A group of opportunistic fans want to mint Magic: Gathering the cards into NFTs, creating a new format in the process, codifying the scarcity of certain cards on the blockchain, and cementing the idea that seemingly no one involved in the crypto space has ever heard of the idea of copyright. Magic’s publisher, Wizards of the Coast (WoTC), understandably isn’t happy about this.
Magic: The Gathering is a collectible card game that’s been popular for more than 20 years. Wizards of the Coast has printed millions of cards, and the game is played by people in both a physical and digital format. It has become much more than just a game. For many, it’s also an investment. Individual cards can sell for thousands of dollars and unopened boxes of old sets can sell for tens of thousands.
There is a rich and complicated market of Magic: The Gathering filled with people who make speculative purchases and treat the cards like stocks instead of tools for a game. This secondary market exists alongside the card game people enjoy every day. mtgDAO, a group of crypto people online, wants to lean into the financialization of Magic by building a layer of NFTs on top of the original card game.
mtgDAO created accounts on Twitter, Telegram, and Reddit in November of 2021. In December, it unleashed a white paper explaining the plan. “Magic the Gathering and Crypto are a match made in heaven,” the white paper said. Magic is a great game. The problem is that it’s just too damn fungible. New cards always come out, and there’s no guarantee of how scarce they are or will end up being. But mtgDAO thinks NFTs can change all that.
“Wizards has created value for me personally and thousands of other players who get to spend time playing a game we love. But I think crypto and the world of DAO’s can take this game to the next fucking level,” the white paper states. “We can build a protocol, legally, layered over the top of the existing game, that can spawn a cambrian explosion of creativity in the meta. I want to bring the concept of sound money to the Magic economy so players can trust the scarcity of their investments.”
According to mtgDAO, Wizards devalues the secondary market by printing and reprinting cards. This devalues investments in powerful cards and reduces their value over time. But minting all cards into NFTs and limiting the number available on the market will solve this problem, the project claims. The creation of these Magic NFTs, minted using “MTG” tokens that also form the backbone of governance for the DAO, will also create a new format for play—a world where people have to have both the NFT and the physical card to play a game, and which mtgDAO claims will do away with the necessity to always follow the “meta” of new cards released by Wizards. To play the game in this system, the white paper states that you would have to own the card as well as its associated NFT, not just the NFT.
Crucially, mtgDAO thinks it can do this without Wizards consent or participation. “We are not creating NFTs licensed by WotC, only adding an additional layer of scarcity to be able to play Wizard’s cards in a new format,” mtgDAO said in its white paper. “In the long run, I think there’s a chance we can just buy the Magic brand from Wizards of the Coast. mtgDAO could be the next evolution of what this game and this community is and how it is operated and controlled.”
There are many, many problems with this idea. Magic is already a game where the wealthy have an advantage. Simply being able to buy the best and most expensive cards to use in a deck is a boon. Minting cards into NFTs that will never be replicated or reprinted just deepens this problem.
mtgDAO acknowledged this in the FAQ in its whitepaper. It sure seems like only rich players can win this game. “Yes but no,” mtgDAO said. “The top of the ladder will theoretically be populated with the same deck as is winning outside of the mtgDAO format. Those cards will be popular and will require a lot of MTG (tokens) to mint them,” the white paper said.
The other problem is, of course, taking a company’s intellectual property and turning it into NFTs without their consent. That’s something it appears WoTC has taken issue with. On February 10, mtgDAO pinned a tweet on its Twitter timeline of screenshots it claimed were from a lawyer representing WoTC.
“You appear to be operating under the mistaken assumption that the project would be legal because you would allow the reproduction of MAGIC cards in the form of NFTs only by a player who had purchased a physical card, a card on Arena, or a card on MTGO,” the letter said. This is not correct…on behalf of Wizards of the Coast, we therefore ask that you refrain from implementing your idea for a mtgDAO community that relies on the unlawful reproduction and use of Wizards’ IP.”
mtgDAO threaded the post and said that it thinks WoTC is being shortsighted and that it will continue to push the project forward. “Our vision for mtgDAO is similar to a local game store,” they tweeted. “Here we would host tournaments, fund writers, and sponsor players. A DAO is the primary community building tool of web3. To forbid a Magic DAO is to forbid any authentic presence in web3. Ngmi.”
“This isn’t the end for mtgDAO. I think the web3 community has a lot to bring to the game if Wizards can be open minded enough about us,” mtgDAO said. “Wish us luck!”
mtgDAO also pointed out that the lawyer’s hinted that WoTC is currently evaluating its own NFT projects, a grim portent of the future. “While Wizards is currently evaluating its future plans regarding NFTs and Magic: The Gathering cards, no decision has been made at this time,” the letter mtgDAO posted on Twitter said.
Wizards of the Coast and mtgDAO did not immediately respond to Motherboard’s request for comment.