Warranty questions are handled only by chat, email or phone.
I would suggest the you call support directly and ask them to clarify this for you.
I finally chatted with a different agent. He told me that Intel refuses cards with burned parts (capacitors) and/or visible damage. I completely understand the restriction against burned parts, but I still don't understand the implications of "visible damage." I will send it in anyway.
UPDATE 1: Intel support turned it around quickly and shipped me a visibly used one with a label of "functional" and no indication of the BIOS level.
UPDATE 2: I did not notice until I was ready to install it that the DVI video connector had been replaced. This was apparent by the very different texture of metal surrounding the connector. This was a bad omen. I installed it in a case only to find that no video emerged from the card. I guess the Intel definition of "functional" is where the board can be used along with an add-on card to replace the missing functionality, e.g. video card, network card, sound card, etc. That's not my definition.