Editorials

Magic: The Gathering ⏤ The loss of draft boosters

Take a journey with me, it’s October 16th, 2023 and you’ve just read an article on Wizards of the Coast’s website about the death of Draft Boosters. Draft (and Set) Boosters will be no more shortly into 2024. Shocked, you spit your Mountain Dew all over your monitor(s) while dramatically dropping the cup to the floor. That probably didn’t happen to anyone, but this does convey the feeling I had upon learning that Draft Boosters were being retired. As for me, I read this article while sipping a cup of coffee eyebrow permanently raised. Good, bad, or ugly 2024 is going to be an interesting year for Magic: The Gathering.

What are Play Boosters?

Tale’s End – The End of an Era

What exactly is happening? Why is Magic: The Gathering on fire again? Wizards of the Coast announced that Draft and Set Boosters are being merged into a new booster pack called Play Boosters. I suggest reading the article for yourself. Mark Rosewater talks about the why of Play Boosters. While there are some good arguments for them, I have a feeling that the Magic community will largely have a negative response to this news. No one likes change and this change feels like a big one. I don’t think this is going to be, “Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together… MASS HYSTERIA!” but it might be close. (I just watched Ghostbusters again for Halloween.)

These new Play Boosters split the difference between their respective parents. There’s fewer draftable cards per pack (14), but now you have a chance for multiple rares/mythics. List cards are going to be found inside Play Boosters, but once again, The List is changing to meet this new booster. The full breakdown can be found in the article. Upon first inspection, the Play Booster seems like a good compromise, but like any good compromise, it could leave all parties slightly unhappy. It’s a small detail, but I feel like a lot of players forget that the contents of a Draft Booster do change. Draft Boosters sometimes have bonus sheets or replacement cards, but for a long time they’ve been standardized at 9-11 commons, 3 uncommons and 1 rare/mythic. Draft Boosters were a cornerstone of Magic because players knew what they were getting. At the moment, I can’t tell if this new hybrid is going to be a Dragon Ball fusion dance or Nina Tucker from Fullmetal Alchemist. (If you understood that last part I’m deeply sorry.)

Maybe it’s fitting that Ravnica Remastered will be the last set to have a Draft Booster. This is a set that pulls on my nostalgia for when I first played Magic: The Gathering. I happened to show up right at the start of the original Ravnica block and I’m not alone in my nostalgia for Ravnica. I am going to buy one pack of Ravnica Remastered so that it can live on my shelf. Whenever I look at it, the pack will be a stark reminder of a bygone era for Magic: The Gathering. I can’t tell you if the Play Booster will be worthy of Magic’s legacy, but it does feel like we’re entering a new era for Magic: The Gathering.

Faithless Looting – The Negatives?

So, we’re losing Draft Boosters, but we are also losing Set Boosters. Everyone is mourning Draft Boosty, but poor ole Set Boosty is also getting taken out back and uh…disposed of. The goal of Set Boosters was to create a booster pack that was fun to open. Players would have a wider range of potential cards to crack from a Set Booster. I’ve never been that big a fan of Set Boosters as they didn’t fit my personal needs as a player, but I think Wizards succeeded in their goal. I have a feeling Wizards knew exactly what they were doing when they introduced Set Boosters. I have purchased boxes of Set Boosters, but I’ve mostly did because I couldn’t get a box of Draft Boosters. This situation feels like Wizards solving a problem they created after Set Boosters were introduced. Mark Rosewater talks about how Set Boosters were surpassing Draft Boosters, but in my corner of the world that seems to be by design. If stores can only afford one type of booster box, it only makes sense stores are going to purchase the boosters with a wider potential audience. This isn’t the first time we’ve lost entire booster packs. Wizards pulled the plug on Theme Boosters in 2022 and no one seemed to notice, me included. Set Boosters weren’t for me, but maybe I should pour one out for Set Boosty too.

I do have one big problem with this change and I’d like to directly ask a question to this part of the article, “Play Booster display boxes, however, will have 36 boosters like Draft Booster displays did (as two boxes are exactly enough for three 8-player drafts). Because that is six more boosters than Set Booster displays have right now, be aware the price of a Play Booster display box will be higher than that of a Set Booster display box.” My very technical question is, “But why?” You already have a Draft Booster box machine that makes 36 card booster boxes with 15 cards. Can’t we just throw out the Set Booster Box machine instead, it seems worse? It only makes 30 packs per box with 12 cards each. Also, Set Booster boxes are already more expensive than Draft Booster boxes. I know this isn’t how Magic is made, but this decision feels like a corporate move designed to remove the lower cost product. As Magic: The Gathering gets more expensive to play, this becomes an increasing concern.

Another concern might be the multiple rares/mythics per pack. I’m not convinced that multiple rares/mythics is a good thing, but I can’t judge Murders at Karlov Manor until it’s in my hands. The nature of draft prevents someone from taking all the bombs from one pack, but I worry about Sealed. With six packs where you keep everything there’s a chance that someone gets extraordinarily lucky and just crushes you at a pre-release. That seems unfun. I have no idea how you balance against luck and getting lucky in Sealed happens now anyway. This might not be as big of a change as I think. However, if Play Boosters have multiple powerful cards in them do Limited games get faster? Slower? Are players getting more financial value if there’s more rare/mythics? Since there’s a higher supply of rare/mythic cards will they have less financial value? It’s impossible to tell until we’re there. The article already admits that the cost of draft will rise, again though I ask my very complicated question, “But why?”

