One of the nice things about MTG is that it appeals to people for a lot of different reasons. For some, having the ability to build a bunch of different decks keeps the game interesting year after year. For others, the competitive nature associated with constantly changing metagames and trying to stay ahead of the curve is a driving force.
Even in a game that encompasses a lot of different unique ideas, though, some concepts are bound to be more popular than others. There’s a reason that specific sets like original Innistrad are widely regarded as some of the best. Despite the fact that there are a ton of reasons players can like or dislike a set (Limited environment, lore, mechanics, Constructed applications, and more), some sets are going to be more successful than others.
Recently, head designer Mark Rosewater posted numerous polls, one for each major set since the start of 2023. Each poll asked players to rate the set in question on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the best possible score. Now that the results are in, there are a decent number of interesting conclusions that can be drawn from the data. One noticeable conclusion from the data is that, on average, players were not as pleased with Murders at Karlov Manor overall as sets like The Lost Caverns of Ixalan.
The Bottom of the Barrel
From 2023 onward, the sets polled include Phyrexia: All Will be One, March of the Machine, Lord of the Rings, Wilds of Eldraine, The Lost Caverns of Ixalan, and Murders at Karlov Manor. In each poll, a large percentage of the vote concentration lies between 6 and 8, inclusively. This is still true for Murders at Karlov Manor, with over 55% of players rating the set a 6, 7, or 8. In theory, this should showcase that the set was strong overall. The issue is that, when compared to most of the other sets, there are some glaring differences that are not in Karlov Manor’s favor.
First and foremost, only 3.8% of players gave the set a perfect 10/10 score. Every other set had at least double the percentage of players giving a perfect rating. Obviously, it is a bit early in the set’s development, especially from a Constructed standpoint. That being said, many players in the comments were quick to showcase their disappointment with the themes and mechanics of the set.
“Fine set, not a huge fan of morph varients besides cloak and manifest. They often end up feeling too mana intensive to me to cast and flip”
One issue in particular that appeared to irk a lot of players initially in the Limited environment was the clunkiness of many of the Disguise Creatures. It’s quite clear that the design team recognized that simply paying three mana for a 2/2 with the intention of investing more mana later wasn’t going to cut it. Hence, Ward 2 was added to these Disguise cards to make them a little less vulnerable to removal. The problem is that the stats of the face-down Creatures didn’t change.
Meanwhile, cards in general have gotten significantly stronger since the Morph mechanic appeared in Khans of Tarkir. As such, players recognized the inefficiency associated with Disguise cards, which clearly hurt lots of players’ outlooks of the set in general. Simultaneously, Phyrexia: All Will be One, a set known for its unpleasantly fast-paced Limited environment, had a very similar average score within the polls as Murders at Karlov Manor. Obviously, these polls aren’t the end all be all, especially this close to the release of Murders at Karlov Manor, but they still show some important trends, nonetheless.
The Best of the Best
The set with the highest average rating in the polls was none other than The Lost Caverns of Ixalan. By contrast, many players seemed to love the mechanics in the set as a whole. This set had a nice blend of strong, well-established keywords like Explore, as well as cool new mechanics like Craft that also played reasonably well. Even players that weren’t in love with the theme of the set recognized how strong the gameplay was.
As such, it’s abundantly clear from the comments and data that gameplay played a huge role in how players viewed the appeal of each set. While some mechanics proved to be a bit hostile in various Constructed formats, such as Discover in Pioneer, Limited players and casual players alike seemed to largely appreciate the set’s mechanics.
Players also seemed to appreciate the universality of the mechanics themselves. Rather than relying on something like Tempted by the Ring that mostly only works well with cards from LOTR, The Lost Caverns of Ixalan utilized a ton of cool ideas that overlapped with designs from previous sets. For example, while Descend was a new mechanic, cards with Descend could slot nicely into graveyard-focused Commander decks. As such, you wouldn’t need a ton of different Descend cards to make your deck work, but rather a deck that simply fills its graveyard reliably.
A Unique Spot for LOTR
One of the more intriguing data points from the polls comes from Lord of the Rings: Tales of Middle-earth. Lord of the Rings was pretty close to the middle of the road in terms of average poll rating. However, the set saw by far the highest polarity between overall scores. The set saw the highest percentage of 1/10 scores as well as 10/10 scores when compared to other sets.
In theory, this could be heavily persuaded by the fact that Universes Beyond sets are naturally quite controversial. Players that are huge fans of the LOTR franchise and Universes Beyond content in general are seemingly more likely to give a perfect rating. At the same time, players who heavily dislike most Universes Beyond sets given their separation from MTG lore, almost certainly will give the set a worse grade.
Additionally, it’s very possible some Constructed afficionados were turned off by the sheer number of absurdly powerful cards that entered formats like Modern and Historic. The One Ring and Orcish Bowmasters, for instance, completely revolutionized the competitive landscape. This can definitely rub some players the wrong way, even if the flavor of the set was top notch.
A Surprising Lack of Disparity
Perhaps the biggest takeaway from the data, however, was that all of these sets were reasonably well-received. As mentioned, Murders at Karlov Manor, the worst performing set in the polls altogether, still had over 55% of players rate the set between 6 and 8. Over 70% of players gave the set at least a 6/10 rating.
In this sense, even though Murders at Karlov Manor and Phyrexia: All Will be One weren’t quite as strongly rated amongst the players as The Lost Caverns of Ixalan, the difference in scores weren’t overwhelming. In fact, the gap between average scores from Murders at Karlov Manor and The Lost Caverns of Ixalan was less than 1.
If anything, this shows that despite vastly different themes and mechanics, players have generally liked recent sets overall. It’ll be interesting to see if this trend continues through 2024.