The Set Booster and Draft Booster are being combined into a new type of booster we're calling the Play Booster. In this article, I will explain why this is happening, walk through what the new Play Boosters will include, and share the details of their introduction into Magic.
How did Play Boosters come about?
This story goes back to 2018. Studio X (what we call the part of the company responsible for tabletop Magic) crunches a lot of data about the players, what they enjoy about Magic, and what doesn't work for them. Occasionally, we find a piece of data that causes us to rethink how we make Magic. This time, the piece of data was the following: the majority of players who open a booster do not play a Limited format with it (i.e., Draft or Sealed). Hmm, we thought, might there be a different kind of booster that was more fun to open if we weren't restricted by the needs of Limited play? This question led to the creation of the Set Booster. It came out with Zendikar Rising. Shortly before it premiered, I wrote an article introducing all of you to it. What had been the default booster was then renamed to Draft Booster.
A quick aside. There's also the Collector Booster. Players who buy Collector Boosters enjoy them, and we have no plans to change anything about them (well, big picture, they're customized to fit the set they go with, so they do evolve over time). The conversation today is about Set Boosters and Draft Boosters. So, for the rest of the article, I'm not going to talk about Collector Boosters, but we haven't forgotten about them. There's just not much to say as nothing major is changing about them.
Set Boosters were a wild success. Players enjoyed the opportunity to get multiple rares, having a guaranteed foil slot, having an opportunity to open a card from The List, getting an art card, etc. We'd made a booster that was more fun to open, and the audience clearly voiced they'd prefer to purchase that. So much so, that it started causing some problems, which I will now walk through.
Problem #1 – Set Boosters eclipsed Draft Boosters.
Set Boosters became the top choice for players, and I should stress not by a little bit, but significantly. This meant that when most players had a choice of what to buy, they were opting to buy Set Boosters. The problem is that Set Boosters are not designed for Limited play. So, for example, if a store only had Set Boosters in stock, they couldn't run drafts. Some of our smaller markets don't have the option of printing two different types of boosters, so they had to pick one. Because Set Boosters sold better, they chose them. This meant, though, that no drafts (or games of Sealed) could be played in those markets. Many players have tried to use Set Boosters for Limited play with it being their only option, but because they're not designed for Limited, it results in significantly substandard Limited play.
Problem #2 – It causes inventory problems.
This is a bit simplified, but here's how a store manages Magic product. They buy Product A and sell it. They then use the money to buy Product B. They sell Product B and then use the money to buy Product C. If for some reason they don't sell all of a product, it gets stuck in their inventory, meaning it isn't converted into money to buy the next product. If this happens enough, it causes huge problems for stores. (Note: This basic concept is also true for distributors, the companies that buy Magic from us and sell it to the stores.)
Once upon a time, a store just had one booster to buy for any one Magic set, so that's what they bought. Now, every set releases with both Set Boosters and Draft Boosters. Most of their customers prefer Set Boosters, but Limited play, which fosters community and can be additional income for a store, requires Draft Boosters. How much do you get of each? Get too many Set Boosters and not enough Draft Boosters, and you can't run Limited events, which costs the store money. Get too many Draft Boosters and not enough Set Boosters, you run out of what the customer wants to buy, which also costs you money.
Problem #3 – It began the abandonment of Draft Boosters.
The second problem exacerbated the first problem. Having two different types of boosters was causing strain, and, well, stores were opting to buy Set Boosters. Yes, this came at the expense of Limited play, but if that was the cost of staying in business, that's what they had to do. We do a lot of future forecasting in Studio X, and our people were saying that given enough time, they believed Draft Boosters would stop being a thing. The market really didn't want two types of core boosters.
Limited play, especially Draft, is a huge part of the Magic ecosystem. As I explained above, it's an important part of in-store activity. It's a big driver for building community. Our Prereleases use Limited play as a way for players to sample the set. It's a key part of keeping players with the game long term. Our data shows that the longer you play, the more likely Limited is a large part of your play experience. One of the key strengths of Magic is that there are many ways to enjoy it. Limited play might not be how many players interact with the game, but for the millions of players who play Limited, it's fundamental to their enjoyment. Seeing Draft Boosters, and thus Limited play, disappear would be a big problem, for players and stores.
Problem #4 – It causes confusion in the marketplace.
Having two things that are similar, but not quite the same, causes several issues. One of those is people confuse the two. Maybe an individual buys a Draft Booster when they mean to buy a Set Booster, or vice versa. I personally, on multiple occasions, have opened a booster to play Limited only to realize I was accidentally opening a Set Booster. This problem extends beyond players. I've heard many stories of stores ordering one type of booster and receiving another (which may be due to inventory issues rather than confusion).
Having two different types of regular boosters means we have to communicate twice as much information about how each booster is put together and what's in it. For example, there can be cards that appear in one type of booster but not the other. Add in things like variants of cards, and this gets very complicated to communicate and understand.
Problem #5 – It makes some Magic boosters less desirable.
