Okay, so just a little programming note here at the top- today’s previously scheduled set review has been pushed back a week in light of recent events. You know exactly what I mean. Today is going to hinge on the announcement of Magic’s new Masterpiece Series, the various impacts it has had and will have moving forward, and then we will talk about the offerings in the Kaladesh edition in particular. My expectation right now is that future Masterpiece editions will not require an entire article, but we will see how that shakes out in a year from now.
Okay, so… wow. The Masterpiece Series. Huh.
This is probably the best way of verbalizing something I have been grasping at for a while, and I don’t think I quite got it myself until now. The market system that we have been operating has been changing over time, and I think it has reached the point where it is categorically different. The printed supply of new sets for the last year or so has seemed to sufficiently saturate the market, and the addition of Masterpiece sets seems to be intended, at least in part, to push sales. Per MaRo’s announcement on Monday:
Challenge #1: Keeping Standard Accessible
Standard is the most-played Constructed format. It’s designed as an entry point for players who wish to play Constructed Magic. Through market research and social media, we learned that many of the players who were interested in playing Standard felt it was something beyond their reach. We had to find ways to address this.
…we found that Zendikar Expeditionsdrove more players into the Battle for Zendikarblock, which resulted in greater accessibility for all the non-Expeditionscards. Zendikar Expeditionsactually made it easier to play Standard. Hmm, a way to address challenge #1.
I don’t want to pull too much from my original piece for this week, the Standard Set Review, but I think its important to realize that a major driver of the Masterpiece Series is pushing more people towards participation in Standard. It makes sense, given that Standard has the most impact on WotC, while serving as perhaps the best form of advertising when healthy. While depressing the value of singles makes for a player-friendly format, it only benefits dealers if it generates new or lapsed former players for the market. Even if we see an increase in new players, I’m not sure it will be immediate, nor do I think we can expect the kinds of huge gains that were happening over the last several years. It’s unlikely that another set will sell out the way RTR did, even with the added incentive of potentially opening a sweet StarGate Crucible of Worlds.
Enough people have talked about the short term effects (cheap Standard) by this point, so let’s go ahead and sim forward a few years.
5 YEARS OF MASTERPIECES: My guess here is that outside of a very few cards (design or development flaws, a laCollected Company), we are not going to see many new cards hold much value after rotating out of Standard. Masterpieces will slowly be “normalized” in the sense that focus will trend more towards a few inclusions rather than the appeal of opening one at all. I expect player growth to be plateauing by this point.
10 YEARS OF MASTERPIECES: At this point, it’s likely that the Masterpiece Series is suspended OR has evolved over time in ways that are difficult to predict. The Kaladesh Series only includes 5 cards from the set itself (the marquee “titans” of the block), but I suspect that that ratio of new cards to old cards may shift as the viable reprints winnow. WotC is likely going to have to swing harder as the years go on, just because pricing will likely become normalized. Preorders for Zendikar Expeditions were wild because it was new territory, in 2026 it’s likely that the financial algorithm is largely solved. Call me crazy, but it’s possible that Hasbro and WotC slowly start to peel back Reserve List restrictions and that in a theoretical distant future there are Masterpiece Underground Seas. This is assuming that player numbers REALLY suffer to a point where the game has contracted significantly.
We’ll see how all of that shakes out down the line, and I do think it will be worth examining the success of the series this time next year. For now, let’s talk about what we know of Kaladesh Inventions and what it tells us about Masterpiece philosophy:
This is an ‘Artifacts Only’ set.
There are 24 inclusions in Aether Revolt, 2 of which are Swords, and likely 5 of a new cycle.
WotC is not afraid to include constructed staples (Aether Vial) or otherwise unsupported mechanics (Metalcraft).
Flavor is a meaningful factor.
So we can expect very straightforward themes, at least in the short term, hinging on things that are both easy to boil down while staying in theme with the world. Kaladesh is an artifact-centric plane, so the Masterpieces are literally exhibits at the county fair or whatever. Some of the cards were re-flavored better than others (isn’t Brighthearth a place?), but mostly everything fits in well with “artifact only subset” and “Kaladesh County Fair Exhibit”. There can and will be split cycles, even though WotC probably messed up by putting two of the worst swords together by themselves in the second set.
