[Something to Ponder] Why we were wrong about Ultimate Masters

Hello everyone, and welcome back to Strictly Average MTG, as well as another article about Modern. Today I won’t necessarily be talking about decks, or how to play a deck; instead I’ll be talking about some things I think we all missed upon the initial announcement of a product coming soon. Yes, that’s right, we were wrong about Ultimate Masters.

The community (collectively) was wrong about Ultimate Masters. However, before we get to that, let’s explain what it is. Ultimate Masters is a reprint set along the lines of the Modern Masters sets, and Iconic Masters. It is a set that is printed outside of the normal Standard set release schedule, and provides reprints of cards from past sets. These sets are intended to inject more copies of previously released cards. This helps players who may be new to the game acquire past cards, while also providing current players another chance to acquire cards they may have missed.

In the initial Masters release, shortly after Modern became a format, Wizards of the Coast wanted to provide players cards from Magic’s past yet not make the cards as overly plentiful as Chronicles did. Over time though the sets in the “Masters” series started to shift towards a draft theme type of design which…Limited…(pun!) the number of much needed reprints at higher rarity (rare, mythic). The increase of MSRP pack price from $6.99 to $9.99 also did not help as drafting a Standard set at $15 was more acceptable than $30 (or more) for a reprint set.

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The cost of a product always provokes an initial reaction among the community. Ultimate Masters is no different, and immediately spawned a storm of frustration. Let’s look at why we are wrong about Ultimate Masters.

The booster packs and boxes cost too much!

This was the initial complaint from the community as a whole upon the initial announcement on November 5th. Here’s the breakdown:

  • 254 Cards
  • 24 packs per box
  • 15-card booster packs, one premium foil per pack
  • English and Japanese languages with global distribution
  • One Ultimate Box Topper per box
  • MSRP*: $335.76 per box; $34.99 per 3-pack blisterpack (*MSRP applies to United States only)
  • Supplies are limited

That’s a lot to unpack so I’ll go over these one at a time:

  • 254 cards is 5 more cards than previous sets (shipped at 249 cards), and the highest amount of reprints in any reprint set.
  • The Box Topper is a special 1-card booster pack that has 1 of 40 premium extended border versions of high end cards already within the set. You can see the list of cards here.
  • $335.76 per booster box! That puts the cost of boosters at $13.99 each. This is MSRP.
  • $34.99 3-pack blisters sold at big box stores like Wal-Mart, Target, etc.

That’s a lot to take in, and honestly yes that booster box price price is too damn high. The price of the boosters individually is also higher than previous sets. However this is being pushed by Wizards of the Coast as a premium product for collectors instead of a themed draft set. I honestly think they keep missing the mark separating “collectors” and “players” by artificially attributing a price to a product. They can literally print money at this point as players just want cards to play.

Yes I understand that they should not print cards into oblivion like Yu-Gi-Oh does, but the more that there is a price barrier to a game the less opportunity one’s targeted consumer base has to play that game. Their pacing of these sets (at least until recently) has been ok to good, but this is the last Masters set they will print for awhile (if not ever).

With all of that said I believe this initial reaction was an extreme overreaction. Let’s take a look at the 3-pack blisters to explain. They are at an MSRP of $34.99 for 3 packs, making the individual boosters $11.66 each. If you could buy 24 packs at $11.66 each the price of the boosters alone is $279.92. If you REALLY want to buy a booster box you’ll want to buy one for less than $280.00.

It’s true. Keep in mind the math I did above does not count for the box topper so you get that as a bonus for smart shopping. You just have to keep looking.

Makes sense right? Sounds great, right? Well…there’s still the next layer of complaints with this product.

They are trying to kill the local game store, especially with blister packs! I’m not buying!

Even with that in mind there is still an outage over this product, and it’s availability.

So I have a question for you all:

Why do you NEED a booster box?

What if I told you the stores ALSO make money (and oftentimes a lot) by selling singles? Sure they want to move the sealed product they have in stock; however if you have no need for a booster box yet you’re trying to build a deck you are better off buying the singles you need. Instead of buying a booster pack of Ultimate Masters, buy the shockland you need to finish a deck instead. I used to work in a shop, and buying singles is always the best way to go for current players.

