What to Make of the Monarch News

Yesterday, after a fair bit of teasing, Legend Story Studios finally dropped some Monarch info on us. If you haven’t read it yet, go do that; I’ll wait. Alright, so this is largely in line with previous First Looks in terms of how much info we get. I’m going to unpack what’s available here then discuss what it changes or reinforces from my previous assumptions.

A Moment Please

Before we dive into details and speculation, I want to just pause for a moment and note how good the art and presentation is here. Monarch is going to be, by far, the most attractive product LSS has released to date. I’m not knocking the design on the first three sets; they were fine, but the Monarch design is exceptional –the light and dark stacks of packs? Ooof, so good! (It’s going to be real easy to tell how shuffled up your boxes got during shipping this go ground). Beyond the actual figures, the use of color and sense of motion are really just superb. I kind of assumed that the box was just going to be a new color –maybe blue– but would be largely similar to the previous sets. Instead we get what is really a very eye catching product. Also, I don’t think I mentioned it before, but I’m a big fan of the Monarch logo. It manages to be ornate (appropriate) but also legible.

Items of Note

We’ll kick the discussion of MONU to the end of the article since that’s more about how new information affects my previous take. Instead, I want to look at the new bits that are confirmed, things to speculate on, and a bit of weirdness. In order to impose some basic structure, we’re going to move through the product sheet from top to bottom and discuss elements as we hit them.

The first piece of new information is the Preview Season start date: April 6. This is probably a bit later than most of us were hoping for as the prevailing sentiment has been “give us something, anything!” However, it’s consistent with Crucible of War’s previews. The Pre-release weekend was sort of intuitive based on the known release date, and honestly, kind of irrelevant for most of the US since we probably won’t be able to have them (grats on your country not being a mess, New Zealand/whoever else will manage to host these). Hopefully any exciting promo cards that would be distributed at these will be available later on through other channels (see the ARC heroes showing up in CFB bundles and Alpha Investment kits). On a more practical note, I’m kind of curious how pre-release events would be handled at this point, since most stores are going to be heavily allocated by all accounts, and the idea that first edition product would be around to actually play with seems kind of laughable from my perspective as someone watching people pre-order boxes at $250 on ebay.

Below the dates section, the announcement specifically calls out four new heroes; however, it’s important to note the exact word choice here. It’s four “heroes” not four “classes”. Whether these will be new classes, old classes with new representatives, or a mix of the two remains to be seen. While we’re talking numbers, here’s a weird little tidbit that Matt G from the FAB Discord pointed out to me. When you take the “Set Composition” numbers and add up “1 Fabled, 6 Legendary, 31 Majestic, 79 Rares, 13 Equipment, 159 Commons, 18 Tokens” you get 307 or, as it was introduced on the Monarch teaser “306 new cards + Cracked Bauble”. So what’s weird about that? Well, the “6 Legendary” and “13 Equipment” are not overlapping. So what does that mean? It’s hard to say. Perhaps some or all of the Ls are Equipment, but they’re not listed with the C/R/M equipment for some reason. For comparison, our first two standalone sets had seventeen pieces of equipment each, so thirteen seems quite low.

There are plenty of other options – maybe some or all of the Ls are weapons this time around, or perhaps we have Legendary Legendary cards (Think Gorganian Tome but cold foil). Or, maybe they’re just normal class cards and generics. I think that last one is unlikely, so no need to panic, but we’re definitely going to want to keep an eye on the L spot as the math indicates that something new could be going on here –or, like I said, maybe it’s just the boring option and “13 Equipment” is non-inclusive of the Ls.

Light and Darkness

The blitz release info is less interesting than I hoped since LSS pulled a fast one and gave us some big question marks on the box art, leaving us with little basis for speculation –tease. There are some notable elements going on with the light and dark boxes however. We knew going into this announcement that Monarch was supposed to complete the original mechanical vision for the game. We don’t know what that actually means, but the general assumption is that something new is happening that will having meaningful impact on the game from deck construction up. The speculation that has emerged as the front runner after these latest images were revealed is the idea that an alignment system will be introduced –dark and light, if we’re taking out queues from the packaging.

