Magic To Combine Set And Draft Boosters Into New "Play Booster"

Nick Wolf • October 16, 2023

Draft Boosters and Set Boosters Are Finished

Draft and set boosters, as we know them, are dead. Play Boosters are the new kid on the block.

What was once the "default" sealed product option -- the classic pack of 15 cards (plus a token or marketing insert) -- had largely remained the same since October of 2008. So what changed? What killed the go-to sealed option players have known for 15 years? In a nutshell: set boosters.

It's only been three years since Magic players learned of the decision to move on from the "default" booster. Upon the release of Zendikar Rising in September of 2020, players were presented with a choice: set booster, or draft booster?

The third option, collector boosters, actually predate this change, debuting first in a limited capacity in early 2019's Ravnica Allegiance before becoming a regular sealed option with Throne of Eldraine in early October of that year. According to head designer Mark Rosewater, there are no plans to change collector boosters, though since they're "customized" to fit the set they go with, they have and will continue to "evolve over time."

Announced today, set boosters and draft boosters will be combined into a new type of booster dubbed the "play booster." Play boosters will debut with Murders at Karlov Manor, which will be available in February of 2024. The Lost Caverns of Ixalan, which releases next month, will still feature set and draft boosters, as will January 2024's Ravnica Remastered. Play boosters will sell for the same price as set boosters, though play booster display boxes will contain 36 boosters, much like draft boosters. Set booster display boxes only contain 30 boosters.

What Is A Play Booster?


The new play booster explained

As we see here, play boosters are an amalgamation of set and draft boosters. Each pack will contain a minimum of six commons from the main set of the current release, and in "slot seven," there's a one-in-eight chance to receive a card from The List instead of a seventh common. Rosewater presented the odds of opening a card from The List in that seventh slot, citing that players will have a 12.5% chance of seeing a List card in that space.

Further, he said, there'll be a 9.38% chance that a play booster will contain a List common or uncommon, and an even smaller chance that List could be a rare/mythic reprint or a Special Guests card from The List. Specifically, the odds of either of those in a play booster are both 1.56%. It's also worth noting that with the coming of play boosters, The List will be trimmed from 300 cards to 40, with 30 common/uncommons and 10 rares/mythics.

And what's Special Guests, you might ask? Rosewater said play boosters will "tinker with" what might be contained on The List, and with the debut of play boosters, 10 cards on The List will be "exciting reprints that we can give new art and will thematically tie into whatever set they are in." The first glimpse players will have of Special Guests will be in The Lost Caverns of Ixalan. 

An example of a Special Guest card, Mana Crypt

In slots 8-10, we'll see uncommons, unchanged from set boosters and familiar with players expecting to always see three uncommons in each pack they crack. Although, Rosewater said, both the common and uncommon slots have a chance to be a "Booster Fun" version of the appropriate card instead of a set version. Also familiar to Magic players, the eleventh slot will always contain a rare or mythic rare from the main set, with odds of roughly one-in-seven that it'll be a mythic. Again, it could also be a Booster Fun version.

In slot 12, we've got a basic or common land from the main set, with a 20% chance of a foil version. Rosewater noted that in Murders at Karlov Manor, it'll be basic lands exclusively.

Beyond the land slot, variance increases, with slot 13 providing players with a non-foil wildcard. "This card can be almost anything from the main set," said Rosewater. "It can be any rarity, and it has the possibility of being a Booster Fun variant." Whatever it may be, it'll be non-foil, but in the 14th slot, the rules are the same, except whatever card appearing there will be guaranteed to be traditional foil.

Rounding out the play booster is the 15th slot, containing a token, play aide, an ad card, or an art card, all familiar sights in the modern booster pack. Rosewater provided odds: 65% of packs will feature a token/play aide/ad card, while 30% will feature an art card. 5% of packs will contain an art card with a gold-stamped artist signature.

What's the Difference Between a Play Booster Compared to Draft and Set Boosters?

As the game evolves, so too does the method through which Wizards of the Coast provides options to purchase cards, and it might be difficult to keep track of what each sealed product offering might contain. We've gone over exactly what will be in a play booster, but how exactly do they differentiate themselves from the now-obsolete set and draft boosters?

