage will get the regular oval stamp or no stamp at all. Rosewater explains, "Yes, an acorn. Squirrels have long been associated with Un- sets, and the shape was distinct. What an acorn security stamp means is exactly what a silver border used to."

Does it though? What about Ass Whuppin' and Border Guardian and Gimme Five and Ineffable Blessing and Side Quest and Underdome and (one version of) Everythingamajig? (Not this one.)

By the way, black-bordered Squirrels outnumber silver-bordered Squirrels by 60%. Black-bordered cards that mention Squirrels outnumber their silver-bordered counterparts 25 to eight. The word acorn, too, appears far more often inside of black borders. If you're looking for a distinct shape that has long been associated with Un- sets, exclusively even, I have a better suggestion.


willow faerie
Willow Faerie has an idea for the acorn; similar to squirrel behavior it may involve cheeks

End of the Conversation

Player feedback: Hey, Wizards! You're releasing too many cards all the time. We can barely keep up. It's also getting increasingly hard to tell what is an actual, real, tournament-legal Magic card.

Wizards: How about we add another full set to the schedule compared to what you were expecting? (Keep in mind that it doesn't matter for the number of boxes you people need to open whether half or all of it is relevant.) As for your other concern, how about we make you look closely at a tiny, hitherto unimportant part of the card to determine legality in the future?

Player: Thanks, I hate it.


I am altering the deal. Pray I don't alter it any further.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and definitely not Cardmarket's.



21 Comments

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JackyLas(15.12.2021 19:26)

Fantastic article, thought-provoking and funny

Kasin(09.12.2021 15:05)

The more I thought about it the more I started to agree. For example first I thought kenrith would be illegal because the rules text is obscured but then I remembered the existence of textless bolt promo and the like.
Or that the acorn stamp would be the more optimal way to mark legal cards without raising questions about old unset legalities but no, they still could've kept the silver border at least which I'm sad to see go too.
The amount of product has lead to lower quality assurance I feel, in these decisions as well as spoilering wrong version of cards

Ryuseistar(09.12.2021 14:32)

They probably cannot print both silver and black border cards in the same set as those need to be on different sheets. It is not a problem for the basic lands or even the shocklands because they are in a dedicated slot of the booster pack, but when it comes to the actual "core cards" of the set, it would be a logistical nightmare.

TobiH
TobiHenke(06.01.2022 07:54)

Oh, you're likely right that this is their reason. But there would have been ways around it (assign half a pack to dedicated slots maybe, and/or just suffer the higher costs). This was a logistical nightmare for them to solve; now it's a logistical nightmare for players to solve.

enkimat(09.12.2021 01:11)

I think you listed every reason why I quitted Magic recently. I was not prepared to burn out of a hobby...

Basinator(08.12.2021 22:44)

You really have to wonder whether the judge calls about whether specific card artworks are allowed on cards or a specific card being allowed in a match did increase as much as the profits.

UnCrowd(08.12.2021 17:28)

"Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and definitely not Cardmarket's."

Hilarious. And suspicious..

Havoc88(08.12.2021 12:08)

Nothing more to add, except for: WHY DO U DO THIS? WOTC, WHY???

Hardtrack(08.12.2021 17:10)

Really? Didn't you read the same article I did? Because revenue has grown 218% and profits climbed 260%, that's why. That's the reason, pure and simple. I hate it too, but I'm not flabbergasted by it.

PlanarGate(08.12.2021 11:19)

That was really nice, thanks :)

benjamingjake(07.12.2021 21:25)

Thanks for the great article. I think the whole F. I. R. E. Philosophy is more about maximizing profits than anything else. As a consequence I bought hasbro shares (HAS) - although this is not solely WOTC. Even as a casual player the new sets becomes simply strenuous and you feel drained (at least if you try to keep up) - this applies to eternal format players (e. G. Legacy) as well as to Commander/ EDH as you need to scan each and every new set (even standard sets) for the new "chase cards" - which you buy a playset at the cost of almost a dual land (Oko, Ragavan, Allosaurus, etc.) with no guarantee that this gets hid by the ban hammer as soon as the set rotates out of print. In addition, there is the risk that expensive cards get reprinted limitlessness. Standard used to be a "rotating" format, but it really sucks that Modern and/ or even Legacy became "rotating formats" as well. Re new products I am out and might just keep casual EDH/ Commander decks and see when it's time to sell my Hasbro shares :-) Still need to determine whether I sell my collection as well or adjust it to old school.

SkeletonLord(07.12.2021 18:32)

This is a superbly-written article. Hats off to Tobi Henke.

One thing I would like to add: According to Mark Rosewater, 2020 and 2021 have been highly profitable years for Magic, in terms of revenue, despite the global pandemic negatively affecting in-store play. The explanation, as far as I can tell, is that WotC is selling more and more Magic products (both physical and digital), and people are buying them. Even if player feedback indicates that the consumers feel that there's too many new products, WotC is unlikely to stop their current strategy. Secret Lairs are here to stay. And along with them, tournament-legal-if-unrecognizable Magic cards. At least until printing these unrecognizable cards stops being profitable.

Vayra86(07.12.2021 14:24)(Edited: 07.12.2021 14:55)

Just boycot Unfinity and all these other Hollywood releases.

