With the impending release of Masters 25, we’ve been inundated with a string of Masters products. What started out as a biennial release (as in, every other year) with Modern Masters in 2013 and MM15 has now become a regular release throughout each year. That’s pretty cool—we love getting new reprints and exploring powerful draft formats—but it’s hard to justify paying premium prices for packs.

I’ve wondered for years if Wizards R&D intentionally limits the number of drafts we do with each Masters format by charging such a high MSRP. Back in 2013 I asked whether they had developed the amazing MM13 draft environment to support a handful of drafts per person, with strategies that would fall off under prolonged scrutiny if the set had been released in full print runs. Now, I happen to think MM13 has stood up well over the years, but it’s not like there are a ton of drafts firing anymore.

Even so, the balance-for-limited-replay model seems to have taken hold, and it makes sense. Wizards doesn’t really want everyone to draft a given Masters set twenty times. The formats are designed to resemble cubes, but with the extra complexity of rarity and more design space for cards that benefit in multiples. If Wizards can sell Masters sets once or twice a year, they don’t really have to find a way to sell a cube product. People who want to build their own cubes can use the Masters sets to populate them.

Last week my local drat group got together. Fancy drafting was in the air, and we ended up decided to do a Modern Masters 2017 draft. “Is that the one with Dinrova Horror at common?” I asked. Indeed it is. Here’s the deck I drafted:

Dinrova Deck Yourself

Creatures (11)
Azure Mage
Augur of Bolas
Phantasmal Image
Sea Gate Oracle
Mist Raven
Entomber Exarch
Ogre Jailbreaker
Spire Monitor
Dinrova Horror

Spells (13)
Rakdos Signet
Simic Signet
Orzhov Signet
Auger Spree
Soul Ransom
Grasp of Phantoms
Damnation
Forbidden Alchemy
Rewind
Opportunity
Spell Pierce
Lands (16)
Rakdos Guildgate
Izzet Guildgate
Orzhov Guildgate
Island
Swamp

Sideboard (17)
Sedraxis Specter
Grixis Slavedriver
Gideon’s Lawkeeper
Kraken Hatchling
Tandem Lookout
Goblin Electromancer
Spike Jester
Cower in Fear
Aethertow
Ancient Grudge
Golgari Signet
Boros Guildgate
Urban Evolution
Sundering Growth
Might of Old Krosa
Graceful Reprieve

This was my third Modern Masters 2017 draft, the other two a year ago, and you could say I came prepared. It would have been nice to pick up a hammer of a win condition, but I didn’t need it. In the first two rounds, I ground out wins with less than five cards in my deck, over Abzan tokens and Bant blink. One game, I won with no cards left in my library. In another, the last two cards were Opportunity and Azure Mage. It turns out, an army of Dinrova Horrors and Mist Ravens and Entomber Exarchs eventually get the job done.

If you haven’t played with Grasp of Phantoms before, you might not realize how this deck functions. Four and then eight mana is well worth paying for two copies of Time Ebb in one card, especially when you are playing 4/4s and flying 2/2s that bounce another creature. Dimir decks of this style tend to draw two thirds of the deck before your opponent draws half, and end up with ten or twelve lands in play to their seven. When you have two copies each of Grasp of Phantoms and Forbidden Alchemy, that mana advantage pays off big time as long as you have a board presence. I wished I had picked up a Recover to go with Entomber Exarch, but Phantasmal Image fills all holes.

My recollection of Modern Masters 2017 from a year ago was fully confirmed in this draft. Everyone had three- or more-colored decks full of powerful spells. Damnation (plus the sideboard Cower in Fear) gave me solid protection against aggression, but that’s not the tenor of most matches in the format. I faced a strong Naya aggro deck in the finals, with some big bombs to back up the early waves. It was a fun match. I took three mulligans to his two, and I barely lost. It felt like an exciting matchup, and fresh.

Overall our play experience was great. The full draft-plus-matches took a long time—think Yankees-Red Sox TV broadcasts—but the games were intricate and exciting. As a product I can draft once a year or so with friends for $20, that’s pretty good. But it costs more like $30 and that keeps the experience rare.

The high cost of the format also keeps the experience sour. My finals opponent and I had the first two picks from the rares and foils: between Damnation and Misty Rainforest. I ended up getting the Damnation back, which was fine by me. It was not a great box of cards. We opened two mythics: Sphinx’s Revelation and Domri Rade. Both are a ton of fun to play in draft, but neither is worth much in your collection. Phantasmal Image, Grafdigger’s Cage, and Abrupt Decay were other “value” rares.

My haul of rares from the box: Damnation, Basilisk Collar, Thragtusk, Damping Matrix, and Aethermage’s Touch. That breaks about even on the price of the packs, which is pretty bad considering I had the second pick each round. The best foils were Might of Old Krosa and Spell Pierce. A few value uncommons made their way to the people who picked them. But that hardly justifies the price of a box. As fun as the matches were, I think we all felt a little underwhelmed.

I don’t mind too much, if it’s just a draft here or there when the mood strikes us. I will pay a small premium for a cool experience. The loss of value is inherent in the products anyway, because they are designed to reprint cards that lack adequate supply. Misty Rainforest and Damnation were worth a lot more before Modern Masters 2017 got printed, and they were some of the marquee cards in the set. Our box was a little underwhelming with no exciting mythic rare, but it wasn’t a dud unless you planned to crack it without drafting or playing.

As we get ready to crack packs of Masters 25, be careful about getting too hyped about opening a value rare or mythic. Imperial Recruiter is worth a lot of money because nobody has them, not because everyone wants them. With Recruiter of the Guard out there now helping fill the few Aluren decks that want either, it’s hard to see that “value mythic” retaining too much premium value. As for Jace, the Mind Sculptor? He will always have value.

Brendan McNamara (Twitter: @brendanistan) is Editor in Chief of Hipsters of the Coast. He used to play Magic in the old days. His favorite combo was Armageddon plus Zuran Orb. After running out of money to buy cards and friends who were willing to put up with that combo, he left the game. But like disco, he was bound to come back eventually. Now he pans the planeswalker points for bronze, or whatever happens to be the cheapest metal that bots will buy.

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