Wizards always wants to have an intro pack to highlight every theme and interaction in the set. This often means 4-5 individual products 4 times a year. That's 16-20 mediocre decks every year. Folks that's a lot of mediocre! I think the best thing Wizards could do for Intro packs is to simply make 3 good intro packs for each set. This would have to cut the development costs for this product line significantly. Maybe it woulldn't be the implied 25-40% cut, but it would have to be some sort cost reduction for Wizards.
I can hear you all out there "Why three decks?", and the answer is it fits the current state of the game. It has long been established that Wizards R&D uses three base line player profiles: Timmy, Johnny, and Spike. With three decks you could easily build a deck that would appeal to each one, or better yet design 3 decks that each appeal 2 two of the groups, since most players tend to have all three aspects in them at some level. Similarly there are three core deck design types; Agro, Control, and Combo. You could easily build one deck to address each of these types, and still better would be 3 decks touching on 2 types each.
The last reason to make this product adjustment is the wholesale case distribution. Currently wholesale cases have one each of the 4-5 decks in the release. Under my proposal you could change the case set up to be two of each deck, making the decks easier to find for players, and eliminating out of stock, and slow replacement issues that are often found in both the big box retailers and the mom-and-pop shops. This may result in a short term lower sales of wholesale cases for Wizards, but will result in more new players. Players buy packs, either directly or through retail pack-openers. More players means more packs sold by Wizards in the long run.
Now that we have talked about how many products to make, lets talk about what to put in them. Adding the Booster pack last year was a great move, and moving back to a 60 cards deck out of the box is a step in the right direction. First off, since you are bumping back up to 60 cards, now is the perfect time to include a 3rd rare. I'd suggest since most of the decks will be a main color, with a second color splashed in, make the 3rd rare in the off color. Secondly put more uncommons in the deck. Players who build their collections by openeing packs end up with nearly 2 sets of commons by the time they complete their uncommons playset. Help them out here, and push the number of uncommons and cutting some commons in these decks. While we are talking about commons, lets cut back on the one-of's in these decks. If a common is flavorful, and demonstrative of the color's pie functions, why only put one copy in? I know it creates demand, but how much demand for packs would you be cutting by putting a second copy of a good common into the deck? Fact is not much, but you are creating a lot of play value for the deck. Lastly, use the Intro Pack as an opportunity to create some buzz about the next set. Include a single uncommon of the primary color, something that provides casual utility, and hints at flavor, but doesn't give away to much about the new set. You would only need to add a paragraph explaining that this preview card can't be played at their Standard FNM, and would create an opportunity to transition into the included Booster Pack, and making adjustments to the deck.
So what happens when you apply these concepts to one of the most successful Intro Packs released in 2009? Lets see, M10's We are Legion was by far the best selling and most popular Intro Packs of the year, but I have news for Wizards, it had very little to do with the deck they designed. It's simple Honor of the Pure, one of the included rares was selling for more then the MSRP of the entire intro pack. I was like buying the rare, getting a free booster pack, and a bunch of junk cards for free, and that is exactly how people treated it. I remember playing in my local store one day, when a player came in bought this intro pack, went over to a table (didn't bother to sit down), cracked open the deck and pack, stripped out 4-5 cards and left the rest there for a noobie kid sitting near by. The best selling Intro Pack of the year, and players only gave a damn about 4-5 crads out of it, and treated the rest like trash. The other 4 Intro Pack decks from that release hardly sold at all.
Wizards, you are failing your players on this front. Take the We are Legion deck your team designed, and play it a few times. Then add the following cards, try it again, and tell me it doesn't do a better job of introducing concepts, provide more combo interactions, and provide more avenues to refine the deck, then the original. I don't know how much more this deck would have cost to produce, but I'd guess these kind of additions for 3 decks, would cost less then the full development of 2 full dropped decks. Would this make a difference in the player above trashing the deck? Maybe not, but I bet it would make the other decks in the release sell much better, and the kid that inherited the trash pile, would have a better deck.
Act of Treason
2 Safe Passage
Brave the Elements
Now that we have set some ground rules for a better product, and give an example of it, lets talk about how to make the deck more relevant to more players. You have already created a buzz with players by including a preview card, now we just need to create some urgency to buy the product, beyond the rares in the box. The Open Dueling events at Pre/release events is a great pace to start. This is a good program, and if Wizards isn't already doing it, they should push this out to all those hosting these events. I'm still amazed to attend a Pre/release event and find that this option either isn't offered, or only available if you ask about it. To add fuel to the fire, you need to make Open Dueling participation count as an event for DCI player rewards. This would create an incentive for the more mainstream players to enter these events. The average player would probably do this once for each new set, so we are only talking about four additional events per year. That's not even one additional textless card being mailed out each year. That can't be much of a cost, when compared to 4 additional unit sales.
Secondly, instead of giving the regular event promo card for this event, bring out a new one, maybe an uncommon, something with "universal casual appeal". Gorgan Flai comes to mind for the M10 set. Instead of getting another copy of the event promo, players could get this different promo, only available through Open Dueling. How many people would do this event, just to get the otherwise exclusive promo card. Since the Intro Packs would be handed out randomly, it would put a roughly even number of each deck into circulation, and players couldn't single out one chase deck. Promo cards that were not used at the main event, could be used to create store level incentives to buy the Into Packs. Something along the lines of getting a copy of the promo, with the purchase of all three decks at once, would sell a lot of product at the retail level.
Like Mr. Forsythe points out, Wizards and Magic had a great year in 2009, and 2010 looks like it's going to be an even better year. Several fronts, like the Intro Packs, still leave a lot to be desired. While I look forward to what ever changes are already in place beginning with the M11 release, I am a little frustrated knowing that there is still (probably) crappy Intro Packs to be had for the next two releases. While I'm sure that ship has already sailed, maybe these thoughts will help in the development of Intro Packs in the future.