Formats: Back in the day, you could nominally play just about everything (a la Vintage), meaning that those that had been playing more than a few years or had a lot of disposable income enjoyed lots of advantages and there was little way around certain bad old cards unless more powerful ones were put out. The introduction of Standard format restricting play to only more recent sets stabilizes the game's power level and reduces the load on a comparative newbie (who can simply refuse to play a Vintage/Legacy/etc deck).
At various times, the popularity and longevity of the game has supposedly been in danger due to poor decisions from the designers, generally manifesting in decisions made in whatever the newest set. This has been going at least since the (famously powerful) Urza Block was followed by the much more modest Mercadian Masques set in 1999. Showing that with time any problems are only a new block away from being fixed, for new ones to emerge and the cycle to to continue.
Wizards dropped Kiora's last name after it was brought to their attention that it resembled a Maori word that touched on a central religious concept.
Doug Beyer: If we learn that any of our worlds, terms, or characters disrespectfully tread on the sincere beliefs of our fellow humans in contemporary, living cultures, we feel it’s important to take steps to correct that as best we can.
The 4-of rule. The original rules in Alpha didn't restrict players to just 4 copies of a card, and many games would end on the first turn.
Base Breaker: Lots. Examples include "non-interactive" mechanics (cards that limit how other players can react to them). The "Hexproof" keyword ("this card can't be targeted by your opponents") in particular draws a lot of contention from both sides, as satirized in this comic strip.
Broken Base: Different people like and hate different things about Magic. They argue endlessly about it on the Internet.
Character Derailment: The four of the Origins Five present in Battle for Zendikar have become a Spotlight-Stealing Squad in a big way- almost all of the plot development present in the previous blocks- from Innistrad all the way up to Khans of Tarkir- are ignored in favor of what people are derisively calling "Magic's Avengers". To wit:
Sorin Markov, a major figure in sealing away the Eldrazi originally, is barely mentioned in the lore for this block, and neither is Sarkhan, who was partially responsible for releasing them in the first place.
Gideon, despite having character development from the Boros Legion and learning magic from the Orzhov in Return to Ravnica, seems to have forgotten the former and doesn't use the latter.
Kiora stole Thassa's bident to use on Zendikar, and while it is significantly de-powered due to not being in the presence of Nyx on Theros, it's still a powerful weapon. She hardly gets to use it, and is relegated to being a side character.
Ugin- the main reason the story of the Khans of Tarkir block even happened- appears in less than ten cards in the whole block, and most of that is flavor text as opposed to art.
Cliché Storm: Innistrad block (purposefully) plays every Gothic Horror tropes to the hilt. Restless geists, zombie apocalypse, demon cults, vampire lineages, rampaging werewolves, cackling mad scientists, humankind besieged by unholy darkness...
The Scheme cards from Archenemy are purposefully over-the-top. For example, Behold the Power of Destruction's flavor text:
"I'd call that a successful first test. Golem! Rearm the DoomCitadel!"
Complete Monster: Yawgmoth was born a normal Thran on the world of Dominaria during the reign of the technologically advanced Thran empire, about 5000 years before the birth of the inventor Urza. He was banished for his unorthodox beliefs regarding diseases and healing, but returned to the capital city of Halcyon to treat Glacian, the renowned engineer and inventor, who was suffering from an unknown illness after being attacked by an exiled leper named Gix. Though Yawgmoth was by trade & profession a medic, his ways went towards an unnatural fascination with the mechanics of the body. This fascination led to experiments with plagues and poisons, several of which caused widespread death among the various races that he had visited. Yawgmoth was also slowly draining Glacian's soul to fuel his own power. Yawgmoth later learned about planes from the wizard Dyfed, until he subdued her and gave her to his followers for dissection. Ruing his own realm, Yawgmoth plotted further conquest, corrupting and killing other heroes and innocents. When he invaded Dominaria, he killed millions of innocents before he was destroyed.
Crack Is Cheaper: Magic: the Gathering is infamous for this trope. Many very strong cards are also very, very rare, and can be worth between 10-40 dollars for an average 'Standard-tournament worthy' Mythic Rare, or even more for the exceptional ones. Tournament decks typically consist of many very valuable cards, and consequently it can cost many hundreds of dollars to make a Standard tournament deck, and Standard is one of the cheaper formats, though not the cheapest. The most expensive format, by far, is Vintage, which is a format that allows all cards from all genres, and doesn't ban cards that are too strong. One single card in Vintage, such as Force of Will or Underground Sea, can cost hundreds of dollars, and the most expensive Magic card of all time, Black Lotus, costs several thousand dollars, though some cards (such as Black Lotus) are restricted to one copy in Vintage (to keep the format from getting too ridiculous). The expense of Vintage cards can make a powerful Vintage deck cost many thousands of dollars. As of January 2015, only 41 cards have been restricted in Vintage (the restricted list can be found here).
Venser, just Venser. In his first appearence on the Time Spiral Cycle, he is obnoxious, quite vitriolic, and more interested in getting to Jhoira's pants than the larger stakes. When he reappears in the Scars of Mirrodin shenigans, he is triumphantly depicted as a standard hero and a personal friend of Karn, a person whom at best he was ambivalent to and at worst outrightly aggressive towards. To make matters more hilarious, in the actual novel for the set, Quest For Karn (incidently the last proper novel for Magic as a whole), he is a belligerent drug-addict who spends most of his time bickering with his companions (albeit not without reason). When he gives up his life to save Karn, the audience is expected to see it as a Heroic Sacrifice, but most are left with a relief sigh.
