Set Boosters

Posted in Making Magic on July 25, 2020

By Mark Rosewater

Working in R&D since '95, Mark became Magic head designer in '03. His hobbies: spending time with family, writing about Magic in all mediums, and creating short bios.

Today, I'm going to talk about something we're premiering in Zendikar Rising—a brand-new type of booster. If the title didn't already give it away, it's called a Set Booster, and in today's column, I'm going to talk all about it.

A quick note before I dive into all the details. This is a new thing we're adding to the game. Nothing is leaving, and the current products aren't changing in any way. If you like things as they were, feel free to ignore the Set Booster.

So, What Is a Set Booster?

One of the big shifts in R&D's thinking in recent years is the idea of adapting our products to the audience rather than making the audience adapt to our products. That is, we have to figure out who is buying our game and what it is they want and then make products which can meet those needs.

For example, take the Magic booster. For decades, there was only one version, and it was the only conduit into a new set. No matter what type of player you were or what you cared about, you had to enter each new set through the same booster as every other player. (This is the booster we now call the Draft Booster.) The problem with this method is that it means that any restriction for one group becomes a restriction for everyone. For instance, drafting is a big part of Magic. A lot of decisions about how a booster is put together are affected by how it will draft. So, no matter whether you drafted or not, you were affected by those choices, even if those choices were not ones that made the booster experience better for you. Several years ago, this led us to ask the question, "Are there different types of boosters we could make that would excite a different audience than what our normal Draft Booster is aimed at?"

The first booster to come from this line of thinking was the Theme Booster. It was more focused on a theme, and usually restricted to one color, allowing the player who purchased it to get packs that had a greater number of cards that could go straight into their deck. It also played up a set's flavor for those that might be interested in sampling a slice of a particular aspect of the world.

Next came the Collector Booster. We were adding a lot of new cards to collect with the Booster Fun initiative (see here if you don't know what I'm talking about) and wanted to make a booster that helped the collector have an easier time collecting all those hard-to-get cards.

We thought once we had three boosters, we were done, but then we looked at some interesting data. We learned that substantially more than half of all opened boosters are not used in Limited play (aka Sealed and Draft). 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.

How Does One Make Opening a Booster More Fun?

This was the big question we had to solve. This isn't to say, by the way, that opening boosters currently isn't fun. They are. They're just not optimized to be as fun as possible to open.

The thing we had to keep in mind was this new type of booster wasn't a Draft Booster. We weren't beholden to any of the rules dictated by the needs of Draft (or Sealed). For example, we didn't have to have exactly fifteen cards. We didn't have to have a set number of commons, uncommons, and rares or mythic rares. We were also free to experiment with putting cards in the booster that weren't game pieces. We could do whatever we wanted (provided, of course, that it had cards from the set in it).

To understand what could make opening a booster pack more fun, we started by looking at a Draft Booster. What makes opening a Draft Booster fun? Seeing new cards is fun, but that's true of any booster with new cards. The most obvious answer beyond that was seeing what rare or mythic rare you opened, or if you found that key uncommon or common for your deck. It was the rare slot in the booster, however, that had the most excitement value. Could we capture that sense of excitement but spread it throughout the booster so you got to experience it multiple times? In addition, we looked through Magic's history to see what things we'd done in the past that made opening booster packs fun.

After much experimentation, what we ended up with was a pack that came with fourteen objects, twelve of which were Magic cards (in contrast with a Draft Booster, which comes with sixteen cards, fifteen of which are Magic cards).

Slide 6

The goal was to create a booster that had a path that you went through as you opened it. Rather than just one excitement point, we designed the booster to have many excitement points. To do this, we've organized the booster into four sections that we're calling chapters (Welcome, Fireworks, Big Finish, and Epilogue), each with some number of cards that we're calling slots.

Slide 7

To introduce the Set Booster to you, I'm going to walk you through the booster one slot at a time just as you would experience it as you open it. With each slot, I'll explain what that slot holds.

