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Insider: What’s in Vintage Masters?

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Have you ever found a mysterious box in the attic? For the past six months Vintage Masters (VMA) has felt like a locked safe (though hopefully things will turn out better for us than for Corbin…)

I can guarantee that VMA will contain more than the safe Corbin Hosler discovered in his cellar...
I can guarantee that VMA will contain more than the safe Corbin Hosler discovered in his cellar...

With less than a month before VMA hits the draft queues, Wizards is finally turning the key. With more previews rolling out each day, opportunities to speculate (and protect yourself from reprints) are closing fast.

Early this week we learned a crucial piece of information: Wizards had revised its plan for the size of VMA. In October, Mike Turian wrote that “Vintage Masters is a set that will be similar in size to Modern Masters,” which had 101 commons, 60 uncommons, 53 rares and 15 mythic rares.

That was a key clue that informed early thinking on VMA. In a set of that size there was just too much good stuff to cram in, leaving a lot of tournament staples on the cutting room floor. Lots of folks came to the same conclusion, which led to spikes in dual lands and an assumption that Force of Will would not be reprinted.

Monday morning those theories went out the window.

Vintage Masters will have an unprecedented 30 mythics and 100 rares! This draft format will be like nothing we’ve seen in the modern era of set design—incredibly diverse at the mythic/rare level and relatively redundant at common and uncommon.

The second bombshell was that the set will include dual lands and Force of Will.

Welcome back, friends!

These alone could sell the set. Since then they have previewed money card after money card, and the Expected Value (EV) of a pack at the start of drafting is going to be insane.

More goodies...

I say "at the start of drafting" because prices are going to fall hard as supply floods the market, with no relief valve from redemption. More on this later.

We are well into previews, and as of this writing about 20% of the set is spoiled. If you’ve been watching the QS forums, you have already sold off your dual lands, Force of Wills, and anything reprinted at a rarity lower than mythic. But there remain good opportunities to hedge against further reprints and capitalize on what won’t be printed.

The Basics

I am not going out on a limb here saying Vintage staples that aren’t printed are going to spike. Demand for the new format will put upward pressure on all cards that aren’t reprinted as people begin to build decks. And many of these older cards are in low supply.

If you've been reading the Vintage Masters articles on this site you've already got many of the Vintage cards you need. If you haven't, there is still a brief window, though you won't get in at the bottom.

There is good reason to believe that Legacy Staples that aren’t printed are going to spike. I presented this theory in detail in my last article so I won’t rehash it here, but suffice it to say that the day the spoiler is released you should be snapping these Legacy staples up as fast as you can. Force of Will, Lion’s Eye Diamond and dual lands have been major barriers to entry, and the Legacy format is going to dramatically expand its player base.

The window will be extremely brief for Vintage staples, so have your tix ready. The window for Legacy cards will last a little longer, but you still want to move fast.

What We Know, and What to Do About It

What we know: Vintage Masters will contain no Modern-legal cards: WOTC doesn’t want to cannibalize future reprints from Modern Masters. With such limited space, why waste it on things that can be reprinted later?

Note that the prohibition on reprints applies only to Modern-legal cards, so cards printed in post-Eighth edition sets but banned in Modern can—and have—made it in. Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Scullclamp are in, and cards like Mental Misstep and Umezawa’s Jitte are not safe. Nor are recent Commander cards like Flusterstorm and True-Name Nemesis.

What to do: As discussed in my last article, Legacy specs will generally be better than Vintage specs since that format is likely to grow faster and sustain a much larger player base. We now know that it’s safe to buy any Modern-legal Legacy staples. I would go ahead and do so, though make sure to save plenty of tix for VMA events.

Which ones should we pick up? I am targeting Legacy staples that are Modern legal but don’t see much play in Modern. Any card that already sees significant play in Modern has that Modern demand “baked in” to the price, and represents less value.

These cards are driven by Eternal demand (including Modern) and are safe from a reprint in VMA.

Demand for these cards is driven by Vintage and/or Legacy alone. They too will not be reprinted in VMA.

If you buy a portfolio of these cards you should do nicely in the mid to longer term. Some may see short-term gains as well.

What we know: As long as Vintage Masters is in the store and is actively drafted, the value of the set is capped by the price of the packs. One of the best analyses of this principle can be found from Odin in this MTG Salvation thread.

Based on his math (which I have not validated) “on average 477 boosters of Vintage Masters yield one set of Power Nine. In addition these boosters will yield 1.99 sets of mythics, 3.98 sets of rares, 17.89 sets of uncommons and 47.23 sets of commons. The 477 boosters needed to open these cards cost $3334.23, and thus this is the maximum value of all these cards combined as long as Vintage Masters is in print.”

Again, I have not validated his math but the principle is sound. As long as the EV is good, Vintage Masters will be heavily drafted and prices will reach an equilibrium. If prices drop too low, people will slow drafting; if prices rise, it will incentivize more drafting.

That equilibrium will approximate the cost of the boosters that contain those cards. Odin guesses this total value will be broken down into $1350 for a set of Power ($150 for a piece of power, on average), $500 per set of mythics ($16.75 ea.), $200 per set of rare ($2 ea.), and $10 per set of uncommons. (Note that the numbers above won't add up to $3334, but you'll understand how the math works if you read his post.)

Remember though that there are going to a lot of bulk rares and mythics, so that average price is deceptive. If he is right, than the prices of rares are going to crash pretty hard.

What to do: Sell anything that is spoiled at rare, though the best window is past. Consider hedging and selling anything that might be spoiled in the next week or two (Wasteland, Rishadan Port, Misdirection, Show and Tell, and Null Rod—I’m looking at you.)

