I write about two things continually here at Drawing Live: removal and Masters sets. Well, it appears that list may soon dwindle to one, as Ultimate Masters is going to be the last Masters set for a while.

Today in Drawing Live, we’ll go over Ultimate Masters in depth. This set means a lot to me, to local game stores, to collectors, to competitive Magic players, to the community of Magic players as a whole, and to the game itself. So, we should give it a thorough review. We’re restricted to knowing the small amount of (almost exclusively) rare and mythic rare spoilers, so the Limited analysis will have to wait until another day. But that said, we’ve got loads of marketing and tournament information. So let’s dive in!

Improved Value

Ultimate Masters is filled to the brim with value. Two years ago, this wouldn’t be surprising, but much has since changed. Modern Masters 2017 was among the most valuable and successful Masters products, reprinting Snapcaster Mage, Cavern of Souls, Liliana of the Veil, and all five Zendikar fetchlands. This made the product sell well, helped current and aspiring Modern players, and made money for both Magic and local game stores. Then came the dual disasters of Iconic Masters and Masters 25.

Iconic Masters and Masters 25 had huge problems with value, selling at around $140 or about 60% of their $240 MSRP (or at 70% of the $200 price point of previous Masters sets). Some stores huge lost amounts of money investing in product people weren’t willing to pay for anywhere close to MSRP. A variety of factors contributed to this (the early spoiling and muddled messaging of IMA, the strange Limited formats, the timing of the releases), but perhaps none has dramatic effect as the value of cards within the sets.

Both IMA and A25 contained insufficient enduring value: cards like Liliana of the Veil, Mox Opal, and Jace, the Mind Sculptor are highly demanded cards whose prices don’t dip too much from a reprint and usually bounce back within a year. Even the once-mighty Tarmogoyf is still holding strong at over $60 despite its imminent fifth printing and loss of format share thanks to the existence of Fatal Push (and continued ascendancy of hyperfast aggro-combo Modern decks). Vintage cards and Commander staples have proven less enduring reprints, as cards like Imperial Recruiter and Animar, Soul of Elements, are worth a fraction of what they once were. Even valuable Eternal stales like Karakas and Mana Drain took huge hits they’ve yet to recover from, because the playerbases for Legacy and Vintage are a small fraction of Modern’s. It seems the only Legacy staple that can fully bounce back from a reprint is Force of Will.

Well, Ultimate Masters has value in spades. It contains a huge number of chase cards from every other Masters set: Liliana of the Veil, Snapcaster Mage, Tarmogoyf, Bitterblossom, Karn Liberated, Noble Hierarch, and Emrakul, the Aeons Torn, as well as some that’ve never seen print in a Masters set (like the Worldwake creature lands). That’s more than ample value to get folks excited over Masters sets again.

A Boon to Local Game Stores

Ultimate Masters is exclusive* to local game stores. The LGS is the lifeblood of many a Magic community and is likely integral to Magic’s ongoing success (unless the game goes completely digital); but it has suffered from IMA and A25’s failures, Standard’s hiccups, and having to increasingly compete with massive retailers like Wal-Mart, Amazon, and eBay sellers who make profits via volume rather than selling above wholesale prices. LGSes previously received products like From the Vault and Commander’s Arsenal which they could mark up to make a profit, which was bad for us, the consumers, but good for stores. This tradition not only ended, but was upended when Mythic Edition was sold exclusively through Hasbro’s online store and ChannelFireball.

By being exclusive* to local game stores, Ultimate Masters helps bring players and profits back to where they belong. Stores needed and deserved another exclusive product, and Ultimate Masters is the ultimate boon.

Modern Needs Masters

Modern is quite possibly the most popular way to play Constructed Magic (well, beyond the kitchen table) in the world. This isn’t ideal for Magic—it’s best for the game if folks are chasing staples from currently available boosters rather than on the secondary market. Unfortunately, Standard’s current situation is a consequence of years of bannings, lackluster Standard (and sometimes Limited) environments, and a robust Modern. We see Modern’s ascendancy in its greater focus at Grand Prix and SCG Opens and anecdotally at local game stores. Even the data of Pro Tour Consultant Willy Edel strongly suggests that Modern is a more popular format than Standard (at least, among non-Pro players). Fortunately for Magic, Standard is showing real signs of a comeback. Still, Modern’s ascendancy gives ample opportunities for Wizards to both support the format and profit from it.

