Ultimate Masters is almost here, and I feel like I still can't quite wrap my head around how good the set actually is. I called Ultimate Masters the best Masters set ever a few weeks ago, and that was before I learned that half of the remaining rares and a third of the uncommons are chock full of value. Seriously, if you stopped paying attention to this set once WotC announced that they were raising the MSRP to $14, do yourself a favor and take another look at this set .
Ultimate Masters is going to shake up the Modern market in some pretty major ways, so let's skip the appetizer and get right into the main course. I have two major questions about Ultimate Masters right now, and I think that it's worth taking the time to answer each of them in detail. Let's start with the biggest one:
Should You Buy A Box of Ultimate Masters?
My initial reaction, without doing any of the math, is yes. Very yes. In fact, I've already bought several boxes of Ultimate Masters for my own collection even though I didn't buy a box of Iconic Masters and I didn't even buy a single pack of Masters 25.
But let's do the math and see how things shake out:
- Current Average Value of the Mythic Rare Slot: $37.20
This is actually down from an average mythic slot value of $49.85 when the set was first announced, which shows that a number of these cards have already dropped in price due to reprinting. Even still, this figure is significantly higher than the average mythic rare slot inMasters 25, Modern Masters 2017, or Iconic Masters.
Weirdly, though, this figure is actually a few bucks lower than the average Mythic slot in Modern Masters 2015 was at release, though it's almost dead even with the mythic rare value of that set now. In part, that's because this set has a lot of the same cards: Bitterblossom, Emrakul, Ulamog, Kozilek, Karn Liberated, and Tarmogoyf. The only two above-par cards that were in MM15 but not in Ultimate Masters are Dark Confidant and Mox Opal, though that set also had some pretty "middling" mythics like Comet Storm, Tezzeret the Seeker, and Primeval Titan. Modern Masters 2015 also had arguably the worst lineup of non-mythic rares in any of the Masters sets.
- Mythic Rare Hit Rate: 80%
For this, I'm counting any card currently selling for more than $15 as a "hit" (meaning you'd be happy to open it in a pack) and any card currently selling for less as a "miss" (meaning you'd be disappointed to open this card in a pack).
The good news is that there are only four misses in Ultimate Masters: Lord of Extinction, Platinum Emperion, Balefire Dragon, and Sigarda, Host of Herons. That gives Ultimate Masters the best mythic rare hit rate since Modern Masters 2015, which debuted with a 91%. (These days, that set's hit rate is down to 80%, and that's counting a bunch of $15-$16 cards as "hits" while most of the good mythics in Ultimate Masters are at least $30.)
- Current Average Value of the Rare Slot: $11.55
Again, this number is down from our initial estimate because of how many of these cards have dropped in value over the past couple of weeks. Engineered Explosives was close to $100 when Ultimate Masters was first announced, and now it's just $50. Celestial Colonnade has lost about half of its value as well. If we were using pre-reprint figures for this estimate, the average value of the rare slot would be well above $20.
Even still, this $11.55 figure is close to double the average rare slot value of Masters 25, Modern Masters 2015, and Modern Masters 2017. It's surprisingly not quite as high as the average value of the rare slot in Iconic Masters, but that's only because I came up with that figure the day after the set was first revealed, and cards like Auriok Champion, Ancestral Vision, Cryptic Command, and Glimpse the Unthinkable hadn't dropped in price yet. So, by every metric, Ultimate Masters has by far the best crop of rares in any Masters set.
- Rare Hit Rate: 29%
Unsurprisingly, this 29% figure is the highest hit rate for rares in the history of the Masters sets. Iconic Masters was actually pretty close, at 28%, but that set effectively had about ten good rares and then a whole lot of bulk. Ultimate Masters has a bunch of rares in the $6-$15 range that were well above $10 last month: things like Runed Halo, Flagstones of Trokair, Fulminator Mage, All is Dust, and Bridge from Below. These cards would have maintained more of their initial value had they been released in a worse Masters set, but because there are so many expensive cards reprinted in Ultimate Masters, more of the value was squeezed right out of these lesser staples.
- Current Average Value of the Box Topper Slot: $119
That's right - the average value of one of these box toppers is still a whopping $119. The price of an entire box, including the topper? Just $280. So, based on current StarCityGames.com® retail, a little over 40% of the value of your Ultimate Masters box rests in that little wrapped Masterpiece that sits on top.
You'll have to get a little lucky here to win big, of course. The best box toppers are Tarmogoyf and Liliana of the Veil, which are selling for $300 each. The worst, Stirring Wildwood and Lavaclaw Reaches, are selling for just $30 each. That's some spicy variance! But most of the box toppers are going for at least $100 right now, so the odds of opening well are still in your favor.
