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By: caliban17, Eric Engelhard
Nov 23 2010 5:45am
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OK, WotC did not include the power 9 as Mythics in this set.  Not even Timetwister, which could have been a regular rare.  I will cover that a bit more at the end of this article and in the next one, "ME4: What It Is Not".  Right now, let's focus on what the set actually is.
Note: I'm linking to the cardnames here on MTGOTraders, even though not all the links may work when this is first published.  As soon as they get ME4 into the database, they should work fine.

FACTS:
Set size and rarity for ME4 is dramatically different than past Master's Edition sets.

  MED ME2 ME3 ME4
LAND

15

5 15 12
COM 60 80 75 80
UNC 60 80 70 72
RARE 60 80 70 105
TOTAL 195 245 230 269

Among every set in Magic's 17 year history, only Arabian Nights has a worse R/U ratio, and only Beta, Revised and Legends have a worse R/C ratio.
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In ME4, there are 187 cards strictly new to the online card pool out of the 269 cards in the set.  This is the lowest ratio of an MED set so far, but understandable with the shrinking card pool not online.  In addition, there are 13 cards that were previously not available in regular booster packs but only through special sets or as promos.  Energy Flux is a weird case, as it's new to online and counts as one of the 187, but it's also coming soon in Mercadian Masques.  So I generally would say that 200 cards are new to the online pool (though 13 of them were just "limited availability").

Of the 69 cards previously available in regular packs (going by their ME4 rarity):
10 are the dual lands
12 are the Urzatron with previously unavailable artwork
6 are 'classic' rares with previously unavailable artwork (Armageddon*, City of Brass, Colossus of Sardia, Force of Nature, Mahamoti Djinn, Shivan Dragon)
13 are 'classic' uncommons with previously unavailable artwork (Air Elemental, Detonate, Fireball, Grapeshot Catapult, Icy Manipulator, Juggernaut, Savannah Lions, Sengir Vampire, Serra Angel, Squall, Swords to Plowshares*, Theft of Dreams, White Knight)
19 are 'classic' commons with previously unavailable artwork (Atog, Cloud Spirit, Counterspell*, Dark Ritual, Divine Offering, (Flying Carpet), Fog, Giant Growth, Healing Salve, Howl from Beyond, (Ogre Taskmaster), Phantasmal Terrain, Sandstorm, Scavenger Folk, (Sleight of Hand), Terror*, Weakness, Wild Griffin, Yotian Soldier)
*=previously released with this artwork on a promo card

That leaves 9 cards (besides the 10 dual lands) that have been already released with that artwork in normal 15 card packs:
Artifact Blast, Black Knight, Dragon Engine, Dust to Dust, Giant Tortoise, Onulet, Orcish Mechanics, Prodigal Sorcerer, Urza's Chalice.
Every one of these 'extra' reprints is from Master's Edition 1, except for Prodigal Sorcerer.  They're all commons and uncommons for limited, mostly to support the artifact theme.

For this set, it's apparent there was a change in policy, where it became ok to reprint cards that were already widely available online if they had an artwork that was not available online, especially if they were a classic Beta-Antiquities card.
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Rarity gets a little funny with the old sets, but using Gatherer's "official" rarities for the 269 cards:
(The 'happy' moves)
Rare on paper, Common online: 5
Rare on paper, Uncommon online: 27
Uncommon on paper, Common online: 28 (though this includes 9x Urza Lands)
Total: 60 (or 51 if you don't count the Urza Lands)

(The 'sad' moves)
Uncommon on paper, Rare online: 22
Common on paper, Uncommon online: 12
Common on paper, Rare online: 1 Sinkhole
Total: 35

Stayed the same rarity: 174/269 cards.
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Let's see which sets they drew cards from:
Beta - 55 new to online + 34 reprints of cards already online
Arabian Nights - 17 new to online + 4 reprints of cards already online (City of Brass, Flying Carpet, Giant Tortoise, Sandstorm)
Antiquities - 35 new to online + 22 reprints of cards already online
Legends - 15 new to online + 1 reprint of a card already online (Divine Offering)
The Dark - 9 new to online + 2 reprints of cards already online (Dust to Dust, Scavenger Folk)
Fallen Empires - 2 new to online
Ice Age - 11 new to online
Homelands - 7 new to online
Alliances - 5 new to online
Portal - 21 new to online + 2 reprints of cards already online (Cloud Spirit, Theft of Dreams)
Portal Second Age - 18 new to online + 3 reprints of cards already online (Ogre Taskmaster, Sleight of Hand, Wild Griffin)
Portal Three Kingdoms - 3 new to online
Starter(1999) - 2 new to online + 1 reprint of a card already online (Squall)

This set definitely covers Antiquities and Alpha/Beta pretty thoroughly, and does a good job with Arabian Nights, too.
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In terms of my 1020 article series, they got every banned/restricted card into this set, and every card in my "The Ones That Might Be Good If You Squint" article except for Goblin Settler, Ogre Arsonist, Nature's Ruin, and Virtue's Ruin.  I'll talk more about these next week, but they're semi-understandable exclusions.  Overall, very good.