Just as Oath had some REALLY spicy Expedition lands compared to BFZs straightforward cycles, I expect to see some more aggressive printings there as a means of bolstering a smaller set. Aether Vial is an interesting choice because it is almost exclusively played in formats where it is at a 4x. Just as utility spells (like Char) were singled out as “mostly going to stay at rare” when mythics were announced, it is interesting to see that not all Masterpieces will just be EDH upgrades. This creates a situation where some Masterpieces are wanted in multiples, compared to things like Mind’s Eye, which will be wanted as individual copies. Expect much higher prices here as people compete to complete sets. Flavor and commitment to theme kept out things like Phyrexian Metamorph and Arcbound Ravager, but Metalcraft was not an issue. This means that as long as the textbox is the only restriction, it’s likely that cards that otherwise wouldn’t make the cut are able to fudge their way in.
I’m not sure its worth speculating on what may be in Aether Revolt (other than the two swords and some number of currently nonexistent cards), but is it fair to say that I expect it to be the “better” of the two?
Also, I don’t think it is going to be wise to try and bet on what will and what won’t be included in a set. My advice is to just avoid any big risks until this problem is solved. Ironically, this means gravitating MORE towards Reserve List staples and smaller newer stuff with a higher sale velocity.
Let me know what you think about these, and your thoughts on the Masterpieces in general. We’ll talk about the REAL Kaladesh set starting next week, including this card which seems to have a rejected Paramore album cover as the artwork.
PS- I’ve been on a big MST3K binge literally since the announcement of Servo tokens, and Club-MST3K.com has every episode for free with no commercials. This is my way of circulating the tapes in 2016.
So my Conspiracy “set review” is going to be something a little bit different, just because the set itself is very unique. We are going to center the discussion not around individual cards, but the dividing line in the set between constructed-focused cards and group-play focused. Commander is a set that straddles this dividing line from a format perspective, just as Show and Tell does from an individual card perspective, but I think you’ll understand once we get started.
Let’s start with why this card is “bad”:
Kaya operates on a functional axis that is very different than any form of constructed 1v1 Magic. Playing Kaya is a means of residual card value (in the traditional sense of “card advantage”, which is more accurately “card economy”), rather than a means of simply “this card is a threat to win the game”. Dividing Magic cards into two camps (“Threats”, meaning things that will kill people, and “answers”, which negate threats) leaves a very large undefined portion of cards (think Rampant Growth). These remaining cards are best classified as “materiel”, the resources gained or developed to accomplish the task at hand.
In traditional constructed formats, materiel is prioritized based on immediacy and efficiency- Brainstorm is not better than a Braingeyser for 7 in a vacuum, but the former is a Legacy staple. This is because materiel serves only in the deployment of similarly efficient threats. Put another way- Tournament Magic is about spending resources efficiently, whereas Commander (and associated forms of group Magic) are simply about acquiring more resources1. Kaya is going to draw you a card on two of your next three turns (and also force your opponents to discard, which is probably just so they will actually bother to attack her), and that will essentially be a loop until she is removed or the game ends. Over nine turns, she will draw you up to six cards, which is really impressive. In Legacy, she would likely draw you a card, and force your opponent to discard two cards (one from her ability and the Lightning Bolt that kills her). Tournament Magic compresses the number of turns in a game, where group Magic (by nature of higher life totals, higher converted mana costs, and the intrinsic haze of group game politics) has more turns. Kaya, by virtue of being a card that scales in quality with the amount of turns in a game, is better in formats that are not tournament sanctioned2.
The financial impact here is an interesting wrinkle. Although Commander is not the only multiplayer format, it is currently the de facto multiplayer format. If future generations come to appreciate things like Emperor, then the following rationale may change, but as is we are going to see most of Kaya’s “demand” be in the form of single copies. If a playset of a card can meet the demand of four players rather than one, then the supply can very quickly meet and outstrip demand.
In the case of conspiracies (the card type) and other draft-reliant cards, the overall demand for these is so low that it is hard to see any of them becoming more than curiosities long term.
With all that out of the way, let’s look at what Conspiracy 2 has worth mentioning:
Show and Tell/Berserk: Thanks to everyone that pointed out that CNS2 WILL be sold in big box stores AND printed to demand. All of that leads me to conclude that these will be the lodestars for the price of this set as a whole. I am not sure if there can be too many copy of either of these cards, just because Berserk is really the most important card to bridge Modern Infect into Legacy, and because Show and Tell does something in every type of format. Honestly, if everyone had a set of Show and Tells, the checks and balances in the game would correct themselves (and more people would play that angel from Guildpact!). I have worries with too much Infect skewing the health of Legacy, but strangely I don’t think Show and Tell could do that.
