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By: Cheater Hater, Vincent Borchardt
Nov 15 2017 11:00am
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With Iconic Masters releasing at the same time, I honestly didn’t have that high of expectations for the Commander 2017 Treasure Chest update. Last year’s update proved that while the major mechanics of the Commander sets are generally safe, no matter how weird they are (look at Partner), WotC wasn’t committing to 100% parity, and weirder sets were only guaranteed to have their (obvious) Legacy staples reprinted. However, after going through the new additions for the Commander 2017 Treasure Chest update, I can say that WotC has blown even my most optimistic expectations out of the water, and that’s even before we get to the curated list changes. Let’s start with the new cards being added, and I’ll be going through these changes from most to least expected, starting with the Commander 2017 cards themselves.

 

Commander 2017

Overall, Commander 2017 made it through the MTGO implementation process mostly unscathed: Eminence wasn’t axed, (Stalking Leonin) will be around for Legacy, and even (Teferi's Protection) is here (though it’s easier on MTGO, since it has already implemented all the other phasing cards since Mirage block was released in full). Only four cards didn’t make it, and they’re mostly for understandable reasons. The highest profile one is Mairsil, the Pretender, and while it’s certainly complicated, I feel like WotC should go above and beyond to implement Legendary Creatures, and most of the pieces have been done before on various cards like Havengul Lich and Myr Welder. Portal Mage and New Blood are next, and they were likely cut for doing wacky things Magic hasn’t done before (changing who attackers are attacking, Mind Bending a creature type). The final card is Vindictive Lich, and it falls under the Undaunted precedent where it’s multiplayer-focused, though it’s probably the card that should have been printed the most (compare it to (Territorial Hellkite), which made it into the chests). Minor quibbles aside, there aren’t any glaring omissions (except maybe Mairsil), which is a win in my book.

 

Commander/Conspiracy Cards

Remember this tweet chain from around the time the Monarch cards were put in the Treasure Chests? Apparently Alli Medwin did more than just sleep on it, since there are a lot of new Conspiracy cards in the Treasure Chests now. The first and highest profile additions are all five of the non-Thorn of the Black Rose cards mentioned by Alex Ullman ((Custodi Squire), (Sinuous Vermin), (Borderland Explorer), (Entourage of Trest), (Skittering Crustacean)), but WotC went farther than that baseline. Second, since (Custodi Squire) meant WotC needed to touch the voting code again, the two big Council’s Dilemma cards from Conspiracy: Take the Crown were added for Commander as well ((Expropriate) and (Selvala's Stampede)). Third, (Conqueror's Flail), the strangest card left out from Commander 2016, is now on MTGO, bringing the total number of missing cards from C16 to just seven. Finally, I’ve been yelling in my articles to put (Treasonous Ogre) on MTGO for a while now, and while I thought I was the only one, this survey Alli Medwin did (that I apparently completely missed) puts it in the same tier as the important Pauper cards.

 

Pre-Mirage/Portal Cards

Wait, what? Yes, that headline is correct: WotC took a bunch of super-old cards that aren’t on MTGO (25 in total) and put them in the Treasure Chests. What’s more is that the choice of cards is very random: we have cards with all kinds of different flavors, and the quality ranges from (Flood) (a contender for “best old card not on MTGO” along with Sunstone) to (Salvage) (why yes, that is a strictly worse Reclaim). However, I can sort them into a couple different categories:

 

Portal Three Kingdoms Legends:

In total, there are 31 Legendary Creatures in P3K, and prior to this update 15 of them were on MTGO through various means (mostly Masters Edition III). Of the 16 remaining, 10 are in this Treasure Chest update, and they range from (Lady Sun) (an interesting card I’ve put into various designs) to (Pang Tong, "Young Phoenix") (a case where Portal-timing cripples a card in most cases). Now my only question is what was so bad about the remaining six cards? In particular, Zhang He, Wei General seems much more interesting than most of the random Portal-timing cards that were chosen.

 

Cards That Make Mana:

It seems like WotC agrees with me that if any of the remaining old cards is likely to break out in eternal formats, it’s going to be one that makes mana. As such, the Treasure Chest has (Burnt Offering), (Energy Tap) and (Metamorphosis) (and you can throw (Treasonous Ogre) into that group as well) to get ahead of any potential breakthroughs.

 

Unique and/or Playable Effects:

I mentioned (Flood) in the opener to this section (especially when you consider it’s Pauper-legal), and there are other interesting cards in this group. (Field of Dreams) makes sense after you’ve seen how well Lantern of Insight decks are doing, (Cruel Tutor) is a card Vintage Rotisserie Drafts want (since they want all the tutors possible, even comparably bad ones), (Drafna’s Restoration) is a card artifact decks want (and one I’ve considered for my Masters 25 designs), and (Game of Chaos) is as the card name implies. (Aspect of Wolf) might not be splashy, but it’s fine as a nostalgia pick. (Cemetery Gate) is the most interesting card—does it have a place in Pauper somewhere?

