Magic the Gathering Year in Review: Products of 2015
Another year, and another cycle of products from Hasbro and Wizards of the Coast has come and gone. It’s been an eventful year both in terms of products and Magic the Gathering news, which we will go over in a separate roundup. For now let’s take a look at each of 2015’s product releases individually, and take stock of what rocked and what flopped this year.
The second set in the Khans block, Fate Reforged had some of that awkward middle set syndrome the two block structure was supposed to solve (whether it will, or not, has yet to be seen.) In hindsight, I’m not as disappointed in this set as I was on release. I suppose Khans of Tarkir was chocked full of so much goodness, and had such a dramatic impact on Standard that it was going to be hard to follow with any set.
Lore-wise, I think it was kind of a lame duck. There isn’t a huge amount done with it’s time-travel concept, and a lot of people speculated that since the time travel technically put the Planeswalkers back before “The Mending”, an event that severely neutered the power of Planeswalkers, we would see some craziness owing to the in-universe lore. As it turned out they completely ignored this aspect in favour of “Look! We finally have same Dragons!“ And for people who still hold some stock in the older lore of MtG, this was somewhat of a let-down. Not being able to do something interesting with time-travel is the sign of bad writing.
In terms of cards, the pickings were slimmer than Khans, but the best of the bunch are still seeing Standard play at least. Whisperwood Elemental turned out to be a big player in Standard decks; as did Tasigur, the Golden Fang. Soulfire Grand Master still has a lot of potential in Modern too.
Solid enough of a product, but just not great.
Duel Decks: Elspeth vs. Kiora
Keeping up the tradition of Planeswalker vs. Planeswalker duel-decks, Elspeth vs. Kiora gives us access to two well liked Planeswalker cards. Elspeth especially dominated Standard for whole season, so it’s always nice to have more ready availability of a powerful and sought after card. Kiora is just a really cool card, and I’ve always had a soft-spot for her.
The decks themselves contain cards from all over Magic the Gathering’s history. If you don’t know, Duel Decks are not restricted to just cards in the current Standard environment.
Elspeth’s deck is, unsurprisingly, a soldier-based deck built around amassing large numbers of creatures and pumping them with cards like Captain of the Watch and Veteran Armorsmith. Go wide and build up creature based synergies.
Kiora’s deck is a hybrid tempo/ramp deck, owing to its blue/green colour identity, focused on keeping the board clear and then dropping big threats like Inkwell Leviathan. Again a cool strategy, and I’m a real sucker for dropping down huge blue Krakens, octopuses and leviathans. It’s not something you get to do a whole lot in Limited or Standard.
Apart from the Planeswalkers themselves, there isn’t a ton of value on display here, but the value of the foil mythics and the gameplay value is enough for this to get a mild recommendation; standard quality for this type of product.
Dragons of Tarkir
Concluding the current storyline of the Plane of Tarkir, Dragons of Tarkir finds us in the reworked present time where Dragon’s rule over the former clans instead of their Kahns. Khans are still featured, but in cards with clever twists. The new Dragonlords themselves are powerful, and made a huge impact on Standard when they were released, as did the cycle of their commands. Efficient modal spells have always been good in Magic the Gathering, and these two-colour commands are no exception.
In terms of lore I am left scratching my head again; why is it better that there are dragons now? I know Sarkon likes Dragons, but is that really enough justification to alter history? Lore aside, it’s a shame the wedge sub-theme seen in Khans of Tarkir is all but gone by this set. The colour combinations were interesting, but despite Magic’s long history they hadn’t been utilized all that much.
Modern Masters 2015
This was the subject of my first article about Magic the Gathering for SuperNerdLand, and my conclusion’s haven’t changed much since then:
So where does this leave us? Well, Games Workshop provides us with a bleak picture of what a game looks like if you habitually price gouge and only market to your most wealthy and invested players. The game stagnates and stops bringing in new and younger players who build up their investment over time. A cheaper, modern format is good for everyone and ultimately it is good for Wizards of the Coast as more people come into the game. Yes, Hasbro is a business and as a business they can sell and price their products however they want. But as a consumer, it is your right demand what is best for you. As a consumer you should be wary of a company pushing the boundaries of how little it can offer for maximum profit. As a Magic player and collector, I don’t think I can be anything less than disappointed at what looks like a cop-out and cash grab in place of what could have been a much needed further democratization of the Modern format.
