Throughout recent years, Wizards of the Coast has created countless innovations for Magic: the Gathering. Most recently, Play Boosters have been introduced to save the supposedly struggling sales of Draft Boosters. Changing the Limited landscape dramatically, this change has had a decidedly mixed reaction from MTG fans.
As if Limited hasn’t been shaken up enough recently, some MTG players are looking to mix things up all over again. Harkening back to the good ol’ days, many players are rallying behind calls for blocks to return. Having existed for literal decades prior to their departure in 2018, blocks are certainly a beloved set structure.
Whether or not they should return, however… Well, that’s a separate story entirely.
While recent premier MTG sets haven’t been bad by any means, it’s easy to make the case for blocks. Thanks to this, when calls for their return are posted to social media, they often spread like wildfire. With players pitching in their fond memories and suggestions, blocks can easily seem like the best part of MTG.
To many players, one of the best things about blocks is how they allow for more mechanical cohesion between sets. At the moment, MTG is seemingly jumping from one idea to the next, with sets barely having any connective tissue. This dooms set-focused synergies competitively, promising no further support past its first appearance.
When blocks reigned supreme, a new mechanic would persist, or be iterated upon, for two or three sets. For both Commander and constructed players, this mechanical consistency allowed for more thematic, and arguably interesting, decks. For formats like Standard, this seems to be sorely needed right now.
Adding to the fun, blocks were also a fantastic structure for telling stories and building flavor in MTG. Technically, the current post-block stories are bigger than ever, spanning multiple sets, planes, and years. Despite this, however, MTG feels more forgettable than ever as we never stay anywhere for long enough.
Highlighting this problem, Streets of New Capenna is an incredibly forgettable set despite its unique look. With only five main story chapters, this set struggled to make its death and intrigue-filled story matter. Ultimately, the plane was left feeling criminally unexplored and we haven’t gone back since.
Unsurprisingly since players are there for up to three times as long, blocks didn’t have this problem at all. In fact, blocks could often linger on a location for too long for many players.
While blocks do have a lot of upsides, they’re sadly far from perfect. These problems become startling evident should a bad block come along. Unlike current MTG sets which will jump to something new in three months, players are stuck with a bad block. Unsurprisingly, with planes, characters, and mechanics sticking around for up to nine months, this can turn a lot of players away.
Beyond making each year’s premier sets potentially feel rather stale, blocks had a major gameplay problem. Playing into their interconnectedness, Limited used Boosters from multiple different sets within each block. In theory, this should have created an interesting and ever-evolving environment.
In reality, a lot of the Limited environments during the block structure were kind of bad, or at least flawed. As several players pointed out, building three interconnected, interesting, and balanced sets was not an easy feat. Due to this, often one set was left feeling much weaker and less interesting than the rest.
“The fact that this happened is basically why getting rid of blocks was good for limited and indeed a large part of why they got rid of blocks. Having to design multiple sets to be synergistic with each other meant that:
- Each individual set was watered down so they could add something “new” in the next one
- If an early set was bad or flawed you were stuck with it as a baseline for a year
- Having cards exist in three different draft formats made it way harder to balance the format because the context could change so much from set to set”
For sets like Dragon’s Maze, this was a death sentence. Disdainfully remembered as one of the worst MTG sets of all time, this small set tried too much and got little right. Boasting all ten guilds in a 156-card set, a completely wonky Draft environment, and only one playable card, this set was just awful.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t uncommon for most blocks to be weighed down somewhat by a lackluster set. Due to this, even the good blocks had a tendency to drag on toward the end of their run. Thanks to this continued disappointment steadily driving away players, it’s no wonder Wizards switched tactics…
The Sad Reality
Unfortunately for MTG players who are longing for the return of blocks, it seems they’re not coming back anytime soon. This was confirmed back in March of 2023 by MTG’s Lead Designer, Mark Rosewater. Speaking on Blogatog, Rosewater revealed that despite its flaws the current four-set model is working. As a result, Rosewater stated, “I don’t see us reverting.”
At the end of the day, Magic: The Gathering is a business that needs to keep up its record profits. Due to this, Wizards is almost always going to go with what works and what sells. For better or worse, the four-set model reportedly has an improved sales record so Wizards should stick with it.
Ultimately, while we can predict what seems likely, and what we’d like to happen, the future is uncertain. Since we don’t have a crystal ball, we’re just going to have to wait and see what happens. Hopefully, Wizards will be able to figure out a system that makes everyone happy. Given how much MTG players love a good complain, however, I wouldn’t count on that.