What Is The Best/Worst Set In Magic: The Gathering’s History? A Brief History Of Every Standard MTG Set Ever Printed
What is the worst set in Magic: the Gathering, and why? Now here’s a nice question to kick off a nice friendly online brawl.
Well, providing you pretend Homelands never existed.
This was prompted by a recent Mark Rosewater tumblr post about why we won’t be going back to Kamigawa anytime soon.
I have a soft spot for Kamigawa as my two highest PT finishes involved Kamigawa constructed formats, but I can see where Maro is coming from here. Kamigawa did some things right, but it also had enough flaws to make any return to that plane problematic.
So what makes a set good or bad? Personally I think it’s a combination of the following:
1) Contains powerful, memorable cards.
2) Has great flavour.
3) Is a good Limited format (i.e. good to draft).
4) It played well with the Constructed formats of the time.
As I’m a dinosaur that’s been playing roughly since the dawn of Magic itself, I thought it would be fun to take a trip through Magic’s history and look at each of the sets.
Alpha, Beta, Unlimited
This is where Magic: the Gathering started. If you started the game here and still have most of the cards you bought, congratulations, you’re filthy rich.
Flavour-wise, Magic’s beginnings are nothing more exciting than the most generic of generic fantasy settings. Weirdly this might have helped the game. Some of the TCGs that followed were based on pre-existing worlds and ran into balance problems when trying to make cards of famous characters live up to their fame. (It could also be argued that these problems have started to bedevil Magic of late.)
Yes, the Moxen, [c]Black Lotus[/c], [c]Ancestral Recall[/c] and others are obviously overpowered, but they also make sense in the context of Magic originally being a game where players jammed a starter and a few boosters together into a deck. These are supposed to be rare treasures—powerful but seldom seen. Unfortunately, once rarity stops being a limiting factor and players start accumulating multiples of these cards for their deck, the game breaks in half. Having these overpowered cards running around could be seen as a flaw, but they’re also a memorable part of Magic history as the “power 9”.
Mechanically Richard Garfield and co. got enough right to lay the foundations of a game that is still thriving over two decades later.
ABU, but without all the silly broken stuff. Nowadays it’s remembered most for the dual lands. I remember opening packs of Revised back in the day and being disappointed at opening another boring [c]Volcanic Island[/c] rather than more exciting cards like [c]Force of Nature[/c] or [c]Lord of the Pit[/c]. Yeah, we were stupid back then.
Along the same lines I’m always amazed at the prices of unopened starters and boosters. Sure, Revised has dual lands, but do you know how many bad rares are in that set…
This is “real” Magic for most of us oldtimers. The statement for ABU holds—mechanically they got enough right to lay the foundations.
Every Core Set Since
These tend to blur together for me. Some were good, some less so. In the end I don’t think WotC knew what to do with them. Originally, they were supposed to be the core of the game with the various expansions exploring various mechanical and thematic branches. The problem was no-one was ever really that excited to buy them—a chief flaw from a business perspective. To get around this they started added brand new cards to the core sets, which then took away their identity as a core set. At least they went out on a high with Magic Origins.
First up, let’s do away with the Rabiah nonsense. This is all public-domain characters and settings from the Arabian Nights from people that hadn’t got around to creating their own universes yet.
Most people will know it through stupid expensive cards like [c]Library of Alexandria[/c] and [c]Bazaar of Baghdad[/c]. It’s also interesting to look at in terms of how creature design has changed over the years. Back then [c]Juzam Djinn[/c] as a 5/5 for BB2 was one of the most feared creatures around. Nowadays I doubt it would even be considered playable in Standard.
Magic starts to create its own lore. Antiquities told a story through its flavour text and this was the first time key characters like Urza and Mishra were mentioned.
It’s surprisingly fair for an early set, so much so that a lot of the cards have been reprinted on various occasions. [c]Mishra’s Workshop[/c] and [c]Strip Mine[/c], however, were not (although Strip Mine was actually reprinted in a core set at some point, if you can believe it).
