Best Magic MtG Sets Ever Released

Magic: The Gathering‘s sets have never been consistent. Each one presents a fresh angle on the game’s lore alongside brand-new cards, mechanics, and rules to potentially upset the game’s current meta. Historically, new Magic: The Gathering sets have been hit or miss. Each one risks dragging the entire game down.



However, Magic‘s lows are balanced by at least as many highs. There are plenty of sets throughout the game’s history that fans look back on with nothing but fondness. Their cards are interesting, thematic, and full of potential. The best MtG sets take the game to distinctive and compelling settings, create a fun draft environment, and utterly change the game. Such sets are now fondly remembered as iconic, lovable installations in Magic: The Gathering‘s history and show what this fantasy card game looks like at its peak.

Update on January 17th, 2024 by Louis Kemner: This list of the best MtG sets has been updated to adhere to CBR’s current publication standards and add more content than ever.


10 Dominaria Was a Highly Nostalgic Set That Welcomed New and Veteran Players Alike

Notable Dominaria Cards:

  • Jhoira, Weatherlight Captain
  • Mox Amber
  • Lich’s Mastery

Related

Magic: The Gathering Is Celebrating 30 Years by Returning to Classic Planes

Magic: The Gathering’s 30th anniversary year is all about visiting the planes of its past, with returns to Dominaria, Eldraine, and Ixalan.

Dominaria has been the setting for more Magic: The Gathering sets than any other plane in the Multiverse. 2018’s Dominaria set, the first to be directly named for its plane, treated the game’s iconic setting with the right amount of reverence. It was also a gamble, however, as it was the first set in Magic‘s modern, block-less approach.

Everything worked in Dominaria. It drew on the plane’s rich history to create distinctive, exciting cards. Its Historic mechanic, emphasizing artifacts, Saga enchantments, and plentiful Legendary creatures, encouraged creative decks that felt and looked extremely cool. While it didn’t introduce players to a compelling new plane, fans enjoyed its more personal story that focused on Gideon and Liliana. Notably, the Dominaria set introduced the new frame for legendary cards, which has been in use ever since to make those legends feel more special than ever before.

9 Innistrad Raised the Bar For Horror and Graveyard Strategies

Notable Innistrad Cards:

  • Liliana of the Veil
  • Snapcaster Mage
  • Delver of Secrets
  • Blasphemous Act
  • Unburial Rites

does very well with strong and evocative themes. Few planes or sets have had stronger themes than Innistrad and its titular plane. The plane drew on classic gothic horror tropes, wearing influences from novels, films, and even tabletop games on its sleeve.

Innistrad balanced its impressive thematic creativity with equally enjoyable cards. Its mechanics supported creature-heavy decks, focusing on iconic creature types like werewolves and zombies. In particular, Innistrad introduced double-faced transforming cards to reflect its horror inspiration. Players loved it on both a storytelling and gameplay level, and since then, Transform has become a deciduous effect to add fun mechanical depth to other sets, with or without a horror theme.

8 Khans Of Tarkir Established New Wedge Factions and Experimented With Delve

Notable Khans of Tarkir Cards:

  • Treasure Cruise
  • Mantis Rider
  • Siege Rhino
  • Narset, Enlightened Master

Magic: The Gathering sets focusing on color combinations have always been popular with fans. However, Khans of Tarkir went further than most by focusing on creatures and spells that combined three colors. Tarkir was a plane split between five clans, each of which combined two allied colors and their enemy color to form a unique philosophy.

As a result, Khans of Tarkir broke new ground in Magic: The Gathering. Its cards created rare combinations that worked in a wide variety of the set’s decks. Many of its cards still occupied comfortable niches in many Magic formats years later and fans loved its draft format. In addition, its setting was so distinctive that many fans wished for its return long after it was replaced by an alternate Tarkir. Notably, the Khans of Tarkir set experimented with the Delve mechanic and learned a hard lesson; that Delve is too easy to break. Most likely, due to the results of Khans of Tarkir‘s Delve cards, future expansion sets are unlikely to make Delve a major mechanic, though it may still appear here and there.

