Insider: (Lack of) Masterpieces and Ixalan

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As many of you know, Ixalan is the first set since Shadows over Innistrad and Eldritch Moon to not have Masterpieces. What is also the case is that Ixalan will be the first set on MTGO without Masterpieces that also has the cost reduction involved in opening product that was put into place with Kaladesh. Being aware of this will be critical for making smart investment decisions in the coming months, and I'm here to break that down for your today!

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If you recall, Kaladesh was the first set to implement a league structure for Limited. Kaladesh ushered in the variety of offerings we still see today: Competitive Draft League, Intermediate Swiss Draft League, Competitive Sealed League, and Friendly Sealed League.

A critical change accompanied these new offerings: regular Draft events that had cost $14 now cost $12, and Sealed tournaments that had cost $28 now cost $24. This placed a hard cap on the cost of a booster at $3.33 instead of $4.00 if you opened the booster pack in a Limited event.

The rationale given for this cost reduction was that the digital booster packs on MTGO would not contain Masterpieces. I think the hope was that this would prevent Limited leagues from having a noticeably worse EV due to Masterpieces taking up a lot of the set's value in the paper world. It also felt "fair", and perhaps the MTGO team thought that if they didn't want to put the masterpieces in the boosters, then they needed to lower the booster price to avoid making people very angry.

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Anyway, the point is that the booster price was lowered specifically in response to Masterpieces and MTGO's decision not to put Masterpieces inside of boosters. What is interesting about the subsequent sets is that Lee Sharpe decided (thankfully) to keep the digital pack price at $3.33, even though the value of the paper equivalent of digital Ixalan cards would not be depressed by Masterpieces. This is very significant – and yet I've not seen anyone talk about it!

Redemption should provide a higher floor on digital Ixalan prices than it did for Amonkhet block or Kaladesh block. We need only look at the average set prices one month after release to see what impact Masterpieces have had on digital set prices. Let's stick to large sets for the sake of consistency in comparison. Also remember: Goldfish's data is off because they insist on including all the Planeswalker deck cards in a set's financial value. I've manually extricated them so we get an accurate picture of the value of the sets you can redeem and the cards you can open in booster packs.

While it is a well-known fact that the prices of paper cards are substantially lowered if they are in a set with Masterpieces, what is less-often discussed is that this lower paper price forces a set's digital price lower as well (redemption guarantees a link between paper and digital prices, although that link can be and has been manipulated from time to time by Wizards).

As the above chart shows, sets with Masterpieces have had an average value of $69.27 after release and an average Standard low of $55.43. Sets without Masterpieces, however, have usually maintained a higher overall value. One month after release, non-Masterpiece sets have averaged $113.60, with a Standard low of $85.02. In the digital realm, then, sets without Masterpieces tend to have an extra $20 to $50 in them depending on their location in the Standard life cycle. That's a lot of extra value!

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The burning question I have is whether Ixalan will have price floors and ceilings more similar to Shadows over Innistrad or more similar to Kaladesh. There are a whole host of factors that affect a set's financial value, power level and aesthetic appeal prime among them. Yet redemption ensures a correlation between digital and paper prices, and if the paper price is higher, then we can expect the digital price to be higher as well.

Thus far, however, Ixalan is following a price trajectory more akin to the sets with Masterpieces. Already, the set's value has dipped into the upper seventies, and we're only two weeks into its digital release. Historically, sets without Masterpieces did not dip below $100 on MTGO until at least four to six weeks after their digital release.

I think a variety of factors may be to blame – Leagues ensure that product floods the marketplace faster than it did in the past (I have already played in 52 Ixalan drafts, and there's no way I could have done that in the old queue structure). As I and many others expected, Ixalan is quite a weak set, one that will have a hard time thriving under the shadow of energy-laden Kaladesh. But I think too that once redemption kicks in in a couple of weeks, we will see a floor significantly higher than Amonkhet, the last large set that also did not have a major impact on Standard.

If digital prices fall too low, and it appears they might, I think more sets will be redeemed, thereby bolstering Ixalan card prices on MTGO. Ixalan is the test case, and we'll have to monitor it closely once redemption kicks in. Despite the likelihood of having a similar impact on Standard as Amonkhet, I don't expect Ixalan to reach as low of a floor. I think something in the range of $50 to $60 is reasonable.

Importantly, I think it may bottom out earlier than usual, and it may experience a swifter and stronger rebound than usual. Typically, fall sets bottom out about two months before the release of the January set and slowly inch up. This year this will be easy to remember, because Iconic Masters will be released at roughly the same time that this bottoming out occurs. The mere existence of Iconic Masters bodes well for the future financial value of Ixalan.

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We may therefore have to readjust to some of the old rules of investing before the Masterpiece era. Cards are going to have higher ceilings and higher floors. Cards that for the past year might have bottomed out at 0.50 tix might now bottom out closer to 0.75 tix. The next mythic rare like Chandra, Torch of Defiance or The Scarab God might spend far less time below 10.00 tix than they have over the past year. This is especially true for mythics, because redemption eats up a greater percentage of copies of mythics than copies of any other type. Foil mythics should receive a greater premium than they have for the past year, and mythics in general should receive a substantial boost.

I rarely make large investments before a set bottoms out in price, but I do want to mention that I am keeping a close eye on Jace, Cunning Castaway. Jace, Cunning Castaway is better than he looks, and better than he looks, so 5.00 tix is definitely a price he should beat in the long haul. I'm not buying yet, but I will definitely start buying if his price dips below 4.00 tix.

Signing Off

I want to put in a word about Ixalan draft.

First of all, the EV of drafting is better than it was during Aether Revolt, Hours of Devastation, or Amonkhet, so we are getting a reprieve from needing a 65- to 66-percent match win-rate to break even. The break-even point for Ixalan, 63%, is still higher than it was historically, but it makes a significant difference for players who tend to win about 60% of their matches.

Kaladesh Draft was the last time we had a break-even point this "low." I think the key to the Ixalan format is understanding which cards are super important for making different archetypes work, and making sure that you don't commit to a certain archetype until you acquire some of these important cards. You shouldn't go RW Aggro unless you pick up multiple Imperial Aerosaurs and Territorial Hammerskulls (and did those two Pteredon Knights wheel?). Successful midrange to durdly GW or RG decks will have multiple Grazing Whiptails. Only commit yourself to blue aggression once you've gotten a few Storm Fleet Aerialists or Shaper Apprentices, and don't take three Siren Lookouts and expect to get the requisite two-drops later.

In a nutshell, look at cards like Siren Lookout and Merfolk Branchwalker and recognize that they can fit into a wide array of archetypes – don't let your mind force those cards down cookie-cutter paths and color pairs (e.g. I've 3-0'd with an aggressive GW deck with a lot of merfolk synergy).

Leave any questions and comments below and I'll get back to you! Until next time, have fun drafting!

3 thoughts on “Insider: (Lack of) Masterpieces and Ixalan

  1. I am definitely going to need to read this article a few times to soak everything up. In regard to you last few articles, I finally implemented seasons on my tracking spreadsheet and Ive been very happy with it, so I just wanted to say thanks for the great tip.

    1. Thanks Peter. Also, I just figured out how to do manual entries for the individual transactions only. It involved some pretty complex equations in Excel, but when I share my portfolio next week you’ll be able to see it. Thanks for the suggestion, and glad I finally got around to figuring out how to do it.

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