 

Random Limited Fodder:

Alert to the WotC people reading my articles: When I write about cards like (Stream of Acid) and (Brainwash) being cards I want on MTGO, I mean in a limited context, rather than just being put on the service. To be fair, I like every effort to synchronize MTGO and paper, especially in the context of MTG Arena’s limited scope, but I just don’t know who’s going to play (Salvage) or (Plant Elemental) in Constructed. I’m assuming that some of these cards exist just to pad out the list and make the chase cards less common, but if you want padding, the Portal sets have a lot of average vanilla creatures like Bear Cub that aren’t chase cards but are much more desirable than bad spells. However, even that isn’t true as we’ll see in a second once we go over the frequencies.

 

Overall:

I wish I could get the ear of someone at WotC so they can explain their strategy with the missing reprints. Is the plan to get to 99% of cards on MTGO in the near-future (everything minus the banned-in-Vintage cards, offensive cards, and the hard to implement; I’d estimate we’re at ~97% right now)? If WotC wants the next wave of suggestions, I’d suggest focusing on cards that are almost certainly never going to be in a normal set—reprinting the P3K legends was a great idea, but I’d suggest more Horsemanship cards, the snow cards from Ice Age, and other mechanics (Cumulative Upkeep, Banding, and Rampage). If you’re interested in what’s next, Scryfall recently updated to allow you to search for cards available in a particular game, so you can search for all Vintage-legal cards not available on MTGO (though that list hasn’t updated for the new Treasure Chest update as of press time).

 

Treasure Chest Slot Changes:

The newly-christened “exclusive” slot is 5% likely in each of the three slots, leading to an average of 0.15 new cards per chest. The nice part is that 0.1 of those cards came from the Standard common/uncommon slot (174.5% → 164.5%), and the other 0.05 comes from the Modern rare/mythic (66% → 61%), while the Curated and Play Point slots remain untouched. More importantly, the frequency for the new cards is very interesting:

 

Frequency 12:

(Custodi Squire) and (Borderland Explorer) are the only cards here, as they are the most important cards for Pauper.

 

Frequency 6:

The vast majority of the cards ended up here: most of the Commander 2017 cards (with no distinction between the non-mythic rarities), the remaining Pauper-relevant cards (though I’m surprised the Monstrous cards weren’t at 12 as well), the mana-production cards, and the catch-up cards from Conspiracy/Commander.

 

Frequency 3:

The twelve eleven spotlight commanders from Commander 2017 get this category to make them slightly more special (sorry Mairsil).

 

Frequency 1:

This is where all the cards here mostly for completeness were placed: the P3K Legends, non-Pauper-legal stuff like (Aspect of Wolf), and the garbage like (Salvage) and (Brainwash). I’m honestly surprised they were this nice—if you’re going to print garbage in a non-Limited product, putting them at the lowest rarity is the way to do so.

 

Overall, there are 405 copies on the exclusive list, so it’ll take 2700 chests to go through the list. My only concern is that it’ll be difficult to get the garbage cards to the few people who need them, since I have a feeling a lot of people who open those cards won’t realize how rare they are—it’ll be funny when (Brainwash) and (Plant Elemental) show up on the MTGOTraders hotlist.

 

Curated List Changes:

Wow. Just, wow. It’s rare that changes to the curated list leave me speechless, but this update did it. Let’s dive into the details of what’s changing.

 

Additions:

The more traditional additions are adding the important cards from Amonkhet block and Ixalan, which seems slightly early for those additions (and not all of them are hits), but isn’t that big a deal. However, the big deal is that they’re adding full sets for all the Standard sets to the Chests—granted, they’re at low frequencies (3 for non-foil sets—same as Power—and 1 for foil), but these are some of the highest-value things in the curated list (at least for now). Importantly, the pure additions only add 212 copies to the curated list.

 

Removals:

Let’s start with the numbers: 121 cards removed, for a total of 1,223 copies. That is a lot, and a lot of the removed cards are either crap (notably all the painlands, and other dual lands that aren’t worth that much), have been reprinted recently (MM3, IMA, and even FTV: Transform get representation in the removal list), or have been depressed after their Treasure Chest reprint (their prices were mostly from low supply, like Commander and Masques Block cards). In addition, there’s another milestone as a couple of Masterpieces (Counterbalance and Forbid) have been completely removed from the chests, a first as far as I know. It isn’t perfect though, as some high value cards have been removed from chests. They’re mostly understandable, as while Mystic Confluence, Show and Tell, Sudden Demise, Surgical Extraction, Tempt with Discovery, and True-Name Nemesis are all still expensive, they’ve dropped 50% or more from their heights. Pendelhaven is the one card removed that’s had a reasonably stable price (though that isn’t completely confirmed, as MTG Goldfish’s chart is missing the last two months or so of the promo Pendelhaven’s price chart), though that’s only around six tickets.