- Current Average Value of the Uncommon Slot: $1.50
This is some quick and dirty math, but it should check out. I only counted up the current retail value of the uncommons that are selling for at least $2, divided by the number of uncommons in the set, and then multiplied by three since you get three uncommons per pack. So, once you count up the "good" uncommons from your box, you'll average about $1.50 per pack. Not bad!
- Current Average Value of the Foil Slot: $3.74
Just like with the common slot, I decided to count every foil currently selling for less than $2 as being worth $0. Then I added up the average value of the "good" foils and divided by the number of cards in each slot. That gave me the following figures:
- Average Foil Mythic: $76.75
- Average Foil Rare: $35
- Average Foil Uncommon: $3
- Average Foil Common: $0.63
Assuming that foils are distributed in the same ratio as normal cards, the average box should have 17.6 foil commons, 4.8 foil uncommons, 1.4 foil rares, and 0.2 foil mythic rares. That gives us an average pack value of $3.74 for the foil slot.
Adding all of this up, the current retail for a box of Ultimate Masters is $598.19. And since boxes are still selling for $280 on the StarCityGames website, that means that Ultimate Masters boxes are a great value right now, at least based on the current retail prices of the cards within.
Granted, not all boxes are going to be worth $600 (some will have Lavaclaw Reaches as your box topper and no foil rares or mythics), but it's rare to find a set where the expected value of a pack is roughly twice what you must pay to buy that pack.
Of course, there's no way that this massive disparity in expected value is going to remain. One of three things is going to happen, and soon:
a.) The available supply of Ultimate Masters boxes will sell out, and the price will go up.
b.) The value of the cards in Ultimate Masters will drop by another 30-40% until the price of the singles lines up closer to the price of the sealed boxes.
c.) Some combination of #1 and #2.
Spoiler alert: I think #3 is the most likely outcome. While I expect further erosion in the prices of certain Ultimate Masters cards, I'm not sure that 30-40% is all that likely. Is Snapcaster Mage really going to be sub-$50? Is Demonic Tutor going to be $15 again? I suppose that it's possible, especially if WotC printed Ultimate Masters in massive quantities, but I think it's far more likely that the initial wave of boxes will sell out without the prices ever truly equalizing. And then the boxes will be sold out, and some of the cards will start to rebound, and then the boxes will start increasing in value, too.
So yes, I think that it's worth buying a box or four of Ultimate Masters if you've got the cash lying around to throw down on them. The average value of the cards inside would have to drop in price by about 50% in order to create a situation where you would be paying retail price for whatever you opened. And even if that does happen, which is unlikely, I'd expect the prices to rebound pretty fast.
Which brings us to our next question:
Which Cards in Ultimate Masters are Going to Stay Cheap, and Which Ones Will Rebound?
Predicting the future is always something of a risk, but common sense goes a long way here. Cards that see a lot of competitive play are less likely to drop as far as cards that don't, and cards that are expensive despite having been reprinted several times already are going to be safer buys than cards that were expensive primarily because they've only been printed once or twice before.
We've also got some really useful data to work with: the percentage of value that each card has already dropped since before it was announced as a reprint in Ultimate Masters. I think that it's pretty safe to assume that the cards that have already lost a large chunk of value have the best chance to keep dropping, while cards that have remained expensive will continue to remain expensive.
Let's take a look at all the mythics in Ultimate Masters and see if some trends begin to emerge:
Stable (Under 20% Losses)
- Mana Vault - $30 (0% loss)
- Tarmogoyf - $70 (3% loss)
- Liliana of the Veil - $90 (12% loss)
- Kozilek, Butcher of Truth - $35 (12% loss)
- Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre - $25 (14% loss)
- Bitterblossom - $35 (17% loss)
- Dark Depths - $40 (17% loss)
- Snapcaster Mage - $70 (18% loss)
Not the list you expected? Me either! For starters, the new version of Mana Vault is actually worth more than the 4th and 5th Ed ition copies of the card, likely because this is the first black-bordered printing since Beta. While existing white-bordered copies of the card have dropped a tiny bit, I'm using this scale to measure how much cheaper the Ultimate Masters versions of these cards are in relation to the prices of the last printing as of the day that Guilds of Ravnica was released. Based on those figures, Mana Vault hasn't dropped in price at all.
It's no surprise that Tarmogoyf, Liliana of the Veil, and Snapcaster Mage are among the most stable cards in the set. Even with thousands of new copies of these cards entering the marketplace, I don't think that we're going to see any of these staples hit saturation. Tarmogoyf is the best example of this: the card has been reprinted in almost every Masters set, and it simply isn't dropping any lower than $70.