OPINIONS:
Something happened to this set very, very late in its development.  Sometime around November 1st, something drastically altered the setlist for this set.  There are two facts indicating this:
1) The release date of this set was pushed back to January 10th with no explanation.  Online set release dates are planned out years in advance - this is not a move they would make lightly, unless they had to, to reconfigure the set.  They even mentioned "unexpected changes" to the release date.
2) Two preview cards (Sol Ring and Wheel of Fortune) were given out to sites to preview with "Mythic" rarity symbols, indicating that Mythic rares were in the set as late as the week of previews.

Some other factors indicate this as well:
1) In an article, WotC stated that there were too many crap rares in Master's Edition 2, and that for the set size that set had too many rares.  Master's Edition 3 reduced the number of rares, and increased the number of commons, and everyone agreed it was much better.  Yet here, they went the exact opposite direction.
2) They broke their rule about not reprinting from earlier Master's Edition sets to include the dual lands (other reprints from ME sets are all limited-focused).
3) There are many uncommons that seem unnecessarily promoted to rare status.
4) They deliberately made this set this worst collated set since Legends (in terms of rare balance).  While ME4 set is definitely a throwback to old sets, bad collation is not something that people really reminisce fondly about.

The Theory:
As late as November 1st, the setlist looked something like this:
12 Land, 87 commons, 85 uncommons, 70 rares, 15 mythics (Power Nine plus 6 cards banned in Legacy and restricted in Vintage - Fastbond, Mana Vault, Sol Ring, Strip Mine, Time Vault, and Wheel of Fortune.  Possibly Balance, Channel, or Demonic Tutor in place of some of these.)
In other words, a normal-ish collation for a set with Mythic Rares.

And then someone panicked.  Much like Tom Lapille's drive to print foil versions of cards off the reserve list was suddenly shot down by higher ups (i.e. lawyers), his drive to get the Power 9 on MTGO and have full Vintage online was suddenly shot down by the higher ups - Brand, Legal, or a higher man on the R&D totem pole.  I'm not sure that Tom actually was behind both of these, only that he wrote the article about Masticore's inclusion in Relics, and he was the developer for ME3 (Erik Lauer was designer).  Maybe the higher-ups just objected to a Master's Edition set having mythics at all, and as a consequence the Power 9 couldn't be printed.  But I suspect it was an objection to them specifically.  Suddenly, his months of work on the set are in jeopardy, and he needed to find a solution, fast.

So at that point, cards have already been programmed into MTGO, and he can't add any more new cards in.  He's left with a set with 76 rares, and 260 total cards.  He knows the value of the set is really low without the Power 9, as many of the best rares are already available in some form (Balance, Demonic Tutor, Maze of Ith, Sol Ring), or are going to be restricted in Classic/banned in Legacy, or both.  So he decides to replace those 9 high value cards with the only 10 high value cards that he possibly could - the dual lands.  This is even though it kills the value of ME2 and ME3, and breaks the "no reprints (except a handful for limited)" policy that was in place.

There's a problem, though.  The problem with just adding those 10 dual lands is that your chance of opening a dual land is way too high in this set, if it only now has 86 rares.  ME2 had a 6.25% chance of a dual, ME3 had a 7.14% chance of opening a dual land.  With 86 rares, this set has a whopping 11.62% chance of opening a dual.  He does the math, or someone higher up demands that the dual lands get down to a 9.5% chance.  He figures he needs to get to 105 rares to make this happen.  His only recourse is to promote a bunch of uncommons to rares, as he can't add cards to the programming of the set.  And you can't just promote random uncommons, they need to feel rare, which usually means that they feel useful/recognized.  So virtually all of the "power" uncommons get bumped up to rare, and then he goes looking for more.

