Chandra, Legacy of Fire | Commander Masters
9, Aug, 23

MTG Designer Reveals Why Sets Are So Expensive

Article at a Glance

For better or worse, it is no secret that MTG can be an incredibly expensive game. With decks that cost thousands of dollars and cards that cost millions, Magic’s cost is practically iconic at this point. Despite this iconic detail, the price of MTG cards and packs is nevertheless the cause of constant controversy.

Reigniting the controversy and discussions once again was the recently released Commander Masters set. Once boasting $400+ Set Booster boxes, this reprint-focused set was undeniably incredibly expensive, drawing the ire of players. Beyond just complaining, however, many MTG players were understandably left with a few questions. After all, why was Commander Masters so expensive as an MTG set? 

To try and answer this burning question, plenty of theories were thrown around about reprint equity and secondary market value. While these did seem to have merit, they can now all be put to bed. Thanks to MTG’s Lead Designer, we finally have an official answer about why some MTG sets are more expensive than others.

Rosewater Reveals All 

Revealing Eye | Innistrad: Crimson Vow
Revealing Eye | Innistrad: Crimson Vow

Over the past few years, players have seen a variety of prices for different MTG releases. This has led to a pretty obvious trend when it comes to MTG set pricing: power is expensive. If a set is loaded with reprints or powerful new cards, Wizards can typically charge more for it. Unsurprisingly, as sales numbers prove, this is a very effective business model, however, that’s not the only factor in pricing. 

With seven Draftable MTG sets releasing in 2023 alone, it’s safe to say sets don’t exist in isolation. While this is great for giving players options, according to MTG’s Lead Designer, Mark Rosewater, it makes pricing very difficult. This was revealed in an answer to a recent question Blogatog, which asked about pricing when printing costs rarely change. 

“It’s not about what it costs to print. The issue is this. Let’s say we have four products that sell for the exact same price. It’s important for us, and all our business partners, that players equally want to buy all four booster packs.”

Mark Rosewater 

As you might expect following this statement, each MTG product has to be equally appealing to players. After all, “If everyone wants to buy booster one and no one wants to buy boosters two through four, that causes all sorts of problems.” Thanks to this, there needs to be a central pricing theme that all sets revolve around for parity. As many MTG players suspected, this determining factor is power level. 

“We have to take into account numerous factors to make sure that boosters packs are equally desirable. One of the biggest factors is the overall average powerful level of the cards (relevant to the formats they are played in) in the booster. That’s the issue.”

Mark Rosewater 

Considering MTG players have long suspected that power determines pricing, this is hardly the most surprising reveal. As u/quillypen notes, however, “this amount of transparency into the decisions that get made in product pricing and marketing is pretty interesting.”

Unsurprisingly, while additional transparency is always nice, many MTG players weren’t pleased with Wizards’ reasoning. Reddit user u/Chris_stopper, for instance, rebutted the requirement of increasing prices. By going the other way and making Premier sets cheaper, Wizards could achieve the same power pricing parity without ever-increasing costs. 

Solving the Pricing Problem

Solve the Equation
Solve the Equation | Strixhaven: School of Mages

As much as players would surely like lower prices across the board, there is an issue standing in the way. At the end of the day, Wizards of the Coast is a business that needs to generate profit. Thanks to this, it’s highly unlikely that Wizards will ever dramatically cut costs, just to be nice to players. 

While unsurprising, this obviously may not be what players want to hear. Thankfully, however, there is a solution to keep the costs of supplemental products down. In fact, it’s one that Wizards has even trialed before last year. With enough support from players, it seems possible Wizards could even do this again. 

We could make a Commander-focused product at the same price as a premier set,” Rosewater stated in responding to another Blogatog question. “But, it would have to be at the same power level as a premier set.” Previously seen with Commander Legends: Battle for Baldur’s Gate, it’s evident Wizards is able to pull this off. Whether players want them to, however, is a different question.

To try and get the answer to that, Rosewater asked their community, “Is that something you would purchase?” Across social media, while there was a lot of arguing about this topic, most players seemed to support the idea. Tumblr user Fenlurker, for instance, commented that they ”think innovative themes exploring new space is way more important than power level so, yes.”

Alongside the exploration of interesting, if not format-breaking, mechanics and themes, many players just wanted a lower cost. For example, Reddit user u/RealityPalace, stated “Both CLB and commander masters are super fun sets to draft. If I could have that experience at a lower price point that would be great.” 

Now We Wait

Perpetual Timepiece | Kaladesh
Perpetual Timepiece | Kaladesh

Ultimately, while a lower price point would make Commander-focused sets more accessible, they’re not perfect. After all, if the power level can’t be too strong, then there can’t be oodles of reprints. Considering how sorely needed these are on $50+ cards, it’s safe to say this problem would need to be addressed. How Wizards does that, however, is a separate issue entirely. 

While MTG players do love reprints, thankfully, they’re not the only thing that makes Magic fun, especially in Commander. At its casual core, Commander can be all about fun combos and making niche pet cards or themes playable. With this in mind, a low-powered Commander-focused set could still be deeply enjoyable and fit for purpose. Subsequently, we’d love to see an affordable set designed around the purpose of putting fun first.

At the end of the day, MTG players are going to have to wait to see what’s next for Commander-focused sets. After all, judging by the recently released 2024 and 2025 calendars, we’re not getting one until at least 2026. While it’s possible we could be surprised before then, Modern Horizons 3 and Universes Beyond sets are stealing the show before then. Subsequently, we can only hope that when a Commander set does return, it’s learned from the sets before it. 

Read More: MTG’s Newest Enchantress Deck Is Worse than the Rest

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