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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.

Fate Reforged

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

products side 1Keeping 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.

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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.

A good set with a high power-level and an imme­di­ate impact on Standard. We’ll be see­ing Deathmist Raptor, Den Protector, the Commands and the Dragonlords until rota­tion.

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.

Magic Origins

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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

Commander 2015

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:


Sounding Off

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.

John SweeneyTrading Card GamesTraditional GamesMagic The GatheringAnother 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…
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John Sweeney
John Sweeney is a ter­ri­bly British man with a back­ground in engi­neer­ing. He writes long-form edi­to­ri­al con­tent with analy­sis of gam­ing, games media and inter­net cul­ture. He also does the occa­sion­al video game ret­ro­spec­tive with a week­ly column about Magic the Gathering thrown in for good mea­sure. He also does most of our inter­views for some rea­son, we have no idea why. A staunch sup­port­er of free speech and con­sumer rights; skep­ti­cal of agen­da dri­ven media and sus­pi­cious of unac­cou­table author­i­ty but always hope­ful for change.