2020 has been an unusual year in a lot of respects, including Magic. In this article, I wanted to look back on the year via 20 interesting Magic-related tidbits, most of which were derived by analyzing Scryfall’s “Default Cards” JSON dataset on December 21. A quick overview of the topics I’ll cover is as follows:
- Numbers 1-4 deal with the massive amount of card objects released in 2020.
- Numbers 5-10 dive into the text on Magic cards in 2020.
- Numbers 11-16 provide various creature-related statistics from 2020.
- Numbers 17-20 deal with the metagame and competitive aspects in 2020.
1. A Record-Setting 6111 Card Objects From 64 Sets Were Released This Year
In recent years, the number of set releases and card variations has been ramping up. In 2020, new records were set: according to Scryfall’s definitions, 6,111 card objects were released in 2020, belonging to 64 different sets.
A card object can be an alternate art or promo version of another card. For example, there are five card objects named Vadrok, Apex of Thunder – the variations include the regular frame, an alternate art version, the Godzilla series version, the prerelease card and a promo version. That may already seem like a lot, but as you’ll see later, there was even a card with 17 variations in 2020. Note that a printing in another language or a foil is not counted as a variation.
A set can range from a tiny collection to a major release. The largest 2020 releases, in terms of distinct card objects, were the two so-called “Draft Innovation” sets: Commander Legends and Jumpstart. They contained 718 and 496 distinct card objects, respectively. The eight next-largest sets (with 300 to 400 card objects each) were Core Set 2021, Zendikar Rising, Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths, Double Masters, Theros Beyond Death, Amonkhet Remastered, Commander 2020 and Kaladesh Remastered. In total, these 10 major releases featured 4096 different card objects (67.0% of the total) combined.
The remaining 54 sets are generally much smaller and they don’t necessarily correspond to what you might think of as a “set.” For example, Zendikar Rising Promos, Zendikar Rising Art Series, Zendikar Rising Tokens and Zendikar Rising Expeditions are all treated as a separate set. The list of sets with releases in 2020 also includes such things as Secret Lairs, Historic Anthology 2, the Arena Beginner Set, Unsanctioned and so on. It even includes the likes of Eldritch Moon Promos, a set that was originally released in 2016, because Sigarda’s Aid – the single 2020 release belonging to that set – was included in the curated list for the Core Set 2021 promo pack.
All this is pointing to a clear conclusion: For Magic vendors and collectors, there has recently been a massive increase in complexity.
2. The 2020 Card with the Most Variations: Teferi, Master of Time
Apart from basic lands, the card with the most variations released in 2020 is Teferi, Master of Time. For some reason, Teferi comes in differently colored versions in regular frame, Showcase frame, borderless frame and so on. Adding them all up, there are as many as 17 different versions of the card. That’s without even accounting for foils or printings in other languages!
To be fair, in the grand history of Magic, Teferi is not the card with the most variations in existence. Those honors rightfully go to the basic lands and to frequently reprinted cards such as Disenchant, Counterspell and Giant Growth. But for 2020 releases, Teferi, Master of Time takes down this category with ease.
3. A Record-Setting 2894 Card Objects Could Not Be Found in the Standard Contents of 2020 Draft Boosters
2020 was the year where Set Boosters were introduced, where Secret Lair was ramped up and where an increase in the number of showcase versions, borderless frames, alternate art treatments and special editions culminated in a Statement on Spacegodzilla.
Partly due to all of these developments, a whopping 2894 card objects released in 2020 (47.4 precent of the total) could not be found in the standard contents of draft boosters. This beats the previous record of 1937 such card objects from 2018, and it shows that the absolute number of “unusual” printings has grown massively this year.
Later on in this article, to make certain analyses more insightful, I will sometimes say that I focus on “new cards from boosters,” which will mean that I only consider English-language, non-reprinted cards, excluding tokens, Emblems and Conspiracies, found in the standard contents of draft boosters. For most new card names, only a single card object will remain.
