Predicting Iconic Masters

We have seen lots of Masters sets at this point, but we haven’t seen anything like Iconic Masters! What in the world is in this thing? And what does it mean for Modern, Legacy, and even Commander? Chas Andres goes to work!

At this point, predicting the contents of any given Modern Masters set is relatively simple. Three of them have been released already, and clear patterns have emerged. We’re still at least a year away from the next iteration Modern Masters, but I can probably name at least a third of the cards it’ll contain already. We’ll have ample opportunity to craft those predictions and act on them long before the start of preview season in, like, 2019.

But what the heck is Iconic Masters? Who is its target audience? What sorts of cards will it have? Is it just a bunch of casual stuff, or could it have some big money reprints? What should we sell before it’s released, and what staples are almost certainly safe from being reprinted?

I’ll be honest—we don’t know a lot about Iconic Masters right now, so I’ll be making some leaps of logic in this article that might prove laughable in hindsight. That said, I do think that it’s useful to try and figure out what kind of set Iconic Masters is going to be even if the task is a little bit obtuse. Cards that are reprinted in Masters sets often lose at least half of their value, so if you can figure out which of your cards to move on from before the fall, you’re going to be in a much better position than someone who did nothing.

Let’s start by going over everything we know so far:

There will be no preview season for Iconic Masters. Instead, the entire set will be revealed during a prerelease at HASCON on the weekend of September 8-10.

Yeah, so HASCON is going to be a really interesting weekend in Magic finance. I suspect there will be some sort of event livestream going as well as floor reports and rumors flooding social media with data. If you’re hoping to quick-sell your copies of the cards that are reprinted in Iconic Masters, you’re going to have to sift through what is likely to be a chaotic and misinformation-filled couple of hours. That makes it even more important for us to do a good job predicting what might show up so that we can get ahead of the masses.

Iconic Masters will only contain reprinted cards.

There’s a rumor going around that Iconic Masters might break with the –Masters suffix tradition and include some number of new cards. I suspect the seed of the idea was due to the large number of designers that were formally credited on the set. Mark Rosewater has disproven this rumor directly, though, so it’s likely that the overly long designers’ list is either due to a corporate decision to credit more of the cards’ original designers or some new approach to building a reprint set that involved a committee-style process. Expect every card in the set to be a reprint.

Iconic Masters will not include any cards on the Reserved List.

Thank goodness this line of speculation was put to bed early. Otherwise, there would have been a fever pitch of excitement followed by a swell of disappointment once the set was actually revealed.

I still see some people questioning whether WotC will abolish the Reserved List between now and the release of Iconic Masters, thereby abiding the letter of their statement (“Iconic Masters doesn’t technically have any Reserved List cards because the Reserved List is gone!”) while skirting the intent. That doesn’t make sense, though. If Iconic Masters did have Reserved List cards, WotC staff members would be eager to stoke that speculation all summer long, right? In this case, taking WotC at their word is the only thing that makes sense.

According to the release copy, “the set will bring an array of Angels, Sphinxes, Demons, Dragons, and Hydras alongside some of our favorite memorable spells over the game’s entire history.”

Alright, cool, some actual information we can run with! Let’s go through each of these tribes one at a time and see if we can come up with some potential inclusions:


I figured there would be a few more expensive casual Angels, but From the Vault: Angels tanked most of their prices. Exalted Angel, Baneslayer Angel, Platinum Angel, and Akroma, Angel of Wrath feel pretty iconic to me, but you aren’t going to be very happy opening any of them in a $10 booster pack. Avacyn, Angel of Hope is probably the best mix of financial value and iconic, so I suspect we’ll be seeing her in one of white’s mythic slots.


There are very few exciting choices here. Sphinx of the Steel Wind and Sharuum the Hegemon are probably the two most iconic Sphinxes, but neither is a thrilling pull. Consecrated Sphinx is pretty close to a slam-dunk inclusion, though, so I’d sell your copies this summer.


