/ Modern

Is Ultimate Masters Good?

So, in case you weren't aware, Wizards just announced a new masters set. The reaction has been... mixed. On the one hand, the cards seem to be great and Ultimate Box Toppers, a set of 1 per box Masterpiece-esque promos, seem very good. On the other, the MSRP is $335.76 per box.

For context, that means this nerd cardboard costs more than a used 128 GB iPhone 7.


So, is it good? More importantly, as a player is this Masters set good for you? In order to answer that question, the most important thing to look at for Masters sets is their role as sources of price alleviating reprints. Sometimes, nonrotating format cards get stupidly expensive, and when that happens Wizards has to play whack-a-mole with card prices using supplemental sets.

Economically, the way this works is relatively simple. Assuming a set gets printed to any reasonable level, the cards within that set will for some period of time be forced down to roughly a price where it's usually not worth it to crack boxes of that set. For Standard sets, "usually" here means "unless you're getting your boxes for less than LGSes buy them for". For Masters sets, "usually" can mean anything from "always" to "unless your LGS sold them for MSRP unlike every other LGS", depending on the Masters set.

A successful Masters set reprints necessary cards in such a fashion that those cards drop low enough to not feel awful to buy, and stay low enough for long enough that safely buying in for a sane price is doable. For all its flaws, Modern Masters 2015 is among the better examples of this, suppressing Mox Opal, Noble Hierarch, Karn, and other staples for a good amount of time.

Unsuccessful Masters sets do a combination of reprinting cards that are only expensive due to scarcity and reprinting too few 'real' cards for any of those cards to lose much value. Iconic Masters is an example of this, where cards like Auriok Champion and Ancestral Vision were only expensive due to scarcity, and the impact on the price of Horizon Canopy and Aether Vial was borderline statistical noise.

When we ask ourselves whether a Masters set is 'good', we're really asking 3 questions:

  1. Is the EV of the cards in the set higher than the cost of a box before release?
  2. Are enough true staples being reprinted that the devaluing effect of a reprint will be somewhat spread out among cards?
  3. Are the cards ones that I want, need, or want others to have?

EV vs Box Cost

For question 1 we can do some quick math. With 20 mythics, a rare to mythic ratio of 7:1 (to maintain the 1 in 8 chance of cracking a mythic), and 2 copies of every rare per sheet, that means there are 70 different rares total, a 1 in 80 chance per pack of opening any rare, and a 1 in 160 chance of opening any mythic. That means when doing math on the EV of the rare/mythic slot, we can divide the price of a card by 80 if its a rare and 160 if it's a mythic.

So let's do that:

  • Emrakul, the Aeons Torn +$0.225
  • Karn Liberated +$0.475
  • Kozilek, Butcher of Truth +$0.231
  • Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre +$0.168
  • Snapcaster Mage +$0.394
  • Temporal Manipulation +$0.406
  • Bitterblossom +$0.25
  • Demonic Tutor +$0.35
  • Goryo's Vengeance +$0.55
  • Liliana of the Veil +$0.51
  • Mikaeus, the Unhallowed +$0.175
  • Reanimate +$0.262
  • Tasigur, the Golden Fang +$0.02
  • Balefire Dragon +$0.08
  • Through the Breach +$0.538
  • Life from the Loam +$0.255
  • Noble Hierarch +$0.925
  • Tarmogoyf +$0.391
  • Vengevine +$0.225
  • Gaddock Teeg +$0.577
  • Leovold, Emissary of Trest +$0.13
  • Lord of Extinction +$0.09
  • Maelstrom Pulse +$0.246
  • Sigarda, Host of Herons +$0.05
  • Fulminator Mage +$0.112
  • Engineered Explosives +$1.02
  • Mana Vault +$0.125
  • Platinum Emperion +$0.088
  • Ancient Tomb +$0.45
  • Cavern of Souls +$0.435
  • Celestial Colonnade +$0.65
  • Creeping Tar Pit +$0.175
  • Dark Depths +$0.238
  • Karakas +$0.375
  • Lavaclaw Reaches +$0.03
  • Raging Ravine +$0.15
  • Stirring Wildwood +$0.01
  • Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth +$0.262
  • Total: $11.656

(These prices are based off of TCGPlayer Market, and will likely be out of date within an hour of my lookup. If the sheet instead has something like a 20 mythic 50 rare sheet in order to fit onto a 121 card sheet, this will be an underestimate of the value generated by each card in this list, meaning they will contribute even more value to pack EV.)

