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How Much Is Ultimate Masters Helping Modern Prices?


Ultimate Masters is finally, officially here. While drafting Masters sets is always fun and the upcoming limited Grand Prix will doubtlessly be popular, the primary reason why people get excited for Masters sets is because they bring with them a bunch of powerful, expensive reprints and theoretically lower the barrier of entry into various formats, ranging from Modern to Legacy and even Commander! A couple of weeks ago, we examined the expected value of Ultimate Masters, looking at how much value you should open if you decide to crack a box. Well, today, we're looking at Ultimate Masters from the exact opposite perspective: the set's impact on the prices of the most important cards and decks in Modern. 

Back in August, we discussed how 2018 had been a rough year for Modern prices, with the cost of a deck increasing by about 25% in just a few months. At the time, we were coming off of two lackluster Masters sets, and there wasn't another Masters set yet announced. The surprise announcement of Ultimate Masters caused a huge shift in Modern prices in a very short period of time. The set is overflowing with Modern staples, to the point that seven of the 10 most expensive cards in the Modern format are reprinted in the set.

As such, our plan for today is pretty simple: we're going to dig into Ultimate Masters and see just how much the set has decreased the price of the Modern format, starting with decks but also delving into individual cards. Then, considering that Ultimate Masters is the last Masters set for the "foreseeable future," we'll talk a bit about the best way to handle the Ultimate Masters reprints from the perspective of someone looking to build and expand their Modern collection. 

One word of warning before we get to the prices: Ultimate Masters was just released a couple of days ago, and the floor for cards reprinted in a Masters set typically comes a month or two after the set is released, so it's possible (and even likely) that many of the cards we'll talk about today will drop a bit further in price over the next few weeks. If anything, today's prices underestimate just how much Ultimate Masters is helping the Modern format, which is pretty amazing because even at current prices, the discount the set is offering on both important cards and tier decks is stunning.

Tier Decks

Let's start with perhaps the most important metric by which to judge a Masters set: its impact on the cost of buying a tier Modern deck. While seeing individual cards drop in price is great, individual cards aren't particularly helpful if your goal is to play Modern. Below, you'll find a chart that shows the prices of the 12 most played decks in the Modern format back on October 26 (roughly six weeks ago, just before Ultimate Masters was announced) along with the current price and the percent change.

Price Change Last Six Weeks, 12 Most Played Decks in Modern
Deck October 26, 2018 Price Current Price % Change
Bant Spirits $1,250 $1,044 16.5%
Humans $1,444 $1,149 20.4%
Mono-Green Tron $781 $671 14.2%
Dredge $611 $690 12.9%
UW Control n/a n/a n/a
Grixis Death's Shadow $1,052 $954 10.3%
Golgari Midrange $1,542 $1,363 11.6%
Hardened Scales $1,062 $1,016 4.3%
Storm $353 $291 17.6%
Burn $645 $605 6.2%
Jund $1,868 $1,455 22.1%
Titan Shift $518 $472 8.9%

Let's start with an asterisk: the October 26 prices were taken from the Wayback Machine, which means I don't have access to the deck lists on a card-by-card basis. In theory, this means that people could have removed expensive cards from decks over the past six weeks and replaced them with cheaper cards, which would skew the numbers. However, in practice, outside of a handful of sideboard slots, most tier Modern decks are pretty stable, and six weeks isn't a huge period of time for an eternal format to undergo significant changes, which makes card choices an exceedingly unlikely explanation for the (almost) across-the-board price decrease of tier decks. The one exception here is UW Control, which tends to add and remove copies of both Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Teferi, Hero of Dominaria—two really expensive cards—which makes using total deck prices without looking at individual cards a bad metric for this deck specifically, so I decided against including it at all. Adding or removing a single copy of Jace changes the deck price by nearly $100, which is enough to swing the total deck price all by itself. 