Griselbrand would have been a sweet pull before Modern Masters 2017, but I doubt we’ll see it again so soon. Lord of the Pit is about as iconic as it gets, and it’ll be included for sure…not that you’ll be happy to open it, of course. Ob Nixilis, the Fallen is probably the most expensive Demon that we might actually see, and it’s still lower than the MSRP of an Iconic Masters booster pack.


In terms of expected value, my biggest worry here is that the best Dragons are either off-color (Kokusho, the Evening Star; Skithiryx, the Blight Dragon) or multicolored (Dragon Broodmother; Karrthus, Tyrant of Jund). We might see some of those cards anyway, but the fact that WotC teased five tribes—one for each color—makes me think that the Dragons we’re getting will be primarily red. And if Iconic Masters does go off-color, it might be for the Champions of Kamigawa, Invasion, or Legends cycle. Shivan Dragon will show up, though, and I expect we’ll see some iteration of Nicol Bolas (the planeswalker is my bet). Balefire Dragon feels like a strong possibility as well.

Zodiac Dragon is the most interesting Dragon that WotC could include, though it might not remain that way once it becomes easily available. It’s $80 right now (the English printing is worth $300), but that’s entirely due to scarcity. If Zodiac Dragon actually showed up in Iconic Masters, it’d probably end up below $5. The Portal: Three Kingdoms version would hold most of its value—again, scarcity is key here—but finding a buyer would prove more difficult as it wouldn’t be quite as much of a conversation piece. If you have an extra Zodiac Dragon (does anyone?), you might want to sell it this summer.


There’s not a lot of value here, either. Khalni Hydra is the only semi-exciting inclusion, and that’s another casual card that will drop below $10 once there’s even the hint of a reprint. Progenitus is certainly iconic enough, but again, I wouldn’t be surprised if we only see green Hydras show up in Iconic Masters.

Woof. We’re not exactly off to a gangbusters start, are we? Let’s look a bit deeper and see if we can figure out what else might show up.

The word “iconic” might be our biggest hint at what else the set will contain.

Modern Masters was a set full of Modern cards and aimed at Modern players. Eternal Masters was a set full of Legacy and Vintage cards aimed at Legacy and Vintage players. By that logic, then, Iconic Masters will be a set full of iconic cards aimed at…who? In order to figure that out, let’s take a closer look at what the word “iconic” actually means.

In the film classes I teach, once of the concepts we cover is genre iconography. To put it simply, each genre has a number of icons (objects, settings, characters, etc.) that the viewer strongly associates with that genre. For example, you know you’re watching a western when you see ten-gallon hats, six-guns, spurs, swinging saloon doors, etc. These icons aren’t in every western, and they can exist in films that aren’t westerns, but if you add them up they become emblematic of that specific genre. WotC is very familiar with this line of thinking, and they use it all the time in their top-down design. We know that Innistrad is a horror world in large part because it uses all of the iconography that we associate with that genre.

Iconic Masters, then, should contain all the cards that we most heavily associate with the game of Magic. This may seem obvious, but it’s actually an interesting question that is going to vary wildly from player to player. Consider:

Frank played Magic from 1994 to 1998, and only casually. For him, the most iconic cards are Serra Angel, Shivan Dragon, Baron Sengir, Craw Wurm, and Hypnotic Specter.

Sue played a lot of Standard from 2002 to 2005. To her, the most iconic cards are Call of the Herd, Psychatog, Arcbound Ravager, Umezawa’s Jitte, and Meloku, the Clouded Mirror.

Griffin has spent the last ten years playing Legacy. To him, the most iconic cards are Sensei’s Divining Top, Delver of Secrets, Entomb, Tendrils of Agony, and Show and Tell.

Emily started playing Magic about five years ago and goes to FNM every week. To her, the most iconic cards are Siege Rhino, Courser of Kruphix, Rally the Ancestors, Gideon, Ally of Zendikar, and Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy.

Steven buys a couple booster packs of every set and sometimes splurges on one of those display counter Starter decks, especially when there’s a really cool creature on the cover. To him, the most iconic cards are Polukranos, World Eater; Sun Titan; Demon of Death’s Gate; Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker; and Dragonmaster Outcast.