We also covered the packaging controversy that occurred with Modern Masters 2015. It sure had its share of corners cut for what is supposed to be a premium set. Just don’t buy loose packs online kids.
In our preview of Magic Origins I wrote:
“In many ways Magic Origins is more like a big expansion set than a core-set; with the low number of rare and mythic re-prints along with the introduction of new and interesting abilities. Overall, I think it is a fitting send-off for the increasingly redundant feeling Core Set, and if nothing else, features a whole bunch of interesting cards for people to brew with. One of my hopes is that Wizards of the Coast takes the ending of the core-set as an opportunity to think of a permanent and affordable way to get people started with Magic — outside of the largely forgotten and ignored sample deck products. But that’s another discussion for another time.”
We didn’t do a full set review of Magic Origins like we are doing for the major set releases going forward, and I’m quite glad we didn’t because the set keeps looking better and better every day in terms of power level and financial value. Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy is currently seeing play in almost every comparative format, and as such has gained a stupendous price-tag for a card still in print of over £50; one of the most expensive and powerful cards we’ve seen in Standard for years. It’s a two mana Jace, I know someone saw this coming, but I will freely admit I didn’t.
Outside of Jace, the moneyspinner cards like Hangarback Walker have also been dominating Standard, and with the low power-level of Battle for Zendikar it will probably remain a top-tier card until rotation. As I said, a fitting send off for the Core Set, which despite its problems is a product I will miss.
Magic Origins: Armed and Dangerous Clash Pack
A good value product, I think our review says it all:
As a product, I would say Armed and Dangerous is well worth a buy for almost any kind of Magic player who does not already own all standard/modern playable cards that are in it since the product costs less to buy than the sum of its parts. It’s a given that this will, in the short term, drive prices of these cards down to be about equal to the price of the product (that’s just the way the Magic market works). Some of the cards have applications in Modern and so will increase in value over the long term — save for the slim chance of them being banned.
Armed and Dangerous also has gameplay for newer players. Whilst it’s a world away from a deck you could just show up with and be competitive at an Friday Night Magic, it gives you a good selection of cards to start working up to that level . I think Wizards has cracked the formula on this one and I hope future clash-packs can live up to this high standard. More of this please.
From the Vault: Angels
I make it a habit of not reviewing smaller products I don’t have an interest in, or ones that are not so bad the consumer needs a warning on it. If I would struggle to stretch it out to a full article I will — generally — just give my opinion via social media, or maybe mention the product in a roundup like I’m doing now.
This is a pretty lacklustre and boring From the Vault, unless you are a die-hard Angels fan. You can still get these for close to MSRP/RRP in many local game stores, and that’s for good reason. They’re dull and don’t contain a huge amount of value. I think you’ll break even on the contents, so if you can pick it up cheap it’s still worth it. Most of the value is coming from cards like Avacyn, Angel of Hope, and aside from neat re-prints of older cards like Exalted Angel, most of the cards are already readily available.
Buy it if you like it I guess. It gets a big fat “meh” from me for the price point, though.
Duel Decks: Zendikar vs. Eldrazi
This one was a wasted opportunity in my opinion. We have the whole of the Zendikar block to choose from, as well as cards from Battle for Zendikar and Rise of the Eldrazi, and the best they can come up with is a cobbled together pile of cards that didn’t really need re-printing beyond It That Betrays. The worth of Eldrazi cards is mostly linked to their limited availability; here was a chance to re-print literally anything from one of the most beloved blocks in Magic the Gathering history, and it was wasted.
What we did get were a few cool cards, but ones that had already been re-printed to death, or cards that were never that interesting in the first place. I like Avenger of Zendikar, but Oblivion Sower was an odd choice for the Eldrazi headliner. As Mythic Eldrazi’s go, it’s the runt of the litter.
Maybe that’s the point? Is Wizards of the Coast so afraid to give us value and upset the secondary market that they deliberately nerf products on an unlimited print-run? It certainly looks that way this year more than ever.