The other cards on this list give me a little more of a pause. Ulamog and Kozilek are such iconic casual favorites and they've been printed enough times that I suppose they're getting pretty close to their floor as well. Dark Depths also lost a ton of value when it was reprinted in a From the Vault set, so it makes some sense that it didn't have much further to drop, either. I feel like Bitterblossom is still pretty overpriced at $35, but it's a stellar token generator in Commander, and that might be enough.
Sticky (Under 40% Losses)
- Karn Liberated - $70 (24% loss)
- Karakas - $45 (30% loss)
- Mikaeus, the Unhallowed - $20 (32% loss)
- Cavern of Souls - $70 (35% loss)
- Emrakul, the Aeons Torn - $30 (35% loss)
Emrakul, the Aeons Torn is usually the most expensive of the three original Eldrazi, so it's a bit of a surprise to see it drop below Kozilek. I feel like this one will be one of the first to rebound. I'm also a little surprised that Karn Liberated and Cavern of Souls lost this much value, especially compared to some of the cards on that first list. Both mythics are so integral to the current Modern metagame that I can't imagine they'll be dropping much further. Add them to your fast-rebound candidate list as well.
Volatile (Over 40% Losses)
- Sigarda, Host of Herons - $10 (42% loss)
- Platinum Empyrion - $10 (45% loss)
- Leovold, Emissary of Trest - $20 (49% loss)
- Lord of Extinction - $8 (49% loss)
- Vengevine - $25 (56% loss)
- Temporal Manipulation - $35 (58% loss)
- Balefire Dragon - $6 (59% loss)
Not all the cards in Ultimate Masters will rebound, at least not for many years. Many cards just needed to be printed a second (or third) time in order to satiate demand. For example, I wouldn't be surprised if we see cards like Leovold, Emissary of Trest and Vengevine continue to drop. Both were expensive because they were only printed once, in a very small set, and both are former tournament staples that don't see nearly as much play anymore. Temporal Manipulation might have further to fall as well, and I feel like its current $35 price tag is based more on its earlier scarcity than its overall quality. Balefire Dragon and Lord of Extinction should remain cheap for the foreseeable future as well.
Ready to take on the rares? Me too. I'm going to significantly change the loss thresholds here, though, because Masters set rares always depreciate at a much higher value than the mythics.
Stable (Under 50% Losses)
- Demonic Tutor - $30 (20% loss)
- Reanimate - $18 (31% loss)
- Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth - $15 (32% loss)
- Entomb - $12 (34% loss)
- Life from the Loam - $20 (34% loss)
- Noble Hierarch - $50 (38% loss)
- Fulminator Mage - $12 (45% loss)
- Creeping Tar Pit - $10 (45% loss)
- Gamble - $5 (45% loss)
- Goryo's Vengeance - $25 (46% loss)
- Celestial Colonnade - $30 (48% loss)
- Engineered Explosives - $50 (49% loss)
This list runs quite the gamut. Demonic Tutor is behaving pretty similarly to Mana Vault since it also hasn't seen a significant reprint in a couple of decades despite being such an important and beloved casual card. Life from the Loam didn't lose much value since it's one of the key staples in Modern's hottest deck, while the ever-popular Noble Hierarch's price is still fairly robust as well. Meanwhile, cards like Urborg, Entomb, and Gamble already saw significant drops in value due to earlier high-profile reprints and thus, don't have nearly as far to fall anymore.
Lastly, we see that Celestial Colonnade and Engineered Explosives each lost about half their value. This, apparently, is what the magic number for cards that were expensive both because of massive demand and incredibly low supply. I still expect both to rebound, though likely not as quickly as Noble Hierarch will.
Sticky (Under 60% Losses)
- Phyrexian Tower - $30 (50% loss)
- All is Dust - $10 (50% loss)
- Ancient Tomb - $35 (52% loss)
- Containment Priest - $14 (52% loss)
- Gaddock Teeg - $25 (55% loss)
- Through the Breach - $20 (56% loss)
- Woodfall Primus - $4 (56% loss)
- Glen Elendra Archmage - $10 (58% loss)
- Phyrexian Altar - $25 (58% loss)
- Fauna Shaman - $6 (58% loss)
Also known as the, "holy crap, we really needed a reprint!" list. Cards like Gaddock Teeg and Through the Breach were super expensive despite only seeing a little play in Modern (certainly less than Explosives) because they had never been reprinted outside of, like, judge foils and Masterpieces. Glen Elendra Archmage and Phyrexian Altar had the same problem, except in Commander instead of Modern. All the cards on this list are at greater risk for further drops since their original price tags were linked to low supply, though it's worth remembering that there's real demand for all of these cards. I'm just not sure when we'll hit that saturation point. It really depends on how much Ultimate Masters is out there, and we won't know that for several months at least.
