Daniel Urazandi of Bizarro World in Davis, California comments on Scott Thorne's recent column regarding the high demand for Magic: The Gathering--Battle for Zendikar Fat Packs (see "Rolling for Initiative--'Battle for Zendikar' and Basic Economic Principles").

ICv2 columnist Scott Thorne tried to put some perspective on the anger directed at retailers over the massive shortage of Battle for Zendikar Fat Packs.  He reasonably cites basic economics to explain the skyrocketing prices but failed to place the blame where it really belongs: if demand vastly exceeds supply in a controlled market, whoever controls the supply and/or the demand is responsible for the discrepancy.  In this case, Wizards of the Coast controlled both factors and is entirely to blame for all the disappointment, animosity, price gouging and general ill will surrounding the fat pack shortage that is marring an otherwise immensely successful Magic launch.  Yet it is the brick and mortar retailers on the front lines who are feeling the customers' understandable outrage.  This disgust should be diverted to the real source of the problem, but that requires some understanding of the market.

As soon as Wizards of the Coast decided to put full art land in this particular Fat Pack they increased demand at least tenfold, and they knew it.  Yet they did not increase supply to match and diverted what increase was made.  I admittedly am not privy to Wizards' production numbers but I know what happened in my case, which I am sure is not unique, and I can assume much of the rest.  I have a WOTC direct sales account and I WAS NOT ALLOWED TO ORDER EVEN ONE MORE COPY OF THIS FAT PACK THAN MY USUAL ALLOCATION.  I got 24.  I wanted to order two hundred.  It appears that I could have sold four to five hundred.  I still got 24.  Wizards absolutely refused to increase this number for this set despite all my requests, and they refuse to do another printing.  So they added $20 to $30 value, increased demand vastly and insisted that I could only buy the same amount as I did of Fate Reforged or any other run of the mill Fat Pack.  You see, 24 is the allotment for Wizards Play Network Advanced level stores, which is what mine is.  A requirement for Advanced stores is that we have 100 unique players per year at our tournaments (this is a minimum--almost all stores would have more; we have over 200).  This leads to an interesting and telling piece of math should anyone be naive enough to try to excuse WOTC on claim of ignorance.  By their own standard, they knew I had at least 100 unique players and probably double that if you count casual players who do not hold DCI cards or play in sanctioned tournaments.  That's 200+ players, and they made a product that every player would want and allocated me to 24.

Given that WOTC only allowed me to order 1/10 of what I could certainly sell, I am left no good option.  I can sell out to preorder and have zero on release day or sell out in an hour on release day.  I can charge a higher price, but this won't keep stock more than a few more hours.  Maybe some stores that sold close to the $60 online price could have held stock for a few days.  But that's it.  And before you ask, of course I called every secondary distributor I knew for more quantity well in advance, but they were all sold out or only able to spare me single digit quantities.  Again, I don't have hard numbers but I expect that the first few high rollers that got the word of the added value (quite probably before the official announcement as there are no insider trading laws in this market) called these same distributors and said "I'll take all you have."

In any case, WOTC's changing the product thus heightening the demand while not changing the numbers available to me made it impossible for me to do my job, which is to provide customers with what they want to buy.  Wizards has created a situation that causes sellouts, drives up prices and diverts buyers to large retailers.  The only ones who lose out are the smaller shops and the customers, and in a perverse twist one victim blames the other.

So what can we do?  We aren't going to get any more of this product.  But every time I have to turn away a sale for it I am giving a short lesson, often just as brief as "Wizards wouldn't let me order even one more Fat Pack than for previous sets," lest my customers think I am to blame for incompetence, short-sightedness, price gouging or anything else that retailers are being blamed for in this debacle.  Several customers have expressed outright disbelief and shock when I explain the facts at some length as I just did here.  How to educate without sounding bitter is a trick, but I refuse to take the blame for another's decisions.  These are issues for every retailer to consider on their own, but we should all be in agreement that making us take the range of customer scorn from internet expletives to disappointed looks and general ill will on top of all our own frustration at lost sales is a deed that WOTC should be held to account for.

The opinions expressed in this Talk Back are solely those of the writer, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the editorial staff of ICv2.com.