I’m not holding any of these cards since the downside risk is too high for my tastes. I also sold most of my valuable commons and uncommons, like Daze and Brainstorm. If something is not in the set I will try to buy back in immediately.

What we know:  All Vintage Masters will use the new card frame and new art when available. Masters Edition cards will retain the mystique of the classic look.

What to do: As mentioned above, we generally want to sell anything that is being reprinted. But don’t rush to panic-sell your original art Vintage and Legacy staples. Vintage and Legacy thrive on nostalgia, and old-border and old-art cards could retain a good deal of their value even if reprinted.

A good example is the MED Force of Will that never dropped below 100 tix this month, even when the promo version has dropped to 65 tix. I expect the original art dual lands to retain a premium as well, even if the VMA versions plummet from overdrafting.

What we know: With 30 mythics in the set, you are half as likely to open a given mythic in VMA as you were in MMA.

What to do: Anything spoiled at mythic will not enter the market in great quantities. These mythics can be a good pickup now if people panic-sell. But I would hold off since these mythics are especially good targets for the first week of VMA drafting.

Early in MMA drafting, Tarmogoyf dropped to 50 tix, and Vendilion Clique was down to 20; both increased by 50% once people realized supply was not as high as they thought. I expect similar pattern for VMA mythics, and will provide some specific guidelines for when to buy in my next article.

Note that there are 105 rares, which means that your odds of opening a specific rare are roughly half of what they were in MMA.

What we know: Vintage Masters is designed with drafting in mind.

Wizards learned its lesson from the original Masters Edition sets: having powerful and valuable cards is not enough to sell packs. The format must also be fun to draft. Modern Masters was designed for Limited and received universal acclaim (especially by WOTC’s accountants…)

WOTC delayed the launch of Vintage Masters to emulate Modern Masters, and I expect we’ll have an excellent format that is rewarding after multiple drafts. You can see an article on the draft archetypes here.

What to do: You are safer holding cards that don’t play well in Limited. That said, it seems nothing is truly safe, since they are printing cards like Oath of Druids, Library of Alexandria, and Lion's Eye Diamond which are miserable to play against in Limited.

What we know: Conspiracy will take up a bunch of slots in VMA.

Conspiracy will not be released online. To ensure that the online card pool matches the paper card pool, they will introduce Constructed-playable cards from Conspiracy through Vintage Masters.

The problem is that they need to be over-inclusive—this is their one chance to introduce these cards and they don’t want to miss anything that will be Constructed-playable. So we may end up with quite a few Conspiracy cards in the set “just in case”.

What to do: Not much, for now. The Conspiracy cards are the most likely to be mispriced as they enter the market since they will have powerful and un-tested effects. I think at least a couple will be tournament-playable. They may start underpriced, but if they prove themselves they could spike since supply is limited (one printing only) and reprint risk is low. Focus on mythics.

What we know: Some key blue cards won’t get reprinted.

This is a function of the numbers crunch. Vintage is dominated by blue instants and sorceries, but you cannot have too many of these in a healthy Limited format. So expect to see some key cards lose out to the numbers crunch. Here’s a list of blue instants and sorceries that are played.

In: Ancestral Recall (Special rarity-S), Time Walk (S), Mana Drain (M), Force of Will (R)

??: Misdirection, Show and Tell, Flusterstorm, Tinker, Daze, Hydroblast, Gush, Stifle, Submerge, Divert, Brainstorm

What to do: Keep a close eye on the spoilers. Whichever blue staples are not getting printed are going to spike. I’ve sold my Show and Tell, Flusterstorm, Daze, and Brainstorms.

Two Final Predictions

Wizards will consider paper vs. online prices in what they reprint.

For some cards, there is a huge gulf between paper values and MTGO values. Some good examples are Misdirection (72 tix, $22) and Null Rod (20 tix online, $4 paper). This is a “feel bad” for players taking up MTGO, and Wizards recognizes this.

It’s also why I think Wizards is okay with letting the price of some key online cards float upwards so long as they are in synch with paper prices and do not significantly exceed them. I would sell your Null Rods and your Misdirections if you are still holding them.

MTGO will spotlight constructed Vintage events with special high-EV queues.

Again, just a theory. Wizards has been reluctant to offer differential payouts for different constructed formats. However, if they really want people to plunk down $3,000 for a digital deck I think they’re going to need to lure people in with some special Vintage events. It’s not appealing to spend so much on a deck that can only be used to win six packs of a Standard-legal set. Will they make the change?

The spoilers are rolling in. Protect yourself, save your tickets, invest wisely--and prepare for an awesome set.

-Alexander Carl (@thoughtlaced)

6 thoughts on “Insider: What’s in Vintage Masters?

  1. Great article, I’ve picked up alot of the cards you mentioned over the past week or so and am waiting for the rest.

    Really great to have you writing the MTGO article, your insight is much appreciaited

  2. Concerning your last point, I agree. I think the prizes for Vintage events are going to need some innovation from WoTC. Booster packs work well for Limited, Standard and Modern. But for something like Vintage, awarding pieces of Power might really drive interest. If it’s not possible to do that, it might be enough to award VMA boosters with entry fees unchanged.

    Nice article.

    1. It’s always a challenge with the timing of these articles, since I started writing this a week or so before it went live. There are still some cards on that list that are a good buy, but for real-time intel it’s important to always check the forums.

      Some to target right now: Thalia and Grafdigger’s Cage are down this week, as are Surgical Extraction and Phantasmal Image. Inquisition of Kozilek is also at an attractive price.

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