Wizards has finally announced the release of the Power 9! Monday’s announcement that the Power 9 will be released as part of a new product, Vintage Masters, is the first concrete evidence that we have received to date about it. As you may recall, it was last November when Wizards announced the Powered Cube that Power would make its way online for constructed play by the end of 2013. Unfortunately Wizards has delayed the release of the Power 9 online, and thus the Vintage format, until June 2014, but they have heeded many players’ concerns about the release, and it appears that most concerns have been addressed.
Vintage Masters will be modeled after the highly successful Modern Masters set that was released earlier this year. In the announcement, Mike Turian, Digital Product Manager for Magic Online, indicated that the plan for releasing the Power 9 changed recently when the idea of implementing a Modern Masters-like set was brought to the table. It would seem that this was probably introduced sometime in August or September when snippets of information via Twitter were released by some members of Wizards discussing Vintage online.
Over the past couple years, many have speculated as to how Wizards would release the Power 9 online and many of the ideas that popped up were less than ideal. I think it’s safe to say that most everybody was interested in a draft-able product which would allow them to collect the Power 9 and also have fun doing so in the process. It is also clear that simply making a Masters Edition V in the same vein as the previous Masters Edition sets, would be far less than ideal.
In the announcement, Wizards made it clear that full development of the set has yet to begin. As such, Wizards was unable to provide any concrete information about what will be included in the set, and perhaps most importantly, the ratio of the Power 9 that will be found in the foil spot. Remaining questions include: What sets would comprise Vintage Masters,? Would Wizards use the old or the new card frames? How many unreleased cards will be included in the set? And can we expect all of the money cards to be included?
I’m going to outline all of the questions (that I can think of) that remain unanswered and include some of my thoughts and predictions on them. By no means do I have any sort of inside information; this will all be speculative. I encourage anyone that has other ideas or agrees or disagrees with me, to provide comments at the end of this article.
How “rare” will the Power 9 be?
I think the first question on everybody’s mind is exactly how rare the Power 9 cards will be. The announcement indicated that power cards will be randomly inserted in place of the foil spot that we saw in Modern Masters. It’s still unclear whether this will be one in every eight packs, one in every 24 packs, or even one in every 72 packs. Wizards has indicated in the past that they desire to keep the nostalgia of the Power 9 high, which would lend the belief that the rarity will be somewhat hard to find. But by the same token Wizards also understands that in order for Vintage to succeed, there needs to be enough Power online so that the price of Vintage is not astronomical.
Further it would appear based on the announcement that foil Power 9 will be especially rare. Keeping the foil Power as premier chase cards will be able to satisfy the collectors out there that are interested in finding the most expensive (or most “pimp”) cards available.
My estimation is that Power will be found in one in every 24 packs and that foil Power will be found in roughly one in every 144 packs. With these ratios, you could expect one power card per draft pod and one foil power card for every six draft pods (i.e., one per “box”, and one per “case”, as they would be considered in a paper product). These seem like fine ratios that would allow for the mystique and prestige of Power 9 to remain, but also not be so prohibitively expensive as to doom the format from the get-go.
Prediction: Power will be 1 in 24 packs and foil Power will be one in 144 packs.
New Art vs. Old Frame?
The next question that I have is whether or not Wizards would use the new modern frame, or use the original pre-8th Edition frames. A case could be made for either frame making the most sense. A “Vintage Masters” set would seem misplaced if the old frame were not utilized, but as a consideration to maintain the prices of existing cards already online, it may make sense that Wizards chooses to use the new frame. It’s increasingly clear that it would appear that the Power 9 will be released in the modern frames, but that still doesn’t necessarily mean that the rest of the cards in Vintage Masters will use the same frame.
If I were to wage a guess, I would imagine that Vintage Masters would utilize the new modern frame as opposed to the original pre-8th Edition frames. This way all of the pre-8th Edition sets including all Masters Editions would not immediately see their prices collapse when some of the key cards in the format are reprinted in Vintage Masters. In a strange sort of way, the modern frame could be the equivalent of the old white border reprints from the early days of Magic. This also seems to go hand in hand with the fact that many of the Cube cards that we’ve been using have been new art using the modern frames, and I imagine this would be the basis for which many of the cards would be reprinted in Vintage Masters.
