It finally happened. Wizards of the Coast actually released a product that is essentially just a stack of $20 bills stuffed in packs, and we all found a way to complain about it anyway.
Good job, us!
All kidding aside, there's actually a lot to unpack with Ultimate Masters. I think we can all agree that the set looks good, but is it good enough to justify a 40% increase in MSRP? After all, $14 is higher than the cost of a movie ticket in most cities. Unless you've decided to see Johnny English Strikes Again or something, that's a fun night out. Can a single pack of Magic cards really be worth that much?
According to a lot of the folks on Reddit and my Twitter feed, the answer to that question is an unequivocal no. But there's a big difference between "I either can't or don't want to spend $14 on a pack of Magic cards" and "this pack of Magic cards isn't worth $14." The former is subjective, and it's going to vary from person to person based on their budget and financial situation. The latter…well, that's something we can talk about objectively here in this column.
So, let's take a deep dive into Ultimate Masters, shall we? Whether or not you're thinking of buying a box, I think you'll want to read this one. Ultimate Masters is a really big deal, and contents of this set are going to ripple out into the Modern market in some pretty major ways.
Ultimate Masters Has The Best Roster Of Mythic Rares in Any Set - Ever.
Before we get into the meat of this piece, feast your eyes on this glorious list of mythic rares:
- Liliana of the Veil - $100
- Karn Liberated - $100
- Cavern of Souls - $90
- Snapcaster Mage - $80
- Tarmogoyf - $80
- Karakas - $75
- Temporal Manipulation - $70
- Bitterblossom - $50
- Dark Depths -$45
- Vengevine - $45
- Kozilek, Butcher of Truth - $45
- Emrakul, the Aeons Torn - $40
- Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre - $35
- Mikaeus, the Unhallowed - $30
- Mana Vault - $30
- Leovold, Emissary of Trest - $25
- Lord of Extinction - $16
- Sigarda, Host of Herons - $16
- Platinum Emperion - $15
- Balefire Dragon - $10
Even the most ardent Ultimate Masters haters must be excited about these twenty cards. How far down on this list do you have to go before you get to a card that you aren't jazzed to open? There are really only four "misses" here, and none of them even come close to approaching the bottom tier of Masters 25 mythics, which included both Akromas (ugh), Prossh, Skyraider of Kher, and of course, the infamous Tree of Redemption. Eight of the fifteen mythic rares in Masters 25 were worth less than $10 at release. In Ultimate Masters, that number is zero. Hey, WotC listened to us on this one!
Even more importantly, there are quite a few cards that might have you running around your LGS screaming in joy. In fact, the top five cards on this list are all in the top ten most expensive cards in Modern (and two more cards from that top ten are in the set at rare!) So yeah, this is a pretty good roster of mythics. In fact, take a look at how it stacks up against the last four Masters sets:
Total Mythic Value Prior to Release: $997
- $630 more than Masters 25 ($367)
- $685 more than MM17 ($312)
- $543 more than Iconic Masters ($450)
- $386 more than MM15 ($611)
These numbers are eye-popping, but they aren't terribly useful considering the fact that Ultimate Masters has twenty mythic rares while these other Masters sets only had fifteen.
Let's take a look at the average mythic price instead:
Average Mythic Value Prior to Release: $49.85
- $25.39 higher than Masters 25 ($24.46)
- $29.05 more than MM17 ($20.80)
- $19.85 more than Iconic Masters ($30)
- $8.85 more than MM15 ($41)
Yeah, okay, these numbers are still pretty eye-popping. The average mythic rare in Ultimate Masters is worth $50, which makes it far and away the most valuable mythic slot in any set ever.
The Rare Slot Isn't Going to Disappoint in Ultimate Masters, Either.
While I don't have confirmation that Ultimate Masters won't have more rares than a normal Masters set, I strongly suspect that twenty mythics will prove the only hinky print run exception. The last couple of Masters sets contained a total of 249 cards, and we know that Ultimate Masters will have 254. So, for now, let's assume that the set will have 53 rares in addition to its twenty mythics.
