Magic the Gathering Eternal Masters: Set Review

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As the sum­mer sets out­side of reg­u­lar Standard en­vi­ron­ment start to set­tle into their groove, Wizards of the Coast has yet again giv­en us an­oth­er tweak on their still rather young for­mat of reprint sets. Eternal Masters is only the third time this kind of set has been at­tempt­ed, and as I said in my piece about Modern Masters 2015 Wizards is still hav­ing trou­ble de­cid­ing ex­act­ly what the pur­pose of these sets are and what sec­tion of the play­er base they’re sup­posed to serve.

But I’m get­ting ahead of my­self. Eternal Masters is a set that’s meant to fill a mul­ti­tude of roles with more pres­sure to suc­ceed and ex­cel than non-premium sets. To those com­plete­ly in the dark, Eternal Masters is a set made up of cards from the full breadth of MtG his­to­ry with the ex­pec­ta­tion from many play­ers that it will in­clude a good amount of sta­ples from the Legacy format.

Eternal Masters Limited

Looking at the Eternal Masters lim­it­ed for­mat, the con­sen­sus of oth­er play­ers and the sin­gle draft I man­aged to scrape to­geth­er my­self I can safe­ly say the set has a fan­tas­tic draft en­vi­ron­ment. But good luck ac­tu­al­ly find­ing a store still run­ning a draft. The un­avail­abil­i­ty will be a run­ning men­tion through­out this re­view. It will keep crop­ping up again and again, but it re­al­ly is the only prob­lem with this set out­side of its al­ready high MSRP/RRP. Eternal Masters is a great set to draft, it’s akin to play­ing cube ex­cept you get to keep the cards af­ter­wards (at least in a phys­i­cal draft).

To high­light the pow­er lev­el, let’s look at just the Blue cards. You’ve got Man Man‑o’-War at com­mon, Counterspell at com­mon, Daze at un­com­mon, and Fact or Fiction at un­com­mon. It’s such a re­fresh­ing feel­ing to play with the real deal af­ter so many lim­it­ed en­vi­ron­ments of “like this card but-“, or hav­ing to put up with pre­mi­um re­moval be­ing ex­treme­ly high cost or rare. As you well know if you draft, re­moval is at a pre­mi­um when it comes to your pick — and boy do we have some pre­mi­um re­moval here. Swords to Ploughshares, Eyeblight’s Ending, Pacifism, Faith’s Fetters, Nekrataal, Firebolt, Chain Lightning… I could go on all day. The short of it is you will have a big range of tools to deal with the pow­er­ful threats you will be facing.

The op­er­a­tive word here is “val­ue.” Not just fi­nan­cial (which we will come to lat­er) but in terms of mana/card ef­fi­cien­cy. Most of these cards re­al­ly are the best you can get at their re­spec­tive rar­i­ties, with a bunch of cards in Eternal Masters ac­tu­al­ly be­ing down­shift­ed in rar­i­ty. The qual­i­ty of com­mons and the un­com­mons are re­al­ly what makes or breaks a Limited en­vi­ron­ment. Yes, there are lots of bombs at Rare and Mythic, as well as a ton of cards you will be forced to val­ue pick be­cause you’re pay­ing so much for a sin­gle draft. But out­side of that, there will be very few packs you open and cringe when you see the qual­i­ty of your first-pick op­tions, or many sealed pools where you’re play­ing a large amount of filler.

With the clas­sic cards, we also have clas­sic ar­che­types re­turn­ing like Green/Black Elves, Red/White to­kens, and Blue/White fly­ers. These are in­tu­itive decks to build for any ex­pe­ri­enced Magic play­er, as well has just be­ing able to make a deck based around the raw pow­er you can ac­cu­mu­late if you open enough of it. This is as it should be for a pre­mi­um set, the stench of filler is what re­al­ly killed Modern Masters 2015 for me, and it’s very much ab­sent from Eternal Masters.

Making a draft set this good and print­ing it in such low num­bers is bor­der­ing on an act of cruelty.

Impact on Eternal Formats

This is Eternal Masters, so how does it im­pact the for­mats it’s well and tru­ly aimed at? Well the suc­cess is mixed. We have a lot of rel­e­vant reprints and much less filler, but there sim­ply isn’t enough of this set around to im­pact the price of the most need­ed cards sig­nif­i­cant­ly. Usually in this sec­tion I’ll talk about rel­e­vant cards to Modern and Legacy, but this time around there are just too many to call out in­di­vid­u­al­ly. The set is so packed full of playable cards that its im­pact isn’t mea­sured in in­di­vid­ual cards, but the weight of the set be­ing opened.

We have the heav­i­est hit­ters like Mana Crypt and Force of Will present, but al­most in­evitably these are print­ed at myth­ic. Even in nor­mal sets cards print­ed at myth­ic have lim­it­ed im­pact on price sim­ply due to their nat­ur­al scarci­ty when com­pared to rares. So if you’re ex­pect­ing those cards to sud­den­ly be­come af­ford­able don’t hold your breath. Cards at myth­ic rar­i­ty in a set print­ed so spar­ing­ly is guar­an­teed to have no sub­stan­tial im­pact on prices.  This was, sad­ly, done by de­sign and these cards most­ly serve as tan­ta­lis­ing car­rots for play­ers to buy the set.

