The Signals and Problems with Commander Masters

Previews for Commander Masters are in full swing, and I’m pretty excited. I love a different draft format and I really love a chance to buy staples when they get to their lowest price in years. What I’m also noticing, though, is that this Masters set is going in new directions, some of which I really don’t like. Allow me to explain why.

First of all, let’s get into the price disparity of this set. Masters sets (sets that are targeted reprints) have been more expensive since the days of Modern Masters 2011. Chronicles was the same price as other boosters at the time, but that was so long ago that it doesn’t really matter. Starting with MM11, Wizards knew they could charge more for these products, and in recent years, they have really turbocharged this concept.

Collector Boosters have done an excellent job at giving players a spectrum of choices for their cards/collecting. One end of the spectrum has the basic nonfoil of a card. The other end has the most premium version possible, from a Neon Red Hidetsugu to Serialized Elven Sol Rings. Players always had a choice before between foil and nonfoil, but only relatively recently have we gotten such a wide variety of choices.

There was quite an outcry when VIP Boosters came out in Double Masters, but Wizards made a whole new frame and art for the chase cards and there were guarantees about what you’d get, or at least have a crack at. Now, Commander Masters has its Collector Boosters for about the same price, and there’s much less outcry. We’re used to this now, and they know it.

For those of you who hate the idea of a single booster being around $75, no matter what’s in it: You’re outvoted. I hate to be the bearer of such bad news, but the only way Wizards stops making boosters like this at this price point is if people stop buying them. So far, I’m not seeing that happen, and while the card choices are sometimes mystifying for this set, they aren’t horrifically atrocious.

Still, these Collector Boosters are $75 a pack, compared to the $30-35 you would have spent on the Modern Horizons 2 Collector Boosters or Universes Beyond: Lord of the Rings Collector Booster. (I’m aware that single boosters at your LGS can cost more.)

Commander Masters is also uniquely huge in terms of the cards involved. I’ll have the full math up soon, when the entire set is previewed, but there’s 135 rares and 35 mythics here. Double Masters 2022 had 120 rares and 40 mythics, as a point of comparison. Even with the formulations of multiple rares per pack, this is still a whole lot of variance to deal with, and that’s part of the gambling experience. You know you might not hit it big, but when you do, the dopamine rush is so very wonderful.

I wasn’t expecting to get serialized cards every set, but it seems like an easy way to goose the value of the opened cards if you have some number of big hits in there. Even the crappiest of the BRO serialized are $100 or so, but leaving them out of this set feels like a miss. However, now that we’ve had this experience in multiple ways, we’re always going to feel a little let down when serialized cards aren’t a thing in a set. We’ll learn to cope with that feeling over time.

Those are the big-picture problems with Commander Masters. These don’t make the set a must-avoid, but they do indicate that Wizards is going to keep on pushing the limit of what they can get away with and still make amazing, if not record, profits.

On a more specific scale, Commander Masters has an amazing number of cards that were recently printed in some other way and are now getting hit again in rapid succession. It doesn’t bother me that cards get duplicate printings, especially when they have notably different art/frames, but what it signifies is that there is no person/department at Wizards who is responsible for managing what’s getting quick reprints.  

The Secret Lair – Commander Masters pipeline feels especially egregious this time around, as cards like Nekusar, the Mindrazer and Yisan, the Wanderer Bard were inclusions just a couple months ago. I don’t think this is a ‘new normal’ or anything, I just think it reflects what they are up to: adding cards based on current values and how they fit into a draft environment, not so much worrying about ‘did we just print that?’ 

We’ve also got some cards that were put into the Lord of the Rings and yet are also present here. The Great Henge got a Surge foil, other cards were in the Commander precons, and yet there’s more reprints coming. Toxic Deluge, Chromatic Lantern, Decree of Pain (and a SL here too!) and more got this one-two punch, helping prices likely stay low. 

I expect more of this going forward. Whoever’s in charge is overworked, or they aren’t coordinating, or last-minute changes…this is something we should not be shocked by in the future. I remember being shocked that Iona, Shield of Emeria was in Modern Masters 2015 and then immediately in FTV: Angels a month later. 

As you can imagine, being printed twice in a row with more premium versions means that all versions of a card will impede its growth going forward. Staples aren’t what they were, because Wizards has made so many cards that are just so good over the years. The Great Henge will recover, but with so many copies and with a selection of treatments, it’ll take longer than if just one set had had the card. 

I made the joke on Twitter that I couldn’t wait to buy cheap copies of The Party Tree version, and that’s still true, but now I’m going to wait longer to do so. I don’t want to move too early and I also don’t want to get caught if they print it a third time in four more months.

Finally, I want to encourage anyone who isn’t a member of our Discord to join up, because we’re pioneering and perfecting methods of making money off this game even as the underlying rules change from set to set. It’s a wild world out here, and we’re still helping you make and save money.

Cliff (@WordOfCommander) has been writing for MTGPrice since 2013, and is an eager Commander player, Draft enthusiast, and Cube fanatic. A high school science teacher by day, he’s also the official substitute teacher of the MTG Fast Finance podcast. If you’re ever at a GP and you see a giant flashing ‘CUBE DRAFT’ sign, go over, say hi, and be ready to draft.