30 Years of Magic: the Gathering Products

This is what 30 years of Magic: the Gathering products looks like.

30 Years of Magic: the Gathering Products
https://scryfall.com/sets

Magic: the Gathering literally invented the concept of a collectible trading card game. Every trading card game in existence can trace it’s roots back to Origins Fair in 1993 when one game exploded onto the scene. For 30 years Magic has stayed ahead of its competitors and offered something no other card game could. But as you can see in the graphic Magic has changed a lot in the last five years. Magic is celebrating it’s 30th year anniversary this month, but for many players of the game that is no longer worth celebrating.

Product Overload

In 2018 Hasbro, owner of Wizards of the Coast, announced that they had plans to increase profits by 50% in the next 3 years. Since then, there has been an avalanche of new product. Spoiler season has changed from happening once every 3 months to a constant feed of new cards and art frames. Commander has shifted from a once a year product to eight, all of which contain mechanically unique cards. MTG Arena spends more time creating new cards with Alchemy than it does programming older sets into the engine. To keep up with the pace of products that are releasing you need to be constantly paying attention to social media. It has become exhausting to be a fan of Magic: the Gathering.

I’ve realized that most Magic products are no longer meant for me.

It hasn’t always been like this. For years new Magic cards could only be found in the Standard legal sets that were released each quarter. These sets were printed with the intention that every Magic player could use the cards found in those boosters. Whether you were a tournament grinder, kitchen table casual, or a Friday night drafter Magic cards were designed so that everyone could enjoy them. Ancillary products were made using pre-existing cards packaged in new and exciting ways. There were expectations of what products would come out each year. For example, summer was a time reserved for products that were trying something new.

Now when I go to buy a pack of the new set I get asked whether I want a draft, theme, or collector booster. I’ll see a spoiler for a card and then realize that the last set came out only two weeks ago. Cards have become much wordier and far more of them are being created each year. On top of all this the older cards that I do own and understand have more than likely been power crept by the cards coming out in all the different sets. All of this is complicated and confusing to me, a player who has been heavily invested in Magic for years. I can’t even begin to imagine what the new player experience looks like these days.

Secret Lairs

It is impossible to talk about the current state of the game without mentioning Secret Lairs. At the end of 2019 we were shown cards that would be limited time exclusives that you could buy directly from Wizards of the Coast. They were alternate arts of desirable cards and while there was some controversy in how they undercut local game stores many were not concerned. Little did we know that in October 2020 Wizards would announce a crossover between Magic: the Gathering and the Walking Dead series. These cards were given the distinction of black-border, which meant that they were legal in every format that allowed legacy cards. The community was outraged that Rick Grimes could now attack Jace, the Mind Sculptor in a tournament legal setting. It became the highest selling Secret Lair of all-time.

Rick, Steadfast Leader
Rick, Steadfast Leader

Since Secret Lairs were introduced in December 2019, 128 have been created. Just this year 48 have been printed and I’m expecting that we will see more in time for Christmas. Magic has now crossed IP’s with franchises such as Warhammer 40k and Fortnite. Next year we will get to see what Gandalf looks like as a Magic card. I first began playing Magic with M14. As a young teenager I was enamored by these fantasy worlds that were somehow unique and familiar at the same time. Casting a card that was set on Ravnica, a fantasy super metropolis, did not feel out of place next to a card from Theros, a plane inspired by ancient Greek mythology. There are so many worlds in Magic, yet they all still feel connected to the game as a whole. I don’t get that feeling when I counterspell Post Malone.

I've gotten a lot of comments today on Unsanctioned & I wanted to say something. The full-art lands are a sweet dessert, but they aren't the main course. Unsanctioned is for players who love Un-cards. If that's not your cup of tea, then this might just not be the product for you.

A few months before Secret Lair: the Walking Dead was released I wrote an article titled This Article is Not For You: Worrying Trends in MtG. The title was referencing a quote that Mark Rosewater, head designer for Magic: the Gathering said on his Twitter. Mark is right in that not every product is for every player. In the original tweet he was referring to Un-sets which have silver-border cards not meant for tournament play. But looking back on that statement almost 3 years later, I’ve realized that most Magic products are no longer meant for me.

30th Anniversary

Last week Wizards of the Coast announced a product to celebrate 30 years of Magic: the Gathering. For this anniversary Wizards wanted to do something truly special and decided to reprint cards from the beginning of Magic that they promised to never print again. For years, fans have been begging WotC to reexamine their decision so that players could have access to some of the most iconic cards in Magic’s history. WotC instead showed us that the only players that they care about are the ones who can afford to spend $999 for four booster packs. This is all so you can have the chance of opening a piece of Magic’s history. $999 for 60 cards, none of which are tournament legal.

Magic 30th Anniversary Edition

Using the website https://peterniemeier.github.io/mtg30/ I was able to simulate opening these packs. This was my first result.

MTG 30 Simulator

I had incredibly awful luck opening these packs, obtaining only one card that sees play in other formats. Except I can’t even do that because it is gold-bordered. Even if there was a guaranteed chance of opening up a Black Lotus why is it so expensive? If you were thinking this would be your chance to draft limited beta, you would need to spend a minimum of $6,000 to get enough packs to do so. This is a product that could have been for everyone but instead they chose to make a product for no one.