(Edit: if we assume a ~120 card sheet instead of a 160 card sheet, multiplying the value estimate we currently have by 160/120, or 4/3, gives us the pack EV of that, which would be $15.541. This is probably overvaluing the mythics, because it would mean a 1/6 chance of cracking a mythic instead of a 1/8, so if there are 120 card rare and mythic sheets they likely involve some amount of intentionally destroying mythics on the card factory floor to make the pack odds line up correctly)

So, what does this mean? Based on only the rares and mythics we know, and assuming that all the uncommons and unknown rares are literally worthless, the pack EV currently comes out to a little under $12.

Assuming the Box Topper is on average worth at least $60, this means that it is currently on average +EV to crack a box of Ultimate Masters.


Being +EV before the inevitable price crash is the bare minimum threshold to pass question 1, but considering there are 52 unspoiled rares and value uncommons like Eternal Witness and Kitchen Finks it seems likely that UMA, even without the Box Topper, will pass that check with flying colors.


Question #2 is a much more ephemeral one. There are extremely durable cards in UMA, like Lili, Goyf, Snappy, and the Eldrazi, but there are also more dubious expensive cards. In particular, Temporal Manipulation, Bitterblossom, Demonic Tutor, Goryo's Vengeance, Through the Breach, Gaddock Teeg, Leovold, Lord of Extinction, and Urborg stand out as potentially being expensive because of lack of supply. This is the sort of worry that can be relieved by seeing basically anything on the Modern, Legacy, or EDH format staples list at any rarity. Until we see more, it really is a matter of asking yourself whether you see enough 'real' cards to be happy with this set, as well as keeping an eye on the box EV to see how far below MSRP it falls. Personally the card I would consider the strongest indicator that this set is likely to be a very helpful reprint set is Leyline of the Void.

That second bit is important because of the massive wild card that is Box Toppers. Doubly so because they're likely to at least at some point in the lifetime of this set they're likely to be undervalued. Ornithopter acts as soft evidence that these sorts of crazy fluctuations can happen on blingy promos even outside of the rare and mythic slot, so long as those promos are relevant in constructed.

For the Box Toppers specifically, the magic number is $100. If the average value of a Box Topper is more than $100, it means that Ultimate Masters booster packs from boxes will have to do less work than previous Masters sets to be +EV. If Box Toppers are on average worth less than $100, then Ultimate Masters packs will have to do more work. Personally, I see less than 10 real stinkers, with Tasigur, Lavaclaw, Wildwood, and Balefire being the real stand out failures, but the real question here is how much middling promos like Ulamog or Creeping Tar Pit will end up at, and how much the true maniacs like Liliana of the Veil will drag the mean upwards. Either way, Box Toppers on the whole seem like they add a pretty durable source of value for quesiton 2. Even if Temporal Manipulation gets the crap beat out of it by this reprint, Box Topper Temporal is the blingiest version of one of the most coveted EDH Time Walks.

Wants and Needs

For #3, I think I stand pretty uncontroversially when I say the cards reprinted here are cards I'm either eager to sleeve up or eager that others will get the chance to sleeve up. Even the middling value cards here are at the very least cool, and fun to play with.

Except Goryo's Vengeance. Man I hate that card.

Markus Leben

Markus Leben

Markus is an L1 Judge, a programmer, a game modder, and a Spike. He lives in Boulder, Colorado, and plays primarily Modern and Pauper. If you want to tilt him, ask about the mechanic Cipher.

Read More