Masters 25 is here, and the reviews are mixed. While some people are thrilled about the watermarks, the new flavor text, and much-needed reprints for cards like Imperial Recruiter, Rishadan Port, and the Eventide filter lands, others feel like the set is too bereft of value, at least at a $10/pack MSRP. My Twitter feed is split, and the howling masses on r/magictcg are decidedly in the "burn it all down" camp.
Pro or con, most people seem to agree that Masters 25 shares more DNA with Iconic Masters than with Modern Masters 2017, and they're eager to get back to the older way of doing things regardless of what Gavin Verhey has to say about awesome Limited environments.
With all of that in mind, I'd like to address three different things in my Masters 25 financial set review today.
An in-depth look at the actual cards in Masters 25, including an analysis of which ones should hold their value the best. You know, normal set review stuff.
A direct comparison between Masters 25,Iconic Masters, Modern Masters 2017, and Modern Masters 2015. Since I wrote comprehensive release week reviews for all of these sets, (I didn't do one for Eternal Masters, which is why it's not included) we can compare the values of the cards included at the time the full set had just been previewed to see how Masters 25 stacks up in terms of delivering the goods. Are people right to be nostalgic for Modern Masters 2017, (which was still less than a year ago!) or are we underrating Masters 25 for some other reason?
My thoughts about why so many people seem to be down on this set and what it means for the Masters series going forward.
That's a lot. We'd better get started!
- Jace, the Mind Sculptor - $110
- Imperial Recruiter - $75
- Chalice of the Void - $55
- Ensnaring Bridge - $35
- Vendilion Clique - $25
- Phyrexian Obliterator - $20
- Animar, Soul of Elements - $18
- Master of the Wild Hunt - $7
- Doomsday - $5
- Gisela, Blade of Goldnight - $5
- Armageddon - $4
- Akroma, Angel of Wrath - $2.50
- Akroma, Angel of Fury - $2
- Tree of Redemption - $2
- Prossh, Skyraider of Kher - $1.50
Unsurprisingly, Jace, the Mind Sculptor is the chase card of Masters 25. Did you expect anything else? Jace almost single-handedly saves this fairly uninspiring crop of mythics, and I suspect they would have been seen as disastrously bad had R&D ultimately chosen not to unban the powerful planeswalker. We live in Jace's world now, though, and I see no reason why he won't be able to sustain a price in the $75-$90 range as long as he proves as important to the Modern metagame as it looks like he will be.
Imperial Recruiter really doesn't see much play in Legacy these days, though that might change a little bit now that it's far more accessible. Cubers are going to want a copy, too, and it's a pretty solid card in Commander. Imperial Recruiter wasn't a $100+ card due to demand, though-it was the fact that it was only printed as a judge foil and in Portal: Three Kingdoms. Now that a bunch of these are going to be hitting the market, this card has a long way to drop. In fact, I wouldn't be shocked if you'll be able to pick up your Imperial Recruiters for $35-$40. The smart money at this point is on buying Aluren, a Reserved List card that's just $25 and is a necessary component of the Recruiter decks.
On the other hand, Chalice of the Void has already survived a Masters set reprint - at rare, no less. Demand is the real driver of price here, and I suspect it'll maintain most of its current value before rebounding fairly quickly. I'll be targeting this as a strong buy about two or three weeks after Masters 25 hits shelves.
Ensnaring Bridge is a little more like Imperial Recruiter; its price tag has more to do with the fact that it hasn't been reprinted since 8th Edition than a broad base of demand. The price of this one has already dropped a ton since Masters 25 was announced, but it still has further to fall. I bet it'll settle in closer to the $25 range.
Vendilion Clique had already dropped a bunch thanks to multiple Masters set reprints, and it might start to see more play in Modern now that Jace, the Mind Sculptor is legal. I doubt this one is dropping below $20 at any point, though this fourth (!) printing will limit its upside going forward.
Animar, Soul of Elements and Phyrexian Obliterator both have a little bit further they can drop. This is just the second reprint for both of these cards, so the price anchor is based on a level of scarcity that isn't going to exist anymore once Masters 25 drops. I bet both cards will end up in the $10-$15 range.
Total Mythic Value Prior to Release: $367
- $55 more than MM17 ($312)
- $83 less than Iconic Masters ($450)
- $244 less than MM15 ($611)
Average Mythic Value Prior to Release: $24.46
- $3.66 more than MM17 ($20.80)
- $5.54 less than Iconic Masters ($30)
- $15.54 less than MM15 ($41)
As you can see, M25 appears to have a better mythic rare make-up than MM17, while falling short of Iconic Masters and well short of Modern Masters 2015. Huh? I thought Iconic Masters was supposed to be the "bad" one!