As you can see, of the 12 most played decks in Modern, 10 have decreased in price with the announcement and release of Ultimate Masters. UW Control isn't listed due to the complications in correctly calculating the price that we talked about a moment ago (although if you compare card for card, it's likely cheaper, thanks to the big decrease from Celestial Colonnade), and the one exception is Dredge, which is nearly 13% more expensive today than it was back in October, despite some good reprintings (Life from the Loam, Golgari Thug, and Conflagrate) in Ultimate Masters, but this is more about Dredge suddenly going from unplayed to one of the best decks in Modern with the printing of Creeping Chill.

Of the 10 decks that dropped in price, the average decline was 13.2% (when including Dredge, it drops to a still respectable 10.8%), ranging from a high of 22.1% for Jund, which had multiple expensive reprints in Ultimate Masters (primarily Liliana of the Veil and Tarmogoyf), to a low of 4.3% from Hardened Scales (which didn't get many reprints at all). While 13.2% might not seem like much, when you consider that this has happened in about 40 days—an extremely short period of time when it comes to Magic card prices—and that the average cost of a deck in our sample was over $1,100 before Ultimate Masters (giving us an average savings of roughly $150 per deck), it's actually a pretty impressive and meaningful decline, especially considering that prices will likely drop further in coming weeks as the set is opened.

Another way to look at this decline is in light of the fact that back in August, we were talking about how Modern deck prices had increased by 26% in 2018. Ultimate Masters has, by itself, undone almost half of this increase already, and by the time all is said and done, it's possible that Ultimate Masters will decrease prices enough that Modern deck prices will end up being more or less the same price by the end of 2018 that they were at the end of 2017. 

Individual Cards

Back when Ultimate Masters was first announced along with an MSRP increase, one of the concerns from some parts of the community is that the higher MSRP would keep the prices of individual cards from decreasing as a result of the reprinting. Thankfully, MSRP isn't really a major factor when it comes to how a Masters set will impact the prices of individual cards, with the total value of cards in the set being significantly more meaningful. Ultimate Masters has a great EV-to-cost ratio, which means it should have a huge impact on the prices of individual cards in the set. So how good of a job has Ultimate Masters done at bringing down the prices of Modern staples? 

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Modern Mythic Staples, UMA Decrease
Card Rarity Pre-UMA Price Current Price Change
Cavern of Souls Mythic $83 $43 48.2%
Karn Liberated Mythic $95 $54 43.1%
Liliana of the Veil Mythic $92 $61 33.7%
Snapcaster Mage Mythic $79 $42 45.6%
Tarmogoyf Mythic $73 $46 40%
Vengevine Mythic $45 $16 64.4%
Emrakul, the Aeons Torn Mythic $44 $20 54.5%
         
Total       47.1%

In Ultimate Masters, seven mythics are Modern staples of various degrees of importance. As far as accessibility is concerned, these are the most relevant reprints in the set, since all these cards are necessary to build various tier decks in Modern, and many of these cards show up in multiple archetypes. Here, the numbers are even more staggering than the total deck prices, with the average UMA-reprinted Modern-staple mythic losing nearly 50% of its value in the past six weeks.

In the past, chase cards from Masters sets have lost somewhere between 25% and 50% of their value, depending on the specifics of the set and the rarity and demand for the card itself. This means that Ultimate Masters has done more to decrease the prices of staples than most past Masters sets, and we probably haven't even felt the full effects of the reprints, since the set was just released a couple of days ago. Traditionally, it's the chase, Modern mythics that lose the least upon a Masters set reprinting, so to see a nearly across-the-board decline of between 40% and 50% from the most played and important mythics in the set is huge news. In theory, this means that the staple rares and uncommons should show even more of a decline, as will the other random casual and Commander cards in the set.

