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MTG’s Starter Decks provide beginners a snapshot of the past year in cardboard, warts and all

Vampires and werewolves and… cyberninjas, oh my?

Card art for Magic: The Gathering's Thundering Raiju from Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty. A dragon-esque creature with antlers flies amid blooming flowers and orange lightning.
Image credit: Xavier Ribeiro/Wizards of the Coast

The slew of new sets, special editions and Secret Lairs that Magic: The Gathering has already released this year is verging on glut territory, which can be intimidating for any speculative spellslinger looking for their angle into the game. Luckily, the starter set for 2022 will offer a fairly good snapshot at what the massive trading card game has been up to recently.

MTG handler Wizards of the Coast has been publishing some kind of starter deck or introductory gift box for almost the entire lifespan of the game - the first such product released all the way back in 1993 and can fetch a pretty penny, now. In more recent years, the name and configuration of the box - while not terribly important to new players - has been in near constant flux. Clash Packs gave way to Battle Packs before morphing into Booster Battle Packs and then finally the Starter Set/Kit, and that’s just the last decade.

It’s comical but more than a little apt that the doorway into this hobby is so confusing and constantly changing - Magic: The Gathering has experienced seasons of flux in recent years as collecting rare and expensive cards exploded in popularity over the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown, and Wizards of the Coast seemingly shifted resources and expectations to Magic Arena. It’s easy to forget the digital card game is only five years old given the gravity it has exerted on the MTG’s landscape via Alchemy, the dissolution and rebirth of the Pro Tour and the short but ultimately happy story of the Pioneer format.

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The history of the starter kits can act as tree rings in understanding the general direction of MTG’s design. Take core sets, for example: these yearly releases straddled the year by dropping somewhere in the June-September window and, while not always the most thematically rich or exciting batch of cards, allowed the designers to reprint necessary staples and germinate the Standard environment with always useful card types, such as removal spells and beefy threats. But Wizards of the Coast keeps discontinuing their use, first in 2015 for a period of three years and then again last year when the company said Adventures in the Forgotten Realm would serve much the same purpose as a core set normally would.

This shelving and unshelving of core sets likely fueled the odd variance of starter kits during the last decade, as many of the related products had to shift around what recent cards were available. 2021’s Arena Starter Kit collected singles from the past four Standard sets and included a code card for one booster pack on Arena (good luck fighting over that), and this year’s offering follows suit. The two decks, one in Blue-White Mana colours and the other in Red-Green will be composed of cards from Innistrad: Midnight Hunt, Innistrad: Crimson Vow, Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty, and Streets of New Capenna. The box drops the Arena moniker from its branding but contains two redeemable code cards, instead.

This dips close to speculation, but leaving Arena off the box does fall in line with MTG’s direction in 2022, as Wizards of the Coast’s revived Pro Tour removed the digital card game from the centre of its competitive model and relegated it to an alternative qualification path. While the pandemic is far from over, relaxed restriction in many countries has allowed the company to reintroduce in-person incentives without fear of immediate backlash - Friday Night Magic promotion has spooled back up, and most recent set Streets of New Capenna featured a strong family allegiance gimmick during prerelease weekend events.

Card art for Magic: The Gathering's Welcoming Vampire from Innistrad: Crimson Vow. A woman vampire in a flowing red dress hold out her arms to a swarm of bats as she hovers in the night sky.
Image credit: Lorenzo Mastroianni/Wizards of the Coast

The 2022 Starter Kit doesn’t have a suggested MSRP, but the past two years’ versions both sold for roughly $8 at retail. It will contain two 60-card decks with a foil face card for each - Thundering Raiju and Welcoming Vampire - along with the Arena codes, paper deck boxes, a rule card and a World-of-Magic rulebook. Expect these kits to hit local game stores and other retail locations on June 3rd.

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