FAB 2.0 Review: Part 1 – A Mixed Bag

This is the primary “FAB news” piece of the larger Mega Update and, as the title hopefully clued you in on, it’s going to be my thoughts on the FAB 2.0 announcement. Because it was a big announcement, and I have a lot to say, the review is actually three separate articles tackling each “Part” of the FAB 2.0 announcement individually. This is the first one, the second is here, and the third is here. As a general approach to these three, I’m giving more serious consideration to concrete plans as opposed to aspirations. That means that where the road map says something vague without a plan for how we get there, I’m going to be a bit cautious. So if the claim was “we’ll improve the new player experience,” that’s a nice sentiment, but it means nearly nothing to me unless I see a plan that makes sense for how we get there. Anyway, there’s a ton of stuff to talk about here, so let’s get started.

Part 1: Eghhhhh

The first section of the FAB 2.0 article discusses the end of the first edition/unlimited model, and I find it to be sort of an amalgamation of good ideas, bad ideas, and puzzling ones. Let’s start by acknowledging that the first/unlimited split was not working beyond the WTR/ARC/CRU unlimited sets. Something had to change, and LSS acknowledging that fact is a good sign. Are the proposed solutions a good answer? Eghhhhh… Also, despite what the “retiring first edition” subsection heading might suggest. First edition isn’t really going anywhere. Uprising is just as much a “first edition” as WTR Alpha was, the only difference is that LSS is swapping from unlimited edition to anthology releases. Now people are going to have to wait until Historic Pack 2 or 3 to get any cards they miss once it’s out of print. Overall, this feels less like the substantive overhaul I would have liked to see and more a bunch of tweaking.

FAB 2.0 centers the new release format’s top priority as making the game playable even if that means the collectability or investability (not actually a word, but you know what I mean) come second. In the abstract, I think that’s a commendable goal, and despite my history of writing finance articles, I really do hope that it kind of shows through that the primary thing I’d like to see from FAB is that the game is good for average players rather than the rich whales/dolphins/assorted aquatic mammals. That said, I’m unconvinced that the plan that LSS lays out here really accomplishes very much on that front. The one thing I take objection to in general is the idea of “legitimately special”. I feel like both in this article and elsewhere, LSS has sort of tried to differentiate FAB from Magic’s current draft/set/collector booster release model while being careful to never actually mention Magic (which, to be fair, is sort of how this works when you’re a business. But we all know who they’re comparing themselves to). However, when you get down to it, the ways that they are differentiating themselves feel more like a bundle of branding changes rather than meaningful, functional ones. They’re still doing the same thing WotC is doing in terms of releasing a “good” version of a product and a weaker one. The only major difference is when the respective weaker products are released. What do I mean by that? Well, let’s skip forward to History Packs for a moment. History Packs are functionally a multiset unlimited edition. By waiting to roll multiple sets into one product, LSS gets to stagger the release of product, which I guess is good, but it is very much the unlimited model of releasing worse copies of cards for the retail same price, only they’ve made the “bad” copies even worse than they were before.

Yeah, we’re going to do a white borders derail right off the bat here, because the idea that, in 2022, you’d make something that was generally acknowledged as a mistake in the 90’s is truly baffling to me. I’m not parsing words on this, the white borders are hideous and feel kind of like LSS is insulting their audience by trying to pull this move. They are very well aware of the history of how white borders have been used in the CCG space, and the strong negative association that most people who remember the 90’s have with them. For people who aren’t familiar with the history of Magic and other 90’s CCGs, white bordered cards were introduced as way of doing exactly what LSS is doing here: making unappealing, less visually attractive versions of necessary cards because the game doesn’t function as a game if people can’t afford staples. However, the community overwhelming hated white boarders (aside from a handful of contrarians who profess love of them, most of whom, I firmly believe, only do so to be obnoxious). And the opposition to these cards isn’t unfounded. White bordered cards show dirt way more than black bordered ones. Even with double sleeved cards, your white bordered cards will look shitty much, much sooner than a black bordered card would. Beyond that, they’re just not aesthetically pleasing. They visually distract from the card art by pulling your attention away from the art, and it’s particularly bad with FAB cards given the extreme amount of work LSS put into all the different card frames. The frames generally bland very well into the normal black borders, but the contrast against a white border is quite jarring. Jarring really is the word for this whole thing. It’s distracting to see decks of mixed white and black-bordered cards. It looks messy and unattractive. Back when unlimited was announced, I literally remember joking about how LSS was smart enough to learn from WotC’s mistakes and just printed unlimited with black borders, but apparently we’re going back to wrong rights and undo good decisions. For a company that professes to care about making a product that looks good, this feels like a very cynical choice designed to make reprints feel like ugly second class versions of cards. Alright, end rant

