Modern Thoughts About Modern Masters

Dark Confidant - MM

Modern Masters comes out today and we’ll be able to get our hands on it.

Or, some of will get our hands on the set. Maybe they’ll play with it; maybe they’ll store it in a closet hoping it will go up in value. I mean, it can’t go any higher, can it?

So let’s address some of the topics that everyone is talking about and let’s see if we can shed some light on it in a non-“What has WotC done?” panic that I keep reading online. Is it just me, or do you imagining people screaming throwing their hands above their head?

1 – What’s in the Set

Obviously this is the most important part. Modern Masters has money cards for everyone. For Tournament players there’s Tarmogoyf, AEther Vial, Cryptic Command, Dark Confidant, Arcbound Ravager, Pact of Negation, Kiki-Jiki, Blood Moon, Bridge from Below, Elsepth, etc. For Casual/Commander players there’s Doubling Season, Swords of Fire and Ice/Light and Shadow, Sarken Vol, Demigod of Revenge, Divinity of Pride, the Kamigawa Dragons, etc.

And those are just some of the Rares and Mythics. This set is so full of good stuff that it’s insane. Really insane. That’s why the packs are so expensive and the hype is so high. If you play Magic, there are cards in here that interest you. For the alternative Cubers, there’s plenty of support here especially with the rarity changes of many of the cards (which is also a help to the budget players (and yes, I know that I’m saying “budget players” semi-ironically when it comes to a set like this)).

The set was really constructed to draft. I know that Aaron Forsythe said that at the beginning, but I didn’t know how right he was. Each pair of colors has a clear way to get drafted and plenty of the money cards can fit into those archetypes: Arcbound Ravager in U/W Artifacts, Doubling Season in G/W tokens, Engineered Explosives in G/U Domain. You know there are people who will draft anything that WotC makes, so it’s very nice to have the secondary purpose of this product is to draft. The set is very Time Spiral-ish in that there’s so much going on. You can see the draft archetypes reflected in the sets they come from: R/W very Lorywn/Shadowmoor heavy, B/W is Time Spiral block. I can imagine people like Marshall Sutcliffe squeal with joy as the crack open packs of Modern Masters for drafting.

There are a few cards that don’t make sense why they’re in there since they don’t really help draft nor where in huge demand: Dragonstorm, Earwig Squad, and Squee for example. If you take a look at Red’s history in Modern, there aren’t the money cards that the other colors have. So Red might be the “weakest” rare color out there, but it’s more than made up for it in draft with the commons and uncommons. Hopefully WotC will push Red to be a bit better in the future; Bonfire of the Damned, and Thundermaw Dragon are a good step forward. But that’s for the future.

I think the amount of value that was thrown into this set is absolutely insane. Here’s a list of cards valued at or over $10 (at the time of this printing): Tarmogoyf, Dark Confidant, Vendillion Clique, Cryptic Command, Sword of Fire and Ice, Sword of Light and Shadow, Kiki-Jiki, Doubling Season, Arcbound Ravager, Elspeth, Sarkhan Vol, Pact of Negation, Kokusho, Progenitus, Engineered Expolsives, Glimmervoid, Maelstrom Pulse, Summoning Pact, Vedalken Shackles, Blinkmouth Nexus, Bridge from Below, Glen Elendra Archmage, Yosei, Kira, Gifts Ungiven, AEther Vial, Academy Ruins, and Tooth and Nail. You don’t see any set with 28 >$10 cards.

2 – What’s Not in the Set

Of course, there are notable Modern cards that aren’t in this set. Besides the restrictions of being 8th Edition to Alara Reborn, a few cards didn’t make the cut: Thoughtsieze, Mutavault, the Shadowmoor/Eventide Hybrid Lands, Damnation, Crucible of Worlds, Noble Heirarch, Glimpse the Unthinkable, Venser, Sliver Legion, Prismatic Omen, Regal Force, Urborg, Bribery, Auriok Champion, Azusa, Remand, Debtors’ Knell, Fulminator Mage, among others. And those are just the rares (and one uncommon) people were expecting.

Everyone take a deep breath; it’s going to be okay. Nothing everything can be in this set, obviously. I saw people on forums that were expecting every card in the set to have high tournament value, which is an ignorant belief. You can’t have that card list and expect the cost of the set to be reasonable. The “this makes sense” speculation is that Thoughtsieze and Mutavault (two of the most notable absentees) are going to be in M14 or Theros; Mutavault to interact with Slivers and Thoughtsieze because it needs to be reprinted to get its insane cost down. Who knows, it’s all speculation.

But to complain about what’s not in this set is like complaining that you’re at a breakfast buffet and they only have waffles instead of pancakes. There’s so much good stuff in here that you’re looking at this in the wrong direction if you complain about what’s not in here. We’ll get to that in a moment.