According to Rosewater, play boosters are different than set boosters in the following ways:

  • Two more playable cards in each pack
  • Commons and uncommons aren't "connected" with a theme appropriate to the set
  • One fewer non-foil wildcard
  • One fewer non-playable object (i.e. tokens or art cards)
  • Only a 33% chance at opening an art card, as set boosters were guaranteed one such card

As for draft boosters, the difference is even more pronounced:

  • Play boosters offer the potential to open up to four rare/mythics instead of only two chances in a draft booster (rare/mythic slot and possible extra foil card)
  • One fewer playable card
  • Three fewer commons
  • An added non-foil wildcard and traditional foil wildcard slot
  • A one-in-eight chance of a card from The List
  • A 33% chance at an art card

What About Limited? Is Limited More Expensive?

With draft boosters ceasing to exist, one question on many minds will be how the Limited experience will be affected. According to Rosewater, this has been a change years in the making, and as a result of analyzing the potential impacts of the change, "R&D believes it will not make Draft less fun."

Rosewater said Murders at Karlov Manor was designed and balanced with play boosters in mind. As we've learned, play boosters will contain more rare/mythic cards than its progenitor in draft boosters, and as a result, Limited formats utilizing play boosters might see more "bombs" circling the table in Draft or demanding to be built around in Sealed. "Adapting to that, and making sure players have more answers at lower rarities, is part of how R&D is adjusting our set designs," Rosewater said. "All our playtests have been done with this in mind, and they've been very enjoyable."

Perhaps the biggest change likely to affect Limited is the simple fact that play boosters only contain 14 playable cards. Since Magic was first developed by Richard Garfield, a 15-card booster was his vision, Rosewater said, "years before designing for Draft was even a thing." With a chance to "rethink" that number, R&D settled on a play booster containing 14 cards because that number "did the best job of giving us the play experience we wanted."

The change from 15 to 14 playable cards in a booster impacted future set designs as well, as with one fewer common slot, R&D adapted by making less "unusable" commons, at least from a Limited perspective. Thus, a 15th card became less necessary.

And because of the change, players can expect the average Draft or Sealed event to cost a bit more in the future. Since play boosters will match the cost of a set booster, which is roughly $1 USD more than a draft booster, Limited events will probably adjust their pricing to reflect that. Rosewater pointed out that the expected value of the booster itself has risen as well with the greater opportunity to open higher value cards. "Your rare/mythic rare card ratio per dollar spent will be staying the same," he said.

Why Did They Get Rid Of Set and Draft Boosters?

Set boosters first premiered in 2020, but the development of the sealed product first began in 2018, when Studio X, the division of Wizards of the Coast responsible for tabletop Magic, collected data on players who open booster packs.

Studio X found that the majority of players who open a booster pack do not use the cards to play a Limited format. With that information, development of what became set boosters began, aiming to create a sealed booster product that'd be "more fun to open" without the restriction of Limited play in mind. According to Rosewater, set boosters were "a wild success" from their onset -- "so much so," he said, "that it started causing some problems."

Rosewater identified a half-dozen such problems, from causing inventory issues for Local Game Stores and confusion in the LGS and online retail marketplace to unbalancing the value of boosters or the contents available within. Perhaps the biggest and most pressing problem, however, was that set boosters simply eclipsed draft boosters as the de facto "top choice" for players. "And I should stress not by a little bit, but significantly," said Rosewater. Because set boosters weren't designed for Limited play, stores that adapted to demand and opted to carry only set boosters weren't able to run drafts. "Some of our smaller markets don't have the option of printing to different types of boosters, so they had to pick one," he said. "Because set boosters sold better, they chose them."

Instead of looking for ways to improve the experience of opening a draft booster, Rosewater said Studio X instead sought to improve the experience of drafting a set booster, leading to the development of the play booster. Set boosters only contained 12 playable cards, often weren't color-balanced due to the "connected" commons/uncommons bearing a thematic link within each pack, and had a ratio of rarities that didn't lend itself to a balanced Limited experience.

Lastly, and most importantly, how sets are designed is "heavily influenced" by the means of packaging the set in booster packs, said Rosewater. "Changing 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," he said.

Pack Attack

Magic players will have roughly four months to adapt to the coming changes to sealed product, coinciding with the release of Murders at Karlov Manor in February.

The Limited experience will be forever altered by the change, but it remains to be seen if these changes will improve or harm Draft and Sealed events the world over. These events will be more expensive for players, which is likely a universally negative change, but will the higher expected value of the contents of a play booster offset that negative impact? That'll depend on the individual sets, of course, as well as the Special Guests possibilities.

So what do you think of play boosters? Are play boosters be a good thing? If you've been buying draft or set boosters since the latter debuted in 2020, will you continue buying boosters after the change? Will you shift to collector boosters or stick to singles from here on out?