In this two-part series, I'm going to examine different ways to construct a potential future "Master's Edition 5". Note that I have no info that WotC is planning to make a Master's Edition 5 (hereafter ME5), but it seems logical that they would investigate the possibility for the following reasons.
-WotC probably enjoys the steady revenue stream associated with a once a year "old release" in December, and with the release of Masques block, they've gone as far with it as they can. (I doubt they would re-release the Invasion block as a "mixed" set like Masques, though it is another possibility.)
-WotC probably enjoys the minimal programming costs of old sets - and believe me, ME5 would be one of the easier large sets to program in the history of MTGO.
-There are still more than 800 cards that you can't get online in any form. See the complete list (minus a few recent printings) HERE. Most of them are very bad, sure, but not all of them, and every card deserves a chance to shine in someone's pauper Pirate deck or Unicorn deck or bad-damage-prevention-effects deck. Online will never feel truly the equal of paper until we get these remaining cards, or as close as we possibly can.
-The Power 9 still isn't online. There are problems with releasing it online, so I list it as an optional feature, but there is a way here to get them online that handles some of these issues.
The three formats we're going to be concerning ourselves with primarily are Classic, Vintage, and Pauper. Commander, Tribal, Singleton, and a rumored future "Cube" format won't be specifically considered, but they'd also appreciate having every single card available online and some staple cards more readily available.
1) The Size:
Previous Master's Editions were sized in this way (total cards in set):
All recent core sets and large expansion sets have been about 250 cards. The last set over 300 was Shadowmoor with 301, before Mythic rares. Time Spiral was 422, but a special case. Onslaught was 350, and that value of 350 had more or less continued since Mirage, for all large sets before the Modern age. 10th Edition was 383 for some reason, and infamous 5th edition was 449, but no one liked that set.
So let's say about 400 cards is the upper limit for a set mostly comprising reprints. Anything in the 350-400 range should be fine, as 10th Edition was a fine set for drafting. As a minimum, I'd say 250, based on recent expansions and the previous ME sets. So 250-400 is our range. I'm going to aim for ~375 cards.
2) The Trick:
But wait, you ask, aren't there more than 800 cards not online? How do you propose getting all of them online in a single set, if 400 cards is the reasonable upper limit?
Ah, that's where things get interesting. There are 825 cards not online, though that includes some number (10-20) of cards that can't come online for various reasons that I'll go into more specifically in part 2.
Of the 825 cards not online, my estimate is that 150-200 of them are "possible" limited plays. That's the general quality of these cards. Maybe, maybe, one in five cards is higher than last pick in a draft.
The solution to this dilemma is simple in retrospect: what we need is Online Chronicles. We need a set that's completely separate from Master's Edition 5, but fed by Master's Edition 5. For each Master's Edition 5 common you open, at the end of the tournament, 3 random commons from Online Chronicles are added to your collection. If you just straight open the packs, you get the bonus commons immediately. For this service, WotC charges an extra dollar for these packs and sells them for $4.99, giving each Online Chronicles common a value of 3 cents. The Online Chronicles set would be a set of ~600 commons, no uncommons or rares. (There's also schemes one could devise to assign rarities to Online Chronicles, but I don't think it's necessary - none of these cards are going to break Pauper.)
You can't have these commons added directly to your sealed or draft pool - it would make limited events impossible as you wade through tons of junk in both drafting and constructing your decks. But having them added as a "bonus" at the end of the tournament solves these problems. They're all unplayable in limited anyway.
The number "3 commons per" was chosen for a few reasons. One, it nicely makes each common worth almost exactly 3 cents, assuming 11 commons per pack in ME5. It also makes Online Chronicles slightly rarer than normal commons from the set, but not as rare as the uncommons, and overall closest to the commons in rarity. Assuming ~600-650 cards of unplayable chaff for Online Chronicles, and ~125 commons and ~125 uncommons in the main ME5 set, it works out nicely. For collectors, it would be ~$80 to get a 4x set of these cards, hardly unreasonable.
Pauper on Magic Online is a huge format. However, it's limited to cards that are draftable as commons in some pack somewhere in Magic online (plus a few exceptions which irk me to no end, and I'd fix in ME5). We can, however, then add one legitimate exception: Online Chronicles. These cards can legitimately be called "common" in the model above, yet we didn't have to draft through 600 cards of unplayable chaff to get them online as commons. So Pauper could get access to all of these old school commons (plus a few old school uncommons/rares that would legitimately be printed as common today), adding to the value of Online Chronicles for the consumer, beyond casual Legacy and Classic.