To put this another way, truly iconic cards have to fit into one of the following categories:

  1. Cards that defined a Standard format.

  2. Cards that were played for years in Eternal formats.

  3. Cards that were powerful and beloved in the very early days of Magic.

  4. Memorably splashy casual cards.

Financially, each of these four categories come with some pretty major warts.

First, I highly doubt that Iconic Masters will have any cards from the current Standard format. That would be a major break from policy, and it would hurt the sales of sets that are still in print. Beyond that, cards that define Standard (but don’t find a home in Legacy or Modern) tend to be fairly cheap and plentiful. Courser of Kruphix is $5. Psychatog is $0.49. Urza’s Rage is $0.59. These are not cards you want to open in a $10 booster pack.

Our second subset of cards is the most promising, but it steps on the toes of both Modern Masters and Eternal Masters. Cards like Snapcaster Mage and Tarmogoyf are among the most iconic in the history of the game, but will be actually see them printed twice in the same calendar year?

The best cards from 1993 through 1996 are either completely worthless unless you have an Alpha or Beta copy or on the Reserved List. We’re not getting Volcanic Island or Mox Jet, and very few players are going to care very much about Dark Ritual, Lightning Bolt, Hypnotic Specter, or Serra Angel.

The last category is where I suspect Iconic Masters will draw most of its cards from. Based on the Dragons, Angels, Hydras, Sphinxes, Demons tease, it seems likely that the set will have a strong casual bend. But while there are a few incredibly valuable casual cards, this is not a very exciting pool of potential reprints overall. A lot of the most iconic casual cards have been reprinted a few times already, and it takes a lot longer for these spells to bounce back than Modern or Legacy staples. We’re going to have to hope for some incredibly heavy hitters here if we want these boosters to be worth buying.

This brings us to a very interesting question, though:

How likely is it that Iconic Masters is just marketing-speak for “Casual Masters”?

This is a question that I’ve been asking myself for the past couple of days, and the theory is starting to grow on me. I can certainly imagining WotC wanting to develop a Casual Masters set after the success of Modern Masters, and it’s likely that the marketing team demanded a new name. Not only would the name Casual Masters turn off a lot of the established competitive player base, but the word “casual” is slightly derogatory—it’s likely that many players that you or I might consider casual do not consider themselves to be casual. By changing the name, the set will find a wider audience among a broader portion of the player base. If my theory is correct, the set will contain very few Modern or Legacy staples but will instead focus almost entirely on cards that are good in casual play.

Okay, so what are the most expensive casual cards that might be reprinted in Iconic Masters?

Doubling Season is the big one. It’s powerful, iconic, and absolutely due for another go-round. I’d be surprised if we don’t see it here. Here are a couple of other possibilities, all with current retail prices of $10 or more:

I wouldn’t be surprised if we see some exciting competitive cards as well. WotC is going to want the $10/pack price tag to seem worth it, and they’re going to want to give competitive players a reason to splurge for a box or two. Even though we just saw Tarmogoyf in Modern Masters 2017, can you really print a set of iconic cards without including it? For the same reason, I wouldn’t be shocked if we get Force of Will and Wasteland again. This might also be a good chance for them to finally reprint Rishadan Port.

The real question, then, is how WotC will approach making these packs feel worth their $9.99 MSRP. We know that the set is going to have Angels, Dragons, Hydras, etc. that aren’t likely to be very exciting pulls. So how will they solve this problem? Perhaps they won’t, and Iconic Masters will collect dust on store shelves for years. Perhaps they’ll load it up with expensive casual cards like Bribery and Doubling Season. Or maybe they’ll make Iconic Masters a feast-or-famine lottery and hope that a couple of S-tier competitive mythics will make up for the fact that most of the packs will have Shivan Dragons and such.

All of these scenarios feel viable to me, though I bet they’ll go with a combination of #2 and #3. We’ll get a few exciting casual reprints—cards like Consecrated Sphinx; Avacyn, Angel of Hope; Glimpse the Unthinkable; and Bribery. There were also be a few iconic tournament cards—Tarmogoyf, Force of Will, and Emrakul, the Aeons Torn seem especially likely. Beyond that, I suspect it’ll be a lot of interesting but not especially valuable stuff like Serra Angel with impressive new art, Birds of Paradise, etc. If the print run is low enough, some of these cards might be intriguing long-term specs. For now, though, all we can do is wait and see.

