As Magic expands we come to The Dark, the fourth expansion which weaves us back into the Brother's War story line. The game continues to grow and change; tribal synergy and multicolor are expanded upon in The Dark and some new abilities debut. Let's take a closer look at this long forgotten chapter in Magic history and shed some light on The Dark.
After the huge card pool in Legends The Dark looks very small with just 119 cards, 38% the size of its predecessor. The Dark is not ground breaking like Legends was which likely accounts for a big part of the drop. While Legends introduced legendary and multicolor permanents en masse, The Dark presents a little more multicolor and small introduction to tribal and graveyard themes. It also follows a more specific story arc which leads to more concise and directed cards.
|4th Smallest Set|
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The Dark falls at a local minimum in the span between Legends and Homelands, the latter being a small set and still beating The Dark out by 21 cards. This low point marks the approach to the big-small-small block paradigm which effectively starts with Ice Age (despite the odd ordering with Coldsnap) as well as being the second to last expansion that wasn't part of a block.
Multicolor makes a small showing in The Dark with three multicolored cards. Interestingly two of them are goblins and the third references goblins in its flavor text. The multicolor cards don't hit the whole pie though; only black, red, and green are represented. White and blue cards appear one card more than BRG to make up for that but otherwise the monocolored counts are pretty flat. Colorless cards are closer than usual to the colored ones in number, beating out W/B cards by just six.
Color identities show a more interesting expansion on multicolor; most of them are monocolored creatures with off-color activated abilities. The monocolor counts are also much hillier than they are in the color counts and in earlier sets as the shift over to identities is asymmetric; BG shows up with three cards while other two-color identities appear on at most one.
Card type distribution is pretty standard in The Dark for the time period; almost exactly 50% of the set is creatures (including artifact ones) and no other type hits more than 17%. The actual counts for each type are far lower than in Legends, artifacts dropping as much as 79%, which is explained by the huge drop in total set size. The only exception is artifact creatures which grow from three to four between the two sets. Ohther spells shuffle a bit in rank but all remain few in number.
One of the more notable features of The Dark is that it provides proper tribal support for the first time; the tribe in question is Goblins. Alpha gave us Goblin King but The Dark provides a variety of Goblin-matters cards like we expect for a proper tribe. While only seven of the creatures sport the Goblin type, which is arleady far more than most non-Human races at this point, four additional cards (two enchantments, a sorcery, and an orc) care about Goblins.
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The 20 races of The Dark is comparable to Arabian Nights and Antiquities, though it pales in comparison to Legend's 53. Having 10 classes beats out the other smaller sets by a bit and pushes towards Legend's 17.
Rarity once again takes on a bell curve in The Dark, unlike the incline seen in Legends. The rarities are split almost into thirds with commons, uncommons, and rares appearing at 34%, 37%, and 29% respectively. The various card types are spread across all rarities, though the abundance of creatures makes them dominate each one. The Dark technically used the old inconsistent rarities rather than having proper rares, but the change to modern rarities is small as only one C1 existed to become uncommon and there were only U1s and U2s (now rares).
The distribution of converted mana costs in The Dark is considerably more curved than its predecessors; it is most similar to Arabian Nights but curves back down where ARN dropped steeply. Antiquities and Legends were both heavy on the low drops rather than curving up gradually. About half of all 1-3 and 5 drops are creatures and two-thirds of the 4 drops are. Enchantments also make up a sizable portion of the 1-3 drops; the rest of the non-creature spells are scattered throughout the range of costs.
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Overall the costs have not changed drastically from Legends. The average CMC is lower by half a mana and the most common cost is 3 down from 4, but the set doesn't push the CMC curve anywhere it hasn't already been.
A solid twenty artists make an appearance in The Dark, including some popular names like Quinton Hoover and Christopher Rush. It seems that by the time of The Dark Wizard's was already getting a feel for artists they liked since 18 of those 20 artists had already worked on prior sets and those artists were doing more cards each, as seen here. Five of the artists did ten or more cards and almost half of them created at least eight; one artist, Anson Maddocks, did as many as 11 cards although the average for the set was just shy of 6 cards per artist.
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It's interesting to see that on average the artists in The Dark had done 3.25 sets a piece. Including the core sets there had only been eight sets at this point in time, and Alpha, Beta, and Unlimited were identical so really there were only six sets. The low total arstists and the high artist retention explains a lot about early Magic's art styles and notable artistic themes.
The Dark falls at a bit of a low point in Magic history, not in quality but in excitement. Coming from the monolithic Legends full of multicolored legendary creatures and right before the switch to a proper block paradigm, there just isn't a ton to talk about from a numbers standpoint. That's alright though, because there's plenty to talk about in terms of flavor, art, and story. Join me next time when we expand our view of Magic and dig into into Fallen Empires.