Under the blitz deck info, there are four unique deck barcodes. My intuition is that this means either the colors matter and we’re getting two heroes per color, or color is just aesthetic and each character will have one light and one dark box, only differentiated by packaging. I don’t want to spend too long guessing at the implications of an alignment system because it could be entirely off base for what the new mechanics introduced by Monarch will be –maybe the light/darkness is more of a plot point where the game’s narrative will deal with Solana versus the forces of darkness; who knows? But, if we are doing alignment, it’s going to be very interesting to see how that actually shakes out. Will you declare allegiance to one or the other via deck building and only get access to light or dark cards? Again, we don’t have anywhere near enough information to make strong arguments, but I think this all adds up to a well-calibrated first look. It gets people’s interest up, spurs speculation, and generally engages the player base. It’s just a shame almost no one who hasn’t already ordered will get any product on release (remember to keep an eye on Reaper). Oh yeah, I guess that brings us to the part of the First look that I’m less excited about.

Unlimited… Allegedly

The weirdest thing about the First Look is that it announces a release date for Unlimited Monarch, and it’s only three weeks after first edition releases. So, for starters, this is a pretty clear indication that supply is wildly insufficient relative to demand, and instead of doing something like printing first edition to demand, they’ve opted to go to unlimited quickly. My initial instinct is to critique this move as artificially pumping the already absurdly high secondary market prices of first edition (again, people are buying boxes at $250 a piece right now on ebay –which is a huge mistake, don’t do that. We’re too far out, so if they don’t ship you your order, you’ll have no recourse, and you have no idea how many of these ebay sellers will actually get their product in the first place).

Like I said, my first impulse is to rail against what this move seems to imply. However, I’m going to take a step back first. Since I wrote my piece decrying the decision to print UNL alongside of first edition as opposed to just making more first edition, a lot of people have engaged me on this point. I still stand by my core ideas on the topic but, I can perhaps refine it a bit more. I still think that the number one goal of LSS needs to be figuring out how to deal with supply issues, and I think that first edition absolutely needs to be less valuable out of the gate to accomplish this. If people are paying $250 now and those prices hold and don’t go up even more, and boxes were pre-ordering for $76-95 6-8 weeks ago, we’re looking at an approximately 260-330% ROI on day one. That’s far too high. Like, congrats to those of us who have them ordered from reliable sources, but that is not what a healthy collectible looks like. I think this very narrow gap between first edition and unlimited is a good indication that we should essentially expect Monarch to sell out before it ever hits shelves. I’m sure a couple stores here and there will put some boxes out, but for the most part, it will be entirely unavailable for anything approaching MSRP, at least in the US. So, if people are paying $250 now in hopes that they get boxes at that price, I think it’s fair to guess that we’ll see $300 boxes before MONU comes out. Given that, why would anyone assume that MONU will be selling for MSRP?

I only see two scenarios here. Either, what I assume will happen comes to pass, and MONU boxes will be sold at over MSRP almost immediately (I think $120-150 probably) or there will be much more MONU than most people think. If that second scenario is true, then LSS could have pumped out more first edition. Now, I personally don’t like the idea of $150 MONU because it sets up the same scenario we have with WTRU and ARCU –that is, they’re inflated at the moment due to supply constraints, but if/when LSS catches up and manages to keep them on shelves, the prices are going to crash (which they should; unlimited singles are way too expensive right now). However, after a bit of discussion, I will concede to Zach of Team Covenant’s point that, even at $120-150, MONU will be more likely to get into the hands of players than if it had all been converted to first edition. Whether that’s preferable to pushing down first edition prices or not depends on what your goals are.

