One of the core reasons why Magic is pulling in nearly triple the revenue from 5 years ago is because the folks at Wizards of the Coast have taken a page from the gaming industry with cosmetics: creating opportunities for players to pay more to change an aesthetic feature of the game without having an impact on the gameplay itself. Though most of the efforts at Studio X — the in-house design & development studio of Magic: the Gathering — are centered around more high-profile campaigns such as creating a dozen versions of an expansion’s headline card, the team’s initiatives around Plains, Islands, Swamps, Forests, and Mountains have been anything but basic.
We are in the Golden Age of Basic Lands. While it’s unlikely we’ll soon return to the peak of new art on basics we saw in 2020 and 2022, thanks to efforts like Booster Fun providing new full-art styles with every major release, Secret Lair continuing to dedicate a few slots a year to unique basis, a push inside the company for classic border basics wherever possible, and Universes Beyond letting us nab a Plains depicting the Shire, the opportunities for customization in Magic: the Gathering’s most basic resource have never before been this bountiful.
The trend line started to move upwards in 2010 when expansions began to receive basics outside of the first set of a block to represent changes within the story. When the 3-set block structure moved to a 2-set paradigm in 2015 with Battle for Zendikar and then again when 2018’s Dominaria kicked off the modern “blockless” era, more and more opportunities for new basic lands arose.
The spike in 2020 is largely associated with the release of Jumpstart, which introduced a new basic land tied to each of the 40 unique themes in the set. The year also initiated an increased release schedule of product and a surge in basic land-focused Secret Lairs, the latter of which would reach a peak in 2022 with 50 new basics.
So with this gluttony of options, it’s important to ask: which basic lands are the 30+ million active Magic players choosing, and what does that say about the game? While many players will choose thematically appropriate lands for each deck (there’s no question of which Mountain and Forest I prefer for my Godzilla, King of Monsters deck), in aggregate, we should be able to understand better which kinds of basics people gravitate towards.
There’s no way to collect perfect data for this — I’m confident this remains a challenge for even Wizards of the Coast — nor is there a representative source of Magic players to survey to answer this question. That said, while not wholly representative, we are able to use what major online retailers list as their “best-selling” for each basic, run it through a simple formula, and get a reasonably good answer. Please check out “Methodology” at the bottom of the article if you’re interested, and enjoy the most popular basics here:
The biggest take-aways are as follows:
- Full-art basics are king
- The more abstract representations of mana win out over landscapes
- Players are not overwhelmed with the new hotness
Full-Art Basics Reign Supreme
The most glaring trend among these basic lands is the lack of the classic basic land presentation, a card with art on the top and a colored box featuring the corresponding mana symbol below. This is no surprise, though: approximately 50% of basics printed in 2022-2023 have been full-art, a 33% increase proportionally from the two years prior. Clearly, Wizards of the Coast is paying attention to player preferences. While your author is happy to see that there are still standard basic-likers at the top tables of the Pro Tour and that every premiere expansion includes at least one new artwork in the traditional style, this is clearly not a majority position.
Abstract Lands > Landscapes??
Sam Burley’s iconic “Nyx” lands from Theros: Beyond Death have been compared to Pokémon’s Basic Energies in a positive light. Add that to the ubiquity of Mark Riddick’s cycle of Phyreixanized mana symbols, and it’s clear that many Magic players are looking for a more subtle approach to basic lands than the bombastic or picturesque scenes of nature of old.
The Hot Old Thing
Based on larger purchasing trends, players give the newest Magic expansions the bulk of their focus. That’s just not the case with basic lands. More than half of the inclusions on the infographic are at least a year old, with expansions like Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty and Theros: Beyond Death much more represented than in the list of any other creature type. When you expand the list to the top 10 best-selling basics of each type, Magic’s soon-to-be best-selling-of-all-time expansion The Lord of the Rings: Tales of Middle Earth is the most-represented expansion, validating the set’s broad appeal, but the people buying the most basic lands are still preferring the likes of Phyreixa: All Will Be One and Unfinity.
The Actual Lands
For those of you who would like to click into the specific Basic Lands cited in the above infographic, you can do so here:
For the purposes of this analysis, I scraped the “best-selling” and “most popular” lists of several major online Magic retailers at the beginning of each month (January through August). These rankings were assigned points based on placement, and then weighted by the volume of website visitors according to SimilarWeb.
While some web shops rank items on units sold (like Cardmarket or eBay), many seem to order these categories on a revenue basis, inflating the presence of more expensive cards to the top of the list. The individual results were weighted by median price on the respective platforms to try to account for this prior to aggregation.
This analysis does not purport to be wholly representative. This only reflects data from a half dozen websites, has no way to determine relative preferences between rankings for most of these sites, and does not touch on any sales made in-person. That said, these trends are compelling even as that of the subset of Magic players that primarily buy from major English-language websites, and these trends may or may not be reflective amongst the Magic-playing population as a whole.
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