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It's been a minute since I wrote about how the Hour of Devastation leaks had harmed the set's pre-order prices. Based on the comments section back then, many of you didn't agree with me. In retrospect, I may have hit this point a bit too hard—the lack of a second clear chase mythic and the state of Standard in the year and change prior probably had more to do with the set's weak reception than the leaks did. Either way, The Scarab God has hopefully taught us something in the process.
Please call if seen.
I still believe that the Hour of Devastation leaks caused noticeable harm, though, and that future leaks are likely to do the same. This is something we all need to think about, since Ixalan may have suffered a similar fate to some degree. If you're not sure why leaks are both wrong and financially damaging, allow me to try to persuade you, starting with the biggest pro-leak argument that I continue to see:
"But Information Wants to Be Free!"
Internet culture has a long history of being defiantly disruptive, especially when it comes to freedom of information. I remember logging onto Napster for the first time as a teen and realizing that I never had to drop $18 on a mediocre CD ever again. The same thing happened when someone on my university file-sharing program let me steal the entire run of Seinfeld from his hard drive. No TV commercials ever again? Sign me up!
It's just a show about nothing.
Even as a content creator on a subscription service, I've always felt something of a kinship with the pirates (how appropriate for Ixalan!). The campaign against "them" was out of touch and laughably over-the-top, equating the copying of a song or move with the theft of a physical product. ("You wouldn't download a car!") More than anything, it felt like pirating media was a message to the powers-that-be that we no longer okay with endless unskippable commercials on our $20 DVDs, albums with only one decent track, outrageous rental fees, and so much more.
Some artists, like Wilco's Jeff Tweedy, were actively pro-piracy because it opened up distribution channels for the band that they wouldn't have had access to otherwise. And it worked—sort of. It's harder than ever for artists to get paid, but the advent of streaming services has helped make better media more accessible than ever. In return, piracy is much less common than it was just four or five years ago.
Piracy isn't the only front in the battle for freedom of information, though. Many of us internet natives idolize Edward Snowden, who gave up his freedom in order to reveal the extent of the NSA's domestic spying program. Again, this situation is in a moral gray area, but it seems to pit powerful, established institutions against newer, nimbler ones.
Some companies have taken the approach that piracy is best combatted with ease of use. Steam is the largest digital distribution platform of video games and has been for over a decade, despite rising to prominence in the midst of the early piracy boom. If a product is easier to buy than to steal, it's generally something that people will pay for.
Either way, it makes sense that people would apply the "free everything!" logic to the leaking of unreleased Magic cards. Like piracy, leaking cards is a crime that doesn't really feel like theft since nobody's physical property is actually being stolen. Like with Snowden, leaking is an act that feels defiantly powerful—stealing secret information from those who have it and giving it to those who don't.
It's easy to wave away the anti-leakers because their argument sounds tired and familiar. Of course I'd download a car! And aren't we better off knowing that the government is monitoring our cell phone calls?
Here's the difference, though: all of the information in the leaks that happen with Magic? It was going to be given to all of us by Wizards of the Coast. For free. You just had to wait a few weeks. This isn't piracy, where you're fighting against an outdated cabal of cultural gatekeepers. This isn't whistleblowing, where you're providing the people with information that would otherwise be kept under wraps forever. The only thing being "disrupted" when a card is leaked is Wizards of the Coast's ability to control when and how we get to see it. The leakers aren't Edward Snowden—they're a kid ripping into their entire family's Christmas presents on December 10th, or someone showing everyone in line at the theater the last five minutes of the movie on their cell phone.
"But Leaks Haven't Hurt Sales in the Past!"
I keep hearing this argument, but…how do you know?