Ask anyone who has ever played Magic: The Gathering and one inevitable topic will arise more than any other - the set that is most memorable to each player. For some, it is the set they started with, others it is one that captivated their imagination with it's flavor or mechanics. There are even those who cling to a specific set because it produced their favorite cards etc. Any number of things can cause a set to etch itself upon our memory. For me, one set always comes to mind, and while I can't say with concrete resolve it is my defacto favorite, I can say it is one that always springs to mind with cherished memories. Recently, I gave pause to contemplate just why it has always stood out among all the sets I have ever seen come and go. Shall we dig through the ruins together? Grab a shovel, get your notebook, and mind the dust.
Where to begin? Well, naturally, let us begin at the beginning. Fallen Empires was released in November of 1994, and as I may of already mentioned I was already hooked by 1993. I had only seen the earlier expansions from my cousin's guarded collection. And while some were still in stock at our store demand and supply was enough to keep them just out of grasp. That is until November rolled around and a new set appeared well within my budget. In fact, before long the abundance of Fallen Empires led our local store to sell them at a reduced price, which was something I seized upon.
In hindsight, I can't say that the release of Fallen Empires around my birthday nor it's abundance when I was just starting out were the only factors in it's impact on me. Actually, I have to admit one of it's key appeals - to me at least, was in it's deeply woven flavor. Every card seemed to echo the whispered history of the set's namesake. Each color was filled with rich flavor and sub groups that shined to make the cards more than just empty mechanics. You could piece together a rough idea of these vast empires now falling to ruin as they struggled against each other.
Let's not forget the prevalence of Fallen Empires to take creature generation to a whole new level. Creature type themed decks already had been in existence but with Fallen Empires things changed. Now thrull decks appeared able to spawn legions, and thallids would spread like mold before you. I was captivated by the set, to the say the least. But oddly enough many others were not. Out of the bulk of my peers many deemed the set overall weak and lacking in merit. To further their point they would attest that almost no real card of any value could be found in the set siting the set's larger production run.
To them I then, and still now I argue that a card doesn't have to be rare or priceless to be effective. Neither does a deck have to utilize big hulking beasts to defeat you, often a group of smaller creatures can succeed where titans fail. Plus, most people will overlook the threat before it reveals itself. Now, Fallen Empires wasn't perfect, even now I can look to it's cards and see it. But for what it is, it works I think. There is a lot of newer sets where there is some sense of storyline, and yet you find some infamously sought after cards that make you wonder why they're there. They don't fit, but from a profit standpoint they exist for consumers to have those prized rares to seek out and devour to add to their tournament arsenals.
Even today many players laugh at Fallen Empires and relegate it to a footnote in Magic's history. But just consider these words from Richard Garfield the game's creator: "It is easily the most complicated and best-looking of the expansions. The play value is high for the complexity, and the cards are very valuable for play. The flavor is probably the most cohesive since Arabian Nights. This expansion is easily my favorite."
I guess that leaves me in good company.