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Why make MTG Commander Masters draftable if no one can afford it?

MTG Commander Masters will likely be a great set for draft, but the price of packs is brutally high, and players may not be prepared to pay it.

In Mark Rosewaters’ latest Making Magic article he talks about the competing priorities for MTG Commander Masters. The set needed to have EDH reprints that people wanted to see. And it needed to be a fun draft environment. He then proceeds, for the next 2000 words of his piece, to talk pretty much only about the draft.

Clearly some thought has gone into making Commander Masters a fun Limited set. The choice to let players mix and match any monocolor or colorless MTG commanders – but only in draft – seems obvious in retrospect, but I actually think it’s an inspired idea. It elegantly sidesteps the headache of adding Partner to cards that shouldn’t have it, while allowing for exciting draft possibilities that make the brain buzz.

But during the early days of this MTG set’s spoiler season, I was surprised how much Wizards spoke about Commander Masters draft, and how little was said about how they’d selected good reprint options. Is that really what most people care about? Are that many people going to be drafting this set?

Magic The Gathering Commander Masters a red tornado above a city.

I have to wonder who can afford to. With booster boxes up on Amazon for an extraordinary $345 a pop, Commander Masters draft is the most expensive Limited environment yet (with one obvious exception – but the less said about that the better). I think it’s beyond the budget of a lot of Magic fans, and that sucks.

While it’s still too early to make any kind of conclusive judgement about Commander Masters, the card pool seems like it’s the mixed bag we should’ve anticipated. It’s definitely better than some fans first feared; there are loads of good reprints among the Commander Masters spoilers, much-needed stuff like Craterhoof Behemoth and Cyclonic Rift.

But many of the revealed rares are cards that get reprinted all the time, and it certainly seems a shame to waste a slot on some of these. For instance, Zepalta, Primal Dawn took up a rare slot. The poor pterosaur is working overtime, being chucked into every White precon deck Wizards makes. It could’ve used a rest. Would it still be in the set if Commander Masters wasn’t draftable?

MTG Commander Masters price - Craterhoof Behemoth art

In the first day or two of spoiler season, fans online were speculating that Wizards wants to use draft as a scapegoat, a reason for printing some crappy 50-cent rare because it’s ‘fun in draft’ or upshifting a card from rare to mythic for Limited balance. And while I don’t anticipate WOTC actually verbalising this, no one can deny that there’s a strategic element to its reprint policy.

As Rosewater recently said – part of designing Magic is ensuring that future products sell well, not just the current product. They can’t reprint all the good cards en masse, driving prices into the ground – because then their next reprint set won’t sell. At least a bulk rare is doing some good if there’s a Limited format attached. That is, if anyone is actually playing it.

Everyone’s least favourite thing about Commander Masters is its price tag. $345 / £330 for 24 packs, even if they’re larger packs than usual, containing a couple more rares, seems absurd. For an eight-person pod, that’s $43 / £41 a draft per person for one night of play. You could pick up Elden Ring for that price.

Magic The Gathering Commander Masters a hydra - art from the card doubling season

It’s worth remembering that Commander Masters certainly didn’t have to cost this much. The Commander Masters cards cost the same amount to make as the cards from every other type of set. Less design time was required – there’s only the forty new cards from the precon decks to worry about – so after those were ticked off, Wizards literally just had to pick what would go into the set, and commission some new art. Compared to the miracle of coordination I imagine it takes to make an ordinary set, Commander Masters must’ve felt like a doddle.

No matter how great Commander Masters Limited is, I doubt it’s going to justify the price. Because there are already so many other Magic products out there that have already provided this kind of experience.

There are two Commander Legends sets if you want to draft EDH. There’s Double Masters if you want to open packs full of exciting reprints. All of these are cheaper, and all are great draft experiences. Sure, Commander Masters is the hot new thing, but we just had MTG Lord of the Rings – can the fanbase’s wallets bear two premium products in a row?

Even so, while the price is likely to scare off many fans, if you can bear the steep costs, playing Limited is likely a better reason to open Commander Masters booster packs than gambling for rare cards. At least you’re guaranteed a certain kind of fun experience with your purchase.

Selfishly, I’m kind of hoping there are plenty of people willing to pay that cost. I’ll be relying on loaded Limited players to open up this product en masse so that the cost of singles go way down and I can snap up a Doubling Season.