A Decline in MTG Quality Assurance?

Currently there is a general perception that the overall quality of Magic cards has been severely declining over the years.  Perhaps this is an arrogant assumption on my part, but I'd wager that the misprint community is probably the most informed sub-culture of the MTG player/collector base when it comes to seeing the complete picture regarding the overall quality of MTG product.  For what it's worth, it is literally our hobby to collect production errors.  Hopefully I can share some of our insights into what has and hasn't shifted in this heated topic.

So...What is quality assurance?
Source: Dictionary.com

Source: Dictionary.com

Ok, so what sort of QA system does WotC and the MTG printing facilities have?

Well...they don't really go into too much detail, but here's what Cartamundi's website has to say on the topic.  We also get a very tiny insight into WotC's QA involvement with this article.

From Cartamundi's website.

Source: Building Tariel, WotC

Source: Building Tariel, WotC

Holy crap!  Like nothing should like ever be misprinted or wrong with MTG as long as there’s QA right, dude?

Wrong.  Mistakes are a natural part of production.  The more complicated the production process and the more you produce stuff, the more room there is for mistakes.  ISO:9001 is a standardized QA system that companies (in this case Cartamundi) can cater to their own needs.  What that boils down to is that Cartamundi can choose what is and isn't acceptable for the quality of their products.  As long as they meet their self prescribed quality standards and processes, they can keep their ISO certification.  This is a gross generalization of ISO, but is meant to illustrate that the level and degree of QA is a choice.

Wait a second... You’re saying that printing facilities are CHOOSING to not have 100% perfect product?

Well, sort of.  If they were physically capable of ensuring a 100% as-intended product, they would probably do so as long as it wasn't super expensive.  By setting the acceptable standards lower than 100%, they're being realistic.  Things happen during production.  No machine and no person is perfect.  Sometimes mistakes just get through.  Cartamundi's QA system just insures that it maintains an acceptable margin of error.

But, Jason, I’m seeing tons errors every set release!  So many more than what I used to see.  Surely that means they’ve lowered their standards right?

It's possible, but let's talk about something called Survivorship Bias.  Survivorship bias can be summed up as people's ability to draw incorrect correlations and conclusions based on the visibility of an outcome.  For example; "I'm seeing a ton more misprints than I used to so there must be declining production standards."  The truth is that you can draw any number of conclusions based on the number of misprints you're seeing, and none of them are more correct than than the others (unless you have inside information).

So what other factors can contribute to the perception of there being more misprints?

 I'm glad you asked!

1.  MTG is the most popular it's ever been AND more Magic cards are currently being printed than ever before. 

Let's paint a hypothetical picture where we say 1% of any set's total print run is misprinted.  Set A (nostalgically printed in 2010) has a total print run of 20 million cards (this is a hypothetical scenario with entirely made up numbers, but bear with me) which means we see approximately 200,000 misprints.  Set B (which just came out in 2017) had a 100 million card run which yields 1 million misprints.  Pretty simple math to understand why you're seeing more.  If you look at the data we do have about MTG print run size it actually correlates pretty nicely with the sets we know to have lots of misprints, but also to the severity of misprints in those sets.  Take Fallen Empires as an example.  There was a pretty large jump in production numbers (75mil The Dark > 375mil FE) and as a result FE has some super spicy misprints.

2.  There is a higher level of awareness of the misprint community. 

As of writing this blog post, the Misprints and Rarities Facebook Group has ~28,000 members, ~5,000 of which have joined in the last 6 months.  The more people that are aware of misprints the more people there are who will post them on teh iternets.  No surprise there why you're seeing more of them pop up.

3.  WotC/Hasbro/Cartamundi/The Illuminati (#conspiracyTheories) keep futzing with cards. 

Magic the Gathering is a fluid and living game.  New stuff is being done all the time.  This can be super subtle visual changes to a minor part of the card that you may never notice, to major mechanics that completely change how a MTG card functions.  Every time you add a new element, you add more possibilities for things to go wrong.  It's not just visual or mechanical changes to cards that they've been playing around with either, but I'll address this in the next paragraph.

