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Each Unearthed Arcana is associated with a feedback questionnaire to the WoTC team. There have been times where new iterations have been released, presumably based on that feedback (like the Mystic.) But to my knowledge they haven't said something wasn't balanced after feedback and retracted it.

Have WoTC ever removed/reburied/etc. any Unearthed Arcana? Or is it assumed it's all still usable as-is unless they improve on it either unofficially in an Unearthed Arcana new version or as part of published materials?

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Playtest-quality Material & Internet Permanence

All Unearthed Arcana is officially playtest-quality material. Wizards of the Coast does not have a hit squad1 to hunt down people using rules that they don't like. They have neither implicit nor explicit authority to remove playtest material from use at any given table. You need more DM buy-in than normal material to use it to begin with, but being developed by Wizards gives it a little more weight in most DM's eyes than random-stuff-from-the-internet.

They do have a feedback mechanism for Unearthed Arcana, via their web page. When requesting feedback, they obviously want feedback on one specific version. If a table is not using the version they're asking about, they should not be providing feedback, because it's useless data. That said, feedback is a secondary issue and not precisely relevant to the question.

If it actually reaches officially published status, they could then publish errata to modify it or replace it. That still doesn't require anybody to actually use the official published version. In this day and age, once it's out there and released on the internet, there is no way to put the toothpaste back in the tube. You can sweep it under the rug, pretend it never existed, let it die without even a whimper, but you can never get rid of it.

Social Contract

To put it differently, Wizards has precisely zero authority to control how people play the game in the privacy of their homes (or anywhere else). Wizards can say whatever they'd like, make whatever ruling they'd like, but nobody is bound by anything to actually obey. Wizards releases books, and people do with them what they like.

Each group's social contract may grant a certain amount of weight to Wizards' position on certain topics, but the authority lies within that social contract, not with Wizards, and the social contract only holds authority over the group that has agreed to be bound by it.

Adventurer's League

Further down the rabbit hole... something like Adventurer's League play does grant certain authority to WotC, but not because they're the author. It's because the individual players agree to that social contract when they choose to engage in Adventurer's League play.

However, it's moot in the case of Unearthed Arcana because they specifically do not approve it for Adventurer's League play, so there is nothing to remove or retract.

Authority

For clarity's sake, because authority has many definitions, I am not using it in the "subject matter expert" definition, because they certainly meet that one. I am using this meaning: "the power or right to give orders, make decisions, and enforce obedience." WotC cannot give orders or enforce obedience, only make decisions. They cannot execute the full definition of authority, so they do not have it over any given group's table.

One place they do have full authority is D&D Beyond, because Fandom/Curse are only licensed to distribute WotC's content. WotC has apparently requested some content be removed from DDB because "they have reached the end of their playtest cycle". Even DDB's own statement indicates they can't stop people from recreating the material for private use, just that it won't be available in the original format DDB provided it.

Obviously, WotC also has the authority to remove things from their own website, too, but again... that doesn't remove it from the Internet or any given game table.

1...that they'll admit to.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. \$\endgroup\$ – nitsua60 Jun 26 '17 at 18:16
  • \$\begingroup\$ While you can never get rid of it, you can publish a statement of "Yeah, our bad. This really isn't balanced and unless your table is okay with that we don't recommend you use it an equal option" \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Feb 28 at 14:30
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    \$\begingroup\$ @NautArch Yeah... I don't really see the point of V2's bounty. I think I've sufficiently covered WotC's level of authority on the matter. \$\endgroup\$ – T.J.L. Feb 28 at 14:34
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    \$\begingroup\$ The footnote deserves an additional upvote by itself, but alas, I have but one to give... \$\endgroup\$ – TimothyAWiseman Feb 28 at 17:30
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Official Sunset on Old Unearthed Arcana

Jeremy Crawford tweeted that unpublished content over a year old is unlikely to be printed, with some rare exceptions (like the Artificer, but it looked much different than the first UA):

If a year or more has passed since something appeared in Unearthed Arcana and that thing hasn't appeared in a D&D book, that thing is unlikely to become official. If it beats the odds and moves forward, you're likely to see it in UA again in a revised form. #DnD

Likewise, dndbeyond was asked to remove all content before January 2018, and they also remove UA content as offical versions get printed:

We will integrate all appropriate Unearthed Arcana content from January 2018 going forward into D&D Beyond. For all previous playtest content, it is either available already in a published source or it is considered "archived" and will not be available in the official UA source here on DDB.

That said, it was all unofficial play-test material anyway, and if your DM allows it, it doesn't matter if it is no longer "official UA."

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