Another old set packed with cards that are worth a small fortune nowadays. This was the first set to bring in multi-coloured cards and the Legendary type.
Power-wise Legends is all over the place. Most of the beefy multi-coloured legends are horribly over-costed by today’s standards. Alongside them are some of the most vicious enchantments ever printed in Magic – [c]The Abyss[/c], [c]Nether Void[/c], [c]Moat[/c], [c]Chains of Mephistopheles[/c].
I’ve always loved the art of this set. It’s consistent, distinctive and gives off a real creepy vibe that fits the set well.
Alas poor Fallen Empires. Here’s our first serious contender for Worst Set Ever. Personally I think Fallen Empires gets a bad rap, but I know that’s probably nostalgia speaking as I had a lot of fun playing with it back in the day.
All the early sets have various flaws in balance and I doubt anyone would praise them as a limited format. What saves them is the presence of various iconic and highly powerful cards. This is where Fallen Empires gets slapped around. Arabian Nights has [c]Library of Alexandria[/c], Antiquities has [c]Misha’s Workshop[/c], Legends has [c]Moat[/c], even The Dark has [c]Blood Moon[/c]. Fallen Empires has… um, [c]Hymn to Tourach[/c] (a common).
Fallen Empires was also vastly overprinted at the time, which left retailers stuck with tons of boxes they couldn’t shift. As much as I think Fallen Empires isn’t as bad as people make out, being known as the set that nearly killed Magic at the time is always going to keep it in the basement of Best of lists.
And speaking of sets that nearly killed Magic, I can’t really do this piece without a mention of Chronicles. Chronicles is the reason the Reserve List exists. The early expansions had very limited printings, which meant as the game increased in popularity it was virtually impossible for newer players to obtain cards from the early expansions. The fix was to put out a set of white-bordered reprints. It was a mess as it didn’t increase the supply of the broken cards tournament players actually wanted and instead tanked the price of cards that didn’t really need reprinting in the first place. The secondary market got so grumpy WotC had to create the reserve list in order to restore confidence in the “Collectible” part of Collectible Card Game.
I think by this point everyone knows the Reserve List now causes more problems than it solves with respect to older formats such as Legacy and Vintage. I don’t know how binding the Reserve List actually is, but I suspect if WotC could break it they would have done so with Eternal Masters.
Ice Age is a massive expansion full of cards with lots of text of them. At the time [c]Jester’s Cap[/c] was the chase rare, but nowadays Ice Age is remembered more for [c]Necropotence[/c] and the first introduction of the pain lands as “fixed” dual lands. A neutral set with pretty good flavour.
Weak, dull cards. No value. Stupid errors such as having cards depicting Minotaurs, but with the creature type Bodyguard, in a set with cards that cared about creatures being Minotaurs.
The worst set in Magic‘s history.
But that would render the rest of this discussion moot, so we’re going to do Homelands a favour and pretend it never existed.
AKA the set [c]Force of Will[/c] came from. The rest of the set isn’t that bad with some interesting lands. Counter-post decks based around [c]Kjeldoran Outpost[/c] were fairly powerful back then.
Ice Age and Alliances don’t evoke strong emotions either way. Homelands will always be reviled by nearly everyone.
Another neutral big set. [c]Cadaverous Bloom[/c] would go onto to be the engine piece of one of the most feared early combo decks. Ironically, the main money card, [c]Lion’s Eye Diamond[/c], went from a joke “fixed-to-the-point-of-unplayability” Black Lotus to a mainstay of several Legacy decks.
This set has aged fantastically well. [c]Vampiric Tutor[/c] and [c]Natural Order[/c] still command decent prices considering they’ve been reprinted. It also had a great cycle of creatures with good come-into-play abilities ([c]Nekrataal[/c], [c]Uktabi Orangutan[/c]).