They're idiots and they need to know. And obviously this kills any legitimacy of anyone saying Mark Rosewater is somehow the last defender of this game inside Wizards. The man is a hypocrite and a liar. Let it be known, proven, and hold them accountable for this nonsense. I wonder how he sleeps at night, but maybe he's so used to it now that he lives his own reality.

Another element that fits right in here is the creation of online-only mechanics in Arena. The game becomes completely misty across formats, platforms, etc. And for what purpose? Was online lacking in complexity? I hardly think so. The real reason is they want unique selling points for everyone, they want to introduce more pay-to-win because it makes lots of money especially in online gaming with fast evolving meta, etc etc etc. As a long time digital gamer I see the similarities and all this money-oriented expansion is what killed many games I used to like or play. And it does kill them long term. Trust is very hard to gain, and very easy to lose.

Beaver(07.12.2021 13:53)

I had the intention of collecting complete sets of every modern legal expansion (and I succeeded up to 2019)... This year, I realized it became impossible.
First, I had no idea if I had to include the extra cards in the planeswalker decks (with collector numbers like 272/269), but they were not expensive as singles, so I bought them.
Then came Eldraine, and I thought the 'collector boosters' were meant for me, a collector. I paid a lot of money for boosters with a full art standard card nobody remembers anymore now.
And than another set, and another, ... It's just impossible to collect, so I completely lost any interest as a collector, as a result of the 'collector boosters'. The irony... How can I call myself a collector if I'm not collecting those cards found in the collector boosters?
So I decided to sell it all, separately.
Collector boosters killed the collector inside me. That's OK for me, I don't expect that my opinion should matter to WOTC. But I am curious to understand what kind of 'collector' they are making this for.

Vayra86(07.12.2021 14:29)(Edited: 07.12.2021 14:30)

Beaver They think the gotta catch-em-all mechanic scales infinitely when it obviously doesn't as people have their limits, even if you're totally addicted to this game. At some point you realize you're doing heroin and its not healthy.

It echoes in many corporate worlds, limitless expansion that is way past sensible.

Athlete(07.12.2021 12:16)

Thank you, very entertaining article :)

derVivian(07.12.2021 10:23)

I hate to say that, but I think that all this does to magic as a game, is fasten the development magic would have taken anyway. It's not something the majority of the players wants to happen, but something most players are willing to pay for.
I think in a few years we will laugh back at the time when a normal human beeing could actually keep track of the number of magic products and when it was still possible to tell the legality of a card without scanning it with some app. Someone who starts playing magic in 3 or 4 years wont start as the people did in the past with the knowledge that there is a limited amount of cards and that someday he will know most of them but start with the mindset that there is an infinite amount of cards that's even increasing. I have no idea if that is a bad thing, for formats like EDH it might even be a good thing, but I see formats liek legacy and even modern die a slow death as well as probably any other format but Standard that we have right now that is meant for competitive play. But I would bet, that there will be new formats that arise, and who knows, maybe they are even more fun then the ones we have right now. Wizards has a big history of doubtable descisions but these never actually stopped people from playing Magic.

Vayra86(07.12.2021 14:34)(Edited: 07.12.2021 14:36)

DerVivian
Wizards also has Gatherer, a fantastic query engine that orders cards no matter how many they create. Anyone with half a brain can sift through cards no matter how many exist.

What it looks like to me, is overwhelm players with information and no matter what happens, enough will stick to make guaranteed money. There is no long term strategy here of preserving this or that. There is only money. They want to set a norm for new generations that screams buy-buy-buy and 'everything goes'. They're creating space to sell even more ridiculous cards in the future. The roadmap is already filled with them. Fortnite... Really?

ivbatt(07.12.2021 08:45)(Edited: 07.12.2021 10:12)

The main problem (for me, at least) with having too many products every year is not much the sheer number of them you have to buy if you are a collector, but the fact that with so many products in so little time there is no way they can play-test them and iterate on balancing decently.
Nowdays it's become a meme, but it is still true that in the last few years we had more bannings than in literally decades of the game existing.
This can't be a coincidence.
...
Then you have Wizards trying to reinvent the wheel (with the acorn stamp instead of silver borders this time) and getting it painfully wrong every time they try.

MagicCardChris(07.12.2021 05:28)

Well, yeah. When you put it like that. Good observations. And oof.

Kristallini(07.12.2021 01:44)

I frankly think that people who actually care about owning 4 copies of every card in every version earn so much money that they can afford such nonsense XD

Yes, there will be more cards and more sets, but in my eyes it's a great way to sort out the personal failures and ignore them. As much as I liked the lore of Kaldheim, I found the set as such underwhelming, and the DnD set felt like a foreign body in the Magic cosmos from the beginning and was a complete failure in terms of cards and mechanics. Still, I think it was a great Magic year, because I love Strixhaven, MH2 and the Innistrad sets dearly. So I left the former, and only bought a few interesting singles, and cracked quite some packs of the latter. And I'm sure there will be one or two less interesting sets again next year, which you can then give the pass to with a clear conscience, the next good set is sure to come.

Now to the actual topic of the article: I don't understand Wizards either, as much as I was happy about the beautiful new Lands, I also found the change of the Silver Borders ridiculous. The idea of adding a few Eternal legal cards makes total sense, it upgrades the set in my eyes, but the marking is a design mistake. My assumption was that Wizards wants to encourage people to use the Un-Cards for Commander decks, for example, which then deviate from the norm, whereas this idea might never have occurred to them before. But now they look more like "Normal" Cards, so why not use them like this for casual games and decks.

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