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Ranking every Magic: The Gathering set of 2023

Here's our list of every Magic: The Gathering set released this year, ranked from the very worst to the absolute best - do you agree with our order?

MTG sets ranked - a collage containing frodo, gisela and an aztec serpent god.

2023 was a pretty good year for new Magic: The Gathering sets. With interesting new mechanics to learn, a bunch of worlds with diverse themes to explore, and a large number of powerful but mostly not broken new cards to collect, there was a little something for everyone. But that doesn’t mean there weren’t a few clunkers in the mix.

Here we’ve ranked all the MTG sets from the 2023 MTG release schedule and placed them in a ranking order from worst to best. We’ll start with the few blunders that Wizards put out, then soar like a bird across increasingly spectacular sets. If you’ve been hiding under a rock or taking a break from Magic for the past 12 months, hopefully you’ll find this recap handy.

9. March of the Machine Aftermath

March of the Machine Aftermath was the biggest anti-climax of the year for Magic. It sounded so promising when the 2023 release schedule was revealed. The big final battle versus the Phyrexians was going to be so dramatic, it would take a whole bonus set to fully explore its consequences.

Whatever you thought of March of the Machine’s story, I think most fans can agree that March of the Machine Aftermath did a very poor job wrapping things up. The set was tiny, with only 50 cards in total. Very few of these actually contained ‘plot’, with most not even featuring flavor text.

While that was a bummer for lore-lovers like me, the biggest problem with Aftermath was the new type of booster pack. Epilogue boosters, containing just five cards, didn’t feel worth the cost of a regular pack, but were priced the same. It turns out fans missed commons, and didn’t want to pay an equal amount for less cardboard. The limited card pool didn’t help either – as you were bound to get tons of duplicates.

Aftermath did actually have some interesting cards, especially the creature-fied version of Planeswalkers, but for the most part fans turned their noses up at it. Magic’s head designer Mark Rosewater has hinted that Aftermath was a flop, and that Wizards is unlikely to try an epilogue set like it any time soon.

Overall, Aftermath was a failed experiment, and we haven’t even touched on the fact that this was the leaked set that sparked the whole Pinkerton controversy.

8. Commander Masters

With Commander Masters, it appears that Wizards of the Coast might have finally hit the limit on what fans are prepared to pay for a pack of Magic cards. A reprint set with a good selection of Commander cards, CMM was marred by an astronomical price tag which saw many fans skip it altogether.

Commander Masters was a bad set for LGSs too. Sold by distributors at a hefty price, Local Game Stores were left holding the bag when it turned out players were sticking with the recently released Lord of the Rings (a popular set that was also pretty costly, but not as bad). The close proximity of these MTG sets just a few months apart likely didn’t help much either.

Some fans weren’t too happy about what was in Commander Masters. While some of the backlash was down to the order spoilers were revealed, it’s definitely the case that CM was a mixed bag, with plenty of commonly reprinted cards alongside the valuable and much-needed rares and mythics.

A heavy emphasis seemed to have been placed on making the set draft well, but the price meant Commander Masters drafts were few and far between, and most fans were more interested in the value of the cards.

While Wizards doesn’t reveal its sales figures, it’s widely believed that Commander Masters was another flop.

7. Phyrexia All Will Be One

Phyrexia All Will Be One was a polarizing set, but one thing it had going for it was stakes and story. The reveal of the Phyrexianized MTG Planeswalkers was a rare moment of effective drama that really landed, even if we were pretty sure it’d be undone sooner rather than later.

However, there were several areas where Phyrexia had problems. The mechanics were a bit of a miss, for starters. Toxic was divisive, and seemed to dramatically overshadow the other parts of the set – do you remember much about oil counters or ‘For Mirrodin’?

Meanwhile the aesthetic of New Phyrexia had as many detractors as it had fans. Personally I loved getting an ‘evil world’ set with basically no good guys, but many preferred the grungier, grittier look of the older Phyrexia cards to the cleaner designs found in ONE.

Phyrexia All Will Be One also lacked power. Aside from the Dominii in EDH, few of the best MTG Phyrexia cards have really stood the test of time. Though of course there is Atraxa, Grand Unifier as a notable exception – one of the best MTG cards of 2023.

6. March of the Machine

March of the Machine brought some interesting innovations, such as Battle cards, Magic’s first new card type in years. This was one ambitious set, aiming to encapsulate an entire multiversal war in a compact package.

In some ways it pulled this off. The team-up cards and Battles were a good way to depict the invasion of the whole multiverse, while transforming Phyrexian cards showed the losses suffered. In Commander, Planechase made a welcome return. Overall, it really felt like Wizards was trying to showcase the entire multiverse of worlds and characters it had created.

