Ultimate Masters: The Best Masters Set Ever, Or Overpriced Cash Grab?

One Masters set to rule them all! So mega is the announcement of this set that Chas Andres is pulling double duty this week to bring you the most comprehensive and informed breakdown of the set’s impact! Strap in: it’s gonna get wild!

It finally happened. Wizards of the Coast actually released a product that
is essentially just a stack of $20 bills stuffed in packs, and we all found
a way to complain about it anyway.

Good job, us!

All kidding aside, there’s actually a lot to unpack with Ultimate Masters. I think we can all agree that the set looks
good, but is it good enough to justify a 40% increase in MSRP? After all,
$14 is higher than the cost of a movie ticket in most cities. Unless you’ve
decided to see Johnny English Strikes Again or something, that’s a
fun night out. Can a single pack of Magic cards really be worth that much?

According to a lot of the folks on Reddit and my Twitter feed, the answer
to that question is an unequivocal no. But there’s a big difference between
“I either can’t or don’t want to spend $14 on a pack of Magic cards” and
“this pack of Magic cards isn’t worth $14.” The former is subjective, and
it’s going to vary from person to person based on their budget and
financial situation. The latter…well, that’s something we can talk about
objectively here in this column.

So, let’s take a deep dive into Ultimate Masters, shall we?
Whether or not you’re thinking of buying a box, I think you’ll want to read
this one. Ultimate Masters is a really big deal, and contents of
this set are going to ripple out into the Modern market in some pretty
major ways.

For starters…

Ultimate Masters
Has The Best Roster Of Mythic Rares in Any Set – Ever.

Before we get into the meat of this piece, feast your eyes on this glorious
list of mythic rares:

Even the most ardent Ultimate Masters haters must be excited about
these twenty cards. How far down on this list do you have to go before you
get to a card that you aren’t jazzed to open? There are really only four
“misses” here, and none of them even come close to approaching the bottom
tier of Masters 25 mythics, which included both Akromas (ugh),
Prossh, Skyraider of Kher, and of course, the infamous Tree of Redemption.
Eight of the fifteen mythic rares in Masters 25 were worth less
than $10 at release. In Ultimate Masters, that number is zero. Hey, WotC listened to us on this one!

Even more importantly, there are quite a few cards that might have you
running around your LGS screaming in joy. In fact, the top five cards on
this list are all in the top ten most expensive cards in Modern (and two
more cards from that top ten are in the set at rare!) So yeah, this is a
pretty good roster of mythics. In fact, take a look at how it stacks up
against the last four Masters sets:

Total Mythic Value Prior to Release: $997

  • $630 more than Masters 25 ($367)
  • $685 more than MM17 ($312)
  • $543 more than Iconic Masters ($450)
  • $386 more than MM15 ($611)

These numbers are eye-popping, but they aren’t terribly useful considering
the fact that Ultimate Masters has twenty mythic rares while these
other Masters sets only had fifteen.

Let’s take a look at the average mythic price instead:

Average Mythic Value Prior to Release: $49.85

  • $25.39 higher than Masters 25 ($24.46)
  • $29.05 more than MM17 ($20.80)
  • $19.85 more than Iconic Masters ($30)
  • $8.85 more than MM15 ($41)

Yeah, okay, these numbers are still pretty eye-popping. The average mythic rare in Ultimate Masters is worth
$50, which makes it far and away the most valuable mythic slot in any set

The Rare Slot Isn’t Going to Disappoint in Ultimate Masters,

While I don’t have confirmation that Ultimate Masters won’t have
more rares than a normal Masters set, I strongly suspect that twenty
mythics will prove the only hinky print run exception. The last couple of
Masters sets contained a total of 249 cards, and we know that Ultimate Masters will have 254. So, for now, let’s assume that the
set will have 53 rares in addition to its twenty mythics.

Right now, we know eighteen of them. They are:

Adding up the eighteen known rares, we get a total of $646, which comes to
an average value of $35.88 per rare slot. Of course, this average isn’t
likely to hold once the whole set is known. There are certainly going to be
a few more gems-heck, the entire rest of the set might be amazing, for all
we know-but chances are, WotC picked the best eighteen rares in the set to
use as Ultimate Box Toppers. For now, let’s estimate $5/rare for the
remaining 35 rares. That gives us a total value of $821 in rares or $15.50
per rare slot.

