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Magic: The Gathering 30th Anniversary Set Is a Decadent $1,000 Splurge

This $999 set is beautiful and precious.

James Bricknell Senior Editor
James has been writing about technology for years but has loved it since the early 90s. While his main areas of expertise are maker tools -- 3D printers, vinyl cutters, paper printers, and laser cutters -- he also loves to play board games and tabletop RPGs.
Expertise 3D printers, maker tools such as Cricut style vinyl cutters and laser cutters, traditional paper printers Credentials
  • 6 years working professionally in the 3D printing space / 4 years testing consumer electronics for large websites.
James Bricknell
4 min read
The back of a Magic: The Gathering card with a black lotus on it
James Bricknell / CNET

Magic: The Gathering is an iconic game. Created by Wizards of the Coast (WotC) -- the same people who make Dungeons and Dragons -- in 1993 and designed by Richard Garfield, it has been a staple in every game store for decades. 

This year marks 30 years since its first beta and to celebrate the occasion, WotC has released a limited edition set for the collectors.
From the outset, it's clear this is not for your average Magic player. These cards can't be used in tournament play, and unless you use sleeves with covered backs you wouldn't want to play them in a normal game. Some of the cards available are even banned from commander decks so playing a game with them is going to be tough.

They also cost $999 for four boosters totaling 60 cards. That's $250 a booster, or $17 per card. So no, these are not for playing. They are for having. Of course if you are a Magic player, you know that spending $1,000 on cards isn't unheard of, but you normally get a lot more cards for that kind of money!

A black box surrounded by Magic the Gathering cards
James Bricknell / CNET

The set itself is a little underwhelming when you first open the box. The outside sleeve has a seal of authenticity and when you open it up it has a fairly good-quality black box inside. The box is frankly disappointing in a set that costs a thousand bucks. I would have hoped to have a wooden box maybe, or even something clear acrylic with an etched symbol would make more sense than this plain cardboard box. While the cards are the star of the show, this is a collector's item and should be treated as such.

The cards are a different matter. Each booster comes with 15 beautifully drawn cards, though technically it's 16, as it comes with a token too, each with the standard rarities. They are:

  • 13 Modern-frame cards (1 Rare, 3 Uncommon, 7 Common and 2 basic lands)
  • 2 Retro-frame cards (1 card of any rarity and 1 basic land)
  • 1 token limited-edition alpha art

Because tokens didn't exist in the game early in the run, all of the tokens made for this use special artwork in keeping with the retro look and feel of the entire set. Each card has a different back for the standard cards too, showing the original artwork for the Black Lotus, one of the most famous cards in the game, so they really stand out from the traditional backs we all know.

Beautiful are of a handsome man being magical
James Bricknell / CNET

The artwork itself will be recognizable to anyone with a deep love for the game. Most of the cards in my booster seem to come from the beta or first-edition cards, with some spread out over other early editions. I particularly like the Regeneration card from the alpha as it definitely gives off strong '90s vibes. Unfortunately, I didn't get a Black Lotus or any of the Power Nine, but I'm happy with the random collection I did get. 

I sure would have liked the Timetwister card though, as the art is one of my favorites. This randomized distribution for the collectible may not be for everyone, as there is a good chance that, like me, you won't get the card you desperately want. Still, I like that each collector will have a different set than others. It adds to its uniqueness. 

Overall I'm impressed with the 30th-anniversary set. The artwork is stunning on each of the cards, and there is a lot of history in every one of them. Could the box they come in be nicer? Absolutely, and I would urge you to get a better box to keep them safe, but the heart of the set, the actual cards themselves, are everything a dyed-in-the-wool Magic: The Gathering fan could ask for. 

These cards are a piece of history in a way that few editions really are. It's not like WotC releases an anniversary pack every year; this is a once-in-30-years thing and extremely limited. It feels like owning a small piece of history. It's not a practical purchase, it's a piece of art.

Adam Benjamin, the other MtG nut here at CNET, asked me a good question. Would I still be as impressed with this set if I had paid the thousand dollars? WotC sent me the box for review, so it's a fair point. 

I love the cards, and what they mean to me as a player can't be understated. They are a snapshot of a game that often consumes my time in the best way. So yes, I think I would be happy if I had purchased them, though I don't have $1,000 to spend. However, the box would make me mad every time I looked at it.