Overall, 2023 has been a pretty amazing year for MTG. Between March of the Machine, Tales of Middle-earth, and The Lost Caverns of Ixalan, there has been no end of fantastic sets. Within these, players have been inundated with countless incredible cards and new format staples. As much good as there has been, however, MTG hasn’t escaped controversy this year.
To put it lightly, Wizards of the Coast has created and faced a lot of problems and controversy this year. Thankfully, while this is obviously far from ideal, 2023 hasn’t been all bad news for MTG players and Wizards alike. In fact, throughout the year, some of the most controversial topics have been turned around and fixed outright!
Still, despite this silver lining, there are still plenty of controversies about MTG from 2023 to dissect and discuss. What better way to do this than with an encompassing tier list, pitting the problems against one another? So, without any further ado, let’s do exactly that! Here are all the most controversial MTG cards from 2023!
Honorable Mention | Aragorn and Arwen, Wed
To kick things off, we have something we hesitate to even call a controversy. That being said, however, Wizards of the Coast certainly got people talking with this design decision. In case you didn’t already know, in The Lord of the Rings: Tales of Middle-earth, Aragorn is black. As you can imagine, once this was revealed back in May, many people weren’t happy about this detail at all.
While a number of players were upset with Wizards’ choice here, at the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter. Whether you like it or not, Wizards’ interpretation of Aragorn is exactly that, their own interpretation. This was laid out clearly in their own statement which quashed much of the bigoted backlash.
10 | Lara Croft, Tomb Raider
Outside of MTG, one of the biggest tech innovations of 2023 has been AI. Ever evolving and ever improving, this burgeoning software has been one of the biggest corporate buzzwords of the year. Within the world of MTG and D&D, however, Wizards has been steering clear of the technology.
Despite this stance, throughout the year, we’ve seen a number of AI-based problems occur. Predominantly, these have been on the D&D side of things, with artists being caught using the technology. Following this, Wizards renewed their commitment to human artists, however, this didn’t entirely remedy the situation.
In November, Wizards of the Coast promoted the new Secret Lair x Tomb Raider collaboration with a rather unusual image. Rather than simply showing off the cards like normal or a piece of artwork, Wizards imaged a retro-inspired living room. Adorned with Tomb Raider art, this would have been a nice way to show off the collaboration, provided AI wasn’t used.
Spotted by players almost immediately, the reaction to this discovery was swift and loud. Bashing Wizards and criticizing the technology, it was clear players didn’t want AI art anywhere near MTG. Thankfully, following this controversy, Wizards seemed to listen. In December, somewhat out of the blue, Wizards denounced AI once again following a new job listing appearing.
Thanks to this latest statement from Wizards, hopefully, this situation is entirely resolved. For the time being, AI won’t have anything to do with MTG or D&D.
9 | Phyrexian Harvester
While I’m definitely biased as one of Alchemy’s biggest fans, throughout 2023, the much-maligned MTG format did a lot right. For starters, thanks to Standard’s changed rotation, the format finally feels like its own thing. Alongside this, The Lord of the Rings: Tales of Middle-earth cards gave players a reason to be invested. Couple these details with a few bans and rebalances, and Alchemy is actually pretty enjoyable right now.
Unfortunately, while the format can be a lot of fun, it hasn’t escaped controversy this year. Curiously, however, this stemmed from Alchemy cards being too good for a change. In the case of Phyrexian Harvester, paper players were upset they weren’t getting this card too. Seemingly continuing the super cycle of Phyrexian Obliterator, this card could reasonably work on paper with minimal tweaks. So, what gives?
Explaining the situation, Wizards of the Coast revealed Alchemy’s designers can’t steal anything from the main set. Rather than picking up the dregs off the cutting room floor, the MTG Arena team simply creates their own cards. Sometimes, this allows them to give life to forgotten characters and realize missed opportunities, but that’s their choice.
At the end of the day, the interesting cards that Alchemy gets wouldn’t exist without the format. Once this was established, the controversy, once again, largely faded away, as players understood what was what.
8 | Mirrodin Avenged
Seeing absolutely no play, Mirrodin Avenged is hardly the most interesting card from March of the Machine. That being said, however, it’s also not really offensive, as it’s just a piece of common Draft Chaff. Rather than being controversial itself, Mirrodin Avenged is instead the sacrificial lamb we’ve chosen to represent Magic’s story problems.
In 2023, Wizards of the Coast finally finished off the Phyrexian Arc after literal years in the making. Putting to bed one of the great MTG villains, this story event had many players incredibly excited, to say the least. Unfortunately, however, the actual story of the sets, especially March of the Machine, was somewhat lacking.