4. Card Most Reprinted in 2020: Evolving Wilds
Apart from basic lands, the card that was printed in the largest amount of set releases was Evolving Wilds. It appeared in Zendikar Rising Commander, Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths, Amonkhet Remastered, Commander Legends, the Arena Beginner Set and the Bob Ross Secret Lair Drop.
Evolving Wilds is an iconic, perfect card to win this category. It’s useful for new players, it improves mana bases in draft formats and it can accommodate various pieces of beautiful art. I wouldn’t mind seeing multiple Evolving Wilds reprints in 2021.
5. Non-Reprinted 2020 Card with the Longest Name: Infernius Spawnington III, Esq
Released in Unsanctioned, Infernius Spawnington III, Esq (31 characters) had the longest card name out of all non-reprints in 2020.
If reprints would be allowed, then another Unsanctioned card, Infernal Spawn of Infernal Spawn of Evil (40 characters) would have taken the crown. This card is actually the fourth-longest all-time, beyond Our Market Research Shows That Players Like Really Long Card Names So We Made this Card to Have the Absolute Longest Card Name Ever Elemental, The Ultimate Nightmare of Wizards of the Coast® Customer Service, and Burning Cinder Fury of Crimson Chaos Fire.
If Un-cards would not be allowed, then Oviya Pashiri, Sage Lifecrafter and Sunhome, Fortress of the Legion would come into view. Both have names 31 characters long and were reprinted in 2020. Out of all cards released over the history of the game, excluding Un-sets, only Okina, Temple to the Grandfathers is longer. It has held that number one spot since 2004.
Finally, if we’d exclude both reprints and Un-cards, then there’s a three-way tie at 30 characters: Kroxa, Titan of Death’s Hunger, Ardenn, Intrepid Archaeologist and Rebbec, Architect of Ascension. Unsurprisingly, egends have long names. Indeed, the Pearson correlation coefficient between the average card name length and the fraction of cards that are legends over all years from 1993 to 2020 is 0.68. Moreover, the average card name length of new cards from 2020 boosters (17.9 characters) was longer than in any previous year. Still, I doubt that Magic will ever run out of card names.
6. Non-Reprinted 2020 Card with the Longest Oracle Text: Lukka, Coppercoat Outcast
A grand total of 492 characters are needed to describe all of Lukka’s abilities. Jeska, Thrice Reborn was in second place and Nissa of Shadowed Boughs was in third place. Naturally, planeswalkers require a lot of rules text, but cards appear to be getting wordier in general: the average Oracle text length of new cards from 2020 boosters (178.1 characters) was longer than in any previous year.
If reprints would be allowed, then Necromancy (552 characters, part of “The List” that can appear in Zendikar Rising Set Boosters) would be the card with the longest Oracle text in 2020. Wordy as it is, it still doesn’t come close to the top three cards all-time: Bureaucracy, Greater Morphling and Dance of the Dead. All of them feature more than 650 characters in their Oracle text.
7. Non-Reprinted 2020 Card with the Longest Flavor Text: Maned Serval
With 196 characters in its flavor text, Maned Serval wins the “longest flavor text” award in 2020. The runner-up, at 189 characters, was Cliffhaven Sell-Sword.
If reprints would be allowed, then Infinity Elemental easily takes the crown. Originally from Unstable and reprinted in Unsanctioned, it’s actually the card with the longest flavor text all-time. If it weren’t for printing limitations, I’m sure they would’ve tried to make the flavor text even longer than 403 characters.
8. Most-Used Magic Word Among 2020 Card Names: “Skyclave”
The actual winner was “of”, but for obvious reasons, common English words are excluded in the word cloud above. The most-common Magic word among new card names from boosters in 2020 was “Skyclave.”
In case you’re curious: The all-time leaders are “Goblin” and “Sliver”, but they didn’t appear very often this year.
9. Most-Used Magic Word Among 2020 Oracle Text: “Creature”
Technically “the”, “a” and “of” were the most common words in rules text among new cards from boosters in 2020, but that may be the case for every English text. The most common Magic-related word, “creature”, is both the 2020 winner and the all-time leader.
