Tribal Thriftiness #26 – TT Goes Mythic

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Thursday, June 5th – Big news was announced on June 1st – the creation of the mythic rare. Will mythic rares bring in new players? Or is Wizards hoping to sell more packs as people search for the elusive Secret Ghost Mirror Rares?

To say I am confused is an understatement. Like saying “King Kong was an ape” or “Tarmogoyf is good in Sealed.” I am beyond the casual words we use to define this feeling. I am past perplexed. I am beyond befuddled.

I am, in short, con-plex-fuddled.

This past Monday, Wizards announced that with the upcoming Shards of Alara expansion, there would be… changes. I saw the headline and dismissed it somewhat, knowing that Wizards’ Big Change Announcements haven’t really been that impacting in the past – I mean, what could you look at comparatively? The Legend Rule change? Perhaps. For every Legend Rule change, though, we have a Defender keyword announcement, or an announcement talking about why they switched Disenchant to Naturalize in the base set. The headline didn’t indicate the con-plex-fuddling to be found inside.

Mythic. Rare.

The First Reaction

Magic’s secondary market has always has its ups and downs. When I started Magic, I came in understanding that there were cards that I was never going to own; even back in the Tempest era, Moxes were a couple of hundred dollars apiece. But recently, the secondary market seems to be pushing the limits when it comes to the cost of a single card. Black Lotus was around $300 when I started; now an Unlimited Black Lotus, heavily played, is $800. Even Standard-legal cards like Tarmogoyf ($50), Mutavault ($40), and Bitterblossom ($35) are at the upper limit of affordability.

So if, as the article indicates, a mythic rare is “twice as rare” as a regular rare, can we expect to see mythic rares in the $70-$100 price range? Because that doesn’t seem like it’s going to get any new people into playing the game.

The Early Indications

You know, maybe it’s possible that we should have seen this coming. Time Spiral’s Timeshifted set was essentially the “testbed” for this concept, taking a subset of 121 cards and inserting them one in each pack. Time Spiral itself had 80 rares, and thus the Timeshifted cards were actually “more rare” than a rare in the set: You had a 1.25% chance of pulling any given rare in a pack, but only a 0.82% chance of pulling any specific Timeshifted card.

The flipside of this, of course, was that every card in the Timeshifted set was a reprint, so the cards were available in other means. Tribal Flames, for instance, was a common in Invasion, and so there was a good likelihood that if you were playing during Invasion, you had Tribal Flames lying around (and if you didn’t, you could buy them for fifty cents). You didn’t necessarily need to collect a set of every Timeshifted card solely through opening packs of Time Spiral (or buying Time Spiral commons).

In addition, Wizards has been publishing games with increased levels of rarity for a while now. DuelMasters has five levels (Deathliger, my personal favorite, is an ultra rare). Eye of Judgment, their new PlayStation 3 CCG, has four levels, including ultra rare. Vampire technically has four, although I’ve no idea about where those rarities fall. Heck, even Codename: Kids Next Door had ultra rares.

So Wizards has at least set itself a precedent for an increased rarity structure. But why did they do it?

The Explanation

After reading about this “change” (and it’s a biggie), I went ahead and read Mark Rosewater explanation article. I’m going to focus mostly on his points about creating the new rarity, and not on the set size discussion – yet. (Gonna save that for further down the page.)

And I’m going to paraphrase MaRo, but I think I’m getting the gist.

The Main Point: “With the explosion of TCGs, particularly those aimed at lower ages, it’s no longer true that the majority of game players get their first exposure to a TCG through Magic. We need to at least look at the industry standard and understand if this model works to attract new players.”

MaRo goes on to say that Magic is the only major TCG that still prints with three rarities; as far as I’ve been able to tell, VS System and Legend of the Five Rings both also print in three rarities. This paragraph is mostly directed, unspokenly, at Yu-Gi-Oh, with its forty-five levels of rarity* and its ridiculous levels of secondary-market prices – the most recent set has a $48 “secret rare,” a $45 “secret rare,” and a $45 “ghost rare” with a $43 “secret rare” mate.

But is the rarity structure really key to the success of Yu-Gi-Oh? And if so, how much of that success is based on the rarity structure, and how much is based on, say, having an incredible marketing scheme and a successful TV show?

Subpoint One: “New players who started with [some other game] will come into Magic with the expectation that it will ‘work’ like their previous game.”