Even if we move on from the white border issue, I’m still just not sold on historic packs as a product. They do makes sense as a way get the first few sets in print in foreign languages for their respective markets. If LSS wants to make FAB a multilingual game (which I support), it’s actually really good to see all the important cards show up in each language so that players aren’t stuck importing copies of cards that were never available in their region or playing mixed language decks (if they don’t want to). For this specific purpose, I think that History Packs fulfill an important role (also note how these ones are going to be black bordered… OK, sorry, I’ll let it drop). However, I have reservations about them as an ongoing product. The real question I think we should ask here is “why don’t we just do reprints in normal sets?” Seriously, there are only a handful of very expensive cards that actually need reprints for player accessibility. This is a theme we’re going to return to later in this article, but FAB, as a game, doesn’t really have a very granular pricing range, which I think is one of its biggest failures. With a few exceptions, cards are either pretty cheap by CCG standards or fairly expensive with very little in the middle. To put a loos set of numbers on it, FAB has very few cards where the cheapest copy falls in the $10-30 range. In general, cards are under $10 or over $70. What that means, practically, is that most of what you find in a History Pack is going to be worthless and all the value will be concentrated on the small handful of reprints people actually need. We’ll be devaluing cards that are already struggling while, due to the rarity scheme, the necessary Ls are still probably going to be too expensive, even as a white bordered product.

Alright, but people do need reprints, so if not Historic Packs and not unlimited, what should they be doing? The obvious alternative here is to just put staple cards into new sets as a reprints and then you don’t have to reprint hundreds of sub $1 cards to get copies of Command and Conquer into people’s hands. If the concern is that FAB set design precludes reprints due to the implicit class/specialization restrictions of each set, they could very easily include a reprint slot in packs that is a non-draftable card identifiable by some sort of unique icon (maybe a little cracked bauble) in its rarity section. I know that LSS doesn’t have a problem with putting cards in booster packs that you can’t use in draft because it’s literally what they’re doing with cold foils from now on, so there’s absolutely no excuse not to do it here. In short, I don’t think FAB really needs a reprint set. I think it will mostly just generate a lot of waste, further devalue the cards in the $10 or less range, and probably will go the way of old magic core sets where everyone tells new players not to buy it because it’s a bad, low-value product. FAB just needs to actually reprint important cards in products the extant player base is already buying, as opposed to making bad products in what seems like a well-intentioned, but questionable effort to “respect first edition.”

This means that History Packs are a poor way of addressing the issues they proport to tackle, with the notable exception of getting alternate language printings of cards into their respective target markets. With that out of the way, what about the other product announcements in Part 1? Well, I hate that this continues to be negative, but I don’t like most of those either. Let’s take a quick moment to talk about the good point – the introduction of the “marvels” rarity is a step forward, though an imperfect one. The fact that LSS has always been secretive about their variants means that it’s very hard to know how rare any given special card is. This is bad for players, particularly new players who probably can’t easily identify that something like an alt art Channel Lake Frigid is different and significantly more valuable than a normal rainbow foil Channel Lake Frigid because they may have never seen a normal Channel Lake Frigid. In general, I don’t like practices that allow more high-information players to take advantage of young and/or inexperienced players. I think it’s bad for the community, generally unethical, and all around bad for the game. However, we live a capitalist world and you cannot keep these people away the hobby, so the next best thing you can do is to provide people with robust tools that allow them to easily identify valuable cards.

As a quick aside, you, as members of the community, should speak up if you see someone attempting to take advantage of someone in an unfair trade. The person trying to take advantage of them won’t like it, but fuck those guys, they’re assholes anyway. Anyway, the visual indication of “marvels” is a step in the right direction, but it’s not as good as marking the cards AND also just telling the community how rare the cards are. This goes along with my perennial complaint about the obscured pull rate for Fables. I’m sure LSS likes to spin this as “keeping an air of mystery” of some BS, but it’s just enticing people to gamble without telling them the odds. Better information on pull rates allows players to be informed and make better purchase decisions; I think we should know how rare all the cards are instead of being kept in the dark on the ones where that knowledge matters most. Also, some people do know because you need to, at a minimum, tell printers what they’re printing. Given that, you’re never going to convince me that everyone involved has kept this information perfectly secret. Just give the entire community the information necessary to make informed decisions.

