To be fair, having a lot of options is a major boon for a game franchise, catering to as broad an audience as possible for price, play style, lore, level of competition, and more. Magic: the Gathering has always been good at this, printing cards and products for everything from “kitchen table” casual games and Booster Draft, all the way to Legacy, Commander, and non-players such as dedicated card collectors. Core sets, block expansions, Duel Decks, and as of 2011 onwards, Commander pre-constructed decks, more or less satisfied this broad audience. Starting in 2017, though, Wizards of the Coast pushed this to 11, and it can be overwhelming for the average player and can stretch creative and financial value thin.
2017 and 2018 mark the conclusion of the two-set block model with Ixalan and Amonkhet, switching to a single-block model only, starting with April 2018’s Dominaria large set. In between all these expansion sets are a veritable glut of extra products and material, and it seems to have reached a new height to the point of excess. Here is a recent chronology of Magic: the Gathering releases.
The Commander 2017 pre-con deck cycle released on Aug. 25. One month later, the Ixalan set launched on Sept. 29, 2017, introducing the Dinosaur and Pirate tribe while expanding on the game’s lore with the Ixalan plane, and characters and items such as Jace Beleren, Vraska, Nicol Bolas (behind the scenes), Huatli, and the Immortal Sun. A month and a half later, the newest Masters set, Iconic Masters, launched on Nov. 17, 2017, a draft-only set with reprints across Magic: the Gathering’s history, such as Mana Drain, Horizon Canopy, and the five Praetors from New Phyrexia. About three weeks later, on Dec. 8, the third Un-set, Unstable, released, a parody set designed for draft with limited value, having no reprints of regular Magic cards (only tournament-illegal silver-bordered cards).
2018 starts with Rivals of Ixalan on Jan. 19, and another Masters set, 25 Masters, comes out on March 16. Like Iconic Masters, this set celebrates the 25-year anniversary of Magic: the Gathering, acting as a sequel of sorts for November’s Masters set. About five weeks later, on April 27, the standalone Dominaria set, the first-ever one-set block, is set to release as part of the new release method. The core set series, which had ended with the Magic Origins set, will be revived with Core Set 2019, to be released July 20. Like with earlier core sets, it will contain both reprinted and new cards geared toward beginners.
The end of 2017 was the busiest time for releases. The Ixalan set had the most breathing room for draft, one and a half months, until Iconic Masters released. Being a Masters set, and therefore loaded with value cards and designed for optimal draft, it threatened to edge out Ixalan draft in November, the halfway point until Rivals of Ixalan would change the Ixalan draft environment. But Iconic Masters barely came out when another highly-anticipated set released, and Unstable drew a lot of attention and overlapped heavily with Iconic Masters‘s life span. The novelty of a set like Unstable can taper off quickly, which meant that both Ixalan and Iconic Masters, both proper draft sets with value cards, were edged out for a gimmick. Couldn’t Unstable wait until the following spring or summer to pace things better? So far, 2018 has Rivals of Ixalan, Dominaria, and Core Set 2019 between January and July. That seems like plenty of room for an Un-set during those long spring and summer months to keep things fresh. 2017 was already busy with its other, more serious sets and other releases such as Duel Decks: Merfolk vs. Goblins and the poorly conceived Starter Set.
Also, Iconic Masters seems to fall short on its premise, having odd tribes such as Sphinxes dominate the draft archetypes. The contents of the upcoming Masters 25 set is unknown, but could the two sets have been combined and focus on the actual iconic aspects of this 25-year-old game? By now, it’s clear what tribes, storylines, and characters defined Magic: the Gathering. The Brothers’ War, the Phyrexians, the Weatherlight, Karn, Dominaria, Nicol Bolas, and more recently, Jace Beleren, Ravnica, the Gatewatch, and the Eldrazi are certainly iconic. Even during November 2017, all these aspects of the game were well established and many cards for each existed. Why not wait until this March to release just one set for the anniversary, giving both sets of the Ixalan block time to breathe? The first Ixalan set was overshadowed by Iconic Masters (which in turn was quickly edged out by Unstable), but based on the upcoming release dates, the but same may not happen to Rivals of Ixalan. That set will have two months of exposure before Masters 25 releases, a more generous amount of breathing room. Anything less than two months between two sets feels too tight, with or without other products coming along such as Duel Decks, gift boxes, or Commander pre-con decks.
In short, spacing out Masters sets, expansion sets, core sets, and other products such as Un-sets and Duel Decks can give each product its fair time in the limelight, and allow players to more thoroughly soak up what makes each release special and see how it fits into the game across a variety of formats. There are twelve months in the year; why cram four major sets into a four-and-a-half month time frame (Ixalan to Rivals of Ixalan)? Wizards of the Coast’s staff works hard to create the lore, art, mechanics, draft environment, and powerhouse cards for each set. It’s a shame to see some cards, or entire sets or archetypes, get buried under the next hastily-released product.