7 Ravnica: City Of Guilds Established Faction Gameplay and Had a Unique Urban Setting

Notable Ravnica: City of Guilds Cards:

  • Golgari Grave-Troll
  • Lightning Helix
  • Dark Confidant
  • Chord of Calling
  • Remand

The titular setting of Ravnica: City of Guilds became Magic: The Gathering‘s most iconic plane for a reason. Ravnica: City of Guilds wasn’t the first set that catered to players who liked two-color combinations. However, Ravnica was the first plane to be almost wholly dedicated to their mechanic.

Ravnica: City of Guilds put multicolor decks at the heart of its gameplay and storyline. The plane-wide city was split into ten guilds, each of which embodied a different two-color combination. The amount of variety this created for decks was immense. Ravnica: City of Guilds wasn’t perfectly balanced, but it was diverse, evocative, and genuinely thrilling to play. Also, as head designer Mark Rosewater once noted, the Ravnica: City of Guilds set was the first to make in-game factions highly cohesive and distinct thanks to their official names, watermarks on cards, and many cycles. That was true for the entire block, in fact.

6 Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty Rebooted a Failed Block With Modern Ideas

Notable Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty Cards:

  • Boseiju, Who Endures
  • Invoke Despair
  • Reckoner Bankbuster
  • Kodama of the West Tree

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Magic: The Gathering – How Neon Dynasty Improves Kamigawa’s Best Creature Types

Samurai and Ninjas were introduced in Magic: The Gathering’s original Kamigawa block, and Neon Dynasty perfects the gameplay formula.

was a hard sell for many Magic: The Gathering fans. The only previous Kamigawa set was infamous for its weak power level and unpopular storyline. In addition, Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty had a futuristic, cyberpunk aesthetic that clashed with almost every other plane in Magic: The Gathering. Amusingly, this also led to a variety of pop culture references in the set.

However, Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty won over all but the most diehard critics. Its cyberpunk trappings felt like a natural extension of the plane’s previous features. It had an even power level across the set and a diverse array of mechanics and archetypes for players to enjoy. Many players considered it one of the best Magic: The Gathering sets in recent years, and it’s a rare example of a failed setting getting a second chance at life. For practical reasons, WotC is reluctant to revisit unpopular planes, but just this once, it worked out.

5 Rise Of The Eldrazi Invented “Battlecruiser” Magic

Eldrazi Unbound in MtG tabletop CCG

Notable Rise of the Eldrazi Cards:

  • Emrakul, the Aeons Torn
  • Training Grounds
  • Inquisition of Kozilek
  • Splinter Twin
  • Eldrazi Temple

The first Zendikar block won a beloved place within Magic: The Gathering history. However, this came from its third set, Rise of the Eldrazi, as much as its first. Rise of the Eldrazi completely upended Zendikar. Instead of land mechanics, it focused on some of Magic‘s most unique creatures, proving that unique creature types in the game have plenty to offer, giving fans a break from familiar zombies, elves, and merfolk.

The Eldrazi were cosmic horrors, beings that sprang from between the gaps in the Multiverse. Rise of the Eldrazi gave them their first proper outing after teases in previous sets. The result was a MtG set focused on slow plays and epic creatures, creating a unique feel both mechanically and thematically. Its draft format had almost limitless potential, with rich pickings on display for any possible deck. The creators also considered Rise of the Eldrazi a “Battlecruiser Magic” set, meaning it emphasized a slow buildup of powerful board states.

4 Apocalypse Followed a Classic Storyline and Focused on Enemy Color Pairs

Gerrard Capashen holding Urza's friend in front of Yawgmoth in Magic: the Gathering

Notable Apocalypse Cards:

  • Vindicate
  • Mystic Snake
  • Pernicious Deed

Apocalypse was one of Magic: The Gathering‘s older sets, so old that it isn’t allowed in the game’s Modern format. It formed the cap of Magic‘s longest-running storyline to that point as Urza, Gerrard Capashen, and other heroes attempted to stop Yawgmoth’s invasion of Domnaria. Apocalypse had epic cards to match its high-stakes storyline.

In particular, Apocalypse was one of the few Magic: The Gathering sets to focus almost exclusively on enemy color pairs. Many of its creatures, spells, and decks came in colors that traditionally work in opposite ways to one another. This pushed Magic‘s boundaries without upsetting its balance in any significant way. Apocalypse changed Magic forever while working well as a set in its own right.