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Modern Rare Staples, Ultimate Masters Price Decrease
Card Pre-UMA Price Current Price Change
Noble Hierarch $80 $42 47.3%
Engineered Explosives $90 $33 66.3%
Celestial Colonnade $57 $23 59.7%
Through the Breach $49 $16 67.4%
Goryo's Vengeance $45 $13 71.1%
Life from the Loam $34 $13 61.8%
Fulminator Mage $23 $9 60.9%
Maelstrom Pulse $23 $7 69.6%
Daybreak Coronet $14 $3 76.9%
       
Totals:     -64.6%

 

As for rares, there are nine in Ultimate Masters that I'd consider Modern staples, and as expected, prices of the staple rares have dropped even more than those of the mythics. In fact, the rare that dropped the least (Noble Hierarch) decreased in price more than the average mythic, and if you average out the best Modern rares in Ultimate Masters, you'll see that they've dropped an astounding 64.6% in the past couple of months. This is significantly more than expected based on past Masters sets and a testament to just how much value Wizards managed to stuff into Ultimate Masters. In fact, prices have already declined so much that even if they don't drop any more as the set is opened (which is unlikely—the floor is usually a month or two after a Masters set is released), Ultimate Masters would already rank as the most successful Masters set ever in terms of dropping the prices of Modern staples. 

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Uncommon Staple Price Decrease, Ultimate Masters
Card Pre-UMA Price Current Price Change
Kitchen Finks $8.90 $2.50 72.2%
Eternal Witness $7.50 $3.10 58.7%
Lava Spike $5.50 $2.40 56.4%
Sleight of Hand $4.50 $1.90 57.8%
Devoted Druid $5.80 $1.50 74.1%
Golgari Thug $4.3 $1.70 60.5%
Desperate Ritual $2.70 $1.00 63%
Conflagrate $2.50 $0.80 68%
Slippery Bogle $3.20 $0.90 71.9%
Countersquall $3.10 $0.80 74.2%
Young Pyromancer $2.00 $0.70 65%

The Modern-playable uncommons from Ultimate Masters are more of the same, except with a lower starting point. While the difference between Kitchen Finks being $9 and $2.50 might not seem like much, every little bit helps, and the savings end up being even more meaningful if you're purchasing an entire playset. The other important aspect of the uncommon reprints is that many of these cards were on the, rise since they hadn't been reprinted in a few years. While the current savings are great, when you consider that many of these cards would have doubled in price over the next year or two had they not been reprinted (see: Manamorphose), the decline is even more important and impressive. 

Putting Everything Together

While we could continue on, posting chart after chart featuring Commander cards and other lesser-played reprints, we'd just see more of the same. Whenever we have a Masters set, it's the tournament-playable cards that lose the least. Considering the Modern staple mythics lost nearly 50% of their value and the Modern staple rares dropped by almost 65%, the lesser played, less-in-demand rares, mythics, and uncommons have almost certainly dropped by just as much or even more! 

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All in all, this makes Ultimate Masters the most successful Masters set of all time when it comes to decreasing the price of the Modern format. In the recent past, Masters sets have lacked a critical mass of staples, instead relying on expensive, low-supply / low-demand cards like Imperial Recruiter and Mana Drain to sell the set. This led to some awkward situations where we saw massive price decreases, but the cards decreasing in price were cards that most players needed. Ultimate Masters fixed this problem, reprinting a majority of the most expensive and playable cards in the Modern format. 

As a brief aside, while people like to complain about Wizards not reprinting cards often enough, if you really dig into the numbers, you'll see that over the past 18 months, we've actually gotten reprints for a massive chunk of the format. Of the 10 most played creatures in Modern, five have been reprinted since Iconic Masters and another four are from sets recently in Standard (Bedlam Reveler, Arclight Phoenix, Reflector Mage, and Walking Ballista), so their prices are already relatively low. The only top 10 creature that hasn't been printed recently is Phantasmal Image, and even that was printed in Modern Masters 2017. Even if you expand the list out to the top 25 most played creatures, things look the same ,with Meddling Mage being the only card that hasn't been printed in a while, with Death's Shadow (Modern Masters 2017) and Scavenging Ooze (Commander 2016) the only other cards that even arguably need a reprint (and both of these are still pretty cheap, with Death's Shadow at $10 and Scavenging Ooze under $4). 