Mirage officially marked the first in the three-set block paradigm, which is odd as I don’t really remember Weatherlight having much thematically to do with the previous two sets. This marked the beginning of the Weatherlight Saga – the original precursor to the Gatewatch stuff of today, although back then Planeswalkers didn’t exist, so the main characters were featured as Legends.
The block is sort of neutral like Ice Age, but without Homelands to stink things up. Although the themes and story of Weatherlight really called for it to be the first set in a block rather than the last.
[c]Jackal Pup[/c]. [c]Jackal Pup[/c]. [c]Jackal Pup[/c].
(I may have won a Grand Prix back then, so expect this one to score higher for me than normal).
Tempest continued the Weatherlight Saga. It was also a blistering fast limited format. Shadow was a weird form of evasion that negated blocking. Red also got some very efficient creatures. Blue didn’t do too badly either with [c]Tradewind Rider[/c] and [c]Capsize[/c] continuing blue’s tradition of annoying the hell out of people.
Looking back, WotC really did a damn good job with this block as a whole. Look at the cards – [c]Ensnaring Bridge[/c], [c]Oath of Druids[/c], [c]Survival of the Fittest[/c], [c]Recurring Nightmare[/c], [c]Mox Diamond[/c]. Interesting and powerful, but without being so broken as to completely warp the game.
I think there’s a decent argument that the Tempest block was the best of the early, pre-Modern blocks.
Whoops. This is what happens when the power dial gets turned a little too far. These sets have plenty of value, but mainly because some of the cards were completely bah-roken. Most people associate this block with artifacts, but Saga actually had a strong enchantment theme. Not that many noticed. They were too busy being stroked for their entire library on turn one by [c]Tolarian Academy[/c] decks.
Not just Academy. [c]Yawgmoth’s Will[/c] was ridiculous. “Free” mana cards that untapped lands on resolution like [c]Great Whale[/c] (and later [c]Palinchron[/c]) facilitated various infinite combos. And this was before even getting to Legacy powerhouses like [c]Show and Tell[/c] and [c]Sneak Attack[/c].
Urza’s Legacy even had the dubious distinction of introducing a card, [c]Memory Jar[/c], which was emergency banned right after the set came out.
This era is known as “Combo Winter” and resulted in the WotC R & D team getting a thorough chewing out for letting so many degenerate cards slip through.
Oh dear. This is what happens when the power-level goes too far back the other way.
Mercadian Masques was weak and clunky. Rebels were strong at the time but slowed the game down with all the shuffling. This set is not remembered fondly although some of the lands ([c]Rishadan Port[/c]) command a decent price nowadays.
[c]Blastoderm[/c], [c]Tangle Wire[/c] and the Parallax enchantments came out of this one. They were powerful, but also came with a built-in expiration date thanks to fading. No power allowed in this block. Nemesis wasn’t that bad, at least compared to what followed…
Cards that cost a billion mana, a mechanic that doesn’t even work nowadays and flavour-wise it didn’t even have anything to do with the previous story.
This is up there keeping Homelands company as one of the all-time stinkers.
After the weird detour of Prophecy it was time to end the Weatherlight Saga as the crew of heroes fought off a full-scale invasion by Magic’s first perennial bad guys – the Phyrexians.
And WotC knocked this one out of the park. The main theme for Invasion block was multi-coloured cards and they ended up with a set that was popular, drafted well, and created a diverse constructed environment.
Planeshift was fine, but Apocalypse was amazing. It ended the story with a bang and introduced some powerful and interesting enemy-colour cards. The enemy pain lands, [c]Pernicious Deed[/c], [c]Phyrexian Arena[/c] and [c]Vindicate[/c] all came from this set.
Up there with the best blocks in Magic history. Apocalypse might also be one of best small sets ever made.
Personally I liked Odyssey, so it was a surprise to read it was not well received by players. The graveyard-based mechanics, Flashback and Threshold, played pretty well even if they didn’t fit the theme. The one major flaw was an inexplicable decision to nerf red for fluff reasons over any mechanical good sense (Discarding cards for stuff was a theme of the set. Red had to discard random cards because… red).
