Unsurprisingly, since launching all the way back in 1993, Magic: the Gathering has come a long way. This should come as no surprise, considering the number of cards produced across over 150 premier, core, and supplemental sets. Alongside designing over 25,000 new cards, Wizards has created new formats and products to appease MTG’s growing audience. Furthermore, Wizards of the Coast have even implemented new design philosophies and structural changes to ensure the success of MTG. One such structural change is the comparatively fairly recent abandonment of the once-popular blocks that structured premier MTG sets. However, thanks to the ongoing Phyrexian Arc‘s success, some MTG players are vying for this feature’s return.
A Hallowed History
First introduced for the Mirage block all the way back in 1996, it’s safe to say blocks have a long history within MTG. Providing a consistent setting for two or three sets, the block structure allowed Wizards incredible design opportunities. Mechanics and themes, for instance, could be innovated upon while a more in-depth story is told to players. Remaining practically unchanged for almost 20 years, the three-set block model was a staple within MTG.
In 2015, however, Wizards experimented with a new structure; the Two-Block Paradigm. Unfortunately for players and Wizards alike, however, this two-set block model quickly proved to be problematic. Subsequently, in 2018, everything changed once again, as Wizards created the Three-and-One Model. Under this model, Wizards leaned into Core sets once again as they allowed for more cards to be reprinted. For better or worse, however, this structure also only lasted three years before being replaced by the current Four-Set model.
Since its introduction, the Four-Set model hasn’t always been viewed favorably by the MTG community. That being said, however, since being implemented, the Four-Set model has apparently proved to be incredibly successful. Despite this financial success, many MTG players long for the enriched story content that two and three-set blocks provided. Thanks to the ongoing Phyrexian Arc, this storytelling prowess has mercifully returned. However, many players are still wanting more. After all, following the end of the Phyrexian Arc, there’s no telling when the next major story arc will take place.
Due to this uncertainty, some curious MTG players have questioned MTG’s lead designer, hoping for a glimpse into the future. Unfortunately for excited players, however, according to Mark Rosewater, it appears that blocks have well and indeed been retired. There is, thankfully, still some hope for the future.
Posting to Blogatog recently, Tumblr user Godkingjinping recently asked Mark Rosewater and Wizards to “reconsider the set release model.” Highlighting how the “current design crams it all into one set and everything (lore, design, play, etc.) all feel worse for it,” the old block model obviously appears to be better. Unfortunately for Godkingjinping and similarly-minded players, however, it appears the current Four-Set model won’t be going anywhere. Rebutting the request for change, Rosewater emphasized just how good the new system is for Wizards.
“The problem is the majority don’t agree, well, not on your premise. The new model is succeeding by every metric we monitor. More people are playing it, both in tabletop and on digital. More people are buying it. More people are ranking it higher in market research. More people are hitting our social media metrics. More people are demonstrating through measurable means that they’re enjoying the content.
That’s not to say we’re doing it perfect, or that there isn’t room for improvement, but the new model is performing significantly better than the old model, so I don’t see us reverting.”Mark Rosewater | MTG Lead Designer
Given the 22-year history of blocks within MTG, unsurprisingly, several MTG players have been sad to see them go. Subsequently, upon hearing Rosewater’s dismissal, some players pushed back in the notes to make their voices heard. Tumblr user Redbishopp, for instance, reiterated how the current Four-Set model diminishes each set’s story. “I’d like to see the stories be allowed to breathe more. Only two weeks for story? Why?” Following on from this, user Rosencrypt highlighted how multiple set blocks mitigated this not-uncommon storytelling issue.
“I like 2-set blocks as an opportunity to establish the world and characters in the first set, then show a development in the second. Having played since 2007, my favorite era of Magic (full stop, but also specifically from a story perspective) was Kaladesh through Rivals.”Rosencrypt
Unfortunately for Godkingjinping, while some players wished for blocks to return, the majority were glad they are gone. As, while blocks did allow for better storytelling, they had a tendency to overstay their welcome, as Dimitris670 points out. “Ah yes. Blocks. Where people who didn’t like a setting had to endure three sets of it and even people who liked it were kinda tired by the 3rd set.” Alongside this valid complaint, other Tumblr users like Theothin highlighted how the Four-Set structure has given us several fan-favorite planes. “under this model, Ikoria, Kaldheim, Strixhaven, [Kamigawa] Neon Dynasty, New Capenna, The Brothers’ War, and Phyrexia [All Will Be One] all wouldn’t have even been announced yet.”
Throughout the complaints from players, the main source of frustration is clear to see. While some do wish for the mechanical overlap and synergy from blocks, the story has been the greatest loss. Thankfully, while the somewhat mismanaged story of MTG has been a frequent frustration for fans, improvements are being made. For March of the Machine, at least, Wizards is greatly expanding their storytelling repertoire with additional story chapters and audio offerings. While these additions should help the set to be a success, unfortunately, there’s no telling if they’ll stick around.
Mercifully, the future of MTG’s storytelling isn’t entirely pinned on the successes of March of the Machine. During their response to Godkingjinping, Mark Rosewater highlighted how Wizards still has work to do. To figure out precisely what that work is, Rosewater opened up the floor to players, letting them guide the future.
“It is our intent though to keep iterating and continue improving, so I like hearing specifics in what you’d like to see change. Would you like stories that run closer to a year to capture how stories worked during the block model? Would you like more overlap of mechanics between sets? What are the components you enjoyed from the block model that you’d like to see us try to recapture under the new model?”Mark Rosewater | MTG Lead Designer
Given that everyone has their own opinions, unsurprisingly, a lot of different solutions were suggested for Wizards to consider. One of the most popular suggestions, however, was that balance could give players the best of both worlds. Similarly to the Phyrexian Arc that players are currently experiencing, a mix of new planes and major story arcs should please everyone. Hitting the right balance with these would stop new planes from overstaying their welcome while equally letting a good thing last. Whether or not the right balance can easily be achieved, however, remains to be seen.