Surprise! Just in time for the holiday shopping season, Wizards of the Coast has gone ahead and dropped a glitter bomb on the Magic community with the late announcement of Ultimate Masters.
First, let’s cover the basics. Here’s what you need to know about Ultimate Masters in a nutshell:
- MSRP for this set is $335.76 / box ($13.99/pack), up from $240 or so for the last few Masters sets
- The set has 20 mythics & 53 rares and several important cards feature new art
- As per usual there is also a foil card in every pack
- Boxes are only available at Local Gaming Stores, but that means you’ll also see them on Ebay and TCGPlayer as well as online vendor stores
- Each box comes with an “Ultimate Box Topper” booster pack with one of forty brand new Masterpieces style cards. These packs are sealed within the boxes
- UMA boxes will be an LGS exclusive but 3-packs of boosters will be available at big box stores for $34.99 for 3 packs, without any chance at the Masterpiece box toppers
- UMA is only being printed in English and Japanese, but will be distributed worldwide
- Further spoilers for the set are scheduled for November 19th and 20th, with the full set reveal on Nov 21
- The set will also be available on Magic Online, though it will not be redeemable and the Masterpieces will only show up in Treasure Chests
- Release date is December 7th, 2018
Now, let’s see what we can do about grounding our analysis to figure out whether this is a set we’re supposed to be purchasing for fun or profit.
The Masterpiece Factor vs. The Price Increase
There was a lot of chatter on social media Monday expressing dismay at the quoted MSRP of $335.76 USD. This does represent a 40% increase vs. the $240 MSRP we’ve come to expect from recent Masters sets, but it’s important to focus on value as expressed through the EV of the set, and not the sticker shock of a higher price point.
Firstly, price complaints that ignore the estimated value of the guaranteed Masterpiece included in every sealed box are missing the mark by a mile. Sure, some people are going to get stuck with Balefire Dragon or Raging Ravine as their Masterpiece, but far more are going to open something truly sweet that is very likely to appreciate longer term. No one is going to be complaining about getting a Masterpiece Liliana of the Veil, Tarmogoyf, Snapcaster Mage, or Karn Liberated.
My early math suggests that this set of Masterpieces will have the highest average EV of any Masterpiece set released so far, largely due to the preponderance of expensive Modern staples being included and the increase from 30 Inventions in Kaladesh to 40 possible cards here.
Overall, my guess is that the EV of the box topper alone will be $100+ or so once we get past peak supply, which means you have to consider the box price as being slightly less than previous sets, not more.
I should also note that I secured my first case last night at $900/case, or $225/box, which is about $80 above what I paid for the last two Masters set, and largely comparable to those purchases given the included Masterpiece. I will not be at all surprised to see further opportunities in the $240-$270 range as the pre-order season becomes more competitive, which seriously undercuts any criticisms of the MRSP, since that number is largely irrelevant. Add in the superior EV of the main set and possibility of truly insane openings, and I see no reason to hold back so far.
Further, ALL of the Masterpieces also appear in the set as mythics, rares and two uncommons (Kitchen Finks & Eternal Witness) and though we still have 34 rares and many of the uncommons and commons to be revealed, the theme of the set would suggest that WoTC will follow through here and deliver a truly impressive roster of cards. We get the full info Nov 21st, but I want my orders in before that since I’m expecting people to end up surprised at how great this set is. Kitchen sink set here we come!
Juiced To The Gills?
Take a look at the cards we know we’re getting in Ultimate Masters and their respective current price points.
Mythics (20 of 20 known)
- Liliana of the Veil $90
- Karn, Liberated $90
- Cavern of Souls $80
- Tarmogoyf $70
- Snapcaster Mage $70
- Temporal Manipulation $65
- Karakas $60
- Dark Depths $50
- Emrakul, the Aeons Torn $40
- Kozilek, the Butcher $40
- Bitterblossom $40
- Vengevine $38
- Mana Vault $30
- Mikaeus, the Unhallowed $27
- Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre $25
- Leovold, Emissary of Trest $20
- Lord of Extinction $16
- Sigarda, Host of Herons $16
- Balefire Dragon $15
- Platinum Emperion $14
That folks, is as good as your mythics list is ever likely to get in a booster box based Magic set. The current average price of these cards is a whopping $45, which is about 45% better than Modern Masters 2017 and 72% better than M25 last winter. With three mythics per box on average, you’re looking at underwriting $135 in average box cost with your mythics alone (assuming they rebound back close to these prices down the road). Combined with the fact that this list represents significantly more high demand Modern staples, and this is unquestionably attractive.
