Ever since Alpha, the basic Magic card layout hasn't changed all that much. The name on top with the mana cost to the right, with the picture and further descriptions below it. It has been updated a few times throughout the years, but the basics are always there.
Although, back in 1999, a big change could have shaken up how Magic cards look forever. Back then, Magic had been rocking the same look for six years, and R&D decided to change a few things up for the upcoming Sixth Edition. And by change up a few things, we mean literally remake the entire card frame and push all the mana costs and deck emblems off to the left.
According to a 2000 issue of Topdeck Magazine, the design would have increased the font sizes on the cards, making it easier to read from across a playing table. The mana cost being moved to the left would have also helped players not shuffle cards around much by letting them see all the mana costs at once from the hand that they have.
And, apparently, it was liked. Several players got to see the early R&D cards and loved them. In fact, it made it so far up the R&D ladder that playtest cards were made of many sixth edition cards with plans on a full rollout in the works. A lot of graphics department people were also assigned to work on the new cards, cementing the importance of the new layout to the company.
However, it was soon decided not to go that route for new card design. While the company has never really said why, it's been hinted that it was a bit too much to push at the same time. Magic decided to keep on with the current card layout for three more years, but eventually made a few visual changes to the card fronts in 2003 for Magic's tenth anniversary. Taking a page from the aborted 2000 design, borders were sharpened up and colors became a bit more emboldened. Borders were also removed from the cards, with the font becoming a bit more modern from the old, medieval-like text. Meanwhile, the left side mana features have really only ever been seen on certain cards from the set Future Sight in 2007, such as on the cards Tarmogoyf, Blade of the Sixth Pride, and Bridge from Below.
Today the cards still follow the same general pattern, with further changes being seen in 2015 with changes the font (again), the addition of an anti-counterfeit hologram on rare and mythic rare cards, and a couple other small tweaks here and there. 2018 brought the legendary frame that is seen on legendary Magic cards currently.
Magic: The Gathering cards may have nearly had a drastic change twenty years ago, but it only goes to show that the changes have been made to benefit the player as well as keep up with the times.