Proxy Wars: Hasbro Strikes Back (Against Their Fans)

Sheep Wave ā€¢ November 19, 2022

Hi there, Sheepwave here. you probably know me from twitter, a site that still exists at time of writing. You should probably check out my website, for no particular reason. Anyway.

As you may know, a widely beloved tool in the Magic scene was taken offline by Wizards of the Coast, and I'm here to explore the ramifications of this decision, to explore why and how this effects other creators in the space.

Cease and Desist, Magic Fan

Card Conjurer was a tool for entering any text and art into a Magic: the Gathering card frame and generate a card image. The site did not have any monetization of any kind, and was not a storefront, just a creative tool. Nothing Card Conjurer did was impossible in something like GIMP or Adobe Photoshop, it was just easier. It was first created several years ago by a then-high-schooler, Kyle Burton, who taught himself to code using the project. Unfortunately, all this is written in the past tense, because...

(To disclose my own biases; Kyle Burton is a personal friend of mine and I used Card Conjurer frequently)

Getting a Cease and Desist is the boogeyman under every fan creators' bed. It's what we live in terror of, the official declaration that the entity that has been fine with us adding value to their ecosystem until now has decreed we are to be cast out. I messaged Kyle on Discord to speak to him about this and learned a lot about the situation that his original announcement didn't cover. For example, I asked about what motivated him to start creating the program in the first place.

"I started it when I wanted to make some custom 'Commander achievement cards' for my playgroup in high school, and also happened to be teaching myself JavaScript at the time. I kept adding features[,] and once my friends wanted to start using it, I began hosting it. Very gradually, I got more users and more feature requests and it's grown into what it is today."

"I've continued updating and expanding it for a mix of reasons. Part of it is my love for proxies and wanting to make fancy-looking cards for myself, but once I realized that it's the only web-based [Magic: the Gathering] card maker that actually offers special frames, I felt it was important to take that as far as I could and ultimately offer every showcase frame. I can say for sure that if it wasn't for the support from the community, I wouldn't have gone as far as I did."

Card Conjurer was many things to many people. I often used it in my own fanart pipeline. Spelltable streamer DefiantNecro used the service to create frankly brilliant "pregame discussion sagas" to streamline her rule zero discussions.

As I write this, r/custommagic is currently expressing significant grief and anger over the loss of the best tool there was for exploring design creativity there was. Alternatives exist, but many of them use paywalls for frames. Time will tell if these tools go dark in the coming weeks. I speculate that what got Card Conjurer nailed was the option in its frame menu to generate an image with a 1/8th inch margin for printing.

Card Conjurer was a tool, and creators cannot control how others use tools they create. Unfortunately, this feature made the service popular for those making what we would call proxies, but Wizards would legally call counterfeit Magic cards (the exact terminology varies between who is talking for a variety of reasons.)

The interface of Card conjurer as it exists on web archives (non functional)

His speculation that this cease and desist came in direct response to the massive backlash to the Magic 30th Anniversary edition product seems pretty well-founded, and they line up with observations I had made myself in early November which showed a pretty massive spike in people looking to proxy and counterfeit Magic cards. This lined up with his records from his server host, which showed roughly a 25% increase in usage starting around the start of October.

Perhaps the reason the site was targeted was due to the widely circulated Myrel, Shield of Argive mockup that was reconstructed from a fragment of a torn card using Card Conjurer. The timeline works exactly, with the cease and desist arriving mere days after this image, with "" emblazoned, was widely circulated and taken as real by many.

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Card Conjurer was not the most widely used of the custom card sites. It wasn't the one that most egregiously violated best practices for fan content. What it was was the only site that had a built-in option to generate card images with a margin meant for printing. The conclusion many online personalities, like PleasantKenobi and SaffronOlive, came to is that this was a proactive attack against a tool people might use instead of buying overpriced packs of sixty unofficial cards for $1000. If so, it puts a lot into question for all of us who operate under Wizards' good graces.

The Fan Content Policy

Did Card Conjurer adhere to the fan content policy? I'm not a lawyer, so I can't really say. I think it didn't, in the same way that almost every fan creation that includes mana symbols in it doesn't. Ultimately, the fan content policy exists to protect Hasbro, not us. Wizards is well within their legal rights to take down anything they want that uses their IP, including as a cynical business move.

Hasbro legal when a high-schooler learns to code by making fan content for their IP

As someone who makes Magic fanart myself, I'm very aware that the fan content policy is carefully worded so that almost nothing actually falls under it (without any grey area). Cosplayers are 100% covered, but that's about it. I know that what I make is in a grey area, and I adhere to the stated rules in good faith with the belief that I do follow the deliberately vague policy.

The Magic ecosystem relies on tools that exist in this grey area. Even many Wizards employees have been known to accidentally say "Scryfall" when they are "supposed" to say "Gatherer" while talking about looking up cards off the cuff. Spelltable, the platform that saved Magic over the pandemic, was a fan creation before being bought by Wizards. It uses fanmade card recognition libraries to figure out what cards on a grainy webcam are. Magic as a game is deeply interwoven into its own community, but maybe Magic as a game isn't what Hasbro cares about anymore.

A Magic card to them has made them the most direct profit it will ever make them the moment someone buys the pack or product it was in. Hasbro doesn't really have any incentive to care about the game itself outside of as an incentive to buy products. Collectors are kind of like property speculators in that they provide a short term incentive structure that utterly breaks normal metrics that companies run on, only for it to inevitably come crashing down later. Catering to collectors hurts the game, and pushes people who keep it alive in the long term away. speaking of which...

They haven't killed proxying, but they have pushed people towards less ethical tools

I generally try to find a balance in how I interact with Magic as a product. It's why I buy precons and prereleases, support home printing, but not paying offshore counterfeiters to mass produce fake Magic cards with real card backs, for example. This is a move that has pushed more people towards the latter. I keep an eye on the MTG counterfeiting community. I will not be linking anything in this section, but let's just say that they have been on a hell of an upswing since October. Their response to a favorite tool being nuked has been to double down harder on services and sites that are without any use case that doesn't hurt Wizards directly.

Several new but inferior tools have been thrown together in mere hours with the sole purpose of creating high-resolution card faces of official cards. Goodbye to the legitimate use case of custom cards in that case, I suppose.


I asked Kyle how he feels about the game moving forward, as both a player and creator.

"I don't feel like I can safely create content at the moment, as in proxy content, but I'm not sure if I'll resume proxying in the future. As for playing, I still enjoy the game and will continue playing Commander with my local playgroups. I just won't feel as excited to buy new product or [Secret Lairs] anymore. I don't buy a lot, but I'll certainly buy less, now."

Kyle had this to say about the outpouring of supportive anger and upset on his behalf;

"My feelings are mixed. On one hand, it just sucks to feel like I'm taking Card Conjurer away from all these people. On the other hand, it really says how much they loved it and how much I contributed to the community."

We will have to just wait and see if other sites and services are going to shutter with Card Conjurer having been the first to fall, or if this was a one-off event meant to make an example. Sadly, we may not actually know if Card Conjurer was just caught in the wide nest cast to hit genuine bad actors who will simply ignore the notice, as, unlike them, Card Conjurer was never selling Wizards' IP.

Finally, for the love of god, do not harass the people that actually make this game about this. Nobody in R&D is involved in this decision. Leave them alone and keep your ire directed at the suits where it belongs.