Magic: The Gathering announced today that it would be throwing both draft and set boosters into the metaphorical cardboard product forge in order to create something new and - ostensibly - better called the Play Booster.
Combining the rare card pullability of set boosters with draft booster’s trait of, uh… actually playing MTG as a game, the Play Booster seems like the answer to a market confusion problem Wizards of the Coast started in the first place. There’s just one teensy, weensy problem: play boosters will be sold at the same price as set boosters.
If you’re a casual player who has never ponied up for a round of draft or sealed at your local hobby shop, this is small potatoes. But the community of players for the popular trading card game are now being asked to pay more money for an experience that, at best, won’t change at all and, at worst, might put a bullet directly in the kneecap of limited play.
Play Boosters will land alongside Murders at Karlov Manor in February 2024, and you can read a summary of the changes here. A blog from head designer Mark Rosewater published today goes into much greater detail, and couched alongside all the percentage breakdowns is a note on how all of this will affect the price of limited events and prerelease packs:
“Play Boosters match the cost of a Set Booster, not a Draft Booster, which will result in Limited environments going up in cost slightly. However, the expected value of the booster went up as well because there are opportunities to pull additional rares and mythic rares,” Rosewater wrote. “So yes, you will be paying slightly more, but you'll likely be getting more value out of the boosters. Your rare/mythic rare card ratio per dollar spent will be staying the same.”
Communications director Blake Rasmussen echoed this sentiment at a recent press event. “We thought that the value players were getting out of it was substantial enough that it was worth it…to open more exciting packs and to have that more exciting draft experience,” he said. “For a lot of players, the price change won’t even be noticed because their preferred purchase was always Set Boosters.”
While it is true that the majority of MTG’s consumer base preferred set boosters over the more tightly designed and balanced draft boosters (Rosewater claims the separation and preference created this issue in the first place), it’s somewhat disingenuous to equate the value of pulled cards on secondary markets with a more hefty toll to play the game at a local brick & mortar store. Not all players want to engage with limited formats, sure, but neither do they want to liquidate their pulls to justify their investment in a hobby.
Wizards of the Coast only claimed that the price of limited formats would increase “slightly”, but players on social media are already concerned that any hike in cost will push them out of participating. The US has been flirting with a recession for several months, and the UK is still in the grips of a cost of living crisis. Most countries are still shaking off the economic ripples of the COVID-19 pandemic (still going on, as a note), and a growing class disparity has drawn most people’s inability to enjoy life outside of paying for rent and groceries into sharp relief.
Wizards of the Coast has been posting record profits for parent company Hasbro for two years now, and Magic: The Gathering propelled it into “billion-dollar brand” territory on the back of its colossal sales potential. The Play Booster eliminates some arguably unnecessary SKUs in the bloated product lineup and helps clear up purchasing options for more casual players. But all that comes at the cost of making it harder to actually play the game. And last I checked, Magic: The Gathering was still a game and not just a collectibles factory, right?