What Are The Best Magic: The Gathering Sets of All Time?

Brian Cooper  By Brian Cooper | Updated on February 16, 2024

Best Magic The Gathering Sets of All Time

When I first thought about writing about the best Magic: The Gathering sets of all time, I figured this would be a very subjective post. Because let’s face it, if I asked ten people what they thought, I would get ten different answers for ten different reasons.

The history of Magic is full of great sets, so picking a few of them is actually relatively easy. Getting everyone to agree with me would be more difficult, so that’s not the intent here.

I’m a huge fan of the Golden Era of Magic, so I could pull out five or six sets from the late 1990s that I think should be on the list. But to be fair, I thought I would try and pull at least two sets from each of the “eras” in Magic as I think that would appeal to my readers (who are spread across many different age groups and interests.)

So before we get into the sets, I wanted to briefly categorize the “eras” of Magic The Gathering, or at least how I and many others categorize them. I’ve broken down the Magic timeframe into the Golden, Silver, Bronze and Current eras, which ends up being a pretty good way to look at the history of the game. 

That being said, let’s go over quickly each of those eras and then I’ll tell you which sets in each era I think are the best ones. 


The breaking down of Magic into eras is another subjective opinion, so I want to explain how I break down these sets timewise.


Magic Golden Era

The Magic: The Gathering “Golden Era” includes all major sets from Limited Edition ALPHA in 1993 to Mercadian Masques in 1999. During this time, there were, according to my calculations, (33) Magic sets made by Wizards of the Coast. I know some people extended this Era to Eighth Edition or Mirrodin in 2003, but the popularity of Magic was at its lowest starting around 2000, which is why the Golden Era stopped at this point.


Magic Silver Era 2000-2012

The Magic: The Gathering “Silver Era” includes all sets starting with Nemesis in 2000 through Magic 2013, which was released in July 2012. The Silver Era was a long era of uncertainty in Magic, but a time with several awesome sets. Magic 2013 was about the end of this Silver Age, although I would argue to include the From The Vault Realms box set and the Izzet v. Golgari duel decks that came out later in 2012.


Magic Bronze Era

The Magic: The Gathering “Bronze Era” includes all sets, from Return to Ravnica in 2012 to War of the Spark in May 2019. It was yet another time of change in Magic and a pivot to more updated card designs, the addition of many new mechanics (i.e., Mentor, Devotion, Heroic, Extort, Surveil, to name a few), and the appearance of the lottery card.


Magic Current Era

The Magic: The Gathering “Current Era” Includes all sets starting with Modern Horizons in 2019 and running through to the Present.

After War of the Spark was over, Magic introduced a brand new plane in Eldraine, which Magic head designer Mark Rosewater had been trying to do for years before that point.

Many argue that the Current Era started in October 2019 with the release of that new plane and the Throne of Eldraine set. But the line had to be drawn somewhere, and many agree that the current Era of sets started when Modern Horizons was released in June 2019, right after War of the Spark.


For this post, I will strictly talk about the set itself. So, I’ll try to leave the subject of Booster Boxes out of this and focus more on what I think are the best Magic The Gathering sets of all time for each of the eras above.

That being said, here are the premier Magic: The Gathering sets of all time across the different eras. It took a lot of work to pick only one or two sets from these very lengthy eras, but in most cases, you would agree that these are excellent sets.


I didn’t want to be too obvious and pick ALPHA, BETA, etc. I just thought it would be way too obvious and boring. So, for that reason, I tried to pick some sets that I think are awesome right now and have the potential to be super long-term investments, too.

Also, I tried to keep out any Compilation, Supplemental, Box, or Commemorative sets. Anything containing “Modern” (like Modern Masters, Modern Horizons) or “Masters” (like Double Masters, Ultimate Masters, Iconic Masters) was not included because those sets are ALWAYS great. I wanted to give the standard sets, the little guys, the mainstream core, and the expansion sets a chance, too!

So, let’s get to it!


#1: URZA’S SAGA (October 1998)

Magic Urza's Saga

Urza’s Saga is easily one of my favorite sets ever made and one that I think will continue to grow in value over time. Urza’s Saga is full of great cards, a few of which are iconic and worth quite a bit of moolah these days.

Six cards in this 350-card set are priced over $100, three are over $200, and one (Gaea’s Cradle) is nearly $1000! The set is loaded from top to bottom, and if I had to pick one set outside of A/B/U that I would want in my collection, it would be this one. Whether it’s Serra’s Sanctum, Gilded Drake, Time Spiral, Yawgmoth’s Will, or one of my all-time favorites, Tolarian Academy, there’s something in this set for every collector or player.

