Eternal Masters: The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly

Eternal Masters may be the most hyped release of the Magic year. For years, cards we all sought more of were nowhere to be found. Until now. SCG Players’ Champ Jim Davis weighs in on the positive and negatives of this extraordinary set!

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<p>If you’ve been on social media in the last week or so, it’s very clear that people are very excited about <i>Eternal Masters</i>. </p>
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It makes a lot of sense. People are super-excited to get their hands on new, potentially foil, copies of hard-to-acquire cards like Force of Will, Mana Crypt, and even old commons like Chain Lightning. The set is also not without precedent; both real-life Modern Masters releases have been insanely popular, and the online-only Vintage Masters release was also very popular online.

Magic players love sweet Magic cards! Jace, the Mind Sculptor! Yay! Everyone is happy!

Well, unfortunately, it’s a bit more complicated than that.

The Good – Easier Access!

As a concept, Eternal Masters is awesome. Magic has been around for 25 years and has such a rich history it’s almost unbelievable. Many classic cards, from Balance to Vampiric Tutor, have storied pasts that reach from dingy lunchroom tables all the way to Pro Tour greatness. The issue is that the game has grown so much over those 25 years that many of these cards are scarce and very difficult to obtain.

Chain Lightning is a $12 common! Wasteland is a $60 uncommon! Mana Crypt was only available as a promotional printing!

These sorts of prices make the history of the game feel distant and out of reach to more recent players and make playing Eternal formats like Legacy or Commander very cost-prohibitive. The collectability of the game is important, but not at the expense of being able to actually play the game. Wizards has proven with both their Modern Masters releases that they have learned their lessons from the original Chronicles and can release reprint-based sets in the proper amounts to stimulate formats without tanking the value of cards.

Now the player who is looking for that Vampiric Tutor to finish their Cube has a much better chance of getting one. The same goes for the player who needs a Dack Fayden for their Keranos, God of Storms Commander deck, or the player who needs Jace, the Mind Sculptor for their Legacy Miracles deck. Players want to play, and while collecting is a fun part of the game, these players now have the option of picking up newer, vanilla versions of the cards so they can play with them.

It may not be a Judge foil Force of Will, but it will counter their Infernal Tutor all the same.

The Good – Limited!

Everyone loves to Cube, and both Modern Masters and Vintage Masters provided insanely fun Draft formats that were halfway between a Cube draft and a normal set draft. There are tons of fun archetypes to draft and nothing beats getting to draft super-powerful cards like Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Toxic Deluge.

Even at this early point in the spoiler, it’s easy to see that Eternal Masters is going to be just as enjoyable, with solid themes and many draftable archetypes. Wizards of the Coast hit it out of the part with the Limited formats for both Modern Masters and Vintage Masters, and I expect nothing less for Eternal Masters. It’s a bit unfortunate that, due to high pack prices, drafting will be a bit expensive, but the value you get from the cards more than makes up for it.

There’s really no downside here; drafting this set is going to be a blast and I can’t wait to do it.

The Bad – Legacy and Vintage Will Become More Expensive

Wait, wasn’t a previous point how it was great that cards will be more accessible? More Force of Wills! More Wastelands! This is great!

Sure… but there’s a pretty big issue.

What about the cards not in Eternal Masters?

Cards like Underground Sea and Gaea’s Cradle are already exorbitantly expensive, and we’re not talking about Alpha/Beta or “pimped-out” versions. The run-of-the-mill, cheapest-possible, lightly played versions of cards like Underground Sea and Gaea’s Cradle approach almost $1,000 for a playset; these are the cards that make owning a Legacy deck almost as expensive as owning a car.

And with the release of Eternal Masters, these cards aren’t getting any cheaper.

Unfortunately, it’s quite the opposite.

Within a week of Eternal Masters being announced on February 15th earlier this year, the average price for Underground Sea on the open market jumped from about $260 to about $340, where it has stayed ever since. That’s an $80 increase, and the set hasn’t even made Legacy and Vintage more accessible yet. What’s going to happen when Eternal Masters drives more interest into Legacy and Vintage, even further increasing the demand for these hard-to-get cards?

Sure, you may be able to get your Force of Wills for $20 each, but can you afford $500 Underground Seas?

Full disclosure— I’m no Magic finance expert (though Chas Andres is). While the final result a few years down the line of this push/pull may not actually make Legacy mathematically more expensive than it is now, it does create a real scarcity problem. Supply-and-demand dictates prices, but it may get to a point where it’s just hard to actually find people willing to part with their dual lands if you want to get into Legacy or Vintage.

Which brings us to the real problem…

The Ugly – The Reserved List

And when I say “ugly,” I really mean it in the worst way possible.

The reason that cards like Underground Sea and Gaea’s Cradle won’t be in Eternal Masters is because of the Reserved List. For the unfamiliar, the Reserved List is a list of cards that Wizards of the Coast promised never to reprint in an effort to build good faith in the collectability of the game. As such, the game has vastly outgrown these cards to the point where they are so rare that they command such outrageous prices.

While officially billed as a “policy,” the Reserved List is really nothing more than a promise to Magic players that can be altered at any time. They have altered it numerous times in the past, either to remove a few cards here or there or to allow for the printing of Reserved List cards as foil promos. I’m also no lawyer, but I don’t think there is anything legally binding Wizards of the Coast to keeping to this policy that they themselves created about their own product. While some sort of class action lawsuit may be possible against Wizards if they were to alter or abandon the policy, I doubt it would be successful.

Regardless, the Reserved List is a stain on what would be a really fun and nostalgic set release with Eternal Masters.

With previous sets like Modern Masters, Wizards has shown that it is capable of doing a proper reprint set without doing irrevocable damage to the secondary market. Clearly an amount of collectability is necessary for the game to survive. Printing Force of Will at common would be an unmitigated disaster and destroy any financial faith that players have in the game, but Wizards of the Coast has been doing this for a quarter of a century. They know what they need to do to maintain the collectability of the game but also to approach a balance between people being able to play while still maintaining proper card values.

If anything, they’ve erred on the side of being far too careful. Tarmogoyf has gone nowhere but up in price, and that was even after being reprinted in both Modern Masters sets!

I suppose it is still possible that Wizards could do something similar to the Zendikar Expeditions for the huge Reserved List cards like dual lands in Eternal Masters, making it so you could open a foil textless dual at an extremely rare rarity, but that doesn’t seem likely.

I’m sure Eternal Masters will be a blast to draft, and it will be great to have less expensive versions of awesome Casual and Cube cards. But the sad fact is that for all those players who love Legacy and Vintage and are hoping for Eternal Masters to breathe new life into their formats, I fear that it is not going to have the desired effect.

We can only hope that when it is time for Eternal Masters II, Wizards will be able to ignore or make obsolete the Reserved List.

Challenge Thursday

Last week we had a challenge I had been looking forward to since the first time it was on the ballot. The challenge was “Play Legacy with only Modern-printed cards,” and it was courtesy of @Workshops94. Remembering the glory days of Affinity, when the deck had actual affinity cards in it, I built this:

The deck was an absolute blast and I went 6-4 over the course of two Leagues, losing to Miracles three times and Burn once. Miracles feels almost unbeatable given how the deck was built, but I had some pretty representative wins against some Delver of Secrets decks.

But once again, a new week, a new challenge.

As always, the poll will end at 6:00pm Eastern time, which will give me one hour to construct my deck. Then you can tune in at 7:00pm for the start of the stream. I will be playing an entire League with the challenge deck, tweaking it a bit, and then playing another League right after.

How many wins can I get? Cast your vote and tune in to my stream at 7:00pm to see how it goes!