What a weekend. For the first time in more than two decades, a brand-new Magic set was dropped on us without a single preview or leak. Also, there was a Mythic Championship. And another round of Pioneer innovation and buyouts. And a lot of panic about Legacy.
Yeah, we’re gonna need to talk about a lot of different things today, so let’s get started!
Mystery Boosters, Explained
Wizards of the Coast somehow managed to keep the contents of their Mystery Boosters completely unknown until the first Sealed event at Mythic Championship VI. This was pretty awesome for the folks who got to experience the event live in Richmond. Unfortunately, it led to a muddle of rumors and misinformation on social media as those of us who weren’t on-site struggled to figure out what the heck this set actually contained.
Since I’m still seeing lots of people confused about the contents of the Mystery Boosters, I figured I’d start this section by clarifying what this set actually is. WotC is going to give us more details later today, after this article goes up, but we know more of the important stuff already.
First, we know that each pack contains two commons or uncommons of each color, a multicolored common or uncommon, an artifact or land common or uncommon, a pre-Magic 2015 card (can be any rarity), a Magic 2015-forward rare or mythic rare, and a playtest card.
The playtest cards are exclusive to the convention-edition booster packs and will not be available in stores. You’ll have to travel to a MagicFest in order to get them. We do not currently know what will replace this card in non-Convention Mystery Boosters. Perhaps something silver-bordered, or perhaps it’ll just turn into a foil slot. WotC will be announcing this today, and I’ll cover it in greater detail next week.
Cool, one of the few playtest cards I designed for Mystery Booster got opened on stream! pic.twitter.com/Xv1TnNdW0G
Despite the fact that each Mystery Booster card has its original set expansion symbol, they have all been freshly printed as part of the Mystery Booster print run. You can tell a Mystery Booster card apart from its original printing based on the little planeswalker symbol in the bottom-left. That sound you hear is the collective groan of everyone whose job it is to sort cards for a living.
We know that the overall size of the Mystery Booster set is greater than 1,000 but less than 2,000. WotC will be giving us the full set list later today, though I wouldn’t be surprised if the card list changes over time. They might simply shuffle cards in and out of Mystery Boosters over the years to keep people drafting the set at conventions, turning it into the tabletop version of MTGO treasure chests. This is just speculation, though – it’s also possible that WotC will discontinue the product after the last currently-scheduled Mystery Booster event in April 2020. As with most things, it’ll probably depend on how popular the Mystery Boosters end up being.
Are Mystery Boosters Worth the Money?
On Twitter, the general sentiment surrounding the Mystery Boosters over the weekend was that they were a big old scam. Folks complained that they were mostly full of bulk rares and draft chaff. I saw it called referred to as “Walmart Repack Masters” in more than a few places. Which is funny, but is it actually true?
— Robbie (@DoubleMinorityy) November 7, 2019
I could have simply waited until the full Mystery Booster set list was announced before trying to answer this question, but who wants to wait that long? Instead, I jumped on Reddit and spent more time than I probably should have mining lists, spreadsheets, and images Ultimately, I found proof of 100 rares and mythic rares – not quite twice as many as a normal set.
I have no idea what percentage of the rares and mythics in the set this figure represents. As a point of comparison, Throne of Eldraine has a total of 269 unique cards, 48 of which are rares or mythic rares. That’s roughly 18% of the total set. If we use 1,400 as our baseline estimate for the non-playtest size of the Mystery Booster set, 18% of that figure would give us a whopping 252 rares and mythics.
Could there really be another 150-ish cards out there that aren’t on my list? Perhaps, but I doubt it’s quite that many. Regardless, we’ll find out once WotC posts the whole list. For now, I have a partial list of the set’s rares and mythics, which I’m going to use in my analysis today. I’ll let you know in next week’s article whether my feelings on the set have changed based on the additional cards that we learn about between now and then.
So! Of the 100 Mystery Booster rares we know about, there are fourteen with a value of at least $20:
Looking at this stack of cards, it’s clear why most of the competitive Magic players on my Twitter feed were disappointed by the initial reveal of the Mystery Boosters. Kolaghan’s Command and Meddling Mage are solid Modern staples, but the rest of these cards are expensive almost entirely due to casual and Commander play. In fact, I bet very few of you knew that all of these cards were retailing for $20+ these days. Heck, Bloom Tender is up to $55, Teferi’s Protection is a whopping $50, and even Selvala, Heart of the Wilds is $40. Mana Crypt is obviously the best pull of the lot at $200, but there’s still plenty of value in the set beyond that.
Based on the 100 cards I was able to track, you have about a 50% shot of getting a Mystery Booster rare that’s worth at least $6. 35% of the cards are worth at least $10, and 30% are currently worth less than $3. The mean price for cards on my list of rares? A solid $11. And that doesn’t count commons, uncommons, or playtest cards.
