In the time since Wizards of the Coast revolutionized Magic: The Gathering’s digital offerings with the release of MTG Arena back in 2019, many players and fans of the venerable TCG have felt an increasing sense of frustration with the way that the game has been run. While it’s certainly true that any online community based on a game or fandom is going to do their fair share of complaining, recent decisions made by Wizards of the Coast have routinely come under fire on social media sites like Twitter and Reddit’s r/magicTCG for what many see as a consistent effort to squeeze as much money out of the playerbase as possible.
The idea that Wizards has been overly focused on profits at the expense of player experience has been shared by some of the community’s most popular content creators as well as average players who’ve become frustrated with everything from soulless crossovers and endless Secret Lair drops to missing features and the slow pace of development on Arena. All of this criticism has been coming during a time where the design of the card game itself is quite popular – Magic’s head designer Mark Rosewater recently wrote on his blog that he has “gotten more positive response to Neon Dynasty [MTG’s most recent set] than any set since I started this blog.”
Something that’s often cited as a reason for some of the company’s greedier decisions is the plan that Hasbro, Wizards’ parent company, announced in a shareholder’s meeting to double Wizards’ profits in five years. 2020 was publicly cited as their most profitable year to date, even in spite of the COVID-19 pandemic, and Hasbro’s recent 2021 fourth quarter earnings call revealed that Wizards’ profits increased an additional 30% – completing the ambitious plan two years ahead of schedule.
Now, an investment group known as Alta Fox Capitol is making headlines for its stated goal of “repairing” Hasbro, which it claims has been poorly managed by its board of directors with an underperforming stock price relative to the company’s success. The title of their campaign, and the publicity effort surrounding it, is “Free the Wizards,” a reference to one of the main aspects of their plan: spinning Wizards of the Coast off from Hasbro.
Alta Fox and their campaign garnered significant attention yesterday morning with the announcement that they had nominated MTG hall-of-famer Jon Finkel – who is an investment manager himself and is considered by many to be one of the greatest MTG players of all time – to Hasbro’s board of directors. Finkel is just one of five new nominees that the firm is pushing to appoint to the board in order to oversee Wizards’ spin-off.
Alta Fox Capitol currently owns about 2.5% of Hasbro’s available shares, which may not seem like much, but is a significant amount for a company so large and well established. You can read more about the relatively young investment firm and its plan to “Free the Wizards” on their aptly named website, which features catchy logos and a mock MTG card to sell the idea. However, while many have shown optimism at the idea of giving WotC their independence back, others have expressed skepticism as to whether what Alta Fox plans to do with the company would really benefit players.
Wizards of the Coast has been under the Hasbro banner since the company was first acquired way back in 1999, when the relatively small hobby company stood to benefit from Hasbro’s already wide resources. Now, however, Wizards has grown to the point where it is responsible for the majority of Hasbro’s profit, and so it makes sense in some ways that the company might be ready to stand on its own once again.
Whether or not Alta Fox will succeed in its bid to gain control of Hasbro’s board of directors remains to be seen, and while they’re clearing trying to get public opinion on their side, only time will tell if their intentions are as noble as they claim them to be. Regardless, the outcome of Alta Fox’s attempted coup could have a major impact on the future of Magic: The Gathering and Wizard’s other products, and it’s a story that many Magic players – us included – will be watching closely as it develops.