Last week, I started looking back at every full year of Magic (1993–2023) and listing what I thought was the greatest addition to the game (as well as the runner-up) from each year. As head designer, I'm more focused on things that impacted gameplay, and I'm primarily looking at randomized booster sets. In part one, I got through 2008, so we'll start with 2009 today.


Randomized Booster Releases of That Year: Conflux, Alara Reborn, Magic 2010, and Zendikar

Best Addition to Magic: Landfall

Lotus CobraBloodghastEmeria Angel

I did a talk at MagicCon: Chicago in February about the "20 Best Mechanics of All Time." (Here's a link to the video of the talk and Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 in podcast form.) In it, I chose landfall as my number-two pick. The creation of landfall is important because I think it taught us a key lesson about rewarding players for doing things they want to do. We used to spend a lot of time building mechanics around tension (i.e., forcing the player to have to make a tough decision), and while some of that is okay, it's not the only way to craft Magic mechanics. Landfall also has a cool lenticular quality where it allows less-experienced players to enjoy it while having a lot of nuance in play that more-experienced players can try to maximize.

Runner-Up: Willingness to put new card designs in more places

Magic 2010 was a rethinking of how to do a core set. One of the biggest changes was the decision to start including new cards. Before then, core sets were all-reprint sets. When crafting a set, new card designs are a powerful tool, and Magic 2010 helped us rethink when and where it was okay to use that tool, which has resulted in a lot of better Magic products.


Randomized Booster Releases of That Year: Worldwake, Rise of the Eldrazi, Magic 2011, and Scars of Mirrodin

Best Addition to Magic: Proliferate

Thrumming BirdContagion ClaspInexorable Tide

When designing Scars of Mirrodin, we were interested in giving the Phyrexians a mechanical identity. Early Magic tied them to artifacts and the color black but didn't really give them a play pattern or any mechanics to associate with. We liked the idea that the Phyrexians had a disease motif, so we looked for ways to have their play pattern match that of a disease. This exploration led to proliferate as a means to create the sense that if a player or creature was infected, you could fan the flames of the infection. To make it more backwards compatible, we applied the effect to all tokens and ended up making a mechanic unlike anything we had made before, something hard to do when you're many years in. Proliferate has not only proven to be a fan favorite, but it is a mechanic that can adapt with the set it's in. Scars of Mirrodin cared about -1/-1 counters and poison counters. War of the Spark cared about +1/+1 counters and loyalty counters. Phyrexian: All Will Be One cared about oil counters and poison counters. Proliferate was an important shift in how we thought of backwards compatibility and was a big part of the push toward using counters to differentiate sets.

Runner-Up: Large Standalone Sets

It was becoming clear that the block structure had some fundamental flaws to it. Rise of the Eldrazi was our first attempt to create a large set that was made to be played only by itself. It was part of the Zendikar block but involved a story moment so large (the freeing of the trapped Eldrazi) that it allowed us to change all the mechanics of the set and have it be drafted alone. It would be many years before this became the norm, but this was the first time we tested the waters.


Randomized Booster Releases of That Year: Mirrodin Besieged, New Phyrexia, Magic 2012, and Innistrad

Best Addition to Magic: Transforming Double-Faced Cards (TDFCs)

Bloodline KeeperMayor of AvabruckDelver of Secrets

Transforming double-faced cards came about because we were trying to figure out the best way to capture the flavor of Werewolves. Borrowing an idea from another trading card game we make (Duel Masters), we tried using both sides of the card. While it was controversial inside and outside of Wizards, double-faced cards went on to be a huge hit with the players. From a design standpoint, it was a giant new tool with lots of design opportunities. It's one of the few deciduous mechanics where I must occasionally pull back a bit with designers. ("Does this set have to use DFCs?") From a flavor standpoint, it allowed something we don't normally get: two pieces of art. This allowed a type of storytelling that few Magic cards get to have.

Runner-Up: New take on top-down set design

Innistrad wasn't the first top-down design (that would be Arabian Nights) or the first top-down block (that would be Champions of Kamigawa block), but it was the first one that built the set structure and mechanics around the mood and emotion of the flavor it was trying to capture. We wanted players to feel fear in gameplay, so we created dark transformations with TDFCs, and used mechanics like morbid to make players question actions they normally wouldn't. Innistrad became the model for how we would build future top-down sets.


