This year marks the 28th year of Magic: The Gathering's existence as a collectible trading card game. Since 1993, Wizards of the Coast has created over 100 MTG sets. While many sets released in the 1990s are memorable to long-time players, not all were successes for WotC.

Two early MTG sets deemed failures by WotC are Fallen Empires and Homelands. Fallen Empires' production intended to correct the already felt scarcity of earlier expansions—by being printed to oblivion. The following year saw Homelands, which remained on shelves for a different reason—the low power level or fringe use of nearly every card in the set. Before getting into more specifics that plagued Fallen Empires and Homelands, I would like to highlight one interesting similarity between the sets.

Fallen Empires and Homelands booster boxes hold 60 booster packs. According to Crystal Keep, booster packs for Fallen Empires and Homelands originally retailed for $1.45 and $1.75, respectively. Each set's booster pack contains six commons and two uncommons. Commons and uncommons in both sets have independent sub-rarities. Uncommons designated as U1 appeared once on the rarity's print sheet and are thus equal to rares. Many of the Reserved List cards found in Fallen Empires and Homelands are U1.

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Another interesting fact is that commons in Fallen Empires and Homelands have multiple versions of artwork. Commons in Fallen Empires have three to four artwork variants. WotC reduced the amount of artwork variants in Homelands to two per common. Thus, while there are only 102 and 115 mechanically unique cards in Fallen Empires and Homelands respectively, the artwork variants increase those card counts from a collectability standpoint.

Fallen Empires

Fallen Empires released to retail locations in November of 1994. The flavor text on Fallen Empires cards tells the story of the Sarpadian Empires. An article on MTG's mothership website, The History of the Sarpadian Empires, shares how the Fallen Empires' story unfolds. Another 2002 article featured on the MTG mothership highlights more of the Fallen Empires storyline. Fallen Empire's theme, tribal elements, and story probably did not contribute to the set's downfall. The main issue for Fallen Empires was unmistakably its print run.

Unfortunately, WotC overprinted Fallen Empires to where booster packs were available at retailers for almost four years after release. You might be thinking that this is not an issue as booster packs from sets printed four years ago from today are available in local gaming stores. However, you are likely going to pay a premium for aged booster packs over their initial MSRP. In the case of Fallen Empires, supply outweighed demand. Allow me to share a personal story highlighting how much product got released relative to market demand.

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My brother and I started playing MTG in 1995. A neighborhood friend introduced the game to us after purchasing a 4th Edition starter deck. We had no idea Fallen Empires existed until late 1996. In 1997, we walked into a Babbage's and saw Fallen Empires packs selling on clearance for $0.79 each. After purchasing about 30 booster packs, we opened them only to find mostly bulk cards. Nevertheless, we did enjoy playing with Goblin Grenade, Hymn to Tourach, and Order of the Ebon Hand in our existing decks.  

Fallen Empires' overprinting was made worse by the small set size and relatively underpowered cards. Many commons and uncommons, including some of the U1 cards, became bulk due to their availability and underwhelming strength. There were a few more playable Fallen Empires cards such as Breeding Pit, but they were inexpensive and easy to acquire. However, there is one bright spot for Fallen Empires as the set includes 27 Reserved List cards. Rainbow Vale, Elvish Farmer, and Dwarven Armorer are a few Fallen Empires Reserved List cards worth over $2. 

Booster boxes of Fallen Empires have a TCGplayer Mid estimated value (EV) of $134 on MTG Dawnglare. Dividing the booster box EV by 60 provides a booster pack EV of $2.23. Considering sealed Fallen Empires booster boxes are listed for sale at $1,000, cracking a booster box is not a good financial decision. The same financial guidance holds for loose booster packs selling for around $15. Since the EV of Fallen Empires sealed product is very low relative to its price, why are individuals paying $800+ for a sealed booster box?

