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Recapturing the Magic with Magic 2010

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The letter T!hink about games that are popular today. Most either have an incredibly simple top-line concept, like Tetris or hearts, or they deliver a strong flavor that draws upon a lot of your prior understanding of a topic or genre, like Madden NFL, Grand Theft Auto, or Agricola—flavor that helps you quickly process the bevy of rules these games contain. Before you ever played Madden, you knew a decent amount about football, and it all came to life on the screen; no one had to explain to you what a "wide receiver" or a "fake punt" or "encroachment" was.

As we here at Wizards perpetually rethink and examine all that we're doing with an eye toward getting more and more new people into Magic, the game is committing to once again embrace that level of flavor. Most of our potential players know a good deal about traditional fantasy; when they play our game, it should feel as though the fantasy they know is coming to life.

Our core sets are typically the best way to teach and show off the world of Magic: The Gathering to the uninitiated, and to that end I believe they need to be as resonant and flavorful as they can be first and foremost. The core set should play into most people's preconceived notions of fantastic creatures and spells, and those notions should guide them to understand the goals and mechanics of the game.

In the beginning, Magic relied heavily on this kind of flavor. Rock Hydra, Vesuvan Doppelganger, and Fireball are all considered complicated cards from a pure rules standpoint, yet each of those was beloved by players just getting into the game because of how they "felt." Most fantasy fans have had experiences of one sort or another involving a hydra, a shapeshifter, or a fireball, and to see those concepts spring to life in a card game where they were in command—WOW!

As Magic grew older, we shifted, slowly, away from using evocative fantasy as the main driver for how our cards were designed. I understand why we went down that road, but I feel the core sets have suffered a bit in that long, slow transition. As familiar evocative creatures like Ironroot Treefolk and Black Knight were replaced with mechanics-first cards like Kavu Climber and Nantuko Husk bearing names and concepts meaningless to anyone not already involved in the property, the core set lost some of its ability to speak to newer players. Yes, over time the core set became a collection of the simplest elegant executions of each facet of the color pie, but at that point who was supposed to be interested?

Starting this summer, the core set is getting a significant facelift in an attempt to return it to some of its original resonant glory. Tell your friends: Get ready for Magic 2010.

What Year Is It?

One realization we came to as we examined our core sets was that our naming convention itself was probably more than a little scary to newer players. "Tenth Edition? I'm already nine editions behind? Do I need to start with the first edition?" Showing our age on the front of the box is not a great tactic for enticing people to try out a "new" game. To solve this problem, we took a page from car makers and the aforementioned Madden NFL video game franchise and are naming core sets after years—specifically the year after the product is released. That means this July's release will be called the Magic: The Gathering 2010 Core Set, or Magic 2010 for short. Heck, you can go even shorter than that if you like, calling it by what appears in the expansion symbol: "M10."


Is it odd that the product is not named for the year it was released in? A bit, but that's industry standard. It is more important that the product feel newer longer than for it to be accurate for six months and then seem outdated immediately thereafter. Trust me, you'll get used to it.

What's In It?

As I stated above, the number one goal of this product was to have it drip with resonant fantasy. To accomplish that goal, I put together a high-powered design team that included myself, Vice President of R&D Bill Rose, Magic head designer Mark Rosewater, head developer Devin Low, creative director Brady Dommermuth, and new business design manager Brian Tinsman. The six of us scoured all of Magic's past for the perfect cards for this new core set paradigm, and when Magic's past failed to produce all of what we needed, we made brand new cards.

That's right—new content in a core set. Of the 229 cards in the set that aren't basic lands, almost half are cards you haven't seen before. This is a huge, huge departure from how core sets have been handled since before I even started playing the game, but a necessary one. Forcing ourselves to use only reprints of existing cards only served to handicap our ability to make the best introduction to the game.

Here's a small taste of some of the new cards you'll be seeing this summer:




Those three cards are great examples of resonant concepts brought to life using game terms that players new and old alike can understand: Silence prevents others from casting, the Wall of Frost freezes all those that touch it, and the Efreet is a powerful yet uncontrollable agent of chaos! Even somebody with zero knowledge of the game can understand that. Look for even more innovative flavorful designs when the official previews begin closer to the set’s release date.