Randomized Booster Releases of That Year: Dark Ascension, Avacyn Restored, Magic 2013, and Return to Ravnica

Best Addition to Magic: Doing a proper revisit

Early Magic mostly stayed on Dominaria. Mirrodin was the first external plane that we revisited, but its fall to Phyrexia made it mechanically very different than the first visit. Return to Ravnica, in contrast, was us going back to a plane where fundamentally things hadn't changed, and it forced us to consider how to revisit a plane where the set is not changing its mechanical core.

Runner-Up: Gates

Golgari GuildgateIzzet GuildgateSelesnya Guildgate

Doing a return meant fixing things we'd done incorrectly the last time we visited. One of those things with Return to Ravnica was that the mana hadn't been strong enough to properly support multiplayer play. This time, we wanted a common cycle of dual lands and the return of the rare cycle of shock lands. This presented a problem because we wanted common tap dual lands, and they felt "strictly worse" than the rare shock lands. The solution to this problem was to add a new land subtype, Gate, to the common dual land cycle. This allowed us to build a light mechanical theme around them, which gave them a secondary purpose. This idea of using subtypes as a means to add mechanical identity has proven useful and has become a valuable tool in building sets.


Randomized Booster Releases of That Year: Gatecrash, Dragon's Maze, Magic 2014, Modern Masters, and Theros

Best Addition to Magic: Devotion

Phosphorescent Feast

In Dissension design, Aaron Forsythe designed a card. I felt the card tapped into something potent enough to be a whole mechanic (having an effect scale on colored mana symbols in the mana cost of cards). The mechanic ended up being called chroma and was put into Eventide. The fan response was lackluster, and we chalked it up as a mistake. Years later while designing Theros, we were interested in finding a mechanic that represented the devotion the people had for their gods. We realized that chroma kind of mechanically did what we wanted, but its failure gave us pause. We figured out what chroma did wrong (no flavor, no consistency to build around, etc.) and fixed it. Devotion went on to be a huge success. For Magic design, it hammered home the importance of execution. Even the best idea can fail if it isn't designed correctly. Devotion's success made us rethink how we evaluate new mechanics and allowed us the willingness to correct old mistakes if we felt there was a strong idea there.

Runner-Up: Monstrosity

Shipbreaker KrakenFleecemane LionColossus of Akros

In early design, we like to create a line that encapsulates what the design is trying to capture. For Theros, it was "gods, heroes, and monsters." Devotion had been the mechanic aimed at Gods. For monsters, we wanted something that allowed you to play the card in the early to mid-game, but let you have a giant monster in the endgame. The solution was a once-per-game activation that upgraded your creature. This idea proved so potent that it has spawned numerous other mechanics that play in similar space, letting you have a late-game creature early but in a lesser form.


Randomized Booster Releases of That Year: Born of the Gods, Journey into Nyx, Conspiracy: Take the Crown, Magic 2015, and Khans of Tarkir

Best Addition to Magic: Khans of Tarkir Set Structure

Erik Lauer retired at the end of last year after working on many sets. At his retirement dinner, we talked with him about which set's design he was proudest, and his answer was Khans of Tarkir. Three-color sets are tricky to create because you want to enable three-color play without everything devolving into multicolor soup where players just use the most powerful cards. Khans of Tarkir did such a great job of solving this problem, that it's become the go-to set structure for three-color sets. Streets of New Capenna, for example, started with its default being Khans of Tarkir's set skeleton. These two articles talk a lot about mechanics and themes, but innovative structures are also a key component to R&D's design evolution.

Runner-Up: The "morph five mana" rule

In Khans of Tarkir, Erik also came up with a way to address some of the concerns with the morph mechanic. The "morph five mana" rule says that if you attack with your morph creature into an opponent's morph creature, it will take a minimum of five mana for their morph to "eat" your morph (meaning it turns face up and destroys your creature without itself being destroyed). This rule introduced the idea that designers can build in metrics such that it enables players to have a better sense of what can and can't happen in the game. Even if the players are unaware of the metrics, it creates better gameplay that results in players enjoying the set more.