Prediction: Vintage Masters will use the modern frames.
What is the cut-off for Vintage Masters?
Piggybacking on the old frame vs. new frame debate, the next question is whether or not any sets released after 8th Edition would be included in Vintage Masters. It would seem to me that it would be counterintuitive to include an overlap of Vintage Masters in Modern Masters, but there are also several cards that are legal only in Vintage that would probably never be printed in the future in Modern Masters, including iconic cards like Jace, the Mind Sculptor, Mental Misstep, and Skullclamp.
I still think that Vintage Masters will be completely separate from Modern Masters, but it is a great opportunity for Wizards to consider cards that are only legal in Vintage which have been printed after 8th Edition. I feel that despite this, Vintage Masters will not include any cards after 8th Edition.
Prediction: Vintage Masters will not use any cards printed for the first time after 8th Edition.
What will the limited format look like?
What made Modern Masters so special was that the limited environment was so well-received by the players. Wizards stated in the announcement that their goal for Vintage Masters is to mimic the same enjoyment that players found in Modern Masters. This will not be an easy task. As anybody that has drafted any of the prior Masters Edition sets can attest to, the cards in the earliest days of Magic were never designed with limited in mind. Often the spells were far superior to the creatures and many broken cards were printed that could be difficult to balance in a limited environment. On the other hand, many of those broken cards may also be completely useless in a limited environment where the cards that are needed to break them are not included, such as a significant number of artifacts to make use of Tolarian Academy. This is what Wizards challenge is in designing the limited environment for Vintage Masters.
Modern Masters had many different draft archetypes. These archetypes are likely what contributed to how well received Modern Masters was. In many regards Modern Masters was designed as a Cube and played out as if a Cube draft would. Again, it would be very difficult to find the right mix of cards in order to make limited in Vintage Masters work the same as the way Modern Masters did.
When you think of a lot of the “build around me” cards in Vintage (such as Workshop, Tendrils, dredge cards, and Time Vault), building a limited format around these cards would be very difficult. Presumably there would be enough cards to make a Storm list, especially with Tendrils of Agony a possible inclusion in Vintage Masters. This problem was similarly found in Masters Edition sets. Another concern that Wizards has to address is what cards that they will include in Vintage Masters that have yet to be released on Magic Online. I’ll get into this in more detail later on.
There are, however, some tribal themes that could be exploited such as Merfolk, Goblins, Elves, Rebels, Slivers, etc. Onslaught, Odyssey, and Invasion Blocks all contained some mechanics that could be expanded with the pre-8th card pool. Domain, morph, horsemanship, threshold, and the aforementioned storm are all possible themes that Wizards could utilize. We could even see some sort of reanimation strategy since many of the best enablers are found in the earlier sets.
Modern Masters was as much about creature combat as any recent limited environment. If Wizards wants to print some of the rare and powerful pre-8th Edition creatures, they’ll have a much larger card pool when looking at Onslaught, Odyssey, and Invasion Blocks. Spiritmonger, Akroma, Angel of Wrath, Exalted Angel, Iridescent Angel, Flametongue Kabu, Rorix Bladewing, Zombie Cutthroat, Invasion Dragons, Visara the Dreadful, etc., are all cards I wouldn’t rule out in Vintage Masters. Throw in some powerful creatures from Urza’s Block such as Morphling, Masticore, Karn, Silver Golem, and Dark Hatchling, etc., and you have a healthy number of creatures at the top of the curve.
I don’t really have any predictions as to how the draft archetypes will be implemented in Vintage Masters. I think our best hope may be that there are some decent themes to draft and that the limited environment isn’t easily exploitable and doesn’t become stale after a few drafts. Clearly, this is Wizards’ most difficult task in designing Vintage Masters.
Prediction: This will be the most difficult task for Wizards.
What “money” cards will be included?
