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Strixhaven: Arena's Most Expensive Set


So far, Strixhaven hasn't made a major impact on Standard. While we've seen a few scattered cards show up here and there, if you look through tournament lists and the metagame page, things look more or less the same as they did a couple of weeks ago, before Strixhaven was released. While this is likely in part because Strixhaven isn't an especially powerful Standard set, with quite a few rare slots dedicated to the underwhelming learn / lesson mechanic and many mythics that seem designed more to be good in Commander than in 60-card formats like Standard, there is one place where Strixhaven likely is having a huge impact: Wizards' bottom line. 

While we have been talking about the issues with Arena's economy and its player-unfriendly nature for years—basically since the client was launched—Strixhaven takes the cake for the most expensive Standard set ever released onto the client. While the cost of a booster pack is the same—the equivalent of $1 in gold or gems—in some ways, the set seems designed to squeeze more money out of Arena players. 

Of course, the cost of Arena varies greatly based on how you play the game. Some people pay with their time, while others pay with money, so I can't really speak to how expensive Arena is for you specifically, and I don't know how you value both either. What I can do is share with you how much Strixhaven costs me, as someone who doesn't have the time to spend a few weeks drafting or grinding a single tier deck to earn rewards in the hopes of building a second brew. I primarily make constructed content and need most of the cards in the set right away because, in a typical week, I play somewhere around 10 different decks and try to avoid reusing the same decks multiple times.

So far, I'm roughly 300 packs (probably better known as $300 since packs cost $1 each) into Strixhaven on Magic Arena, after buying a 50-pack prerelease bundle, two 90-pack bundles, and a 45-pack bundle and opening some random packs that I bought with gold, earned as rewards, or got with the PLAYSTRIXHAVEN code. I currently have four copies of all of the commons, uncommons, and rares in the set, but I'm not especially close to completing the mythics from the main set, let alone the Mystical Archives.

Somehow, I haven't managed to open a single Velomachus Lorehold in 300 packs...

My $300 investment (including both the cards I opened in the packs and the mythic wildcards I received from opening packs and filling the wildcard wheel) has gotten me a total of 53 main-set mythics out of a total of 84, which amounts to almost two-thirds of the mythics in the set (63% completion rate). Meanwhile, mythic Mystical Archives are a bit worse. Discounting the ones that are banned in Historic (which I don't really care about), I have 28 of the 48, which adds up to a 58.4% completion rate. If you include the three mythic Mystical Archives that are banned in Historic (Demonic Tutor, Channel, and Natural Order), I've opened slightly less than half of the mythic Mystical Archives in 300 packs. 

Doing a quick bit of math, if the 57 main-set mythics I've gotten so far cost $300, this would mean that I'm paying roughly $5.26 per mythic, which would mean the remaining 27 main-set mythics would cost another $142. Meanwhile, mythic Mystical Archives have cost me an average of $10.71 each, so getting the missing 20 would cost another $214, which puts the total cost of completing a Strixhaven set with money (rather than time) at somewhere around $500. These numbers also don't fully capture the cost of the remaining mythics because now that I've completed all of the commons, uncommons, and rares from the set, opening packs has greatly diminished returns. Most of the Strixhaven packs I open will add just a tiny bit of value progress and 20 gems for the fifth copy of the rare I would have opened. The first couple hundred packs you open from a set have a lot more value than the next couple hundred since the early packs are helping to fill out your collection with the lower-rarity cards in the set, while the later packs are just dead weight until you happen to hit a mythic naturally, hit a mythic wildcard, or fill the wildcard wheel. 

To put this into perspective, right now, the average cost of a Strixhaven mythic in paper is $7.88—a price that likely is still inflated by the fact that the set wasn't officially released until Friday, so supply is limited. Meanwhile, on Magic Online, the average cost of a Strixhaven mythic is $3.74. So, Strixhaven mythics are slightly (for now) less expensive on Arena than they are in paper and significantly more expensive on Arena than they are on Magic Online, despite the fact that Arena cards have less utility since they are locked into your account forever, while you can sell or trade your cards both in paper and on Magic Online if you wish. 

What about Mystical Archives? In paper, the average cost of a mythic Mystical Archive is $12.33, although this number is somewhat inflated by the three Mystical Archives that are banned on Magic Arena and weren't considered in our Arena math. If we drop Demonic Tutor, Channel, and Natural Order, the average cost of a mythic Mystical Archive drops to $10.21, slightly cheaper than Arena's $10.71 average cost. As for Magic Online, the mythic Mystical Archives are laughably cheap, costing an average of $0.56 when including the banned offerings and $0.34 without the banned-in-Historic cards.

