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Magic: The Gathering has a new kind of booster pack, here’s how they work

The next set of cards for Magic: The Gathering arrives at retail stores on Sept. 25, and it’s called Zendikar Rising. This collection of 280 cards is being distributed in an entirely new way, with a different kind of booster pack. Called Set Boosters, they boast a tremendous collection of full-card art and the chance to get up to four Rare cards — including one or more Mythic Rares — inside each pack.

Wizards of the Coast sent Polygon an early box containing 30 of these new Set Boosters. Here’s what we found inside.

A graphic showing the composition of a Set Booster, new with Zendikar Rising.
Image: Wizards of the Coast via YouTube

The most important thing to know about Set Boosters is that they’re not intended for use in drafting. That’s a style of play where players open up fresh packs of cards and pass them around the table to create new decks. Set Booster packs are aimed squarely at collectors, and command a premium price tag to match. Wizards estimates they’ll run about $1 more per pack, but that will vary depending on what region you’re in, according to head designer Mark Rosewater.

Each pack is designed to be a kind of journey. Senior designer Gavin Verhey gave fans a tour on YouTube in August, and broke things down in detail. The first third of the pack is designed as an introduction. On top is a full-card piece of art drawn from the current set, with a small chance that it contains a foil artist signature. Behind that there’s a land card (in Zendikar, those are full-card as well).

Next comes six Common and Uncommon cards that are connected via a similar theme. In our packs we found clutches of unrelated monsters, spells, or cards that all use the same mechanic. I like this new approach a lot, actually, as it tends to reinforce the themes in a given card set and can also serve as inspiration for deck building.

After those six cards comes what Verhey refers to as “the fireworks.” First is a “head turner” card, curated by the team at Wizards to show off especially good art from the given set of cards. In our 30 packs we got a few duplicates, but they lived up to the name as the graphics really stood apart from the rest.

A selection of the “head turners” that Polygon found in its first 30 Set Booster packs.
Image: Charlie Hall/Polygon

After the head turner is a “wildcard,” which has a chance of being a Rare. After that is a guaranteed Rare or Mythic Rare and a guaranteed foil card. If you luck out, you could end up with four Rares in a single pack. We weren’t so lucky in our 30, but three of our packs included combinations of three Rare and Mythic Rare cards.

Finally, pulling up in the last slot, is either an advertisement/token card, a minigame card, or a reprinted card from Magic: The Gathering history — part of The List. We’ll deal with each of those individually.

Advertisement/token cards have been in Magic booster packs for years. They’re placeholders, intended to represent the effects of other cards of spells you might have in your hand. You’ll commonly find a box of them available for free at your local game shop, right next to basic land cards.

The minigame cards are — to my knowledge at least — fairly new. They’re nothing special, to be honest. Just frivolous little five or 10-minute exercises to do with your friends while you sit around opening up cards. I got two of them in my 30 packs: Booster Sleuth, which asks you to guess at one of the cards in the pack based on knowing the other 11, and Strictly Better, which is more or less a quick round of Would You Rather but for card art.

Where things get really interesting is with the reprints. The List was formally unveiled on Sept. 10, and includes 300 cards drawn from across the history of Magic: The Gathering. It’s effectively a floating, evolving set composed from all the cards in the game’s 27-year history.

“The plan is for The List to change subtly from set to set,” Wizards said in the official blog post, “bringing in cards that might make sense with the set we’re in, but it will mostly stay intact from set to set, meaning you will all get to learn what cards are in The List.”

Cards from The List are included in 25% of Set Boosters. In 30 packs, we got 7, which is just about right. They included Vanguard of Brimaz (Born of the Gods, 2014), Eternal Dominion (Saviors of Kamigawa, 2005), Pegasus Stampede (Tempest Remastered, 2015), Oubliette (Double Masters, 2020), Man-o’-War (Modern Horizons, 2019), Brothers Yamazaki (Champions of Kamigawa, 2004), and Brain Freeze (Vintage Masters, 2014). Each one looks just like the original, down to the style of the border and the placement of the artist’s signature. The only way to tell it’s from The List is the small Magic symbol in the lower left-hand corner.

The full product line for Zendikar Rising. A Set Booster is shown in the lower left.
Image: Wizards of the Coast

So what else did we end up opening? In 30 packs we came across a grand total of 42 Rares and three Mythic Rares, including a foil planeswalker and a borderless, alternate art planeswalker. There were 35 foils (including four foil lands) in all. Finally, we encountered two gold foil signed pieces of art, which you can see in the collage above.

Notably, all 30 art cards in the box were unique — save for those two signed cards, which also included their unsigned version as well.

While the official release date for Zendikar Rising is Sept. 25, there have been some production issues with this set which will create a bit of a shortage for a time.

“The first wave is facing delays in North America, and some locations may not receive their full shipment of Draft and Set Boosters in time for launch,” Wizards said in a blog post updated on Sept. 17. “The second wave is subsequently delayed as well. As a result, some North American locations may experience limited availability until the second wave arrives. Please contact your local store to check on product availability.”

Zendikar Rising is currently live online in Magic: The Gathering Arena.

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