This Week’s Trends

As expected, there was some major momentum in Standard following the results of last week’s SCG Tour stop in Atlanta. Zombie deck staples were up big, with Relentless Dead, Cryptbreaker, Diregraf Colossus, Dread Wanderer, and Plague Belcher all up between 20% and 200%.

Control cards surged as well, with Torrential Gearhulk, Pull From Tomorrow, Commit, Sweltering Suns, and Censor all gaining value. Fatal Push is approaching $10, Cut broke $3, and Never doubled in price. Aetherworks Marvel and Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger are on the move as well.

Will this surge continue? You bet. A large number of Standard players were turned off by the metagame over the past few months, so the overall price index was unusually low. Now that people are excited about the format again, prices are rising. Get your staples now, because this bull market should continue for the next couple of weeks at least.

Unified Will was the biggest winner in Modern. It’s better than Remand in a lot of the decks that are running counters right now, so the spike feels fairly legitimate to me. Go raid your bulk (and your LGS) for spare copies. Shining Shoal also spiked this week, but I doubt that one will stick. I guess Hatebears uses it out of the sideboard against Death’s Shadow? Yeah, this one feels like an artificial buyout to me.

Also up this week: Flash. I think this is a result of the Protean Hulk unbanning in Commander, but two-card combos that don’t instantly win the game aren’t how most Commander players like to brew. I’m expecting this one to fall back off.

Lastly, Seshiro the Anointed and Blowfly Infestation were the biggest casual gainers. Seshiro had already started to spike last weekend, and Blowfly Infestation was my pick for the next card to surge once I realized how excited Commander players were about Hapatra, Vizier of Poisons. These cards will probably dip a bit as speculation copies hit the market, but a good portion of the demand is legitimate.

Magic Online is trying to emphasize 1v1 Commander, which makes a good bit of sense. The multiplayer interface on MTGO is especially awful, and a lot of the social stuff that makes multiplayer Commander good is missing online anyhow. If their gambit works, we might see an uptick in the price of Commander staples online. Many of the format’s best cards have been incredibly cheap forever, and anyone with a large MTGO collection should consider buying in now.

Interestingly enough, the announcement was also met with a new Commander banned list. The list is meant for 1v1 play, but it’s going to apply to all games of Commander online. WotC has said that they don’t intend this list to replace the community-managed paper Commander banned list, but it’s possible that WotC’s efforts will either influence the paper list or ultimately replace it. With that said, let’s take a look at all of the differences between them:

Banned in Paper & Online

No surprises here. All of these cards are very good in both multiplayer and single-player Commander. They’re on this list for a reason.

Banned in Paper, Legal Online

This list is a good deal more interesting, as it speaks to cards that might be under consideration for a potential unban in paper Commander. Leovold is here because he was only recently banned in the format, and WotC probably didn’t have him on their radar. Cards like Sway of the Stars, Upheaval, and Worldfire aren’t going to cause major issues in 1v1, and the oppressive green cards (Primeval Titan, Prophet of Kruphix, Sylvan Primordial) can be dealt with a lot easier in these sorts of games as well.

If you’re looking for a spec target here, I like Panoptic Mirror. It’s oppressive when it gets going, but WotC didn’t deem it worthy of putting it on their list, and we just saw an equally powerful card in Protean Hulk come off the paper banned list. It’s just $3 right now, and it’d hit $20-$25 quite easily if it were legal in Commander.

Banned Online, Legal in Paper

To be fair, a lot of these cards are banned in Duel Commander, which has been the semi-official 1v1 Commander variant for a while now. Duel Commander has a larger list, though, and it includes an even larger list of tutors and fast mana rocks. I don’t want to read into this list too much right now, but I suspect we’ll be seeing WotC add cards like Chrome Mox and Ancient Tomb to it before long.