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24, Jun, 24

MTG Head Designer Reveals Details Of Scrapped Time Travel Sets!

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Magic: The Gathering is a vast game, with over 30 years of wildly creative sets to pore over for the historians among us. Each Plane is its own self-contained fantasy world, rich in detail and character. Well, perhaps a little less self-contained with the advent of the Omenpaths. That said, while the worlds we see are certainly impressive, there are many others we don’t see. Mark Rosewater, Head Designer for MTG, has just revealed that a trio of time travel sets were once in the works. Let’s have a little look at what could have been.

Friends, Romans, Countrymen

Rosewater told this story in a Blogatog post yesterday, when asked what the original plan for Theros block was. As per tradition, each set in the block was originally referred to by a nickname. These were Friends, Romans, and Countrymen. While what we got in the end turned out to be a great mix of flavor and function, the original plan for these sets was quite different.

As Rosewater put it in the post: “The first set was prehistoric. Then we jump thousand of years to the second set that was medieval. Then we jumped thousands more years to the third set which was futuristic. The block was all the same world, but seen through three distinct time periods.” This idea, of a single Plane viewed through the lens of different time periods, is an interesting one to be sure. Fans of Chrono Trigger would certainly have been on board.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t to be. Rosewater’s epic time-spanning vision was simply too grand for Wizards of the Coast in 2013. “It was vetoed by the creative team because it was basically creating three worlds and, at the time, they weren’t staffed up to do that. That’s why we pivoted to Theros” Rosewater added, later on in his post. This is interesting to read about, but it also carries with it a tinge of the bittersweet. Wouldn’t a trio of time travel sets have been incredible to experience as an MTG player?

A Living Legacy

Well, in a sense, we kind of experienced this hypothetical block. Just not quite in the way Rosewater originally intended. As we’ve seen above, sets and concepts in Magic get abandoned all the time. The work done on those sets, however, doesn’t necessarily join them. There are undoubtedly plenty of card designs and concepts that transfer over from a scrapped set to a future one, and this idea is illustrated quite clearly in the case of the MTG time travel sets.

While the second set in the block was intended to be medieval, hardly bold new ground for Magic, the other two were much more unique for the time. A prehistoric set and a futuristic set would’ve taken the game to places it had never been before. Both these themes were visited later down the line though, starting with Ixalan in 2017.

It would be a disservice to this set’s world design to boil it down to ‘prehistoric.’ That said, it was a set that leaned heavily into a Dinosaur theme, with plenty of wild jungles and towering reptiles to spare. It’s not hard to imagine that some of the Dinosaurs planned for ‘Friends,’ the first set in the time travel block, found their way into Ixalan. We have no way of confirming this, but it certainly seems like a possibility.

The same is almost certainly true for Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty. Released in 2022, this was a cyberpunk breath of fresh air for Magic. A world full of mech suits, neon lights, and a fascinating intersection of ancient magic and modern technology. It’s less likely that this set drew directly from discarded ‘Countrymen’ designs, given the specificity of Kamigawa as a Plane. It did give us the “futuristic” set Rosewater had planned though, if nine years later on.

Chronological Comeback?

Time-Travel-Sets-MTG-Possibility-Storm

So while we never actually got these three time travel sets, MTG has done its fair share of travelling in time in the interim. These sets have been exciting, on both an aesthetic and mechanical level. That said, the idea of a single Plane in multiple stages is still a compelling one. Is there any hope of it returning in the future?

In a word: possibly. The barrier to this block in the first place was a lack of resources, and Magic is definitely degrees of magnitude larger now than it was in 2013. There are almost certainly enough staff to get such an ambitious project off the ground at current WOTC. As one door opens, another closes, however.

What may prevent this concept from ever seeing the light of day is the fact that Magic has essentially abandoned blocks altogether. Standard sets now are all standalone, with each Plane getting a single release to establish itself and win favor with fans. Repeat themes between sets can get stale, after all. That said, if the three sets are different enough, maybe fans wouldn’t find it so boring.

Since the time travel concept requires three full sets, it’s quite unlikely in the modern Magic climate. All three time periods could be crammed into one set, but that would likely end up a confusing mess.

Unfortunately, as cool as this concept is, I think we need to accept that it’s fundamentally incompatible with where Magic is at the moment. That said, a Chrono Trigger Universes Beyond release could have some serious potential. Maybe one Commander deck per time period…

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