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 to consider as being the best of all time is 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.)
WHAT ARE THE MAGIC: THE GATHERING ERAS?
The breaking down of Magic into eras is another subjective opinion, so I want to explain how I break down these sets timewise.
THE 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.
THE SILVER ERA
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.
THE 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.
THE 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.
IS THIS STRICTLY ABOUT THE SET ITSELF OR AM I ALSO REFERRING TO THE BEST BOOSTER BOXES?
For this post, I will strictly talk about the set itself, as I would need to write a separate post to talk about the best sets with the best booster boxes. 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 best 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.
ONE LAST THING…
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!
Our List of the 40 Best MTG Sets Across ALL ERAS
We’ll get into some of these below, but here’s the actual list of the 40 Best MTG Sets ever made across all eras (in no particular order):
|16||Rise of Eldrazi||Silver|
|23||Ravnica: City of Guilds||Silver|
|26||Return to Ravnica||Bronze|
|28||Khans of Tarkir||Bronze|
|30||War of the Spark||Bronze|
|34||Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty||Current|
|35||Core Set 2021||Current|
|36||Innistrad: Midnight Hunt||Current|
|37||Theros Beyond Death||Current|
|39||Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths||Current|
BEST GOLDEN ERA MAGIC THE GATHERING SETS
#1: URZA’S SAGA (October 1998)
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.
INVESTMENT POTENTIAL: Urza’s Saga will continue to be an excellent long-term investment. The list of rare cards in the set is impressive, and many high-dollar cards will continue to be in demand and drive this set. You won’t see huge returns yearly, but we’ll all wish we had more Saga in our collections ten years from now.
#2: TEMPEST (October 1997)
I’ll bet most didn’t think Tempest would be my number two set, but I think this is one of the best 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.
INVESTMENT POTENTIAL: Although Tempest lacks when it comes to quantities of high-dollar cards, the sheer number of desirable $10-$50 cards is impressive. The Medallion cards have a lot of room for growth, and the heavy hitters like Intuition and Earthcraft have only started to rise. You could argue that another set like Stronghold or one of the other Urzas should be in this spot (and I would agree), but the entirety of the list of higher-value cards in Tempest trumps those other sets. I would look to slowly add Tempest cards to your Magic collection over time, as I think you’ll be happy you did in the long term.
GOLDEN ERA HONORABLE MENTIONS
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 best 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!
BEST SILVER ERA MAGIC THE GATHERING SETS
#1: SHADOWMOOR (May 2008)
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.
INVESTMENT POTENTIAL: So why is this one of the tops on our list of sets for the Silver Era? Shadowmoor has its share of money cards with Painter’s Servant heading that list in the $75 range. There are also a handful of $20+ cards in the set, including Prismatic Omen, Sunken Ruins, Mystic Gate, Polluted Bonds, and the very popular Greater Auramancy (currently $40+.) Not to mention the list of cards in that $5-$20 range that can ultimately tell the tale of a set’s strength.
The more cards you have across the board price-wise, the stronger the overall set is to me. Having only one or two pricey cards and the rest being junk doesn’t make a great long-term investment case. However, Shadowmoor’s money cards run the gamut from high to low dollars, so overall, I think it’s a great long-term play.
#2: RISE OF ELDRAZI (April 2010)
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.
INVESTMENT POTENTIAL: This set’s expected value (EV) is nowhere near the value of the booster box (currently around $1400), but that is expected. However, that doesn’t mean the set is not a good investment.
Rise of Eldrazi is not THE best set Magic ever made, but it is a great set nonetheless. I wouldn’t advise dumping the family fortune into this one, but the set has a few cards worth putting in the investment binder. Think of the Legendary Creatures alone that are peppered throughout the set: Kozilek, Ulamog, Emrakul, Linvala, and the list goes on. Wizards did an excellent job on this set, and it will undoubtedly age well.
SILVER ERA HONORABLE MENTIONS
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 it is worth being in the conversation for the best sets.
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.
BEST BRONZE ERA MAGIC THE GATHERING SETS
#1: RETURN TO RAVNICA (October 2012)
As I get further away from the older original Magic iconic sets, I find it more and more difficult to add “best” 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
INVESTMENT POTENTIAL: The Shocklands themselves will drive this set over time. The print run is the only thing holding this set back from going crazy in price. Although there is little information to pinpoint how much is on the market, we know there is quite a bit, which is why booster boxes continue to stick around the $150 mark. If the print run were less, these would be over $300 by now.
I expect the set to age well, but we’ll need quite a few more years to absorb the product into the market. Maybe 2-3 years from now, we’ll revisit this set and see whether our crystal ball was right.
#2: BATTLEBOND (June 2018)
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.
INVESTMENT POTENTIAL: I think the sky’s the limit for Battlebond. I’m amazed at how fast it took off in its first 2-3 years, and my guess is the print run is probably not as high as other sets in that Era. Boxes are gradually increasing year over year, and singles are climbing slowly in price as well. It is another ‘grab ’em while you can’ type of recommendation.
BRONZE ERA HONORABLE MENTIONS
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!
BEST CURRENT ERA MAGIC THE GATHERING SETS
#1: COMMANDER LEGENDS (November 2020)
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 the best 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.
INVESTMENT POTENTIAL: The Commander Legends set is relatively cheap, mainly because the market is still absorbing the product. But I expect booster boxes to start drying up soon, meaning singles prices will adjust positively. If you don’t have a Jeweled Lotus in your portfolio, you should, as that card alone will drive Commander Legends prices upwards over time.
CURRENT ERA HONORABLE MENTIONS
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.
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 the best set. I think it’s too early to tell (outside of Commander Legends, of course.)
THOSE ARE MY PICKS FOR THE 40 BEST MAGIC THE GATHERING SETS OF ALL TIME!
The best 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 the best Magic the Gathering sets of all time 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!
Brian CooperBrian Cooper is the founder of Magic Card Investor and has been in the trading card industry since the 1980's and Magic The Gathering since 1994. Since then, his mission is to bring the nostalgia and joy of collecting trading cards to everyone and to help people learn about (and maybe even profit from) this fun and rewarding pastime.
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