Runner-Up: The Monarch

The Monarch

Inspired by a mechanic called the Edge from another trading card game, also made by Richard Garfield, called Vampire: The Eternal Struggle. The Edge was a singular game piece that players fought over. The Monarch was adapted to Magic in Conspiracy: Take the Crown and helped solve an age-old multiplayer design issue—how do you get players to attack one another? It has become a key design tool for multiplayer design.


Randomized Booster Releases of That Year: Fate Reforged, Dragons of Tarkir, Modern Horizons 2015, Magic Origins, and Battle for Zendikar

Best Addition to Magic: Manifest

Reality ShiftWhisperwood ElementalGhastly Conscription

At this point in Magic, we had made the decision that every other year, the third set in a block would be large, have its own suite of mechanics and made to be drafted by itself. To shake things up, I pitched a block where the small middle set would be drafted with both large sets and created a time-travel structure to support it. The first set was the present, a plane without dragons. The protagonist, Sarkhan Vol, would travel to the past (i.e., the second set) to save the dragons. The third set would be the alternate timeline with the dragons. To capture this sense of present, past, and alternate present, I came up with the idea of using morph and adapting it for the past and the alternate present. Manifest was a protomorph where you were turning cards, even ones that didn't have morph, face down as colorless 2/2 creatures with a way to turn certain cards face up. (Megamorph, the alternate-reality version, was not as much a hit.) I really like how manifest shows that you can take a core good design idea and extrapolate it to make something related, but different, that's equally fun.

Runner-Up: Exploit

On the surface, this mechanic seems like it wouldn't be popular. Players generally don't want to sacrifice their creatures, but this mechanic felt more like trading them in for a spell than losing them. I'm highlighting it because this mechanic helped fight a trend we had of not doing "downside" mechanics. It taught us that you must give the players a good reason for spending a permanent as a resource, but if you do, they'll be happy to do it.


Randomized Booster Releases of That Year: Oath of the Gatewatch, Shadows over Innistrad, Eternal Masters, Eldritch Moon, and Kaladesh

Best Addition to Magic: Artifact tokens as a game resource

Clue Token

Shadows over Innistrad was a cosmic horror–themed set that played into mystery (cosmic horror stories tend to start as mystery stories). To capture that sense of mystery, we wanted a mechanic called investigate. Originally, it drew cards, but it was adding too much card-drawing to the set. We then came up with the idea of a Clue artifact token that you had to spend mana on to get a card, which were closer to drawing half a card. Clue tokens as a core structure of the set were so popular that it inspired us to start using artifact tokens as a connective theme in future sets, although without the keyword action to generate it.

This year had so many goodies that I had not one, not two, but three runners-up.

Runner-Up: Energy

Aetherworks MarvelAethersquall AncientArchitect of the Untamed

Energy was first created as a mechanic in original Mirrodin, but there wasn't enough space for it, so it was pulled. It took many years to find a home for it, but we eventually did. While it had some developmental issues, the resource is flavorful and allows for a lot of interesting designs. Also, while it was a parasitic mechanic in its first use, every time we bring it back, it becomes a backwards-compatible mechanic more and more.

Runner-Up: Vehicles

Smuggler's CopterCultivator's CaravanSkysovereign, Consul Flagship

We'd talked about doing Vehicles for years but kept pushing it off. Finally, we started an artifact set and felt like the time had come to make them. We went through many iterations but eventually ended up with something we liked so much, it became evergreen overnight. Vehicles are flavorful and introduced the idea of creature power as a usable resource that we've tapped into numerous times.

Runner-Up: Meld

Bruna, the Fading LightGisela, the Broken BladeBrisela, Voice of Nightmares

From time to time, Magic needs to design things that makes players go, "Can they do that?" Yes, design needs a lot of workhorse mechanics that get the job done, but it also occasionally needs some splash. A cool part of having an ever-evolving game is that sometimes the game can take you places you don't expect.