#2: TEMPEST (October 1997)

Magic Tempest

I’ll bet most didn’t think Tempest would be my number two set, but I think this is one of the better Magic sets put out in the late 1990s and often overlooked by all of the other strong sets from the same Era.

Tempest (like Urza’s Saga) was a large set with 350 cards and was the first set released in the Tempest block. It followed the release of other strong sets, including Mirage Visions and Weatherlight, and was extremely popular back then.

The set introduced the Magic world to some new mechanics, including “shadow” on select black, blue, and white cards, as well as “buyback” which you can find on certain green and red cards. Tempest also included several powerful spells and creatures, including Eladamri Lord of Leaves, Time Warp, Intuition, and Earthcraft, all popular today.

What stands out for me are the number of Land and Artifact cards that have influenced the game. The Land cards Ancient Tomb and Wasteland, as well as the powerful Artifacts including the Medallions (Emerald, Jet, Ruby, Sapphire, and Pearl), Grindstone, Scroll Rack, and Lotus Petal are all still highly coveted by players and collectors alike.

Overall, Tempest is considered by many Magic historians as one of the most potent and influential sets in the game’s history. But is it a solid #2 on your list? It is for me.


It isn’t easy to talk about the Golden Era and not discuss the big three: Alpha, Beta, and Unlimited. All three sets created the landscape in the early 1990s and are easily some of the greatest Magic: The Gathering sets of all time, bar none.

Two other sets I wanted to mention are Stronghold and Exodus. I could easily have pushed either or both of these sets into my #1 and #2 spots, but a flip of the coin said otherwise. Both are highly influential sets in Magic’s history, and you certainly can’t go wrong investing in either one.

There are tons of other great sets during the Golden Era of Magic. Put Arabian Nights, Antiquities, Legends, The Dark, Weatherlight, Urza’s Legacy, and Urza’s Destiny on a board and throw a dart – you’re sure to get a winner!


#1: SHADOWMOOR (May 2008)

Magic Shadowmoor

This selection was a tough one. There are 75 different sets and decks put out between 2000 and 2012, so choosing the best Magic The Gathering sets of all time for the Silver Era was difficult.

That said, Shadowmoor is a fantastic set. It was released in 2008, and the setting takes place in the plane of Shadowmoor, a world cloaked in perpetual twilight. The set features the continuation of a new mechanic called “hybrid mana” (first introduced in Ravnica: City of Guilds), which allows players to use a card with either of two different colors of mana.

The set also features the return of two popular mechanics. First, “Wither” (which deals damage to your opponent’s creatures with -1/-1 counters) and the mechanic “Persist” (“When this creature dies, if it had no -1/-1 counters on it, it comes back to the battlefield under its owner’s control with a -1/-1 counter on it.”) It also has the exclusive Untap mechanic that was only found in this set at the time.

So that’s a bit about the set. Overall, the theming of the set was very dark and almost horror-like. It was a contrast to the Lorwyn set released just a few months before Shadowmoor, and this appealed to many players.

#2: RISE OF ELDRAZI (April 2010)

Magic Rise of Eldrazi

This decade was a controversial time in Magic: The Gathering. Many stores did mass box openings with Rise of Eldrazi, which didn’t go well for most of those stores then. However, the set has made a comeback over the years and today is revered by most collectors.

It was to many players the ‘era of the true Eldrazis.’ The set contained a handful of Mythics, which had been out for a few years in other sets and was also popular in this set. But those colorless, crazy Eldrazis were the draw to this set.

In addition, the Eldrazi rares and mythics contained the famous “Annihilator” mechanic. This triggered ability caused your opponent to sacrifice several permanents when the creature with annihilator attacked before they even had the chance to block it. It was an incredible ability.


Onslaught and Innistrad have to be in the conversation when it comes to the best Magic: The Gathering sets of all time, at least in the Silver Era of course. There were so many great cards in those sets: Parallel Lives, Balefire Dragon, Liliana, all of the Fetch lands, etc. There are too many to list, and I believe both sets are worth being in this conversation.

I had a hard time selecting just a few great sets in this period, as I did in the other eras. I can already see people wondering how Avacyn Restored, Zendikar, Mirrodin, Darksteel, Ravnica: City of Guilds, Guildpact, and 10th Edition aren’t in the mix. It’s a roll of the dice, and I could easily swap one or more of these into the conversation. All great sets, though.


#1: RETURN TO RAVNICA (October 2012)

Magic Return to Ravnica

As I get further away from the older original Magic iconic sets, I find it more and more difficult to add sets to the list. You need 10-15 years to see how Magic cards age to start considering them for a list like this.

Return to Ravnica is just over ten years old now (my gosh, time flies), and I think it’s worth looking into and considering as part of this list. Not so much for the massive prices (which it doesn’t have) or the booster boxes, which are worth thousands (which it doesn’t have), but purely because it’s a great set.

