Let's talk Masters 25 for a minute. With a set hyped up to be "The Masters set you've been waiting for," our expectations were pretty high from the beginning. While Iconic Masters provided a release valve on plenty of expensive Modern and Commander staples, it certainly didn't resonate as a set with a bunch of "iconic" cards – no Birds of Paradise and no Demonic Tutor. We got a few cards like Serra Angel, Lightning Helix and Cryptic Command, sure, but the surprisingly high print run conjoined with a lack of certain cards caught a lot of players off-guard, and Masters 25 was regarded as the one that was going to have everything everyone ever wanted.
Now that we have the full preview available and every card is available for preorder, I'm going to provide some of my thoughts on the set, expectations for certain staples that have been the talk of the town, and an example of how some of the cards end up settling at the prices they do. Some of the tools we'll be using to talk about this set are Dawnglare.com (to determine the expected value out of a sealed booster box), MTGstocks.com (to check out historical price graphs using TCGplayer pricing data), and of course the Best-Selling feature on our own site.
Dawnglare is a helpful site that gives us a realistic idea of what kind of value we can expect when we crack open a booster box. We can adjust it to work with TCG mid or TCG low, and it only considers the cards in the box worth $1 or higher in whatever metric we choose. While it doesn't account for foils, it's still a pretty good indicator of what boxes are going to even come close to being "worth it" to crack. Even if we go by TCG mid, Shadows Over Innistrad has an expected $30 worth of value in it. Yikes. On the other hand, we can see what kind of a flop Iconic Masters ended up being; the expected value for the mid price is only around $150 mid; Much less than MSRP, and around $90 less than Modern Masters 2017.
MTGstocks is a site that tracks the value of cards back to around mid-2012, one year before the release of the first Modern Masters set. Why do we care about the first Modern Masters? We'll get to that in a bit. For now, take my word that MTGstocks (while I assume that a majority of my readers already use it) is an excellent place to keep tabs on the movers and shakers of the marketplace, whether it's checking weekly winners or large market trends over years.
If we go back to our Best-Selling singles from Masters 25, what do we see as of today? Not Jace, the Mind Sculptor, Simian Spirit Guide, or Street Wraith, but Relentless Rats. These Rats are my favorite card in the set as someone who buys and sells cards, and I'm not surprised at all to see them at the top of the Best Sellers list. While I occasionally find these in bulk and occasionally buy a Marrow-Gnawer Commander deck to refill my stock, they always sell in a swarm once I accumulate a reasonable number of copies. Most people buying the first Rat need at least 20 more, so that's a reasonable part of the reason why this appears so high up on the list. The fact that it's being printed at common means that I'll see these on my buy mat way more often, and I'll still be able to sell them at $1-$1.50 a piece to the Commander/casual Rat players. I think that you'll start to see these in bulk a lot more often, just how we saw an increase in Sanguine Bond showing up in bulk after Iconic Masters released. Pick these out along with your Nettle Sentinels and Brainstorms, because Relentless Rats is going to be a consistent contributor to your box EV.
Speaking of Brainstorm, let's use this one in particular to segue into another relevant factor of this set. It's got the previously MTGO-only artwork, center-aligned text and a beautiful snowflake watermark. While "normal" Brainstorms from pretty much any set have always stood at around $1 retail, I'd expect this one to stay or creep a little bit higher than the other reprints based on those latter two factors. There will always be the old guard who prefer the original foils over all else (I don't expect the Mercadian Masques foil to budge even a little), but I think there's reason to believe the foils of specific cards in this set with attractive watermarks and text boxes will appreciate faster than previous foil printings. Foils of staples like Blood Moon, Diabolic Edict and Counterspell will be worth keeping an eye on.
Let's go back to that earlier reference to the first Masters set. For those who were playing back then, you'll remember that Tarmogoyf was the marquee card of the set. They were the days of $120 'Goyfs, and everyone was ecstatic that a release valve was finally being pulled to alleviate pressure on the scarce four-of staple. When Modern Masters finally hit in the summer of 2013, we learned a couple of things really quickly. The first was that the supply was a lot lower than some players expected it to be. It was Wizards of the Coast's first time dipping their toes into reprint sets since the days of Chronicles, a set that nearly destroyed the game with overprinting. The second thing we learned was the amount of demand that sets like these provide for previously difficult to acquire cards.