And let’s talk about the commons and uncommons, because holy mackerel are they awesome. I know that the Mystery Booster set list is huge, but there are better commons and uncommons in these packs than there are in any two Masters sets put together. Here’s a list of the commons and uncommons I could find that retail for at least $3, and I guarantee you there are more that I’m missing:
- Demonic Tutor – $28
- Rhystic Study – $23
- Mishra’s Bauble – $18
- Aura Shards – $17
- Herald’s Horn – $16
- Manamorphose – $16
- Ancient Ziggurat – $10
- Chromatic Star – $9
- Lotus Petal – $9
- Lightning Greaves – $7
- Fatal Push – $6
- Field of Ruin – $5
- Skullclamp – $5
- Lightning Bolt – $4
- Mother of Runes – $4
- Thopter Foundry – $4
- Thran Dynamo – $4
- Ancient Stirrings – $3
This is an absurd list, headlined by Demonic Tutor at uncommon, which is unreal. I have no idea what your odds are of opening one of these cards since the set is so large, but the fact that you have a shot at pulling something valuable in almost every slot in your Mystery Booster is pretty cool.
So, are the Mystery Boosters worth it? It’s still hard to say. For one thing, we don’t know how many rares and mythics I’m missing from my list, nor how good the missing cards are. It’s quite possible that I’ve over-sampled the good cards somewhat, since anyone who opens a Mana Crypt is going to tweet about it right away while someone who opens a Wayfaring Temple is going to be a lot less enthused about sharing their pull. The final list could bring the EV down significantly.
— Dan Perruzzi (@DanIAm314) November 7, 2019
It’s also not clear how evenly distributed the cards on that list actually are. Lotus Petal and Rhys the Redeemed are actually competing for space in the “pre-Magic 2015” slot, not the rare slot or any of the C/U slots. And as far as the rare and mythic slot goes, I have no idea if rarity matters. It’s possible that the mythics are half as scarce as the rares (which would lower the overall pack EV), but it’s also possible that they’re all dumped onto the same sheet with no regard to scarcity.
Lastly, the eventual value of the Mystery Boosters is going to depend an awful lot on how big the set is as well as how big a print run it gets. As we learned from sets like Iconic Masters, low-supply casual cards often see massive price drops from reprints while high-demand tournament cards do not. It’ll be hard for this set to cause the price of Kolaghan’s Command or Collective Brutality to drop far (if at all), but a wide print run would certainly do a number on Rhys the Redeemed and Selvala, Heart of the Wilds. WotC seems to be trying to cut through the Gordian knot of blowing through this reprint equity by increasing the size of this set as well as keeping its supply low. We’ll see if it works or not.
My guess is that the existence of the Mystery Boosters will cause these high-profile Commander cards to drop in price by 20-30%, but that’s predicated on the set having at least 150 rares and a lack of distribution to big box stores. If the number of rares is smaller than we think, or distribution is wider, you can expect to see drops closer to 50%. Regardless, I do expect prices to drop due to this set; just not nearly as much as they would be by a normal Masters set.
Ultimately, drafting Mystery Boosters at MagicFests and Mythic Championships seems like a fine value proposition to me. It’s not a slam-dunk free money proposition like Modern Masters 2013 was back in the day, but it’s far from the money incinerator that the saltier people on Twitter and Reddit seem to think it is. If the set seems fun to you, draft it. If not, well, most of the cards that’ll drop in price are related to Commander anyway, so you can probably safely ignore it.
But What About Those Playtest Cards?
Silver-bordered cards are rarely worth much. There’s not a single mythic rare in Unstable that sells for more than $3 right now, and very few rares in that set are above bulk. This isn’t because people don’t like goofy cards, though – it’s because silver-bordered cards aren’t legal in Commander. As a result, the only places you can play cards like Everythingamajig are in Cube, kitchen table casual, or in “eh, it’s fine, we’re all friends here” Commander play-groups.
But the playtest cards don’t have silver borders! That means it’s theoretically possible that they could be made Commander-legal, which would up their value and desirability considerably.
I say “theoretically” because it’s almost certainly not going to happen. Too many of the playtest cards are overpowered or just plain miserable to play against unless you’re ready for a game full of nonsense. If anything, the playtest cards are more degenerate and less Commander-ready than almost everything in Unstable. If that set isn’t Commander-legal, this one won’t be, either.
This was the first card ever opened from a Mystery Booster.
— Riley Knight (@rileyquarytower) November 7, 2019
Does that mean that these cards are destined for the bulk bin? Not quite. The “we’re all friends here” Commander play-groups (my favorite kind, incidentally) are going to allow folks to play some of these cards, and others will simply be in demand because they’re cool and powerful. If they were getting a wide release in stores like Unstable, I’d predict a ceiling of about $5 for the best cards with most of them ending up at $0.25. But as convention exclusives, supply is going to be low enough to keep the prices fairly high, at least for a while.