My guess for the 19 rares that began as uncommons in this set:
Almost certainly (12): Acid Rain, Cloud Dragon, Conversion, Deathgrip, Gloom, Kismet, Lifeforce, Obelisk of Undoing, Rakalite, Regrowth, Sinkhole, Tsunami
Possibly (14): Al-abara's Carpet, Alchor's Tomb, Ashnod's Altar, Bottle of Suleiman, Candelabra of Tawnos, Eye for an Eye, Harsh Justice, Jade Monolith, Mana Matrix, Martyr's Cry, Ring of Renewal, Sedge Troll, Urza's Miter, Vibrating Sphere

This would also involve him promoting a few commons to uncommon.  The ones that stand out here are Blue and Red Elemental Blasts and Clay Statue.  Unfortunate for Pauper that these cards are no longer common, but otherwise it doesn't affect their availability much.  As Blue Elemental Blast is online as a common promo, however, this is really, really awkward, as Blue Blast is pauper legal, but Red Blast never will be.  Ouch.

There are almost no strict color hosers at rare since drafting started with Mirage.  Cards like Goblin Piledriver and Chameleon Colossus are awesome cards that are incidentally color hosers.  I'm talking about cards that literally do nothing if your opponent isn't playing that one color, like here Acid Rain, Conversion, Deathgrip, Gloom, and Lifeforce.  Since sets started being drafted with Mirage, there have been 50+ of these cards at uncommon, and there have been only 2 strict color hosers at rare - and those are two green hosers for blue as constructed anti-counterspell measures, which is sort of a special case (Eyes of the Wisent, Seedtime - although this was tough to research, so I may have missed some).  This set increases that population from 2 to 7.  This does not seem like something modern design/development would do unless forced to.  The only explanation I can see is that he had to promote some cards to rare, and these hosers were the 'best' options.

Some other opinions:
A separate interesting thing about this set is that it's the first time in a Master's Edition set that we got reprints of cards simply because the artwork wasn't online.  I think, with the shrinking cardpool not online, that this is a fine move.  It's nice to see Icy Manipulator, Juggernaut, Serra Angel, Sengir Vampire, and even Force of Nature, Mahamoti Djinn and Shivan Dragon online with original art.  Sure, those rares are going to be worth pennies at best, but these handful of cards adds to the nostalgic feeling of the set in a good way.

The other reprints are almost all limited-focused cards from Master's Edition 1 that deal with artifacts, which are fine, and the dual lands, which again seem the odd duck out, not cleanly fitting into either "new artwork" or "to make limited work using old cards" reasons that they've had for reprinting in this Master's Edition set.

I do appreciate the fact that overall, they bumped more cards down in rarity than up in rarity.  It's just the ones that got the bump up sting quite a bit as they will be sought after and don't really have any business being at rare (Sinkhole being the worst culprit here - never in the history of Magic has "Destroy Target Land", with nothing else, been rare).

There's only a handful of cards in this set that totally had me scratching my head at their inclusion.  I feel they did at least as good as ME3, and better than ME1 and ME2 in this regard.  My personal criteria is that a card must either a) be useful in Limited or Constructed, or b) do something sort of unique, or c) be well-remembered.  The burden for reprints is higher.  Here's the ones that don't make the cut:

Rakalite is an awful, awful card.  I could have understood Rocket Launcher at rare, but to make Rakalite rare is insulting, especially after we got Shield of the Ages and Combat Medic at low rarities in previous sets.  And it's not well-remembered, either.
-Blaze of Glory is completely obsoleted by forgotten common Valor Made Real, and is a 15th pick anyway.
-Living Lands is completely obsoleted by Life and Limb, and a very unexciting rare.
-Obelisk of Undoing is my choice for worst rare.  It should have never seen the electron light of day.  Vedalken Mastermind does like 300% of what it does for like one tenth of the cost.
-Tablet of Epityr and the reprint of Urza's Chalice is probably pushing the artifact theme a bit too hard, considering no one's ever going to play them in any limited format, much less constructed.
-Vibrating Sphere is both a card that no one remembers, and a card that when people read, they forget about immediately.
-Fog should have been Undergrowth.  It's not like the blurry mess that is Fog's Alpha artwork is super-loved or anything.
-Prodigal Sorcerer could have been Capricious Sorcerer, though the later is slightly less useful.
-Ogre Taskmaster seems strange.  There's plenty of Hill Giants who aren't online who could have filled this spot, rather than having a reprint here.
-Ice Cauldron and Wood Elemental get a free pass, as they are both well-remembered for being the most poorly-worded and the worst creature of all time.  Leeches gets a free pass too, as it's recently become notable.
Overall, I would have replaced about 10 cards in the set with other cards that haven't been reprinted yet.  I'd rate that a pretty good setlist.

