I think it goes without saying that Magic: the Gathering is one of my favorite games of all time, or else why would I be writing about it? It’s a game that is very easy to learn and has a lot of neat card designs that are unique to each and every set.
But of course, specific sets stick out to me more than others. Those sets have some of my favorite cards in them. So that’s what I am going to be talking about today: my five favorite Magic: the Gathering set blocks.
- Before I start this, I just want to preface this by saying that these are only MY opinions and I am not stating that these are the best blocks period. If you have a different list in your head, that is entirely okay. In fact, I encourage you to leave me a comment on which blocks are your favorites. Now, onto the list!
5. Amonkhet/Hour of Devastation
Say what you will about this set, but it had a really dark premise to it that made the story really good. Nicol Bolas is the big baddy of Magic: the Gathering. If anything wrong happened in the Multiverse of MTG, Nicol Bolas more than likely had something to do with it. He’s the equivalent to Darkseid in the DC Comics.
The plane of Amonkhet is an Ancient Egyptian style world that is ravaged by horrors and zombies. The only livable city in Amonkhet is protected by a magical shield called the “Hekma.” Nicol Bolas came to this plane and murdered all the adults on Amonkhet and only let the children live so that he could reshape the world in his image. He also corrupted the gods of the plane to worship him and hid away three of them.
Throughout Amonkhet’s history, the five remaining gods (Oketra, Kefnet, Bontu, Hazoret, Rhonas) held 5 trials that each represented one of each of them. If someone completed all 5 tests, they were deemed worthy to serve the God-Pharoah (Nicol Bolas) in the afterlife. This meant a lot of death and betrayal that became common in this society that was turned into a factory that produced what Nicol Bolas would call “the Worthy.”
Regardless of how many friends and family were dying, at least they could look forward to the return of their God-Pharaoh because that was going to be a beautiful, joyful day, right? RIGHT?
Yeeeaaah, not quite. Turns out Nicol Bolas’s return meant the mass destruction of Amonkhet, basically the Apocalypse.
Nicol Bolas sicked the three gods that he hid away from the world back onto it. They were awakened from a slumber that took so long that the natives of Amonkhet completely forgot the names of these gods (Scorpion God, Scarab God, Locust God). The Scorpion God killed all the current gods except Hazoret. The Locust God destroyed the “Hekma” and unleashed a swarm of locus onto the only habitable place in the world. Finally, the Scarab God resurrected the champions that were deemed “Worthy” turning them into what is known as “Eternals” (which are basically super zombie soldiers). As of now, Amonkhet is left in ruin and the survivors are led by Hazoret, the only surviving god that survived the destruction of their world.
The main reason that this block is on this list is that of the story behind. The cards themselves are pretty good too. It has one of the best removal spells printed in a Standard environment, it brought back the cycling mechanic, and it had the best version of Nicol Bolas printed so far. It’s drafting experience was also very fun, as the Exert mechanic proved to be extremely powerful in that setting.
However, it had the dumbest and most frustrating card frame that’s ever been printed.
On paper, the art is in a much smaller frame than standard Magic cards. The title of the card is also in this unusual format that made it really hard to read. These cards were also all in foil because they were part of a “Masterpiece” line, which made the cards look really weird and made it harder to read them.
That being said, Amonkhet and Hour of Devastation are still outstanding sets, and I do recommend playing with the cards if the chance arises, especially if you’re going to draft it.
4. Shards of Alara/Conflux/Alara Reborn
Speaking of Nicol Bolas, this is the block where he got his Planeswalker powers (or instead how he got them back).
Alara was a plane that was broken into five Shards: Bant (white/blue/green), Esper (blue/white/black), Grixis (black/blue/red), Jund (red/black/green), and Naya (green/red/white).
In between all five lied the Maelstrom that was about to rejoin these five shards in an event called “The Conflux.” Nicol Bolas wanted to take advantage of this by hiding on the Grixis Shard and start spreading slander across all five sections of Alara, lying to groups and people on each to cause tension that would ignite a war once the Shards grew closer to each other. This conflict would result in obelisks that were full of mana reactivate across the Shards.
Once the Conflux happened, and the Shards came close enough to each other, he would drain all the mana that would spew out of this event and destroy Alara while doing so. Thankfully, the Planeswalker Ajani managed to stop Bolas’s plan and drove him off the plane before it was annihilated, but not without taking three Planeswalkers as his slaves before his departure (Sarkhan Vol, Tezzeret, and later on Jace). As of now, Alara has been reunited because of the Conflux but is in global conflict thanks to Nicol Bolas.
If you’re a big fan of EDH such as myself, then you are going to love this block as it has many staples and generals that see play, such as Sen Triplets and Rafiq of the Many. This set is also home to “Cascade,” one of my favorite mechanics (see Bloodbraid Elf above).
I also love the theme of each of these Shards. Bant is a medieval fantasy knight land that is home to many angels. Esper is a bunch of cyborgs and robots that is ruled by sphinxes. Grixis is home to necromancers and zombies that have demons among them. Jund is an area filled with violent clans and fearsome dragons. Naya is a humongous jungle that is home to gigantic beasts that tower over the forests of the land. Did I also mention that this block also has the cycling mechanic for some reason? Not that I’m complaining.
If you’re looking to build a three-color EDH deck but not sure who to run, take a look at this block because I all the legendaries from this block are 100% playable and do see play in the format.
3. Ixalan/Rivals of Ixalan
If you’ve been following me, I already made an article about THIS specific block, which you can find here so I won’t talk too much about it. However, I’ll focus on the Rivals of Ixalan set since it released this past weekend.
Rivals of Ixalan takes everything from the original Ixalan set and improves upon it. Rivals have everything from new tribal lords including yet another merfolk lord, to new tribal creature tutors, and, of course, MORE DINOSAAAAUUUURRRSS!!!
