Top 5 best worst sets

I’m going to be a bit apologetic in today’s post. Magic, as a game, has a long-standing history with plenty of great sets under its belt. However, it also has a dark underbelly of a history, with sets that one way or another failed to live up to the expectations. Sets that broke Standard to the point of players leaving in droves, sets that were extremely popular and hailed as one of the best sets ever by experienced players, while simultaneously being so complicated and convoluted, new players found the experience extremely lacking. Though some might consider me a cynic, I also like to see the good in the bad occasionally, and that’s what this list is for.

autumnwillow.hq

5. Homelands. Homelands, Magic’s seventh expansion, is a very early set, designed within the first couple of years of the game. It was designed by Kyle Namvar and Scott Hungerford, both working within the Wizards of the Coast customer service. This, obviously, would never happen today. The set is tiny, only containing 115 cards (140 if you count cards with different art), and it was designed to be the very first top-down expansion of the game. While Richard Garfield had previously designed Arabian Nights with characters and stories inspired by One Thousand and One Nights, the main focus of those previous expansions was to design cool cards on a card-by-card level. This time, Hungerford and Navmar set out to create a world and tell a story about that world through the cards. Even though some might argue that they were less-than successful, I’d argue that a lot of the cards have a compelling, fuzzy feeling – to me, a lot of the card art actually reflect a proper world. In some ways, Homelands is the first gothic horror-inspired set, beating Innistrad to the punch by an odd sixteen years. The set failed to introduce any new proper mechanics, although the ability which would later be dubbed Shroud, and even later be replaced by Hexproof, was first introduced in Homelands on the card Autumn Willow. Players also called out Wizards when they introduced the following Pro Tour format: players were forced to include five cards from each legal expansion in their decks, effectively forcing players to play with the Homelands expansion. The format was quickly dubbed “Homedicapped”.

 

avatarofwoe.hq4. Prophecy. No matter how you look at it, Mercandian Mascques block is very underpowered. After the development disaster that was the Urza-block, the entire R&D team was called into the boss’ office to get told off and promised that if a similar disaster ever re-occured, they’d find themselves without a job. The limited format is extremely slow and under-powered, to the point where Stinging Barrier, an 0/4 wall for 2UU with a ping ability, is one of the best – if not the best – common in the entire block, looking from a limited perspective. It had a few notable powerful strategies, however, most notably Rebels, which also made a splash in Standard at the time. Prophecy, the last set of the block, contained Mercenaries, black’s answer to Rebels, which were designed to serve as a counter-measure. Most notable of these are Rebel Informer, who would hilariously put Rebels back where they came from (i.e. the library). The set was extremely “Spikey” (as in, well-suited for players of the “Spike” player profile, the hardcore tournament players) according to Mark Rosewater, and I have to agree. Rhystic was the only new keyword and basically made your spells worse or completely ineffective if an opponent paid some amounts of mana when you cast them. This was paired with a whole bunch of cards that would interact with your own lands, some cards sacrificed your own lands for effects, others tapped them. It created some interesting game-play in the mix. Most importantly for me – and this is my list – were the awesome splashy spells later added by the development team. I was very new to the game at the time, I bought my first cards back when Urza’s Saga could still be found in some shops, and when I opened the “Distress” preconstructed deck to find Avatar of Woe looking back at me, I was hooked. The Winds, most notably Plague Wind, are still played to this day in EDH, meaning not all in Prophecy was bad. This, coupled with my fond memories of tapping Avatar of Woe at my secondary school’s cafeteria tables, puts Prophecy on number four.

 

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3. Coldsnap. I have a friend, who no longer plays Magic, who once set out to play a nice Standard FNM. He was brand new to the game, had only played a few months, but was there mainly to have fun. In the second round of the tournament, as he casts one of his cards, the opponent responds by raising his hand as high as he could and shout “judge!”. The judge walked over and asked what the problem was, and later had to inform my friend that he was playing with cards not legal in the format. He had some cards in his deck that he had gotten in his Coldsnap Theme deck, which contained reprints from both Ice Age and Alliances, neither legal in Standard at the time, of course. My friend had to replace these cards with basic lands, but elected to drop from the event in shame and go home instead, and some time later, he quit the game permanently. Coldsnap was designed as a follow-up to the Ice Age-Alliances “block” – back at the time of these sets, sets weren’t really designed into blocks, since that wasn’t a thing at the time, sets were designed independently. Looking chronologically, Homelands belongs in the “block” as the middle set, since it was released inbetween Ice Age and Alliances. In 2006, fifteen years after the release of the previous sets, Wizards set out to finish the Ice Age block once and for all, with Coldsnap, a set that would be released and regarded as part of the Ice Age block, but would be legal in Standard as well. It has a lot of the same feeling as the Ice Age expansion in particular, It has Cumulative Upkeep, Snow lands, and a large number of cards and effects that would strike the heart strings of old players. It also reminded the rest of the player community that Cumulative Upkeep sucks, and was generally considered an under-powered set and a failure. I really like most of the art in the set, I like how it thematically tie in to the previous sets, and even if I wasn’t around for opening these sets myself, I’ve cast a Force of Will or two in my days. Coldsnap takes the number three spot because of its thematical execution, not its mechanical revolutions.