Prices for old booster boxes do not always reflect the EV of the cards found inside. Historically, a price premium gets added to the EV of MTG booster boxes over time. Multiple factors may affect the price premium of booster boxes, including scarcity, nostalgia, and collectability. 

The actual sold listings of $15 booster packs from a set containing just six U1s (i.e., rares) with TCGplayer Market prices over $5 and none near $15 are telling. There is the fun and nostalgic value of opening an ancient booster pack in MTG terms. However, I still cannot recommend paying $15 for a booster pack or $800 for a booster box. I want to believe we will see a market pullback on Fallen Empires box pricing that approaches rationality, but it may not happen this year.

Homelands

Homelands became available for purchase in October 1995 between the releases of Ice Age and Alliances. WotC originally included Homelands as part of the Ice Age block. However, Homelands was an odd fit in the Ice Age block because Homelands and Ice Age share few similarities in flavor or design. Therefore, when WotC released Coldsnap, they swapped the set with Homelands as an official set in the Ice Age block.

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There is an intriguing story told through the flavor text of Homelands' cards. One of the storyline's stars is Baron Sengir, who made a recent appearance in Commander Legends. Other interesting characters include Ihsan's Shade and Autumn Willow. A 2011 MTG mothership article, Homelands: The Making of a Magic Expansion, shares details about the creation of Homelands and, in particular, Baron Sengir.

If Homelands contains such a rich story, why is the set considered a failure? The glaring reason is the power level of cards in Homelands is low, as previously mentioned. There were only a handful of cards worth including in an MTG Constructed deck back in 1995. Even most of the 35 Homelands cards on the Reserved List lack playability.

Many noncreature spells are lackluster or too narrow in scope based on today's standards, with a few exceptions, including Memory Lapse and Merchant Scroll. One of the more notable Homelands artifacts is Serrated Arrows. You may recall seeing Serrated Arrows as a timeshifted card in Time Spiral. 

Beyond a subpar power level, Homelands suffered from other design troubles. In an MTG mothership article titled Make No Mistake, Mark Rosewater (Head Designer for Magic: The Gathering) discusses 20 MTG design mistakes. The very first mistake mentioned in the article is the card design for Homelands. Here is what Rosewater says regarding Homeland's design issues:

And I'll be blunt with you, as someone who's dedicated the last eight years designing Magic cards, Homelands was a poorly designed set. It wasn't very innovative. It didn't introduce any strong mechanics. It didn't have good synergy. It wasn't particularly elegant. It didn't have many of the qualities that we now judge a set's design by. (To be fair, the set was very flavorful, so it wasn't without any design merit.)

Considering the design failures of Homelands, why are sealed booster boxes listed for $1,000? Interest in Homelands booster boxes likely derives from a combination of nostalgia and collectability (the same as Fallen Empires). I already mentioned how set EV is not a good indicator of the market value for old sealed products, but I will share that Homeland's TCGplayer Mid EV on MTG Dawnglare is $231 or $3.85 per pack.

Regardless of EV, individuals are purchasing Homelands booster boxes well above last year's prices when they were $300 or less. Paying close to $1,000 for a Homelands booster box or even $15 for a loose booster pack seems outrageous. Although I think current prices are high, buying MTG products does not have to be rational.

It is important to remember that Fallen Empires and Homelands released over 25 years ago. Each set contains unique storylines and Reserved List cards. Also, Fallen Empires and Homelands are sentimental to many players who discovered MTG in the 1990s. 

Over 2020, Fallen Empires and Homelands booster boxes dramatically rose in price to record highs. The price spikes may result from the increasing demand due to the nostalgia, collectability, and scarcity of old sealed products. However, it is unrealistic to expect Fallen Empires and Homelands booster box pricing to revert to $300 any time soon based on current market trends. So if you want to buy Fallen Empires or Homelands sealed products for fun or nostalgia, go right ahead. Just don't buy into these price spikes thinking you are going to earn a profit.