With so much going on and only so many words available, March of the Machine’s story felt incredibly rushed. Much to the dismay of players, many major moments happened off-screen, and iconic characters died like pushovers. Considering the Phyrexians were meant to be an actual threat, this didn’t feel right.
Kicking up a fuss, many MTG players lamented Wizards for ruining what should have been an incredible story. While this was justified, thankfully, Wizards has taken the angry feedback to heart. In recent sets, Wizards has been experimenting with story release cadence changes and audio readings to mix things up.
Should everything go to plan, hopefully, we won’t see this story-based controversy return in the future. Whether or not that will happen, however, remains to be seen, as MTG’s next big story arc is already underway. Since it doesn’t finish until 2026, we’re just going to have to wait and see if Wizards can pull it off.
7 | Accorder’s Shield
Thanks to the demands of Limited, Wizards of the Coast prints a lot of naff cards each year. For better or worse, this has come to be expected for every MTG release and is no bad thing. What is a bad thing, however, are completely useless cards finding their way into an Anthology set. In 2023, there’s no question that Accorder’s Shield was the worst example of this.
Appearing in Explorer Anthology 3, players were utterly baffled to see Accorder’s Shield getting reprinted. Seeing practically no play in Pioneer, there was virtually no reason for this card to be added to Explorer. Knowing this, players quickly kicked off, lamenting Wizards for delaying Pioneer’s introduction to Arena.
As MTG players have long known, Pioneer could easily be made playable on Arena. With only a few dozen cards really needing to be added, Wizards could bash out what’s needed and call it a day. Despite this, however, it has been over a year and a half since Explorer was first created. To many players, it seemed Wizards was keen to milk the format to keep welling Anthology sets well into the future.
Thankfully, Wizards of the Coast has, somewhat, responded to this controversy. During their major Gen Con reveal plan, Wizards announced Pioneer Masters for MTG Arena. Once this set launches, Pioneer will supposedly be tournament-ready. While this is obviously good news, Pioneer Masters isn’t expected to release until Q4, 2024, so there’s still a while to wait.
6 | Anikthea, Hand of Erebos
Once again on this list, Anikthea, Hand of Erebos isn’t actually a problematic or controversial card. Instead, they’re just the face Commander connected to the Enduring Enchantments deck. Right now, even this deck isn’t all too bad, as it boasts decent value and interesting new cards. When it was first revealed, however, this deck was absolutely hated by the MTG community.
During the spoiler season for Commander Masters, the set was constantly bashed for its incredibly high prices. This criticism extended to the Commander decks, which were initially priced at $80. Despite this high price tag, however, Wizards insided that the Commander Masters decks weren’t a premium product.
Without the premium moniker attached, the value of many Commander Masters decks left much to be desired. This was especially true for Enduring Enchantments, which featured budget lands and theme support. Due to how bad it was, even The Command Zone shamed the deck during its official reveal video.
Thankfully, following the release of Commander Masters, the preconstructed deck prices have equalized. Now, if you want to pick one up, you’ll have to pay around what the contents are worth. For reference, the Enduring Enchantments deck currently costs $43 on TCGplayer. While this is definitely good news, we can’t really give Wizards any points for this one, as it’s pure supply and demand.
5 | Fury
Much to the dismay of many MTG players, Fury has been an absolute menace of an MTG card throughout 2023. Thankfully this was put to rest recently once the card was finally banned in Modern. Before this happened, however, the card was a constant source of controversy, especially following the October ban announcement.
Prior to October, there was practically no doubt that something was about to be banned in Modern. Due to the dominance of Rakdos Evoke decks, something definitely needed to be done. On the 16th, however, Wizards of the Coast announced no changes to any format. Already this would be bad enough to ignite the MTG community, however, that was just the tip of the iceberg.
In the announcement, or rather the lack thereof, Wizards didn’t explain their reasoning at all. The closest Wizards came to doing that was mentioning they want to keep formats consistent. On its own, many MTG players found this explanation unacceptable, as they didn’t talk about any format’s state at all. Considering the problems in Modern and Pioneer at the time, this felt like an insult.
To make matters worse, at the end of the announcement, Wizards of the Coast pushed players toward Play Boosters. While these couldn’t be purchased yet, directing players toward a product nevertheless felt skeevy. To many players, it looked like Wizards had just used the much-hyped ban announcement as additional marketing for their new packs.
4 | Edgin, Larcenous Lutenist
To put it lightly, mechanically unique Secret Lair cards have already caused a lot of controversy for Wizards. Due to the constant complaints about 2020’s The Walking Dead crossover cards, Wizards even promised to do better. Learning their lesson, Wizards stated Universes Beyond Secret Lair cards will get Universes Within reprints, six months after launch.
