Core sets are a very different beast from your everyday Magic expansion. They are a bit of a conundrum in that on the surface they are pleasing to the eye, but once you try it out you may find it a painful and restrictive experience.  This week we’re going to take a break from the usual analysis and take an up-close and personal look at the twenty-year history of the Magic: the Gathering Core Set.


The first time is the hardest and that is especially true for core sets. The original model, first released in August of 1993 and then reprinted with minor corrections in October 1993 had a lot of good intentions but also a lot of missed marks. The proportions were incredibly off, especially the balance between colors. This core set remains an incredibly rare collectors item, even if it has been worn out.


This minor update to the original core set came out in December 1993 and was simply a wider version of it’s predecessor with the exception of less collector value. Over time however, it’s value has steadily increased with the low availability of the Alpha/Beta edition.

Revised Third Edition

In the Spring of 1994 collection, the designers incorporated concepts from their other offerings into this revised edition of the core set. The result set a precedent that would last for 11 years before the designers finally re-vamped the entire concept. This revised edition was less eye-popping than the first or second iterations, but it’s nostalgic value has held up nicely. Unfortunately, the next few core sets would not be as supportive or efficient as this one.

Fourth Edition

In 1995 the designers expanded the core set by an impressive 24%. This increase in material had the negative effect of reducing the overall enjoyment of the finished product. Many were left wondering what had happened to the core set to leave it in such a poor state, and it was possible the core set would fall out of favor completely with the masses.

Fifth Edition

After a two year hiatus the core set returned bigger than ever. Literally, the fifth edition was the largest by far. An increase in size of 19% over the fourth edition resulted in the most unwieldy core set ever conceived. The core set from the Spring 1997 collection is nearly twice the size of modern core sets. The core set was no longer able to do it’s job of supporting the rest of the ensemble that the designers offered. A change was due.

Classic Sixth Edition

Change came in the Spring of 1999 with the “Classic” edition, arriving nearly six years after the original offering. Major inefficiencies were cut out of the product and the sizing was standardized with a 22% reduction from the previous model. This slimmer model was polarizing, with many immediately praising it’s new-found beauty while others lost all faith in the designers and abandoned their product line completely.

Seventh Edition

The first edition of the 21st century, released in the spring of 2001, was the last to use the original framework pattern laid out in the Alpha core set. However, this was the first iteration to include the stunning premium line, immediately bringing a new pop and perky shine to the core set that had previously been the sole domain of the more intricate products. The core set was now regaining some of the popularity it had lost with the ungainly models of the mid-nineties.

Core Set – Eighth Edition

A shift in design philosophy resulted in both a naming change and a major change to the framing pattern underlying all of the designer’s products, including this core set released in Summer of 2003. Not unlike the “Classic” edition, this new change had many detractors. History has shown however that while the older models are charming, the new lines and fit of the redesigned eighth edition would usher in a new era for the product line. The change in season for premiering new core sets, from spring to summer, also became the norm for the modern era.

Core Set – Ninth Edition

In the Summer of 2005, the final white-trimmed edition of the core set was released. Although the Alpha and Beta models had black trim, the white trim was standard for over a decade. Nothing terribly exciting can be said of this core set which was a strict upgrade from the eighth edition. Sharper curves and more color combinations led to a rise in popularity in the core set which would continue to grow for the next decade as the designers finally began to give this product the care and attention it deserved.

Core Set – Tenth Edition

The return of black trim came with much fanfare in the summer of 2009. Along with this aesthetic change, the core set’s design was significantly tightened, slimming down the product to the sleeker and efficient models we have today. The tenth edition was the progenitor of the modern core set as we know it, but the biggest change was still yet to come.

Magic 2010

The re-branded Magic Core Set returned as an annual offering by the designers. The unveiling of the latest in core set technology included a major innovation. Instead of simply piecing the core set together from design patterns in other products, the new models would now contain their own unique innovations. The change was a long time coming, and when paired with the modifications from the tenth edition, the results were momentous. The core set would never be the same. From here on out the designers would only apply minor tweaks to the core set, as it was already close to perfect.

Magic 2011

At this point the designers brought the core set from it’s traditionally supporting role to the forefront of it’s product line. This was done by the inclusion of the Titan Cycle, a unique concept never before tried in any of the other models to date. The Titan Cycle was a huge hit and elevated the core set to the lofty status it enjoys today. No longer could anyone ignore the core set. It was now right there in front of them, staring them in the eyes, for everyone to see.

Magic 2012

The Titan Cycle continued to dominate the core set’s place in the product line. Several other enhancements were made to cater to those who preferred a more supportive core set, but the Titan Cycle still served as the main focal point of this wildly popular model. All good things come to an end however.

Magic 2013

The designers moved in a new direction, retiring the Titan Cycle in favor of a more comprehensive collection of features designed to cater to all shapes and sizes of core set enthusiasts. Perhaps the finest design to date, last year’s core set model provided more enjoyment without the restrictive limitations than any previous model.

Magic 2014

This year’s model just finished its preview season and will be offered to the general public beginning this Friday. Initial reviews were positive but then began to die off. The core set seemed to have lost some of its pizzazz as it made its rounds through the weeks of scrutiny by the public prior to general release. Regardless, past performance may not be an indication of future success, but it should be a strong guide that this year’s core set should still be very enjoyable.

The Top 100

Since there were no major events this weekend there’s no update to the Top 100 list. Rest assured that we’re hard at work improving and redesigning the list in time for the next events coming up after the Magic 2014 Pre-Release. In the meantime, check out these awesome articles from the past week about the MTG Pro Tour Hall of Fame voting:

The Quick Hits

  • Read Riki Hayashi’s report on covering the Columbus SCG Open for a look at what it’s like for a Judge to watch games [StarCity Games]
  • It’s the hottest interview of the week, featuring Chandra Nalaar [LegitMTG]
  • Eric Levine talks about the different sorts of groups you may find yourself playing Magic with [Raging Levine]
  • Here are some hilarious stories about MTG Finance from Jason Alt [Jason’s Archives]
  • Heather Lafferty interviewed an awesome geek girl, not to be confused with the fake geek girls that only exist in mysoginy [Gamer Boy. Gamer Girl.]
  • If you squint hard enough you can see a goat in the red cards of Magic 2014 [Arting Around]
  • TCGPlayer is a race to the bottom and eBay is a race to the top [LegitMTG]
  • Don’t abuse the new players at pre-release and release events [LegitMTG]
  • In case you forgot, Magic 2014 is bringing some rules changes with it [Daily MTG]

Wallpaper of the Week

It’s funny to me how Jace is always depicted as such a powerful and confidant fellow in card art, but in the narrative stories he is often unsure and a bit underwhelming. In this week’s wallpaper we see the master mind-sculptor crafting an illusion of a fish to torment some poor local fishermen with. They’ll think they caught the big one, but then it will dissipate. That’ll teach them to make fun of Jace’s new haircut.

I like the off-centered creatures and the action artwork. It has a lot going on but still has a clear focus.

Grade: A-

The Week Ahead

At the end of the week the new Legend Rule goes into effect, so I guess it’s time for people to get out the kerosene and light their collections on fire since Wizards is ruining the game.

What We Learned is a weekly feature here at Hipsters of the Coast written by former amateur Magic Player Rich Stein, who came really close to making day two of a Grand Prix on several occasions. The goal is to take some of the events and articles polluting the Magic world, strip out the chaff (tournament reports, game theory, economics) and give you our superior opinion. Complaints are encouraged.

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