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Demystifying Set Boosters


If you follow my public page on Facebook, you may have seen me post a question earlier this week about product burnout when it comes to new sets, and variations on cards and boosters, and everything that comes along with those things. 2020 has been kind of an insane year when it comes to releases, and it can be a lot to take in. The majority of the responses indicated to me that, while the sheer number of products themselves may not necessarily be bad for the game, the amount of confusion that arises from so many new products or variations of old products in a small timeframe might be.

Since I was admittedly a little confused and overwhelmed myself, and with Double Masters being the latest set to dominate our newsfeeds, I figured this week would be an opportune time to go over some of these new products and explore what they offer. So, in today's article we're going to discuss all there is to know about the Set Boosters that are coming in Zendikar Rising, everything that comes in them, and my thoughts on them. Buckle in.

Set Boosters

Set Boosters were announced and explained by Mark Rosewater on July 25, so quite recently in fact; less than a week from the publication of this article! He mentions that one of the key reasons for their creation was that booster packs are designed with drafting in mind, yet significantly less than half of all boosters opened were actually used for Limited game play. This is a pretty interesting fact, truth be told.

"That means the majority of players are opening boosters optimized for Limited play when they have no intention of ever playing Sealed or Draft. This seemed like an opportunity. What if we made a new booster that was optimized to make opening boosters as fun as possible? What if ripping open a booster could be more fun? That's what the majority of players are doing. Let's make a booster for them.

That is what Set Boosters are."

This is extremely interesting to me, because typically, one of the main ways I acquire playsets of cards is by busting packs. I am well aware this isn't the most economical way to do things, but a) I'm kind of a completionist, and I like having full playsets of commons and uncommons in my collection, and b) I just like opening packs. There's not really much more to it than that.

With that last fact being the case, the Set Booster actually seems quite obviously geared toward someone like me. If you had known me ten years ago, I would tell you it was sacrilege to open a booster pack without drafting it. In fact, I would frequently Team Draft until three or four in the morning with friends, but it seemed significantly easier to get a six-to-eight person Draft together back then. Even before the current COVID crisis, it had been a few years since I was able to get that many people together at the same place and time to fire Draft. I even had local stores who couldn't fire one for Friday Night Magic. While this certainly isn't true of all locations (Seattle was much more likely to fire than Florida stores, for example), there was still a sizable gap in how geographic locations approach Magic and which formats they prefer.

Manufacturing booster packs for the entirety of Magic: The Gathering that are geared toward drafting and being opened by players who have no interest in drafting seems like a good policy to change.

So what's different about a Set Booster?

A Set Booster has 14 total cards in it, 12 of which are playable. In order, the cards are as follows:

1 - Art Card

These are similar to the ones introduced in Modern Horizons. While these are cool, I do assume most will be thrown out similar to ad cards, especially after someone collected the set of 81.

2 - Land Slot

This will be a basic land card in Zendikar Rising, but they mention this could change from set to set. I assume this means sometime it may be something like a Guildgate for example, or something that represents the set better. 15% of the time this will also be a foil land, in addition to any other potential foils that may be in the pack.

3, 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 - Six "Connected" Commons and Uncommons

This one is a little weird, in that there are a ton of different potential configurations. When you open a pack to draft, you will have around 10 commons and three uncommons to account for power levels while drafting. In Set Packs, you don't really have to worry about this, so there's a lot more flexibility with what can go into the pack.

Furthermore, each card in this "slot" will have something "connected" to the card next to it; this could be creature type, synergy, or story elements. While every Set Booster is guaranteed one uncommon, the configuration could look like any of the following:

  • Five commons / one uncommon = 35% of the time.
  • Four commons / two uncommons = 40% of the time.
  • Three commons / three uncommons = 12.5% of the time.
  • Two commons / four uncommons = 7% of the time.
  • One common / five uncommons = 3.5% of the time.
  • Zero commons / six uncommons = 2% of the time.

This makes 4/2 the most likely combination, which is similar to the current distribution of commons and uncommons, but your odds of getting two or more uncommons in any given pack is actually 65%, so pretty good.

9 - "Head-Turning" Slot

Mark mentions that "Slot #9 is always going to be a visually interesting looking card. What that means will vary from set to set. For Zendikar Rising Set Boosters, that means you will get a common or uncommon that is either a showcase card or a card that's a cool element of the set that we haven't talked about yet."

