Sunday, October 22, 2006

The French Renaissance

Okay - a rather odd post title, I admit...until you read what I have to say.

Today I finished getting the last of my French Magic: the Gathering cards up. The majority of them come from a Magic expansion called Renaissance.

In order to fully explain this I need to give you a little background info. If you're a Magic person already, you can probably skip these next couple of paragraphs.

When Magic: the Gathering started, it was only printed in English. The first versions of the game, now known collectively as the Limited Edition and separately as Alpha and Beta were published with black borders around the edges of the cards. When these cards were reprinted under the name Unlimited Edition, the borders were changed to white. Precedent was then established that the first time any card was published, it would be with a black border. This precedent was then extended to the first time any card was published in any given language, it would be printed with a black border. So, for example, when the next edition, Revised Edition, was released in English and also, for the first time, in Italian, German and French, the English cards were printed with white borders (because they had been previously printed in English). But the Italian, German and French versions were printed with black borders. In many cases now, these other language versions of these cards sell for more than their English counterparts because of the black borders. Normally, if all else is equal, non-English cards sell for less, it has been my experience.

As a side note, Revised Edition also "cycled in" some cards from the expansion sets Arabian Nights, Antiquities, and Legends. Since these cards had previously been published in English under these sets with black borders, they still fit the precedent to have white borders in Revised.

Okay, now here's where it starts to get a little funky. When it was decided to move on to the Fourth Edition of Magic, Wizards of the Coast wanted to "cycle in" some different cards from Arabian Nights, Antiquities, Legends as well as The Dark and also planned to return some cards that were taken out of the set for Revised (notably Ironclaw Orcs and Twiddle). The problem was that these sets were not published in any non-English language (except for Legends and The Dark which were published in Italian). As a result, cards that were going to be "cycled in" to Fourth Edition had never been published in German, French or (for the Unlimited, Arabian Nights, and Antiquities cards) Italian with black borders. So, to meet policy, they couldn't be printed with white borders along with all the rest of the Fourth Edition cards until they were first printed in those languages with black borders.

Enter Renaissance. Released only in German and French (and in a scaled down version, Italian), this expansion set printed the cards that they wanted to "cycle in" to Fourth Edition with a black border. These cards also bear whatever the appropriate expansion symbol for these cards from their original appearance (a scimitar for Arabian Nights, an anvil for Antiquities, a column for Legends, or a crescent moon for The Dark). So it might seem just by looking at the cards, that they came from those original sets, only in German, French or Italian.

As far as I can tell, I am the only person on eBay with any Renaissance cards up for sale. That makes it extremely difficult for me to price the blasted things! Is a black-bordered with expansion symbol Bird Maiden in French worth as much as one in English from the original Arabian Nights? Almost certainly not. But is it worth more that a white-bordered one in English from Fourth Edition? Almost certainly so.

Another problem - how to market these? Technically they are Renaissance cards. But most people don't know about that expansion! The closest English equivalent is Chronicles - a set published as a companion to Fourth Edition, printed in English and then Chinese of all things a year later, that reprinted many cards from the earlier expansions with expansion symbols but with white borders. It would be dishonest to imply that a card from Renaissance was actually from Arabian Nights, say - even though that's what it looks like.

Another issue is that I have been unable to find, anywhere, even at Wizards of the Coast's official Magic: the Gathering web site, a rarity listing for this set (that is, which cards were "common" and "uncommon" or even "rare") which is information I usually include in my listings. I finally settled on using the rarity from Fourth Edition, since that I could determine.

All in all, it's very perplexing. I settled on including the words "French", "Chronicles" and "Renaissance" in my item titles. If I'd had more room I would have included "Arabian Nights", "Antiquities", "Legends" or "The Dark" for whichever set the card originally appeared in.

By the way, for the sake of historical completeness, Fourth Edition was also the first one to be printed in Portuguese, Spanish, Chinese, Japanese and Korean. These, of course, had black borders, since they were being printed for the first time in those languages. I am eyeing right now an auction for an unopened, factory sealed, box of Chinese Fourth Edition booster packs. That's 36 packs (each containing 15 cards) of cards with black borders that sell for more than their white bordered English equivalents (double or better in many cases!). If it sells for a reasonable price, it could turn a healthy profit. I may well try to buy it.

Yeah, yeah - I know, I know - I swore I wasn't buying any more. So much for that!

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