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A look at Magic: The Gathering's earliest boxed sets

Magic Untapped takes a look at various boxed sets from Magic: The Gathering's early days including Anthologies, Beatdown, and the Deckmasters Gift Set.

Special boxed sets have been a thing in Magic: The Gathering almost since the game's beginning.

Magic Untapped takes a look at some of the game's earliest, including Anthologies, Beatdown, and the Deckmasters Gift Set.

Check it out:


Supplemental and boxed sets in Magic: The Gathering all commonplace these days with multiple coming out each year.

But, in Magic’s earliest days, they weren’t nearly so common.

Let’s take a look at six of the game’s earliest boxed sets, starting with…


Released in June of 1996, the Rivals Quick Star Set was the first boxed set in Magic: The Gathering history (we’re not counting the Revised and Fourth Edition gift boxes as supplemental products seeing as they were more just side items for their respective sets).

Having the aim of better explaining the rules of Magic than any official rule book could do, the Rivals Quick Start Set included four small preconstructed theme decks as well as extensive game guides.  These decks used cards from Fourth Edition.

These decks could, of course, later be combined into two larger decks for official play or broken down and added to one’s collection.

This special two-player starter set was supposed to kick of a series of three quick start sets for the game and its follow-up, known as the Conquest Quick Start Set, was already publicly announced.  Production was halted, however, and the entire line would wind up cancelled.

Notable included cards include:


Released in late 1996, the Introductory Two-Player Set came out for European and Asian markets.  It was basically an adaptation of the Rivals Quick Start Set.

Released in English, French, German, Italian, Japanese, and Spanish, it contained four 30-card decks that could be combined into two 60-card ones, as well as two player guides that cover a scripted demo game so players can go step-by-step as they learn to play Magic.

Notable cards included in this boxed set include:


In November of 1998, the Anthologies boxed set came out in celebration of Magic: The Gathering’s 5th anniversary.

The box set contains two 60-card preconstructed theme decks made up of cards from every Magic expansion and edition from day one through Urza’s Saga, as well as five token cards and a 64-page booklet describing the past, present, and future of the game, as well as some personal commentary from Magic progenitor Richard Garfield.

Anthologies also has a notable misprint as its printing of the Exodus card Mirri, Cat Warrior shows an incorrect toughness for the creature.

Other notable cards include:


Battle Royale released in November of 1999 with the aim of introducing players to multiplayer Magic gameplay.

The boxed set includes a guide, four 40-card preconstructed decks consisting of white-bordered versions of previously-released cards, and a strategy insert for each deck.

Each deck contains two rares, eight uncommons, and 30 commons (basic lands included).

Notable cards include:


Magic: The Gathering’s Beatdown boxed set came out in October of 2000 and included 122 cards.

Named after a slang term for dealing a lot of damage to an opponent, Beatdown features a pair of 61-card preconstructed theme decks, each with five rares and one foil.  This includes four cards with alternate art: Ball Lightning, Clockwork Beast, Erhnam Djinn, and Sengir Vampire (with those latter two being foils).

The boxed set also included a pair of 20-sided spindown life counters, as well as a small poster of an Ernham Djinn and Sengir Vampire duking it out and a full-color booklet that contains play tips and creature histories.

Like Anthologies, Beatdown also has a notable misprint as the card Clockwork Avian is printed without the flying ability on it.

Other cards of note we haven’t already mentioned for Beatdown include:

    • Leviathan, a 10/10 that was originally printed in the set The Dark;
    • Balduvian Horde, at one time considered one of Magic’s most aggressive creatures;
    • Brainstorm, still a very good card draw and top-of-deck manipulation spell, and;
    • Fireball.  This Beatdown printing of the card is the only tournament-legal card with a “Y” symbol in its casting cost.  No other version of the card is done up like this.


Released in a metal in box in December of 2001, the Deckmasters: Garfield vs Finkel boxed set contains decks designed by Richard Garfield and Magic: The Gathering Hall of Famer Jon Finkle.

The decks take cards from Ice Age and Alliances (taking into account Wizards of the Coast’s reprint policy).  As a deckbuilding limitation, each deck could only use four rare cards and no more than two copies of any one card.

The result is two 62-card preconstructed decks, each featuring 60 white bordered Ice Age and Alliances cards, as well as two set-exclusive black bordered foil cards apiece: Icy Manipulator, Incinerate, Lhurgoyf, and Necropotence.

Also included are two 20-sided spindown life counters, a poster of a Goblin Mutant fighting a Lhurgoyf, a full-color booklet containing the set’s deckslists, expert analysis, and more.  Also, the metal Deckmasters box is designed to store more than 700 sleeved cards.

Garfield’s deck is a red/green creature-based deck that uses creatures with high toughness as to make them card to kill via damage.  Finkle’s deck is red/black that focues on efficient, versatile creatures and spot removal with cards like Soul Burn and Lava Burst as eventual finishers.

Roughly a month after the boxed set’s release, Garfield and Finkle played a best-of-three match using their decks.  The first game was fairly even between the two players with Garfield losing mostly due to him making a number of rules-based mistakes as the rules had changed quite a bit since he invented the game in the early 1990s.  In game two, Garfield had mana issues and Finkle was able to finish him off rather quickly thanks in part to the use of his Balduvian Horde.

Other notable cards found in Deckmasters: Garfield vs Finkle include:

Did you have any of these early Magic: The Gathering boxed sets?  Let us know your thoughts about them in the comment section below.

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Thanks for watching.

Barry White

Barry White is a longtime Magic: The Gathering player, having started in 1994 shortly before the release of 'Fallen Empires.' After graduating from the University of Nevada, Reno, he went on to a 15-year journalism career as a writer, reporter, and videographer for three different ABC affiliate newsrooms.