March of the Machine has become an instant classic, hailed as one of the best draft formats of all time by one of Magic’s most successful limited players. While the companion/expansion set March of the Machine: Aftermath has not fared nearly as well in the public consciousness, one of the more celebrated elements of the multiverse-spanning climax that carried over has: the 16 distinct planar frame treatments, recalling every “Booster Fun” effort of the Phyrexian story arc and teasing planar treatments for other fan-favorite worlds.
With all these styles, I was surprised to not see a proliferation of content creators making tier lists and rankings of the various treatments. There has been some commentary, for sure, but the topic has not been as bombastic as I would’ve anticipated considering the amount of discourse even a single new card frame inspires during spoiler season. I imagine this is due to the gluttony of diversions included in and surrounding March of the Machine, but this is a topic I believe is of great import. The aesthetics of the game are a major element in what makes Magic a Collectable Card Game and not just a game, and demands investigation.
But how to determine what the community consensus is on these treatments? Is the community not too diverse and disparate to query? People lie a lot, too – most often to themselves – and make any scientific approach challenging…but not impossible. Thankfully (or, well, maybe not) Magic: the Gathering supports a healthy secondary market.
While capitalism is rife with all sorts of negative externalities that strip us of our humanity and shift our behaviors to those which participants with the greatest accumulation of capital would prefer, it also allows us to conduct compelling statistical analysis on the spending habits regarding our favorite card game, so can it be all that bad?
By collecting the sales data of multiple major secondary market platforms, comparing the ratios of how much people were willing to pay for the Showcase treatment vs. the standard treatment, and aggregating this across all relevant cards in March of the Machine, Aftermath, and Commander: March of the Machine, and then combining it with an audience survey, we’re able to get both sides of the equation and provide a satisfactory analysis: both what people think their favorites are, and what they’re actually willing to spend money on.The result: a fairly robust rating system out of 10 points, ranking each of the 16 planar showcase treatments.
These data have many caveats, but before we delve in to those, I’d like to share the infographic itself with the conclusions for your enjoyment!
Pricing data was scraped from TCGPlayer, Cardmarket, eBay, Card Kingdom from May 7th through 17th by Cardboard by the Numbers staff. Since this period coincides with the release of Aftermath, data for those cards was conducted towards the end of the timeframe. The score is derived primarily from the median ratio between the showcase and standard versions of the cards from each plane across all platforms, with a 50% reduction in weight for the Card Kingdom results.
Though its pricing is not determined strictly through market factors, Card Kingdom was included because it has historically demonstrated impressive predictive skills in demand, particularly when it comes to pre-order pricing. With roughly half of the data-set consisting of Aftermath cards, an expansion that released within a few days of writing, I thought it worthwhile to hedge the results by aggregating their expectations into the mix. Interestingly, Card Kingdom had some of the biggest disparities relative to the other platforms — disparities that I, in my gut, agree with. The Washington state-based card store puts some of the highest premiums on the cards where the delta in the (subjective) quality of art is most profound, a pricing trend I’ve seen only grow wider with time in other circumstances.
The survey was conducted during April of 2023 by Cardboard by the Numbers, with a sample size of 403 credible respondents. Survey participants were collected via this website, social media, and paid advertising with incentives offered in the form of gift certificates to two of the respondents chosen at random. While any survey audience is near impossible to demonstrate to be representative of the Magic community at large, there are two elements that contribute to its usefulness in this situation: 1) the majority of respondents came from paid advertising on Meta, Reddit, and Google, allowing a potential audience that reaches far beyond the game’s most enfranchised players and 2) the stated preferences of the survey corresponded well with what people were spending money on.
Only 74 cards were utilized in this analysis: those that had both a standard printing and a showcase edition in March of the Machine, Aftermath, and Commander: March of the Machine. Notably, the 65 Multiverse Legends were excluded from analysis. Their original printings span the last 15 years of Magic history, a period of time where print runs have multiplied many times over among other things, and I found they introduced too many other variables to the mix — even if it did leave certain planes like Amonkhet with only a pair of representatives in the final dataset.
The data mostly meet what I would consider the average player’s expectations, barring a few notable exceptions. The net favorability provided by the survey results line up shockingly well with the average ratio, with a correlation coefficient of 0.94 — the two elements are more intertwined than ___. The biggest shifts come in the form of Ikoria, which over-performs player preferences of the card style in concept, and a few individual cards, which we’ll examine shortly here.
