Tuesday, 11 May 2021 20:30

The Japanese card promo conundrum: The translation of 5 cards 6 years after the fact

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The Japanese card promo conundrum: The translation of 5 cards 6 years after the fact WOTC

For a long time, English was the lingua franca for Magic: The Gathering. In the early days, cards were only printed in English despite where they were being sold. 

Initially, this wasn't a problem. A lot of people know the language. And the popularity of the card game still ensured growth. But, as the 90' marched on, growth slowed in many areas. Language was cited as a major stalling point in many countries. While Legends was eventually printed in Italian with other European languages following suit, Asian languages lagged a bit and missed out on some sets. The Japanese language never got its own release until October 1996 when Mirage came out there.

While prior edition English and European language cards were allowed for some language mix and match, no older cards were translated, and thus many early Magic cards were lost to many players who didn't know English - and that's even after the release of the Europe-only Renaissance set, which included selected cards from Arabian Nights through The Dark, with a couple (Ironclaw Orcs and Twiddle) from Unlimited.

In 2002, Hobby Japan was celebrating six years of Magic in Japan and decided that it was time to help bridge that gap of language cards. Many pre-Mirage cards, including Goblin Mutant, Krovikan Vampire, and Surge of Strength -- all from the Ice Age block (Homelands was considered part of Ice Age until Coldsnap replaced it) -- were specially translated onto Japanese and offered via a mail-in redemption program. Nine barcodes from 7th Edition-era packs could be turned in for some of these special cards. They were just like the originals, right down the the set symbols and artwork. It was just the language which was different.

"Japanese players earn one card for every nine boosters of Seventh Edition, Odyssey and Torment purchased within the promotional period (through August 31 of that year). Hobby Japan will verify the barcode and send one random card." said Wizards of the Coast in 2002.

While the English language cards went everywhere, the exclusiveness of being solely in Japan for the 2002 versions made the Japanese versions worth a little more. How much more? Well, if manage to get a complete set of five out of Japan nowadays you're looking at several hundred dollars minimum.

More importantly, the promotion showed just how international Magic: The Gathering had become. Players wanted cards in their language so badly, cards from several years prior no less, that they were willing to jump through a hoops to get them.

While it didn't spur a complete retranslation of the cards' original sets, the promotion proved that cards in other languages were here to stay, that MTG had truly cemented itself worldwide, and simply wasn't just a short-term popular trading card game.