I’ve always contested that any game should always try its best to widen the consumer base wherever possible.Magic: The Gathering has added layers in the differing formats that make up their own little markets in the Magic scene, with people talking about “breaking into” legacy or modern like you would “break into” the stocks and shares. Current top-tier Modern decks like Junk can top out at $700-$800. This is the high-end, of course, but if you lack mountains of disposable income, then a Modern Masters deck is going to be an investment you don’t take lightly, especially for newer or younger players.
With the original Modern Masters release, I thought we were starting to see Wizards of the Coast (WotC) at least testing the waters for a way to do just that: bring Modern to the masses. Wizards of the Coast have said repeatedly they want to support Modern, so when the decision was taken to make Modern Masters 2015 not only $10 a pack, but a limited print run, I was somewhat baffled.
As I see it, there are two routes Modern Masters as a format can go: They can focus on making it a really exciting and interesting draft format, forgoing value for the sake of creating a really good limited draft format. It would need to be cheaper and more accessible as to make sure people actually had packs to draft (I don’t think I know many people who drafted the original Modern Masters outside of MTG:O) and since, in that case, the set wouldn’t be chock full of reprints that made the collectors clutch their pearls (and wallets) it could also have a bigger print run without the risk of crashing the aftermarket. The second route they could go down is more what they did with the first Modern Masters. Make a set with a limited print run and just chock it full of all the most expensive commons, uncommons, mythics and rares from the eligible bracket of sets the cards were pooled from. In this case, the high MSRP would be justified by the high chance of opening with high value cards.
But we’ve ended up with the worst of both worlds. An expensive, limited print run with a high number of bulk Rares and baffling non-inclusions like Serum Vision (seriously Wizards, where in the hell are $7 common Serum Visions?!) Wizards of the Coast need to decide what it wants Modern Masters to be. Do they want it to be a set focused on a draft environment or do they want it to be a value set dedicated to increasing the supply of sorely needed modern staples? They want to eat their cake and have it too. What we have is a lower value set that looks like it will have a well-craftedlimited environment that is still priced like a premium product.
How big is the value gap? Let’s do a little maths shall we: MTG Goldfish already did a fantastic and comprehensive statistical analysis of Modern Masters 2015 and their findings were stark:
“Basically, with MMA (modern masters) you were almost assured of opening $4 in value, and more than half of the time you’d open $10+ in value. With MM2 (Modern Masters 2015) you are assured of opening $1 in value; most of the time you’ll open $3 in value, and a small portion of the time you’ll open $30 in value.”
For your $10 pack of Modern Masters 2015, you will likely be losing out significantly. For those opening loose packs, this variance seems almost cruel. You might as well just be feeding a slot machine. For a set, Modern Masters 2015 isnot worth buying at anywhere near MSRP and certainly nowhere near the inflated prices some card stores will be trying to sell the “limited print product” for. Scarcity alone is not enough to justify that price, but not enough people are calling out WotC and their major retailers on this fact.
Part of the problem is there are very few high-profile, truly independent sources of Magic: The Gathering information. MTGHQ put out an impassioned video about what really needs to be done to make Modern Masters of worth to the average consumer and how to make it useful in making Magic: The Gatheringmore accessible — I would strongly recommend watching it. Most people who buy Magic cards only spend a fraction of what more dedicated collectors like me spend, Wizards really needs to be looking to the mass market and not at selling to people already financially invested in the game in heavy ways. But this message is lost in the cycle of hype, spoilers, set reviews and product openings. I think The Mana Source and Tolarian Community College are the only two prominent places I consistently see “should you buy this?” type questions being asked and the real financial nuts and bolts being laid out. These are two great sources of information, but there needs to be a greater voice for real consumer advice for magic players.
Channel Fireball and Star City games have the highest profile — non-WotC — Magic: The Gathering coverage on the web and these are the people who will make the most money out of sets like Modern Masters 2015. They have a vested interest in selling you as much product as possible and so don’t have an incentive to discourage these sales from taking place. Their coverage is geared towards reviewing cards within a metagame and not really giving an overall appraisal of the financial wisdom of buying a particular product. Even if they did give that advice, as stores I don’t think you should regard that advice as impartial. The level of closeness between Star City Games and Wizards of the Coast (and therefore Hasbro) has been of grave concern for years. Product hoarding to create artificial demand and setting up a barrier between players and the cards they need to be competitive. With the $10 price tag and limited print runs, Wizards of the Coast are serving these masters and itself far more than the community that invests so much time, money and love into this game.
I’ve dabbled in the MTG aftermarket, and even there I was shocked to see how badly consumers get screwed by not having access to the same knowledge and tools I do. The problem is tenfold when it comes to power imbalance between large stores and players. With a set like Modern Masters 2015, where — to an even greater degree than most sealed product — there seems to be an unfair system in place meant to stop the price from dropping closer to their real value like most products would do. The limited print run and high MSRP coupled with most of the boxes and packs going into the hands of large stores prevent the price dropping even when the value of the rares, and especially the uncommons, is far lower than the original Modern Masters.
Will this even drive the price down of cards in Modern Masters? I have a hard time believing it will significantly affect the long-term value of high cost Mythics in the set. Like we saw with the original Modern Masters, it tends to piqué curiosity but the limited printing, product hoarding and high cost mean it isn’t ideal for getting cards into the hands of the players who would use them at the Modern Friday Night Magic Tournaments. It’s always nice to have a reprint of something like Noble Hierarch at rare, but the set needs more home-run rares like that to be a success. Making cards like All is Dust more available is cool, but no one was exactly crying out about how the cost of those cards was making their deck back-breakingly expensive, especially when cards like Goblin Guide are running near $30.
So where does this leave us? Well, Games Workshop provides us with a bleak picture of what a game looks like if you habitually price gouge and only market to your most wealthy and invested players. The game stagnates and stops bringing in new and younger players who build up their investment over time. A cheaper, modern format is good for everyone and ultimately it is good for Wizards of the Coast as more people come into the game. Yes, Hasbro is a business and as a business they can sell and price their products however they want. But as a consumer, it is your right demand what is best for you. As a consumer you should be wary of a company pushing the boundaries of how little it can offer for maximum profit. As a Magic player and collector, I don’t think I can be anything less than disappointed at what looks like a cop-out and a cash grab in place of what could have been a much needed further democratization of the Modern format.
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