How does that stack up historically? Check it out:

Total Rare Value Prior to Release: $821 (Estimated)

  • $497 more than Masters 25 ($324)
  • $468 more than MM17 ($353)
  • $68 more than Iconic Masters ($753)
  • $517 more than MM15 ($304)

Average Rare Value Prior to Release: $15.50 (Estimated)

  • $9.31 more than Masters 25 ($6.11)
  • $8.85 more than MM17 ($6.65)
  • $1.55 more than Iconic Masters ($13.95)
  • $9.77 more than MM15 ($5.73)

I’m sure that some of you want to quibble with my $5/rare estimate for the
unknown cards, but we’re so far ahead of the game on value with Ultimate Masters that it doesn’t even matter all that much if the
rest of the set is a complete bust.

Even if we lower that estimate from $5/rare to the pathetic estimate of
just $1/rare, we end up with a total of $681 in rares, which averages out
to $12.85 per pack. That’s still twice as good as either Modern Masters 2015 or Modern Masters 2017!

Ultimate Masters
is Going to Hold its Value Really, Really Well

The difference between the good Masters sets and the bad ones has as much
to do with how well the cards will hold their value as it does with card
value at the moment of reprinting.

For example, Iconic Masters had a lot of cards like Mana Drain,
Flusterstorm, Ancestral Vision, Magus of the Moon, and Glimpse the
Unthinkable. These cards were expensive not because of demand but because
the available supply was amazingly low. Flusterstorm had only been printed
as a judge foil and in the original Commander set, which is why it was up
over $100 at the time of the Iconic Masters printing. These days,
you can pick them up for just $14 retail.

Looking at Ultimate Masters, it’s hard to find too many cards that
are expensive only because of scarcity. Engineered Explosives, Gaddock
Teeg, Through the Breach, and Goryo’s Vengeance come to mind, but it’s
still worth noting that all four of those cards see play in popular Modern
or Legacy decks. Celestial Colonnade certainly needed a reprint, but it
also sees so much play that it can’t fall too far.

The top-end staples in Ultimate Masters – cards like Karn,
Liliana, Snapcaster Mage, and Tarmogoyf – have proven resilient from
reprints over and over again. Even the casual cards in Ultimate Masters – Kozilek, Ulamog, etc. – are still quite
expensive despite showing up in multiple reprint sets over the years.

This doesn’t mean that all the cards in Ultimate Masters will hold
their current values – they absolutely won’t – but if you’re looking for an
Imperial Recruiter situation where a $300 card drops to $28 simply because
there weren’t enough copies to go around before and there are now, you
aren’t going to find too many of them here. Temporal Manipulation is
probably going to drop from $70 to $15, but that’s it. Most of these cards
are still going to be exciting opens two or three years down the line.

Ultimate Masters
is Going to Lower the Overall Price of Modern

After the announcement on Monday, I saw a lot of people on Twitter
lamenting the fact that Ultimate Masters was too expensive to
lower the price of Modern for those of us who feel priced out of buying
packs. This might have proven true if WotC hadn’t increased the quality of
the set in tandem with the rise in MSRP, but the fact that they did means
that Ultimate Masters is likely to have a pretty major effect on
the market.

See, even the very worst Masters sets do a pretty good job lowering the
price of the reprinted cards. I think we can all agree that Masters 25 wasn’t great, but it did cause Azusa, Lost but Seeking
to drop by $25, Chalice of the Void to drop by about $20, Thalia, Guardian
of Thraben by $10, Blood Moon by $5, etc. It would have caused Jace, the
Mind Sculptor to drop, too, had the card not been unbanned in Modern in
conjunction with the reprint.

How do I know it will happen this time, though? After all, the MSRP jumped
from $10/pack to $14/pack. Might that price increase be enough to stem all
the potential price losses?