Sanctum Prelate: This is probably intended to be a constructed card, but it’s not quite Chalice of the Void. In the grand ouvre of white hate bears, this only feels mythic in that it’s not cleanly flavorful. It also only shuts down non-creature spells, making it risky to play maindeck. I guess you name “four”? I honestly don’t know- it’s got to be either that or “two”. This card seems over-hyped and going into a bad offensive scheme; making Sanctum Prelate 2016 RG3.
Recruiter of the Guard: This is interesting in a theoretical sense. Is Aluren a really good deck that was underrepresented due to Imperial Recruiter? Or was it a deck that is only decent, but had a quantifiable ADVANTAGE by being so scarce that people never prepared for it? Aluren has had a long reputation in the finance community for being a card/deck that could never really maintain it’s price increases because Imperial Recruiter throttled the amount of potential players. It’s possible that this new Recruiter (which can’t do everything its red cousin can- Painter’s Servant3, for one) creates a brief surge in Aluren decks that then gets normalized by consistent exposure, thereby “solving” the Aluren question posed at the beginning. My bet is that the Aluren deck is good, not great, and people knowing when to time their Abrupt Decays will largely end its time in the sun. They still just have to kill the harpy, right?
Followed Footsteps: Another great example of what I was talking about with Kaya. This card is bulk, though.
Burning Wish: Better than the three cards listed above, but really only good in one already expensive deck.
Stunt Double: Anywhere that you were playing Clone, you are now playing this. Unless your Clone is Alpha, Beta, or Onslaught JP foil.
There are a lot of really crappy rares in this set.
Serum Visions: Trade these for a pack with anyone who will let you. At uncommon, these are likely to sit below $3 for a long while. This card was really only expensive because it was so (relatively) scarce- the blue decks have so many other expensive cards that this won’t suddenly lead people to build U/x control decks in Modern.
Daretti, Ingenious Iconoclast: This seems like a definite include in most cubes, especially Powered ones, but I’m not as sure if it is able to slot into Vintage as cleanly as Dack Fayden did. The +1 isn’t great, and the ultimate is largely just a “win more”. This could easily be the most expensive foil in the set, even if it ultimately underwhelms in cube and Vintage.
I really looked for a card that might be Legacy or Vintage playable that contains the word “monarch” in the rules text, but it seems like everything that fits is priced too conservatively. That’s unfortunate, because there are a few matchups in Legacy where there is so little creature combat that it could easily snowball games in your favor. Maybe that’s why? Also, Goad is essentially blank space.
That’s all for today! Also, make sure to check out NPR One “The Next Wave” in the ProTrader forums. Let’s say it’s required reading for next week.
1Aaron Forsythe has before said something very similar, and I’m not going to say that I came up with this independently.
2I will always and forever exclude Commander pods as actual “tournaments”- they are more accurately WotC-endorsed ways of meeting new friends.
3Painted Stone- the Tennessee Titans of Legacy decks (because it is terrible and I hate it).
Spoilers for Conspiracy 2 have begun, and the early results are… concerning. I enjoyed Conspiracy 1 the few times I found people who were willing to play it, and the new mechanics so far seem to do a good job of addressing the inherent flaws in multiplayer Magic. On the other hand, there is a lot to be really nervous about from a financial perspective. Let’s start with the most obvious issue, one that we actually first broached when EMA was released.
EVERYTHING IN ITS RIGHT PLACE: When Mark Rosewater and company “discovered” the Magic psychographics (Timmy/Tammy, Johnny/Jenny, Spike/…Faye Valentine?), they were used as a means of explaining the various subgroups of players that particular types of cards appealed to. What has happened since then, however, is that we’ve seen a rise in smaller supplementary products which are geared more largely towards alternative types of play. In the big picture, this is a pretty good solution- too many big green idiots in a Standard set (an appeal to Timmy/Tammy) just makes green less playable in Standard. But printing a green Commander deck full of hydras and elves and ramp spells or whatever gives that type of player EXACTLY what they want (and all in one box!), without having to compromise standard for several months.
