Murders at Karlov Manor is about to shake up how we buy Magic cards, with Set Boosters and Draft Boosters both being replaced with a single product – Play Boosters.
This is both a big change and a not-so-big change, depending on how you look at it. It will certainly impact the vast majority of players in some way or another. But at the same time, the change compared to previous booster types seems to be mostly additive – so in theory, everything you liked about Draft or Set Boosters will be preserved.
Wizards have already committed to this change going forward, so they must be confident they’ve formulated the perfect pack to please all comers. So let’s investigate what these Play Boosters will look like for Murders at Karlov Manor, and see whether their testimony holds up.
WHY PLAY BOOSTERS?
According to Magic’s Head Designer Mark Rosewater, Wizards originally created Set Boosters as an alternative to Draft Boosters because their customer research showed that most people who buy boosters simply open them and keep the cards, rather than using them for Draft or Sealed.
Effectively, there were two different audiences for booster packs with two different ideas of what those booster packs should contain. Rather than leave one of them disappointed (and the larger one at that), Wizards decided to just make both products at the same time.
Without the expectation of being useful and balanced in Limited, Set Boosters were able to have multiple rares, extra art cards, reprints from The List and other fancy treats which made them more rewarding to crack and keep.
But over time, the economic and logistic realities of having multiple competing booster pack products have created huge headaches for a lot of game stores and distributors. The situation is also confusing for players on the ground and makes it harder for Wizards to clearly communicate what will be in the packs for each set – especially once Collector Boosters were introduced as well.
So for the last few years, Wizards have been furiously trying to come up with a better long-term solution: a single booster pack which combines the good parts of both Set and Draft Boosters. Easier said than done, of course – or they would have just done that to begin with. But with enough time and the chance to design an entire set with their new booster formula in mind, Rosewater and company are now ready to unleash their Play Boosters on the world.
WHAT ARE PLAY BOOSTERS?
As of Murders at Karlov Manor, Play Boosters are the “default” Magic booster, with Collector Boosters sticking around as a nice luxury option. In order to support Draft and Sealed gameplay, Play Boosters will contain 14 playable cards, plus a bonus slot for an art card, token, or other non-playable item.
This means they have more low-rarity cards than Set Boosters, with a baseline of 6 commons and three uncommons. They also have one slot reserved for a common (or basic) land card. But to preserve the more variable and exciting experience of opening Set Boosters, Play Boosters can have anywhere between one and FOUR rares and/or mythics in a single pack!
First you have a single slot that’s guaranteed to have a rare or mythic rare card from the set, same as every other kind of booster. There also two “wildcard” slots, one foil and one non-foil, which can contain any card from that set regardless of rarity; similar to how Draft boosters would sometimes have a second rare appear in the foil slot.
The final slot will usually be another set common… except for when it isn’t, in which case it will be a non-Standard-legal card from The List, which can be of any rarity.
Note that the odds of opening a List card are about one in eight, making it slightly less likely than pulling a Mythic instead of a normal rare. So the odds of opening a four-rare Play Booster are extremely slim, but still technically possible. More importantly, the chance you’ll get at least one extra rare across these different slots is pretty good!
Another cool carry-over from Set Boosters is that Play Boosters have a chance to contain the special card treatments, alternate artworks and full-art basics associated with each set through “Project Booster Fun.”
These cosmetic upgrades can be randomly applied to any of the cards in your pack. So for Murders at Karlov Manor you could find one or more spells appearing in the “magnified” or “dossier” showcase styles:
Depending on which rarity your upgrades randomly appear in, you could even luck out with a more exclusive treatment – like a guild leader in the “Ravnica City” card style you might remember from when some of this plane’s other legends “guest starred” in March of the Machine:
Speaking of guest stars, that idea has evolved in recent sets to mean “non-Standard-legal reprints which receive new artwork and aesthetics which connect them to the current set’s plane”. As of Murders at Karlov Manor these reprints will be distributed by making them part of The List for each set. So since Play Boosters feature a potential List slot, you might also find one of these cards (recognizable by its different set symbol) in your pack!
And of course, you can also have a chance to open whatever amazing new basic land styles are attached to the set. In this case, the mind-bending “impossible lands” showing off the intricacy of Ravnica’s urban landscape:
The set’s foil variants (the “invisible ink dossier” cards and serialized foil rares) are about the only fancy styles you can’t open in your everyday Play Booster; those are saved for Collector Boosters exclusively.
Other than that, the difference in cool variant cards between the two is only in how many you’re likely to pull in the same booster pack. And considering that Play Boosters will still be the much cheaper option – closer to the previous price point for Set Boosters – that’s a great thing for the overall accessibility of these beautiful game pieces.
JUDGMENT WITHHELD PENDING FURTHER EVIDENCE
It’s obviously hard to mount a fair and thorough investigation into these Play Boosters until we actually get to experience opening and playing with them. In fact it’s probably smart to wait and see how they’re implemented differently across each of the next few sets so we can judge them from a more representative sample.
But just the fact that I can now acquire all these fantastic alternate card styles just by playing Draft has me really excited for the change. Or to look at it from the opposite direction, my friends who love cracking Set Boosters might be interested in trying out Limited Magic, now that they don’t need to buy a completely different box of packs to do so.
In reality, we aren’t two separate audiences with irreconcilable ideas of what a booster pack must contain. We’re one audience with some natural variation in how we prioritize different product features. If you can fit all those features into the same product at virtually the same price point it was before, you could genuinely please everybody all of the time.
Wizards will no doubt continue to tinker with the exact contents and ratios of cards that appear in Play Boosters for each set – in fact they’ve already stated they will. But without the additional confusion of having two similar, overlapping formulas per set I find that thought a lot less intimidating. Here’s to more rares in packs, and more packs usable in Drafts!
Tom’s fate was sealed in 7th grade when his friend lent him a pile of commons to play Magic. He quickly picked up Boros and Orzhov decks in Ravnica block and has remained a staunch white magician ever since. A fan of all Constructed formats, he enjoys studying the history of the tournament meta. He specializes in midrange decks, especially Death & Taxes and Martyr Proc. One day, he swears he will win an MCQ with Evershrike. Ask him how at @AWanderingBard, or watch him stream Magic at twitch.tv/TheWanderingBard.