This discrepancy can mostly be explained away by Mana Drain, which pre-sold for $200 before eventually dropping to $70. Strip out that extra $130 and M25s mythics end up about $50 ahead. Since M25 doesn't have a mythic that's likely to see a drop that big-Imperial Recruiter has already fallen a bunch-I think we can say that this crop is at least a little bit better than both Iconic Masters and MM17.
So why are people remembering MM17 so fondly here? Well, its big hit mythics-Liliana of the Veil, Snapcaster Mage, Cavern of Souls, Tarmogoyf-have all shot up in price a bunch recently. I'd absolutely rather open a box of Modern Masters 2017 today. Strictly in terms of release week prices, though, Masters 25 has the most expensive crop of mythics.
…until you look at Modern Masters 2015. Holy cow! $611 in mythics? The rares in that set must have been terrible, right?
*checks the spoiler*
Okay, yeah, they absolutely were. At some point between MM15 and now, WotC decided to shift some of the value out of the mythic slot and into the rare slot, which seems like a good change to me.
Mythic Rare Hit Rate: 46.6%
- 13.3% better than MM17 (33.3%)
- 6.7% worse than Iconic Masters (53.3%)
- 46.7% worse than MM15 (93.3%)
For this metric, I'm counting every card that pre-sold for $15 or more as a "hit" (you'd be happy to open it in a booster pack) and every card less than that as a "miss" (you'd be bummed to open it). I expected M25 to score pretty low on this scale since it appears to have so many duds, but it's well within the standards established by the last two Masters sets. Again, Modern Masters 2015 was the outlier here; Comet Storm was the only bad mythic in the entire set.
What about the number of sub-$5 mythics, though? Doesn't M25 fail hard on this level? Not really. By this metric too, M25 still isn't a major outlier. Modern Masters 2017 had an identical number of $5-and-under mythics, though Iconic Masters and MM15 each only had one.
In terms of mythic rare value, then, Masters 25 isn't much different than Iconic Masters, which isn't much different than Modern Masters 2017.
But what about the rares?
- Thalia, Guardian of Thraben - $15
- Darien, King of Kjeldor - $4
- Luminarch Ascension - $4
- Rest in Peace - $4
- Akroma's Vengeance - $1
- Decree of Justice - $0.50
This is only the second time that Thalia, Guardian of Thraben has been printed (save the Judge foil) but it sees enough play that it should stay above-or at least near-the $10 mark. I expect Darien, King of Kjeldor to end up closer to bulk; if a Coldsnap card couldn't break $10 back when its supply was basically zero, it's not going to end up worth anything now that the supply is more than tripling. Rest in Peace should be a nice long-term buy, though. Return to Ravnica was already an overprinted set, so this one has proven it can sustain heavy supply.
- Pact of Negation - $18
- Reef Worm - $2.50
- Flash - $2
- Vesuvan Shapeshifter - $1
- Blue Sun's Zenith - $1
- Bident of Thassa - $0.50
Pact of Negation has rebounded from a reprint before, and it'll probably do so again. Look to snag these around $12 if you want them-it's unique and powerful enough that it should continue to remain popular. The rest of these cards are financially irrelevant.
- Living Death - $3
- Hell's Caretaker - $2
- Laquatus's Champion - $1
- Ratcatcher - $1
- Plague Wind - $1
- Triskaidekaphobia - $0.50
Yuck-not a single black rare you'd really be psyched to open. Living Death will probably keep being worth a couple of bucks, but that's about it.
- Blood Moon - $20
- Eidolon of the Great Revel - $6
- Magus of the Wheel - $4
- Ball Lightning - $2
- Fortune Thief - $1
- Izzet Chemister - $1
Blood Moon keeps being reprinted, and this is one of the coolest versions available-the watermark looks absolutely stunning. It's possible that this will be the time that Blood Moon finally settles in around $20, but it drops down here every time it's reprinted and it has yet to not rebound in price almost immediately. If you still need your Blood Moons, I'd snag a set a couple weeks after Masters 25 drops.
Eidolon of the Great Revel has had difficulty staying above the $10 mark thanks to the high supply for all the Theros block cards. It might end up back in the $8-$9 range again soon, but this one's unlikely to experience a significant jump in price at any point.