Randomized Booster Releases of That Year: Aether Revolt, Amonkhet, Hour of Devastation, Ixalan, Iconic Masters, and Unstable

Best Addition to Magic: Punch-Out Cards

Punch-Out Card

One of the challenges of constantly finding new design space includes leaning more into having either external game pieces (such as counters and tokens) or memory issues. Amonkhet introduced a new tool for R&D when a set starts pushing up against its limits: punch-out cards. These cards are the size of a Magic card, so they fit into boosters while allowing you to create punch-out components to represent counters, tokens, or to use as memory aides. Along with double-faced cards, punch-out tokens are one of the new tools that most enable designs that couldn't have been done ten years ago.

Runner-Up: Treasure Tokens

Treasure Token

Clues introduced the idea of artifact tokens as a tool to build sets. Ixalan would introduce the artifact token that has gone on to see the most use: Treasure. Mana is a key element of the game, and Treasure has proven to be a flavorful and useful tool that we use so much it's almost evergreen.


Randomized Booster Releases of That Year: Rivals of Ixalan, Masters 25, Dominaria, Core Set 2019, Guilds of Ravnica, and Ultimate Masters

Best Addition to Magic: Sagas

In Dominaria, we wanted a way to represent the telling of stories. We ended up using a mechanic we'd discarded while designing planeswalker cards many years ago (because it felt too robotic and didn't give the planeswalkers enough agency). They were so flavorful, enabled such cool designs, and were so popular, they quickly became deciduous and have started showing up in more and more sets.

Runner-Up: Batching

Dominaria needed to capture a sense of history. When we found no single thing conveyed what we needed, we tried connecting three different things that we felt, added up, captured the flavor we wanted. The playtesters weren't getting the flavor, so I tried something bold. I simply used a vocabulary word to capture the flavor we wanted and then listed what made up the new term in the reminder text. This implementation went over well (making the mechanic historic) and created what we now call batching. Batching has proved very useful when designing in an Eternal world where many players play with cards from across 30 years. It allows us to create new themes for deck building while being backwards compatible.


Randomized Booster Releases of That Year: Ravnica Allegiance, War of the Spark, Modern Horizons, Core Set 2020, and Throne of Eldraine

Best Addition to Magic: Adventures

Murderous RiderBeanstalk GiantBrazen Borrower

For Throne of Eldraine, we wanted to capture the idea of going on an adventure and tapped into a cool idea. What if cards came with a second spell that you could cast before the main spell? With the help of a fun frame, Adventures were instantly popular and offered new design potential.

Runner-Up: Backdrop Sets

War of the Spark was the culmination of a three-year storyline. The dramatic ending required the action take place on Ravnica and involve an army of Planeswalkers. Could we put a set on a plane where its mechanical theme was not the one associated with it? War of the Spark was the big test, and it went well, opening R&D to explore other new themes on old planes.

Runner-Up: Food Tokens

After Treasure, Food has become our number-two go-to for artifact tokens. It's flavorful, generally useful, and is nipping at the heels of being evergreen like Treasure.


Randomized Booster Releases of That Year: Theros Beyond Death, Ikoria: Lair of the Behemoths, Core Set 2021, Jumpstart, Double Masters, Zendikar Rising, and Kaladesh Remastered

Best Addition to Magic: Modal Double-Faced Cards (MDFCs)

Bala Ged RecoveryMalakir RebirthValakut Awakening

Transforming double-faced cards had quickly proved themselves a useful tool, but it turns out double-faced cards had even more to offer. Split cards had always been popular. MDFCs took that idea to the next level, allowing you to essentially make split cards out of permanents and cards with longer text boxes. They were so versatile that each set in the Magic year used them in different ways.

Runner-Up: Fast Deck Building

One of the biggest hurdles to trading card games has always been deck construction. One solution was preconstructed decks, but it took away the fun of personal deck customizations. Jumpstart introduced a novel solution. What if we did most of the work and reduced deck construction down to combining two deck halves? It has proved a very valuable introductory tool.