Right now, we know eighteen of them. They are:
- Engineered Explosives - $100
- Noble Hierarch - $90
- Gaddock Teeg - $60
- Celestial Colonnade - $60
- Goryo's Vengeance - $45
- Ancient Tomb - $45
- Demonic Tutor - $45
- Through the Breach - $40
- Life from the Loam - $30
- Reanimate - $30
- Maelstrom Pulse - $23
- Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth - $22
- Fulminator Mage - $20
- Creeping Tar Pit - $20
- Raging Ravine - $12
- Lavaclaw Reaches - $2
- Tasigur, the Golden Fang - $1.25
- Stirring Wildwood - $0.60
Adding up the eighteen known rares, we get a total of $646, which comes to an average value of $35.88 per rare slot. Of course, this average isn't likely to hold once the whole set is known. There are certainly going to be a few more gems-heck, the entire rest of the set might be amazing, for all we know-but chances are, WotC picked the best eighteen rares in the set to use as Ultimate Box Toppers. For now, let's estimate $5/rare for the remaining 35 rares. That gives us a total value of $821 in rares or $15.50 per rare slot.
How does that stack up historically? Check it out:
Total Rare Value Prior to Release: $821 (Estimated)
- $497 more than Masters 25 ($324)
- $468 more than MM17 ($353)
- $68 more than Iconic Masters ($753)
- $517 more than MM15 ($304)
Average Rare Value Prior to Release: $15.50 (Estimated)
- $9.31 more than Masters 25 ($6.11)
- $8.85 more than MM17 ($6.65)
- $1.55 more than Iconic Masters ($13.95)
- $9.77 more than MM15 ($5.73)
I'm sure that some of you want to quibble with my $5/rare estimate for the unknown cards, but we're so far ahead of the game on value with Ultimate Masters that it doesn't even matter all that much if the rest of the set is a complete bust.
Even if we lower that estimate from $5/rare to the pathetic estimate of just $1/rare, we end up with a total of $681 in rares, which averages out to $12.85 per pack. That's still twice as good as either Modern Masters 2015 or Modern Masters 2017!
Ultimate Masters is Going to Hold its Value Really, Really Well
The difference between the good Masters sets and the bad ones has as much to do with how well the cards will hold their value as it does with card value at the moment of reprinting.
For example, Iconic Masters had a lot of cards like Mana Drain, Flusterstorm, Ancestral Vision, Magus of the Moon, and Glimpse the Unthinkable. These cards were expensive not because of demand but because the available supply was amazingly low. Flusterstorm had only been printed as a judge foil and in the original Commander set, which is why it was up over $100 at the time of the Iconic Masters printing. These days, you can pick them up for just $14 retail.
Looking at Ultimate Masters, it's hard to find too many cards that are expensive only because of scarcity. Engineered Explosives, Gaddock Teeg, Through the Breach, and Goryo's Vengeance come to mind, but it's still worth noting that all four of those cards see play in popular Modern or Legacy decks. Celestial Colonnade certainly needed a reprint, but it also sees so much play that it can't fall too far.
The top-end staples in Ultimate Masters - cards like Karn, Liliana, Snapcaster Mage, and Tarmogoyf - have proven resilient from reprints over and over again. Even the casual cards in Ultimate Masters - Kozilek, Ulamog, etc. - are still quite expensive despite showing up in multiple reprint sets over the years.
This doesn't mean that all the cards in Ultimate Masters will hold their current values - they absolutely won't - but if you're looking for an Imperial Recruiter situation where a $300 card drops to $28 simply because there weren't enough copies to go around before and there are now, you aren't going to find too many of them here. Temporal Manipulation is probably going to drop from $70 to $15, but that's it. Most of these cards are still going to be exciting opens two or three years down the line.
Ultimate Masters is Going to Lower the Overall Price of Modern
After the announcement on Monday, I saw a lot of people on Twitter lamenting the fact that Ultimate Masters was too expensive to lower the price of Modern for those of us who feel priced out of buying packs. This might have proven true if WotC hadn't increased the quality of the set in tandem with the rise in MSRP, but the fact that they did means that Ultimate Masters is likely to have a pretty major effect on the market.
See, even the very worst Masters sets do a pretty good job lowering the price of the reprinted cards. I think we can all agree that Masters 25 wasn't great, but it did cause Azusa, Lost but Seeking to drop by $25, Chalice of the Void to drop by about $20, Thalia, Guardian of Thraben by $10, Blood Moon by $5, etc. It would have caused Jace, the Mind Sculptor to drop, too, had the card not been unbanned in Modern in conjunction with the reprint.
How do I know it will happen this time, though? After all, the MSRP jumped from $10/pack to $14/pack. Might that price increase be enough to stem all the potential price losses?
