2019 Magic Set Symbols in Review
My 2020 Magic Set Symbols in Review article was universally well-received and while I’m waiting for the Peabody Award for Best Magic: the Gathering Article for 2021 to arrive at my house I’ll kill time by moving back one year to the halcyon bygone year of 2019!
Wow, remember 2019? There was no pandemic, in-store play was a thing, we were blissfully unaware of the term “Secret Lair: The Walking Dead”… but we did have several Magic releases, all with their own set symbol to review!
As we look over the candidates, let’s remember the 3 criteria a set symbol has to fill:
1. Read cleanly at card size, ~1 sq cm.
2. Convey some sort of information or mood about the set it represents.
3. Differentiate itself well from all the other existing set symbols, especially from contemporaneous sets.
What are the 2019 candidates? Well we’ve got:
· Ravnica Allegiance
· War of the Spark
· Modern Horizons
· Signature Spellbook: Gideon
· Core Set 2020
· Commander 2019
· Throne of Eldraine
· Ponies: the Galloping
· Game Night 2019
#9: Modern Horizons
I’ve talked before about Masters sets having indistinct set symbols, and this really came back to bite Modern Horizons in the butt. The biggest complaint I’ve heard about the Modern Horizons set symbol is that it’s too close to the Vintage Masters one, and that is a valid complaint.
The other problem is that it doesn’t really have anything to do with anything? A charitable reading of the symbol is that the little horned circle is similar to other Masters sets and then it’s coming over the larger diamond like the sun coming over the horizon? That’s a lot of interpretation from what is already a sort of nonsense set name.
#8: Game Night 2019
One of the challenges that Wizards has faced since the explosion of supplementary sets (and supplementary set symbols) in 2007 is that it’s hard to design a symbol for a product when the product is something as generic as Game Night 2019. Game Night wasn’t an awful product line concept, trying to fit a Magic experience into the board game price point, but the unexciting decks never really won anyone over as far as I can tell, and 2019’s greatest contribution to me, at least, is the wonderful Fiendish Duo. Anyways, the symbol reflects this: it’s a stylized pentagon to represent the 5-player experience that the set is supposed to offer, but it doesn’t really do anything to make itself distinctive or interesting.
#7 Core Set 2020
In my last article, which Mark Rosewater has called “the greatest piece of Magic writing ever created by man or beast”, I mentioned that the Core Set symbols are the “meh” of the symbol world, and this one fits. These symbols serve as a nice benchmark for the years they appear in- anything below them is truly bad, anything above them is ok at best.
#6: Ravnica Allegiance
If this series continues and we move back in time, we’ll discuss the weakness in designing block set symbols. There is a critical tension between designing symbols that compliment each other without being too similar and I feel the Ravnica Allegiance symbol does not hold well under that tension. It’s like the Guilds of Ravnica set symbol with a cityscape, but now it’s curved down, because the guilds are angry (they’re always angry). Overall the set symbol has the same failing as these two sets did, which is “it’s Ravnica again”, and a feeling of treading water until we got to the big climactic story set.
#5: Signature Spellbook: Gideon
Gideon received the Signature Spellbook for this year because (Spoiler alert!) he died in War of the Spark and there wouldn’t be an opportunity to print one in the future for him. Unlike Chandra in 2020 and Jace in 2018, Gideon doesn’t have a recognizable symbol or easily iconable shape associated with him, which made creating a symbol for his spellbook kind of tricky. The solution Wizards went with was using a shield and the shape of his sural, which comes out looking like a claw. The final result is a bit
#4: Throne of Eldraine
When Throne of Eldraine was announced, the reaction was excitement: Magic taking on a Grimms’ fairy tales world and an Arthurian setting? The set symbol for Eldraine reflects these influences, with a crown and sword clearly visible against a leafy backdrop that fills in for the uncertainty and mystery of the unknown. The biggest knock against the Eldraine set symbol is that it’s a little too complicated and doesn’t read cleanly at card size as the individual elements compete with each other instead of adding up to a cohesive whole.
#3: Commander 2019
Commander 2019 coming in so high is honestly surprising to me. After the disappointment of Commander 2018’s set symbol (another story for another day), I was really burned out with the “generic shield” template for Commander set symbols. 2019’s is a generic shield, but a really well-designed one. It takes the same basic shape of the 2018 symbol and makes it a bit more sharp and distinct, then adds strengthens those changes with the internal embellishments. While I’m on the record against too much unbroken white space, the swoops inside the shield add a nice 3-dimensional shape and make the entire symbol feel very slick- this is probably the best symbol in the entire Commander line, which is impressive eight years in.
#2: Ponies: the Galloping
A crossover set? In second place?!? I can hear Reddit exploding already.
Why did I rate Ponies: the Galloping so Highly? It takes an iconic part of My Little Pony design (the cutie mark) and repurposes as a set symbol, but at the same time it also plays off the classic Wizards “streak” promo symbol. It, along with the frame embellishments and other text treatments, make Ponies: the Galloping feel like a labor of love instead of a cynical cash grab, unlike some other sets that I cou-*EDITOR’S NOTE: AT THIS POINT WE ARE SKIPPING ON TO THE NEXT SYMBOL FOR EVERYONE’S SAKE*
#1: War of the Spark
War of the Spark was the big “event” set of 2019, the storyline culmination of years of story build-up. In retrospect fans are torn on how the set impacted formats and the storyline delivered, but I would argue that Wizards did a really good job of selling the “feel” building up to the release of War of the Spark. The set symbol helps play into this. Magic has a number of great iconic shapes in its back pocket (e.g. the mana symbols, the guild symbols) and here they use two really well, merging the planeswalker symbol and Nicol Bolas’s horns into a set symbol that easily shows what this set is all about.
So that’s 2019! Looking back over the year I’d say the symbols are a little weaker overall than 2020’s, with the premier sets coming in a little lower, but if I were to take the symbols between both years and rank them like so:
You’d see that 2020 has just more symbols, and a lot of mediocre to low ones, so I think they balance out. My average ranking for each year seems to show that 2020 is a little higher than 2019, which makes sense because it gets the top two slots. IF I choose to continue this series, we’ll get to see how I think set symbols fall year-to-year.
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