Yes, I think there is some certain, ahem, design fails in this set. However, I think the pros of Rivals of Ixalan surpass the cons that linger here (even the fact that a tiny monster dog somehow kills a giant three-headed dinosaur god that’s able to tower over the massive cities of Ixalan….).
If you want to see me talk more about this set, just click the link about this segment and it will take you there.
2. Khans of Tarkir/Fate Reforged/Dragons of Tarkir
I am a HUGE history nerd and the fact that this block featured not one, but FIVE Asian inspired clans in its world got me hyped. The world of Tarkir is fascinating also because it’s geology isn’t the same everywhere you go, kind of like how the Shards were in Alara except everything here is connected, and there isn’t a giant pool of destructive mana in the middle of its space. Each section of Tarkir that houses a clan reflects on the societies these nations were inspired by reflecting the geology of said nation.
The Abzan Houses (white/black/green) are based on the Ottoman Turks that resided in the Middle Eastern desert in the medieval ages, so of course, their society is surrounded by deserts. The Jeskai Way (blue/red/white) are based on Shaolin Monks in Ancient China, where both resided up in the mountains. The Sultai Brood (black/green/blue) is based on the Khmer Empire, which resided in the tropical lands of modern-day Cambodia so it would be fitting if the Sultai were in that kind of terrain as well. The Mardu Horde (red/white/black) are a Mongol inspired clan of orcs that reside in an area of plains similar to Mongolia. Finally, the Temur Frontier (green/blue/red) are based on ancient Siberian shamans, which both reside in the cold as hell territories in each of their respected worlds.
The Planeswalker Sarkhan Vol, who used to be a slave to Nicol Bolas, returns to his homeworld of Tarkir because a voice in his head told him he needed to do so… no, I’m not making that up. That is really why he goes to Tarkir. Sarkhan Vol isn’t necessarily the sanest individual in the Multiverse of Magic.
The voice in his head is actually the ghost of Ugin, an Elder Dragon (much like Nicol Bolas) who tells him to go to his grave which resides in the previously-mentioned-cold-as-hell-land of the Temur. He’s aided by the Jeskai clan’s Khan Narset to this area. Unfortunately, Sarkhan is from the Mardu clan and didn’t exactly leave on good terms with it’s Khan Zurgo. Zurgo ambushed the two of them in the arctic wastelands and kills Narset while Sarkhan managed to escape.
Sarkhan manages to reach Ugin’s grave and travel back 1200 years back to the past to the time point where he died.
See, one of the things about Tarkir is that it was known for the number of dragons that ruled over the world and terrorized the local populace. However, in Sarkhan’s timeline, the dragons were killed off by the Khans and their clans because Ugin was not there to maintain the dragon populace. Sarkhan’s job was to travel back in time at the point where, surprise surprise, NICOL BOLAS kills Ugin and resurrect the dead Elder Dragon with a magical Hedron.
Sarkhan Vol returned to the present time, but things were WAY different. Tarkir wasn’t a wasteland anymore, and dragons now RULE the five clans. Sarkhan being the biggest fan of dragons ever decides to stay put in Tarkir and relish the glory of being a dragon (since apparently, he can transform into one).
Dragons are the ultimate fantasy creatures and are also a favorite tribe in EDH. This set also birthed what is considered to be one of the best standard decks to ever: Atarka Red, which was a burn deck that used a combination of tokens and damage dealing spells to kill the opponent as quickly as possible.
With a combination of Asian inspired warring clans and fearsome dragons, what is not to love about this set.
1. Kaladesh/Aether Revolt
I love, love, LOVE Steampunk, which is a subculture that is based on the idea of futurism occurring during the Victorian era (1810s-1850s). This includes a lot of steam-powered machinery as the name implies. What Wizards of the Coast did was take this theme that is usually based on British culture and replaced it with Indian culture. Thus, we get the plane of Kaladesh.
Kaladesh is a plane where most of its populace are inventors of machines and contraptions that are all powered by something called Aether (so you could technically call WotC’s take on Steampunk “Aetherpunk”). The Inventor’s Fair is where everyone shows off their most considerable work to be judged as the best.
However… there’s a problem. Remember back in Alara where Nicol Bolas made one of the Planeswalkers his slave? Yeah… Tezzeret is here, and he’s the chief judge. Of COURSE, Nicol Bolas has interests on this plane, why wouldn’t he? It’s a place where new technology is being made almost daily.
Turns out that Tezzeret managed to get his hands on the strings of the ruling organization known as the Consulate, meaning he’s running a dictatorship on this plane now by confiscating everything that was invented in the Fair so it can be put into use in the name of Nicol Bolas. He’s also managed to get a hold of an inventor whose known as Rashmi (rush-me) whose is working on a PORTAL that can connect one plane with another, which is the last thing any sane person would want Nicol Bolas to get his hands on.
This triggers a full-fledged rebellion against Tezzeret’s Consulate known as the Renegades. While the civil war on Kaladesh happens, the main characters of the story (Oath of the Gatewatch, mainly Liliana Vess) track down Tezzeret who is opening up the portal for Nicol Bolas. They managed to destroy the portal before anything dangerous could come through it.
Kaladesh is one of those sets where it actually tried to do things completely different and succeeded. Each ability that isn’t Evergreen (common abilities you’ll see in every set) was completely brand new, from Vehicles to the Energy mechanic that acted as a new resource in the game. Out of all the planes on the list, this block had my hands down favorite. I hope one day we get to come back to it.
In the next article, we will be returning to Modern and tackle another deck tech. It is a deck that has been seeing good results on MTGO, but I put my own little twist to it. I’ll give you a hint of whom it includes.
As always, I’ll catch you guys next time!