Now for the really big change coming with Uprising: cold foils are getting much rarer. I’ve got mixed feelings about this. While it’s certainly good for long term collectability and investment in singles, it further exacerbates what I consider FAB’s biggest problem as a product: opening a single box of a new FAB set is very often a massive cash loss and has been so since Monarch (actually since Crucible but that got covered up when the game blew up and prices spiked). The changes proposed here do nothing to ameliorate this issue, they only make it worse. FAB’s core problem is that opening product is incredibly feast or famine. You almost always either lose a ton of what you spent on the box or make notably more than it cost with very little middle ground. Up until now, for normal sets that meant that, unless you opened an L, an F, or a variant M, you were very likely going to come out of that box with a pile of cards worth 20-30% of what you paid for the box. Opening randomized cards is always gambling; that’s part of the fun. But there are good and bad gambles, and FAB is increasingly a bad gamble. To date, you really had to buy at the case level to have a decent chance at breaking even or better. You’d usually have one good box with an L in a case that could offset one of the bad boxes, and then you either opened two more bad boxes and took moderate losses, or you’d open a second good box; after which, you were about even or even positive on EV. The FAB 2.0 changes mean that cases will now also be an unreliable amount of product to open, if you hope to get anything good. Perhaps large stores and sellers who can open 100+ boxes will find that this new extra-rare CF model will make mass opening appealing, which would certainly be good for them. Meanwhile, I think that the average player will tend to find that they get fewer valuable cards than they were getting before.

While “buy singles” has always been the advice given to the budget-conscious players, these changes make the prospect of opening product unappealing enough that I don’t think I’m going to be buying first edition product to open any more, and I don’t think anyone would accuse me of being “budget conscious” with the amount of cardboard I buy. For context, I’ve opened at least 3 cases of every first edition product from WTR to Everfest (sometimes significantly more). The two supplemental sets being my least opened sets, as I think they had the worst feast/famine issues at their respective time of launch. Each of the two supplemental sets has been a good product for expanding play and pretty bad product if you care about money at all. Why would I open three cases of product to get, on average, one CF L, which might also be a total dud like Silver Palms? That’s not even fun gambling. Will opening the best L in a set in cold foil feel great? Sure, absolutely. Will that good feeling outweigh losing 70% of my money on the median box? I doubt it. By far, more common experience in 2021 was opening a $100 box and ending up with $20-30 of cards, and I see nothing in the FAB 2.0 plan that indicates this won’t continue to be the case. Could LSS have some big plans for marvels that could change this math? Absolutely, but they haven’t told me or any other members of the general public any concrete details on it. So, until they do, I’m going to look at the available data. And what the available data suggest to me is that, unless you’re comfortable with most boxes being a significant loss or you open boxes at a volume where the rarer CFs will be a thing you can reliable count on pulling, then you should probably stick to singles. Let other people make the bad decisions and then buy their singles from them and keep more money in your pocket.

What I Wish We Got

That covers pretty much everything in Part 1, but, given that I’m clearly not super impressed with this part of FAB 2.0, I’ll wrap up by talking about what needs to happen to right the ship on the booster box opening experience. The most common box opening experience should be that players open cards worth 65% of what the box cost or better (you could tweak that number a bit). Boxes should not be like Tales and Everfest where a case will usually have 2-3 boxes worth 30% or less of their cost. There are a variety of ways that this could be addressed, but my favorite remains what I suggested months ago: put a one card box topper in each box that contains one of the set’s Legendarys in non-foil (you can even make them white bordered, if you must :barf:). This addresses two issues. Even with the increase in L supply, these NF copies, assuming they’re remotely playable, will still command prices in excess of pretty much any Majestic in the set. This helps boxes have a floor so that “bad” boxes are a subpar experience as opposed to an awful one. It also addresses what has always been the thing that’s prevented me from getting any of the casual Magic players I know to try FAB, the upfront cost of the cheapest version of Legendarys is still too expensive for most people. Can you play without Legendarys? Sure, but let’s not bullshit on this, the vast majority of the coolest equipment to use and the stuff that enables interesting builds tends to be Legendary.

LSS press releases talk a lot about the joy of opening super rare cards, and yes, winning when you gamble is fun. But you know what goes unstated there? Finishing a gambling session where you got cleaned out feels like shit. And right now most of the FAB boxes I open leave me feeling like I got cleaned out. The thing is, I’m fortunate enough to be able to afford to shrug and move on when a case of Everfest turns into $90 of singles. At the end of opening three bad cases of Everfest, I just grumbled , complained to my friends, and bought the singles I wanted. Most people do not have that sort of luxury. I want FAB to be a game where the majority of the player base, the people who open 1-4 boxes of a new set, come out of that experience feeling, at a minimum, OK about it. If LSS can get sealed products to that point either via box toppers or some other method, then I think the occasional “hitting the lottery” moments will be worth it. Until that happens, I’m going to be telling people to buy singles.

*Header Image – Bravo, Star of the Show by Marco Wulfr

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