Randomized Booster Releases of That Year: Kaldheim, Time Spiral Remastered, Strixhaven: School of Mages, Modern Horizons 2, Dungeons & Dragons: Adventures in the Forgotten Realms, Innistrad: Midnight Hunt, and Innistrad: Crimson Vow

Best Addition to Magic: Cards external to the deck

The idea of Magic cards that don't start in your deck was something R&D had been experimenting with for years. In Avacyn Restored, we tried a mechanic called forbidden where cards could be shuffled into your deck, and in Kaladesh, we experimented with a mechanic called invention where you pull in artifact cards from outside the game to your hand. (Companions in Ikoria the year before played in related space.) Lessons and learn finally brought this mechanic to a set. It turns out that instants and sorceries work better than permanents like artifacts. This is definitely design space that R&D wants to explore more.

Runner-Up: External Game Pieces

Lost Mine of PhandelverDungeon of the Mad MageTomb of Annihilation

This is another thing R&D has experimented with for years, finally seeing print with the dungeons in Dungeons & Dragons: Adventures in the Forgotten Realms. The design team wanted dungeons to play a role in the set, but finding cards that captured the flavor proved difficult. Riffing off an idea we'd played around with in War of the Spark, the design team tried making dungeons something that lived off of the cards. While this is design space we must tread carefully in, it does hold the promise of a rich new vein of design.


Randomized Booster Releases of That Year: Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty, Streets of New Capenna, Battle for Baldur's Gate, Double Masters 2022, Dominaria United, Unfinity, The Brothers' War, and Jumpstart 2022

Best Addition to Magic: Nostalgic Revisits

I get a lot of people writing to me on my blog (Blogatog). A common request for years was a return to Kamigawa. The challenge was the original visit fared poorly, both in sales and player sentiment, in market research. If we were going to return to a plane, why not return to one that was popular the first time around? Eventually, we decided to make a plane inspired by Japanese pop culture, and we found a way to make it Kamigawa. It went on to be the hit of the year, showing that there is much power in harnessing nostalgia if done correctly. For instance, Neon Dynasty's success helped pave the way for our return to Lorwyn in the upcoming 2025 set code-named "Wrestling."

Runner-Up: Prototype

Steel SeraphHulking MetamorphCradle Clearcutter

As monstrosity showed back in 2013, there's a need in design to find ways to allow players to fit more large creatures into their deck. While monstrosity allowed the creature to be cast cheaper and then evolve, prototype took a different approach, something more akin to how kicker works, where cards have two states and you can choose which version you want based on what turn it is and how much mana you have. The idea of keeping the continuity of the text box but varying mana cost and power/toughness allowed for the space to design the frame we needed. I believe prototype's approach will lead to a new vein of design.


Randomized Booster Releases of That Year: Dominaria Remastered, Phyrexia: All Will Be One, March of the Machine, March of the Machine: The Aftermath, The Lord of the Rings: Tales of Middle-earth™, Commander Masters, Wilds of Eldraine, and The Lost Caverns of Ixalan

Best Addition to Magic: Universes Beyond

When Secret Lair x The Walking Dead cards first appeared, the idea of setting Magic cards in the worlds of other properties was controversial. The Lord of the Rings: Tales of Middle-earth, I believe, was the set that showed the full potential of what Universes Beyond can be. I don't think it's a coincidence that it went on to be the best-selling Magic set of all time. As a designer, I have enjoyed how the top-down inspiration leads us to create designs we otherwise wouldn't and allows us to tap into an emotional wellspring of joy.

Runner-Up: Battles

Invasion of IkoriaInvasion of ZendikarInvasion of Segovia

We don't take making a new card type lightly and spent a lot of time trying to make battles something that was worthy of doing. I'm quite pleased with the response from the players, and I'm happy to say it's something we've greenlit eternally for future use. I can't say where or when, but there will be more battles coming.

"Which Brings Us to Today"

I hope you enjoyed my jaunt through time. It's interesting to look back and see all the innovations to design that have happened over the years. As always, I'm eager for your feedback on today's column or any of the innovations I talked about, either by email or through any of my social media accounts (X , Tumblr, Instagram, and TikTok).

Join me next week when Outlaws of Thunder Junction previews begin.

Until then, may you find the innovation that brings you the most joy and have fun with it.