Hello all and welcome to In Response – my personal Magic corner here on the Gathering.
Let’s talk Double Masters, shall we?
Announced earlier this year, Double Masters is the (not that) long awaited return of the Masters sets to paper Magic after what was meant to be a much longer hiatus. Hyped up under the ideology that double the rares and double the foils means double the fun, but Double Master’s legacy is looking to be held up more in controversy than excitement.
Previous Masters sets have historically held a higher price point than other sealed booster products, there’s never really been a (good) official reason as to why this is but I mean, we all know why it is (it has to do with that pesky secondary market that Wizards/Hasbro can’t actually claim to have knowledge of the existence of). This has mostly been ok, a bit annoying, but paying $7 for a pack that has a chance at cards like Dark Confidant, Tarmogoyf, Sword of Fire and Ice and the like and come with guaranteed foils isn’t really that bad. Then Ultimate Masters came out a year or two ago and jacked up the price and had its own whole controversy over it and all of that fun stuff. So here we are in 2020 and Wizards announces Double Masters. And Double Masters boxes are preordering at approximately $300 with individual boosters hovering around the $12-15 range. This is double (hey, I get it!) the price of the original Modern Masters. This is also not taking into account the new VIP boosters that are releasing along side the draft boxes, those cost ~$100 each.
But hey, every pack comes with two rares and two foils! So uh, let’s talk about that too, yeah?
I don’t want to come across as completely down on this set. I actually do, overall, like what we have seen so far of Double Masters, I have my box preordered and I am excited to crack it open and get that sweet, sweet rush of dopamine. However, and this kinda of falls under a broader issue I have with the focus that Wizards gives limited formats, such as draft or sealed, in regards to set design, there is a lot of absolute shit clogging up the rare slot in this set. Now, rather than going on a complete tangent I’ll just leave it that I personally do not think that every single booster type product should be made with limited formats in mind and apparently that is something that WotC seems to understand as well given the newly introduced Set Boosters for the upcoming return to return to Zendikar set later this year, though it remains to be seen how much that actually addresses this complaint but I digress. Put most simply, in a set that has the primary focus of reprinting cards and introducing more of those cards into the market and increasing the availability of those cards, especially when that set is as expensive as something like Double Masters. Do not put literal bulk rares, cards that you can’t even get a buck out of, cards you can barely squeeze a quarter out of in some cases into that product because of the limited environment you are trying to create. Ignoring that the climate today is far from accommodating to actually being able to draft this set at your LGS, WotC can’t predict the future, the price alone already makes this set very unlikely to see much draft or sealed play. For the approximate cost of a single Double Masters draft you could do three drafts of a standard set. Mystery Boosters, another recent and very well received product, already hit the ceiling for what makes the sort of limited environments for these reprint sets interesting because rather than 300 something different cards we’re looking at something like 2000 different cards making for a much wider array of interesting pairings. But I digress. Don’t throw chaff into a product you’re charging $15 a pack for (or in the case of VIP boosters, one hundred fucking dollars for) and say “well we need it there for this limited archetype or we can’t have this as an uncommon (or rare) because it is bad for limited”. Limited should be the last consideration for a set like this.
So, that rant aside, let’s actually take a look at the set and talk a bit about it.
As I said, I actually am generally looking forward to Double Masters. For the most part, the mythic rare slot is pretty solid value. You have the big hitters like Mana Crypt, Jace the Mindsculptor, Blightsteel Colossus, Force of Will, Dark Confidant, Chrome Mox, Sword of Fire and Ice, Sword of Feast and Famine. Then you have some fairly solid, if not quite as exciting, reprints like Sneak Attack, Breya, Dark Depths, Avacyn, Mana Echoes, like..for the most part your mythic pulls are going to be pretty good. Then we have things like Maelstrom Nexus, Karrthus, Arcum Dagsson, stuff that you’re really going to be disappointed to see as your much fewer number per box mythic rares. The rare slot is all over the freaking place in terms of value and excitement. We have some much needed and very solid reprints like Toxic Deluge, Cyclonic Rift, the filter land cycle, Mana Reflection, Council’s Judgement, Maze of Ith, Vexing Shusher, Ad Nauseum, Thoughtseize, etc. Then we have things like Ravenous Trap upshifted from uncommon, Bosh in the set…at all, Magus of the Will, Swiftblade Vindicator (this thing is currently in standard right now, it does not need a reprint), Doomed Necromancer, freaking Cragganwick Cremator, just stuff that has no business being one of the rares you have a chance of opening in a pack that costs you $15 (and again, let’s not forget those being your foil rares in your $100 VIP booster pack!). Opening this set is going to be an emotional rollercoaster with some big highs and even bigger lows.
This set does see the return of box toppers and, as exciting as seeing each of these revealed has been there has, of course, been quite the controversy over these as well, because of course there is. Haven’t you been paying attention?