- Azusa, Lost but Seeking - $20
- Summoner's Pact - $15
- Elvish Piper - $5
- Protean Hulk - $5
- Courser of Kruphix - $2
- Living Wish - $1.50
Azusa, Lost but Seeking was stupidly expensive because it was only printed in Champions of Kamigawa and as a Judge foil. $15-$20 is reasonable for it now; it only sees a little bit of Modern play, but Commander demand should be pretty steady. Summoner's Pact is similar to Pact of Negation in that it's likely to experience a long-term rebound, but I wouldn't buy in until it bottoms out at some point over the summer.
- Eladamri's Call - $5
- Vindicate - $4
- Pernicious Deed - $3
- Nicol Bolas - $2
- Brion Stoutarm - $1
- Conflux - $1
- Grenzo, Dungeon Warden - $1
- Hanna, Ship's Navigator - $1
- Mystic Snake - $1
- Niv-Mizzet, the Firemind - $1
- Ruric Thar, the Unbowed - $1
- Notion Thief - $1
Jeepers. Vindicate and Pernicious Deed would have been super exciting inclusions once upon a time, but heavy reprints killed that demand a long time ago. Eladamri's Call will probably end up dropping even further since its value was based on very low supply, leaving all of these cards below $5.
This isn't a very inspiring bunch of rares, either. Coalition Relic is still a solid role-player in Commander, though there is a lot more competition for that spot than their used to be so I wouldn't expect it to remain above $5 for long.
- Rishadan Port - $50
- Fetid Heath - $25
- Twilight Mire - $18
- Cascade Bluffs - $15
- Rugged Prairie - $15
- Flooded Grove - $12
- Mikokoro, Center of the Sea - $8
- Pendelhaven - $4
All right. This is what we were waiting for, and Masters 25 only sort of disappoints us here.
First, Rishadan Port is a much-needed reprint. This card has been super high for approximately forever, and I was shocked that it didn't show up in Eternal Masters. The only problem is…who, exactly, is spending $50 on this? It's more obnoxious than anything in Commander, it's not legal in Modern, and it doesn't really see any play in Vintage. It'll make Legacy Death and Taxes a bit cheaper, but I don't know where the demand is beyond that. Legacy Lands is like a $10,000 deck-if you're buying into that one, you probably have your Rishadan Ports already. I imagine that Rishadan Port will remain valuable because it's always been valuable, but that's not exactly the sort of marquee card you want to hang your set on.
The Eventide filter lands are in a similar boat. These cards are role-players in Modern, showing up as one-ofs and two-ofs once in a while. Twilight Mire seems like the best of them since it's useful in Jund and Abzan, but these cards aren't going to immediately rebound like the Zendikar fetchlands did. They were expensive because they were only printed once, in Eventide. Commander players will want them if they drop below $10, but there are so many options for mana fixing in that format already. Don't expect these to end up back above $20 again soon.
Lastly, Mikokoro, Center of the Sea was expensive because it was only printed in Saviors of Kamigawa, the most forgettable Magic set of all time. It might've been due for a spike because it's good with Jace, the Mind Sculptor, but now that it has been reprinted I doubt it'll see enough play to keep it above $5 for long.
Total Rare Value Prior to Release: $324
- $29 less than MM17 ($353)
- $429 less than Iconic Masters ($753)
- $20 more than MM15 ($304)
Average Rare Value Prior to Release: $6.11
- $0.54 less than MM17 ($6.65)
- $7.84 less than Iconic Masters ($13.95)
- $0.38 more than MM15 ($5.73)
Interesting. From this perspective, Iconic Masters is the crazy outlier, and I had to triple-check my math in order to ensure that I didn't accidently count the mythics again or something. Nope. Horizon Canopy, Grove of the Burnwillows, Aether Vial, Oblivion Stone, Glimpse the Unthinkable, Lotus Cobra, Magus of the Moon, Bloodghast, Thoughtseize, Flusterstorm, Ancestral Vision, Cryptic Command, Auriok Champion, Serra Ascendant…these were all very expensive cards. Granted, a lot of them came way down in price once the set was actually released, but it's a significantly more inspiring crop than we got in Masters 25.
The Masters 25 rares are much more in line with the two Modern Masters sets, but these numbers hide a couple of important differences. First, don't forget that Modern Masters 2015 had a murderer's row of excellent mythic rares; unless you pulled Comet Storm, you were probably snagging at least a $40 card. Modern Masers 2017 arguably had a worse overall pool of rares, but those sins were forgiven thanks to the inclusion of the Zendikar fetchlands, all of which immediately rebounded well past their pre-order prices.