I don't really know what that last part means. By the time you're opening packs, shouldn't all of the set have been talked about? That seems like an odd thing to say and implies that there will be unknown details for every set that aren't revealed until packs are opened? An interesting concept for sure.

One thing to note from the article is that Slot 9 will always be a common or uncommon card.

10 and 11 - Wildcard Rarity Slots

These slots could contain any rarity, including commons unfortunately. While you'll be able to get showcase versions of rare and mythics, the showcase version for commons and uncommons will only appear in Slot 9, which seems strange.

That being said, this isn't the rare for your booster; that's still in its normal place. These are simply extra cards, in any rarity, that are also in your pack in the following configurations:

  • Common / common = 49% of the time.
  • Common / uncommon = 24.5% of the time.
  • Common / rare = 17.5% of the time.
  • Uncommon / uncommon = 3.1% of the time.
  • Uncommon / rare = 4.3% of the time.
  • Rare / rare = 1.6% of the time.

The article makes sure to note that 23.4% of the time (17.5% + 4.3% + 1.6%), you'll be getting at least a second rare in your pack, which is actually pretty sweet since that's nearly one out of every four packs.

12 - Rare / Mythic Slot

This is the same as always, with one minor change. In the past you would get a mythic rare in 1 out of every 8 packs. Beginning with Zendikar Rising, this will change to 1 out of every 7.4 packs. It's not a huge deal, but over the course of millions of packs being opened, it could add up when it comes to the supply of mythic rares from a set.

13 - Foil Slot

This one is interesting. Also beginning with Zendikar Rising, every Set Booster will have a foil in it of any rarity, similar to something like Masters packs. This means that, along with your wildcard slots, you have the potential to open something like four rares in a pack. The odds are lower, but it will definitely happen, similar to Innistrad when you would open a rare, a foil rare, and a double-sided rare.

14 - Token / Ad Slot

We know what this is. It's boring and the worst part of the pack, but here's an extremely interesting twist:

"25% of the time, instead of an ad or token card, you'll get a card from The List. What exactly is The List? Well, one of the coolest parts of Magic is its history, so we're pulling a trick from Time Spiral and Mystery Booster. We've chosen a list of 300 interesting cards from Magic's past. As with Mystery Booster, they will be printed as they appeared (including art, frame, and expansion symbol) with the exception that they'll have a small Planeswalker symbol in their lower-left corner.

The List has commons, uncommons, rares, and mythic rares which will fall at the proper rate to one another. Being on The List does not make cards Standard-legal. They are legal in whatever formats the cards are already legal in. The cards can be pulled from anywhere in Magic's 27-year history. The plan is for The List to change subtly from set to set, bringing in cards that might make sense with the set we're in, but it will mostly stay intact from set to set, meaning you all will get to learn what cards are in The List."

This is pretty insane, actually. The three cards teased for The List were Muscle Sliver, Cloudgoat Ranger, and Pact of Negation, so despite my previous comment, it seems like it's actually possible to get up to five rares in a pack? That's a little wild, and The List seems ridiculous. This reminds me of the Zendikar treasures that were inserted into booster packs when Zendikar was first released. This initially made me think it was a Zendikar specific thing, but it seems like this is going to be a regular occurrence that can take place in every set going forward. That's really exciting!

As far as the changes in merchandise go, the packs are going to come 30 to a display box, as opposed to the typical 36, and the packs should cost about $1 more. This actually seems reasonable when you consider the fact that you will open an extra rare in your packs around 25% of the time, without even including the guaranteed foil and one in four packs containing a List card.

After thinking this over for a while - despite feeling like this has been an overwhelming year for Magic, when we can't even play paper Magic - I actually really love the idea of Set Boosters, and can't actually see myself buying regular booster packs if I'm not going to be drafting with them. I could even see myself picking these up when I'm in the store, which is something I never did with regular boosters: there was simply too much chaff. The only card I ever cared about was the rare, and maybe only 25% of the time at that. Bulk made up 98% of most booster packs. This seems to alleviate a lot of that, and I hope it truly does. Opening Magic packs was basically a chore I endured to get playsets, and occasionally hit the jackpot from. This does in fact seem like it could be a fun endeavor, and that seems to be their primary goal.

But what do you guys think? As always, I'd love for you to let me know in the comments below, and be sure to use promo code FRANK5 when you're preordering those sweet Zendikar Rising Set Boosters. Stay safe, I love you guys, and I'll catch you next week where we might do the same kind of analysis for the Double Masters VIP Boosters!

Frank Lepore

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