Let's say a store is running an event in which the prizes are boosters from the current set. Some of the audience wants the prizes to be Set Boosters, as they plan to open them as soon as possible. Others want them to be Draft Boosters, because they want to use their prizes to do more drafting. Usually for simplicity of message, and for inventory reasons, the store owner wants to give away one type of booster. The existence of two types of boosters causes friction. Players can get upset for getting the "wrong kind" of booster.
Players don't necessarily think of themselves as a Set Booster player or a Draft Booster player. They're a Magic player, and we want them to be happy with every Magic booster they get, whether they buy it themselves, win it as a prize, or get it as a gift.
Problem #6 – Every booster buyer wasn't getting all the cool stuff.
In an ecosystem with Set Boosters and Draft Boosters, customers don't get the full experience. Either they buy Set Boosters and don't play Limited formats, or they buy Draft Boosters and miss out on cool things like getting multiple rares. Why can't players get both?
For all these reasons, Studio X realized the need for a change. The answer was simple, although the execution was complicated. We needed to return to a single type of core booster, what we dubbed the Play Booster. Our goal was to combine the play experience of a Draft Booster with the fun opening experience of a Set Booster. The big question—how do we do that?
Because Set Boosters were the more popular item, we decided to approach the problem by figuring out how to make a Set Booster playable. Here were the major issues we identified:
Issue #1 – There weren't enough cards.
A Set Booster has 12 playable cards (plus an art card and a token card). A Draft Booster has 15 playable cards. If we were going to make the booster playable in Limited, we had to up the total number of playable cards in the booster. We combined the art card and token card into one slot and added two playable cards.
Issue #2 – The colors weren't balanced.
When Set Boosters first premiered, we did something we called connected cards where the commons and uncommons in one portion of the booster had a thematic connection between individual cards. Maybe they were of the same creature type, or showed a similar creative element, or just played well together. Doing connected cards prevented us from balancing the colors, but as Set Boosters weren't being played in Limited, it wasn't considered a big deal. Plus, of all the features of Set Boosters, this one scored the lowest on our surveys of what players enjoyed. The connected commons and uncommons have gone away, and part of making the booster playable included balancing colors, so the new Play Boosters will do that.
Issue #3 – The ratio of rarities would have to shift.
Draft Boosters (typically) have 10 commons, 3 uncommons, and 1 rare or mythic rare (these numbers don't include traditional foils, which aren't in every booster). Set Boosters have 3–6 commons, 3–6 uncommons, and 1–4 rares and/or mythic rares. To keep the fun of Set Boosters, we needed some variance in the slots, so we couldn't lock down exactly how many of each rarity a particular booster would have, but we needed to up the number of commons. We also wanted to keep the likelihood at 1–4 rares and/or mythic rares, as it's the number-one reason cited for why players like Set Boosters. I'll walk through all the details when I go through the contents of the new Play Booster.
Issue #4 – We would have to change how we made sets.
How we design sets is heavily influenced by the means we package it in boosters. Changing the as-fan of rarities (that is, the count of each rarity of card you'd expect to see when you open a booster), introducing more variance in slots, adding in more "outside" cards, all impact how the set plays and thus requires us to change how we build the set. Of all the changes, this one was the biggest. It required us to rethink how a Magic set is made. R&D spent a lot of time on this (and I'll get more into the nitty-gritty of how design structure has changed when we get to previews for Murders at Karlov Manor).
Now that I've walked through what we changed, I want to get into the specifics of what the new Play Booster will include. (Below, I'm going to list some details about the make-up of Play Boosters. Things like the percentage of time you'll see certain cards or rarities, or whether certain types of cards show up in certain slots. These will be correct for Murders at Karlov Manor, the first place you'll see Play Boosters, but some may change from set to set. In other words, Play Boosters will follow this general pattern for slots, but the details may vary from set to set. We'll continue publishing details for the contents of products and boosters of new releases, typically titled "Collecting [Set Name].")
Slots #1–6: Commons
These are all common cards from the main set. In Set Boosters, you had the potential to get up to 6 commons, but that came at the cost of not getting additional uncommons, rares, and mythic rares. Note that these cards will not be connected like we did in certain Set Boosters. There will, however, be an opportunity to get Booster Fun commons in this slot.
Slot #7: Common/The List Card
Most of the time (7 out of 8, or 87.5%), this slot will be a seventh common, but an eighth of the time (12.5%), you will get a card from The List. Philosophically, the idea behind The List is that it's a group of cards chosen to make boosters more exciting to open without having to be entered into Standard.
In the past, The List has mostly been reprints of older cards. Play Boosters are going to tinker with what exactly can be on The List. For example, when Play Boosters premier, The List will include what we call Special Guests, 10 cards that are exciting reprints that we can give new art and will thematically tie into whatever set they are in. What we do with the Special Guests will change set to set. (Though The Lost Caverns of Ixalan will not have Play Boosters, Special Guests is debuting with that set, so you should already have some idea of what those will look like.)
In addition to the Special Guests, there will be 40 cards that are reprints without new art. Of those, 30 will be common or uncommon and 10 will be rare or mythic rare. This is down from the 300 cards that previous iterations of The List had.
