Yesterday, WoTC announced the Eternal Masters set. (Full announcement found here.) I was unable to join Monday Night Magic this week due to a work commitment, so I have have written the following post with my initial reactions to the news. I had not seen any spoilers or read any articles about this announcement as of the writing of this post, so these are simply my own knee-jerk reactions.
Eternal Masters was announced today via the WotC website, and we are still in “early times” with respect to what its eventual impact will be. At this point we know the following:
- WotC has had mixed success with the two “Modern Masters” sets in the past few years. The first was a great success, creating a great deal of buzz, anticipation, and player excitement. It lead to the (at the time) largest Magic GP ever, and contained at least a few sought after reprints. The second was somewhat successful, and although it did not quite live up to the levels of excitement seen with the first Modern Masters, it still lead to the now largest (as of this writing) Magic GP. This reduced enthusiasm may have been due to the low perceived EV on boosters that cost $10 MSRP.
- Eternal Masters will contain 249 cards, all reprints.
- Two of the cards reprinted will be Force of Will and Wasteland.
- None of the cards reprinted will be from the reserved list.
- Pack MSRP will be ~$10.
The “Masters” series is an odd duck in that it seems to have multiple, possibly mutually incompatible, purposes. First and foremost, these sets are designed to create a good limited environment. In order to do that, it is claimed that you cannot simply pack them full of powerful sought after cards. While players who design cubes would tend to disagree, this is the party line from WotC. A limited environment must have a conservative base power level with at least several different archetypes present. These archetypes can be simple “connect the same creature type dots” or more broad and difficult to recognize synergies, but WotC feels a need to ensure that even inexperienced players are able to see some target to aim for.
As a whole, the previous Masters series has done a reasonable job with this. What limited (pun intended) experience I have with these sets showed them to be enjoyable for limited play. The question of, “Was it worth the price tag?” can be debated, and in the end I suspect that the answer to this will vary greatly from person to person.
The second purpose is to put more copies of some important “format staples” into circulation. It is unclear if WotC’s intent is to help hold the upward price spiral in check, but giving players more opportunities to get their hands on the cards that they need for decks outside of Limited play is a function of these sets. While it is undeniably true that the Modern Masters sets put more copies of some cards into circulation, their ultimate effect on the secondary market prices may not be so simple.
In the weeks following the release of the first Modern Masters, Tarmogoyf shot up by around 20%. Even before the release of the second Modern Masters, ‘Goyf had plateaued at about 65% higher than it was pre-Modern Masters one. The price stayed essentially flat after MM 2015. It is certainly true that this is only one example, and that I am not extremely well versed in the world of MTG finance, but it is not the only case of a sought after card increasing in price following the Masters reprint. (See also, Blood Moon.) Card prices are highly contingent on the state of the metagame as well as demand driven by player participation. The key point is that simply reprinting a card does not necessarily reduce secondary market prices. It is more complex than that.
Finally, a goal of the Masters sets is to increase player interest in a format. Give the players some experience with a card pool or environment that they may not have previously been interested in and perhaps they will find that they enjoy it. I think it would be difficult to argue that the two Modern Masters sets had no impact on Modern as a format. It would be difficult to disentangle this influence from the other drivers of interest, including Modern Pro-Tours, but I believe that a causal connection is highly suggested.
So we are left with some questions and a great deal of speculation. What cards could possibly be reprinted to justify the price tag? What sort of archetypes can it support without being degenerate and busted? If the Force of Will and Wasteland are the opening salvo of cards, what, if anything, did they hold back? Ultimately, who is Eternal Masters actually for? Current Legacy and Vintage players don’t need to be convinced to play eternal formats. Some would welcome lower card prices with open arms, others would lament the loss of “investment.” All would likely welcome greater interest in the eternal formats as it could mean more of an opportunity to for local game stores to run eternal tournaments. But I am unconvinced that this is a good thing for the long term health of the eternal formats.
There is a Baloth in the room, and it is the Reserved List. Eternal Masters will NOT re-print any cards from the Reserved List. If it is successful in driving interest in the eternal formats, it may actually lead to an overall increase in the prices of reserved list cards. This may happen even if it is able to drive down costs of non-reserved list staples, which I remain unconvinced it will do successfully. Increased interest in Legacy and Vintage may, paradoxically, actually hasten their demise. Legacy and Vintage live on a razor thin path. Too little interest and they may die. Too much interest and they may die.
I welcome any support for my beloved eternal formats from the folks in Renton. I do want others to see and experience the formats that I enjoy. But I have very mixed emotions about this announcement, and I don’t think that its impact can yet be predicted. Until a solution to the Reserved List problem can be found, true eternal formats tenuously cling to a rather precarious niche.