Torment and Judgment dabbled with balancing the colours unequally (black in Torment, green and white in Judgment), an experiment that was not entirely successful and has not been repeated since.
This block is probably most remembered for the blue-green madness deck, a buzzsaw of synergy and vicious tempo. It’s notable because it was a tier one (and highly feared deck) that could be assembled mostly from commons and uncommons and that hasn’t been possible in Standard for a long long time.
Onslaught sort of continued the new story begun in Odyssey. I didn’t realise quite how bananas this story actually was until I read a synopsis recently. Um, yeah. I can only imagine copious amounts of fungi of dubious nutritional value were involved.
Onslaught introduced the morph mechanic and I’ve never really liked it from both a thematic and mechanical standpoint.
Legions had a gimmick of making every card a creature. I remember most of the more competitive players not liking it, but it was very popular amongst more casual players. I remember hearing at the time that the set sold very well, but I don’t have data to back that up.
Scourge was supposed to be a set about dragons, but everyone remembers it as the goblins and storm set.
Both Odyssey and Onslaught are fairly middling blocks. I’d put Odyssey somewhere in the middle and Onslaught below the middle, but I wouldn’t be surprised if other people have this the other way around.
Mirrodin was the first expansion to come in with the new card face. It also introduced a new card type – Equipment – which solved some of the card-disadvantage problems inherent with creature-buffing auras. It was mostly okay with some interesting artifacts.
Then Darksteel came along and unleashed [c]Skullclamp[/c] and the Affinity menace on the world. Standard warped to an unhealthy metagame of Affinity decks and green-red artifact-hate decks that thought they beat Affinity but didn’t. Local tournament attendance pancaked and it took some hefty bannings to build confidence back up again.
Fifth Dawn was largely forgettable.
I didn’t like either Mirrodin Limited or Constructed much. The block also resulted in the first bannings in Standard for a long time. So why does Mirrodin block escape the flak thrown at blocks like Kamigawa – It contains a lot of powerful artifacts people want to open in boosters.
Another block that gets a bad rap (in my opinion). It draws heavily on Japanese mythology, perhaps too heavily as the world-building left too many without a frame of reference.
Legendary was one of the major themes, but never came through that strongly. The mechanics were a mix of the good (Ninjutsu), the meh (Bushido), the messy (Arcane) and the so-bad-will-never-be-done-again (Flip cards).
[c]Umezawa’s Jitte[/c] was too strong and warped creature combat too much.
Saviors of Kamigawa also suffered from being a weak set with an awkward hand-size matters mechanic.
It’s not a bad block, but is dragged down by too many small flaws across the board. On another plane those flaws could have been overlooked, but the main problem is the setting is a bit too weird to grok for a US audience.
Kamigawa also suffers in comparison to what came next…
And now we’re onto a block which I think has a decent claim to best Magic block ever.
So much went right with Ravnica. The world-building is strong and fairly unique. It’s jam-packed with great constructed cards, including the best dual lands after the original duals. The mechanics are good. It was a decent limited format.
If you wanted to be nitpicky, the Dimir guild (blue-black) was a little underpowered compared to the others and the dredge mechanic ended up being too strong (although it was only really dominant in older formats).
A true classic in Magic history.
The gimmick behind this one was that it was the long-lost 3rd set from the Ice Age block. While a nice idea it ended up replacing the much-reviled Homelands set with a set that itself wasn’t particularly good. Its biggest crime was it supplanted Ravnica block drafts in high-level events (most particularly Nationals that year). Ravnica was a well-regarded draft format. Coldsnap… was not.
Saying that, I’d like to see snow lands/mana given another look at some point.
This was supposed to be Magic’s greatest hits collection, and it worked the nostalgia really well with reprints of past classics, alternate-dimension versions of cards and even the crazy gimmick of cards-from-the-future in Future Sight. Although let’s be honest, [c]Tarmogoyf[/c] is a future-shifted card from the end of the Magic universe. That little critter is not coming to any Standard-legal set anytime soon.
