Insider: Drawing Inferences From Masterpieces

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Hello, all! I hope everybody out there had a happy holiday and is enjoying the holiday break (Hip, hip, hurray for Christmas vacation!). I hope everybody out there had a wonderful 2016 and that 2017 ends up being even better.

Not to be outdone by the holiday season, Wizards took the opportunity to one-up Santa and Baby Jesus by releasing a complete list of the upcoming Aether Revolt Masterpieces. I've got to admit, they look terrific and I have little doubt that the vast majority of players will be very excited about opening and collecting these cards.

Personally, I'm not a huge fan of foil cards because I don't use them in tournament play. However, from a collectibility standpoint I think making Masterpieces an "every set" occurrence was a grand-slam move for Wizards. It gives people opening packs the opportunity to experience something special and unique, i.e. the lottery effect.

There has already been a lot written about how Masterpieces becoming a mainstay in all new sets will change Standard finance moving forward, suppressing Standard staples and more. Aside from the obvious immediate price impact to specific cards, there is still a lot of finance space yet to be explored.

Today, I'm going to take a look at the growing sample size of Masterpiece crops (from Battle for Zendikar, Oath of the Gatewatch, Kaladesh, and now the upcoming Aether Revolt) and begin to make speculative guesses about what the future may hold for potential investors.

Which Cycles Have Been Pushed So Far?

Our sample size may be relatively small—only four sets worth—but there are some trends that can be discerned.

It is also worth noting that in looking for trends we are limited to only lands (Zendikar Expeditions) and artifacts (Kaladesh Inventions). However, I think that we can look at the types of cards that have been printed so far and begin to predict which cards we may be likely to see in the future.

I've written at length on my wishes that Wizards would be more transparent about their B&R leanings. In particular, I wish that they would make public the cards that are on their "closely watching" list when it comes to possible bannings.

Perhaps the Masterpiece series is a window into what Wizards believes is safe and unsafe...

One thing that I've noticed over the course of exploring the Kaladesh and Aether Revolt Masterpieces is that there are a ton of Modern Affinity cards: Mox Opal, Steel Overseer, and now Arcbound Ravager and Ornithopter. These cards are unilaterally used in Modern Affinity and thus it seems reasonable that Wizards wouldn't print super-premium versions of the cards if it was on their radar to ban something from the deck!

Calls to ban Mox Opal are a mantra that creep up often, and have been a mainstay in discussion on Modern for years. However, I think it's reasonable to assume with so much attention being paid to Affinity staples as premium Masterpieces that it's unlikely.

There is always a chance that Affinity is getting featured just because Kaladesh Inventions can only be artifacts, but it could go deeper.

Another interesting fact is that Zendikar Expeditions didn't feature the Affinity mainstay rare lands, like Inkmoth Nexus, Glimmervoid or Blinkmoth Nexus. In particular, Inkmoth Nexus would have been a great land to reprint because it sees play in both Affinity and Infect. However, when we look back to what Modern looked like before BFZ was released, it was pretty clear that Affinity was one of the decks being seriously considered for a banning. The plot thickens.

Perhaps, these popular premium Affinity lands were not printed in BFZ because Wizards didn't want to experience backlash if they were forced to ban Mox Opal... Obviously, this is all speculation, but it's plausible.

It is also interesting that Eye of Ugin was in the mix as a Masterpiece and ended up needing to be banned. I take that as a sign that they had absolutely no idea that Eldrazi were going to be as big of a problem as they ended up being! I suspect that if they would have had even the slightest inkling that Eye would be banned that it would not have been selected as a Masterpiece (and that perhaps Eldrazi Temple might have gotten the nod).

So, perhaps investigating which cards are appearing as Masterpieces is an insight into what they are weary of possibly banning from Constructed.

Noticeably Present in Masterpiece Form

Let's take a look at some prominent cards that are present in Masterpiece form.

Primarily a Modern staple and used in the infamous Lantern Control deck, which is also a Mox Opal deck. If my hypothesis is correct, an Opal ban is feeling more and more unlikely.

These are trademark Mishra's Workshop cards. I find it unlikely that Wizards would encourage Vintage Shop players to buy in on super premium foils if they were planning on nerfing the deck in the future. I don't think Shop will ever go bye-bye from Vintage, but this appears to be another confirmation of what I've been saying all along. Shop is effectively unrestrictable.

Noticeably Absent

Doesn't Top feel like exactly the kind of card that should be a Masterpiece? Did you even notice its absence across the whole block of prominent reprints in a mono-artifact universe? If you apply my theory about Masterpiece reprints as an indicator of how safe cards are in their respective formats, I think this creates a strong case that Top may be at risk of being banned in Legacy.

Common Masterpieces? Good Grief!

Personally, I love the idea of creating Masterpiece versions of popular common and uncommon cards.

Poor Ornithopter Masterpiece has been getting a lot of guff, but I anticipate it will be a very popular Masterpiece that players and collectors will want to get their hands on. The idea of extremely rare versions of highly-played commons will drive a lot of demand for those singles.

I think that Ornithopter is a tester card to see how the market and public react to it. Will people be irate and raging when they open a Masterpiece Ornithopter? Or will people be cool with it? Will players and collectors want these cards to max-bling out their Affinity decks? Personally, I think that people will want these cards and they will maintain solid value. We've already learned that Masterpieces can't all have super expensive price tags, and it is nice to have a range.

We also don't want all of the Masterpieces to be super expensive because it wreaks havoc on the Standard singles prices. As we saw with BFZ, too many expensive Expeditions or Masterpieces in one set makes the actual set cards worth too little.

I think we see Wizards experimenting with creating a range of values among the Masterpieces in order to balance the prices of the set in a more palatable way.

Personally, I love the idea of common and uncommon Masterpieces. Can you imagine how desirable cards like Brainstorm and Ponder in Masterpiece form would be? Not just how expensive, but how cool? Lightning Bolt, Blighted Agent, Rhystic Study, Terminate, Stinkweed Imp, Counterspell, Pyroblast, and Relic of Progenitus are other examples of Masterpieces that would be highly desirable despite featuring common cards.

Closing Thoughts

I'm pretty excited about Aether Revolt and impressed with the cards that are being featured as Masterpieces this time around. There are certainly more than a few cards that I'm going to be looking to pick up and add to my Danger Room. It's funny how even though I don't collect foils, I still end up collecting foils. All things considered, Wizards did a good job this time around and I'm also interested in using some of the information to predict possible banned list issues.

6 thoughts on “Insider: Drawing Inferences From Masterpieces

  1. “Perhaps, these popular premium Affinity lands were not printed in BFZ”


    orrrrrr because they’re intrinsically tied to Mirrodin and wotc said that all masterpieces would be cards that were thematically available on the plane the expansion is set in

  2. this also applies to sensei’s top

    dear god grant me the strength to suffer people who don’t know the most basic background info on the topic they’re being paid to write about

    1. Seriously? Why couldn’t there be Blinkmoths or Sensei’s Divining Tops on Zendikar or Kaladesh? Top is such a generic object – like a Sol Ring that it could have been a Masterpiece if they wanted it to be.

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