If Wizards is to take a page out of the Modern Masters playbook, we can safely assume that Vintage Masters will include roughly 229 cards. Modern Masters had 15 mythics, 53 rares, 60 Uncommons, and 101 commons. One of the biggest questions in determining what money cards will be found in the set as well as determining whether or not Onslaught fetch lands or all 10 original dual lands will be included. It’s impossible that all 15 would be included, as that would comprise far too large of a share of the 53 total rares that would be found in the set. Considering that each dual land and has been printed twice (not including the recently released and presumably forthcoming promo dual lands) and each fetch land has only been printed once, I think we may find that the set includes only the five Onslaught fetch lands. This is another opportunity for Wizards to increase the print run of the Zen fetch lands on Magic Online, but I don’t think this is the avenue that they will choose to do that. Especially since those cards will probably be found in the next Modern Masters set.
With regard to the mythics, we already know that the Power 9 will not be included in those 15 mythic card slots, so that opens up quite a few slots for very powerful vintage cards to be included. One has to also balance whether there’s a potential power issue with certain cards in the limited environment to be found in the rare versus mythic slot. If I were to take an educated guess to the 15 mythic rares, my money would be on these following cards:
Bazaar of Baghdad
Show and Tell
Lion’s Eye Diamond
Library of Alexandria
Oath of Druids
Akroma, Angel of Wrath
Fact or Fiction
Beyond these, however, there are a host of other cards that are necessary in competitive Vintage, but are quite high in price online. Wasteland, Misdirection, Rishadan Port, and Null Rod could all use a reprint. I left out one particular card from that shortlist, but I’ll get to that in the next section.
It would be ideal to see Wasteland reprinted as an uncommon in Vintage Masters. The price that this card is currently selling at is absurd. If nothing else, let’s all hope it is at least a rare. As for the two Mercadian Masques cards, this is strictly for price considerations. These cards are infrequently found in competitive Vintage decks, however, their limited print run in Masques Block has contributed to their soaring prices. If they aren’t reprinted, I cringe to think about how high their prices may go.
Null Rod in particular is very important to have as low cost as possible, as it is the pillar of the creature-based, non-powered Vintage decks. If Null Rod remains at $20+ per card, that limits the number of “budget” options that would be available to prospective players. Null Rod is a $3-4 card in paper.
Prediction: I expect to see all the cards discussed above in Vintage Masters.
Will Force of Will be included in Vintage Masters?
Several years ago Worth Wolpert, Executive Producer for Magic, made a promise that Force of Will would never be reprinted in a Masters Edition set again. Reminiscent of the infamous “reserved list” in paper, the promise to not reprint Force has been a major factor in the cost of Classic and Legacy. For better or worse, the price of Force, ignoring the Power 9, will be a major psychological barrier in many people’s minds in determining whether Vintage is far too prohibitively expensive.
In calling this new set Vintage Masters, it’s quite possible that Worth’s promise can be upheld. As somebody who has long owned Forces (a card necessary in many Classic and Legacy decks), I have been a long-time advocate for increasing the supply in the marketplace. Earlier this year Force was released as a MOCS Promo, and while it lowered the price to some degree, the reality is that it did little to dispel the belief that the card is too expensive; prices are hovering around the $100 mark as I write this article. I wholeheartedly believe that there were more than enough Forces released into the system as a result of the promo, but that rampant speculation and hoarding has contributed to the price maintaining its lofty status (perhaps a topic for another day). It’s clear that in order to combat this, Force needs to be reprinted again in a draft-able set such as Vintage Masters. Releasing it as a mythic would likely do little to its value, but releasing it as a rare will hopefully solve the problem of the rampant speculation. I fear that still might not be enough, but I can’t imagine a scenario that Wizards would print Force as an uncommon, even if it wouldn’t be completely broken in a limited format.
I fully expect to see Force in Vintage Masters. If Force is somehow not included in Vintage Masters, I feel it would be a grave mistake on Wizards part. Much like having the Power 9 too expensive, Force maintaining its near $100 price point would also be a death sentence to online Vintage.
Prediction: Force of Will will be a rare in Vintage Masters.
What new cards will be included?
There are nearly 800 cards that have been printed in paper that have yet to find their way online. Almost all of those cards will never find their way into a competitive deck in the future. That does not mean that all the cards that are missing online do not have some value to certain players. There are some Legacy cards that are found from time to time in competitive decks that have yet to be released. These cards include Cruel Bargain, Natures Ruin, and Virtue’s Ruin. With the latest rule changes in paper, a card like City in a Bottle will be an important card to have online. There also some cards such as Mind Bomb and Sorceress Queen that casual players may want to use. Let’s not forget there are few cards that may be of value to commander players such as: Justice, Goblin Settler, Piracy, and Misfortune. I’m sure I’m missing many cards but these are some of the first ones that came to my mind.