Despite this emphatic statement literal years ago, in 2023, Wizards broke this promise. For some baffling reason, Wizards isn’t giving the Secret Lair x Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves cards the Universes Within treatment. Making an attempt to explain this decision, WotC’s, Jeremy Jarvis gave an explanation to Polygon.
“These cards are very specific to these characters and this moment in time.”Jeremy Jarvis | Via: Polygon
As you can imagine, considering the past promise, this surprise reveal didn’t go down well. Across social media, countless MTG players were outraged as these cards were now destined to always be expensive. On the top end, Xenk, Paladin Unbroken is the most expensive card from this Secret Lair at $47. Over time, this price is only likely to rise, since it’s unlikely any more copies will be printed.
Technically, if we’re to be optimistic, there is a slim chance of a reprint in the future. This was confirmed by Jarvis when they spoke to Polygon. Since they only said “Never say never,” however, I wouldn’t hold my breath for a reprint.
3 | Elusen, the Giving
In a returning trend for this list, Elusen, the Giving isn’t a controversial card on its own. If anything, this unique Heroes of the Realm card looks really fun and should be celebrated. The problem, however, arises from the fact many Wizards of the Coast employees aren’t celebrating right now.
In December, despite MTG having one of its best years ever, Hasbro announced mass layoffs. With 1,100 employees losing their jobs over the next six months, these certainly aren’t happy times. Unfortunately, many employees at Wizards of the Coast have already lost their jobs as part of these layoffs.
Rightly, considering the fantastic job Wizards has been doing, MTG and D&D players and personalities have been incredibly angry. Criticizing Hasbro to no end, no one is happy about the latest round of layoffs. To make matters worse, the new Heroes of the Realm cards started to be revealed shortly after this announcement. Considering these are meant to celebrate Studio X’s achievements, these couldn’t have come at a more unfortunate time.
2 | Bitterblossom
Representing a larger issue once again, Bitterblossom hasn’t done anything wrong in 2023. Reprinted in the Enchanting Tales bonus sheet, this card’s reappearance was actually a great thing. Unfortunately, however, it also represents one of the biggest MTG talking points from 2023: Tribal.
Back in June, Wizards of the Coast announced they were doing away with the terminology Tribal internally. Despite having been used for literal decades, now themed decks would be referred to as Typal. On the surface, this was a positive change to make MTG more inclusive, however, many MTG players were ticked off.
Lamenting Wizards for making a politically correct change, players have been constantly pushing back against the terminology. Unfortunately for these disgruntled players, however, Wizards wasn’t done there. Proper to the release of Khans of Tarkir on MTG Arena, Wizards removed Tribal altogether.
Replacing Tribal the card type, seen on Bitterblossom, with Kindred, Wizards put the last nail in the coffin. Once again, many MTG players were upset with this change, especially since it was rather confusing. Like it or not, however, this change is sticking since Wizards ultimately get to decide what language they use. Considering the change was made for positive reasons, there’s not really anything players should be angry about.
1 | Harnessed Snubhorn
Last but not least, we finally have the big one; that time Wizards sent the Pinkertons to a player’s house. To turn back the clocks, this all started when YouTuber oldschoolmtg acquired early March of the Machine: The Aftermath packs. Upon this discovery, oldschoolmtg understandably opened their early Collector Boosters on YouTube for everyone to see.
Since March of the Machine: The Aftermath only contained 50 cards, oldschoolmtg managed to leak almost the entire set. Unsurprisingly, Wizards of the Coast was not too happy about this detail. Despite the internet being forever, Wizards quickly hired the Pinkertons. According to oldschoolmtg, these armed guards arrived at their house and asked for the leaked cards to be returned.
While oldschoolmtg complied with the request, the damage was most certainly already done. Not only had the set already been leaked to high hell, but now everyone knew Wizards hired the Pinkertons too. Considering their past history of union busting and violence, this move didn’t go down well at all.
As if the whole Pinkertons debacle wasn’t bad enough, Harnessed Snubhorn gets even more controversial. This is thanks to March of the Machine: The Aftermath, being kind of all-around terrible. Boasting little value, a terrible pack opening experience, and a lackluster story, this set failed at everything.
Despite having an immense amount of potential, March of the Machine: The Aftermath is undoubtedly the worst MTG set of 2023. Due to this, MTG may never have another micro-set in the future, as this initial test did so poorly. For better or worse, this all started with Harnessed Snubhorn, the first card to be spoiled.
Read More: MTG Rocks’ 2023 Card of the Year Awards