I just received a rejection from an A-list journal. The referee reports were on the whole helpful. I accept the result. But one thing got my goat. In one of the reports, my paper is criticized for not taking account of the "most recent" arguments of, say, McX, someone who is admittedly a top player in the topic I'm writing about. But then the referee directs me to the arguments in two as yet unpublished papers by McX. And these papers are not available online in draft-form, either. Am I to conclude that in order to write top-notch stuff on this topic, I must be in McX's draft-circulation circle? Could it be that in order to do work that's publishable in the A-list journals, I have to keep abreast of the unpublished work of the high fliers? As McX's most recent papers are unpublished, they haven't passed blind review, so how could considering them be a proper requirement for my paper to pass blind review? This seems incredible. It has the air of gate-keeping by an elite inner-circle. I thought I'd write to get your reaction.It seems that in this case the failure to cite McX's unpublished papers was not the main or sole reason for rejection, so I don't see any wrong in suggesting that McX has some new work that's not out yet, but would have to be considered in the next version of the paper, and so on. But, I agree that presenting the failure to cite McX's unpublished papers as a sufficient reason for rejection is out of bounds.
I have never received a report that claims a need to discuss unpublished work. But maybe I've just been lucky. Is this common these days?