4.  WotC likes to experiment, gauge the results, and then course correct on the fly. 

This includes the physical makeup of the cards.  We've seen subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) changes in cardstock and foiling processes throughout various product releases.  I don't bring this up to poo poo all over WotC for choosing lower quality cardstock (not really an argument that you can have without insider information) but rather as another element which can induce variance to the printing process, and therefore contribute to the higher population of misprints.

Dilbert gets it...

Dilbert gets it...

Ok, well that's a whole slew of factors that contribute to our perception of WotC's QA, but what's the bottom line here?  What it all comes down to is that it is extremely likely that it's a combination of all of the above.  Thinking that MTG QA standards have plummeted to the point where we need to be frothing-at-the-mouth upset with WotC is a stance that doesn't take into consideration all of the factors.  However, at the same time, we are SEEING more abnormal product than ever before.

Ok, so QA probably hasn’t shifted, but we are seeing more production errors. Does that mean misprints aren’t worth as much anymore?

Technically yes and technically no.  Misprint value, is heavily dependent on severity of the misprint.  The question is, who determines what severity of misprint is valuable and what isn't?  It's based on availability.  Our perception of what is cool and what isn't is based on what we see.  The more of a specific type of misprint we see, the less we'll value it.  In a way, the massive influx of misprints has resulted in collectors acquiring a more refined taste.  We value the more severe (rarer) misprints more.

Well...that about wraps this up.  QA may have shifted slightly, but there are many other factors at work.  What are your thoughts on MTG card quality?  Do you agree or disagree with me.  Let me know in the comments and thanks for reading!

The Misconceptions of Determining Value

"It's not worth anything if you're not selling it."

"In order to determine the value you need to auction it."

"This type of misprint is worth 1.5 times the normal value of the card"

I'm going to do my best to not make this a rant, but statements like this are a huge pet peeve of mine.  They are not true and they are continually offered as advice to people who are looking for estimates and information about their misprints.

It turns out that people have been thinking and talking about the concept of value for a very long time.  I'm not an economist, but there's some pretty intriguing Wikipedia entries which you can check out here and here.  To avoid getting into a theoretical or philosophical debate on the concept of value, I'll just use the dictionary.com definition:

From dictionary.com.  Edited to remove non-relevant definition #1 from image.

From dictionary.com.  Edited to remove non-relevant definition #1 from image.

Statements that suggest that a misprint has no value unless it is being sold are entirely contradictory to the very definition of the word.  Value is a representation of potential.  It's equally dependent on the willingness of the buyer to pay a specific price as it is for a seller to sell for a specific price.  A lot of times an auction is actually a really poor way to determine the value of an object.  Sometimes an auction goes unnoticed and an item goes for less than it would had it proper visibility.  Other times there can be a bidding war which can escalate way past the historical market price for an item due to stubborn competitiveness.  Black and white representations of market value and supply vs demand are sound theories, but the reality we live in is covered in greys.  I really like the following paragraph from the wikipedia article:


Note that economic value is not the same as market price, nor is economic value the same thing as market value. If a consumer is willing to buy a good, it implies that the customer places a higher value on the good than the market price. The difference between the value to the consumer and the market price is called "consumer surplus"[1]. It is easy to see situations where the actual value is considerably larger than the market price: purchase of drinking water is one example.


If you've read my article about determining the value of misprints you already know that there are several factors to consider when appraising a misprint.  The ability to accurately appraise misprints is something that requires experience, skill, and dedicated and continual observation of the market.  Applying standard multipliers to types of misprints is an exercise in futility for all of the reasons and definitions of value mentioned above.

