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Magic: The Gathering’s 2023 showed the card game mixing sweet sets with sour business

Inventive designs and fun crossovers were held back by frustrating pricing and industry woes.

Image credit: Wizards of the Coast/Zolton Boros

2023 has been another non-stop ride for Magic: The Gathering, with preview seasons feeling as though they’re collapsing onto one another like a deck of cards that cost too much on the secondary market.

We’re in year three or so of this unending hype train that Wizards of the Coast is trying to keep alive by throwing MTG sets into the furnace to be burned up by the next set. Playing Magic: The Gathering, and certainly writing about it, feels a bit like witnessing an ouroboros just consuming its own tail whilst also on fire - and with advertising copy running across its body and a Twitch link slotted in there for good measure.

This year saw nine physical sets and one digital set released. That’s a lot of cards. This year, the set designs were very good; we didn’t have to suffer through an Innistrad: Double Feature, for example. Instead, every set was rather impressive from a card design standpoint. Dominaria Remastered kicked 2023 off well, with a lot of classic cards seeing their return and some lovely art treatments as well.

Pack Wars in Phyrexia: All Will Be OneWatch on YouTube

The first story set of the year was Phyrexia: All Will Be One, which saw a harrowing array of Phyrexian transformations of classic and much-beloved characters, but was a very good time for those of us not being transformed into machines. March of the Machine delivered an immense end to a multi-year storyline and had characters together on the same cards, which we still love, and also nifty battle cards.

This year saw nine physical sets and one digital set released. That’s a lot of cards.

Then came March of the Machine: Aftermath. It’s not a bad set as such, but it’s such a strange thing. With a mere 50 cards, this set was all about story, which is nice, but ironically felt a bit like an afterthought. Again, not a bad set, but certainly an odd one. We’d be intrigued to see another like it, but there’s no way of knowing how that would come about.

The next two story sets were Wilds of Eldraine and The Lost Caverns of Ixalan, both of which are incredible sets from a flavour standpoint and everything else. They’re also the first two sets in a new era of Magic: The Gathering where planeswalkers are rare once more, meaning they feel genuinely special again. Who doesn’t love fairy tales and dinosaurs?

Wilds of Eldraine and The Lost Caverns of Ixalan saw planeswalkers become rare once again. | Image credit: Wizards of the Coast

In terms of crossovers, we got both the full Tales of Middle-earth set and the Doctor Who Commander decks. Tales of Middle-earth may well be the best MTG crossover we’ve had yet, and that includes even last year’s D&D sets. It was filled with all of the classic Lord of the Rings characters we all know and love, and seeing it as a full set gives us a lot of hope for other Universes Beyond sets.

The Doctor Who decks weren’t as obnoxiously powerful as 2022’s Warhammer 40,000 decks, but they were another resounding success for the sheer joy these sets can bring. We’re not sure anybody was ever expecting to play as David Tennant in MTG, but here we are. The way time travel was implemented in nearly every deck was very clever and kept things varied, too.

All of that was good, and there are genuinely so few complaints about the vast majority of the sets released in 2023. Seriously, us MTG players did very well for ourselves this year. The story took some huge leaps, we’ve returned to some of the most fascinating new planes for the first time and the Universes Beyond sets continue to be delightful, as long as you’re not the kind of player who’s annoyed at them. However, there’s still one set to talk about.

Commander Masters had some great reprints - perfect for drafting - but at an eye-watering price. | Image credit: Wizards of the Coast

The final 2023 MTG set we’ve not talked about yet is Commander Masters. While we’d love to talk about how amazing the reprints and Draft format here was, instead let’s talk about how obnoxiously expensive this set was - and still is. At launch, the Commander decks themselves were up to $135 each, and a box could cost up to $340. While those prices have dropped slightly, it’s a terrible way of doing business and a very firm reminder of how much Wizards is failing fans by refusing to set an MSRP.

There’s simply nothing keeping the game within a reasonable price for anyone without a fair chunk of disposable income.

The sheer audacity of these prices might not sting so much were it not for the lack of actual guidance. Frankly, it hurts a lot of these sets. The same is true of the boxes, packs and, of course, the secondary market. With so many cards being released every year and the game being about collecting for some people, or simply trying to keep your decks up to date, the ability to actually do so is integral to that enjoyment.

We all want to be able to play the game with the cool new cards, but if reprint sets are going to cast so much money and “premium” sets are given prices willy-nilly by every retailer that gets them, there’s simply nothing keeping the game within a reasonable price for anyone without a fair chunk of disposable income.

MTG's Tales of Middle-earth set in actionWatch on YouTube

Magic: The Gathering should be a hobby everyone can enjoy. While the sheer volume of cards still isn’t something we’re happy about really, it’s simply the way things are now. However, if there are going to be so many sets a year, the least Wizards could do is set a damn price on its products to keep the hobby within the grasp of more people.

There’s also the fact that no matter how much money Magic makes, the people making these games still suffer. Hasbro, the company that owns Wizards of the Coast, reportedly made $3.6 billion in the year leading up to October 2023. This is apparently an 11.9% decline on the previous year, but it’s still more money than is reasonable, and was gross profit, which means it’s doing so incredibly well. Despite that, Hasbro saw fit to lay off 1,100 staff just before Christmas, including Wizards of the Coast employees working on D&D and MTG.

It feels very clear that this nonstop hype train, the unending release schedule and no doubt the prices all feed into a company that doesn’t care at all - not only about the people playing MTG, but those making it too. The aptly-named Hasbro CEO Chris Cocks stated that the layoffs were “to keep Hasbro healthy”, but we’re pretty sure it’s just good old-fashioned greed doing the decision-making there.

Universes Beyond had a strong showing in 2023 between Lord of the Rings and Doctor Who - with even more crossovers planned for next year. | Image credit: Wizards of the Coast

It puts a big dampener on the year in terms of the card game we love so much. If Wizards of the Coast is the big cash cow for Hasbro, then it’s very clear that we’ll get no positive changes at any point. In fact, it feels like no matter how well the game does, there’ll always be a demand for more. This is in keeping with the feeling of unsustainability that’s been present in the last few years, and there’s nothing we can do about it.

This is kind of a bummer of an ending, but we can’t just talk about how cool the cards are and how much fun the game is, because Hasbro doesn’t care about that at all. Something will have to change if the game is going to survive in any meaningful way without forcefully ejecting older players and those without the means to buy hundreds of dollars of cards every month or so.

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