Summary:
Anyway, that's my theory is to what's going on with the set, its Mythic previews, and its horribly skewed rare balance.  We almost got Mythics, the Power 9 and some power uncommons, but instead we got the dual land reprints, no Mythics, and a bunch of rares that feel like uncommons.  It's a mixed bag - every playable Legacy card is now online (or plans to be online in Destiny-Prophecy), and every playable Vintage card is online except for the Power 9.  Legacy and Classic will be much cheaper for all non-Force of Will decks to play.  Every "special set" card that was even vaguely playable got reprinted in this set, increasing their availability to the masses by large factors.  They didn't force cards that aren't the Power 9 to become Mythics.  There's lots of things about this set that I like a whole bunch, but the lack of Power 9 and the awful rare balance are not two of them.  However, given the likely parameters forced on Tom at the last minute, I feel he did the best he could.

At the very least, I feel there's strong evidence that someone at WotC objected to the Power 9 being in this set at the last minute.  I find it highly unlikely that this set had Mythic Rares, changed at the last minute to not have Mythic Rares, and that the Power 9 had nothing to do with that.  The best we can hope for is that someone objected because there's a specific release plan for those 9 cards that would be messed up by their release here.  The worst case scenario is that whoever objected decided that for whatever reason, they will never be released online, and they're not telling us that.  I hope we find out soon.

Join me next time as I give an overview of what isn't online yet - 828 cards to go!

16 Comments

What do you think of Alchor's by GainsBanding at Tue, 11/23/2010 - 08:03
GainsBanding's picture

I'd add Alchor's Tomb to your list of card that don't make the cut. It's a pretty crappy rare to begin with that doesn't even seem to have a purpose for limited in the set. There just aren't that many cards included that care about color. The knights and the elemental blasts are about all I can find.

I almost put it on there by caliban17 at Tue, 11/23/2010 - 10:47
caliban17's picture

Alchor's a bad card in general, and near useless in this set... but it does do something unique. No other card in Magic can change the color of something else permanently to any color, except Prismatic Lace, and that's not repeatable. I think it deserves a place online, though I think it would have been fine as an uncommon in a set with more uncommon color hosers. (*cough* Virtue' Ruin and Nature's Ruin *cough*)

It's kind of an administrative nightmare in paper. "Let's see, these 3 swamps are Christmas colors, Red, Green, and White. I have 3 black tokens, 2 saprolings and a camarid, then two white camarids and a red eldrazi token. Got all that?" Here online, we'll actually be able to see what it's doing.

Man I love entertaining by smack8001 at Tue, 11/23/2010 - 10:54
smack8001's picture

Man I love entertaining deductive reasoning! But I think the reason duals were included wasn't just to round out the set, but to make them easier to get to sell packs and make eternal formats more accessible.

Promo commons by mojo_filter at Tue, 11/23/2010 - 12:10
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Love your articles and I'm glad you are back, one thing though about pauper legal cards. Blue elemental blast is not pauper legal because it is only released online as a promo at common. Same thing with Kird ape, and fireball. The policy right now now is that promo printings do not effect pauper legality. Duel decks and theme decks are fine however, which is how we get snuff out, blastoderm, invigorate, gush, daze and others.

Ahhh... by caliban17 at Tue, 11/23/2010 - 12:31
caliban17's picture

I mentally group "promos" with "duel decks/theme decks" in my head in that they're both non-draftable ways to get cards online. I hadn't realized that they did draw a distinction for pauper.

Frankly, I think non-draftable sets should have no impact on pauper whatsoever. I can see allowing Gush, Daze, and Invigorate, etc. simply because we know we are guaranteed to get them in the next 18 months or so as commons. But allowing Serrated Arrows always rubbed me the wrong way. When exactly was that ever common online?

I don't know if there are others like that - printed at common in special sets, but with zero plans to release them online as a common in a draftable set. Some of the Ice Age/Alliances cards, I bet. I wish WotC would take a hard look at those, or we're going to be at the mercy of their arbitrary made-up rarities for these sets forever.

Thanks for clarifying about the difference, though!