Not even close. Even if we take our most conservative rare slot estimate of
$12.85/pack, completely ignore the Ultimate Box Toppers, and
completely ignore the common, uncommon, and foil slot, we still
get an average pack value of about $17.50 – about $3.50 higher than MSRP.

But, of course, this number is nonsense. For one, the common and uncommons
will be worth at least a couple bucks a pack. The foil slot is likely to
have quite a bit of value, usually ending up at an average value of at
least $6-$7 per pack. Oh and the sealed Ultimate Box Topper packs are
selling for about $200 each on eBay right now, today, despite the fact that
we now know that each box of Ultimate Masters is going to have

So, let’s give the commons and uncommons a conservative value of $1/pack,
the foil a conservative value of $3/pack, and let’s assume that you can
sell that sealed Ultimate Box Topper for $150, which adds another $6.25 per
pack in value by itself. That puts the value of each pack at a total of
$27.75 based on the current retail price of these cards.

And remember – this figure assumes that literally every unspoiled rare is
going to be a complete $1 brick!

So yeah. If each pack is “worth” $28 but is available for $14, something’s
gotta give.

If this were 2013, I’d say that the thing most likely to give would be
availability. Stores would jack up the prices – yes, even higher than
$14/pack – and simply wait for the most motivated gamblers to pay their
way. That’s not going to happen this time, though. Because packs of Ultimate Masters are going to be available at big box stores like
Target and Wal-Mart, and availability isn’t likely to be a major issue. As
long as you’re okay living without the Ultimate Box Topper (you should not
to be okay living without the Ultimate Box Topper), you should be able to
get these packs without much of a problem.

So Modern prices will start to drop.

The casual cards will drop first – things like Lord of Extinction and
Balefire Dragon – along with Temporal Manipulation, which is only expensive
because there are, like, five of them out there right now. The next drop
will come from cards like Gaddock Teeg, which have a lot of actual demand
but which are mostly expensive because they’ve only been printed once. Then
we’ll see losses from cards like Fulminator Mage and Vengevine, which
aren’t seeing much play in the current metagame. The top tier staples like
Snapcaster Mage and Karn Liberated will be the last to lose value, but even
those should drop at least $10 or $20 once this set hits shelves.

I know it seems like this section is directly counter to my last one, where
I said that Ultimate Masters will hold its value well, but I hope
you can see how both things can be true at the same time. This set is full
of robust Modern staples that are far more resilient than average, but at
the same time, the cards in here are going to drop in price once packs of Ultimate Masters start hitting shelves.

At the very least, I feel like boxes of this set are going to be really
solid long-term holds. And yes, I’m aware that I said the same thing about Eternal Masters. I don’t care. I’m still really bullish about this
set’s long-term profile, especially because of the Ultimate Box Toppers.

And speaking of Ultimate Box Toppers…

You’re Really Going to Want to Get Your Hands On Ultimate Box Toppers

We don’t know what the print run figures for Ultimate Masters are
going to look like until the dust has settled, but it’s very possible that
there will be enough packs to go around (via the big box stores) but not
nearly enough sealed boxes, which will only be available via normal LGS
distribution channels.

While StarCityGames isn’t taking Ultimate Masters pre-orders yet,
I’ve seen boxes for sale at or around MSRP that include the sealed Ultimate
Box Topper pack. And while we’re likely to see the non-foils in Ultimate Masters start to drop in price as packs flood the market,
there won’t be enough of any one Ultimate Box Topper to cause the price to
drop by a significant amount. In fact, these prices might start to increase
once people realize just how rare they are.

At the very least, let’s assume that you would absolutely buy a box of this
set (considering how good it is) for a classic Masters set MSRP of
$10/pack. Great! So, if you get a box at MSRP with an Ultimate Box Topper
in it, then you’re effectively paying $10/pack plus an additional $96 for
the Box Topper. I have a feeling that you’ll have no problem getting
someone to give you $100 for that sealed Ultimate Box Topper pack. The
wrinkle here is that I’ve started to hear reports that these packs are
searchable, which could complicate matters a bit.