10. Magic Flavor Text in 2020 Often Dealt With Life and Death
Among new cards from boosters in 2020, the most common words in flavor text were “the”, “of”, “to”, “a”, “and”, “is”, “in” and so on, but the word cloud above has filtered those out. Scanning over the words that remain, I get the distinct impression that life on the planes is harsh – every day seems to be a struggle to survive.
11. Most Common Card Type Among New Cards From Boosters in 2020: Creature
It wasn’t close—more than half of the new cards from boosters in 2020 were creatures, and that’s been true for over a decade.
It’s nice to see the historical trends in the picture (for example, you can see a jump in the fraction of artifacts around the Mirrodin block) but what stood out to me is the recent rise in the fraction of cards that are legends. In fact, a whopping 17.2 percent of the new cards from boosters in 2020 were legends, marking an all-time high.
12. Most Common Creature Type Among Cards From Boosters in 2020: Human
It’s a Human world we’re living in. Human (144 occurrences) was the most common creature type among cards from boosters in 2020, and the second and third place – Warrior at 55 occurrences and Wizard at 51 occurrences – are frequently seen on Humans as well. These results are not surprising, as these creature types are also the all-time leaders.
13. Most Common Power/Toughness Among New cards From Boosters in 2020: 2/2
Other symmetric power/toughness combinations like 1/1, 3/3 and 4/4 were also fairly common, but Grizzly Bears was happy to see that 2/2 was the most common.
14. Biggest Creature Among New Cards From Boosters in 2020: Titanoth Rex
I fondly remember using Unbreakable Bond to create an 11/11 trampling lifelinker on turn 5 in Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths Limited.
15. Two New, Never-Before-Seen Power/Toughness Combinations Were Introduced in 2020
For the first time in the history of Magic, we saw an 0/17 creature and a 10/6 creature this year.
There are still many gaps remaining. Perhaps in 2021 we’ll see the first 3/9, 7/9, 8/3, or 9/6 creature.
16. The Best Value Creatures: Aegis Turtle and Kroxa
Defining “value” for a creature as its power plus toughness divided by its converted mana cost and Aegis Turtle and Kroxa come out on top (among creatures with non-zero converted mana cost). You may choose the victor depending on whether you’d count Kroxa as a no-frills-attached 6/6 for two mana.
17. Most-Played Non-Land Card on MTGMelee in 2020: Mystical Dispute
The most-played non-land card among all MTGMelee deck lists across all formats (mostly Standard, but also Historic and other formats) in 2020 was Mystical Dispute. Bonecrusher Giant was number two and Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath was number three.
If lands would be allowed, then Mountain would win, followed by Forest, Island and Fabled Passage. Yup, Fabled Passage was played more than Swamp or Plains.
18. Most Popular Companion on MTGMelee in 2020: Yorion, Sky Nomad
2020 was the year where companions were introduced. They dominated competitive formats in May, necessitating a rules change early in June. Nowadays, companions are still present, but not omnipresent anymore.
The above picture showcases for every month the fraction of decks with a certain companion (across all formats on MTG Melee). Throughout the year, Yorion, Sky Nomad and Lurrus of the Dream-Den were the most popular options.
19. Most Popular Archetype on MTGMelee in 2020: Mono Red Aggro
The top four self-reported archetypes on MTGMelee in 2020 included Temur Reclamation, Sultai Ramp, and Gruul Adventures, but Mono Red Aggro was number one.
This makes sense: no matter what the format is and what cards are legal, Mono Red Aggro is always competitively viable and there will always be players who want to attack and burn opponents out.
20. More Cards Were Banned in Standard in 2020 Than in Any Past Year
As many as 10 cards were banned in Standard in 2020. That’s more than in any previous year, even including the ban waves in the combo winter of 1999 and the ban of the Affinity deck in 2005. Let’s just hope that 2021 will be better.
On to 2021!
I could go on with tidbits – did you know that Adam Paquette was the most-featured artist on Magic card objects in 2020? – but it’s time to look forward. For 2021, we already know Chalice of the Void, Relentless Rats, and Path to Exile will be included in Time Spiral Remastered and the Kaldheim previews are ongoing. But it surely won’t stop there, and I’m excited to see where Magic will take us in the new year. Happy new year!