Sunday, November 11, 2018

Ultimate Masters: A Peasant's Perspective

I am picking up where I left off here:

I have not bought a single booster pack from any of the master sets. I have felt all along that all those packs should have been $4 packs, and at that price point, I would have bought many boxes. But I am a peasant, and the Wizards price-setters have figured out that I am just too poor for this line of products. They are right: I am too poor for this line of products. I am on a very tight budget, and for calendar year 2018, I do not have enough money left to pre-order a box from Sports and More. It's what I would have done. Peasants are too poor to be principled. I often order from Sports and More, and have no complaints. I just got my peasant guild kits from them.

But there is more to the masters sets than meets the eye. You see, almost every company has several product segments, each catering to a specific demographic. Car makers are a great example. No one gets angry at a car maker when they come out with a much more expensive version of an affordable car that is clearly aimed at drivers with deeper wallets. But here is the difference between Trading Car Games and many other products: TCGs, by design, abide by a pledge that cards will be made affordable to ensure that the largest number of players can play. It's usually an implicit pledge, and when it is broken, that specific TCG's business is hurt. After enough players can't afford enough cards, those players go looking for some other TCG that is more affordable.

Here is the gigantic gamble Wizards has made: there are enough Magic players who will not mind that they cannot afford Ultimate Masters, and those who do mind will be a very small minority that will not be missed when they walk out of Magic. I am one of those players Wizards pointed to by calling us out as 'this product is not for you.' Ultimate Masters (and all other masters sets) are not for me at $7 a pack, $10 a pack, and now $11 to $14 a pack. Why should I be bothered by Ultimate Masters? I have my peasant products, such as the Ravnica guild kits, which I am completely in love with. Why should I be bothered by Ultimate Masters? Am I so high-principled that I care enough about Ultimate Masters not being for me that I would be in an uproar? That does not make any sense. I am a little peasant, with a peasant's wallet, and as a peasant, it is not my business to even think about the existence of Ultimate Masters. I can just pretend Ultimate Masters does not exist, and go on about my peasant ways with my peasant guild kits.

Here is the problem: the segmentation that is possible in other products is not possible in TCGs. The moment a TCG declares a product is for the 'haves' and the other products are for the 'have-nots', it is dividing the player base, and it is pitting the 'haves' player base and the 'have-nots' player base wallet against wallet. Now we will have peasants like me go to an LGS and we will play against a 'haves' player who will proudly show off their Ultimate Masters pimp cards. That's not cool.

But there's more. Modern is the format Wizards concocted to ensure that players could play with their cards as they rotated out of Standard. All of the Modern-specific cards printed in masters sets were supposed to become cheaper to ensure that Modern was an affordable format. The opposite has happened. Not only has Modern gotten more expensive, it has even begun to eat into Legacy as the new pimp format. Ultimate Masters is an important, if not the final installment in that process.

But no, some say, 'do not fret, little peasant, there are many decks you can play in Modern that are affordable.' Really? Being a peasant does not make me a shoe-in for being naive. If I am going to play Modern, I want to play Jund, I want to play Tron. I don't want to play with some budget deck. But I can't. And do you know why? Because Wizards decided to break the implicit pledge explicitly by calling me out as a peasant and telling me that Ultimate Masters is not for me.

What do you think I should do? Should I just be content with my peasant guild kits? I don't know. I am not for impulsive reactions. I want to see how this Ultimate Masters Telenovela plays out. I have my popcorn ready. I also have a mountain of cheap Force of Will TCG packs waiting to get cracked. I will be watching this telenovela while waiting for the five Force of Will TCG New Valhalla cluster starter decks I just ordered. And when they arrive, I will make YouTube videos with those, and I will set aside my peasant tool kits until I have watched a few more episodes of the Ultimate Masters Telenovela.

The Force of Will TCG and Magic are at a very interesting crossroads. FOW is all about it's version of the Standard format, called New Frontiers, and as sets rotate out into the North American non-rotating format, Wanderer, they become mostly worthless. Magic, by contrast, is many orders of magnitude more popular, and has a designated non-rotating format, Modern, that feeds from Standard. Most of the cards in sets rotating out of Standard into Modern also become mostly worthless, but some become Modern staples. This set of Modern Staples has been the backbone of Modern masters sets. With the Modern masters sets, Modern took off in popularity. Initially, some of the more expensive cards became affordable. But now, Modern is on a different path. Now, Modern Staples are on a glide path to remain expensive, just not prohibitively expensive; and now you can get your Modern Staples out of packs that are getting more expensive: from $7 packs, masters sets went to $10 packs, and now to $11 to $14 packs. What about the crossroads bit? FOW does not support Wanderer and sets rotate into oblivion. Well, at least for kitchen table, Wanderer is one incredibly affordable format for rotating New Frontiers FOW cards. Modern Magic, on the other hand, instead of getting more affordable, has become unattainable for peasants. For the price of an Ultimate Masters box, here is what I did this last month (October 2018):

Here is the playlist:

I am an old dude. I have seen what happens when collectors become investors, and when a buying frenzy becomes disconnected from what that hobby is about. I have seen it happen to stamps (the Zeppelins frenzy of the 1980s) and I have seen it happen to Comic Books (the Image Comics debacle of the 1990s). The Ultimate Masters pre-orders have been a resounding success, which being good for Wizards' bottom line, should be good for the game of Magic as a whole. Will it be? I don't know, but something tells me that Ultimate Masters is a negative turning point for Magic. I want to be wrong.

In the next episode of the Ultimate Masters Telenovela we will find out the contents of the entire set. The expectation is that the Estimated Value of the set will merit the new, higher price point. I have my popcorn ready since that is all that, as a peasant, I can afford and is meant for me, so Wizards tells me.

P.S. If you want to read the world's most scathing comments, go to the announcement video (if I was in the PR department at Wizards I would have taken this video down or at least disabled comments):

Here are some of the comments:

"This product is not for me, which is fine. I'm sure someone is excited for it."

"MTG for payers not players!"

"When I win the lottery, I'm going to buy a box of Ultimate Masters!"

"Blizzard: No one can top us for being out of touch with our fan base!" (A reference to the Blizzard Diablo fiasco)

"Out of season April fools jokes are a thing...." (Yet another reference to the Blizzard Diablo fiasco)

"Grats on trying to top Diablo Immortal for dumbest stunt pulled by a company yet." (And even more references to the Blizzard Diablo fiasco)