I went from going to "draft by enderfall at Tue, 11/23/2010 - 12:25
enderfall's picture

I went from going to "draft like crazy" (if MED4 included Power 9) to "not going to draft at all". Surely someone of these "higher ups" should have realized most people would feel this way and just went forward with printing the P9. This is an unmitigated disaster for WoTC. MED sets were already terrible limited formats and not including anything of significance to the car pool other than LoA, Workshop and a couple others is not enough to drive sales. If I have any interest in those cards, I'll simply buy them from MTGOtraders or another bot using the money I had considered allocating for drafting to those few cards that are any good. Talk about getting coal in your stocking!

Some points of conention by Ringtailed79 at Tue, 11/23/2010 - 14:12
Ringtailed79's picture

Good article, love the presentation of data. Your theory on the last-minute evolution of the set is probably close to true.

Some points of conention:

Cruel Bargain is not yet online, nor in ME4. It's a lynchpin for a deck called "Spanish Inquisition", a Tier-2(ish) Legacy deck. It's absence isn't of utmost importance to the format, but it's a notable absence.

Considering the success of sinkhole in the paper metagame, it's unlikely that the card was ever anything but rare. Both you and I are just flapping gums in the wind with these assumptions, but it only seems logical that a chase card, a powerful card, would be promoted to rare.

Blue elemental blast is a common because it has a black expansion symbol, but cannot be played in pauper because promos are not part of the card pool due to lazy coding. If wotc ever 'fixes' the pauper pool to recognize promos, then blue would be legal and red would not be. Though a future release of the promo red blast would solve that issue.

You refer to the "rule of not reprinting ME cards in later ME sets", but that is a misconception. Brand manager Worth Wolpert stated on the old forum boards, that Force of Will would not be reprinted in future ME sets. He mentioned nothing of other ME cards and never has done so. He recently clarified that position on the official boards.

Up until now, they have only by caliban17 at Tue, 11/23/2010 - 14:18
caliban17's picture

Up until now, they have only reprinted from previous Master's Edition sets to fill out limited themes (Faeries in ME3, Artifacts here in ME4). Then they added the dual lands to ME4, which break the policy.

So while the policy can definitely change in the future, except for the dual lands, this has been a policy that was followed. I agree, if they do a ME5, it's likely they would have to break this policy significantly, and reprint large chunks from earlier sets.

Wow, I could hear the X-files by rpitcher at Tue, 11/23/2010 - 14:26
rpitcher's picture

Wow, I could hear the X-files theme in my head as I read portions of this article :)

I can't help but wonder if they were worried if the servers could support the amount of drafting we'd all want to do if they included the P9.

Wouldn't surprise me at all to see such cards in a future "From the Vaults" sort of set. Would be highly priced, and easier on the servers.

Excellent by under_the_hammer at Tue, 11/23/2010 - 16:27
under_the_hammer's picture
5

I like the theory I'd like to add that I fi d it strange that the mythic symbol spoilers were issued. I mean it's a five minute job to Photoshop or replace or just spoil without showing a med4 mockup. It's either very sloppy or someone wanted this to be public knowledge. Also if there was no power than the numbers of mythics would have been so low that they would have been more frequent than the rares. I agree that power nine was in the draft set close to a week before the spoiler and for whatever reason it was bottled. One other thing that does not sit right was why after pushing the set back did they not push back the spoilers and correct the rarity symbols. If we never knew that the set intended to have mythics we would have been u aware that power was pulled very late in the day.

You put into words what lot by Cownose at Tue, 11/23/2010 - 22:07
Cownose's picture

You put into words what lot of us had been thinking as a way to explain the Mythic cards/weird number of rares, sheer number of utter crap at rare. I feel almost 100% positive what you said happened is exactly what went down, but the question is WHY???? Who put the kebash on so many player's happiness? What is their long-term plan for classic/vintage??? who is Worth REALLY working for???? The KGB? CIA? MI6? FBI? CCCP? PETA? BPRD?

The truth is out there man...

OK what is BPRD? (The only by Paul Leicht at Tue, 11/23/2010 - 22:12
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OK what is BPRD? (The only acronym I didn't get.)

Bureau of paranormal research by Leviathan at Tue, 11/23/2010 - 22:17
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Bureau of paranormal research and defense!

It's a Hellboy reference. by MMogg at Wed, 11/24/2010 - 03:25
MMogg's picture

It's a Hellboy reference.

excellent article by one million words at Wed, 11/24/2010 - 19:56
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5

Your analysis is highly plausible. Well done.

Damnit, WotC, where are my by midnight_dancer at Fri, 11/26/2010 - 05:42
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Damnit, WotC, where are my flying Talas pirates?