I’ve been involved with Magic: The Gathering for a long time. When I started playing back in ‘95, the cards came in plastic packaging (no fancy foil cellophane), the card back in various colors appeared on the packs instead of artwork, and they retailed for $1.99. With that being said, in all those years I can’t recall ever being so excited for a new set as I am for Kaladesh.
Quick disclaimer: Alpha is the best ever. The leap from “no MTG” to “more than no MTG” is a leap that can’t be matched even by the best expansion ever. The art, flavor, and design are near perfect, which is an incredible feat considering the conceptually new and unproven nature of the game at the time.
The 3 Greatest “Hype” Sets of All Time
There have been other sets in seasons past that I’ve been really excited about.
Here are the qualifications I look for in Magic that really start to get me excited about a new release.
If you add “has a good beat you can dance to” to the list, you’ve found my qualifications for being excited about new music too! Whether it be music, film, literature, or even new Magic cards, these are the kinds of qualities I find most engaging in new art. Don’t be mistaken—card and set design is an art form that takes a ton of planning, conceptualization, and creativity to pull off.
I want to see cards that will impact multiple formats and are different from other cards I’ve played with in the cast. I also want cards with flavor and artwork that make me care about the storyline. I’m not picky—I just want it all!
We all have different experiences with Magic and that impacts how we feel about new and past sets. In a lot of ways, describing what kind of Magic sets we like is a lot like talking about what kind of music we prefer. An individual who met the love of their life to “Night Fever” at Studio 54 isn’t going to be receptive to any “disco sucks” criticism from an individual who had a similar experience listening to the Ramones at CBGB’s.
With all of that being said, I’d like to take a a few paragraphs to note the past sets that I was most excited for and that I think held up over time as being great. I’m sure many of you will disagree with my picks and/or have other sets that resonated with you and so be sure to let me know and drop those ideas into the comments because I’d love to hear which sets you all enjoyed the most.
3. Time Spiral
Time Spiral was the ultimate payoff for a decade of brand loyalty. Every card was a callback to some fond memory from the past.
This conversation with Alex John about the tremendous flavor of TS just happened in the car en route to Louisville:
ALEX: “The flavor is great. Imagine you’re in a wizard duel and you reach back through time and summon some incredible monster from a thousand years ago!”
ME: “Yeah, or a Squire. Can you imagine? Summon a Squire from the days of yore through the time rift and he’s like: ‘Hello, Sir! Thanks for summoning me! Perchance, is your opponent at exactly 1 life with no blockers? No!? Too bad then and better luck next time!’”
The inclusion of Squire in the set is the ultimate in-joke. Flavor win.
I remember being legitimately excited for the first Ravnica set. The set was the first appearance of the shock dual lands, which were a legitimate game-changer.
Ravnica also came on the heels of Saviors of Kamigawa, which was one of the most disappointing sets of all time.
Another big flavor win from Ravnica was naming the color pairs and creating Guilds. How did we ever get along without Dimir, Selesnya, Boros, and Golgari?
How does one pronounce “G/W?” Well, from here on out, it is Selesnya (the G and W are silent). Ravnica was great, even if it did have that one unfortunate Golgari mechanic…
Maybe it’s the nostalgia talking, but Mirrodin is the set that I most anticipated. The cards were so obviously pushed and the flavor of the block was so completely different than anything else we’d ever seen in the multiverse to that point.
Magic was undergoing some pretty huge changes at the time as well. Mirrodin was the first expansion with the new card frame and it was the first time we left Dominaria (not including Arabian Nights, of course!). We may take for granted now that “equipment” is just part of the game, but it got its start in Mirrodin.
Remind me again why this was an uncommon?
Why Kaladesh Will End Up On My List
All sets generate hype during spoiler season because new cards are by their nature exciting. Still, there is a difference between the whimsy of looking at new cards and knowing you are in the presence of a game-changing moment. I believe Kaladesh is going to be one of the greatest sets of all time for a few reasons:
4. Kaladesh is a Rotation Set
Goodbye Dragons of Tarkir and Magic Origins, and welcome to the brave new world of Kaladesh Standard!
Technically, most first sets of a block have been rotation sets and not every first set has been a game-changer. Yet, first impressions do matter because they leave an impact. The first glimpse into a new world has a stronger impact than the second set from a block where we’ve already seen a lot of the new flavor and mechanics.
Kaladesh will be a particularly exciting set because it is going to deeply impact new Standard by virtue of being a big chunk of the card pool. I think it is significant that Collected Company has been so oppressive over the past 6 months and its rotation will open up a lot of space for new cards to shine. I think we are about to embark upon a Standard format that is going to be a lot of fun and wildly popular with fans.
3. Intriguing New Mechanics
Having the opportunity to explore new and exciting cards is always an amazing part of Magic. It creates the experience of learning a new card or board game within the shell of Magic.
It’s possible that energy is just a Limited mechanic, but it feels like it could be Constructed worthy. Either way, I’m excited to see how it works in actual game play at the prerelease:
I have very little context to know how good the energy mechanic will be—it is so novel and unique. How good is Aetherworks Marvel? I have no idea but I assume the range is somewhere between format defining and unplayable. Narrows it down, right? I want to assume that the card will be great because why would you make a mechanic and then make the flagship card unplayable?
Speaking of flagships…
Vehicles feels like a piece of game design that could become a staple of the Magic universe for years to come. I’ve always wanted to put my creatures into giant ships and have them go into battle and now I finally can. Kaladesh is a steampunk set but it would be cool to see Vehicles on other planes: pirate ships? Chariots? Ninja Turtle blimps? The sky is literally the limit.
I respect that Kaladesh has new mechanics that are so unique that it is difficult to assess how good they will be in Constructed.
2. The Cards Look to be Objectively Powerful
Chandra, the Mind Sculptor?
I’m not going to get into why this card is busted in half—it just is. And, Chandra is just the tip of the iceberg…
There is a whole cycle of Gearhulks each more busted and exciting than the last! Absolute HULKAMANIA!
It doesn’t end with the top end mythic rares either. It feels like three out of every four spoilers are a hit with me in the sense that I actively want to play with the card in one place or another. I may actually have to add extra slots to my Battle Box / Danger Room to accommodate how many sweet new cards I want to try out!
Kaladesh is easily the most pushed set I’ve seen in a long, long time. The card quality feels extremely high and I believe it will be an absolute treasure trove of playables across a wide array of formats.
1. Not a “Return to X” Set
I’m all for a good nostalgia romp. Time Spiral was pure nostalgia and it was one of my highest anticipated and biggest payoff sets of all time. The key to nostalgia is that it has to be something that everybody remembers fondly and really wants to revisit. It hasn’t been that long since we were on Innistrad and Zendikar the first time around and to run back-to-back “Return to” sets felt really played out.
It isn’t that Battle for Zendikar and Shadows over Innistrad weren’t fine sets, but the 2 years of Superfriends vs. Eldrazi flavor and storyline has overstayed its welcome. I’ve been yearning for something new, exciting, fun, and fresh and it looks like Kaladesh has everything!
One of the first things that got me deeply engaged with MTG was the flavor of exploring a brand new universe full of strange and wonderful things. The plane of Kaladesh looks to be exciting and full of awesome new stuff that I can’t wait to take in.
Will Kaladesh end up being on the list of all time best expansion sets? Only time will tell, but in the meantime I’m very excited to see the rest of the spoilers and start brewing decks!