Which cards will hold the most value? Well, if we use Unstable as a benchmark, it seems like people are mostly interested in splashy planeswalkers like Urza, Academy Headmaster and cards that are actually good in Commander decks like Ineffable Blessing, Everythingamajig, and Very Cryptic Command.
I don’t have access to all the playtest cards yet, but I can point out a few that I think will be sought-after in the future:
- Bone Rattler. I can easily imagine this one catching in on casual Dredge/Reanimation decks. It’s incredibly powerful, but probably not so much that people would mind if you played with it.
- Five Kids in a Trenchcoat. Fun to build around, not overpowered in a singleton environment, and the flavor here is spot-on. Add Vincent Adultman to your Bojack Horseman theme deck!
- High Troller. Perfect for anyone building a chaos deck where the win condition is “I dunno, everyone concedes in frustration?”
- How To Keep An Izzet Mage Busy. This might actually be the most powerful playtest card in the set?
- Kaya, Ghost Haunter. It’s a planeswalker! And who doesn’t love ghosts and/or Kaya?
- Khod, Etlan Shiis Envoy. Casual tribal deck-builders are going to want this one.
- Mana Abundance. Perfect for group hug decks in Commander.
- Maro’s Gone Nuts. This would be a $50 card if it were legal in Commander.
- Mirrored Lotus. It’s a Lotus!
- One with Death. The meme potential here is great, and kitchen table folks are going to do their best to find clever ways of forcing their opponent to cast this card.
- Sarah’s Wings. This one’s going in my Angel deck and nobody can stop me.
- Seek Bolas’s Counsel. Incredible art, cool flavor, perfect for Bolas-themed decks.
- Slivdrazi Monstrosity. Thank goodness people can’t actually put this one in their Sliver-themed Commander decks.
- Sliv-Mizzet, Hivemind. Yeah, every casual Sliver player you’ve ever met is going to want a copy of these two cards regardless.
- Tibalt the Chaotic. Amazing meme potential, and deceptively powerful.
- Transcantation. I love everything about this card.
- Truth or Dare. For the casual mill crew.
- Vazal, the Compleat. Folks are going to make Vazal their commander regardless of whether or not the Rules Committee lets them.
Essentially, what you’re looking for are cards that are more than just a single joke; they have to do something interesting on the battlefield, or open up the game in some new way. Cards that do this while interacting well with mechanics or themes that are already popular (like Slivdrazi Monstrosity) are going to be wildly sought-after in certain casual circles.
As of now, it’s hard to say what these cards will end up being worth. Sliv-Mizzet, Hivemind has sold for $100 a couple of times on eBay so far, and a few of the others have sold between $5 (You’re In Command) and $75 (Khod) with most sellers talking a best offer price that is invisible to the casual observer. My guess is that retail prices will initially range between $5 and $80, with a few key cards ranging higher than that and a lot of the chaff eventually settling into the $2 range.
If you want these cards, the smart money is to wait until next spring. Hype will die down a bit, and the supply will only increase with each passing MagicFest. The exception to this rule is if you think you’ve identified one of the better playtest cards despite the fact that its initial retail price is low. It’s possible that several of these cards will prove to be sleeper hits in casual circles, and the exclusivity will drive the price far higher than it seems like it should go. This is a pretty solid spec opportunity for folks who feel like they’re dialed in to the casual community, and I’ll give you some picks myself once Star City Games puts these cards on sale.
Mythic Championship Finance
Unfortunately, you can almost entirely ignore Mythic Championship VI from a Magic finance perspective. The writing was on the wall before the event even began, but the fact that 69% of all Day 1 decks contained Oko, Thief of Crowns only cemented the fact that Standard’s most powerful planeswalker is going to be banned in a couple of days. It doesn’t help that the percentage of Oko decks actually rose on Day 2 despite the fact that everybody in Richmond knew that their deck had to beat Oko if it wanted to contend.
I wish it were useful to spend time analyzing the non-Oko decks, looking for clues on what the metagame might adapt to in a post-Oko world, but I’m not sure how much good it’ll do us. WotC’s official coverage team touted the fact that Gruul Adventure did quite well against Oko on Day 1, but how many people are going to be buying those cards and sleeving them up now that we know Oko’s days are numbered? I sure won’t be.
Case in point, Embercleave is the key mythic rare in Gruul Adventure. If people were running out to buy this deck, it would be the first card to spike. Instead, Embercleave has dropped about a buck over the past few days and is still easily available at $12. Granted, I’m writing this paragraph on Saturday and it’s possible that some sort of wild Top 8 shenanigans will cause Embercleave to spike, but I highly doubt it. Very few people are buying into Standard right now; not with Pioneer to brew for and bannings on the horizon.
