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The Price of Ultimate Masters

We first learned about Ultimate Masters a couple of weeks ago when people started getting Ultimate Box Toppers in the mail, and with spoiler season officially starting tomorrow (and wrapping up Wednesday), the time is finally right to talk about the set. So far, we know 41 Ultimate Masters cards—the 40 Ultimate Box Toppers as well as Entomb—which amounts to all of the mythics, a bit under half of the rares, and two of the uncommons from the set. Just looking over the list of cards—a list that contains a huge percentage of the most expensive cards in the Modern format—you'd expect almost universal rejoicing from players. We're finally getting another Masters set that is stocked full of in-demand Modern playables rather than old, expensive, low-demand cards like Imperial Recruiter. Somewhat surprisingly, the opposite is true. Thanks to an MSRP increase from $240 to $335, the reaction to Ultimate Masters has been overwhelmingly negative on social media, Reddit, and YouTube. 

While we'll have a full expected-value breakdown next week after the full set is revealed, the plan today is simple: we're going to talk about the price of Ultimate Masters. Is all of the complaining justified, or is the set better than the community is giving it credit for thanks to some factors that might not be apparent at first glance? That's our topic for today. Let's start with the bad news and the underlying source of most of the weeping and gnashing of teeth from the community:

MSRP: $335

Much of the complaining about Ultimate Masters goes back to the MSRP increase. In the past, Masters sets had an MSRP of $240 a box, with the original Modern Masters having an even lower MSRP thanks to its $7 / pack price point. The jump from $240 to $335 is massive on its face. The price tag might be justified if you dig down into the cards and other unique aspects of the set, but if you're thinking of picking up a box and see the $335 MSRP staring back at you, it feels like a big (and bad) change compared to previous sets. 

To understand why the community has reacted so negatively to the price of Ultimate Masters, we only have to look back on the past couple of Masters sets. Both Masters 25 and Iconic Masters were underwhelming and lacking in value, to the point where boxes ended up selling for less than half of their $240 MSRP. In fact, at their low point, you could pick up booster boxes of Masters 25 and Iconic Masters for around $110 on Amazon and eBay, only slightly more than a Standard-legal set like Guilds of Ravnica. As a result, one of the most discussed "fixes" for Masters sets over the past year from the community was decreasing the price of packs based on the feeling that if Masters sets were going to be bad anyway, they might feel a bit less bad at a lower price. 

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This made the MSRP of Ultimate Masters even tougher to swallow. While it's probably not fair to say that the community was expecting the price of Masters sets to decrease after Masters 25 and Iconic Masters, many people at least had the possibility in the back of their minds, so when Ultimate Masters was revealed and, rather than a price decrease, Wizards decided to increase the MSRP of a box by nearly 30%, it came across like rather than learning from the mistakes of the past two Masters sets, Wizards had actually doubled down by increasing the price, giving the impression that it didn't listen or didn't care.

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The other major issue with the MSRP increase is that many Magic players are on a budget. While finance types can crunch the numbers and come to the conclusion that a set is good despite its cost, a much larger portion of the community has $x a week or $x a month to spend on Magic. To all of these players, Ultimate Masters is just another sign that some important parts of Magic aren't for them. While people can accept that Mythic Edition and SCG Planeswalkers are high-end collectors items that aren't for everyone, Masters sets are designed to provide much-needed reprints to make the game more accessible to players. Having your "make the game more accessible" product more inaccessible by greatly increasing prices is a hard pill for many players to swallow.

In the end, the MSRP increase on Ultimate Masters is mostly a perception problem. You'll likely get your money's worth if you buy a box of the set (at least based on what we've seen from the set so far, but more on this in a minute), but having a solid expected value doesn't change that fact that many players feel like Magic is expensive and having a huge price increase just puts the spotlight back on this this problem. While the optics are bad and the feelings regarding Ultimate Masters are valid, the good news is that if you dig down into the set, the MSRP increase isn't really all that impactful in the real world.

MSRP Is Just a "Suggestion"

If you go back to the first Modern Masters, the set sold for nearly double its $168 MSRP. Conversely, both Iconic Masters and Masters 25 had an MSRP of $240 but were readily available for as low as $110—less than half of MSRP—shortly after they were released. While MSRP does have some impact on the price of boxes, since it helps determine how much LGSs will pay for the set, after a set release, the actual price you pay for a box is mostly determined by the set itself, primarily how many boxes are available on the market and how much value is in the set. 

As such, MSRP is sort of a phantom number. Seeing it increase looks scary, but in reality, other factors are going to determine what you pay for a box of Ultimate Masters. In just the past two weeks since Ultimate Masters was announced, we've already seen box prices tumble. They started off at around $320, and currently, you can buy as many boxes as you want on eBay for $268, including the box topper. While the value of the box topper is a bit fuzzy at this point, based on the difference between the price of three-booster blister packs at big box stores ($11.67 / pack) and the MSRP of a booster box (about $14 / pack), Wizards is basically charging $55 for the Ultimate Box Topper pack. While you are forced to pay for a box topper whether you want to or not (unless you buy booster packs at Walmart or Target at what amounts to $280 / box), if you deduct the $55 for the Ultimate Box Topper from the current price of an Ultimate Masters booster box, the price is closer to $210 a box, or $8.75 a pack, which is roughly the same as you would have paid for Masters 25 or Iconic Masters right after the sets were announced. 

