No matter how you try to shake it, Play Boosters are one of the biggest changes in Magic that we’ve seen in years. Harrowing the death of two products, Play Boosters attempt to fuse the collectibility of a Set Booster with the playability of Draft Booster. Of course, this means that Limited is going to experience some changes.
While the list of changes, really, is incredibly massive, one overlooked change may be more significant than we thought. Many players are busy focusing on the explosive increase in potential Rare cards and what that will do to Draft in Sealed. The explosive increase in uncommon slots is also rather notable, and appears to change the entire design for MTG sets going forward.
A Numbers Game
Up to this point, Draft Boosters have remained largely unchanged for decades. Draft Boosters traditionally have fifteen cards. 11 of these are Common, three are Uncommon, and one is a Rare or Mythic Rare. One of the 11 Common slots is also typically, technically, a wild card slot, where a chance of opening any card in the set as a foil exists, but is not guaranteed. Finally, one of these common slots is generally a guaranteed land, at least in some sets.
Play Boosters are changing things… a lot. While players can open as many as four rare cards per pack, this is not the only change occurring to the Play Booster lineup. Players can now open four uncommons per pack and only seven common cards. Like the original Draft Booster, one of common those slots is a bit of a wild card, capable of appearing as a List card about 12.5% of the time. A final guaranteed foil wild card slot makes up the new 14-card Play Booster, with a token, of course.
Obviously, this means that there are going to be a lot more uncommon and a lot less common cards. Commenting on this change, MTG’s Lead Designer, Mark Rosewater, recently discussed how R&D had to adapt to this dramatic shift while ensuring Draft still felt like Draft.
“We have spent a lot of time figuring out how to change how we make sets to adapt to play boosters. For example, here’s a big change. Draft boosters had 101 commons and 80 uncommons. Play boosters will have 81 commons and 100 uncommons. We’re shifting twenty cards from common to uncommon to better adapt to how play boosters are put together.”Mark Rosewater
At first, this changed rarity may seem rather odd, as the odds have been almost flipped. However, this change is to account for the lower amount of common slots in packs. Through this change, an individual uncommon will still remain rarer than any common card. While commons now have fewer slots they can appear in, they also will appear much more frequently individually since the pool of cards is much smaller.
More Common/Uncommon Adjustments
Besides the numbers of common and uncommon cards changing in the new Play Booster structure, the overall design of common and uncommon cards will also be changing. Since we now have fewer common slots in booster packs, Mark Rosewater has stated that, as of Murders in Markov Manor, common cards will be seeing a bit of a power boost:
“What we have found, in general, is we want common to be very basic generally useable everywhere. We’ve done away what we call the ‘sideboard commons.’  There are cards that what we call sideboard cards right now, meaning that means I’m not going to play them main deck because its too narrow, but when I run up against an opponent where they’re playing something I’m worried about, I have sideboard cards that I can sideboard in, in the second or the third game. We’ve decided that sideboard cards can’t exist in this world, so we’ve done two things. Either, some of those effects have moved up into uncommon because there’s more uncommons, more space to do those things, and they can show up a little less often, or we’ve made them into modular effects.
A common now, the idea is, there’s less commons and all of them, we wanna make sure that they’re playable because we have to make sure that you can make a playable deck, but the commons very simple and so we rotated around the rarities so we can match what we’re trying to do, and so, having more uncommons means there’s more depth of play, there’s more variety of what’s going on, we can support a little more draft archetypes.”Mark Rosewater
There’s a lot of info to break down here but, basically, not only are the common and uncommon numbers changing in a Play Booster set, but the intended function of cards will also be changing. While common cards appear to be seeing a bit of a power boost come Murders of Markov Manor, a majority of that is from the perspective that they are going to be more generically powerful. Narrower card designs like sideboard hate will be moved to uncommon so players see less of it. Either that, or, as Rosewater stated, effects will become modular. Think of something with multiple modes like Charm effects.
In Rosewater’s words, having more uncommon cards creates a lot more variance and design space for players to explore. It also allows for the unplayable cards to appear less often if narrow injections are needed for constructed play.
Why More Uncommons?
The big reason given for the shift in common and uncommon slots harkens back to market research conducted by Wizards of the Coast in regard to why Set Boosters were more popular than Draft Boosters. While more Rare cards were, by far, the biggest reason given for players liking Set Boosters, the commons were the least liked part of Set Boosters. As such, Wizards of the Coast adjusted by having less common slots in Play Boosters. The idea is to take the more likable product, the Set Booster, and make it playable for Limited purposes. Hence, the Play Booster.
Limited is Important
If anything has been made clear from this discussion, it is that Play Boosters were made to save Limited, not destroy it. Draft Booster sales going down simply meant that, from a business perspective, it did not make sense for Wizards of the Coast to continue making these packs. Like it or not, Play Boosters are a compromise between the passionate designers of Magic trying to keep one of the game’s oldest and most enjoyable formats alive and business. There are going to be some changes, but with how much effort Wizards of the Coast has put into making this product as enjoyable as possible, I’m sure Limited will continue to be just as engaging as it ever was.