Conclusion

If you had asked me a few years ago what my favorite game was I would have said Magic with no hesitation. But with the new direction that Magic is taking I’ve stopped investing time, energy, and money into the game. In the last two years since I wrote This Article Isn’t For You I have opened less than a dozen booster packs. I still follow the game because there are some parts of it that I still enjoy. Getting to play Magic in person once pandemic restrictions lifted is one of my fondest memories regarding the game. Magic is no longer a game that is designed for me though. I don’t have the money or patience to keep up with the eternal spoiler season. I can’t afford formats that I used to love like Modern because I need Modern Horizons to compete. I hate seeing characters from other franchises or even real life in black-border Magic. I miss Magic: the Gathering when it was made for people like me, and I know I’m not the only one. Thank you for reading.

I have an announcement to make. A few weeks ago I lost my job and I haven’t had much luck in my job search so far. I used to have a Patreon but I’ve deactivated it since then. So instead, I’ve decided to begin offering my services as a professional Dungeon Master. If you are interested in helping me through a tough time and playing Dungeons and Dragons with a DM of 7 years you can learn more by following this link. If you are not interested in that, but still want to financially support me I have a Ko-Fi that you can donate to instead. Thank you for reading and I hope you have a great Tuesday!

14 thoughts on “30 Years of Magic: the Gathering Products

  1. I only started playing a year ago but I’ve really enjoyed the last year of releases, and I’m not particularly bothered by not buying in to a set. I don’t play in tournaments, I only play commander with friends so maybe I’m biased, but I like the universes beyond products. I just think they’re neat.

    1. That’s great! I’m glad you’re enjoying the game in this way. The way I used to enjoy magic isn’t sustainable under the current model. I’m sure I’ll find a new way to enjoy it.

    1. Think of the double faced professors in Strixhaven. Uvilda, Dean of Protection has 8 lines of text. That’s a lot even for a rare. But she also has a back side that has 9 lines of text. That’s a lot of mental load being exerted for one card. Combine that with more cards being printed than ever before and it’s a lot to keep up with.

  2. Jacob I can’t but agree with much of what you said in your article. I started playing MtG all the way back in 1994 and over the last few years I’ve basically stopped trying to keep up with all the happenings of the game. I also fell in love with the worlds and storylines MtG had to offer but nowadays I find things to be too convoluted. Not that the game shouldn’t continue to evolve and try new things but it seems as though WotC (or maybe Hasbro) is very much about that dollar. Or maybe I’m just old lol. All 4 of my kids and I focus on Commander play and don’t bother much with other formats. There are just so many now and for us sticking with one is much more enjoyable. They (my kids) are very informed about new sets and whatnot so they keep me informed on what I need to know. Otherwise my old ass would probably be overwhelmed by it all. I understand companies need to make profits but it seems like MtG is centered more towards profits than ever before. But of course that’s just my opinion. I still love the game and hope it continues to evolve in a way that fans and new players alike can enjoy in any way they wish.

  3. wow, I started with Ice Age with most my family friends, college buddies and even the next generation of kids. Mirage was at the height of our players the first time and the decline was Tempest ; afterwards most fell off. (people complained of too many cards and sets to keep track of , oh man imagine if they saw now 🤣🤣). a few of us still dip our toes into the new stuff every few years since then with new groups here and there, but never for long. the power creep, rule changes and all the mechanics with new product every other week…. 😒 magic as it is… is gonna implode hard. and sadly people need to let it for Magic to course correct but I don’t mind the crossover stuff, but then again I stopped taking magic seriously.. 🤷🏽‍♂️
    great article.

  4. Oh wow this was one one of the saddest articles I’ve ever read, you just sat there whined a massive wall of irrelevant text because you got some bad pulls or some other crap, it’s just a game dude no one cares if you play or not, and it is 100% your fault that you feel it’s necessary to be obsessed and buy every product in order to enjoy it, then to top it off you give some whack plea in the end about getting paid to be a DM or some nonsense, man I got an idea how about instead of complaining on the internet about a card game you download indeed and get a job and contribute something other than poorly written articles

    1. If the MTG community doesn’t complain and everybody keeps gobbling up the new content and dropping $, then Magic is just gonna start to suck, it will be quantity over quality. But I agree that you can enjoy MTG without new content, but that is what power creep is for.

    2. This is exactly the type of person Hasbro hopes still exists in the future. No brains at all just wants everyone to conform to his ideas of how people should operate. Idc about the DM part either but he’s right about all the points on mtg. If you don’t like it, why tf are you here? You’re a sad human looking for fights.

  5. I enjoyed you article and I very much agree with you. Too many new sets and the lack of blocks doesn’t allow enough time for mechanics to properly bake into the game (Strixhaven would have really benefited from a follow up set). Many of the new products have priced me out of buying them and Habro doesnt look to be sloeing down with the increases either. I also don’t care for the mixing of pop culture into the MTG world but, to each their own. If other players enjoy it, then I am happy for them. As you said, it’s just not for me anymore.

  6. I use to get at least one booster box each set but over the past couple of years I’ve had to cut back drastically due to being on a fixed income due to my disability. With the increase in price I’ve not purchased any of the new products this year except for Kamigawa Neon booster box. At the way that the price has increased I think that I am going to be leaving the hobby.

  7. I began in 1994, and I must agree with you in everything : we could know and play with Magic as a whole and now we must accept the fact that most products are are not for most of us, that there is a rythm that no longer care for old players because this is a fact, that are much more new players than old ones.
    Times are changing, with or without us; this is how they choose to evolve, and evolution is the proof Magic is not ready to die.
    You have the right to be sad or even bored, but think the other way : you have the choice ! To stop, to try to keep up or just select what’s for you or not.

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