 

tarmogoyf.hq2. Future Sight. Most Magic sets as they are released contain around two new mechanics, never before seen in the game. There are exceptions to this rule, of course, most small sets of old only expand on previous large sets’ mechanics, some sets contain a lot more new mechanics – most notably the Ravnica blocks, containing one small new mechanic for each guild. I say “small” mechanic because these are generally smaller in terms of design space, and a lot narrower than other mechanics. For an explanation of this, I recommend Mark Rosewater’s podcast, episode #161, “Design Space”. Future Sight did what Ravnica did and went completely overboard with it. Future Sight has a number of mechanics from the future, only represented on a couple of cards in the set. The total head count for new mechanics in the set is sixteen (!). In addition to that crazy number, Future Sight also included a number of smaller mechanics used in previous sets, such as Bloodthirst, Dredge or Hellbent, and in addition to that also keyworded previous mechanics that had yet to get their own keywords, like Lifelink, Reach and Deathtouch. Time Spiral block, with Time Spiral, Planar Chaos and Future Sight representing the past, the present and the future respectively, was lauded as one of the best block of all times by experienced players, but completely failed to capture new players, because the sets were too convoluted and too complicated, and the nostalgia is obviously not there for the new ‘uns. Future Sight was supposed to feature Planeswalkers for the first time, but they were pushed to the follow-up block Lorwyn instead, because getting the rules ironed out proved too difficult on the time constraint. However, the card Tarmogoyf features the first ever mention of the word “planeswalker” on a Magic card, in its reminder text, meaning the card was a cool glimpse into the future. The card was famously cut from the file and then re-introduced to the file from memory by Mike Turian, lead developer of Future Sight, and he changed the cost from 2G to 1G and the power/toughness from */* to */*+1, since he didn’t remember the exact specs from the deleted card. Turian’s bad memory created one of the most powerful creatures in Magic history, and it €100 on magiccardmarket.eu, despite being reprinted in Modern Masters. These famous mistakes makes me very fond of Future Sight, and as long as Tarmogoyf keeps winning me games in Legacy, Future Sight will forever be remembered by me as a good bad set.

 

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1. Lorwyn. This is really all about the Lorwyn-Shadowmoor block, and I must begin by applauding Wizards for a few bold steps they took during the design, development and release of Lorwyn. The structure of the block itself, with two “mini-blocks”, each with a small set and a large set, is in itself an interesting feature of Lorwyn-Shadowmoor. The “third-set issues” had been known for years, and many different approaches have been taken to solve these, and as we recently learned, Wizards has decided to remove the problems with the third sets altogether by removing the third sets altogether. Perhaps they tested this idea in Lorwyn-Shadowmoor. The block is centered around the idea of a world that would change over the course of the block, nothing that special by Magic’s standards, but it’s interesting to see how different the different races are in Shadowmoor compared to Lorwyn. Lorwyn is centered around tribal mechanics, exploring tribes inspired by celtic folklore and fairytales. This leaves the set itself, though not the block, with a very warp, happy demenour, contrary to the usual grimdark stuff that can befoul Magic. This is another exciting difference between Lorwyn-Shadowmoor and other blocks, even if the block itself takes a grimdark turn around Shadowmoor. What really made the set (and the block) bad was the limited play, however. Making tribal the main focus of the block means plenty of creatures in the sets. This, in turn, means that the creatures themselves needs to be interesting, so that the gameplay is interesting. What failed during design and development, however, was that nobody realized how complicated the boardstates would become for especially newer players. With each creature entering the battlefield almost always contributing some effect to the board, it gets messier and messier the longer the games go. Mechanically, the flavour of tribal was surely well-reflected through the different tribes (giants, merfolk, faeries, goblins, elves, treefolk, elemental, kithkin), but the essence of celtic folklore isn’t really there. Still, Lorwyn constitues a much brighter and happier world than we’re used to, and above all, it has the best giant in Magic history, who also happens to be my favourite general in EDH: Brion Stoutarm. Any set with Brion clearly deserves the top spot on this list, as the best bad set in Magic history. If only they had conveyed the fairytale feeling in the mechanics more, it would’ve been a classic.