Rare Hit Rate: 18.8%
- 3.8% better than MM17 (15%)
- 9.2% worse than Iconic Masters (28%)
- 3.8% better than MM15 (15%)
The two Modern Masters sets each contained eight $15+ rares. Masters 25 has ten of them. Not much to see here, other than the fact that Iconic Masters did a pretty good job of spreading the love around.
Significant Commons and Uncommons
First, let's look at the downgrades:
From Rare to Uncommon:
- Fallen Angel
- Ire Shaman
- Iwamori of the Open Fist
- Jalira, Master Polymorphist
- Kongming, "Sleeping Dragon"
- Krosan Colossus
- Promise of Bunrei
- Shadowmage Infiltrator
- Undead Gladiator
- Zada, Hedron Grinder
None of these cards are all that interesting, though Promise of Bunrei was well above bulk and I've always found people interested in Undead Gladiator. Not much to see here.
From Rare to Common:
Again, there's not much that's financially relevant, but it's cool to see Savannah Lions at common. I remember being gobsmacked that this was a rare when I first started playing Magic, and I quickly realized why. Well, now it's actually a common!
All right, let's quit wasting time and take a look at some uncommons that are actually relevant to our purposes:
- Street Wraith - $8
- Cursecatcher - $6
- Utopia Sprawl - $4
- Ash Barrens - $3
- Simian Spirit Guide - $3
- Lightning Bolt - $3
- Regrowth - $2.50
- Swords to Plowshares - $2.50
- Rancor - $2.25
- Ancient Stirrings - $2
- Browbeat - $1.50
- Ravenous Chupacabra - $1.25
- Mishra's Factory - $0.75
- Invigorate - $0.50
- Blue Elemental Blast - $0.50
- Red Elemental Blast - $0.50
- Kor Firewalker - $0.50
I'm writing this article before SCG has listed their pre-order prices for all of Friday's previews, so chances are a few of these cards (Street Wrath, Utopia Sprawl) will be a lot cheaper once you actually go to order your copies. As with most sets, pre-ordering the commons and uncommons you think you'll need is usually a good idea. People tend to overestimate how often these cards will actually be opened, and the price will rise later as a result. Snag your Ash Barrens and Simian Spirit Guides now.
Onto the commons:
- Relentless Rats - $1.50
- Cultivate - $1.50
- Counterspell - $1
- Nettle Sentinel - $1
- Brainstorm - $0.75
- Dark Ritual - $0.59
- Diabolic Edit - $0.50
Again, a few of these (Cultivate) weren't priced yet when I wrote this article, so they'll probably end up a bit lower. This is a fairly decent crop of commons, and I wouldn't be shocked if the fact that Relentless Rats is so cheap now means that we'll see some Commander spikes for the other good tribal Rats. I'll probably snag a few sets of these other cards and hold onto them for a while, too.
I really want to like Masters 25, but it has a number of significant problems that I can't ignore.
The biggest problem is that it just doesn't compare well to past Masters sets. Modern Masters 2015 had a much better selection of mythic rares and an overall higher value at release. Iconic Masters had a slightly better selection of mythic rares, a much better selection of rares, and an overall higher value at release.
Now, the current value of Masters 25 is roughly comparable to the value of Modern Masters 2017 at its release, but the latter set had an entirely different composition. Its key cards-Tarmogoyf, Liliana of the Veil, Snapcaster Mage, the fetchlands-were all top-ten Modern staples that held their value well. In comparison, Masters 25 is full of low demand cards that are only expensive because they haven't been reprinted yet. Once the market is flooded with Rishadan Port, Imperial Recruiter, the Eventide filter lands, and Ensnaring Bridge, none of those cards are likely to return to their pre-reprint price points.
The optics around Masters 25 aren't going to help much, either. One of the reasons why Masters sets were so popular originally is that they felt special. When you had to enter a box lottery (or fly to Las Vegas) for Modern Masters 2013, each pack was like a miniature treasure chest. Even Modern Masters 2015 felt special: boxes were more easily available, but you only had about three weeks to buy yours before they were all gone forever.