Unfortunately, this came at a cost. While older players loved all the references and allusions to old cards, new players – faced with a bewildering complexity creep – bounced right off it.
R & D was duly raked over the coals and it resulted in a shift in design philosophy – the New World Order.
While I personally like this block, I think the complexity criticisms are fair.
Lorwyn block was a change from the usual 3-set paradigm in that it consisted of four sets. Lorwyn was a fairy-tale land and the main theme was tribal interactions. They managed to keep goblins under control this time around, but the combination of flash creatures plus counter-magic made Fairies a potent deck in Standard after [c]Bitterblossom[/c] showed up.
I had a lot of fun building casual decks using the less popular tribes such as Treefolk and Giants, and this is a good set to plunder for Tribal Commander cards. Morningtide expanded the tribal themes to classes, but probably added too much to track on the board (both creature and class) to be worth the addition.
Despite being the “fun” fairy-tale setting, the switch from sunny Lorwyn to dark and creepy Shadowmoor was lovely flavour. Unfortunately, Shadowmoor felt a lot more clunky to play. I had fun playing silly Primalcrux decks, but the top tier Constructed decks of the time didn’t inspire much interest.
Lorwyn, the setting, also suffers from similar problems to Kamigawa. It’s a little too weird and outside what is normally expected in mainstream fantasy, so I’d be surprised if we ever revisit this plane even though I enjoyed Lorwyn a lot.
Lorwyn introduced planeswalkers for the first time even though they had no thematic ties to the rest of the set. I’m one of the old-school types that doesn’t really like the planeswalker type all that much. From a marketing perspective they’re great as they provide easily-identifiable characters to be the “faces” of a set. Mechanically I find them a bit dull and not much fun to either play with or play against. I also know I’m in the minority here. Planeswalkers have done a great job in selling Magic over the years.
Now this is where I move a little out of my comfort zone. While I am a dinosaur that’s been around a long time, there were periods where I was more active than others. For this period I was exiled to a Caribbean island and was only really playing online.
This block concentrated on the three-colour shards (two enemy colours, with a middle colour allied to both – eg white-blue-black or black-red-green). Shards got it right, Conflux veered off into five-colour territory and Alara Reborn was overly gimmicky with every card being multi-coloured.
This was the first block to introduce mythic rarity, which was controversial but done correctly in SOA as the mythic cards were mostly big splashy legends. Later sets… did not do mythic correctly.
When asked for the worst block on facebook I decided to be contrary and go with Zendikar. This was when all the interesting cards got booted up to mythic rarity and I stopped brewing casual decks online.
Obviously I’m wrong because Zendikar was a massive set for WotC. At this time the world economy was in the toilet and other TCGs were going extinct left, right and centre. Zendikar had a fantastic buried treasure promotion where WotC bought a ton of old rare cards from the secondary market and randomly inserted them in boosters. It generated a ton of hype and Magic survived a potentially dicey period. Still, I wonder how fondly Zendikar would be remembered without this.
[c]Jace, the Mind Sculptor[/c] should never have been printed.
Okay, the creature-lands were pretty cool.
The Eldrazi as Magic‘s newest Big Bad arrived with fantastic flavour. The titans were the biggest, most ridiculously powerful creatures to ever appear in Magic. Unfortunately annihilator ended up being a little too punishing a mechanic.
I never got into it as a draft format, but people who are much better at Limited than me rated it as one of the best sets for Limited, so I’m going to defer to their judgement.
The bad guys win, handled perfectly from a flavour perspective (WotC even mocked up promotional material of an alternate third set where the Mirrans won in order to maintain the suspense).
We even had two artifact sets that didn’t break Standard. And then New Phyrexia came along…
Phyrexian Mana, like virtually all cost-reduction mechanics ended up being a terrible mistake. Even [c]Gitaxian Probe[/c] eventually had to be banned from Modern. [c]Batterskull[/c] turned [c]Stoneforge Mystic[/c] from the previous block into a powerhouse. Without [c]Blightning[/c] or [c]Bloodbraid Elf[/c] to hold him back, [c]Jace, the Mind Sculptor[/c] ran amok. Standard was crushed under Cawblade and once again bannings were required to save the game.