Volatile (Over 60% Losses)
- Raging Ravine - $6 (60% loss)
- Vexing Devil - $6 (60% loss)
- Sublime Archangel - $3 (63% loss)
- Flagstones of Trokair - $8 (64% loss)
- Back to Basics - $40 (65% loss)
- Eldrazi Conscription - $6 (65% loss)
- Nourishing Shoal - $3 (67% loss)
- Runed Halo - $13 (69% loss)
- Daybreak Coronet - $4 (70% loss)
- Disrupting Shoal - $3 (81% loss)
A lot of the cheapest rares in Ultimate Masters are on this list, with plenty of cards dropping from $15 to $5 or $6. We've also got cards like Runed Halo and Flagstones of Trokair, which are in a similar boat to Gaddock Teeg and Phyrexian Altar in that they just really needed to be reprinted ASAP. And then we have Back to Basics, which had probably been overpriced for months because too many people thought it was on the Reserved List. And no, I'm not kidding-I really think that's why it was over $100. Heck, it's probably still overpriced at $40 based on the amount of play it sees, and it'll probably tick down a bit more before stabilizing between $20 and $30.
So yeah, this list should give you a good sense of which cards might have further to fall and which are fairly stable. Regardless, I wouldn't buy any singles now. The rebounds aren't going to start happening until early next year at the earliest, and prices should bottom out in mid-to-late December - right in time for end-of-the-year sales to kick in.
Plus, you can see why I don't think the overall value of this set is going to shed another 30-40% of its value, right? If anything, I'm even more stoked on getting boxes now. From what I can see, singles prices and box prices have mostly stabilized…as long as you don't count the box topper, which you're essentially getting for free at the moment.
And I don't know about you, but I love getting free Masterpieces!
This Week's Trends
- I know that ripping on WotC is cool and all, and they've got some work to do in areas like Organized Play, but it's worth acknowledging that they've been on kind of a tear lately. Arena is wonderful, Ultimate Masters is a home run, and Standard is the best it has been in years.
- Remember how Jeskai Control looked like it was on the wane after Pro Tour Guilds of Ravnica? Well, Adrian Sullivan won Grand Prix Milwaukee with Jeskai Control last weekend, and Isaak Krut made Top 8 with the deck as well. Golgari Midrange, Mono-White Aggro, and Izzet Drakes also made it into that Top 8, with Selesnya Tokens taking down the SCG Classic in Las Vegas to add yet another spice of diversity into the format.
Financially, it was a good week for Jeskai Control cards like Teferi, Hero of Dominaria and Niv-Mizzet, Parun, which is fast becoming a staple in that deck. And since Jeskai Control is leaning more on the Izzet side of things, Steam Vents and Sulfur Falls are starting to tick up as well. Also on the rise: Arclight Phoenix and Treasure Map, both of which are continuing to impress in multiple Standard brews.
- On the other side of the ledger, it was a poor week for Vraska, Relic Seeker. Even though there were four Golgari Midrange decks in the Top 8 in Milwaukee, the only copy of Vraska was a singleton on Seth Manfield's sideboard. As Golgari continues to grow and adjust, make sure you pick through your bulk for Golden Demise, a Rivals of Ixalan uncommon that's becoming a crucial piece of sideboard tech that you should be able to trade for at least a buck before long.
History of Benalia and Aurelia, Exemplar of Justice are on the downswing this week as well, though neither card lost more than a buck or two. Boros Aggro has slipped a bit since the Pro Tour, and Boros Angels is falling further into the format's second tier. I expect both cards to rebound at some point considering how cyclical the format is, but it might take a couple of weeks - at least.
- Over in Modern, we're starting to see some buyouts and spikes in response to Ultimate Masters. Since this is the last Masters set for a while, many players and speculators are feeling confident in the fact that other key staples aren't going to be reprinted any time soon. Manamorphose and Surgical Extraction each surged more than $10 this week, and this is just the beginning.
I'll likely do a full article on the best Modern cards that aren't in Ultimate Masters at some point soon, but for now you can safely assume that any key Modern card that isn't in the set is on notice. Horizon Canopy, Dark Confidant, Scalding Tarn, Blackcleave Cliffs, and Leyline of the Void are the five cards I'm monitoring the closest right now.