Of course, you can only get in on this additional value proposition if you
snag a sealed box and you don’t have to resort to those big box store
blister packs. Ditto for any sort of in-store drafts. So yeah – if you want
to open packs of this set, and you probably do, make sure you buy a sealed
box and that you do it before the end of the first distribution wave.

Ultimate Masters
Should Cause A Significant Uptick in Modern Interest…But It’s No Guarantee

Historically, Masters sets have done a great job of getting people into
Modern. You go to a draft, maybe open a box (if you’re lucky), and suddenly
– bam, you’ve got two copies of Snapcaster Mage! Well, shoot, at that point
you might as well start building Azorius Control, right? While I don’t have
the numbers to back it up, I’d be shocked if Modern Masters 2013, 2015, and 2017 all brought people to the format in

That said, I’m not sure that sets like Iconic Masters or Masters 25 had the same impact. Unless you pulled a Jace, which
card in Masters 25 was going to get you excited about building a
brand new Modern deck? Ensnaring Bridge? Thalia?

Yeah, I didn’t think so.

Ultimate Masters
is more of a return to the glory days of Masters sets. It’s chock full of
flagship cards like Noble Hierarch and Karn; the sort of exciting pulls
that can have visions of tier one decks dancing in the eyes of the people
who open them. If this set ends up being widely opened and beloved, it’s
going to get a heck of a lot of people excited about playing Modern.

The wrinkle here, of course, is that pesky increase in MSRP. Are people who
aren’t already invested in Modern actually going to drop $14/pack on Ultimate Masters? It’s simply too early to say. According to the
loudest people on my Twitter feed, the answer is no. Once the set hits
shelves… well, we’ll see.

You Should Buy The Best Modern Cards That Aren’t in Ultimate Masters

Obviously, this list might change once all the cards are previewed. Hey,
maybe Mox Opal is actually in the set, downgraded to rare, and it just
wasn’t an Ultimate Box Topper for some reason! I mean, that definitely
isn’t the case, but it’s still possible that one or two of these cards will
show up in the set once the dust settles:

Keep in mind that this is just a list of the most expensive cards that
actually see some play in Modern that aren’t in Ultimate Masters. For a more in-depth look at which Modern staples
are the safest buys and holds right now, check out
the article I wrote earlier this week
that covers the format’s most important cards right now.

The Fact That Ultimate Masters is the Final Masters Set (For Now)
Is Crucial

Ultimate Masters
is being released at a really interesting time for the Modern market.
Prices have been dropping all summer long, and two Masters sets a year is a
pretty exhausting pace. One of the reasons why I didn’t believe that Ultimate Masters was going to be released like a normal set was
simply because WotC can’t just keep reprinting these cards over and over
again and expect people to pay even $10/pack for them, much less $14.

If WotC hadn’t announced Ultimate Masters as the last of its kind,
there was a shot we’d have seen some pretty major losses in the Modern
market this winter. After all, if they’re going to reprint seven of the ten
most expensive cards in Modern in a single Masters set and release
two Masters sets every year, why would anyone spend $80-$100 on a single
card? It would be nuts not to simply wait out the next reprint, right?

But because this is the last Masters set for a while, WotC gave the market
a shot of confidence alongside a heavy dose of reprinted staples. “Liliana
might be losing value now,” you can tell yourself, “but it’s not like she’s
terribly likely to be reprinted again this year, or next year, or perhaps
even the year after that.”

What does this mean for us? I think it means that this spring’s Modern
market is going to be pretty robust. WotC seems likely to find another way
to reprint Modern staples – Mox Opal feels like a major omission from this
set, considering how long it has been since its last reprint, so we might
see that one somewhere else. But without a dedicated Masters set, we’re not
going to see any major, wholesale reprintings in the near future. This
should mean big gains for key Modern cards that aren’t in Ultimate Masters, like Scalding Tarn, Leyline of the Void, and
Surgical Extraction.

I also suggest getting ready to buy Ultimate Masters staples over
the holidays. They’ll be at rock bottom in late December, and many of them
will begin to rebound in mid-January or early February. If you’ve been
holding off on buying any of these cards, that’s the time to do it.