Opinion: Why You Should Care About Modern Masters

This is a special time to be a Magic player. In fact, I overheard someone say yesterday that this weekend is a Magic festival of sorts. For the second time in Magic’s history, a large set full of hard to find cards from the history of Magic is being unleashed on the population. Yep, Modern Masters is here, and it’s just as awesome as I’d imagined.

Maybe you’re not a geezer like me, or maybe you just didn’t play the game back in 1995 when Wizards released, in likely one of the worst decisions in their company’s history, a set called Chronicles. Let’s do a little comparing and contrasting between the two sets so you young folk understand just how far the game, and Wizards,  has come in the 18 years since that disaster.

Chronicles was designed to give players access to out of print cards from the first several expansions in Magic’s history, including sets that had some very powerful (and expensive) cards in them like Legends and Arabian Nights. I remember looking in my local dealer’s showcase thinking about how cool it would be if I could someday own a Juzam Djinn or a Guardian Beast. They looked so cool in their screw-reinforced plastic cases compared to silly cards like Tundra and Underground Sea, which sat on a lower shelf in a plastic box. But cards from Arabian Nights were expensive, and buying  boosters was out of the question. I once saw someone walk into the store, buy a $65 booster of Arabian Nights, and crack it. What did he get for his $65? Apparently not all packs had rares in them, and that particular pack contained a Merchant Ship, which at the time I think was actually worth negative money. Cards from the other out-of-print sets were similarly impossible to acquire.

Compare that to opening a pack of Future Sight now, which is around $15. There are a few great cards in them, but you are probably worse than one in six to at least break even. Sure, you could always open a Juzam Djinn Tarmogoyf, but you’re far more likely to be in Merchant Ship Quagnoth territory.

Just like in 1995, players want cards from older sets, but opening boosters is not the best way to get them since prices for many modern staples have turned opening a booster into an expensive, high-variance lottery. In addition, many communities simply don’t have enough copies of a card to meet demand. How many Tarmogoyfs do you think are actually floating around in the Gamer’s Gauntlet card pool?

In July of 1995, Chronicles arrived to save the day, or so I thought. You see, there were no spoilers, or YouTube set reviews, or Magic finance specialists, so I, along with most people, had no idea what was in those boosters. Or maybe it’s because I was 15 and barely knew what the Internet was. Anyway, I began cracking boosters at first opportunity, looking for sweet, albeit white-bordered, versions of cards I’d wanted for a long time.

Today, just after 12 am, I cracked my first three boosters of Modern Masters in a midnight draft, almost as excited as before, even though I did know almost every card in the set.

Here is where we enter the contrast portion of the story. Fast forward (or backward, depending on how you see things) to December 1996.

No one knew who decided to finally put down the evil known as Chronicles, the beast that preyed on our collections, but Magic enthusiasts around the world rejoiced at the prospect of never opening a white-bordered Ayesha Tanaka ever again. Chronicles, through it’s insanely large print run,  feasted on the prices of many cards that were not valuable for their tournament playability, but for their value as a somewhat unique card in Magic. Among the hardest hit were the Elder Dragons, once valued at $50+ each. They never recovered, and are still as low as $10.

Chronicles only had a handful of tournament cards in it, which is what really blew people’s minds. It seemed like a kick in the nuts from Wizards to every collector purely for the fun of it. Set designers hadn’t really fleshed out the idea of drafting Magic cards yet either, so there was no value to the set at all beyond City of Brass and Erhnam Djinn (Blood Moon was not a thing yet), which quickly flooded trade binders.

Early Friday morning, I had a blast winning my draft pod, drafting a sweet B/W Rebels deck that I may detail elsewhere. Oh, in case you didn’t check that link, I also opened a Pact of Negation and a foil Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker. You know, for value.

The above paragraph really sums up why you should care, at least  from a player’s perspective, about Modern Masters. It is exactly what Chronicles wanted to be, a hard to find, prestigious set full of chase rares with intrinsic value beyond what the cards in the boosters are worth.

I’m not saying you should buy up all the Modern Masters boxes you can and stash them away until they are worth a zillion dollars; that sort of talk I leave to speculators. What I’m saying is that players should go and draft this set at least once. Sure, the price is steep, but its a ton of fun to draft since it has new takes on many popular archetypes from previous draft formats. Also, it’s expensive because the cards are worth something! You don’t have to worry about [card]Axelrod Gunnarson]/card] coming to ruin your day anymore.

Whoever said this weekend is a festival is right. This is a Magic festival; a celebration of this unique time to be a Magic player. Years from now, other players will marvel that you were there in 2013, the year when, for a few short weeks, it was Magic Christmas in June. Surely they’ll ask if you opened a Tarmogoyf. What sort of story will you have to tell them?

May you see a Green border at the back of your packs,

Nigel Higdon