Magic The Gathering: Modern Masters 2015 — The Worst of Both Worlds

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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.

MM2015 insert 1

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.

MM2015 insert 2

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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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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