Unfortunately nearly all of those cards will have little value in the limited environment of Vintage Masters. I for one would hate to open a $7 pack and reveal City in a Bottle, which may have absolutely no use to me outside of constructive play. It’s probably better that these cards are released as a promo somehow, but at the end of the day these cards need to find their way online somehow.
Prediction: One or two of these cards may find their way into Vintage Masters, but the rest will be offered as promos at a later date.
Will we finally get some original art for cards already released online?
There are quite a few cards that have been released online already but do not feature their original art. There may be many reasons why the original art has yet to be released, but here are some of the cards that I hope to see at some point with their original art: Birds of Paradise, Recall, Hymn to Tourach variants, Wrath of God, Royal Assassin, Clone, Natural Order (Portal), Merchant Scroll, and Meekstone.
How will paper players respond?
One of the biggest question marks has little to do with Wizards choices for Vintage Masters. The health of online Vintage will depend, to some degree, on how many paper players are converted to Magic Online. There are a couple of factors that will go into whether or not someone will convert to Magic Online.
The most obvious concern will be the cost of online Vintage. A paper collection in Vintage costs a couple thousand dollars for the cheapest versions. Expecting that a large percentage of paper players will buy into online Vintage if the cost is again several thousand dollars would be ludicrous. Thus, it’s important to make sure that the format is cheap enough to allow most Vintage players to buy in. Obviously, there will be a subset of paper players that will never play online, but converting as many people that are on the fence will be important for the long-term health of online Vintage.
Another concern that paper players may have involves the benefit to playing online. If online Vintage only serves to be a testing ground for paper Vintage tournaments, then you can expect that few paper players will convert to online Vintage. The current prize system across all Magic Online constructed formats does not relate well to what players can earn in paper. Both Legacy and Vintage tournaments have prize support far in excess of even a MOCS tournament. If online Vintage daily events only pay out in core set packs at the same rate as Standard, Modern, and Pauper, there will be little incentive for paper players to invest both their time and money in online vintage. This leads me to my final question…
What does WotC want Online Vintage to be?
If we look to Legacy as a comparator, it’s likely that we already know what Wizards has in store for Vintage, and it doesn’t look pretty. Worse, Legacy at least gets a token MOCS season each year; I can’t fathom that Wizards would have any desire to hold a Vintage season for the MOCS.
So, what are we expected to do with these cards once we get them? If prices of Power come in around $50+, or even higher, Vintage decks will be by far the most expensive constructed format on Magic Online. Winning 11 packs of a Standard-legal set for a 6 ticket buy-in is ridiculous. That’s not because of the margin of a 6 ticket buy-in vs. 35-43 tickets in product; it’s because most Vintage players will have little use for those Standard-legal packs. Take a poll of Vintage paper players, and I can guarantee zero of them would accept Standard packs as prizes for their tournaments (assuming they couldn’t get a dollar-for-dollar exchange of store credit in return).
One of my solutions is to offer more premier-level events for Vintage and Legacy (read: not Premier Events). These events could be held once a month with an entry fee of 10 tickets, or more. The winner could be awarded relevant Vintage specific promos, and maybe even packs of Vintage Masters (even after it’s sold out in the store). This could also be an ideal way to release original frame and/or original art Power cards in client as promos. An end of season championship could award Black Lotus, for instance. Their value would probably be on par with paper Power, too.
No matter what the actual solution is, there need to be high level events available for Vintage. Without them, it would probably not convince paper players that it’s worth their time and money to convert to Magic Online. For Wizards’ sake, it’s not as if there can’t be cross-product marketing for paper converts as well. They stand to make money off of every single person that signs up for Magic Online.
I have some other thoughts, but this article is already long enough. I hope everyone enjoyed my predictions, and I look forward to hearing everyone else’s thoughts in the comment section below!
Clan Magic Eternal
Follow me on Twitter @enderfall