Here's your likelihood of getting items from this slot in the first Play Booster:
- 87.5% – A common from the main set
- 9.38% – A common or uncommon normal reprint from The List
- 1.56% – A rare or mythic rare normal reprint from The List
- 1.56% – A Special Guests card from The List
Slot #8–10: Uncommon Cards
These dedicated uncommon slots are exactly as they were in the Set Booster. They will always be uncommons from the main set. There are other opportunities in other slots to get uncommons, but these three slots will always deliver them. Note that these cards, like the commons, will not be connected like we did in certain Set Boosters. Also like the commons, there will be an opportunity to get Booster Fun versions in this slot.
Slot #11: Rare/Mythic Rare
This slot appeared in both Set and Draft Boosters. This is your guaranteed rare or mythic rare from the main set. It will be a rare 6 out of 7 times and a mythic rare 1 out of 7. It can also be a Booster Fun rare or mythic rare variant.
Slot #12: Land
This slot will always hold a basic or common land from the main set. (Murders at Karlov Manor will have basic lands.) It will be traditional foil 20% of the time and non-foil 80% of the time.
Slot #13: Non-Foil Wildcard Slot
This card can be almost anything from the main set. It can be any rarity, and it has the possibility of being a Booster Fun variant. Whatever it is, it will be non-foil. Note that the Set Booster had two non-foil wildcard slots and the Play Booster has one.
Slot #14: Traditional Foil Wildcard
This is just like the last slot except that the card is guaranteed to be traditional foil.
Slot #15: Non-Playable Slot
This slot can have a variety of possibilities. It can be a token, a play aide, an ad card, or an art card. If it's a token or play aide, it will often have an ad on the back (assuming the play aide isn't double faced). MTG Arena ad cards are usually an ad on both faces. The art card can be a variant art card with a gold-stamped artist signature or Planeswalker symbol.
Here's your likelihood of getting each in the slot:
- 65% – Token/play aide/ad card
- 30% – Art card
- 5% – Art card with signature
Now that I've walked through the Play Booster, I want to compare it to the Set Booster and Draft Booster to show you the differences.
Differences from Set Boosters
- +2 Playable cards
- No connected commons or uncommons
- -1 Non-foil wildcard
- -1 Nonplayable object (The token and art cards were different slots in the Set Booster.)
- Only a 1-in-3 opportunity of an art card (Set Boosters always had an art card.)
Differences from Draft Boosters (Based on the default without a traditional foil card. Previously, Draft Boosters had a traditional foil approximately a third of the time.)
- The potential to open up to 4 rare or mythic rare cards
- -1 Playable card
- -3 Commons
- +1 Non-foil wildcard
- +1 Traditional foil wildcard
- A 1-in-8 opportunity of getting a card from The List (The List didn't appear in Draft Boosters.)
- Roughly a 1-in-3 opportunity of an art card (Art cards didn't appear in Draft Boosters.)
When can we expect Play Boosters?
Play Boosters will premiere with Murders at Karlov Manor. This means The Lost Caverns of Ixalan and Ravnica Remastered will not have them. We're telling the world early as it will impact how stores order the product. Play Boosters will sell for the same price as Set Boosters. 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.
As with any new announcement, it raises some questions, so I thought I would take a moment to answer some of the questions I expect to get.
Will the Play Booster make Draft less fun?
R&D believes it will not. We've been working very hard for years to understand the impacts the Play Booster will have on Draft, and we've adapted how we're building the sets to accommodate. Murders at Karlov Manor was designed and balanced with Play Boosters in mind. Will there be lessons to learn as we adapt to a new system? Of course, but Magic constantly evolves, so we're pretty good at adapting.
If the Play Boosters have more rares/mythic rares on average, will that mean more bombs in Limited formats?
There will be more cards of a rare and mythic rare power level, but adapting to that (making sure players have more answers at lower rarities) is part of how R&D is adjusting our set designs. All our playtests have been done with this in mind, and they've been very enjoyable.
Why are there only 14 playable cards?
The change to the Play Booster gave us the ability to rethink how we put together a booster. Boosters have always had 15 cards (well, most of them, anyway) because that's what Richard Garfield chose to do with Alpha, years before designing for Draft was even a thing. We experimented with different amounts of playable cards per booster and found that 14 did the best job of giving us the play experience we wanted. One of the reasons we went down in commons in Set Boosters was addressing a common complaint from players that there were too many cards that didn't get used. Part of adapting to Play Boosters included making less unusable commons in Draft, which made the fifteenth card less necessary.
Will playing in Limited events cost more?
Likely, yes, 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. 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.
The Play's the Thing
And that is all I have to say about Play Boosters, for now anyway. I'm very eager to hear any feedback you have on today's column or on the Play Boosters themselves. You can email me or contact me through my social media accounts (X [formerly Twitter], Tumblr, Instagram, and TikTok). I'm eager to hear what you all think.
Join me next week for the debut of The Lost Caverns of Ixalan card previews.
Until then, may you have fun opening and playing Limited with the new Play Boosters.