What did you think of the list? What’s your favourite bad set? Leave a comment below!

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3 Comments

  1. Grim Lavamancer

     /  October 1, 2014

    Nice article, again, but don’t be hating too much on poor Lorwyn, at least the set has a very nice feel to it and introduced some exciting new cards (i.e. planeswalkers). Here’s my own list, though I’ve chosen sets based more on personal dislike rather than lack of power amongst the cards:

    5. Rise of the Eldrazi – Now, don’t get me wrong, I liked the Zendikar-block just fine, it contained lots of nice things and had a clear and good theme. The third set however? Well, not only am I the opposite of a fan to creatures which the set is named after, it also introduced the “level up” ability which I feel doesn’t suit magic at all.

    4. Kamigawa (the entire block) – It may have something to do with the fact that I was taking a break from the game at the time and didn’t really get into the set that much, but to me this is some of the most bland cards that’s been released since the early days of Magic. My main problem with Kamigawa is that it’s supposed to be relying completely on flavor but apart from the names of cards and abilities and the illustrations you don’t really get that much flavor out of the set (compare it to Innistrad where there’s flavor in every aspect of the set). You almost get the sense that they were trying too hard when creating Kamigawa, and as a consequence just managed to create a bloated world with far too many legends that is just difficult to care about.

    3.Theros – Now this one is a bit tricky, Theros was a set that I was really looking forward to, being a huge fan of greek mythology. Theros also was a huge success, saleswise, apparently breaking the record for cards sold ever. But here’s the thing, Theros was supposed to be the enchantment set, basicly doing for enchantments what Mirrodin did for artifacts. But except for the very gimmicky enchantment creatures there isn’t really that many exciting enchantments to be seen. When it comes to flavor the set is extremly nice, but really, would a decent enchantment or two have been too much to ask from the “enchantment set”?

    2. Legions – I started playing around Odyssey so I hadn’t really seen that many releases yet, Torment and Judgement had booth been a blast, and Onslaught was a very fun set. Then this one hit the table. Legions. A set containing nothing but creatures, and here’s the thing, apart from one or two reasonably good creatures (i.e. Akroma, Angle of Wrath) the creatures in this set are really, really bad.

    1. Scourge – Scourge? Surely Legions must have been much worse? Yes, it was. But at least Legions was consistent in it’s badness, Scourge was a mostly bad set which also contained some horribly overpowered cards, I am of course referring to the storm cards, and above all else, Tendrils of Agony. You see, at the time I was exclusivity playing vintage, and Tendrils absolutely brutalized the format. Sure, vintage has never been a balanced format, but at least back in the day you could do reasonably well with a somewhat cheap deck. During this time I was throwing good bolt after bad with my Sligh-deck, and there wasn’t really anything at all I could do against this card. As it turns out, it isn’t really that fun to go first, fetch for a mountain, play a Jackal Pup and pass the turn, only for your opponent to build his stormcount for about 30 minutes and then kill you, and your little dog too.

    In fact, Tendrils of Agony traumatized me so bad that I even nowadays, over ten years later still wakes up screaming at night, having dreamt that a shrouded figure dealt me lethal damage with about 40 copies of the spell, and finding out that I’ve wet the bed…

    Alright, that last part may have been slightly exaggerated, but that’s my list.

    Cheers.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
    • Grim Lavamancer

       /  October 1, 2014

      Right. I’ve seem to have lost the “favorite bad set” theme a little too much and made it more into a genuine hate list. I guess that what happens when you post something before having had your coffee yet…

      Liked by 1 person

      Reply
      • I sympathize completely, and remember that Lorwyn is the best bad set for me personally, i.e. it’s better than Future Sight, better than Coldsnap and so on. Lorwyn was bad for its limited play, yes, but it did a lot of things right, and I love the flavour of it.

        Thanks so much for the feedback!

        Like

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