Building Blocks

Posted in Arcana on August 25, 2014

By Blake Rasmussen

Blake is the content manager for DailyMTG.com, making him the one you should email if you have thoughts on the website, good or less good (or not good). He's a longtime coverage reporter and hasn't turned down a game of Magic in any format ever.

If you haven't read today's Making Magic on the changes coming to Magic's block structure, stop reading right here, go read that, and come back when you're done.

It's okay, I'll wait.

Wow, right? That's huge news and a massive change to how we make Magic sets going forward. We're entirely positive it's going to be a fantastic step forward for the game, for Standard, and for players everywhere. But we also know it might take some time to wrap our collective heads around it.

That said, this isn't the first time we've tinkered with the block structure. In fact, for more than half of Magic's history, we've been messing with the block structure formula, both at the beginning and for the last seven or so years.

Let's take a trip through blocks of yore to see what I mean and maybe get a bit more background on how we arrived at the "Metamorphosis" Rosewater wrote about today.

Ice Age/Alliances/Homelands/Coldsnap—1995–1996, 2006

Some of you might be familiar with Ice Age block thanks to the release of Coldsnap in 2006 (or because, like me, you've been around the game a long, long time), but that was such a seminal block in that it represents a number of pivots in how Magic worked.

First of all, prior to Ice Age/Alliances, the concept of a block didn't really exist. To be fair, it only kind of existed with these two sets (released in 1995 and 1996, respectively), but Alliances was the first set to build on a previous set, both in the story and in the mechanics. Every previous set took place on its own world with its own mechanics and flavor.

Homelands (1995) gets lumped in here because, for a time, it was a weird part of Ice Age block. It wasn't replaced until 2006 when Coldsnap, the "lost" third set of the block, was printed. Homelands is no longer part of the block—appropriately so, since the story and mechanics aren't related at all.

So, in some sense, Ice Age was the first block. Sort of.

Mirage/Visions/Weatherlight—1996–1997

Mirage block is often considered the first "normal" block in that it was three sets tied together in some way. It does, however, feature a bit of a pivot with the third set, Weatherlight, taking the story in a completely different direction from the first two sets and mostly (but not entirely) abandoning the two main mechanics of the block: phasing and flanking. There were just four cards that mention phase or phasing in Weatherlight and a mere two that mentioned flanking. There were, oddly enough, 14 cards that mention cumulative upkeep. But, hey, Weatherlight gave us Ophidian and Mind Stone, so we'll let it go.

What it also gave us was the kickoff to a story that would span the next four blocks, as well as a relative period of stability in the block structure.

Tempest Block, Urza's Block, Masques Block, Invasion Block, Odyssey Block, Onslaught Block, Mirrodin Block, Kamigawa Block, Ravnica Block—1997–2006

This is the period where we see most of the three-set block model. For nine blocks and nine years, the blocks followed a large-small-small pattern and came in threes. The first four blocks—Tempest block (1997–1998) through Invasion block (2000–2001)—followed the story of the Weatherlight crew as it sailed/flew around, did some stuff for Urza, and then defeated Yawgmoth. Odyssey block (2001–2002) and Onslaught block (2002–2003) shared a story, but were otherwise separate mechanically. The final three stood on their own.

Then things got funky.

Coldsnap—2006

Coldsnap, as we said before, was released in 2006 and completed the Ice Age block...nearly a decade later.

Time Spiral Block—2006-2007

Time Spiral was, temporarily, back to the three-set block model. That wouldn't last long.

Lorwyn-Shadowmoor Block—2007–2008

This is the first—and so far only—four-set block, featuring a pivot in the middle for both the story (same plane, but flipped to basically its evil/opposite version) and mechanics. The sets were not all drafted together. Instead, Lorwyn (2007) and Morningtide (2008) were drafted together while Shadowmoor (2008) was drafted with Eventide (2008). For Constructed purposes, they're all one block.

Shards of Alara Block—2008–2009

And, once again, temporarily back to the typical three-set block.

Zendikar Block—2009-2010

And, once again, back to the atypical block. Here, the block is still three sets, but with a third-set pivot. Zendikar (2009) and Worldwake (2010) were drafted together, but Rise of the Eldrazi was a large set that was drafted on its own. For Constructed purposes, they're all played together.

Scars of Mirrodin Block—2010–2011

Besides being our first "return to" block, Scars of Mirrodin block is a normal three-set, large-small-small block. Nothing to see here, moving on.

Innistrad Block—2011–2012

Like Zendikar before it, Innistrad block is large-small-large, with the final set drafted on its own but all three sets contributing to Block Constructed. It's a little bit notable that Innistrad block is the first Block Constructed format to have cards banned in it since MirrodinIntangible Virtue and Lingering Souls. It also gave the world Mist Raven, so in my book we're cool.

Return to Ravnica Block—2012–2013

In another first, Return to Ravnica (2012) is large and was drafted alone. Gatecrash (2013)—the second set in the block—is also a large set and was also drafted alone. The third set, Dragon's Maze (2013), is small and was only drafted with the full block of three sets. Funky.

Theros Block—2013–2014

Which brings us up to (nearly) today. Theros block is back to a "normal" three-set block...only, as we learned today, that's no longer the norm. But if we've learned anything today, it's that the norm isn't so normal.

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