As bad as these numbers look for Arena, they actually undersell just how unfriendly the economy is for players. The only way for a constructed player to get cards on Arena (outside of a tiny, tiny chance of getting what you want as a random individual card reward) is to open packs. As a result, Arena basically requires you to pay full price for cards that you don't want, to get the cards that you do want. This includes reprints. So in my quest to get the Mystical Archives I do need, like Time Warp, Mizzix's Mastery, and Primal Command, I'm also forced to pay $10.71 a copy for a playset of the mythic Mystical Archive Approach of the Second Sun, even though I already have a playset of rare Approach of the Second Suns in my collection from Amonkhet Remastered, which makes getting the Mystical Archives I do need even more expensive than the average cost would suggest because, to me, the Mystical Archive Approach of the Second Sun is worthless. 

$ 0.00 $ 0.00 $ 0.00 $ 0.00

While you can argue that the same thing happens with paper Magic cards if you open boxes (you'll open cards you don't want looking for the cards you do want), this argument misses the mark for two reasons. First and more importantly, if you want a specific card in paper, you shouldn't be opening boxes to begin with; you should just buy the singles that you need. Arena doesn't have this option. While wildcards might look like a way to buy singles, in reality, it's not the same because the only way to get wildcards is to open a bunch of packs. One way or another, you need to open a ton of packs to get the cards that you need—there's no other option. Second, if you do decide to open boxes of paper Magic cards and open an Approach of the Second Sun that you don't want, that Approach of the Second Sun still has value because someone else wants it, so you can trade or sell your Approach of the Second Sun and get the Mizzix's Mastery or Mind's Desire that you do want, which is another feature of every other form of Magic that is missing from Magic Arena since Wizards decided to exclude dusting, trading, or any other form of collection management from the client.

Putting this all together, it's almost impressive how Wizards has managed to design such a player-unfriendly economy. Somehow, Wizards has managed to make a system where cards have no real value (since they are locked into your account) but cost just as much or more—in many cases, much more—than paper or Magic Online cards, which do have real value. Along the way, they also managed to make it so to get the cards that you do want, you have to pay full price for cards that you don't want, including reprints that you already have a playset of that are worthless even on Magic Arena, outside of whatever joy the alternate art (well, if it does have alternate art—some reprints look exactly the same except for the set symbol) gives you. Of course, most of this is true about any set on Arena, not just Strixhaven, so what makes Strixhaven uniquely expensive? There are two big reasons.

More Mythics

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Since the creation of the mythic rarity over a decade ago, Magic sets have had a set number of mythics—small sets (which are a thing of the past) had 12 mythics, while large sets have 15, with one exception: double-faced cards. Since Zendikar Rising, double-faced cards (in the form of MDFCs) have been a recurring theme, showing up in Zendikar Rising, Kaldheim, and Strixhaven, which has increased the total number of mythics in each set to 20 or more. While past sets (both Innistrad blocks) also had double-faced cards that increased the total number of mythics in the set, there is one huge difference: they showed up in their own special slot, which essentially made double-faced cards a bonus since you could open a normal mythic and a double-faced mythic in the same pack. MDFCs are different—they replace a card of the same rarity in the pack. So rather than being bonuses, they are just more normal mythics that you need to open to complete the set. 

Strixhaven took this concept even one step further than Zendikar Rising or Kaldheim did thanks to lessons. Mascot Exhibition is the 21st mythic in the set, which means you need a total of 84 mythics to complete the entire set, compared to 80 for Zendikar Rising and Kaldheim and 60 for past large sets. While this change doesn't impact paper or Magic Online packs since lesson cards come in their own special slot (like old double-faced cards), this doesn't hold true for Magic Arena, where the packs you buy in the store or earn as rewards contain fewer cards and don't have a bonus lesson slot, making Mascot Exhibition yet another normal mythic you need to open, rather than a bonus card. Considering we figured that we're paying $5.26 for a Strixhaven mythic, going from 20 to 21 mythics adds another $21 to the cost of completing a set, while, compared to a pre-MDFC set like Core Set 2021, getting all the mythics in Strixhaven will set you back an extra $126. 

It's possible that this is a temporary change to accommodate MDFCs. Perhaps we'll go back to 15 mythics per set in the future, although it's also possible that Hasbro likes the fact that more mythics means players need to open more packs (and spend more money) on Arena to complete a set and that the change will remain even when MDFCs are no longer in every set. Only time will tell, but for right now, having five or—in the case of Strixhaven—six more mythics than traditional sets greatly increases the cost of playing Arena.

Mystical Archives

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The second reason why Strixhaven is so expensive is Mystical Archives. While I absolutely love that they are a part of the set and their impact on Historic on Magic Arena, their rarity is troubling, to say the least. In paper and on Magic Online, the rarity of Mystical Archives doesn't especially matter because they are all reprints, which means Mystical Archives don't offer any gameplay advantage. If you want a Brainstorm, you can easily play one of the many cheap, common versions readily available and pretend like the more expensive Mystical Archive version doesn't exist. A Brainstorm is a Brainstorm; paying for the Mystical Archive is completely optional. 

