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Introduction to Magic the Gathering Sets
One of the more basic aspects of a Magic the Gathering card is the set it came from. For very early cards, there is no printed set symbol, so you'd have to identify them by their border, formatting, and copyright date. For later cards, the set sy mbol becomes increasingly important. From Ice Age to Exodus, the set symbol is an indicator of what set the cards come from. Beyond Exodus, all the way up to the current Scars of Mirrodin, the set symbol also becomes an indicator of the card's rarity.
So what set symbol is for what set? What does the set mean? Well, read on to find out. The following sections will go over each set, from Alpha to Scars of Mirrodin, with a little bit of back story, a little bit of trivia, and how to identify the set. So read on, and enjoy this Magic the Gathering sets list. Check back for updates, when new sets come out!
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Old Core Sets
Core sets are filler sets, printed in between block expansions to keep certain cards in standard, and as such are mostly comprised of reprinted cards. The exceptions are the earliest and most recent ones; Alpha was obviously entirely new cards, while the new M10 and M11 are partly reprints and partly new cards. The core sets are:
Limited Edition Alpha - This set was the first ever set of Magic the Gathering. As such it has a large number of misprints, typos, and other mistakes, due to the newness of the set. As well, it has some of the most powerful cards in the game, known as the Power Nine. Alpha cards have no set symbol, but are easily identified; they have black borders and very rounded corners, due to the dullness of the die used to cut them.
Limited Edition Beta - This set was a reprinting of Alpha, with the correction of many of the typos and mistakes from the first set. This set also contains the Power Nine cards, and had a larger print run than Alpha, but sold out just as quickly. A Beta card can be identified by it's black border, lack of copyright date, and corners identical to normal magic cards.
Unlimited - Unlimited cards are the same set as Alpha and Beta, but this time with white borders. This set as well contains the Power Nine, and can be identified by it's white borders, as well as a beveled edge to the card inside the border.
Revised - The sixth set of cards, and the third core set, Revised was the first true "core set", which is a term for a set reprinting certain cards from each previous set and setting the precedent for the next tournament year's Standard scene. These cards can be identified by comparing them with Unlimited cards; they have a washed out look, and the bevel for the card is cropped out, making the cards look flatter. They also have a white border, as all core sets from Unlimited until 10th edition do. Revised contains each of the original ten dual lands, all valuable cards.
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New Core Sets
Fourth Edition - Both Fourth and Fifth edition were the beginning of a truly standardized set of rules, card design elements, and core set contents. Fourth edition cards can be identified by their copyright date; they are white-bordered and were printed in 1995.
Fifth Edition - Like Fourth edition, Fifth was a way of keeping the in-between-block sets standard, and set up a way of writing and formatting cards that lives on even today. These cards are white-bordered and are identified by their print date, of 1997. Fifth edition also changed some art and flavor text for reprinted cards, setting a new precedent for reprints.
Sixth Edition - This edition was the first major change to the way the game itself was actually played. It was the first core set to have a set symbol, and as well the first to have collector's numbers printed on the cards. The set was also known as Classic.
Seventh Edition - Seventh edition has a stylized 7 as it's set symbol, and was the first core set to do several things. It was the first core set to include all new art for it's reprinted cards, and it was the first core set to include foils, which were black-bordered. It was also the last set to use the old style card template. Every set afterwards uses the new colors and designs.
Eighth Edition - This set was the first core set to use the new card templates. 8th and 9th both use a similar set symbol; the number 8 (or 9) with a fan of three cards behind it. It also included some cards that did not appear in booster packs, and only appeared in preconstructed decks and other beginner intro packs.
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Contemporary Core Sets
Ninth Edition - 9th is a fairly generic set, and marks the decline of Core sets in popularity. It was much the same as the previous 8th Edition, and only served to standardize core sets slightly further.
Tenth Edition - This i s the first core set since Beta to be printed with black borders, making core set cards not stand out quite as much. It's the first core set to include legendary creatures, despite not having a story itself.
Magic 2010 - A cause for some small confusion, Magic 2010 is known as M10, which slightly conflicts with 10th edition. However, it's distinct in that it's the first core set since Beta to include new cards. It was also the first core set to include Mythic rares, the new super-rare rarity. It also marks the first major rules overhaul since Sixth edition. Among the changes were the change in combat damage that made certain cards less effective in triggering their abilities after combat, as well as removing the Mana Burn rules. Additionally, it renames certain zones, such as changing Removed from Game to Exile and In Play to Battlefield.
Magic 2011 - M11, the most recent core set, follows the trend set by M10 and includes a few new cards, including the new Titan cycle, with an elemental titan for each color. Beyond that, the set is only notable in that it continues the trends set by M10, cementing them as permanent changes.