Modern Masters sets are vital to the ongoing health of Modern. They function as pressure valves, helping to periodically deflate prices and lower the bar for entry. The knowledge that every two years the floodgates would open helped players initially invest in and retain excitement for Modern. Absent Masters products, getting large supplies of Modern staples back in circulation is harder. Snapcaster Mage is too powerful to reprint in Standard, Mox Opal is a bizarre inclusion for an innovation product like Battlebond or Conspiracy, and judge promos are in too small a supply to affect prices. The loss of Masters products poses a question as to how Modern is going to keep from becoming (even more) prohibitively expensive.

. . . .

And now, let’s get to the elephant in the room.





Three hundred, thirty-five dollars.




Okay, and seventy six cents.


That is a lot of money. That’s the highest MSRP of a Magic product—ever? Hell, what in collectible card gaming has ever had that high of a price point, beyond an entire deck?

(I know that other things must have cost more, but I really don’t know what. Probably something Pokémon did.)

After IMA and A25 failed to sell anywhere close to their MSRP of $240, the community was loudly saying two things: either put more value in your $10 boosters or if you won’t, drop their prices. The first request has been answered admirably, but a dramatic increase in price calls into question their response to the second. This is a 40% increase in the MSRP of a product whose last two installments struggled to sell at 60% of MSRP. I’m skeptical that an increase in value justifies such an astronomical jump in price.

I remember how lousy it felt to open a worthless Tree of Redemption in A25, Ryusei, the Falling Star in MMA2013, and Necropotence in IMA. Failing to get value in a Standard booster pack is par for the course, but a premium booster feels awful when it contains nothing close to the sticker price. This problem is only going to be compounded as boosters get more expensive, unless a large portion of uncommons somehow manage to be in the same value tier as Path to Exile, Kitchen Finks, or Eternal Witness. The fact that the booster box key art appears to be an alternate art Dig Through Time, a dollar rare banned in all formats, doesn’t inspire confidence. (They have spoiled alternate art for Eternal Witness, however.)

The Actual Price Point

Remember those asterisks when discussing how Ultimate Masters will be exclusive to local game stores? Yeah, UMA isn’t actually exclusive to LGSes. Local Game stores will sell boxes at an MSRP of $335.76, or $13.99 a pack. Mass market retailers instead get to sell three-booster blister packs at $34.99, or $11.67 a pack. You could buy twelve blister packs (an effective booster box) from a mass market retailer for $279.92, or $55.84 cheaper than at your local game store. LGSes are still competing with mass market retailers, except with a higher initial sticker price. Still, your extra $55.84 does buy you an Ultimate Box Topper, an ultra-rare Buy-A-Box promo card (with alternate borders and no reminder text) randomly chosen from forty of the most valuable cards in the set. This ultra-expensive booster pack could contain a hyperrare Snapcaster Mage, or it could contain a Tasigur, the Golden Fang, a dollar rare. (Surely this alternate version will be worth money, but not all Mythic Edition planeswalkers are particularly valuable, and I wouldn’t be surprised if an original Kitchen Finks with extended borders fails to hold much of a price point).

I have no idea what the actual price point of Ultimate Masters will be. Modern Masters 2013 had an MSRP of $170 and you were lucky if you could find it at $230. Iconic Masters had an MSRP of $240 and can still be purchased on Amazon for just shy of $140. At least one local game store in NYC is already offering Ultimate Masters preorders at $350 plus tax. I have no idea what the market will determine the correct price is, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it decides fourteen dollars a booster is a bridge too far.

Right Gift, Wrong Christmas

I have been disappointed about the loss of Masters GPs since their retirement in 2015 (after only two installments). I love competitive Limited, I love the power level of Cube, and I love old formats, making Masters sets perfect for me. I tend to be a fast learner at Limited formats and have leveraged that to my best successes at both local events and Grand Prix. The original Modern Masters had me invest hundreds of dollars in getting good at the format quickly so I could spend many hundreds more to compete at GP Vegas.

Once Masters GPs ended, it was hard to justify investing hundreds of dollars in a getting good at a Masters format. There was simply no prize on the line worth the cost. This became even more difficult to justify as Masters sets started becoming more muddled or restricted in their archetypes, as was the case with MMA2017’s rainbow decks with light themes, IMA’s muddled and repeated themes, and Masters 25’s lack of archetypes. Masters sets were trending towards being one-and-done experiences, or at least not products that could be drafted five times with dramatically different experiences (as MMA2013 could be). In other words, Masters sets weren’t being designed for competitive play anymore.

Well, I’ve finally gotten my wish. There are two Ultimate Masters Grand Prix.

And I can’t attend either one.