The main problem with March of the Machine was one of narrative. After so many sets building up to the Phyrexian threat, it was anticlimactic to see the invasion bested in the same set it began. The jumble of worlds and characters also left MOM without a strong central identity of its own. Aftermath didn’t help the impression that the Phyrexian plotline had had a somewhat average ending.

5. Lost Caverns of Ixalan

Because of recency bias, and the fact that it depicts one of my favorite planes of all time, I could easily be persuaded to put MTG Lost Caverns of Ixalan near the top of the set list. However, there is no getting away from the fact that mechanically, it was one of the most problematic sets of 2023.

Not only were things like the various usages of ‘Descend’ confusing as hell, there was the whole ordeal with Discover. We’re not sure who thought it would be a good idea to give Pioneer and Standard their own version of MTG Cascade, but as the recent MTG banlist changes should tell you – it wasn’t.

However, if there’s one great thing about Lost Caverns of Ixalan, it’s that this is a tribal set done right. The right lessons have been learned from Ixalan’s poorly-received first appearance, and hopefully we’ll now get to see more MTG creature type sets released in the future.

The precon MTG Commander decks released with LCI are also shockingly powerful and fun to play with. Are precons too good now folks? Should Wizards pull back a bit?

4. MTG Doctor Who

MTG Doctor Who is a great template for what these MTG Universes Beyond Commander sets should be. Like the Warhammer 40k MTG decks before it, the Doctor Who crossover was full of great artwork, thematic designs and fan-pleasing references.

However, whereas the 40k precon decks were brutally strong, it seems like Wizards of the Coast dialed the power level down a tiny bit for Doctor Who, instead focusing on having really interesting and unique themes. The Timey-Wimey Suspend deck was obviously the star of the show, but all three decks contain great designs – and it’s clear that a lot of work and love went into them.

The new Partner variant, letting you pair Doctors and Companions, is great for creative deck building, and River Song may be the coolest MTG Commander design of the year. Overall, this is the Universes Beyond set that convinced cynical old me that it’s not a fluke, and maybe Wizards knows what it’s doing with these crossover releases after all.

3. Dominaria Remastered

Dominaria Remastered was a bit crammed in at the very start of 2023, with only a couple of weeks before Phyrexia All Will Be One arrived, but it was a very good Remastered release, containing a nostalgic mashup of cards from a whopping 27 different Dominaria sets.

The real high point of Dominaria Remastered was its Limited design. By all accounts, Dominaria Remastered is a great MTG draft format. Not bomb-heavy, full of interesting interactions at low rarities, and fairly slow, drafting Dominaria Remastered is a breath of fresh air after countless modern sets dominated by aggressive one and two drops.

There were some expensive Dominaria Remastered reprint cards like Force of Will and MTG tutors to open, but the low power level of older cards did mean cracking packs was sometimes unsatisfying.

2. Wilds of Eldraine

Wilds of Eldraine paired the fairytale theme that won so many fans over the first time we visited this plane with a great bonus sheet including all sorts of wonderful enchantment cards. From Rhystic Study to Doubling Season to Smothering Tithe, it was honestly shocking to see so many great cards available in a regular set, and the reprints did a good job bringing prices down.

The main problem with Eldraine was how fiddly it was to play in paper. The number of token creatures in the set, combined with roles, meant that playing games with this set in physical form was a logistical nightmare.

Draft was also a mixed bag. It was a complicated, skill-based set, which many players enjoyed, but colors were deeply imbalanced and some of the archetypes, including the unique tapping ‘Frost Queen’ strategy just didn’t come together. Overall, however, an outstanding premier set.

1. MTG Lord of the Rings

The best MTG set of the year can only be Lord of the Rings: Tales of Middle Earth. In August, this was already the second best selling MTG set of all time, and we’d be shocked if it hasn’t overtaken Modern Horizons 2 by now.

The MTG Lord of the Rings set had plenty to please Middle Earth and Magic fans alike, from flavor-win mechanics to absurdly powerful cards like The One Ring. There were loads of interesting things going on in this set, from the collages you could form, to the unexpectedly desirable Nazgul, to the map lands and desirable alternate art. The whole serialized $2 million One Ring card was a bit of a gimmick, but hey it gave us more reason than most sets do to crack a collector booster or two.

Tales of Middle Earth played well, sold well, and proved beyond a doubt that Universes Beyond is – for the time being – a smart move for Magic.

That about wraps it up for this year’s Magic: The Gathering content. But rest assured, we’re already looking ahead at the MTG release schedule for 2024, and boy is it a doozy. Next stop, Murders at Karlov Manor!