 

Frequency Changes:

If there’s one section of this entire update that is underwhelming it’s this one, but it’s also the smallest. To start with, there are only three frequency increases, and while they’re worthy choices (Chalice of the Void 6 → 12, Expedition Twilight Mire 3 → 6, and Undiscovered Paradise 6 → 12), they’re the only non-Standard additions to the curated pool. Moving to the decreases, the main headline is that the eight promos added with the Ixalan update (Elvish Spirit Guide, Gauntlet of Might, etc.) were all dialed down from 20 to 6, but most of those weren’t worth more than a couple of tickets at this point (Helm of Obedience being the main exception). Instead, the most important decrease is Botanical Sanctum going from 20 to 12 (I could see that getting reversed after the resurgence of Temur/Sultai Energy at the Pro Tour), with cameos from Ash Barrens (25 → 20), Grim Monolith (12 → 6), and Masterpiece Wurmcoil Engine (12 → 6). That’s not to say there aren’t good choices here (Masterpiece Chromatic Lantern is worth almost nothing, while Condescend will drop even more post-Iconic Masters), just a higher proportion of bad choices.

 

Curated Summary:

Overall, 1,230 cards were removed from the curated pool, while the increase in value of the pool was 2,257.89 tickets, which is actually less on both accounts than the Ixalan update. Still, this is more meaningful for a couple reasons. First, while the culling of the Invocations in the Ixalan update was a large proportion of the cuts, other than the (relatively minor) culling of the old promos, there wasn’t anything other than the removal of chaff to trigger this large of a decrease—how much chaff is left though? Second, the character of the additions is much different: the Ixalan update added and increased the frequencies of a lot of cards, while the value in the C17 update mostly comes from those complete sets—if you take out those 20 slots the value actually goes down by 413 tickets (which is a much more reasonable expectation when you remove 1,230 cards, especially when they include some that are worth a decent amount). I get that having a lottery ticket gets more people to actually open chests on hope, just like Masterpieces did (even though opening a single chest gets worse in that case), but the variance being that high makes the “average” chest feel bad (just like Masterpieces did for packs/boxes), especially as the price of chests goes up.

 

The biggest problem with this model (and one I’m not sure you can solve) just comes down to math You start by removing cards that are chaff because it feels bad when your curated card is worth less than a tenth of a ticket, which means that the value of the average chest goes up. The secondary price of chests rises to compensate (because people who do the math will buy them in large quantities), which means that more cards are considered chaff relative to the price of a chest—we’ve seen that as mostly pennies (or cards that had been reprinted) were removed at first, but now cards that are around a ticket are relatively disappointing. Combine that with lots of cards being depressed in value due to their reprints in Treasure Chests (since their price mostly came from super-low supply), and we get to the main concern of MTGO economists since the introduction of Treasure Chests: WotC is funding prizes out of players’ collections. However, this is very hard to determine the full effects of considering all the other effects that affect card price (including some others we’ll get to in the overall conclusion), and most of these factors will be vastly outweighed by Arena whenever it move into open beta, so they’re temporary at best.

 

Overall Conclusion:

Balancing Treasure Chests is always going to be precarious, especially as they need to serve multiple purposes (introduce new cards to MTGO, solve problems of extremely low supply, make Constructed formats more affordable, disconnect Constructed prizes and the costs of specific Limited formats) even before the economy questions. Of course, I like adding new cards to MTGO, especially of old cards or other cards that were passed up, and that should be the best way to add value to Treasure Chests: add cards exclusively through them (as that creates value rather than cannibalizing it; look at Ash Barrens). However, WotC announced something else in the Iconic Masters Event Update: they will be selling Play Points in the store for the first time over the holidays. Each of those has a discount, from the cheapest bundle only providing an event ticket off the price of an Iconic Masters draft to the $100 bundle providing 20% more Play Points. This has had wide-reaching ramifications—Cardhoarder lowered their ticket buy price temporarily when the bundles were first announced, and people are wondering if this might be the first step to making MTGO cheaper (which makes it look more favorable compared to the free-to-play and almost certainly much cheaper Arena). However, we don’t know how many people will buy these—most enfranchised players rarely use the store at this point anyway (because of taxes, or because they don’t regularly pay into the program), especially now that WotC is giving away Play Points as prizes (either directly or through Treasure Chests). This is not my specialty, so I’ll let the MTGO Finance experts go into detail with this—I’m just on the sidelines designing reprint sets and hoping more cards make it onto MTGO. Next time I’ll be here with the Iconic Masters Limited Review, which will come very soon.

 

Vincent

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