The Product

Portal is the first of Magic's five starter sets. The starter sets were designed to provide a simplified Magic environment to entice new players and let them learn without getting confused taking in all Magic's complexities at once. That simplification brings with it a lot of unique things, like not having any instants or creature types. Let's get started and see what simple magic looks like by the numbers.


The Cards

Portal is by far the largest of the starter sets. It comes in a solid 42 cards larger than runner-up Portal Three Kingdoms, and it's nearly four times the size of the final set Starter 2000. Some of the disparity is due to not all the sets having basic lands, but most likely it's mainly due to redesigning of the "simple set" concept. Portal was not necessarily a home run, and fewer cards may have been a complexity choice.


Of Portal's 222 cards, only 164 were new in the set. The other 58 were reprinted from previous regular Magic sets as shown here. About 58% of the reprints came from Alpha, which was pretty reasonable for non-expansion sets at this point in Magic. The rest come from various expansion sets from Legends to Visions, which was the last expansion before Portal was released. I expect Visions had so many reprints because it would have still been available to new players looking to step up from Portal.


The Colors

Despite the existence of multicolored cards at this time in Magic, Portal gives us another set of just monocolored cards. Multicolor is an added layer of complexity that was probably deemed unnecessary for the first Starter Set. The set is even simpler color-wise than it looks, because all 20 colorless cards are basic lands meaning the set is explicitly mono-colored. The color counts are less consistent than in most sets because 7 cards had multiple versions.


The color identities are essentially identical to the colors. The only difference is that the basic lands, four per color, have shifted into their respective colors. None of the creatures have off-color abilities and with the limited card types in Portal there aren't many other places a multicolor identity could pop up.


The Types

* Instants refer to Sorceries errata'd to be Instants.

Card types is where Portal gets interesting. In the effort to make Portal simpler and more accessible to new players they trimmed out card types they felt were more complex. You can see here that there are no artifacts or enchantments, and the instants in the set were printed as Sorceries with rules text allowing them to be cast at instant speed. The most generally straight-forward card types dominate the set; Creatures make up 46% and Sorceries make up another 41%. Few sets have such high concentrations save gimmick sets like Legions.


The other oddity in Portal regards creature subtypes. The creatures in this set were printed with no subtypes, just "Summon Creature" as opposed to the usual typing. All of the cards have since received errata to apply the relevant types to them, and future Portal sets printed them normally. The charts here use the errata'd type data. If we assume the "Creature - Race Class" scheme for multiple subtypes, Portal features 50 different "races." The most prolific of these are shown in the chart; Humans are most common making up about 18% of all creatures.


Similarly, creatures from Portal utilize 17 different "classes" like Warrior and Pirate. Many classes only show up on one or two creatures, but the more common ones are shown here. About 8% of creatures are warriors with another 6% showing up as Soldiers. The majority of the classes ended up being martial things like warrior or archer, but the set also featured a wizard and a horse.


The Rarities

The rarity distribution in Portal is fairly typical for a Magic set. There are more commons than uncommons, more uncommons than rares, and a few of each basic land to round things out. This still predates mythics, but otherwise it resembles the distributions we'll continue to see down the line. More interesting is which card types ended up most prominent in each rarity


Rarity By Card Type
CreatureSorceryLandInstant
Common543600
Uncommon262506
Rare232903
Basic Land00200

I'm assuming here that more complex cards got shifted up in rarity in Portal since it was meant to be simple. Given that assumption I find it interesting that all the instants in the set are uncommon or rare; as a long time Magic player I wouldn't call the concept of an instant terribly complex (but then again, I'm no designer). What's not surprising is that 60% of the common cards are creatures; turning dudes sideways is Magic at its most basic after all.


The Costs

Mana costs in Portal are centered pretty well at 3 mana, with just a few spells above 5 and 2-4 nearly symmetrical. There are no 0-cost spells in the set, all 20 cards are basic lands. Portal has a lot of vanilla creatures and creatures with basic abilities (i.e. ETB gain 3 life), and many of those sit around 3 mana. Very few cards seem pushed by their cost and its clear the design is meant to enable longer games.


CMC Stats By Card Type
MinMaxModeAvg.
Creature1933.6
Instant1352.2
Sorcery1732.9

Every card type (barring lands) is represented at CMC 1 which is a little surprising given the general lack of instants in the set. The average CMC for creatures was 3.6 which, as mentioned above, points toward the goal of extending games and letting players see more of the cards. Non-creature spells tended to cost a little less and topped out lower than creatures. The spells at the high end of the curve are really not spells you'd want to play; supporting low complexity at that CMC makes for very underwhelming results.


The Keywords

On the whole Portal is very light on keywords. Across 103 creatures there are only 40 instances of keywords (including old rules text that has since been keyworded), and that includes creatures with multiple keywords. Presumably this was another method of complexity reduction; the keywords we do see are all very straightforward ones. Flying, as usual, is the most prevalent by far.


The rest are a good mix of offensive and defensive, but still simple, keywords like various landwalks, haste, defender, and reach. While keywords are light there was no shortage of abilities on creatures. Many of them had simple triggered abilities such as ETB gain 3 life or "when this creature dies shuffle it into your library." There were also several pingers and other activated abilities floating around. From a new player standpoint the spelled out activated/triggered abilities are probably easier to digest than keywords.


The Artists

By the time Portal came around WotC was already ramping up the number of artists they commissioned from. Portal sports 43 individual artists for it's 222 cards, some of which had previously done magic work and some who were new. Douglas Shuler, for example, showed up in Revised and previous. Many future fan favorites appear on the commissions for Portal as well and will come up many more times such as Rebecca Guay, John Avon, and Terese Nielsen. As more artists contribute to the sets each one does less cards; some artists for Revised did as many as 30 cards and you can see here that he max credits is 11 for Zina Saunders.


The End

Starter Sets were an interesting idea and I'm glad that WotC tried them out. It gives an interesting view into what a simpler version of Magic could be like and it is quite different from your average magic set. I think I'll stick with our current newcomer product though, despite Portal's best efforts. Thanks for reading, and check back next time on Getting Started when we talk about Portal Second Age.