Rolling for Initiative is a weekly column by Scott Thorne, PhD, owner of Castle Perilous Games & Books in Carbondale, Illinois and instructor in marketing at Southeast Missouri State University.  This week, Thorne shares observations on the Magic: The Gathering--Aether Revolt pre-release and takes a look at the recent letter from Wizards of the Coast CEO Chris Cocks.

So far the signs point to a favorable reception of Magic: The Gathering--Aether Revolt by players.  At our store, we "sold" out of spaces in the pre-release tournaments by mid-afternoon Sunday, and I heard of a number of stores that filled all their slots by midday on Saturday.  Sales here for the pre-release weekend were up by about 14% over the Oath of the Gatewatch weekend (I am including everything that sold over the two days, not just seats in the tournament) and so far, release weekend sales have exceeded the sales for Oath of the Gatewatch over the same time period.  Players seem more enthused about this set than they were for OOTG even though the expected value of a booster box of Aether Revolt is significantly less than the expected value of a box of Oath of the Gatewatch.  It would appear that, from the point of view of someone cracking open packs for value and resale, the inclusion of the Masterpiece cards adds too much variability to the value of a box of Aether Revolt, driving the expected value down.

Speaking of Magic: The Gathering, this letter from Wizards of the Coast’s president Chris Cocks on the directions the company is considering caught my attention.  Cocks comments on three different yet similar ways in which he sees the direction of the Wizards product lines going.

1.  New digital versions of Magic and other games from Wizards (by which I would bet he means Dungeons & Dragons).  The recently created Digital Games Studio brings together a lot of veterans from other online game studios and will probably get tasked with reimagining Magic Online, possibly with different iterations of gameplay and digital art.

2.  "Bring characters and worlds to other games and experiences."  This appears to mean creating some form of MMOG featuring characters and worlds from the various expansions of Magic or expanding an online presence of D&D, but unlike Neverwinter Nights, under the control of Wizards/Hasbro.

3.  "Make your Wizards experiences more efficient, connected, and convenient."  This likely means increasing mobile apps and support for both Magic and D&D, probably increasing the ability to track Magic play through your smart phone or build and run your character solely through a tablet app.

One thing I do not see in Cocks’ vision of the future of Magic and Dungeons & Dragons:  any mention of the physical products on which the digital versions are based.  Given his background with Microsoft and digital gaming, that is not really surprising, though he does say he plays both.  Hazarding a guess, I think Wizards has looked at the success Marvel and DC Entertainment have had with movies and online games based upon their comic book properties and hope to leverage the Magic and D&D IPs into success in the digital realm.  The physical versions of Magic and D&D will remain important, in much the same way that Superman and Spider-Man are, important as source material but providing comparatively little revenue to the company.  I think Wizards has looked at the success of Hearthstone, Marvel and Transformers and sees that as the future of the company.

The opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the writer, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the editorial staff of