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Everything You Need to Know About Play Boosters

Last week, Wizards of the Coast hit us with a bombshell change to Magic as we know it, the introduction of Play Boosters. Now that the dust has finally settled it’s finally time to sit down and talk about the hottest issue facing Magic: the Gathering. As a Limited aficionado and someone who spends a lot of their free time playing Magic both casually and competitively, the Play booster change is one worth discussing and knowing about, as the future of Magic will change drastically with.

First off, what are Play boosters? Wizards is doing away with both Draft and Set boosters and combining them into one single booster that’s draftable: the Play booster. The “TLDR” is that these new boosters will be more expensive and contain the possibility of opening more rares, and have a potentital The List slot.

Here’s what that all entails:

It’s worth noting that Slot #13 and #14 can be any card from the main set, with Slot #14 always being a foil.

What Does This Mean for Limited Play?

Play boosters bring a number of important changes to Sealed and Draft play:

  • The List/Special Guest slot is now included in Draft and Sealed
  • There are now 14 cards instead of 15 per booster pack
  • You can open more rares (up to four) per booster pack
  • There are less commons on average in Play boosters compared to Draft boosters

There are a couple of important things to note here that will have an affect on Limited going forward. First, slot #7, #13, and #14 make it so you can open up to four rares in a Play booster. Here’s the breakdown via WotC on what those percentages look like, via Mark Rosewater’s “Blogatog”:

On average you will see more rares in Draft and Sealed events. While I’m not overly concerned with this change (since we’ve had an increase in the amount of rares in packs for awhile now) it does worry to include even more variance to Limited. Trust me, it’ll definitely suck to play against someone’s “god pool” of 10+ playable rares, or open a pool with 6 unplayable ones. At MagicCon Vegas I opened an atrocious Sealed pool in the main event, with one playable rare. I can’t imagine even making close to day two opening that same pool or similar in an environment where some players are opening over 10, 15, or 20 rares. While the odds are not in your favor for that at all (according to the Limited data MaRo has provided) I can see some “feels bad” situations arising due to this change.

I think my bigger issue with this change overall is how sets are designed these days. It becomes very mentally taxing when there are so many lines of text on cards, especially with cards that have adventure or are double-faced. Sets feel too powerful, too rare-packed, and I wish we would have an occasional low-powered set. While I really enjoyed March of the Machine, my worry with rare increase in booster packs is that every set will turn into a high-powered set, where decks will rely on power from rares/uncommons more than inherent synergies within the set itself.

This isn’t always the case, with Wilds of Eldraine being a prime example of what a well-designed set is, in my opinion. WOE is a great format because the rares in the set are way underpowered compared to recent Standard sets (Gruff Triplets and Realm-Scorcher Hellkite aside). This means that you have to find more synergies between mechanics, like Bargain and Food, to build a winning deck. Cards like Gingerbread Hunter, Hopeless Nightmare, Torch the Tower, and even Hatching Plans become more valuable than the average rare.

WOE also just has great inherent color balance, where it feels like every color pair has game and decks can win even if they’re more aggro, control, or midrange-aligned. The only real knock I’d give to WOE is that the role mechanic can get confusing in paper play, especially coupled with wordy adventure cards.

I have hope for this rarity increase with Play boosters as long as the set is balanced out. When rares are less “bomby” and the set relies more on synergy you have more to play around with in deck-building, drafting, and identifying relationships between commons and uncommons. Relying just on a rare to win the game is not as skill-testing or interesting to me as drafting all the right tools to make an archetype truly shine. I’m hopeful that WotC will continue to print efficient answers and balance colors to make sets fun and interesting, despite the uptick in rares seen per event.

The Fallout of Price Increases

The most negative aspect about Play boosters is the price increase that comes with them. Wizards has stated that Play boosters will cost the same as a Set booster, about a $1 or so jump from the cost of a Draft booster. However, since set boxes come with 30 packs and Play boosters will come in boxes of 36 packs, this means there will be a substantial increase from a draft booster box to a Play booster box. With set boosters sitting around anywhere from 110 to 130 (depending on the set) we could see Play booster boxes around the $130-$150 range. What does this mean for the events you’re already playing in?

This would probably mean a regular FNM booster draft would jump from $15 to $20 on average, or $20 to $25 depending on where you play. Most Limited RCQs I go to in my area are around $50-$60, so I could see them increase to as much as $75. This is definitely a pretty substantial price increase, especially if you draft consistently. I personally draft in-store 1-2 times a week, so this price increase definitely affects me.

While I’m fine to pay this increase (since booster pack prices have been pretty consistent over the last, what, 20 years or so?) I understand that not everyone can afford this increase, and it would be sad to see players boxed out of playing as much as they want to due to this increase. It’s a substantial price increase that negatively affects the local community aspect about the game. This is, in my opinion, the most harmful aspect about Play boosters.

MTG Arena vs Paper Play Differences

There will be one notable difference between Play boosters on MTG Arena and paper packs – the curation of The List slot. According to this article, “we have worked with the Play Design team on a few card swaps on The List to mesh better with MTG Arena‘s formats.”

This is a change I’m actually happy with. While it’s weird to have MTG Arena and paper be slightly different, especially when testing for a new format, I actually like the idea of having cards only available in paper that I can draft. This makes it harder to “solve” the format with data websites like 17 Lands, and leaves more room for testing and individual opinion for the cards not included on MTG Arena. Albeit a minor change that won’t affect the set that much overall, I think it’s one I’m fine with and leaves some excitement to the List slot in Play booster packs.

Why?

If you’ve gotten to this point in the article, you might be asking yourself “why this change?” The short answer is that Draft boosters are performing poorly and to maintain Limited and meet quota WotC has to combine Draft and Set into one product. The longer answer involves delving into the change with Throne of Eldriane, “Project Booster Fun.” This project which introduced Collector boosters and soon after Set boosters changed Magic forever with the addition of card variants and commander-only cards found in these packs. While I won’t go on a whole tangent explaining my frustration with this change, as Set and Collector boosters soon devalued Draft boosters and left local game stores with mountains of inventory and financial problems, it’s at least worth understanding how we got to Play Boosters. While it’s frustrating to understand that this change comes from WotC’s mishandling of their own products, I take comfort in at least knowing that Draft and Sealed aren’t going anywhere and that this was bound to happen either way.

Wrap-Up

While it’s easy to be negative about Play boosters and the problem Wizards of the Coast created with Project Booster Fun, I always empower my friends and players to look at the positives with these changes. Something important to keep in mind is that this is a change we have no control over, and frankly, a price boost and change to booster pack structure was coming whether we liked it or not. I personally don’t believe it’s worth stressing over changes like this. While it’s valid to have your frustrations, it’s not worth holding onto such negative energy – embrace the future and move on. If you really don’t like the changes you also don’t have to play – it sucks, but it is what it is.

There are positives to Play boosters that I’m actually excited about. Better players will still outperform worse ones, even if the percentage of games won on the backs of rares goes up. There are always things to learn and improve upon, so you should focus on those rather than get disgruntled at things that you have no control over (and not lament on social media!). Adapting to Play boosters will take time and will be a rough change at first, but I’m looking forward to still cracking packs whether it be at a FNM booster draft or the next sealed RCQ.

Stay positive, focus on what you can change, and don’t worry.

LOVE

ROMAN

@roman_fusco

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