Not even close. Even if we take our most conservative rare slot estimate of $12.85/pack, completely ignore the Ultimate Box Toppers, and completely ignore the common, uncommon, and foil slot, we still get an average pack value of about $17.50 - about $3.50 higher than MSRP.
But, of course, this number is nonsense. For one, the common and uncommons will be worth at least a couple bucks a pack. The foil slot is likely to have quite a bit of value, usually ending up at an average value of at least $6-$7 per pack. Oh and the sealed Ultimate Box Topper packs are selling for about $200 each on eBay right now, today, despite the fact that we now know that each box of Ultimate Masters is going to have one!
So, let's give the commons and uncommons a conservative value of $1/pack, the foil a conservative value of $3/pack, and let's assume that you can sell that sealed Ultimate Box Topper for $150, which adds another $6.25 per pack in value by itself. That puts the value of each pack at a total of $27.75 based on the current retail price of these cards.
And remember - this figure assumes that literally every unspoiled rare is going to be a complete $1 brick!
So yeah. If each pack is "worth" $28 but is available for $14, something's gotta give.
If this were 2013, I'd say that the thing most likely to give would be availability. Stores would jack up the prices - yes, even higher than $14/pack - and simply wait for the most motivated gamblers to pay their way. That's not going to happen this time, though. Because packs of Ultimate Masters are going to be available at big box stores like Target and Wal-Mart, and availability isn't likely to be a major issue. As long as you're okay living without the Ultimate Box Topper (you should not to be okay living without the Ultimate Box Topper), you should be able to get these packs without much of a problem.
So Modern prices will start to drop.
The casual cards will drop first - things like Lord of Extinction and Balefire Dragon - along with Temporal Manipulation, which is only expensive because there are, like, five of them out there right now. The next drop will come from cards like Gaddock Teeg, which have a lot of actual demand but which are mostly expensive because they've only been printed once. Then we'll see losses from cards like Fulminator Mage and Vengevine, which aren't seeing much play in the current metagame. The top tier staples like Snapcaster Mage and Karn Liberated will be the last to lose value, but even those should drop at least $10 or $20 once this set hits shelves.
I know it seems like this section is directly counter to my last one, where I said that Ultimate Masters will hold its value well, but I hope you can see how both things can be true at the same time. This set is full of robust Modern staples that are far more resilient than average, but at the same time, the cards in here are going to drop in price once packs of Ultimate Masters start hitting shelves.
At the very least, I feel like boxes of this set are going to be really solid long-term holds. And yes, I'm aware that I said the same thing about Eternal Masters. I don't care. I'm still really bullish about this set's long-term profile, especially because of the Ultimate Box Toppers.
And speaking of Ultimate Box Toppers…
You're Really Going to Want to Get Your Hands On Ultimate Box Toppers
We don't know what the print run figures for Ultimate Masters are going to look like until the dust has settled, but it's very possible that there will be enough packs to go around (via the big box stores) but not nearly enough sealed boxes, which will only be available via normal LGS distribution channels.
While StarCityGames isn't taking Ultimate Masters pre-orders yet, I've seen boxes for sale at or around MSRP that include the sealed Ultimate Box Topper pack. And while we're likely to see the non-foils in Ultimate Masters start to drop in price as packs flood the market, there won't be enough of any one Ultimate Box Topper to cause the price to drop by a significant amount. In fact, these prices might start to increase once people realize just how rare they are.
At the very least, let's assume that you would absolutely buy a box of this set (considering how good it is) for a classic Masters set MSRP of $10/pack. Great! So, if you get a box at MSRP with an Ultimate Box Topper in it, then you're effectively paying $10/pack plus an additional $96 for the Box Topper. I have a feeling that you'll have no problem getting someone to give you $100 for that sealed Ultimate Box Topper pack. The wrinkle here is that I've started to hear reports that these packs are searchable, which could complicate matters a bit.
Of course, you can only get in on this additional value proposition if you snag a sealed box and you don't have to resort to those big box store blister packs. Ditto for any sort of in-store drafts. So yeah - if you want to open packs of this set, and you probably do, make sure you buy a sealed box and that you do it before the end of the first distribution wave.
Ultimate Masters Should Cause A Significant Uptick in Modern Interest…But It's No Guarantee
Historically, Masters sets have done a great job of getting people into Modern. You go to a draft, maybe open a box (if you're lucky), and suddenly - bam, you've got two copies of Snapcaster Mage! Well, shoot, at that point you might as well start building Azorius Control, right? While I don't have the numbers to back it up, I'd be shocked if Modern Masters 2013, 2015, and 2017 all brought people to the format in droves.