Of course, there are plenty of preexisting cards that are flavorful, beloved, or both, and we'll be reprinting many of them in Magic 2010 as well:




As with all previous core sets, we'll be "rotating in" recent cards—not all the reprints are from Magic's early days. The most high-profile of these more contemporary reprints are the five Lorwyn planeswalkers, promoted to their rightful place as mythic rares:


There was a lot of internal discussion about whether planeswalkers make sense in a core set; many people were worried about their complexity level. While there is no doubt that they are complex—so complex that we can't begin to explain how they work on the cards themselves—I don't want simplicity to be the driving factor in what we present newer players with. Instead, cards in the core set should drive interest and excitement in the game, and as Magic's premier characters, the faces of the game, planeswalkers will do just that. I'd like to think that if you are new, a planeswalker card looks so impressive that you'll do the work necessary to learn the rules behind them.

Why Should I Care?

 Magic: The Gathering 2010 Core Set  

Prerelease date: July 11-12, 2009
Release date: July 17, 2009
Set size: 249 cards
           (101 C, 60 U, 53 R, 15 M, 20 L)
Product lineup: Five intro packs, 15-card booster pack, 6-card booster pack, fat pack
Official announcement

For this new core set idea to succeed, it needs to be relevant to all members of the Magic community, not just to newer players. Existing players need to be playing it, talking about it, drafting it, recommending it, legitimizing it. The new cards should excite everyone—and they will, as some of them are quite powerful!

Too often in the past, the core set has been completely marginalized by the enfranchised player base. It has been perceived as merely a list of cards legal in Standard and little more, and under those circumstances it tends to drift off shelves and out of the public consciousness, making it harder for new players to find the proper entry point.

But Magic 2010 will change all that. This set is Magic at its most pure, and it should appeal to players of all skill levels. Developer Erik Lauer led a strong team (including Mike Turian, Tom LaPille, and Greg Marques) that made the set awesome in Limited and very relevant to Constructed formats.

We want to show that awesomeness off by letting everyone revel in it. We'll be having a traditional Prerelease and Launch Party on back-to-back weekends—the first time we'll be rolling out a core set in that way. New cards are always exciting. And unlike previous core sets, we want this set to shine on some of Magic's brightest stages—several of the Grand Prix events this summer, including those in Boston, Niigata, and Prague, will feature Magic 2010 Limited play.

We want this set to be as "real" as any of our expert-level expansions so that players of all levels of experience can enjoy fun, flavorful Magic.

How Often Will These Come Out?

Another part of our plan to keep the core set relevant is that it will be refreshed every year, not every other year. Doing a core set every year will preclude us from doing other fourth sets, like Eventide, Coldsnap, and Unhinged and will give us a much more structured and predictable release schedule of three expert-level expansions and one core set each year.

To accommodate this much more rapid core set turnover, we are changing our format rotation policy beginning in the summer of 2010 with the release of the Magic 2011 core set. Magic 2011 will not knock Magic 2010 out of Standard; instead there will be only one rotation date per year, when the large Fall set is released. When the set codenamed "Lights" is released late in 2010, it will knock the Shards of Alara block and Magic 2010 out of Standard at the same time. Core sets will rotate as if they were part of the block preceding them. For approximately three months per year starting in 2010, there will be two core sets legal at a time, which is also a first.

Note that when Magic 2010 is released this summer, Tenth Edition will rotate out as per our normal existing policy.

As for Extended, this new Standard rotation slightly alters the Extended rotation policy outlined by Devin Low in his March 7, 2008 column. As will be the case in Standard, core sets will rotate out of Extended with the block that precedes them. So this fall, when the "Live" set rotates in, Eighth Edition will rotate out of Extended along with Onslaught block.

Until Then ...

That's what we're doing and why we're doing it. I, for one, believe this to be a huge turning point for the game—the first in a series of sets that are as fun and exciting for old-time players as they are for new ones, sets that you can use to teach your little cousin the game and then go battle with at the upcoming Grand Prix. It is, in a word, Magic.

Stay tuned for more Magic 2010 previews later this summer!


Fast Facts on Magic 2010:

  • Because of the influx of new designs, many cards that have been in every core set so far are leaving. As of Magic 2010, there will be only eight cards that have appeared in every core set, down from sixteen as of Tenth Edition.
  • There has been some speculation as to which set of existing dual lands will be in the next core set, and the answer may surprise: none of them. We wanted to make a cycle of powerful dual lands that risk-averse newer players would like, which meant coming up with something that didn't involve losing life. Sorry, painlands, fetchlands, and Ravnica duals. Trust me, the new ones are awesome!
  • Of the fifteen mythic rares in the set, nine are reprints (five of which you can deduce from this article) and six are brand new.

Questions? Comments? Use the email link below!

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