Core sets (stylized as Core Set) form the base set of cards for tournament play and rotations. After Limited Edition in 1993, all core sets through Tenth Edition consisted solely of reprinted cards. From Magic 2010, they feature new cards alongside reprints. Core sets were discontinued in 2015, returned for three years before being discontinued again in 2021.
Up to Eighth Edition core sets were referred to as base sets or basic sets. However, a base set was broader defined, because the Fourth Edition base set included the Chronicles extension. The name change came into being because there were concerns that older base sets confused newer players—their primary audience—by making them feel like they "missed out" on five or six previous editions and were hopelessly behind.
Fifth Edition was the first core set to implement expansion symbols on its cards (though only on the Simplified Chinese printing), implementing a Roman numeral style logo, which appeared in all languages with Sixth Edition. Seventh Edition used a stylized numeral 7, while Eighth Edition and Ninth Edition used a fan of cards with the numeral 8 or 9, respectively, on them, and Tenth Edition went back to using a Roman numeral. Starting with Magic 2010, the core set expansion symbol became the stylized 'M' from the Magic logo and an abbreviation of the set year number, with the exception of Magic Origins, which had its own unique symbol.
Core sets were printed with white borders from Unlimited Edition through Ninth Edition, but a Tenth Edition poll resulted in that set's cards being printed with black borders, a trend that continued with all subsequent sets. Foil cards were black-bordered beginning from their core-set introduction in Seventh Edition.
Core sets were released at varying intervals. Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, and Seventh Editions were scheduled erratically, followed by biannual releases through Magic 2010. From Magic 2011 until Magic Origins, they occupied an annual summer product slot.
Discontinuation and reintroduction
Core sets were discontinued after Magic Origins in 2015, but were reintroduced in 2018. Like the sets from Magic 2010 to Magic Origins, these sets continue to contain a mix of new and reprinted cards, but differ in that they are geared primarily toward new players. They have a strong integration with the welcome decks, planeswalker decks and Deck Builder's Toolkit, allowing for an easier transition between the products. These core sets do go through exploratory or vision design.
There was no Core Set 2022. The product released in its expected time frame was Dungeons & Dragons: Adventures in the Forgotten Realms, which started out in design as core set but was later transformed in a more complicated expansion set. The product announcement timeline for 2022 does not list Core Set 2023 either, and Rosewater has clarified that there will be four premier sets without a direct swap. Jumpstart has proven to be great jumping on product instead, and R&D is working on other things to offset having no core set.
Core sets may be distinguished from expansion sets by the addition of reminder text on cards, so as to elucidate abilities and mechanics that are unfamiliar or initially incomprehensible to newer players, such as first strike, flying, haste, protection, regeneration, and trample. While core sets tended not to re-use expert level keywords unless they were slated for promotion to evergreen, from Magic 2012 to Magic 2015 a single keyword was reused, often a factional keyword expanded to new colors:
- Magic 2012: Bloodthirst, from Gruul () to , and
- Magic 2013: Exalted, from Bant () to and
- Magic 2014: Slivers, from all five colors evenly to mostly , , and
- Magic 2015: Convoke, from Selesnya (), to all colors (but still mostly )
Magic Origins was the first to introduce its own new keyword, Renown.
Most core sets do not have a unified storyline among cards. Cards' flavor text may nevertheless refer to expansion sets and their settings or even real-world people, texts, or things (e.g., the Fifth Edition Boomerang and the Seventh Edition Boomerang). Seventh Edition was an exception, where it narrated the story of a war among the paladins—Eastern Paladin, Northern Paladin, Southern Paladin, and Western Paladin— through the flavor text of cards from the set.
The core sets in Magic 2010 onward used the cycle of planeswalkers and sometimes legendary creatures as an anchor, alongside several referential cycles. A few went a little further:
- Magic 2013 reprinted Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker as the first multicolored card in a core set, alongside several henchmen.
- Magic 2015 introduced Garruk, Apex Predator, at the climax of his story, alongside a special supplemental challenge card Garruk the Slayer.
- Magic Origins focuses on the backstories of Gideon Jura, Jace Beleren, Liliana Vess, Chandra Nalaar, and Nissa Revane. Unlike the previous two, the stories told were deeper, with Legendary creatures relevant and significant events depicted as instants and sorceries.
With the reintroduction of core sets for Core Set 2019, each set had a singular focal planeswalker that the storyline was designed around:
- Core Set 2019: Nicol Bolas, featuring the other Elder Dragons, with five planeswalkers that have worked for or against Bolas.
- Core Set 2020: Chandra Nalaar, featuring three planeswalkers versions of her in her youth, teenage and adult years, alongside a legendary artifact under her ownership.
- Core Set 2021: Teferi, featuring a series of Legendary Dominarian characters; his mentor Barrin, his wife Subira and daughter Niambi, his allies Radha and Jolrael, and nemesis Kaervek. The third player of the Mirage War, Mangara, was also featured.
Core sets were often seeded with cards that reinforced the themes of upcoming blocks, or used to provide answers to cards that were more powerful than was anticipated in the year preceding it. The last goal of core sets was to play well with the block that was leaving Standard, while not relying so heavily on it that the cards would not work after rotation.
List of core sets
|01a||Limited Edition Alpha||295||1993-08|
|01b||Limited Edition Beta||302||1993-10|
|16||Magic 2015||269 (+15)||2014-07|
|17||Magic Origins||272 (+16)||2015-07|
|18||Core Set 2019||280 (+34)||2018-07|
|19||Core Set 2020||280 (+64)||2019-07|
|20||Core Set 2021||274 (+123)||2020-07|
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