Misprint economics aside, using one of the three quotes mentioned at the beginning of this blog post, or any variation is simply a dick move.  People are requesting information.  A lot of the time their intent is to sell and they're looking to be informed about the product in which they're trying to sell so they can feel that they're making good decisions.  Throwing flawed and generic responses at them is not only unhelpful, but can also pressure people into making bad decisions.  It's bad...just don't do it.  No, really.  Please stop.  If you don't agree, feel free to leave a comment here explaining why or send me an email!

Ixalan DFC's aren't and won't be worth SQUAT!

Ugh, thanks WoTC...

So you may have seen this recent announcement published by Wizards of the Coast admitting to the use of the incorrect cardstock on an undisclosed amount of dual faced cards (DFC for short) in Ixalan.

As a result of this announcement, the misprint community has seen the inevitable flood of people asking if their cards are misprints and flooding marketplaces like eBay with all these new "misprints" they've opened.

 

Even worse, there are people with significant youtube followings, who know little about misprints, spreading misinformation by directly comparing this mishap to Summer Magic!

**Facepalm**

I'm here to set the record straight:

IXALAN DFC's WILL NOT BE WORTH MORE THAN THE NORMAL VERSION OF THE CARD!  NEVER.

If we look at eBay right now we can see that people are hoping that misprint collectors will buy these magical new misprints at exorbitant premiums.  There's a small flood of flashlight photos and "Ixalan Misprint" listing titles all over eBay,

Holy crap!  Only $500 for a playset of misprinted Growing Rites?  Sign me up!  **even harder facepalm**

So are these cards even selling?  Admittedly, a few of them are, but not for the insane prices that some people are putting them at.  If you've read my article about how to figure out the value of your misprint, you'll recall that I brought up supply and demand.  Any demand for these cards is going to dry up very quickly.  The types of collectors who want to own a few or all of these most likely have already got them.  The more experienced collectors won't be in a rush though and if they don't have them yet will wait for the over-hype to pass before picking them up.  What I'm saying is that there's LITTLE TO NO DEMAND for these cards.  A few have sold on eBay at slightly higher prices, but that ship has sailed.

Yes...2 listings got lucky, but don't expect that to be the norm.

So now that we've established a baseline for demand, let's talk about supply.  For WotC to make a PA about the error means that they are expecting multiple people to run into these and they needed to acknowledge them to avoid any potential competitive REL issues.  From that, we can infer that a significant portion of product has been affected.  This is supported by the fact of how many people are finding these cards now.  It's safe to say that this is a very common error.

If you wan't to figure out the price of a very common production error over the long term, you need to take a look at the other very common errors that have popped up throughout the history of magic.  I'm talking about the hairy Runeswords, the shifted Gaea's Touch, Alpha Unsummon, and the myriad of other similar examples throughout magic's history

Let's compare our Ixalan DFC to one of the more valuable recurring misprints. 

Unlike the Lost Vale to its right and the other 3 aforementioned common misprints the Serra Angel/Time elemental is visually stunning.  Anyone who knows either of the 2 cards or anything about magic can immediately tell that there's something wrong.  To top it off Serra Angel is a very collectible card.  There are reasons that this card commands a $75+ price-tag.

The Lost Vale on the other hand requires a flashlight to even verify that it is a misprint.  Otherwise it doesn't stand out at all.  It's arguably less noticeable than the hairy runesword.  People are also unsure about if these cards will be considered marked due to the tangible difference from normal cards when shuffling.  That's why it will never carry a significant premium.

I hope after reading this that I've cleared up any potential confusion about the Ixalan cardstock issue.  I need your help.  Take this blog and share it.  Stop the rumors about DFC's being valuable misprints from spreading further.  The misprint community has become a bit of a dumping ground. Normal MTG players are opening minor misprints more than ever and because of misconceptions about what is collectible, we see floods of cards that are not.  This may not seem like a big deal, but it's damaging to the health of our hobby.  Imagine that you're watching your favorite tv show, and every 7 seconds a trailer for a show that you may be interested in interrupts your viewing experience.  It'll get very old very quickly.  Thank you for helping me spread the word!