If we look at spells rather than creatures, the results are mostly the same. While the list of most played spells is overloaded with relatively cheap commons and uncommons, nine of the top 10 have recently been reprinted (with Path to Exile being the only exception), and even expanding out to the 25 most played cards, only a handful need a reprint and haven't been reprinted recently (Surgical Extraction, Leyline of the Void, Manamorphose, Mox Opal, and Collected Company). 

Basically, in the past year and a half, Wizards has reprinted nearly all of the important non-land cards in Modern, and if we push things back to Modern Masters 2017 (just under two years ago), we've also gotten reprints for fetch lands, shock lands, check lands, filter lands, and now the Worldwake creaturelands. In fact, apart from Blackcleave Cliffs, the 20 most played lands in Modern have all been printed or reprinted since Khans of Tarkir, and even if we expand out to the top 50, only a handful of fringe lands (Tolaria West, the rest of the ally fast lands, Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle, and Gemstone Mine) don't have a relatively recent reprinting. While it's certainly true that we could use another fetch land reprinting, it's also true that we could always use another fetch land reprinting, and considering both the ally and enemy fetch lands have been reprinted in the not-too-distant-past, it's hard to complain too much.

So where does all of this leave us? Well, first off, if the goal of a Masters set is to make formats like Modern cheaper and more accessible, then Ultimate Masters is the best Masters set of all time. No matter what metric you use—whether deck prices or individual card prices—Modern is meaningfully cheaper today than it was just a few months ago. Combine this with the fact that a huge percentage of the most playable cards in Modern have been printed or reprinted in the past couple of years, and the next month or two will likely be the best time to buy into the Modern format in the new few years. 

The Future

Assuming that Modern continues to be supported and popular, the victory of Ultimate Masters will likely be short lived—and apart from some recent complaints about the meta, there's little reason to expect differently, with Pro Tours and a bunch of Grands Prix on the horizon in the first part of 2019. No matter how good a Masters set might be and how much it decreases prices, as time goes by, supply will run low and prices will increase. When you combine this with the announcement that Ultimate Masters will be the last Masters set for the foreseeable future, it's possible that the next few months will be the last, best chance for players to get into Modern. 

Two years from now, most of the cards we've talked about today will likely be back up to their pre-UMA price. Some will probably be even higher. While Wizards will keep reprinting cards in some form or another, without having an official announcement of a product to replace the Masters series, it's hard to know just what the future holds. If we simply get scattered reprints in Standard-legal sets and supplemental products like Battlebond and Conspiracy rather than focused Masters sets, it's going to be difficult for the reprintings to keep up with demand. On the other hand, there are some rumblings that we could see pseudo-Masters sets containing a mixture of reprints and new cards that would be legal in the Modern format. If we get a more direct replacement for Masters sets or perhaps even an improved version of Masters sets under a different name, then things may look more or less like they have for the past several years, with Modern cards being reprinted, losing a ton of value, and then climbing back to their previous highs before they are eventually reprinted again.

All things considered, the uncertain future of reprints makes using the Ultimate Masters price decreases to buy into Modern especially important. If you think you might want to play Modern at some point in the next year or two, this winter is the time to get the cards you need. If you have the funds, you should pick up cards you think you might need in the future as well. Even if you end up never needing that Liliana of the Veil or Celestial Colonnade, you'll likely be able to trade them away or sell them in a year or two for more than you paid anyway. Prices will increase—they always do—so rather than being stuck paying double for the Modern staples you'll need a year or two from now, take advantage of the Ultimate Masters sale happening now, if at all possible.

Conclusion

Anyway, that's all for today. Despite the MSRP increase, Ultimate Masters has lived up to its name as the best Masters set of all time, and we're seeing the results, with a massive decrease in the prices of a ton of staples! Which cards from Ultimate Masters are you planning to pick up now that they are at a huge discount? Let me know in the comments! As always, leave your thoughts, ideas, opinions, and suggestions and you can reach me on Twitter @SaffronOlive or at SaffronOlive@MTGGoldfish.com.


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