We begin with the Welcome section, which has eight slots. Its purpose is to welcome you to the booster.

Slide 8

Slot 1 – Art Card Slot

In Modern Horizons, we introduced art cards. These were cards with full art on the front and card information on the back. They're not playable Magic cards, just fun objects to have around or collect.

MH1 Art Cards

They were popular with many of the players (art fans, story fans, collectors, etc.), so we've decided to have them return. Zendikar Rising Set Boosters will have 81 different art cards (Modern Horizons, in contrast, had 54). As I explained above, we want every slot to have the potential for excitement, so here's what we've done with the art cards. Five percent of the time, rather than a normal art card, you'll get one with a gold-stamped signature of the artist. Every art card exists in both its normal version and its signature version. Art is a big part of what makes Magic such a fun game, so we're happy to have this opportunity to celebrate our amazing art and artists. It also adds another collectible to the game (and history shows us we have a lot of players who love collecting things).

Slide 10

Slot 2 – Land Slot

Continuing the immersive experience of the Welcome chapter, the second slot highlights the card type that best shows off the world—land cards. The default will be basic land cards in this slot, but that can change from set to set. Zendikar Rising has full-art basic lands, so we went with basic lands for this Set Booster. 15% of the time, the land in this slot will be foil. This slot being a foil does not prevent you getting a second foil in the booster. (We'll talk about foils in a later slot.)

Slide 11

Slots 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 – Connected Commons and Uncommons

The next six slots are dedicated to commons and uncommons. In a Draft Booster, commons and uncommons exist in a certain ratio to ensure we have the proper as-fan for Limited play. They are also color balanced to make the set draft properly. None of those are concerns for the Set Booster. So, here's what we've done. We're using the commons and uncommons to show off something cool about the set. These six slots in each Set Booster will be grouped in such a way that each card of the same rarity has something to do with the card next to it. Maybe the connection is a creature type, or the cards play well together, or they have some story element in common. We're experimenting with all kinds of connections. Part of the fun of opening this section of cards is trying to see what connection we've made.

Two other things to know about these slots. One, these are the only slots for guaranteed normal commons and uncommons in the booster. (It is possible, though, to get commons and uncommons in other slots.) Traditionally, in a Draft Booster, you get ten commons and three uncommons. After looking at the research, we found that most players feel that when opening boosters, they quickly get to a point where commons don't matter (and then eventually get to a similar point with uncommons). So, the Set Booster has less overall commons and uncommons than a Draft Booster, but we believe we've balanced them to what is more optimal to the players (not creating cards they want to ignore so quickly) to allow us to put other things in the booster that would be more exciting and impactful.

Two, every Set Booster is guaranteed at least one uncommon in these six slots, but each common has the potential to upgrade to an uncommon. That means these six slots in the Set Booster will range from five commons and one uncommon to zero commons and six uncommons. Here are the percentages:

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

Slide 12

Slot 9 – Head-Turning Slot

Now we've ventured into the first slot of the Fireworks chapter. The goal of this chapter is to be splashy and exciting. You never quite know what might turn up here. 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.

Slide 13

Slot 10 and 11 – Wildcard Rarity Slots

These two slots can basically be anything from common to mythic rare. It is possible to get showcase versions of rares and mythic rares in these slots. (The common and uncommon showcase cards appear in the previous slot.) Note that neither of these is your rare slot, so any rares or mythic rares you get in these two slots are extra ones in the booster. The rarity of each slot is independent, so you have the potential to get two mythic rares here. Here are the percentages: (note when I say "rare" below, I mean rare or mythic rare)

  • Common, common will happen 49% of the time.
  • Common, uncommon will happen 24.5% of the time.
  • Common, rare will happen 17.5% of the time.
  • Uncommon, uncommon will happen 3.1% of the time.
  • Uncommon, rare will happen 4.3% of the time.
  • Rare, rare will happen 1.6% of the time.

This means that 23.4% of the time (so just under one fourth of the time) you will open at least one extra rare or mythic rare in the Set Booster, and that's just from the wildcard slots. We have yet another way to get an extra rare coming up.