Have you ever been at your local game store (LGS) when someone brings a list of cards they need for EDH? Sure it may take time to pull the list, but the store makes a lot of money in a short amount of time by pulling that list. Let’s say the average time to pull a list is one hour, and the customer is paying $50. Let’s also say that there are three lists pulled in a day. That’s $150 for three hours work. Some people, especially in the target demographic for this game, make $150 (after taxes) in a week of part-time work. The store would make that much in one day without selling anything else, and that’s just one example. Stores also have supplies, other games, and perhaps more space than your home to play. Let’s keep these things in perspective when discussing the impact a product has on your LGS. So with that in mind let’s take a step back and know that Wizards of the Coast is not killing your local game store. They are trying to reach more players by having items available at places both inside and outside of the local game store.

Let’s also discuss the blisters packs that you can find at big box stores. You have to keep in mind that blister packs actually help YOU. Yes YOU the player who spends every Friday playing FNM at your LGS, and meme all over your friends. Not everyone knows or understands the things we do when it comes down to buying the cards for our hobby. As much as “gaming” and “nerd culture” have been buzz words appropriated by the mainstream consumer audience to grab a quick buck, it is still difficult for those in our family to buy something for us when your LGS is not a place they frequently shop.

When a loved one goes into a store they want to make sure they are purchasing the right thing for you, and that feeling is enhanced at Christmas time. Wizards of the Coast knows this, and wants to provide access to a product YOU would like into the hands of someone completing YOUR Christmas list.

I personally don’t feel a lot of us understand how difficult it is for our family to buy Magic for us. I have only received one booster box as a Christmas gift, ever. My wife bought me a box of Theros as a gift, but when she went to buy one she was not sure if what she was purchasing would be something I liked, was worth what she paid, or was even something I could use immediately. This is on top of the fact that sometimes in local game stores people who are not there for gaming may not get help or feel like they are invisible to the staff. For them shopping for the Magic player in their life is difficult, and stressful. Imagine if you went to a store to get someone a gift, and had no idea if you were making the correct purchase or received no help. How awful would you feel? How stressful would it be? Having blisters in the store, or any Magic product, is actually good for all of us. Never discount that fact.

Also let’s keep in mind that the product won’t have a truly “limited supply”. Here are three factors to support that theory:

  • It’s the holiday shopping season. Manufactures will put supply over demand to make sure they get their product in your hands.
  • One does not go through the effort to put a product in big box stores, and then makes the supply “limited”. Iconic Masters and Masters 25 blisters were in stores months after the release of the set.
  • YOU want cards. YOU may want these cards with new art, border, whatever. They want YOUR money, and as an enfranchised player they know they will get it. That’s not a bad thing.

Another question for you:

When was the last time that Wizards of the Coast printed a product of this quality that was NOT specifically for a new player?

Now you can’t say Guilds of Ravnica because the Standard set releases are always a good jumping on point for new players (the pre-release events alone highlight that pretty well). I’m talking about a set full of cards that we want to play with, and that we (collectively) can’t access as well as we want due to their price. It might very well be this set.

Here is how Ultimate Masters will help with that.

So if a booster box of Ultimate Masters is this expensive then how does it benefit me?

So…wait…we should BUY singles from this set? Not exactly (unless you like some of the new art, or wish to have a card with the M15 border). You will want to buy the original singles.

Seriously? Yes. They will maintain their value longer, but also drop when a reprint set like this is happening. Again they call it “Limited Supply”, but I feel there will be as much supply as Iconic Masters and Masters 25 had. With that in mind the supply for just the older singles will not be more than demand (this is where the reprints make up for that gap), and once those cards hit their “floor” you’ll want to go all in.

So what does this mean? Let me explain. There are a couple of us at my LGS that wouldn’t mind having Humans as part of our Modern gauntlet. Let’s take a look at a card in that deck coming out in Ultimate Masters.

Noble Hierarch is one of the most important cards in many strategies in Modern. It’s seen in Humans, Bant Spirits, Faux Pod, Infect, and Bant Eldrazi just to name a few. It also sees Legacy play as well. So the demand for this card is quite high, and there have been so far two printings of the card. Per the MTGGoldfish page for the card it was sitting around $80 for a single copy, however once the announcement of Ultimate Masters came out the card dropped almost $10. Ten dollars! A month before the set was even released. That’s approximately a 12% impact in your favor if you don’t have them. When the card was released in Modern Masters 2015 it had a $12 drop in price to around $50.

