Skip to main content

‘D&D’ & ‘Magic’ Publisher Reportedly Sicced the ACTUAL Pinkertons on Fans … More Than Once

Pinkerton guards escorting scabs during a 1884 miners strike in Buchtel Ohio.

Last month, Florida-based Magic: The Gathering (MTG) YouTuber Dan Cannon, a.k.a. Oldschoolsmtg, was met with figures from a 175-year-old paramilitary organization knocking on their door. Following Cannon’s video unboxing a not-yet-released MTG card set, Magic publisher Wizards of the Coast had hired a “detective agency” to shake Cannon down. Or, as the Hasbro-owned company told Polygon, the investigators (a.k.a. the Pinkertons) engaged in “outreach” as part of an investigation. This experience, which Cannon notes left his wife in tears, is not the first time WOTC has hired this organization and likely won’t be the last.

Who are the Pinkertons?

(Rockstar Games)

Many people only know the Pinkertons via their representation in historical and fictional media. This includes shows like Deadwood and video games like Bioshock and both Red Dead Redemption games. (There’s also a show called The Pinkertons, which featured help from the actual organization.) However, they are a real-life group of people that The Professor of Tolarian Community College best described as “hired goons of the wealthy.”

In 1850, Allan Pinkerton began the company as a detective agency for various wealthy clients, including railroad tycoons in Cook County, Illinois. Immediately following the Civil War, in which they worked as hired Union spies, the company pivoted to union busting. Now, that’s what they’re known for, and even engage in it to this day—though Pinkerton will refer to it as “risk management.” Pinkerton is heavily linked to various violent displays of union busting throughout American history. This includes threats, blackmail, and murder. The first image of this article features Pinkerton guards escorting scabs during an 1884 miners’ strike in Buchtel, Ohio.

As news of this 2023 confrontation spread across MTG communities, people made jokes to encourage further research into the company. This included alluding to fictional cards with names of Pinkerton-related violence like “Battle of Blair Mountain” and “The Ludlow Massacre.” For a greater grasp of the company’s now-global reach and influence on historical affairs, check out The Nib’s comic and podcast Behind the Bastards’ episode about the organization.

Magic: The Gathering’s relationship with the Pinkertons

Scattered Magic The Gathering Cards, but only showing the back.
(Alyssa Shotwell)

Cannon uploaded a video going through the new cards, as is typical for several trading card hobbyist on YouTuber. The issue with this particular box was that it was March of the Machine: The Aftermath—a set that wasn’t officially out yet. What was out was March of the Machine—similar name, but a different set of cards. On April 22, Cannon released a video explaining that his original unboxing was taken down after the Pinkertons pushed their way into their home on behalf of WOTC. Cannon alleges the “investigators” threatened jail time and a $200,000 fine plus legal fees.

WOTC told Gizmodo that the company had tried calling Cannon several times before sending a contractor and followed up by acknowledging that it’s understandable someone might not answer an unknown number. (No shit.) The company also denies the intimidation Cannon alleges, although WOTC was not present at the encounter. Pinkerton has failed to respond to any publications’ requests for comment.

Multiple sources have since come forward to io9 (Gizmodo’s sister site) claiming WOTC sent Pinkertons in 2017, too. When the Ixalan foils were stolen six years ago, WOTC was initially praised for their transparency. However, their statement’s reference to “private investigators” sounds eerily similar to the confrontation with Cannon. WOTC has also since deleted that blog post. The io9 sources were anonymized to protect their identities. io9′s reporter also found that Hasbro’s Manager of Global Investigations and Director of Security Risk Management worked at Pinkerton right before joining the company over a decade ago. So, while the official relationship with the company is a few years old, Hasbro has sourced skills directly for much longer.

Magic: The Gathering relationship continues to sour

People that have pointed out that the Cannon’s now-removed video gave different details for how Cannon attained the box of cards than the story in Cannon’s new video, which told his WOTC story. Regardless of which story is true, there’s no reason a toy company (or any company) should be able to shake someone down for $40 worth of card stock—let alone for someone with a YouTube channel with (at the time) less than 5,000 subscribers.

The judicial system already favors the rich and corporations. Also, like their contemporaries, WOTC has several tools to retrieve their property and investigate leaks. They really didn’t need to hire an organization most people agree is vile. As previously alluded to, the Pinkertons have remained active to this day. Former and current employees of the company have been connected to union busting in the present, too. This allegedly includes Amazon and Starbucks.

Even before this encounter, WOTC’s standing with fans had taken a nose dive. It took until the summer of 2020 to finally remove several racist cards, and even longer to consider tackling the issues with “race traits” in D&D. Just earlier this year, the company began steps to take away the Open Game License from fans before backtracking. This doesn’t include the mounting complaints of diminishing card quality and undercutting game shops via their Secret Lair drops. The last thing WOTC’s public image needed was real-life villains allegedly threatening fans.

(via Polygon, featured image: Library of Congress)

Have a tip we should know? [email protected]

Filed Under:

Follow The Mary Sue:

(she/her) Award-winning artist and blogger with professional experience and education in graphic design, art history, and museum studies. Starting as an Online Editor for her college paper in October 2017, Alyssa began writing for the first time within two months of working in the newsroom. This resident of the yeeHaw land spends most of her time drawing, reading and playing the same handful of video games—even as the playtime on Steam reaches the quadruple digits. Currently playing: Baldur's Gate 3, Apex Legends, and CS:GO. Still trying to beat Saxon Farm on RCT 3 (so I can 100% the game.)