Unfortunately, Return to Ravnica came out when Wizards’ printing machines were chugging along at full throttle. That makes it great for players but not so much for investors. But sometimes, we need a great set because of the story, the cards, the mechanics, the incredible artwork, and the gameplay. Return to Ravnica has all of that.

Return to Ravnica is one of the few sets I remember where you did not care about the mythics. You wanted the rare cards in the set. The Blue Instant Cyclonic Rift was one of those rare cards (currently priced $35-$40), but it was the $10-$20 SHOCKLANDS that everyone wanted and still want….outside of the $5 uncommon Vandalblast, of course! Haha

#2: BATTLEBOND (June 2018)

Magic Battlebond

Back a few years ago, when Battlebond came out, I bet you could not find anyone who thought this set would age well. Wow, were they fooled!

Initially, Battlebond singles prices were strong when the set hit shelves. You could easily buy a box for around $100 and double your money selling the rares and foils.

But then everyone’s attention went to other new sets, and soon Battlebond was forgotten. WotC was putting out sets so fast and often that this set was getting lost quickly in the shuffle.

But over time, Battlebond sat in the background, and slowly but surely prices went up. Before you could think about it, booster boxes had hit $200 by early 2020, and the singles were getting hot again. Battlebond was back!

The set’s expected value (EV) is now hovering around $230, which is not too far off from the current booster box prices. But beyond the EV, the set itself is a homerun as the money cards are plentiful, the set is super unique, and the set itself was and continues to be as popular as ever. That’s a recipe for a set that ages well.

Beyond the foil versions you can find in Booster Packs that will jack up the card prices, the regular versions of hot cards in the set continue to be popular: Doubling Season, Archfiend of Despair, Mycosynth Lattice, Land Tax and Spellseeker all lead the list of hot cards in this set.


I’m keeping my eyes on a few other sets in the Bronze era, starting with Khans of Tarkir and Ravnica Allegiance. Both sets are full of Fetch Lands and Shock Lands, and those cards alone can drive a set to success. I’m also a fan of War of the Spark and Eldritch Moon, so keep an eye on those, too!


#1: COMMANDER LEGENDS (November 2020)

Magic Commander Legends

The stories of the Current Era Magic Sets are still being told, but there are a few I like. Commander Legends is simply a great set and tops on my list of sets to come out in the last few years.

It’s like watching the movie Oceans 11. That movie is FULL of big-name actors, from George Clooney, Matt Damon, Brad Pitt, and Andy Garcia to Julia Roberts, Bernie Mac, and on and on. Well, Commander Legends’ big star is the Jeweled Lotus, and the supporting cast is just as strong: Mana Drain, Vampiric Tutor, Sakashima, Aesi and so many more.

Plus, you cannot talk about the set without getting into the chase cards. The foil, foil etched, and extended art cards are unique, making this set better than it already is.


I could pick more than one set here, but the dust has yet to settle on the Current Era. There are so many sets to choose from, and we’re only four years into this time period in Magic History.

Which Magic sets would I also put on this list? Dominaria United, Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty, and Core Set 2021 are all in the conversation. I would possibly even consider Innistrad: Midnight Hunt, Theros Beyond Death, Zendikar Rising, Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths, and yes, even Kaldheim.

I’m a huge fan of Core Set 2021, and it’s the first set I introduced my son to when we started playing Magic together. It was enjoyable to rip the packs open with him, and it just gave me the early 1994 Revised vibes. It’s a great set and one that I think will age well.

Magic Core Set 2021

I’ll have to give the rest of the Magic sets in the Current Era some more time to age, and then we’ll see which one(s) emerge as leaders for my list. I think it’s too early to tell (outside of Commander Legends, of course.)

Wrap Up

These sets do not necessarily have to be the most expensive or have the highest money cards by no means. You have to have a decent amount of cards people want for gameplay, a handful of compelling rare/mythic cards, some cool chase cards, and finally, a print run that is not overprinted. If every store has 200 booster boxes for sale and no one is buying them, it probably doesn’t bode well, at least in the short term.

I hope you enjoyed the post. I could expand massively on each Era, but I kept it short rather than writing ten thousand words on the subject. I hope to dive deeper into individual sets and Booster Boxes sometime soon, so keep an eye open for more on Magic Card Investor!

If you have any questions about any of these Magic the Gathering sets or you have some input of your own about what sets we should add or take off the list, hit me up on the Contact page. I would enjoy hearing from you. Have a good one!

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Brian Cooper has been a part of the trading card scene since the 1980s and is the driving force behind MAGIC CARD INVESTOR. His mission is to help bring back the fun and nostalgia of collecting Magic: The Gathering cards and other Trading Card games to everyone young and old.