Slide 14

Slot 12 – Rare/Mythic Rare Slot

Now we venture into the Big Finish Chapter. This chapter is about guaranteed goodies. The first slot here is your rare/mythic rare slot. This was the most exciting thing in the Draft Boosters, so we couldn't get rid of that. This acts just like the rare/mythic rare slot that you've grown to know and love in Draft Boosters.

Starting with Zendikar Rising, the mythic rares are changing their rate of drop. In the past, 1 in every 8 rares was a mythic rare. Starting with Zendikar Rising, that will be changing so that 1 in every 7.4 rares will be a mythic rare. This will also be true of Draft Boosters.

Slide 15

Slot 13 – Foil Slot

A lot of players enjoy foils, so we decided to just make a slot where you get a foil in every pack. This slot can be any rarity, so yes, this is another place where you can get a rare or mythic rare.

Slide 16

Slot 14 – Token/Ad Card

These cards are similar to what you'd find in a Draft Booster.

But wait, we have one more trick up our sleeves. 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.

Note that for Zendikar RisingMagic: The Gathering Arena will not be implementing The List. On tabletop Magic, The List doesn't affect format legality, but on MTG Arena it would add these cards to Historic. While some cards from The List may eventually make their way to Historic, we want to be a bit more purposeful on MTG Arena when adding new cards.

Here's a little teaser of three cards from The List that will appear in Zendikar Rising Set Boosters.

Muscle SliverCloudgoat RangerPact of Negation

As you can see, The List will show off beloved mechanics from the past, fun worlds and creatives, and just flat-out wild cards we've done. This means when you open up a Set Booster, you can open up all sorts of Magic cards.

The Nitty-Gritty

Now that I've walked you through the Set Booster, let me talk a bit about it.

First up, I should tell you that Set Boosters are going to cost a little more than Draft Boosters (we estimate about $1 more per pack, but it may vary from region to region), but because you have the opportunity to open more rares per pack (you can open up to four rares or mythic rares in a Set Booster—both wildcard slots, the rare slot and the foil slot—and that's not even counting The List), we expect that you will get the same number of rares and mythic rares per dollar spent as you would buying Draft Boosters.

Set boosters are going to come in 30 packs to a booster box display rather than 36.

The Set Booster has been designed to look very different from Draft Boosters, so you'll be able to clearly tell them apart. Here's what the Zendikar Rising Set Booster will look like.

Zendikar Rising Set Booster image

Set Boosters are starting as an English- and Japanese-only thing, but we have plans of expanding into other languages over time.

If you're still unsure about the Set Booster and want a chance to sample one, attend a Zendikar Rising Prerelease. Every attendee (as long as supplies last) will get a Set Booster for playing.

The big final point I want to make is this: Zendikar Rising Set Boosters are our first attempt at this. We're trying a bunch of things that we think players will like, but the real test will come when all of you experience it. We want feedback. We're more than willing to make changes and adapt based on what we're hearing from all of you. We're also open to exploring new ways to make Set Boosters a fun and exciting option for players who aren't interested in using their boosters to play Limited. We recognize that Set Booster designs have many years of iterating to do to catch up with Draft Boosters, so this is just a starting point. We've put a flag in the sand to say we want to make boosters that are as fun to open as possible. Help us realize this goal.

And One More Thing

We showed off the Set Booster image, so we might as well include the rest of the packaging. Here's what the packaging of Zendikar Rising will look like. And, yes, that means Jace, Nissa, and Nahiri are the three Planeswalkers in this set.

ZNR Family Shot

All Set

That's all the time we have for today. I hope you're excited about Set Boosters and will check them out when Zendikar Rising releases in September. If you have thoughts on the Set Booster, I would love to hear them. You can email or contact me through any of my social media accounts (Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, and TikTok) and let me know what you think.

Join me next week for Double Masters previews.

Until then, may opening Magic boosters be as much fun as playing the game.

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