3 – What’s the Point of this Set

Basically it all comes down to the Reserved List, a Magic player’s two favorite words. No matter how you feel about it, it’s here to stay. Because of this, WotC wanted a non-rotating format where they could print cards whenever they needed to. The more cards out there, the easier it is to get newer people to play the format you’re supporting (basic concept). Now, because Magic is a collectible game as well, you can’t just print 500 million of every card and give them away; WotC’s in the business of making Magic cards. There would be complete havoc if you took a $100 card and suddenly made it common (which is what I hear Yu-Gi-Oh! does). That doesn’t reflect people’s confidence in the product they are purchasing. Why should customers buy this current product if in the next one you’re going to invalidate all the money that they sunk into it. It isn’t a great long-term model for business.

And here’s the ugly truth: players want their cards to be worth something, but they don’t want the hassle of paying those prices. That’s not the way it works.

So you have all these people who have the expensive cards needed for Modern, but more people wanting to get into Modern but they need the “staples” and the “build around me” cards to be competitive. In Legacy, a good majority of these cards are on the Reserved List or they’re not going to print them in a Standard set because it will drive everything out of whack. But with Modern, a format designed to have cards reprinted, it’s easier to do such a thing. You should expect anything that’s Modern legal to be reprinted at anytime. Now, it must be done slowly, and with the right numbers. You need to get the product out there, but you can’t just dump it onto the market without tanking all the value of the cards. If you did wanted to tumble the price of a card, you would print it in a set that has a higher print run than Modern Masters, say M14 or Theros for example (See: Thoughtsieze/Mutavault).

We get back to the point of this set: It’s to get people who are interested in Modern a chance to own the cards needed to play the format. A majority of these cards (at least the money ones), are too powerful to be reprinted in a Standard format. Of course, the set can’t be cheap enough for everyone since there’s still going to be a barrier to entry, but at least WotC is trying in this case. Here’s the problem: Speculators want in on this action as well. Since the set is so good, buying and keeping boxes is a smart long-term thing to do. However, when you do that, you prevent the people who the product was intended for from getting the cards. Take this example from Phil Harman using the 1990’s Somalia issue as a proxy. If the product doesn’t get opened enough to get to the people needed to get interested in the format, then the product is a failure. Sure, it may sell like crazy and be a financial success for the company, but if it doesn’t get people into Modern, then it doesn’t do its intended job.

So the product needs to be opened. How do you do that?

Make it fun to draft.

There isn’t enough Modern Masters to (hopefully) make the card prices fluctuate wildly, but enough to make a dent in the supply of the availability of the cards to encourage play. I trust WotC to know the numbers needed because of what they learned with Chronicles. This is a small print set, but it has the option if it is successful (which it obviously looks like it’s going to be), to handle a Modern Masters 2 sometime in the future. You know what, let’s talk about that.

4 – The Future of the Franchise

WotC will most likely gauge how successful Modern Masters was on a number of levels. Did it sell? Did it increase attendance in Modern formats on a non-Pro Tour level (meaning FNMs, PTQs, online events)? Is there a ton of blow-back from the people who owned the original cards? Were players actually able to get their hands on it? If all of these are positive, I see this trend of reprinting cards continuing every couple of years. Cards in Modern need to be reprinted to get people into the format.

And, Modern needs to be successful. Why? Because we don’t know the long-term viability of formats with the Reserved List hanging over them. With more people playing Magic every year, there are less old cards that people can get their hands on to play the game. Reminder: it’s also a collectible game, so there will be people with huge collections of dual lands and not play them. I fully believe that WotC can design its way out of any issues with Legacy, but for Vintage? I don’t know. With (a proposed) Modern Masters franchise that gets sold every few years, you can print cards that need to be reprinted. That includes cards that didn’t make it the first time, or that were printed between Zendikar and whenever, or even reprinting cards that are still too high in value (See: Tarmogoyf).

Modern can be the format that people play 10-15 years down the road that they can still get cards reprinted for without screwing up the Standard environment. While I doubt that we’ll see Tarmogoyf fall under $80 with the next few years, being able to get the card at all is a huge benefit for the game. This is a format that we can enjoy for a long time, if we support it. If you like the Modern format, ask your LGS to run Modern events (Yes, you can even run Modern FNMs now). If you play more Modern events competitively, it gives WotC hard data to show that it’s successful and should be continued. Modern Masters is a huge experiment and risk that WotC is trying, but from the shape of things, I believe it’s going to be a successful one.

As a side note: I do own most of the cards reprinted in Modern Masters, and I did buy a box. I am happy that this set exists as anything to get more people playing Magic, no matter what the format, is a good one. I’m not worried about the value of my cards because I know that anything can be reprinted at anytime. I’m going to draft my box with some friends and whatever I don’t need, I’m trading away. The cards need to get out there to people who don’t have them. While I’m not saying you give them away, help get people into the format. Do your part.


One thought on “Modern Thoughts About Modern Masters”

  1. It’s been interesting seeing the mix of reaction between hardcores who already play modern and the players who really have wanted to play modern but have up until now been unable to enter. The hardcores scoff at many of the cards printed and are upset about what wasn’t printed. However quietly I am watching the players that have hungered to be able to play in modern begin building a deck they can actually use on some modestly competitive level. For example Storm and Faeries not top tier decks currently in Modern but you could still certainly show up to a Modern event and be competitive so I think Modern Masters is working on that front and that is a cool new trend. Again I agree with you that the more packs that are opened and the wider the distribution the greater the success for this set.

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