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Thursday, December 18, 2008

From the Wire to the Soapbox: The End of an Error

Wizards has recently confirmed long standing speculation that all print releases will be black bordered. This brings to a close a 10 plus year mistake, and paves the road for improved international re-printings. Beginning with Wizards second major release of Unlimited in December 1993, the precedent was set that all reprinted cards, like those of the base or core set would be white bordered. This also represents the first time in the fifteen year history of the game that I can recall a single Wizards DCI policy change which was universally met with approval.

I have to admit that I have mixed feelings on this issue. I clearly remember my very first magic cards were white bordered, from the Revised released April 1994. I even recall how odd the the Ice Age cards seemed when they were released, and how inferior black bordered cards felt at the time, simply because I had grown accustom to my white bordered ways.

Black bordered cards (BB's for short) quickly became much more highly sought after by both collectors and players, as the mark of a "real" or "experienced" player, and carried with them a prestige that WB's have never been able to match. Even today the same card from the Unlimited printing can often be had for pennies on the dollar when compared the far more desirable Beta printing.

Ancestral Recall brings a whopping $700.00 for an average condition in Beta, but a mere $500.00 for a similar condition from Unlimited. Armageddon fetches $50.00 for Beta and $7.50 Unlimited. The highly sought after Dual-Lands often fetch 300-500% more as BB then their WB counterparts. Casual Table swingers like Balance can fetch a 10 fold premium for BB or WB. Even cards currently rendered unplayable like the Lace cycle, or Ante cards routinely fetch premiums of 8-10 fold for BB or WB.

So why this seemingly in explicable difference? DCI does not recognize any difference of cards from different print runs but for 2 exceptions to address the the physical difference in size of Alpha addition, and certain "collector only" print runs which have different card back, thus potentially marking these cards in sanctioned play. Even cards with different card wordings, printed from different runs, are rendered functionally the same thanks to Oracles over riding effects. So then some will inevitably ask why one black lotus is worth more then another when the only difference is the border color of the cards?

The reason here is both simple and complex at the same time, and finds it's roots in both the early days of the game and the core of what Magic was and has become. Magic was and always will be a collectible card game or CCG for short. A certain population of it's ownership will always be collectors, all though most of us would describe our selves as players first and foremost. The majority of the time a BB represents an earlier printing, and thus a more sought after collectible then the later WB equivalents. There always has been, and will be a certain prestige derived by collectors and players alike from BB cards which WB will never be able to match. Nothing says "Noob" like flopping down a WB card, and for years WB basic lands was a sign to take it easy, since the player was bound to be new to the game.

This really caused very few real problems except with the ever growing international releases. Since cards had not been printed previously in some language, their first printing was expected to be BB. This often made even mid range power cards from Spain, Italy, Germany, and the like collectors items simply do to the fact that they were BB. This brought with it extreme price fluctuations due to highly sporadic supply, and made some cards a danger to collect because the next international flight could flood your local market with relatively cheap, highly sought after cards.

Admittedly, I often use this virtual card racism to my advantage, and pick up white bordered cards cheaper for decks and my collection. In the end winning is winning, and the WB will do until I can afford to black out my collection. While I have never taken any formal measurements on the subject, I would guess that 20% of my collection is WB. This stems primarily from my earliest cards which are, and will probably remain WB do to the cost of what few BB equivalents exist. My complete set of 9th and what little 8th I own is almost entirely WB, although I suspect that I will discover BB in other areas of my Vintage collections as I continue to organize, and purge out duplications.

Just as I will continue to purge and replace by WB's for the more prized BB's, so to will the community at large. The day will come were WB will have run it's course, and become extinct to the multiverse, seen only in museum displays, and old timer stories about the "good old days". Rapidly 99% of all WB's will be destined to the penny boxes of retailers, or continually recycled to the future generations of noobs until their fibers give way to the demands of time, and use. Only a few WB cards will retain any real value as the demand for the card in any condition will outweigh it's supply. In any case we witness these days an end of an error, and a fundamental change to the game.

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