Tell me, have you seen this AEther Vial?!? As a player with a foiled-out Merfolk deck, I absolutely must have a playset of these as soon as possible. This card is everything I need in my life for my favorite deck.
And I'm not the only one who feels this way. I know there are Affinity players out there champing at the bit get their hands on Mox Opal or Steel Overseer and Commander players everywhere are salivating over that Solemn Simulacrum.
On their face, the Kaladesh Inventions exist for those of us who want fancy foils for our Modern, Legacy or Commander decks. These cards — and there are a ton of them, 30 in this set and 24 on tap for Aether Revolt — are going to be expensive and highly collectible for those of us who really want to play with them.
But they're not for us.
This little line in Mark Rosewater's article yesterday tells you everything you need to know, if you're able to read between the lines just a little.
"Challenge No. 1. Standard is the most-played Constructed format. It's designed as an entry point for players who wish to play Constructed Magic. Through market research and social media, we learned that many of the players who were interested in playing Standard felt it was something beyond their reach. We had to find ways to address this."
And then later…
"We found that Zendikar Expeditions drove more players into the Battle for Zendikar block, which resulted in greater accessibility for all the non-Expeditions cards. Zendikar Expeditions actually made it easier to play Standard. Hmm, a way to address challenge #1."
What Rosewater is saying here is what Wizards can't publicly say: that they are paying attention to the secondary market and don't like how difficult it had become to play Standard.
Last year there was a point in time where in order to play the best Standard deck you had to drop somewhere between $800 and $1,000. Seriously. A cool thousand dollars for the privilege of playing a deck for six months. Not exactly what I'd call a Bargain. A lot of people blamed things like Jace, Vryn's Prodigy because it was the most obvious culprit — $60 bucks a pop — but the truth is Jace wasn't what made Standard so expensive across the board. The real problem was the fetchlands in the format, which in conjunction with fetchable duals from Battle for Zendikar meant that every deck had a mana base that cost a few hundred from the get-go because players were stacking their decks full of lands they knew would retain value.
A Standard format that expensive is a problem for Wizards of the Coast, much moreso than Siege Rhino or Rally the Ancestors could ever be. Standard has to be accessible for the game to grow, because as Rosewater pointed out, it is the biggest entry path for new players. Most players can stomach paying even a few hundred dollars over a few months to play Magic, and while everyone has their own Breaking Point we can all agree that decks costing as much as they did last season is a huge problem for our game.
Wizards knows this. They also know that reprinting Modern staples has the potential to unbalance Standard — Thoughtseize demonstrated that — and while they care about maintaining balance they're also aware of the often-unmentioned fact that reprinting those staples also jacks up the cost of Standard because players are comfortable shelling out money for something they know they can play forever. It's a lot easier to stomach paying money for a staple like Polluted Delta than it is paying the same amount for a card that doesn't see Modern or Legacy play.
That's all well and good for the players who plan on playing those cards forever — but it's terrible for the new players Wizards needs to attract.
Inventions crush the values of the rest of the cards in the set. While the upward limit on what they cost is hard to predict right now, the cost of a box of Kaladesh for retailers is not — retailers can essentially buy as many boxes of in-print Standard sets as they want for the same price no matter what is included. So if the average value of the cards in each box exceeds what that cost is dealers will crack more and more until that equilibrium reaches balance and it is no longer profitable to crack boxes for profit.
Simply put, the value of a set has to go somewhere, but it can't go everywhere. And since we know how desirable Inventions will be, it's pretty obvious that's where most of the value will go. The natural consequence of this is that with the value going to the Inventions, it by definition can't go to the rest of the cards in the set. Because, remember, if the average value is too high dealers will simply crack product until that is no longer the case, bringing the prices of everything down until it lines up with that cost.
Inventions will be worth money, both due to the novelty aspect of the cards and, frankly, because of the quality of those cards themselves. That means the rest of the set — the actual nuts and bolts you need for Standard — won't be.
This is how you make Standard affordable, and it's really the perfect way to do it. I don't love the idea of Wizards adding a "new rarity," but this is basically the most benign possible way for them to do so. Sure, it's not going to decrease the cost of Crucible Worlds or AEther Vial by a huge amount, but it absolutely is going to reduce the cost of things you'll need in Standard like the enemy fastlands revealed last week.
So long as no one needs to have the Super Mythic Rare to play and they're instead just premium reprints, then nearly everyone wins. Collectors and people looking to "bling" out their decks have sweet cards to do it with, and new players have the possibility of opening one expensive card and trading it for nearly an entire Standard or Commander deck, an experience that is likely to hook them into the game. And, even if they never open an Invention in their life, the cards they need to play Standard will be cheaper, which makes Magic's most digestible and most-played format more financially accessible than ever.
That's what Wizards of the Coast is after here, and that's exactly what this move will do.
To those people complaining about the value they open in drafts going down due to this shift, I'm sorry for your loss. There's no way around it, if the value of our Standard cards come down, so too will the median value of a pack. But the reality is we don't get to have it both ways — if you want the price of cards new players need to go down that also means the price of the cards you open will go down. This has been a fundamental truth that the vocal part of the playerbase complaining about the cost of cards has never quite reconciled.
With Inventions, it's true that the average value of a pack will stay the same but will become much more swingy as a result of that value coming on the "lottery ticket" that is the Invention. I get it. Uncertainty sucks, and as someone who runs a store I certainly understand that.
But it's also the most effective way to lower the cost of Standard — and by extension Modern in the long-term as new cards make their way into the format — while doing as little damage as possible to Standard, by a mile the most important format to Magic's success. Outside of printing Modern Masters sets ad nauseam — something Wizards has demonstrated they don't want to do — Masterpieces are an elegant solution. We may not have realized it while making justified complaints about the price of Standard, but we were asking for Inventions.
Now Wizards is delivering. This is not jumping the shark — this is giving us what we wanted in a way that makes sense from their perspective. This is good for business, it's good for most players, and it's good for Magic.
Now someone sell me my AEther Vials already.
Thanks for reading,