A major trend beyond the relationship between stated and observed preferences is how the most recent four treatments — New Phyrexia’s, which debuted just earlier this year, and the trio of Ravnica, Tarkir, and Ixalan, each created first for March of the Machine – were all among the bottom five in the ranking. The achromatic styles of New Phyreixa and Tarkir have not fared well with fans, even if the dragon wing card frame of Tarkir received a reasonable amount of praise online. Like with the logistically miserable Innistrad: Double Feature, minimizing the colors on card art scores poorly with game pieces that are most practical when recognizable at a glance, a feature lost when the vibrancy and color identity are stripped away from all but the most obscure visual elements.
Ravnica’s poor performance here is somewhat more surprising. Much has been said —nearly all of it positive — of the elegant towers that buffer each side of the card’s art, as well as of the art nouveau inspiration in the character pieces. However, the net favorability of just 72% for this particular treatment held true for both March of the Machine and its epilogue set, resulting in Magic’s most popular plane scoring in the bottom third of all styles.
Ixalan is one of just three showcase styles where the special treatment gives cards a negative multiplier on price, on average. The Ixalan aesthetic is in full force on these cards, with a Mesoamerican temple edifice holding the card together, foregrounded with the plane’s iconic dinosaurs in the form of golden doubloons. Upon the first reveal of the now-corrupted Etali, Primal Conqueror, some fanfare was made of this unique execution. However, particularly combined with each subsequent spoiler from the Dinos-and-Pirates plane, it became clear that these medallion monsters would be near impossible to distinguish on the battlefield without close inspection. Players, on the whole, agree, and are willing to spend a 15% premium to be able to see their dinosaurs in all their glory on standard editions. As with the greyscale of Tarkir’s showcase style, I’m hoping that this is not the Booster Fun treatment used in the release of Lost Caverns of Ixalan this November.
In regards to individual cards, those on the extremes are generally the cards from Aftermath, having had less time to settle into their final price point. Additionally, for those cards, in first week of release of an expansion, a higher percentage of sellers are established stores and box openers, meaning that collector’s boosters are opened at a higher rate and standard edition cards are more infrequent.
The absolute best-performing cards in the positive direction are the trio of Commanders exclusive as promos for the prerelease. This is for a more straightforward reason than anything else on the list: the distribution means that the showcase editions of these three cards are meaningfully less common than with anything else, only showing up in 18% of prerelease packs. However, while Goro-Goro and Satoru and Katilda and Lier see an average ratio close to 6x for their showcase versions, the stained glass of Dominaria only gives Slimefoot and Squee a 4.1x. Even the most obscure showcase editions demonstrate the power of preference on these styles.
The most notable standouts for March of the Machine consist of a trio of duos, in the form of Rankle and Torbran (1.8x multiplier), Drana and Linvala (1.7x), and Kogla and Yidaro (1.7x). While all three of these planar showcase styles have proved consistently popular, I’d wager that the biggest reason for the differential is the specific quality of the art in each of these cases. For Rankle and Torbran, much of the card’s initial discussion was around the perceived wonkiness of the standard art, mostly surrounding the stiff poses of the named characters. Drana and Linvala sees excitement in its showcase rendition for the opposite reason — the showcase art has been cited as an overall favorite of the expansion by many commentators. I can speak personally to Kogla and Yidaro’s disparity: it’s impossibly hard to identify the characters in the standard version of the art. What’s the point of a Godzilla x King Kong team-up where you just see shadows in a sea of pink?
The bottom three are double-faced face cards of the set: Elesh Norn // The Argent Etchings (0.8x), Etali, Primal Conqueror // Etali, Primal Sickness (0.7x), and Ghalta and Mavren (0.6x). The reasons for these discounts on the showcase editions have already been discussed above, but broadly, the New Phyreixa and Ixalan planar variations both take away color and richness from the cards, making the cards harder to identify at a glance and removing much of the impact of these imposing figures in their natural environments.
And that’s it for today’s analysis! How did your favorite plane fare in the March of the Machine saga? Do you agree with the audience’s preferences? Let us know in the comments below, on our Facebook, or our Twitter, and make sure to sign up for our newsletter to be the first to get updates on new articles!