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A block is a group of two to three Magic: The Gathering expansion sets that are connected in terms of mechanics and flavor. Sets within a block share a common setting (a plane in Magic's Multiverse), and typically feature a story arc tying them together. A large expansion leads off each block to establish its world and mechanical themes, which are explored further in the block's remaining set(s).

Blocks provide structure to Magic's release schedule. Standard, the game's leading gameplay format, rotates yearly in autumn with the start of a new block.[1] Historically, the game has had one three-set block annually, with a debut expansion in autumn and two follow-up sets early next calendar year. Wizards of the Coast recently changed this formula, and now prints four expansion sets each year, divided into two blocks with two sets apiece.[2]

Theming[edit | edit source]

A theme is the concept that gives a block its identity, differentiating it from other Magic expansions. The theme can be mechanical; for example, Odyssey block had a graveyard focus. The block mechanics, flashback and threshold, incentivized greater use of discard and sacrifice effects. This allows R&D to vary the importance of gameplay elements such as creature type, multicolor, etc. over time.[3]

The theme can also be a genre or setting, in which case gameplay is built around flavor. Known as top-down design, mechanics are crafted to recreate an iconic character or story arc. For example, Innistrad block is based around gothic horror, and features a tribal component that pits humans against classic monsters such as zombies and vampires. It also introduces double-faced cards to evoke the feeling of corruption and transformation.[4][5]

If a block is too focused on one aspect of its theme, it can force players to commit heavily to a specific archetype.[6] One of the most important parts to designing and developing sets is to create cross-block synergies so the sets within Standard play well with each other, but also so that there is enough of a change when Standard rotates to create a healthy metagame.[7]

History[edit | edit source]

During the game's first two years, prior to the introduction of the block structure, Magic expansions had no direct continuity. Alliances (1996) was the first set to borrow its environment and mechanics from a previous set, Ice Age.[8][9] Due to the proximity of their release dates, Ice Age and Alliances were retroactively grouped with Homelands, despite the latter being thematically unrelated to the others.[10] In 2006, in order to play up its "lost set" conceit, Coldsnap replaced Homelands in Ice Age block.[11][9]

Mirage block (1996-97) was the first block developed for the three-set formula—a large set released in autumn followed by two small sets the next winter and spring.[8] This became the default arrangement for Magic sets until Khans of Tarkir block (2014-15). Some exceptions to the large-small-small structure have been made,[note 1][10][9] typically because the third set has needed to advance established block mechanics yet have enough original material to not feel stale.[12][2] The most notable break was Lorwyn–Shadowmoor block (2007-08), which was divided into two mini-blocks, each with a large and small set.[10][9]

Two-Block Paradigm[edit | edit source]

A redesign of the block structure was announced by Mark Rosewater on August 25, 2014 and implemented the following year. The core set was cut and replaced with a fourth expansion, allowing one per calendar season. Replicating the structure of Lorwyn and Shadowmoor, each year's sets are divided into two blocks of two. The new default formula (subject to change for special cases) is known as the "Two Block-Paradigm," and has been in effect since the release of the last core set, Magic Origins (2015).[2]

To facilitate the accompanying new draft structure (2 boosters of the second set / 1 of the first set) the average size for a small expansion went up to around 184.[13][14][15][16]

List of blocks[edit | edit source]

The following list details all Magic: The Gathering blocks in chronological order. The year given in parentheses is when the first set in a block was released. For the three-set blocks, the Magic year begins with the "large fall expansion,"[2] typically in October, with that block's subsequent sets releasing during February and April of the following year.

With Lorwyn and Shadowmoor, as well as expansions following the introduction of the Two-Block Paradigm, Wizards of the Coast has instead printed two blocks per Magic year. For these, the first block's sets come out in autumn then winter next calendar year, while the second block's sets release that spring and summer. All seasons noted here are those of the Northern Hemisphere.[2]

Ice Age block (1995)

Mirage block (1996)

Tempest block (1997)

Urza's block (1998)

Masques block (1999)

Invasion block (2000)

Odyssey block (2001)

Onslaught block (2002)

Mirrodin block (2003)

Kamigawa block (2004)

Ravnica block (2005)

Time Spiral block (2006)

Lorwyn block (Autumn 2007)

Shadowmoor block (Spring 2008)

Alara block (2008)

Zendikar block (2009)

Scars of Mirrodin block (2010)

Innistrad block (2011)

Return to Ravnica block (2012)

Theros block (2013)

Khans of Tarkir block (2014)

Battle for Zendikar block (Autumn 2015)

Shadows over Innistrad block (Spring 2016)

Kaladesh block (Autumn 2016)

Amonkhet block (Spring 2017)

References[edit | edit source]

Footnotes[edit | edit source]

  1. Rise of the Eldrazi, Avacyn Restored, and Dragons of Tarkir are each the third expansion of its respective block. They are large expansions to highlight and provide room for a dramatic reboot in gameplay and tone. The second set in Return to Ravnica block, Gatecrash, was made large to allow a new distribution of the ten guilds.

Citations[edit | edit source]

  1. Aaron Forsythe. (2016 October 19.) “Revisiting Standard Rotation”,, Wizards of the Coast.
  2. a b c d e Mark Rosewater. (2014 August 25.) “Metamorphosis”,, Wizards of the Coast.
  3. Mark Rosewater. (2003 January 20.) “Lions and Tigers and Bears”,, Wizards of the Coast.
  4. Mark Rosewater. (2011 August 29.) “Every Two Sides Has a Story”,, Wizards of the Coast.
  5. Mark Rosewater. (2011 September 05.) “C'mon Innistrad, Part 1”,, Wizards of the Coast.
  6. Mark Rosewater. (2005 August 29.) “State of Design 2005”,, Wizards of the Coast.
  7. Sam Stoddard. (2013 October 11.) “Cross-Block Synergies in Theros”,, Wizards of the Coast.
  8. a b Mark Rosewater. (2009 December 07.) “Playing With Blocks”,, Wizards of the Coast.
  9. a b c d Blake Rasmussen. (2014 August 25.) “Building Blocks”,, Wizards of the Coast.
  10. a b c Mark Rosewater. (2013 April 29.) “Third Time's the Charm”,, Wizards of the Coast.
  11. Mark Rosewater. (2006 February 06.) “Back Issues”,, Wizards of the Coast.
  12. Zac Hill. (2012 April 27.) “Size Matters”,, Wizards of the Coast.
  13. Mark Rosewater. (2015 September 02.) "What are reasons behind changing the Draft format?", Blogatog, Tumblr.
  14. Mark Rosewater. (2015 September 07.) "Is 184 the new default size of small sets?", Blogatog, Tumblr.
  15. Mark Rosewater. (2015 September 07.) "Are you now going to be putting out more, or less cards every year?", Blogatog, Tumblr.
  16. Sam Stoddard. (2016 February 26.) “Learning from the Two-Block World”,, Wizards of the Coast.