I’d already considered attending Grand Prix Vancouver and decided not to because of the cost (flights from NYC were already $500 months ago, when it was a Team Limited GP). Going now would likely cost me a thousand dollars to attend, and that’s just flight, accommodations, transit, and food. Actually learning the format would cost me at the bare minimum $300 in product. That’s a whole lot of money to drop on a format I know nothing about and haven’t had any time to hem and haw over. And as for GP Prague, well, I’m already taking off work for GP Oakland the week prior. I could get away with Vancouver (because it involves missing no work, even if I make a week of the long trip), but there’s no way I could countenance missing that much work. At least, not with a lot of advance notice. And that brings us to our final point.

This Product was Rushed

I stand by my words in Mythic Edition is the Missing Masters Set. Masters sets were intended to be semiannual products designed around themes, but IMA and A25 sank the whole line. So Wizards had to scramble to salvage the product and fill the holes in their release schedule.

I believe that Ultimate Masters is an amalgam of two Masters sets, the first slated to release in Summer 2018 and the second for Spring 2019. Plans changed when Masters 25 failed to meet expectations, and Mythic Edition was created to fill the void, test the waters for super-premium products, and make money. The Spring set was cancelled, early indications suggested that Mythic Edition would sell out, and this product was both moved up and given Ultimate Box Toppers to justify a record-breaking price point. Hell, I wouldn’t be surprised if this product is muddled and light on archetypes, just as MMA2017 and A25 were (perhaps because it’s actually the valuable parts of two Masters products smashed together).

Just think about the scheduling. Ultimate Masters was announced five weeks before it goes sale. There are prerelease events at PAX Unplugged at the end of the month (which, full disclosure, I’ll be attending—I was already going to be at PAXU as a panelist). Grand Prix Vancouver is in two months. Just think how tiny the window is for local game stores to order product and for distribution chains to kick into gear. This product is immediately following the hype and FOMO generated by Mythic Edition’s selling out and huge resale value (which I’ve argued is due more to its having too low a price point than a clear audience).

Previous Masters Grand Prix were major events, announced the better part of a year in advance. They gave people time to clear their schedules, save up money, and hem and haw before the window came to book flights and accommodations arrived. Large windows gave people time to test, or at least prepare testing groups. Grand Prixs Vancouver and Prague have been announced right in the middle of that travel window, after some people had already planned to attend Vancouver for Team Limited, which then became Limited, which then became a different Limited format.

Previous Masters formats were the crown jewel of the year, massive Magic conventions drawing record-breaking crowds. In this upcoming era of MagicFests, you’d think that the Ultimate Masters set would continue this tradition and aim to be the biggest Magic event ever. Instead, each Grand Prix has a capacity of 2,500 players, and neither is in a cheap venue like Vegas. In fact, Vancouver occurs in the midst of one of the most expensive and hectic travel weeks of the year, landing between Christmas and New Year’s.

Closing Thoughts

Ultimate Masters could and should have been the triumphant last hurrah of Magic’s 25th Anniversary, ushering it into a new era of MagicFest and MTGArena bringing Magic to a wider audience than ever before. It still could be a better Limited environment and more valuable Masters set than Modern Masters 2013, but I have my doubts. It’s expensive, it’s rushed, and it’s an end of a product line rather than its triumphant rebirth.

When I think of Ultimate Masters, the most overwhelming feeling is sadness. I love Masters sets. They’re not always successful and I don’t always adore them, but they’re Magic’s most successful supplemental product and my favorite line. I wanted Ultimate Masters to right the ship and pave the way for a glorious future, not sail it off into the sunset.

If UMA is a bust, the stars will not fall from the heavens. Magic will continue on, and Masters sets will likely disappear for several years, if not die forever. If UMA is a success, we could see a bright future of more Masters-esque draft-focused sets, or we could see the rise of ever more expensive premium products as Magic embraces the Whale model of free-to-play gaming (which is ethically fraught territory, but not altogether bad). We might even see the price of a booster pack rise after a decade of not changing (for the consumer). I guess I’m rooting for UMA to succeed, even though that’ll make it sting all the more when I have a blast playing it at PAX Unplugged and think of the Vancouver GP I’ll not be able to attend.

Anyhow, thanks for listening, folks. And, if you’re able to, vote. If you’re eligible to vote in the U.S., VOTE TODAY. Otherwise, vote when appropriate. Democracy is only democracy when the public participates.

And, as always, thanks for reading.

—Zachary Barash

Zachary Barash is a New York City-based game designer and the commissioner of Team Draft League. He designs for Kingdom Death: Monster, has a Game Design MFA from the NYU Game Center, and does freelance game design. When the stars align, he streams Magic.

His favorite card of the month is Tar Snare. Mediocre removal spells need love, and great players recognize that sometimes a mediocre removal spell in the right place, at the right time can turn the tide of an entire game (or at least one combat step).

Don't Miss Out!

Sign up for the Hipsters Newsletter for weekly updates.