For me, I’m taking the long view on the need to get first edition prices for new sets to a level that doesn’t encourage things like collusion and shady backroom deals to buy retailers out of their entire stock. I think there is absolutely a print size where, over a period of a few years, a first edition box will accrue a very respectable gain. That’s awesome; it’s what I want the game to be from a collectible standpoint. However, right now, if you could guarantee me 500 cases of MON at MSRP, it wouldn’t even be a choice. I’d sign on the dotted line without a second thought, and I am by no means one of the major players in the finance community in terms of my resources. This is the issue – if the ROI is so stratospheric, there is no real decision to invest; it’s just a question of whether you like free money or not.

Now, the other side of this is the play-focused argument. As I understand it, this is what Zach was getting at on the TC podcast – essentially, it’s better to let the first edition boxes spike to whatever crazy levels they’re going to do, and pump out unlimited, even if it ends up going for over MSRP because it won’t be entirely unobtainable. Players will be able to get unlimited RF Ls for a price that isn’t the $800-1000 opening price we’re seeing singles sellers kick around for initial CF L offerings. To that I say “fair.” That’s a fair argument to make, and I agree with the premise that making all of the unlimited MON into first edition would definitely mean that these same singles would cost meaningfully more. From my perspective, a lot of markets aren’t actually going to be able to play Monarch anyway – I severely doubt that the US will be vaccinated by the time MON drops. Given that, I’d rather work start on pushing first edition prices towards sane levels. But, I can also respect that people in markets that can actually play would more directly benefit from the unlimited roll out.

Here’s the thing, and I’m going to be reiterating something I said in my previous piece: my number one issue in all of this is that LSS is entirely dark on communication regarding their intentions on how first edition is supposed to work. My major concern for the health and future of the game is that first edition is going to be held to unnecessarily small print runs to inflate collector/investor value. There are a couple issues here. First, stores are going to catch on. While the Team Covenants, Reapers, Mighty Apes, and their ilk will likely continue to offer product at MSRP or less to those lucky enough to get order is, most sellers are just going to price their allocation to secondary market and pre-sell their boxes at double MSRP or more. When that happens, FAB will essentially be Magic Collector’s boxes, and at that point, the sales pitch of FAB being a game that respects the value of your collection is going to be pretty dubious.

The other major issue in my mind is that FAB is seen by pretty much everyone not already involved with it as “that investment game.” People who aren’t already in the community aren’t thinking of it as the new hotness because it’s got a compelling gameplay loop and creative solutions to things like Magic’s resource system struggles. They see it as cardboard crypto, and while the idea that your collection has value is certainly good, the pendulum has swung way too far towards the investor and speculator end, and now it’s what the game is associated with. I’m not faulting LSS for this; their early success is great –new games in this space would kill for this sort of buzz. However, if they’re going to become a game that is viewed first as a great design and then as a valuable collectable, work needs to be done. I don’t think any reasonable person expects all the kinks to be worked out by Monarch, but what I would like to see is some sort of indication of the plan here. Because, if we’re just doing collector’s boxes, I’m much less confident in FAB’s future than if this is a quirk of the explosive growth of the game that will be resolved in the next year or so.

Closing Thoughts

I hate to end on a down note because a lot of the things I discussed in the first few section of this piece are legitimately exciting. I, like pretty much everyone else in the community, am hyped for Monarch. But, I’m also bummed out when I see the daily posts by new players in FAB financial communities asking where they can pre-order first edition Monarch being met with responses of “sorry, you’re a little late.” While unlimited cards play just as well as first edition cards, there is something special about opening your first cold foil (Refraction Bolters, for me), and it sucks that people who are here, ready to go over three months before the next set comes out, are unlikely to get a chance at that experience until at least Kingdoms. There’s something bittersweet about the idea that a big portion of these lovely boxes I talked about earlier are heading straight to long term storage because they’re just too valuable to open.

*Header Image: Monarch Key Art by Carlos Palma Cruchaga

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