2021 Magic Set Symbols in Review
2021 was quite the year for Magic, with a ton of Secret Lairs, Arena releases, and an extra Standard set gumming up the release schedule. We have 15 unique set symbols to go through for the year, which is the same as 2020, though supply chain issues pushed Commander Collection: Black back to 2022 which would have pushed this up one.
Quoting my 2020 article:
To be successful, a Magic set symbol has to do the following:
1. Read cleanly at card size, again ~1 sq cm.
2. Convey some sort of information about the set it represents.
3. Differentiate itself well from all the other existing set symbols, especially from other recent sets.
So let’s jump into the sets!
#15: Alchemy: Innistrad
Alchemy: Innistrad inherited the Core Sets’ and Arena set’s symbol design ethos, with the Arena “A” and the year (’22). As with what I’ve said about these other symbols, it’s the equivalent of the “meh” emoji for me: useful, but not exciting.
#14: Kaldheim Commander
This was the year where the bottom fell out on me for the Commander set symbols. Giving every Standard release its own Commander decks with their own set symbol really overused the shield motif that has come to define the Commander line. Kaldheim’s is the weakest of these, as the hammer(?) shape gets lost in the shield shape.
#13: Commander 2021
Commander 2021 shows the weakness of the shield concept, as it shows a Strixhaven-y shield, I guess? I don’t know what it’s really supposed to be, and I don’t love it.
#12: Crimson Vow Commander
Crimson Vow’s symbol is a better execution of the same cut-out idea as Commander 2021’s, with a fang motif echoing the vampire theme of the main set.
#11: Midnight Hunt Commander
On one hand, I think the Midnight Hunt Commander set symbol is weak, because it’s just claw marks against the shield logo. On the other hand, I think it’s an elegant solution to the “how do we make this shield logo unique” issue.
#10: Forgotten Realms Commander
Forgotten Realms Commander is also just kind of a punt but also looks pretty good. It’s the Forgotten Realms logo inside the Commander shield. Get it?
#9: Modern Horizons 2
Modern Horizons 2 was a bonanza of a set, offering beloved and obscure storyline characters, huge Modern shakeup cards, and a ton of awesome reprints. It also had a set symbol that sort of evokes a horizon and incorporates the design lineage of the Modern Masters sets and Modern Horizons 1, but doesn’t really do a ton to make itself feel unique or special.
#8: Jumpstart: Historic Horizons
JumpStart: Historic Horizons and its following digital releases may have killed all the goodwill that people had for Magic Arena, but at least the digital JumpStart concept was fine and the set symbol sells that- it’s a flatter version of the original JumpStart symbol.
#7: Time Spiral Remastered
Time Spiral Remastered, which was much ballyhooed at the time of its release, kind of ended being a flop for me. I don’t love Limited that much, and the extra-premium prices TSR commanded didn’t match the contents of the pack, which were filled with reprints of mostly low-value cards from 15 years ago. But the symbol certainly sells what’s in the product!
#6: Innistrad: Crimson Vow
Crimson Vow’s set symbol shows off a bat, which is clear iconography for the vampire-themed set. It’s just something about the shape of the bat that throws me off, if it was more of a W-winged shape than the T-shaped bat we got I would probably appreciate it more.
Kaldheim’s set symbol is very solid, the axe makes a nice clear and simple iconography. “Solid” is really just the best way to describe it.
#4 : Innistrad: Midnight Hunt & Adventures in the Forgotten Realms
Innistrad: Midnight Hunt and Adventures in the Forgotten Realms would have been the top set symbols in any year they would have appeared in- if they didn’t appear right next to each other in Standard releases. As is, the two are incredibly similar, with a monster face silhouetted by a circular shape. It’s a shame, because they’re both really good, but they harm each other by being so samey.
#2: Strixhaven: School of Mages
Strixhaven feels like the set Wizards put the most effort in for worldbuilding this year, and a lot of those efforts did pay off (though they made some pretty serious missteps, especially with Silverquill and the story of Killian Lu). The owl iconography never really payed off for Strixhaven, but it did make a striking and unique set symbol.
#1: Strixhaven Mystical Archives
The Mystical Archives were the best implementation of the “premium pack-in reprints” we’ve ever had, surpassing all of the Masterpieces and other fancy versions we’ve got. We got a great selection of cool cards (and Divine Gambit) with sweet art, and then sweet Japanese versions on top of those! The set symbol sells the importance of these spells with its scroll design, and it also looks great on the “stamp” Japanese symbol!
Overall, the 2021 Standard symbols were pretty good and the supplemental symbols were mostly “eh”, aside from the Mystical Archive symbols there were no real standout supplemental ones. We’ve already seen Kamigawa Neon Dynasty and Unfinity’s set symbols, both which seem more experimental-and horizontal-than what we’ve seen before.