Iconic Masters languishing on shelves at Target and Wal-Mart finally disillusioned me to the idea that Masters sets were supposed to feel special. Pair that with the fact that this is the third Masters set in twelve months and you can see why some people are so down on Masters 25. Say what you will about artificial scarcity-the "Beanie Babies" model of deliberately under-supplying the market to drive hype-it worked really well for Modern Masters 2013 and 2015. If WotC had kept the supply for Masters 25 somewhat low (or at least kept it out of big box stores!), it would have helped prevent the scarcity inclusions like Rishadan Port and Imperial Recruiter from tanking as hard as they will.
The decision to continue along the Iconic Masters "format agnostic" route also feels misguided. I've been critical about WotC's decision to ignore the economics of reprint equity for a while, because after a certain point there won't be much left to headline their $10/pack reprint sets. The best answer is probably some combination of lowering pack prices while decreasing the number of Masters sets printed as well as the number of boxes printed. I'm sure that the executives at Hasbro won't allow them to do that, of course, but they need to find a solution to this problem at some point.
Unfortunately, what they're trying to do instead isn't likely to work. Pulling from a wider pool of rares doesn't create a situation where more people decide to drop $10/pack because there's "something for everybody," it just leads to a world where nobody has a real incentive to open packs because there are only a handful of cards that they actually want. This is a big part of why Iconic Masters was so widely maligned despite actually containing a bunch of really good rares.
It's also unclear if Masters 25 is underwhelming because WotC is becoming aware of the reprint equity issue or because they just don't have a good understanding of how the secondary market works. Masters 25 looks a lot better if you think that Rishadan Port is a $100 card, Imperial Recruiter is a $200 card, and the Eventide lands are all worth $30-$50. If they'd put in the equivalent value in top tier Modern staples, people would be over the moon about this set. Perhaps they just don't have a good enough grasp of the financial side of the game.
And let's be clear here: finance matters a lot when it comes to Masters sets. WotC can talk about Limited environments all they want, but they're charging more than twice as much as a normal pack precisely because of the secondary market value of the cards included in these sets. I'm excited to play Masters 25, but I won't be paying MSRP for any booster packs this time around and I don't recommend that you do, either. Wait until SCG has a booster box sale at some point over the summer. I suspect that this set's financial future will mirror Iconic Masters more than any of the other Masters sets, which should keep pack values fairly depressed.
If you want to buy the few Modern staples that were included in Masters 25 as singles, I'd wait about two weeks after the set hits shelves. Since the overall value of the set is low, the true in-demand staples should hold their value well. Chalice of the Void and Jace, the Mind Sculptor are the best buys here, but you can apply that logic to cards like Thalia, Guardian of Thraben and Rest in Peace, too.
If you need Imperial Recruiter, Rishadan Port, or one of the other cards that has been expensive forever due to low supply, think about waiting a little longer before you buy in. It'll take a while before that price memory is overwritten, but there should be some really great deals in July or August.
This Week's Trends
It was another fairly quiet week in Standard. Rekindling Phoenix and Carnage Tyrant continue to climb, but neither gained more than about $2. Scavenger Grounds and Earthshaker Khenra began to tick up in price as well, likely due to the fact that neither are in the Challenger Decks and both are really solid inclusions if you want to level those up. I expect both of those cards to continue gaining value over the coming weeks.
On the other side, Kumena, Tyrant of Orazca continues to drop off as Merfolk just aren't finding a home anywhere near Standard's top tier. Hazoret the Fervent and Chandra, Torch of Defiance are also ticking down a bit thanks to their inclusion in the aforementioned Challenger Decks.
There were some staggering gains in Modern this week now that we know what key staples dodged a reprint in Masters 25. Liliana of the Veil and Karn Liberated are each up more than $20, Snapcaster Mage and Mox Opal are both up about $10. Raging Ravine, Dark Confidant, Celestial Colonnade, Wurmcoil Engine, Cryptic Command, Cavern of Souls, and Steam Vents are all climbing as well. Even Tireless Tracker is getting into the action now.
On the other side, all of the Masters 25 inclusions are dropping. In Modern, that means Chalice of the Void, Rugged Prairie, Jace, the Mind Sculptor, Ensnaring Bridge, Summoner's Pact, and Vendilion Clique. Expect these cards (with the possible exception of Jace) to keep losing value as Masters 25 goes live.
The Reserved List spikes keep on keeping on as well. Sliver Queen was the latest to jump, doubling in price from $35 to $70. I'll keep an eye on that one, since most of the other spikes are from Legends, Arabian Nights, Legends, and Antiquities, all of which have a lower supply than Stronghold. Sliver Queen certainly is iconic, though, so I doubt it ends up back below $50.