3 Guilds Of Ravnica Proved Ravnica Still Had Much More to Give

Notable Guilds of Ravnica Cards:

  • Arclight Phoenix
  • Thousand-Year Storm
  • Chance For Glory

Related

Magic: The Gathering – How Neon Dynasty Improves Kamigawa’s Best Creature Types

Samurai and Ninjas were introduced in Magic: The Gathering’s original Kamigawa block, and Neon Dynasty perfects the gameplay formula.

Guilds of Ravnica was the second return to the fan-favorite Ravnica setting and it won over the few fans who weren’t sold on the horror-themed setting. It only focused on five of Magic‘s ten color combinations, but this was enough to create one of the most diverse Standard format metas ever in MtG. It marked a high point before more divisive sets like Ravnica Allegiance and Thrones of Eldraine entered the game​​​​​.

Guilds of Ravnica‘s mechanics for each guild were distinctive, creative, and reasonably balanced with one another. It set up the story well for the climactic events of War of the Spark. It also avoided the rampant balance issues that plagued some of the sets after it, keeping the power level at a reasonable and enjoyable level. Even more impressive was the fact that even during a third visit to the famed plane Ravnica, it had plenty more to offer with fresh gameplay depth.

2 Time Spiral Was a Complex, Nostalgia-Driven Set With Wacky Ideas

a dominaria wizard from the time spiral set

Notable Time Spiral Cards:

  • Living End
  • Academy Ruins
  • Empty the Warrens
  • Krosan Grip

Time Spiral wasn’t a conventional Magic: The Gathering set. It was a deliberate look back on and tribute to the game itself, narratively justified as time unraveling within the plane of Dominaria. Its nostalgia was a hit with fans, though, as were the many mechanics it brought with it. Time Spiral was more than just a bunch of reprints but they were a significant part of the set.

Time Spiral remixed everything that old-school players loved about Magic: The Gathering. Many popular creatures from early in the game returned, either in their original form or tweaked. Mechanics like Flashback, Morph, and Storm returned, too, creating an unpredictable and varied metagame. Time Spiral was so pitch-perfect that it was remastered years later in the wonderful draft set Time Spiral Remastered. However, WotC acknowledges that the Time Spiral set and block catered too heavily for experienced, nostalgic fans, creating a high barrier of entry for newer fans. For that reason, Time Spiral Remastered was designed differently, and other nostalgia-based sets have been designed to be more beginner-friendly, such as Dominaria.

1 New Phyrexia Was an All-Villain Set With Vicious Cards in All Colors

Notable New Phyrexia Cards:

  • Karn Liberated
  • Mental Misstep
  • Birthing Pod
  • Batterskull
  • Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite
  • Phyrexian Unlife

New Phyrexia was infamous for its permanent changes to Magic: The Gathering‘s storyline as the artifact plane of Mirrodin lost its war and the dreaded Phyrexians returned to menace the universe. Its near-exclusive focus on villains meant that New Phyrexia was unlike almost any other Magic set before it.

New Phyrexia had a few infamous mechanics, such as Phyrexian Mana and Infect. However, these contributed to a high-power and thrilling metagame that elevated the rest of the game with it. New Phyrexia hit a sweet spot that made it fun for players to go head-to-head and its cards remained popular in many MtG formats for years to come. For its size, the New Phyrexia set printed an astonishing variety of powerful cards relevant to many formats, some of which went on to form the basis of entire deck archetypes. This set also got a few cards banned, most of all Mental Misstep, a one-drop counterspell that threatened to ruin the eternal formats.

Three Heroes on the Magic The Gathering Visual Guide

Magic The Gathering

Created in 1993, MAGIC: THE GATHERING is the world’s first trading card game. Players take turns battling one another by casting spells, summoning creatures and using artifacts depicted on individual cards drawn from their personalized decks.

Franchise
Magic: The Gathering

Original Release Date
April 5, 1993

Publisher
Wizards of the Coast

Designer
Richard Garfield

Player Count
2+

Age Recommendation
13+

Length per Game
20 minutes

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