The point is, while $335 MSRP looks scary and helps Wizards get more money from each box, in reality, you aren't going to pay $335 for Ultimate Masters. The absolute highest price you have to pay is $280 / box from the blister packs at Walmart and Target, and based on current trends, it seems like you'll actually get an even better deal by picking up a box from your LGS or online. While Ultimate Masters is going to be more expensive than Masters 25 or Iconic Masters, that's mostly because those sets were so bad they sold for way, way below MSRP. When you take into consideration the extra value of the Ultimate Box Topper, which at least right now is worth significantly more than $55, with sealed boosters selling for $80-ish and even low-value cards like Tasigur, the Golden Fang selling for $60 as singles, the actual cost of Ultimate Masters is very similar to Modern Masters 2017 or other strong Masters sets.

The Value

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As I mentioned earlier, we'll have a full expected-value article next week after the full set is revealed, but even with just the cards we currently have revealed, it's pretty clear that Ultimate Masters is overflowing with value. While prices will most definitely drop as the set is opened, as of right now, the average price of a mythic in Ultimate Masters is around $40 (at pre-reprint prices). Even discounting the "foil in every pack" aspect of Masters sets, you should open roughly three mythics in a box, which adds $120 in value right off the bat. 

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Rares are a bit more complicated to break down, since rather than knowing every single card at the rarity like for mythics, we only know 19 of the 53. While the average value of a rare right now is an astounding $29.30, it's likely that most (or even all) of the most valuable rares ended up as box toppers and have already been revealed. While we'll assuredly see some solid $5 or $10 rares over the rest of spoiler season, it would be a surprise to find too many more high-end rares in the set. So to be safe, let's assume that every other rare in Ultimate Masters is literally worth zero dollars (which obviously won't be the case). Just from the 19 rares we have revealed and assuming the other 34 rares are literal bulk worth $0, the current average value of a rare from Ultimate Masters would still be $10.50! Since you'll get 21 rares in your box (discounting the "foil in every box" thing), that's another $220 added to your box EV. 

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So if we add together the value of the mythics and rares from the set, we've got a low estimated EV of $340 at current prices, and this doesn't include the Ultimate Box Topper, which is currently worth a minimum of $60; the foil you get in every pack; or all of the lower-rarity cards like Kitchen Finks and Eternal Witness that are in the set! I'd guess that, right now, at pre-reprint prices, the total expect value of a box of Ultimate Masters is probably close to $500, maybe a touch more, which makes Ultimate Masters the single most valuable (and perhaps best, depending on how you define "best") set ever printed. 

This means two really important things. First, boxes are looking like a pretty good deal at $268. Second, and more importantly, the prices of the cards in the set have to drop a lot. The set is overflowing with Modern staples, and most of these cards are going to lose around half of their value in the coming months. This means that Ultimate Masters is the perfect set for you if you've been waiting to get into Modern, even if you can't afford a booster box. High-end staples like Liliana of the Veil, Karn Liberated, Snapcaster Mage, and Tarmogoyf are going to be the cheapest they've been in years and maybe ever (at least, since they were Standard-legal), and the lower-end casual cards (which will probably round out the set) will be close to free after people start opening the set.

And this is the paradox of Ultimate Masters: the people who are (rightly) complaining the most about not being able to access the set thanks to the MSRP increase are arguably also the people who will benefit most from the set in terms of cheaper singles. As someone who plays a lot of budget decks, I'm super excited about all of the possibilities for new budget-friendly Modern decks as a result of these reprints, and whether you're looking to power-up your Commander decks, get into Modern on the cheap, or just build a collection, Ultimate Masters is going to be a huge boon for you, whether you actually buy a box or not. 

Ultimate Masters really is the themed Masters set we've been waiting for. It's the best Masters set of all time. While the MSRP increase looks bad and unfortunately will price some players out of opening a box, this is really more of a problem with optics and perception than with the set itself. While the community's feelings about Magic's cost are valid and it is frustrating to see people priced out of a set designed to make the game more accessible, don't let these issues ruin Ultimate Masters for you. Despite the feel-bad aspect of the MSRP increase, the set is going to be good for everyone. Collectors get new high-end cards in the Ultimate Box Toppers, players who can afford a box get a super-valuable set to open and presumably a fun new draft format to explore, and all of us budget players (and Commander players and new-to-Modern players) get a massive discount on many of the most playable and important cards in Magic.


Anyway, that's all for today. Where do you stand on Ultimate Masters? Are you planning on opening a box or two? Are you saving up to get Modern staples on the cheap? 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

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