On the other hand, many of the Mystical Archives are new to Magic Arena and legal in Historic, which means that if you want to play a deck with Brainstorm, your only option is to play with the Mystical Archive printing because that's the only printing that exists on the client. The issue here is that many of the Mystical Archives have an inflated rarity. Of the 30 rare Mystical Archives, 16 are available at common in paper, while the rest are uncommons. Meanwhile, all 15 mythic Mystical Archives were originally printed at rare (although some like Time Warp and Natural Order would be mythics if they were first printed at a time when the mythic rarity existed). 

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In a very real sense, through the rarity of Mystical Archives, Wizards has found a way to make players spend rare wildcards on commons and uncommons and mythic wildcards on rares. And again, most of these cards are new to Arena and necessary to play various decks in Historic, so this isn't a frivolous, optional splurge like buying Mystical Archives to bling out a deck in paper or on Magic Online would be. Spending rare wildcards on things like Brainstorm, Mana Tithe, and Faithless Looting is the price you have to pay if you want to play Historic on a competitive level. 

The rarity of Mystical Archives is flustering for three major reasons. First, inflating the rarity of Mystical Archives is completely unnecessary. Wizards has total control of the Magic Arena economy. There's no secondary market. Cards cost exactly what Wizards wants them to cost. There's no reason why players should have to spend a rare wildcard on Faithless Looting or a mythic wildcard on Crux of Fate other than Wizards wanting to drain as much money out of the player base as possible. This problem is super easy to fix: either Wizards could have downshifted the rarity on Mystical Archives everywhere while keeping the distribution the same (e.g., make Crux of Fate a rare and Faithless Looting a common but still have them show up at the current rate in packs), or Wizards simply could say, "You can acquire these cards with a wildcard based on the cards' true  / original rarity, rather than their inflated Mystical Archive rarity." 

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Second, several of the rare or mythic Mystical Archives already exist on Magic Arena at lower rarities. Gods Willing and Growth Spiral are commons, Despark is an uncommon, and Approach of the Second Sun is a rare, but if you are opening a bunch of packs to try to complete a Strixhaven set, you'll still have to pay the full Mystical Archive price for these cards, even though they are unnecessary for gameplay because you likely already have (or could easily acquire) the lower-rarity version if you want to play them in your deck. 

Third, this problem will only get worse as more sets and reprint sets are added to Arena. It's exceedingly likely that cards like Faithless Looting and Brainstorm will show up in a future set at common, dropping their cost on Arena significantly, which, in a weird way, punishes people for trying to get and play with the cards now. Much like it's frustrating to pay full price for a card style only to see it show up at 75% off in the store a few days later, it feels bad to have to spend a rare wildcard on Faithless Looting knowing full well that it will almost certainly be a common on Magic Arena at some point in the future. 

Remember back when Historic started on Arena and Wizards announced that it would be charging double the wildcards for the format "for the health of the game," only to back down after a major freak-out from the community? At the time, it felt like we had won, but we should have known that Hasbro always wins in the end. In hindsight, it seems like Hasbro realized that if it couldn't make us pay double the wildcards to play the format, it could simply up the rarity on cards that we'd need to play the format in order to achieve a similar amount of profit with things like Mystical Archives.

Conclusion

As I mentioned in the intro, this is my experience with the Arena economy as someone who needs most of the cards in a set right away, plays primarily constructed with both Standard and Historic, and doesn't really have the ability to pay for cards with hours and hours of my time rather than with actual money. Your experience likely will be much different if you are a free-to-play player who pays for the game with your time or if you are someone who doesn't mind playing just one deck for a couple of months while you earn rewards to build another deck. That said, the issues that we've talked about today do impact everyone. If you are a free-to-play player, you're likely pinched on rare wildcards, and having to spend them on commons like Faithless Looting and Brainstorm is probably even more painful for you. Even if you don't play Historic, the increasing number of mythics in the set makes it less likely that you'll open the specific mythics you do want to play in Standard, making it more likely that you'll have to spend your precious wildcards to complete your decks. If you're paying with your time rather than with money, these same factors mean that it will also cost you more hours to get all of the cards that you need. 

And yes, I am fully aware that there are workarounds to try to make the economy cheaper, with the biggest being playing a bunch of limited and rare-drafting aggressively, but just because there is a weird hack to make a very unfriendly system slightly more friendly doesn't mean the system is good. You can work around not having any food by digging someone's leftover pizza crust out of a dumpster and chowing down, but just because you managed to find a way to survive doesn't mean the system isn't broken. 

Wrap-Up

Anyway, that's all for today. As always, leave your thoughts, ideas, opinions, and suggestions in the comments, and you can reach me on Twitter @SaffronOlive, or at SaffronOlive@MTGGoldfish.com.



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