The system isn’t perfect, however. Some cards don’t fit neatly into one category or the other. Even though things like Lightning Bolt and Bloodbraid Elf look rather tame in Commander, things like Jace, the Mind Sculptor are still good enough to make the team. Additionally, and this is what we talked about with Eternal Masters, WotC wants to make sure that there are cards in these ancillary products for other types of players/formats. That’s where things start to get complicated. It’s easy to put a few splashy and interesting rares or “build-around-me!” uncommons in a normal set and keep people happy. For players who aren’t deeply entrenched in Magic or playing in sanctioned events regularly, it’s often enough to keep them interested. With things like Commander decks, supply-side factors like “making sure we print enough of them” and “maybe don’t make things like True-Name Nemesis anymore” have solved the problems that come with putting Legacy-defining cards in otherwise casual products. Ultimately, Conspiracy is neither of these things.
Let’s assume that there are three roughly equal markets for a product like Conspiracy: Constructed Magic1 players who want saucy reprints, Commander players who just want new stuff (and different flavors of saucy reprints), and people who play things like Cube or other casual formats. Because WotC can now direct entire product lines (in this case, an entire draftable set) at a subset of players that AREN’T tournament-oriented, they need to include cards that appeal to these other markets as a means of buoying interest among the underserved populations. Plainly, we want to make sure this sells, so some of the cards are not going to be for the people this product is meant for. In the first Conspiracy set, that was made obvious by things like this:
Only to be followed up by this:
And (BREAKING NEWS!) potentially this:
If all of these spoilers are true, then it’s going to be interesting to see what percentage of rares/mythics are playable in Constructed. Why? Because (and this is not a sleight against casual players) the demand for tournament-level cards is stronger. Not necessarily “higher” (although we can’t know for sure), but you definitely need four REAL copies of Berserk to play Legacy Infect. Because there is no true pull to make sure that there are no proxies or worse versions of a card in your Kitchen Table Commander League, there is no pressure to get them at a time or price outside of your existing comfort level.
SUPPLY: If we can expect the majority of the remaining rares/mythics to be Conspiracy (the alternative play format) centric, then it’s very likely that this set holds a tremendous amount of value in a very narrow percentage of cards. Show and Tell is currently sitting around $65 on SCG, and they sold out of new Berserks at $50. Inquisitions are available around $13 in their previous printings, and Burning Wish is available for about $8. Ignoring foil prices, there are only two cards in the first Conspiracy set above $10. The majority of the rares/mythics in the bottom half of the price spectrum are multiplayer-oriented and essentially unplayable in Legacy. There is still some CNS available in most stores that I pop in to, but it’s largely because there’s not a huge drive towards getting it.
We don’t know the print run size yet, but it’s safe to assume that because this is a smaller market product (aimed at a narrower band of players, is not going to be in mass retailers like Wal-Mart) that it won’t be produced as heavily as Eldritch Moon. I expect a little bit of the product (10% or so) to stay on distributor shelves in case the product sells really well so that it can act as a proverbial carrot to move something less exciting (those new intro planeswalker decks?). A lot of it will get opened by players trying to get a set of Berserks and/or S&Ts, meaning that most of the cards in the set will bottom out right away. I don’t know how many copies of Adriana, Captain of the GuardYOU need, but they will certainly be available. Because things like Berserk are (nearly) impossible to print, expect these marquee cards to not show up again for several years. This is going to buoy the price once printing stops, and they’ll slowly creep back up after that. Also, because all the cards people REALLY want are mythics, don’t expect your local environment to be flooded with them overnight. You’re still going to have to work to finish out your Sneak & Show list.
Tune in next week for the shocking conclusion of my Conspiracy 2 analysis. That is, if the GOVERNMENT doesn’t get to me first. Or is it just a shadowy cabal of people who work in the government? And who does that alien bounty hunter guy work for? Them, right? You know, the one played by that actor who was essentially TV Schwarzenegger in the 90s? And Alex Krycek died, right? Man, that show was crazy.
The truth is out there,
1Bearing in mind that this set doesn’t affect Standard at all, and has, currently, one high-profile Modern reprint (at a higher rarity!). Constructed here really just means “Legacy and Vintage”.
MAGIC: THE GATHERING FINANCE ARTICLES AND COMMUNITY