Battle for Zendikar
The first thing we covered was the Zendikar Expeditions, and how they are an odd solution to not re-printing cards:
All in all, I think it would be prudent looking at Battle for Zendikar like these cards didn’t exist, because for most players they might as well not. The new cycle of dual-lands with actual land-types on them is far and away the most interesting announcement to come out of all of this. But we will have to wait and see if they have any impact on the eternal formats for them to be worth anything. It would be a folly for Wizards not to keep reprinting vital staples like fetches, because you can’t play competitive eternal formats without them. This seems a way of re-printing something without really re-printing it. In reality, the vast majority of us will only ever see these foil full art lands hanging on the wall of our local game-store commanding ludicrous price tags and being stared at with longing by players who can only afford to buy the odd single pack.
We then embarked on our very first set review, and I only wish it had been for a better set:
So should you rush out and buy a box of Battle for Zendikar? In my opinion, no. My recommendation would be to pick up the small amount of singles you will need for your respective formats, and avoid gambling on this sets high variance in value. As any gambler eventually learns, the house always wins. I would have recommend buying a fat-pack just to get collecting your set of full-art lands out of the way; but between Wizards of the Coast, the big card retailers, and local game-stores we aren’t allowed to have nice things.
There is also a lot of useless bulk — over and above the norm — that no one will ever need or want again. Limited is about on par with the quality of past sets: nothing special, but nothing terrible either. For a set supposedly filled with massive Lovecraftian monstrosities, it sure seems forgettable. The lesser Eldrazi look more like old school slivers than anything. We’ve yet to see many really mind-blowing battle cruisers for a set many hoped would be filled with them.
Battle for Zendikar Event Deck
Again, not enough to write about this deck for a full review. It’s a half decent event deck, but it’s black/green sacrifice structure doesn’t represent a strategy that is anywhere near competitive in Standard. Looked at from a purely financial standpoint, though, it does contain cards that are useful in Standard that we’ve already mentioned further up such as Whisperwood Elemental, Tasigur, the Golden Fang, and Hangarback Walker (ironically cards not from Battle for Zendikar).
Mostly bulk here, but if you need a chunk of the cards on offer then there is at least a decent level of value here. I bought one myself for just under retail price for the singles I needed.
Rounding out this year of main releases was Commander 2015, which I reviewed in full here, and was it’s a set I had mixed feelings about going in. The more I examined it, the less I felt the product was really worth your time and money. Here were my conclusions about the set:
The Commander 2015 decks still serve as a viable and easy way for new players to get the basics for Commander, but they are far from optimal. Last year’s Planeswalker Commanders and their surrounding decks were a lot more interesting, and had a lot more solid cards in my opinion. Whilst the two new cycles of Commanders add welcome new strategies designed directly for Commander format, you can pick all of them up for under $50 right now. It feels more like “here is a bunch of cool new cards to play with in Commander” rather than five well-built Commander decks in their own right.
I like that Wizards of the Coast keeps making unlimited print Magic the Gathering Commander products, I really do. But please, you need to do better than throwing a pile of cards together and calling it a deck. There are dozens of budget Commander brews out there far better than these. I know they are only £25 or so, but most of what you are getting is filler. They are, in my mind, simply not worth buying this year.
Magic: The Gathering – Arena of the Planeswalkers
I’d almost forgotten this turd. Not much to say beyond the mini-review I wrote on Twitter:
Magic The Gathering: Arena of the Planeswalkers Mini Review: A terrible cheaply made cash-in. Feels like a Chinese knock-off. Don’t buy it.
— Super Nerd Land (@SuperNerdLand) December 10, 2015
2015 has been a mixed year of from Wizards in regards to Magic the Gathering products overall. We didn’t quite see products as great as “Duel Decks Anthologies,” but we did see some decent sets. 2015 was a year of caution for Wizards of the Coast. Caution in the power-level of their main sets, and a huge level of caution in re-printing cards. We saw the Zendikar Expeditions brought out as a way to re-print but not re-print cards, and Modern Masters 2015 had a baffling laser-focus on Limited play that most people will never experience due to its inflated MSRP/RRP.
It’s also been a year of greed in terms of Wizards of the Coast’s business decisions. A lot of what is on show gets maximum price for minimum value, and I think that’s just being stingy towards a fan base worth billions to Wizards, and their parent company Hasbro.
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