As of the time of this writing we have in fact now seen all 40 of the possible box toppers you can open up in this set. Now, let me make this clear. These are BOX TOPPERS. I have seen people elsewhere call them showcases, drawing an obvious parallel to the special card arts and frames from the last few sets and this needs to be nipped in the bud, so to speak. Box toppers are not showcase cards. Showcase cards were things you could potentially open up in your standard draft booster packs. The only way you get any of these box toppers is either by purchasing a sealed box of Double Masters, which will contain a special insert pack that contains two non-foil box topper cards, or by purchasing a VIP booster that contains two foil box topper cards. The normal versions of these cards with their regular art and frame are available in the set, the special full art versions with new art are not available in normal packs. Hence, box topper. So before I go a bit more into the controversy, here’s a nice little look at the lot of them.
So, what is the big hooplah over these? When VIP boosters were originally (officially) announced, the article was worded in such a way that may or may not have mislead readers into thinking that every single possible box topper would be a rare or mythic rare from the set. This isn’t true as there are a total of 8 box toppers that are in fact commons or uncommons in the set itself, however they are printed with rare set symbols and foil stamps as box toppers. I think this was made a bit of a bigger deal than it really was, especially considering that for the most part the cards that did receive upshifts as box toppers are pretty damn good choices (and even at the time this was originally announced when we only knew a few of them, the tron lands and Expedition Map were still good cards to choose for this and likely to be at least in the middle of the pack value-wise). The other big controversy was the decision to make the mythic rare box toppers actually function as such with the rare box toppers (this includes the upshifted commons and uncommons) appearing twice as often as the mythic rare ones. So yes, you are more likely to open up a Fatal Push or Expedition Map than you are a Jace, the Mindsculptor or Mana Crypt. Still, if we actually look at the rare box topper slots you’ll see things like Brainstorm (upshifted), Toxic Deluge, Thoughtseize, Cyclonic Rift, Noble Hierarch, Exploration, Academy Ruins, Blood Moon all appearing at that rare slot and I’d rather open up most of those over something like Kaalia or Atraxa. Granted, sure, most of my most wanted box toppers are mythic, but a decent handful are at rare and even ones I am more indifferent towards fall under both rarities. There’s only about 11 box toppers that I personally wouldn’t be happy with opening, which means that 3/4 of them are a hit to me.
Even as we go down to the common and uncommon slot in the set itself, we’re seeing some great reprints like Path to Exile, Basalt Monolith (get your foils now!), Oubliette, Thopter Foundry, some really great stuff and getting a fairly decent chance at foils of some of these cards does add some decent value to packs given that some of these cards have never had foil printings before this.
We still have a couple of days left of spoilers, there’s a couple of mythics we still don’t know, probably a good handful of rares still to go and a lot of commons and uncommons yet to be revealed. There’s definitely some issues with Double Masters, the price being sort of the focal point for all of them. The focus on limited and the sort of garbage level rares that brings to the set would sting a lot less if you weren’t paying double the normal price for a masters set to draft it. Having twice as many rares and foils to a pack would be awesome (well, more awesome because it is honestly pretty cool knowing you’re cracking multiple rares and foils every single pack) if there wasn’t a chance that you open up two rares that are worth less than a bookmark or kindling. VIP boosters as a whole feel like an absolute mess and the sort of culmination of the whale hunting Wizards has really gotten into lately, and the whole “this product is not for you” debacle that came about when the set was first announced and the controversy over the price all started. I genuinely do believe that if this had been the normal price of previous masters sets (and I mean go back to original Modern Masters pricing) it would likely be lauded as one of the best sets in a very long time, maybe one of the best ever. As it stands it is a good set marred by a lot of messy controversy over pricing in a time where people’s financial security is sort of up in the air. That Wizards pushed full steam ahead with the single most expensive set in the game’s history now of all times definitely feels like a bit of a blunder. Mark Rosewater himself said the set came about as a rushed product to fill in a gap in releases, a gap that many players would probably have been thankful for considering we have basically had back to back product releases almost every month this year and it’s only seemed to get worse as the pandemic started.
I’m just gonna cut myself off here before things get too rambley and too ranty. My opinions on Double Masters are the same as I hold for any sealed product. Unless you are planning to draft it or play sealed with it or unless you just really want to crack open packs regardless of monetary return, just buy the singles you want. Prices on a lot of these cards are likely to hit their lowest points in years, if not ever and some may not even bounce back much if at all so if there are cards in the set that you are looking forward to having the chance to finally play with, wait until people start cracking and selling and then buy up the single cards you are interested in. That’s always been the best bang for your buck in this game. I fall under the “I just like opening packs” crowd, so yeah, I’m basically giving a “do as I say, not as I do” on this one. I’ll be sharing my experience with you opening a box of Double Masters on the next edition of In Response.
Until then, be good people. Keep those two islands untapped.