As for those bannings, at this point I wouldn’t be surprised if Oko, Thief of Crowns isn’t alone. WotC might decide to nuke the entire Food engine from orbit, including cards like Gilded Goose, Once Upon a Time, and Nissa, Who Shakes the World as well as the powerful planeswalker. Of course, the potential for a banning is already mostly priced into these cards, and they see enough play in Pioneer (and Modern in some cases) that I wouldn’t panic-sell unless you can get a good enough price. Just be aware that when WotC picks up their ban-hammer, they’ll probably take a pretty aggressive swing.
The Future of Your Legacy Staples
I really didn’t want to wade into this particular mire, but with the SCG Tour moving toward Pioneer over Legacy in 2020, I’ve had a lot of people messaging me and asking me what to do with their Legacy collections. Might this be the end of Legacy for good?
If you’re concerned, I’d suggest reading what Ben Bleiweiss wrote about this issue on Reddit last week. He’s been pretty upfront about this whole thing, and there’s nothing in his statement that I disagree with. WotC isn’t a big fan of Legacy because the format is so inaccessible, and they can’t fix things with reprints due to the Reserved List. The less attention WotC pays to a format, the fewer people play it, and at this point it’s clear that Legacy is a lot more niche than Standard, Pioneer, or Modern. Ultimately, it doesn’t make much sense for the SCG Tour to support a niche format over a popular one.
I love Legacy – it’s one of my favorite ways to play Magic – and it’s worth noting that there vibrant pockets of Legacy fans all over the world, many of whom have regular tournaments. Legacy will live on, and this announcement is less a death knell and more just one more step in a long staircase. At this point, Legacy has a lot more in common with Vintage and Old School than it does with Modern, but if we’re being honest, that’s been true for years now. The SCG Tour announcement will move the needle a bit, but that’s due more to the reaction of folks online than to the action itself.
As for the value of your Legacy staples, Ben is correct that your dual lands are primarily expensive due to Commander demand. He’s also right when he says that this has been true for years. Other Reserved List cards are going to remain expensive because of collector value and scarcity as well as casual play – after all, it’s not like WotC is ever going to reprint them, so they’re good as gold for most long-time collectors, regardless of tournament playability. You can panic-sell if you want, but at some point they’ll all spike again and you may regret selling out.
There just aren’t that many Legacy cards that are only expensive because of Legacy. Most of them are also good in Modern, or they’re on the Reserved List, or they’re excellent in Commander. Heck, nearly all the cards that don’t meet any of these criteria have tanked in price already thanks to reprints in sets like Eternal Masters. “Sell your Entomb” would have been smart advice before Eternal Masters, but it’s not very useful now.
If you can find a Legacy staple in your collection that’s not on the Reserved List and also isn’t very good in either Commander or Modern, you might want to sell it now. Otherwise, I’d hold. Reserved List cards will inevitably spike again, and the Modern and Commander staples are valuable for other, more important reasons. Beyond that, get involved in your local Legacy community if you care about the format and want to see it survive. Most of the Legacy players I know are truly kind and welcoming people. I’m sure they’d love more opportunities to play their favorite format.
This Week’s Trends
In Standard, Oko dropped another $10 or so as folks prepare for the banning to come. Questing Beast is also down a couple bucks, though I suspect it’ll still have a top-tier home in the post-Oko metagame. I’m sure I’ll have a lot more to say about that once WotC finally makes their move, but for now I’m just trying to stay as far away from Standard speculation as I can.
Things were more interesting over in Pioneer, where all sorts of cards are still surging in price. Nissa, Voice of Zendikar jumped from $5 up to $13 thanks to the play it sees in decks like Mono-Green Devotion (post-ban) and Hardened Scales. Izzet Phoenix staples like Arclight Phoenix and Thing in the Ice are also up quite a bit now that the deck has taken over from Four-Color Copy Cat as the most popular build in the format. Sphinx’s Revelation also more than doubled in price this week as Azorius Control begins to establish itself in Pioneer.
If you want to get in ahead of the curve, it’s worth taking a look at the Pioneer cards that are spiking on Magic Online but haven’t really moved much in paper Magic yet. Online, both Field of the Dead and Nexus of Fate jumped more than ten tickets last week as Bant Nexus and Bant Ramp continue to gain traction in Pioneer. Sphinx’s Revelation also sees play in Bant Ramp, which is quickly emerging as a force to be reckoned with. I’m still incredibly skeptical about investing in any sort of combo deck with WotC swinging the Pioneer ban-hammer every single Monday, but if you notice these cards rallying in price over the next few weeks, this is why.