Notice that there are five more Mythics in this set vs. past Masters sets, which should act as a minor damper on how much the mythics lose in price and for how long. On the other hand, the greater the average price of the included cards, the more they stand to lose from current pricing in the short term, since the alternative is that boxes are cracked for singles until they fall far enough to shut that down. This could result in some pretty swingy price shifts over the next several months as much of the print run is purchased, cracked and dumped into the market, only to dry up within a few months due to a lack of additional inventory from the supply chain.
If I was to flag some early targets among the mythics that are likely to rebound out six to nine months I’d first look at the following cards as things to check in on heading into peak supply in mid to late December:
- Liliana of the Veil
- Karn, Liberated
- Cavern of Souls
- Snapcaster Mage
- Dark Depths
- Emrakul, the Aeons Torn
- Mana Vault
Rares (19 of 53 known)
- Engineered Explosives $85
- Noble Hierarch $80
- Celestial Collonade $55
- Gaddock Teeg $50
- Goryo’s Vengeance $44
- Through the Breach $44
- Ancient Tomb $36
- Demonic Tutor $36
- Fulminator Mage $26
- Reanimate $25
- Maelstrom Pulse $22
- Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth $20
- Life from the Loam $20
- Entomb $20
- Creeping Tar Pit $14
- Raging Ravine $12
- Lavaclaw Reaches $2
- Tasigur, the Golden Fang $1.50
- Stirring Wildwood $1
Aside from the hit or miss land cycle, that is a very good looking set of rares so far. Will there be some stinkers in the remaining 35? Definitely. Are you likely to see a set with a higher EV on rares anytime soon? Probably not.
The average price of these rares at present is $31, but we can’t hang our hat on that figure until we see the full list and recalculate a more realistic average.It is worth noting that when I looked at early rare values for the top 25 rares in MM17 however, they were only averaging $23 in the same time frame, so that’s a 35% boost with UMA. Not bad at all.
Even if the average rare price (across all rares) drops to $5 in the final tally, we’d still be underwriting $105 in box cost! If it’s $3, that’s still $63 + $135+ from the mythics + $100+ avg EV (estimated) from the Masterpieces and that’s without even considering the likely EV contributions from the foils in every pack and the uncommons/commons which tend to add $50-80 in value combined. Surprise! We probably just justified the MSRP of $335 even in a pessimistic scenario. Yes, the cards are going to fall from their current price points, but really good mythics and rares aren’t likely to fall very hard, or for very long.
Given that WoTC tends to lead spoilers with the good stuff, I’d expect that roughly just 15 of the remaining 35 rares will be impressive. That could still be enough to cement this set as the best Masters set ever.
Now I do feel that the list of rares here is less resilient overall to a reprint, but I feel good about the rebound potential of at least the following based on their overall demand profile in Modern & EDH:
- Noble Hierarch
- Celestial Collonade
- Engineered Explosives
- Demonic Tutor
- Life from the Loam
Masterpiece Reprints & Premium Card Fatigue?
Some folks have wondered aloud (again) whether too many Masterpieces might be a bad thing. Could players get burned out on premium versions, driving down their values on the whole?
Historical precedent and the latest list of Masterpieces suggests that we’re pretty far from that scenario still. While it is true that a few of these cards have now been Masterpieces twice (Mana Vault, Ancient Tomb, Through the Breach), we need only look as far as Mana Crypt and Sol Ring for examples of cards that have had multiple rare and shiny versions that have tended to trend upward together once the Masterpiece started to rise. Given the higher than usual demand profile of the Masterpieces in question this time, and the deep stock of cards that haven’t yet been given the treatment, this isn’t something I think we need to worry about quite yet.
