As if Kaladesh didn't already look amazing enough, Wizards has now confirmed that Masterpieces will be included in the packs. For those who have been hiding under a rock the past week, premium foil-style Expeditions are back indefinitely, rechristened as "Masterpieces." But, whereas the Expeditions from Zendikar were limited to only land reprints, the new and ongoing Masterpiece Series will expand beyond that to include other types of cards.
Kaladesh is an artifact block and so it looks like all of the Kaladesh Inventions are artifact cards. It makes sense that Wizards wants to push the theme of the set (artifacts) and hold back something new for later releases (spells, enchantments, planeswalkers, etc.). It is important that the Masterpieces are here to stay permanently, which means that their part of the secondary market economy is something we must now account for moving forward.
Today we'll be taking a look at what this significant change holds in store for the future of MTG finance.
The biggest area where this will impact MTG finance is the way that Standard cards are priced. In the past, certain types of cards have tended to settle into certain price ranges. These trends occur relatively consistently because the price of a box from WOTC is always roughly $75. Retailers sell these boxes on the secondary market for between $90-$115. Retailers can also sell individual packs for $3.99 to push that per/box price value up even further.
The individual prices of cards in the set can only go so high, because the set itself is still in print and can be purchased by the box for those static prices. Cards may come out of the gate with really high presale prices but will always settle into a range that considers the price of a sealed box. It wouldn't make sense if I could consistently buy a box for $100 from my LGS, crack it, and sell the singles for $250 on eBay. Who would be willing to spend that much money on singles when they could just open sealed product and spend half the money?
Expeditions, and now Masterpieces, really throw a monkey wrench into the equation because they add some very high-end cards into the mix that change the average cost of a box. I'm not exactly sure on the average number of Masterpieces per case, but when I've opened product for RIW Hobbies it appeared I consistently got between 2-3. I've heard of other stores doing worse or better---but that is what I've observed with my own eyes.
So, if we take these rough numbers and mash them together we are to understand that in every second or third box a player is likely to crack open a Masterpiece worth between $50-$200. That bonus is already in addition to the possibility of opening a good mythic or rare.
Let's assume that the average cost of a Masterpiece is $60 (which will probably be on the low side). Assuming one Masterpiece per three boxes (also on the low side), we've added roughly $20 of equity to each box of Kaladesh that wouldn't be there if not for the inclusion of Masterpieces.
That extra $20 (more likely closer to $30) has to come off somewhere. I mean, they didn't make the cost of the box $30 higher to account for these foils. The cost of the other cards in the set is going to suffer.
So, if we are going to add roughly 25% value to the box in the form of Masterpiece bonus cards, in order to accommodate these gains the rest of the cards will be depressed by 25%.
I'm typically a pretty big whiz with figuring out which cards are too low or too high, but the BFZ and OGW cards have really confused me over the course of the past year. I typically compare cards to other cards in order to figure out what I think their value might end up looking like... However, these kind of comparisons don't always work so well when a card comes from a set with Masterpieces or Expeditions!
Cards like Sylvan Advocate or Eldrazi Displacer would easily have been in the $8-$10 price range in the past---except that in a world with Expeditions everything is topsy-turvy, or should I say, "way cheaper."
A Lower of Cost of Entry to Standard
I'm not saying it is an intentional ploy from Wizards to lower the cost of entry to Standard, but it does appear to be an advantageous side effect.
New players don't need Masterpieces to play, nor do they want to pay $500+ for a competitive deck to try out FNM. These premium cards really help to bridge the gap for newer players by depressing the cost of Standard staples like Advocate or Displacer. They make playing Standard more affordable to new players.
Masterpieces also add the "glamour lottery" aspect to cracking packs. It is way more exciting to crack a pack and potentially open a Masterpiece than to crack a set without any. I can state for a fact that at FNM players are much more likely to select BFZ or OGW packs than even the newer sets because they want a shot at an Expedition!
Sex sells, and super rare cards like Expeditions and Masterpieces are sexy.
Masterpieces really kill two birds with one stone---they create hype to sell packs via the "Masterpiece Lottery" and they also make the price of new cards a little bit more affordable for new players.
The Worldwake Effect
So, it looks like this whole conversation is a wrap. Masterpieces are great, cheaper Standard staples are great, etc. But before I go, was there ever a time when the expected value exceeded the average per-pack price?
For those of you who didn't play back when we had immediate "fail" grades for entire strategies based on whether they passed or failed a Jace Test, let me fill you in.
JTMS is not a real card---it is an absurdity that turned Standard into a joke for a year and then ultimately needed to be banned from the format. To put things in perspective, we haven't needed to ban a card in Standard since.
Yeah, Stoneforge also needed to be banned. Both of these banworthy, busted powerhouses came from a little set called Worldwake. We discussed how the price of the singles in the set must eventually fall into equilibrium with the price of the sealed product. When it can't, what you get is Worldwake.
Worldwake was an absurd set and the prices of the singles reflected how busted the cards were. JTMS was constantly pushing $150+ (for a Standard card you needed to play the format), Stoneforge was $30, the creature lands were $10. It isn't difficult for a set with a $150+ mythic rare to ramp the average price of singles per pack pretty high.
What ended up happening back then was that the retail pack price went up. Stores and online sellers bought up their allotment and quickly sold through the packs and boxes on the secondary market. There were so many people playing the Jace Lottery that retailers had trouble keeping packs in stock!
To account for the demand, many stores and sellers upped the price of packs to account for the discrepancy between the average cost of singles and the actual cost of the pack. In Michigan the local game stores were selling packs of Worldwake for $6+ per booster pack and still selling out.
It really takes a perfect storm to get a hurricane like that going. Jace really helped.
Applying It to Kaladesh
Kaladesh looks to be a truly busted-in-half set. I don't see a Jace, the Mind Sculptor but I see a lot of cards that will have a huge impact on Standard. I wonder if Kaladesh could reach Worldwake levels based on how good the set is with the added value of the Masterpieces.
I think it makes a difference that JTMS was a Standard-legal card, whereas the Masterpieces are not necessary for Constructed. Yet, I could see a world where the value of the Standard staples (Chandra, Nissa, Gearhulks, etc.) on the single secondary market just can't sink low enough to offset the price of the Masterpieces. The cards that will take the real beating will be the regular rares of the set, since they will really be depressed by these gains.
You don't need to look very far to find regular rares carrying the heavy weight of Masterpiece depression. These cards would typically be in the $2-$4 range based on the Legacy and Modern play they have been seeing. They are great cards! However, that added $25 per box has to hit somewhere.
I like that WOTC has made this change for the future. All things considered, lowering the cost of entry for new players is great. The big thing that we as collectors and investors must take into consideration is how this change will affect MTG finance long-term. It changes the game for sure.