I’m not sure where to place this block. It has the usual balance problems that plague artifact sets, but I don’t think it has the density of powerful cards that enabled the original Mirrodin to escape a bad reputation. But let’s face it, we haven’t seen the last of the Phyrexians.
I skipped this block entirely. Double-faced cards were the conceptual equivalent of nails down a blackboard for me. I felt WotC had to be completely bankrupt of ideas to even consider them. Obviously I was wrong on that as well, as they ended up being extremely popular (I still don’t like werewolves though).
I also heard plenty praise this as a Limited format and given that we did go back to Innistrad, the block must have been well-received.
This, however, was not.
I did return to draft and build some fun decks with this and while it didn’t fully recapture the glory of the original Ravnica, it was still a fun block.
The only real stinker was the lack of value in Dragon’s Maze. Currently the most expensive card is [c]Voice of Resurgence[/c] and the second most expensive card is the [c]Voice of Resurgence[/c] elemental token. There are a lot of unopened boxes of Dragon’s Maze floating around out there, and they will likely remain unopened long after Magic ceases to be a game. This makes Dragon’s Maze the Fallen Empires of the modern era.
(And [c]Voice of Resurgence[/c] was reprinted in Modern Masters 2017. So let’s have a moment of silence for all those poor people still holding unopened Dragon’s Maze boxes.)
The Greek mythology themed set. I’m not a big fan of Magic aping real world mythology as it ends up losing too much of its own identity for little gain.
The block made mono-colour matter thanks to the devotion mechanic and bestow was interesting. (I played [c]Chromanticore[/c] in a block-constructed Grand Prix to a money finish and had a blast doing so).
Not sure where to place this – middling to slightly below middling?
In normal circumstances I think Theros block would have suffered a similar fate to Kamigawa, but in this case they left so many threads dangling with Elspeth we’re almost certainly going to head back at some point (likely after Nicol Bolas eats Gideon in Hour of Devastation).
Fetch land reprints for the win. Although to be fair, this block has a great story and works well with its theme of three-colour wedges (a middle colour paired with both its enemies – eg white-black-red). Morph came back, but they removed a lot of the gotcha elements by making most of the unmorph costs be around five mana.
[c]Deathmist Raptor[/c] should never have been a mythic (too many decks needed it) and how the hell did the mechanic name megamorph not get vetoed at some point!
(SNEAKY AUTHOR EDIT: Whoopsies. I got my sets mixed up here. Deathmist Raptor and megamorph were in Dragons of Tarkir. This is what happens when you come back to Magic on the third set of a block. Fate Reforged was a pretty decent middle set and even managed to sneak in a card that became a staple of Vintage – [c]Monastery Mentor[/c].)
Dragons fixed the mistakes of Scourge and really was the Dragon set. Unfortunately it came at a cost of switching the focus back on allied colours rather than the tri-colour wedges, making the same mistake as the Alara block. All the sweet dragons were enough to compensate though, and it was a great flavour win to have a dragon counter at Pro Tour Dragons of Tarkir and have dragons show up everywhere.
The biggest mistake for this block was that the mana ended up being a little too good in Standard, especially once the Fetch lands were joined by the new dual lands from Battle for Zendikar. Three-colour decks bled into four- or five-colour decks and when both [c]Siege Rhino[/c] and [c]Mantis Rider[/c] are being played in the same deck you know you have a problem.
This marked the end of the 3-set block paradigm. From now on Magic would consist of two two-set blocks put out every year.
Design/Development has obviously improved to the point where we’re not going to see another Homelands. I wonder if Battle for Zendikar will take the dubious of honour of worst of the recent sets.
[c]Gideon, Ally of Zendikar[/c] should never have been printed.