That being said, it is certainly possible that Masterpiece Cavern of Souls, for instance, might overshadow the Modern Masters 2017 foils for a while, though any gap that opens in their relative prices will only set them up to service different segments of the market or set the stage for the gap to close over time.
How limited will Ultimate Masters be relative to other Masters sets? So far, it’s tough to say with any certainty. Dealers are telling us that their allocations are relatively modest vs. M25 and Iconic Masters last year, and I’m being told by reliable vendor sources that there is only going to be a single wave of allocations. A lot of people will assume this is going to be as common as M25 or Iconic Masters, and I think they’ll be dead wrong. This is WoTC learning from past mistakes and as with Mythic Edition, this set is being designed to sell out.
Further, I have pegged previous MPS sets at around 8000-12,000 copies of each card worldwide, but I think this set could be significantly lower.
Consider this: if WoTC puts out 100,000 boxes of this set and each box has 1 box topper, then there are just 2500 of each box topper. That means we need to be selling 400,000 boxes to approximate the # of Kaladesh Inventions that exist. At $200 cost/box to vendors, WoTC revenues from selling into distributors could be $160/box or about $64M in project revenues. That sounds high to me, and that’s what we’d need for there to be 10k.
Ah, but wait, we also need to consider the freebie copies sent out to folks involved in the Mythic Edition online sale debacle through HasbroToyShop.com. That might have added a few thousand more copies into the mix. Of course even if that’s 10,000 free box toppers, it’s only +250 of each. Not much really.
If you can refine that math, you can zero in on how many of these things exist, so you should try.
It should also be noted that Chinese has been dropped from the Masters print run, which further reduces the total # of boxes and Masterpieces in circulation. This is more relevant for the box toppers than the Chinese staples, since those don’t circulate much outside of China due to lack of demand abroad.
Japanese boxes on the other hand are likely to be both very rare, and fairly pricey, with MSRP reportedly set around $340 USD in that country as well, but with likely street prices that could exceed $400-$500 with relative ease. I’ll be looking at acquiring some myself, but I suspect the margins will be too thin short term to go very deep since the Japanese vendors will automatically recognize the value of the product & unlike Battlebond the Japanese Modern players will scoop this stuff up right quick.
The Last Masters Set?
WoTC is claiming that this set will be the last Masters set for a while, but don’t expect that to mean no more reprints. Rather, I would expect to see some alternate product models hit the shelves in 2019, most likely with a focus on driving additional product into the hands of Modern & EDH players. A few possibilities include supplemental sets with new cards for Modern, Modern style challenger decks at high price points, and a fresh spin on a Commander’s Arsenal style foil set for Commander players.
Notable exclusions from Ultimate Masters so far include Dark Confidant, Jace, the Mind Sculptor, Vendillion Clique, any hope of fetchlands and Mox Opal. Other cards such as Thoughtseize have seen recent printings but may still make it in once all the rares are revealed. There is likely some minor gains to be had in the next few months on any missing mythics and rares that in the Top 50 cards in Modern, so keep your eye on inventory levels and the associated price ladders.
Ultimate Masters is looking like a source of compelling value, despite the high MSRP. The mythic and rare complement is as good as it gets, with many high demand cards that are often used as 4 of staples in Modern and while variance can still wreck you here, targeting boxes under $275 during pre-orders is going to be hard to beat for fun and value and it could easily turn out that even MSRP is too cheap in the longer term. The popularity of the included mythics and best rares will help card values recover faster, especially if the print run is also more limited and/or the set is released in less waves. This is also a set where you could possibly open Liliana of the Veil Masterpiece and Foil in the same box and that particular lottery result could be you.
Finally, if the price point is too high for your budget, perhaps consider splitting a box with some friends and drafting for the box topper as your prize or look to take advantage of the discounted staples pricing as peak supply hits around the same time as the holiday season drives down singles prices. Remember, not every product will be a perfect fit for your scenario, but that doesn’t mean you can’t find a way to make it work for your needs.
Until next time, happy hunting!
James Chillcott (@mtgcritic) is an entrepreneur, investor, designer, collector, gamer and adventurer. Between dolling out good advice and humble bragging on Twitter he can be found playing with his daughter Alara, running a couple of web companies and eating cookies.