Why is this important? It’s important because as more supply entered the market the card kept falling in price, and then 6 months after it’s reprint was made available it started to go back up.

Here’s another card in the Humans deck that shows a more recent example of this.

Cavern of Souls was originally printed as a rare, and reprinted in Modern Masters 2017 as a mythic. In Ultimate Masters it will maintain it’s mythic rarity. With the announcement of Ultimate Masters this card had a 12% drop in price to just under $70 (find the info here). When Modern Masters 2017 released the price bottomed out at approximately $45. A year after that set’s release you could find it for $84. That’s a heck of a jump in a year, and if the trend with Ultimate Masters continues we could see something similar.

…but why buy the original copies? They maintain more value longer than reprints. If you look at a card like Tarmogoyf it’s price history shows that the Future Sight version has held its high price even with the numerous printings the card has received. Currently the Future Sight version is at $90, and that’s the lowest that version has been IN FIVE YEARS!!!

Tarmogoyf will now also boast the third unique art for the card with the release of Ultimate Masters. Having a different choice among available printings will also help mitigate the price, and even lower the price of an individual card. However there is something unique with Ultimate Masters that all of us have missed. The box toppers will provide more foil versions than non foil.

Yes. That’s correct. Let’s take a look at the a few examples to highlight this.

Celestial Colonnade  has the following versions:

non-foil

  • Worldwake
  • Ultimate Masters

foil

  • Worldwake
  • Worldwake Buy-A-Box promo
  • Ultimate Masters
  • Ultimate Masters box topper

That’s a big difference in the favor of us who foil out our decks. Let’s take a look at another.

Liliana of the Veil has several printings available.

non-foil

  • Innistrad
  • Modern Masters 2017
  • Ultimate Masters

foil

  • Innistrad
  • Regional PTQ Promo 2017
  • Modern Masters 2017
  • Ultimate Masters
  • Ultimate Masters box topper

Five foils? That’s crazy. Even with that in mind you can find original non-foil copies of this card for well under its current $85 price. The impact of Ultimate Masters is being felt even before the set is released let alone fully spoiled (which happens this week by the way). The Innistrad version of Liliana of the Veil is matching it’s price when Modern Masters 2017 was released. I expect this to go even lower before climbing again.

With all of that said the I would watch these three cards unique to this set, and they are box toppers as well.

  • Demonic Tutor is only available in EDH and Vintage, and of those two formats EDH players will be more interested in the pack foil version of this card. It will be it’s first non-promo foil version so if the price is low enough you should get it.
  • Mana Vault will also be in this set, and it will be it’s first ever non-Kaladesh Invention pack foiling.
  • Ancient Tomb will also be a great find. Available as a From The Vault (FTV) card, and a Zendikar Expedition it will finally be available as a true pack foil upon release of Ultimate Masters. Along with Burn, and Death & Taxes in Legacy the Eldrazi Stompy deck can be close to 100% pack/non-subset foil with the release of Ultimate Masters.

In conclusion

While Ultimate Masters may appear to have a barrier of entry, keep in mind that the set is not made primarily for drafting. It has cards for everyone playing Modern, Legacy, Vintage, and EDH. While this article is being written before the full set reveal, I believe this will have the biggest impact on the secondary market for many players…but only for a few months. Keep an eye on trends, and get the cards you need for your decks when the prices bottom out. This may be our last chance to do what the Masters sets intended to do oh so long ago.

Thank you all for reading. I hope you enjoyed the article (and the memes). What are your thoughts on the set? Comment below, and follow me on both Facebook as well as Twitter.

NEXT WEEK…I will be taking a further look at a possible new format, and this time I’ll have decks that you could even play at your FNM tournaments.

Until next time…

TAP MORE MANA!!!

 

Scott Campbell, better known as MTGPackFoils, has been playing Magic since he was 17 (which was in 1993). He’s known for loving decks such as Azorius Control, Jund, and others (especially in Modern). He is a husband, father, and a former nightclub DJ.

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