Then there are other flaws. What was an Ally or not seemed completely random and unintuitive. Devoid didn’t need a keyword and even though I liked the ingest/process theme, it could be horribly fiddly.
The masterpiece expeditions are nice. Looking back it’s hard to shake the suspicion they were added to give a little extra oomph to a weak set.
And an Eldrazi winter did blow into Modern.
Older cards like [c]Eldrazi Temple[/c] and [c]Eye of Ugin[/c] were never designed for use with more efficiently costed Eldrazi. Which is a shame as the new colourless mana symbol did a much better of representing the Eldrazi’s colourless nature than devoid did in Battle for Zendikar.
Expect this set to go up in people’s opinions over time. There’s a lot of power here.
A welcome return to the gothic horror in the first and a very pleasing change-up to cosmic horror in the second set. Rock-solid use of theme and story.
The biggest shame is that the investigate mechanic was not carried over to Eldritch Moon, although meld and emerge both captured the cosmic horror angle very well.
Biggest flaw was not having any kind of graveyard hate to keep both delirium decks and [c]Emrakul, the Promised End[/c] in check.
I think both sets are pretty good, but are overshadowed by the Eldrazi in the previous block and the Kaladesh block that followed.
Another massive flavour win. After the grimness of battling universe-ending spaghetti monsters, Magic went bright and colourful and off to a new world of invention.
Unfortunately another artifact set resulted in another power-balance fail and cards had to banned in Standard for the first time in five years. Kaladesh introduced vehicles. Balancing new card types is tricky and [c]Smuggler’s Copter[/c] ended up falling on the wrong side of acceptable power.
Then an infinite combo with [c]Felidar Guardian[/c] and [c]Saheeli Rai[/c] somehow slipped out with Aether Revolt.
Overall it’s another mixed block. The flavour and world-building is fantastic. The new masterpiece cards looked gorgeous. But there was too much sloppiness negatively impacting the Standard format.
And that was a lot of words for a lot of sets!
Oddly, as I was writing this I was struck by how Magic: the Gathering has evolved to opposite extremes over the years.
When Magic first started out its universe was about as generic fantasy as you could get. Now Magic has multiple distinct planes all with a strong, sometimes unique identity. The world-building is good enough that if they wanted to set other games or RPG systems within them it wouldn’t immediately be laughed out of hand.
On the downside, Magic when it first started out was a game where the cards fell where they fell. Sometimes the most powerful cards were the key characters of the storyline, other times they were [c]Gerrard Capashen[/c]. Nowadays there seems to be much more pressure to make sure key characters are also the best cards, and this “pushing” has given rise to some balance problems.
It’s also interesting to contrast the fortunes of Limited and Constructed. The early sets weren’t designed with things like booster draft in mind, and it usually shows. The more modern sets are clearly better in this regard. However, Constructed seems to have a far smaller range of viable cards nowadays. You can’t throw together a bunch of common/uncommon white weenies or goblins + burn and have a chance in hell of winning a tournament. This does make it a lot more difficult for new players to ease into Standard.
I don’t know whether I can say Magic: the Gathering has got better or worse. Aside from Limited and flavour (which I think nearly everyone would agree have improved markedly over the years) I think it’s going to vary from person to person and your play preferences.
It’s interesting to see where the game goes in the future. My own personal opinion is that power creep is a thing and while Magic has mostly kept it under control for the past two decades, we’re now in the age of 2-mana 2/3s with multiple powerful abilities. That isn’t sustainable.
I think one of the biggest future challenges facing WotC’s Design/Development is how to subtly dial this back without producing another Mercadian Masques.
That’s my personal opinion on the last twenty years of MTG sets anyway. Agree, Disagree, feel I’m an idiot that should be thrown of the nearest bridge after dissing your favourite card/set/block – Let me know in the comments.
What do you think is the best Magic set/block ever, and why? (reprint sets don’t count)
What do you think is the worst Magic set/block ever, and why? (not including Homelands)
Let the carnage commence below!
Craig “Prof” Jones