3) The Breakdown
Ok, that's how online Chronicles would work. But what about the main set? It needs to be a draftable set, at least on par with Master's Edition 3 and 4 in card quality. But with only 150-200 cards "new" to online remotely playable, that still leaves more than half the set unaccounted for. Here's what you fill it with (in descending order - and note that when I say "playable" it means "playable in some format somewhere, or great in limited, or interesting in another way"):
-A) Playable cards that have artwork not online - cards like Wrath of God, Natural Order, Meekstone, Ball Lightning, Birds of Paradise, Circle of Protections, Clone, Earthquake, Ornithopter and many, many others have artwork that people grew up playing and that they can't get online, and people would be interested in having. In addition, 5th edition had cool new artwork for many staple cards that could see their first online printing.
-Subset A) Playable cards that have alternate artwork not online - a handful of these cards like Goblin Grenade, Hymn to Tourach, the pump knights, High Tide and others exist that have multiple versions printed at the same time that you can't get online.
-B) Playable cards from Master's Edition 1-4 - plenty of cards (including many commons/uncommons) from these sets could use another run. And unless you're planning on bringing back massive "Master's Edition block 4-booster sealed" events in the future, this revenue stream is pretty well exhausted. Drafting is awkward with 4 sets, and Master's Edition 1 and 2 were not well-designed for limited anyway (trust me - I played tons of both). These sets are good for what they were, but we don't need to continually keep them in print. Pick from these sets quite freely, and think about replacing them entirely with ME5. You've already done a bit of this with Master's Edition 4, bringing back the duals and Armageddon and some others.
-C) Playable cards from Mirage-Prophecy - again, plenty of cards from these sets could use another run. Here, there is a balancing act to be had, as you don't want to remove all value from these sets, as you do bring them back occasionally as fun casual draft formats, and want to give people some incentive to draft them. But that's rapidly being tapped out as well, and there's plenty of value commons and uncommons to be had, along with some rares that could be pulled into this set. Use this more sparingly, but people would appreciate reprints of some cards from these sets, especially pauper players.
-D) Playable cards from Invasion-Scourge - I don't think anything in these sets really needs to be part of this, as they were released online normally, and there's still the possibility you could do "mixed" boosters of each block in the future. I think you save these for something else, but it's a possibility if you need them. But didn't I mention something about the Power Nine...
4) The Mythics
Ok, I'll just say it - I am proposing putting the Power 9 as Mythics in this set. However, not at the "normal" Mythic rarity of 1 in every 8 packs. Here, I would propose placing 1 Mythic in every 24 packs, with the same 15 total Mythics to round out the set. Instead of 3 Mythics opened per draft, there would be 1 Mythic opened per draft on average. This difference is no greater than the difference between a Conflux Rare and a 10th Edition rare (~3 times as rare) and they were in standard together at the same time. The labels "Common", "Rare", etc, continue to be applied pretty liberally in Magic, and it would be no large exception to call these Mythic. The 15 cards I propose placing at this rarity are:
1-9: The Power 9
10: Force of Will
11: Lion's Eye Diamond
12: Vampiric Tutor
13: Natural Order (Portal artwork)
15: Null Rod
(Substitute in Tangle Wire/Rishadan Port for any of these, or Vindicate/Pernicious Deed/Entomb if you want to dip into INV-SCG.)
This would add a reasonable amount of each card to the online pool, while still preserving "value" for key cards like Force of Will. Cracking Master's Edition 1 packs, it "takes" 60 packs to get one Force of Will. Here, it "takes" 360 packs to get one Force of Will. It's 6 times as rare, so to equal the amount of Force already in the system, 6x as many packs of this set would need to be opened as were opened for Master's Edition 1. And even if that happens, it would likely cut the price of Force in about half, making it still one of the most expensive cards online. I think this is reasonable.
I'm not sure what price the Power 9 might end up at, as that's tough to gauge. Except for (Timetwister) (which could actually be a normal rare in the set just fine), those 9 cards go into any deck that touches blue. But only in Classic/Vintage, not Legacy, though Classic has been just as big online as Legacy recently. And of course you only need 1 of each, as these cards are never, ever getting unrestricted. They'd each be 6 times as rare as an ME 1 rare, but ME5 would probably be drafted a lot more than ME1. My guess is $30-$70 each, maybe $100 for Lotus, but it's hard to say for sure. But I believe it will be high enough to keep them as the "prized", coveted cards they are offline, without pricing them out of the range of people who want to play "powered" Vintage.
But this is optional - you could still keep the Power 9 offline if you wanted to for some reason, and move forward with ME5 with no mythics. ME5 could then just be a set intended to "replace" ME1-4, provide lots of new artwork to online, and have a bonus Online Chronicles set to complete Magic. You can do that without using the Power 9, and still have a legitimate set that would sell.
Next: In Part 2, I start going through and choosing the specific cards I would put into a 375 card ME5 set.