What I mean by that, is that from the second 'Goyf was announced to be reprinted, we had a bunch of players put a hold on their purchases. They didn't want to buy the card when new supply was about to enter the market, because they could wait for a lower floor on the card. The only problem with that is that we now had a bunch of players opening up Tarmogoyfs out of booster packs, who suddenly thought: "Well, now I just need three more Tarmogoyfs!" While the Masters set did provide a supply increase, it also came with an even higher demand increase. The price of 'Goyf went from $120 to $140 after the reprint, something unprecedented in Magic's history.
This led to a rallying cry from players that Masters sets were useless when it came to their intended goal of getting more copies of cards into the hands of players. If a minimal reprint was just going to force the price of Goyf higher, what was the point in the first place? Well, one only had to look past the competitive four-of mythics to find that the first Masters set had completely decimated some of the other reprints in the set, whose prices were predicated more on scarcity than actual demand. Divinity of Pride started as an $8 card from Eventide, but Modern Masters 2013 quickly cut it in half before a Commander 2013 printing finished it off. Stonehewer Giant suffered a similar price slash, and has been steadily climbing back ever since. Does anyone remember when Adarkar Valkyrie was a $10 card?
While the original reprint increased Modern demand and only appeared to fuel the fire of cards like Goyf and Dark Confidant, it provided a slap on the wrist to other rares like Aether Vial and Cryptic Command, which eventually recovered as the Modern format continued to grow. It also absolutely crushed the value of playable uncommons like Kitchen Finks, Lava Spike and Mind Funeral. The set wasn't what everyone expected, but it was absolutely a step in the right direction to lay down the framework for the Masters sets we know today.
Now, I understand that it's been almost five years since Modern Masters was released. Wizards has been tinkering with the print run with every Masters set in those five years. As it stands, the forecast appears to be that Masters 25 will end up closer to Iconic Masters than to Modern Masters 2017 (which still has an expected box value of close to MSRP). With that said, there's still going to be truth to the Tarmogoyf effect that I mentioned earlier.
While some of the rares and mythics in Masters 25 are only based on scarcity (Imperial Recruiter, Protean Hulk, Eladamri's Call, Coalition Relic), there are several others whose prices are going to weather the storm through sheer competitive demand. While the print run of Iconic Masters was incredibly high, cards like Aether Vial only received a slap on the wrist financially. There were so many players primed and ready to buy Vial at the slightest dip in price, that the increased demand for the card could buoy the price through the huge print run. The staples in A25 that will share a similar price graph to Vial are the ones that consistently see play as four-ofs in multiple formats and archetypes; Chalice of the Void, Ensnaring Bridge and Blood Moon are the three cards that immediately come to mind. If you're a player who has been eager for a reprint, I recommend taking advantage of that 10-15% dip in price, because it could very well be temporary.
At the same time, we've already seen several of the commons and uncommons take that Kitchen Finks level hit from simply being announced in the set. Utopia Sprawl and Ash Barrens aren't going back to their $6-7 price points anytime soon, nor will we be seeing $8 Street Wraiths for a while. These are the cards you're going to want to pick up sooner rather than later; not because I expect them to climb back in price anytime soon, but because the play value you'll get out of them will outweigh the minimal price shifts that the cards will experience in the coming weeks or months. There's not really much benefit to waiting out a month or two of Modern events to see if you can save $4 on your playset of Utopia Sprawls.
While I am disappointed to see that certain cards were left out of Masters 25 (Birds of Paradise and Demonic Tutor being the most egregious exclusions), the set brings a welcome bevy of reprints that were needed for multiple formats across Magic. I expect it to behave similarly to the Masters sets we've received in the past, with the EV ending up somewhere in between Iconic Masters and Modern Masters 2017. Time will tell if there's also a hidden surprise in the booster packs like some have been predicting, but I suppose we'll find that out next Friday, won't we? If you have any specific questions about Masters 25 and the financial impact it will have, be sure to leave a comment below!
- DJ Johnson