This last one is minor, but starting with Murders at Karlov Manor I shouldn’t (?) mix packs for chaos drafts. There’s going to be two different design schools at work. Maybe I’ll just have to accept that some players will get one fewer card with a Play Booster, or perhaps the better odds on a Play Booster will make up for that one less card. Maybe I’m forgetting what a ->chaos<- draft is and should embrace its spirit. Only in future execution will we discover if the two boosters play nice with each other.

Witness the Future – The Positives?

Considering a Draft Booster pack as we know it could have kids (Ice Age 1995.) This may be what Magic: The Gathering needs in 2024. The Play Booster is going to have an updated design space. This design space could be what allows Magic to stay relevant as time progresses. I would like for there to be another 30 years of Magic: The Gathering and for that to happen, change has to happen. Magic: The Gathering is now surrounded by the icebergs of Flesh and Blood, Lorcana, Star Wars: Unlimited, etc. I’m sure the people who command the good ship S.S. MtG know this and are doing their best to steer around the icebergs. Though, I can’t see these icebergs. I’m down in steerage playing Pauper, because I can’t afford a ticket anywhere else on the ship. However, I do recognize that the Play Booster may be what Magic needs to stay relevant in 2024.

The List once again changes with the introduction of the Play Booster. The List has always been a good idea with questionable execution? There’s a question mark on that because I don’t really know if it works well or not. I’ve always seen it as a space for cards that need a reprint and, for me, The List never did much. The times I bought a Set Booster box, I would pull a List card and go, “Neat, but I wanted a card from the set I bought a box for. I wonder if I can sell this?” This incarnation of The List may finally allow it to reach its full potential. I am excited to see what designers will do with this new design space. Alongside that, I previously stated my concern about multiple rares/mythics per pack, but this is again a potential new design space for Magic: The Gathering. Maybe the cards change for the better? Maybe the power level of cards gets distributed more evenly leading to better games? I can say, I’m not likely to miss those commons that are getting cut. There always seemed to be cards that never even made it into a limited deck.

There’s also an entire side of Magic: The Gathering I know nothing about. Mark Rosewater talks about the effect Set Boosters had on stores. This does seem like a positive change for my local game store. I’m going to ask my local store employees what they think, they will have a better idea than me and maybe I’ll learn something. I realize that I’m just a small guppy in the ecosystem that is Magic: The Gathering. It feels like the game is made for bigger fish these days. I do like the idea of returning to a single core booster pack for Magic: The Gathering. We will have Play Boosters and Collector Boosters, I guess that does communicate which one is for you. Though, those names might be a little on the nose. Am I here to play the game of Magic: The Gathering or am I here to collect it? (Yes…people who buy Collector Boosters play the game too…)

Curse of Shaken Faith

On the other side of the nerd fence One D&D is on the horizon. Wizards of the Coast has been showing off their new Virtual Tabletop for One D&D and that seems to be their focus for the future of D&D. This is in line with Magic: The Gathering Arena seeming to be a focus on this side of the fence. This feels like my Simpsons “Old Man Yells at Cloud,” moment. Both Magic: The Gathering and D&D are becoming more of an app than a tabletop game. There’s the real possibility I’m just not keeping up. On October 4th, 2022 Hasbro stated it had plans for, “Operating profit growth of 50% over the next three years, with plans to further expand operating profit margin to 20% by 2027.” Making it more expensive to play Magic seems in line with that bullet point. Would it be ironic if after all the time gaining mainstream popularity the two properties simply became video games? If the One D&D’s Virtual Tabletop and Magic: The Gathering Arena are the future, will the two properties go full circle and once again be relegated to dusty basements played only in person by the most sunlight averse? :)

This whole article is a knee-jerk reaction to someone changing my cardboard game pieces. I haven’t dug my pitchfork out of the house yet, but I am trying to remember where I put it. It’s possible the contents of a Play Booster will change over time as Wizards acquires feedback. It takes time to design Magic: The Gathering sets and it takes time to steer the good ship S.S. MtG around those icebergs. This makes it likely this decision was made some time ago and Set Boosters have only been around since 2020. Perhaps Wizards will find what works and what doesn’t with Play Boosters given time. My big negative is the increase in the cost of playing Magic: The Gathering. It feels like the management looked over and saw Lorcana selling booster packs for $6 and said, “Why can’t we?” I could be wrong, but in the moment, this is what it feels like. However, right now, players need to be able to trust that Wizards of the Coast has the game’s best interests at heart. I’m not sure players fully trust that’s the case. Change is scary and inevitable, and I play paper Magic: The Gathering because I’m an old man who doesn’t understand TikTok. As for me, I trust the people who design Magic: The Gathering. Right now, I’m not sure I trust the people who sell me Magic: The Gathering.

Tabletop Editor | [email protected]

Chris began tabletop gaming in college and quickly fell into the addictive world of cardboard. Beginning with D&D and Catan he became an enthusiast of all things gaming; analog or digital. Chris, now a relapsed MtG player, loves connecting with people via gaming through RPGs, board games, and video games. A particular favorite is testing friendships through social deduction games.

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