Where Eternal Masters has had the most im­pact, in my opin­ion, is ac­tu­al­ly in the Pauper for­mat — re-printing cards like Pyroblast. Although these cards were orig­i­nal­ly print­ed at com­mon, they are scarce due to their age and lim­it­ed print­ings in fol­low­ing sets. I’m in­cred­i­bly hap­py Wizards is us­ing this op­por­tu­ni­ty to print these Pauper sta­ples, and in­ject­ing some much need­ed sup­ply into the mar­ket where in pre­vi­ous sets many com­mon slots where just re­served for mean­ing­less filler. It gives us more to do with the cards opened in Eternal Masters, and is a clear sign from Wizards of the Coast that they ac­knowl­edge the grow­ing im­por­tance of the Pauper format.

Remember those rar­i­ty shifts? Well those re­al­ly mat­ter in a for­mat like Pauper that is only made up of com­mons. Eternal Masters in­tro­duces a lot of pow­er­ful cards be­ing print­ed at the com­mon rar­i­ty for the first time. Powerful crea­tures such as Nimble Mongoose and Warden of Evos Isle are now a com­mon, and that’s bound to shake up crea­ture based decks. Just a straight 2/1 for a sin­gle mana is a big deal in Pauper. In a sense, it’s al­most like we just got a whole bunch of new top-tier cards print­ed for the Pauper for­mat in Eternal Masters.  I’m re­al­ly ex­cit­ed to see what peo­ple brew up.

How much Value is in Eternal Masters?

If you were lucky enough to be able to pick up Eternal Masters at its MSRP/RRP then you got a pret­ty sweet deal. A lot of ku­dos to the lo­cal games stores that showed re­spect for their reg­u­lars and sold this set at a fair price to peo­ple they know will open and en­joy it. There is huge temp­ta­tion to flip this stuff on­line these days.

The cards be­ing reprint­ed in Eternal Masters reads al­most like a fan­ta­sy set list: Karakas, Maze of Ith, Jace, the Mind Sculptor and less­er known yet equal­ly valu­able cards like Conspiracy’s Dack Fayden, foils of which still rou­tine­ly sell for up­wards of $200. As with pre­vi­ous pre­mi­um sets you are guar­an­teed a foil in each boost­er, mean­ing at MSRP/RRP your box can pay for it­self with a cou­ple of high-value pulls alone. As al­ways, the usu­al caveat with boost­er box­es still ap­plies. They are ran­dom by de­sign and priced in such a way you can’t rely on get­ting more out of a box than you paid for it.

There is also a lot more val­ue in the un­com­mons and com­mons you’ll be open­ing this time around, both in terms of game­play and val­ue. Hitting cards like Brainstorm, Fact or Faction, or Young Pyromancer in foil should cush­ion some of the fi­nan­cial pain of open­ing your box. Not to get too tech­ni­cal, but one of the main pos­i­tives in Eternal Masters is the com­par­a­tive­ly low­er vari­ance in pack val­ue on av­er­age. There are still dud-packs and god-packs, but the $2-$5 cards can re­al­ly add up over the course of a box. There is less feast or famine when in comes to open­ing bulk than there was in sets like Modern Masters 2015.

A brief note about MtGO: Eternal Masters is be­ing re­leased with a low­er price tag than phys­i­cal stores ($6.99) but is not avail­able for re­demp­tion, mean­ing the par­i­ty be­tween phys­i­cal and dig­i­tal cards does not ap­ply here un­for­tu­nate­ly. The mer­its of re­demp­tion are a dis­cus­sion for a dif­fer­ent ar­ti­cle, but this is worth not­ing for se­ri­ous MTGO players.

Conclusions and Recommendations

Eternal Masters has re­cap­tured the fer­vour and ex­cite­ment of the orig­i­nal Modern Masters whilst also man­ag­ing to get that spe­cial bal­ance of fac­tors that give the set its spe­cial mag­ic. Sets in Magic The Gathering don’t get much more pow­er­ful or valu­able than this. The trou­ble is Wizards re­al­ly knows that fact and is pro­ceed­ing with the dis­ap­point­ing timid­i­ty we have come to ex­pect. Wizards re­al­ly needs to shit or get off the pot. You’re ei­ther com­mit­ted to these reprint sets or you’re not.

This mis­step is a same be­cause Eternal Masters has a lot of gen­uine­ly in­ter­est­ing and clas­sic cards. I’m gen­uine­ly pleas­ant­ly sur­prised by the spot-on card choice on show here. I was ex­pect­ing a more rushed at­tempt to ap­pease the sec­ondary mar­ket with a few headline-grabbing reprints and se­lec­tion of ran­dom old junk. Instead we got a well craft­ed set that is a love-letter to Magic’s his­to­ry and gives a nod to the re­al­i­ties of Magic’s present with its Pauper support.

Wizard’s of the Coast have cre­at­ed some­thing re­al­ly spe­cial here, as a prod­uct I can’t give it any­thing but a glow­ing rec­om­men­da­tion if you can find it, but the way that prod­uct has been re­leased negates a lot of what was done so right. The dis­cus­sion about Wizards of the Coast and which mar­ket they serve is a whole oth­er dis­cus­sion, which you can read right here!

Follow me over to Magic the Gathering: Eternal Masters & The Enthusiast Bubble.

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John Sweeney is a ter­ri­bly British man with a back­ground in en­gi­neer­ing. He writes long-form ed­i­to­r­i­al con­tent with analy­sis of gam­ing, games me­dia and in­ter­net cul­ture. He also does the oc­ca­sion­al video game ret­ro­spec­tive with a week­ly col­umn about Magic the Gathering thrown in for good mea­sure. He also does most of our in­ter­views for some rea­son, we have no idea why. A staunch sup­port­er of free speech and con­sumer rights; skep­ti­cal of agen­da dri­ven me­dia and sus­pi­cious of un­ac­cou­table au­thor­i­ty but al­ways hope­ful for change.
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