I expect that MaRo primarily means that the game will ‘work’ like their previous game in terms of what they can expect in a booster pack. My question about this is: do you think players of Pokemon and Yu-Gi-Oh aren’t making the upgrade to Magic simply because they can’t get secret ultra rares? I haven’t played Yu-Gi-Oh, but I have played Pokemon, and I would be willing to wager that it’s probably more due to the complexity of the game – in any event, at the very least, Magic will not ‘work’ game-wise like their previous game. I don’t expect that they’ll change Magic’s gameplay so that it’s easier to transition, and I don’t think that changing the rarity structure really makes it easier for young players to transition from, say, Pokemon or Yu-Gi-Oh into Magic.

DuelMasters is a separate beast. Because it’s a Wizards property, they maintained a lot of the elements that make Magic what it is – resource development, attack and defense powers, attack phases, etc. Sure, the creatures have ludicrous powers in the thousands, but I believe that the transition from DuelMasters to Magic is a lot easier than the others simply because the games are similar – not because the booster packs are laid out similarly.

Subpoint Two: “Knowing you have the chance to open something cool is very compelling and draws new players into the game.”

The problem with this logic is the assumption that a mythic rare, simply by its definition and reddish expansion symbol, is going to be ‘cool’ – or worse, that players are expected to think a mythic rare is ‘cool’ simply because it’s a mythic rare, and not due to any card text at all. Assuming that all Planeswalkers are going to be mythic rares in the future, would you rather open a Chandra Nalaar, or a Thoughtseize? Would you rather open an Ajani Goldmane, or a Cryptic Command?

Or is this statement supposed to instill into us that, yes, Maria, mythic rares really will be that much cooler than the average rare?

And Now The Numbers

According to MaRo’s numerical breakdown of the new structure, a mythic rare in a big set will be like getting a Tenth Edition rare (or a Timeshifted card); a rare in a big set will be like getting a rare from Future Sight.

Probability of getting a mythic rare in a random pack of Shards of Alara: (1 in 8) = 12.5%
Probability of getting a specific mythic rare: (1 in 15 x 12.5%) = 0.83%

As was noted above, the likelihood of getting any specific Timeshifted card was 0.82%.

Probability of getting a rare in a random pack of Shards of Alara: (7 in 8) = 87.5%
Probability of getting a specific rare: (1 in 53 x 87.5%) = 1.65%

Probability of getting a specific rare in Future Sight: (1 in 60) = 1.66%

So that was an easy little math session to at least show that MaRo’s assertion that mythic rares are about twice as rare as regular rares was correct – in that any specific mythic rare is twice as rare as any specific rare. You’re still going to only open a mythic rare in every eighth pack or so.

So where do we take this information, from a budget perspective? Do we assume that each mythic rare is going to cost, on average, twice as much as it would have had it just been a regular rare? And if that is the case, is it better to actually start buying packs and boxes rather than buying singles?

We know Planeswalkers are going to be mythic. Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that the average price of a current Planewalker will be half the average price of the 15 mythic rares in Shards of Alara. The average price here on StarCityGames of the five Planewalkers is $9.40, making the average mythic rare cost $18.80. The average price of a Lorwyn rare on StarCityGames is $3.64.

36 packs in a box, 1 in 8 will have a mythic rare: 4.5 mythic rares per box. The other 31.5 packs (yes, I know there’s no such thing as a half-pack, but this is for averaging purposes, so just push the “I Trust Math” button, okay?) will have rares. (4.5 x $18.80) + (31.5 x $3.64) = $199.06.

… I think I just proved that a box of Lorwyn, with mythic rares, would have returned about a 100% profit on the cost of a box. Pardon me while my head asplode. And I think I just came to the conclusion that buying packs of Shards of Alara should, on average, give you a better investment of your money than buying singles.

This is, of course, where the randomness (and the swinginess of the secondary market) rears its ugly head. Because there are 53 rares in Shards of Alara, you aren’t guaranteed to get enough of the $20 rares (or the rares you want) to categorically say that buying a box is a more worthwhile investment than buying singles. Believe me, I’ve opened enough Ice Caves in my time to know the Actual Worth of any given box is just as swingy as the singles market.

The Conclusion?

Mythic rare is designed to sell packs. Pure and simple, it’s a business decision. Not only will little kids look forward to opening flashy cards to show to all their friends, but adults with limited disposable income will be more likely to buy packs from their local shop rather than buying expensive singles. The risk-to-reward ratio will probably be similar to buying Future Sight packs now, hoping to snag an elusive Tarmogoyf… even if you don’t get the fifty-dollar beast, you still end up getting your money’s worth.

In any event, it will certainly be interesting to watch purchasing trends as the singles market develops prices for these new mythic rares.


Next week is after U.S. Regionals, so to everyone going and playing: good luck! I’ll be in Denver looking to improve on my trend of finishing in the bottom 10% of any given Regionals field.

Until next week!