The Collectible Card Game Thread – Reprints (Part 1)

(Art by Julie Baroh)

Welcome to the *CG thread, where we talk all manner of Card Games – Collectible, Trading, Living, and otherwise! Feel free to chat amongst yourselves about the card games you’re playing or anything card game-related that strikes your fancy.

Continuing on from the previous thread, let’s talk about reprints. Often considered useless, many digital games don’t even use them.

Short aside for short clarification of terminology – “Reprint” is a card with exactly the same name, cost, stats, etc. “Functional reprint” is a card with the same cost and stats but different name or other distinguishing but not meaningful qualities. “Strictly better” is code for “I want to argue about usage, semantics, and corner cases.” Today I am mainly referring to true “reprints” of the exact same card.

Cards are reprinted for many different reasons, bringing with them a wide range of positive and negative emotions. Often, the term “reprint” is used disparagingly, as a reason to not waste mental energy even considering the “worth” of a card, since a reprint isn’t worth the cost of the paper it’s printed on. On the other hand, sometimes you have reprints of cards that are literally worth their weight in gold, in which case the response usually goes something like “why did this take so long to reprint, are you stupid, etc etc.”

So why are cards reprinted?

To reduce collection pressure – When new cards are printed all the time in a neverending stream, reprints can be a lightening of that load. Players want to be able to play with the cards that they already own, and it can be a boon to be able to go digging in old card boxes and find cards that can be used again upon a new reprinting. On the other hand, it can be frustrating to open a new pack and just get another of a card that you already have a million different versions of, so obviously this effect only goes so far.

To increase collectibility – Paradoxically, reprints can also increase the drive to collect cards: a major force behind CCGs is the customizability of the game. When a reprint comes out, often the art will be new and different, giving the opportunity for people to emotionally connect with that card in different ways. Maybe you have a Goblin deck that wants the new art that shows a goblin getting set on fire? Or maybe you just like collecting cards that have people wearing cool hats. Everyone has their thing.

To fill a known role – From the game design side, reprints can reduce the work of filling spots in a set (though not as much as you might think). If you’re looking for a card that does a certain thing, why not pick a known quantity that does that thing really well? This tends to be relevant to designing draft formats, where having well-defined role-playing cards strongly affects the health of the format.

To reduce mental load – Following from that, reprints that are known quantities to players means that there’s one fewer card to learn when starting a new format. Reprints of cards that players already “know” are good/bad/filler can be a way of reducing the overall complexity of a format or letting players focus on other, more complex components.

To recontextualize – On the other hand, when a card wasn’t all that good when it was first printed, sometimes reprints can be a way of giving that card a chance to shine. Cards that are very conditional could just be waiting for the right environment to be relevant. One of the standard examples of this is Terror and Shatter


When both were printed in the original Alpha set, Terror was way better, since it could kill almost anything relevant. But later on, both were reprinted in Mirrodin, a set based around artifacts, and suddenly Terror was much more inconsistent and Shatter was the card that could stop anything.

For accessibility  – Remember when I said how some cards are literally worth their weight in gold? Ah, good times. Anyway, sometimes cards get reprinted because players want them. Whether this is good for the health of the game or a blatant cash grab is up to your personal morals, but when there are cards that are both expensive and heavily played, you can count on an upswell of demand for a reprint. Complaining always never sometimes works!

For nostalgia – When a game goes on for long enough, nostalgia is inevitable. There are always cool cards that you remember from when you just started playing. Sometimes those cards are actually even good! I probably don’t need to explain nostalgia to you, so I’ll just leave this flavor text from the first reprinting of Lightning Bolt after it had not been printed in a decade:

The sparkmage shrieked, calling on the rage of the storms of his youth. To his surprise, the sky responded with a fierce energy he’d never thought to see again.

Join me in two weeks when I reprint this whole article verbatim as a transparent ploy to take Boxing Day off!

This week’s prompt: How do you feel about reprints: For, against, or indifferent?

Or, as always, feel free to talk about anything going on with you in the world of *CGs.