That said, I'm not sure that sets like Iconic Masters or Masters 25 had the same impact. Unless you pulled a Jace, which card in Masters 25 was going to get you excited about building a brand new Modern deck? Ensnaring Bridge? Thalia?
Yeah, I didn't think so.
Ultimate Masters is more of a return to the glory days of Masters sets. It's chock full of flagship cards like Noble Hierarch and Karn; the sort of exciting pulls that can have visions of tier one decks dancing in the eyes of the people who open them. If this set ends up being widely opened and beloved, it's going to get a heck of a lot of people excited about playing Modern.
The wrinkle here, of course, is that pesky increase in MSRP. Are people who aren't already invested in Modern actually going to drop $14/pack on Ultimate Masters? It's simply too early to say. According to the loudest people on my Twitter feed, the answer is no. Once the set hits shelves… well, we'll see.
You Should Buy The Best Modern Cards That Aren't in Ultimate Masters
Obviously, this list might change once all the cards are previewed. Hey, maybe Mox Opal is actually in the set, downgraded to rare, and it just wasn't an Ultimate Box Topper for some reason! I mean, that definitely isn't the case, but it's still possible that one or two of these cards will show up in the set once the dust settles:
- Mox Opal
- Scalding Tarn
- Horizon Canopy
- Dark Confidant
- Verdant Catacombs
- Arcbound Ravager
- Leyline of the Void
- Blackcleave Cliffs
- Misty Rainforest
- Liliana, the Last Hope
- Chalice of the Void
- Ensnaring Bridge
- Marsh Flats
- Arid Mesa
- Aether Vial
- Surgical Extraction
- Leyline of Sanctity
- Bloodstained Mire
- Cryptic Command
- Wooded Foothills
- Bridge from Below
- Goblin Guide
- Kolaghan's Command
- Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger
- Vendilion Clique
- Amulet of Vigor
- Azusa, Lost but Seeking
- Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas
- All is Dust
- Blood Moon
- Polluted Delta
- Collected Company
- Flooded Strand
- Inkmoth Nexus
- Walking Ballista
- Steel Overseer
- Collective Brutality
- Phantasmal Image
- Thrun, the Last Troll
- Copperline Gorge
Keep in mind that this is just a list of the most expensive cards that actually see some play in Modern that aren't in Ultimate Masters. For a more in-depth look at which Modern staples are the safest buys and holds right now, check out the article I wrote earlier this week that covers the format's most important cards right now.
The Fact That Ultimate Masters is the Final Masters Set (For Now) Is Crucial
Ultimate Masters is being released at a really interesting time for the Modern market. Prices have been dropping all summer long, and two Masters sets a year is a pretty exhausting pace. One of the reasons why I didn't believe that Ultimate Masters was going to be released like a normal set was simply because WotC can't just keep reprinting these cards over and over again and expect people to pay even $10/pack for them, much less $14.
If WotC hadn't announced Ultimate Masters as the last of its kind, there was a shot we'd have seen some pretty major losses in the Modern market this winter. After all, if they're going to reprint seven of the ten most expensive cards in Modern in a single Masters set and release two Masters sets every year, why would anyone spend $80-$100 on a single card? It would be nuts not to simply wait out the next reprint, right?
But because this is the last Masters set for a while, WotC gave the market a shot of confidence alongside a heavy dose of reprinted staples. "Liliana might be losing value now," you can tell yourself, "but it's not like she's terribly likely to be reprinted again this year, or next year, or perhaps even the year after that."
What does this mean for us? I think it means that this spring's Modern market is going to be pretty robust. WotC seems likely to find another way to reprint Modern staples - Mox Opal feels like a major omission from this set, considering how long it has been since its last reprint, so we might see that one somewhere else. But without a dedicated Masters set, we're not going to see any major, wholesale reprintings in the near future. This should mean big gains for key Modern cards that aren't in Ultimate Masters, like Scalding Tarn, Leyline of the Void, and Surgical Extraction.
I also suggest getting ready to buy Ultimate Masters staples over the holidays. They'll be at rock bottom in late December, and many of them will begin to rebound in mid-January or early February. If you've been holding off on buying any of these cards, that's the time to do it.