Sarkhan Vol on the Khans Of Tarkir shenigans. The narrative paints his endeavours to go back in time and save the dragons as a good thing... except that the end result is considered by many to be worse, since the clans have been subjugated by the dragons and degraded into shadows of their former selves. Though Creative maintains that this was the purpose, the narrative in the player guides and uncharted realms (as well as the land art) clearly suggest that this new Tarkir is meant to be better. Only one dissenting voice is heard, Yasova's, but she is shown as being on the wrong.
This may be somewhat deliberate, though. Significant chunks have been seen from the POV of Sarkhan or the new dragon-ruled clans—and only Sarkhan is aware of both timelines, and his views are obviously colored by his obsession with dragons. During the "Khanfall," Shu Yun had maintained Ugin's desire for balance between the clans and dragons, and we've yet to really see Ugin's opinion on what has become of Tarkir, though obviously he prefers this version because his only view into the other timeline is through Sarkhan and this timeline has the chance to be "fixed." Either way, one really has to wonder what the Narset of the old timeline would think of the new timeline.
Yawgmoth, and Phyrexians in general. When they first appeared, they were barely a footnote in the flavor of the Antiquities expansion; eventually, they morphed into the main villain in Magic's Rogues Gallery.
Alesha may qualify, being Magic's first transsexual character and getting an overwhelmingly positive response from the fanbase at her character (Doug Beyer himself thanked his readers on his Tumblr), but the real star has to be Jagun Wingmate, the nameless orc that gave Alesha her war name. Mark even acknowledged his popularity on his blog as well.
Evil Is Sexy: Liliana Vess, a selfish necromancer obsessed with youthful beauty and loves to flaunt her skin.
Chandra and Gideon Jura had even more build up, including a implied romantic subplot in the novel, The Purifying Fire. It makes for an interesting relationship, as they seem to like each other, but openly despise what the other one stands for; Chandra being all about personal freedom, and Gideon about the importance of law and serving the greater good.
The never-legal (and really unplayable even if it were legal) card Splendid Genesis◊, designed to commemorate the birth of Garfield's daughter, would qualify if it were ever played. He did, however, propose to his then-girlfriend, Lily Wu, over a game using Proposal. She accepted. (It did, however, take him four games to actually draw Proposal.)
Growing the Beard: The game's early installments had severe balance issues, but things started to get better with Fourth Edition and Ice Age. By the time Mirage debuted, Magic was relatively stable.
I Knew It: Usually rare due to the many rumormongers who try to spoil each upcoming set, but the "priceless treasures" promotion from the Zendikar set qualifies.
Law of Chromatic Superiority: The Sligh Deck (named after Paul Sligh, who pioneered deck building mathematics needed to make it competitive) is known generically as Red Deck Wins for just this reason, although which color is the most powerful is a matter of fierce debate. In modern times, Blue is considered the most powerful, even following several years of deliberate depowering by the designers.
Yawgmoth, whose original, human incarnation is best described as "Hitler, but sexy."
Nicol Bolas, the oldest known planeswalker and the last Elder Dragon, is one of these. He's over 30,000 years old, has ruled empires, and is the Big Bad in more than one story. Currently, he's taken Yawgmoth's place as the current supreme threat to Dominia's safety and happiness, although in a more behind-the-scenes fashion.
Ob Nixilis is on his way to becoming one of these. A warlord who managed to ignite his spark after making a deal with demons that killed every living being on his home plane he traveled the Multiverse and conquered world after world, becoming a literal demon along the way, until arriving on Zendikar. Through the intervention of Nahiri, the lithomancer who originally helped trap the Eldrazi, he lost his spark and had his power sealed away due to a hedron placed in his head that also left him unable to leave Zendikar. Instead of giving up however he used the centuries he was trapped there to study the hedrons and the magic of Zendikar while manipulating any planeswalker he managed to come across until he finally tricked one into removing the hedron trapped in his head by claiming it to be the source of his power. The crowning moment of both his magnificence and his bastardry came when he interrupted the attempt to imprison the Eldrazi titan Ulamog by absorbing the hedron network's power to reigninte his spark and releasing the second Eldrazi titan Kozilek, but not before stopping anyone who got in his way in a vicious beatdown.
Meta Twist: In the Scars of Mirrodin storyline, Phyrexia has vastly superior forces, the element of surprise, and is the bad guy. Any Genre Savvy player worth his salt would think The Good Guys Win against overwhelming odds, right? Nope. Welcome to New Phyrexia, folks.
Moral Dissonance: Koth's actions during the Scars of Mirrodin storyline. He seems to view Venser and Elspeth as minions rather than allied planeswalkers. Encasing Venser's head in rock to force him to come to Mirrodin would have been bad enough, but then he sank Elspeth in rock up to her waist, behind enemy lines, with nothing but a rock wall to protect her from a spellbomb detonation and the Phyrexian Horrors.
Moral Event Horizon: During his exile, Yawgmoth visited several civilizations and ended up destroying them all with plagues he brewed up himself. In one case, he did it just to see what would happen.
Narm: The titular Magic Story of the Oath of the Gatewatch set. Gideon, you can see two mountain-sized Eldritch Abominations from up here, is now really a good time to swear your fealty to protecting the multiverse?!
Narm Charm: "Ach! Hans, run! It's the lhurgoyf!" is redundant, goofy, out-of-the-blue, and offers absolutely no explanation about what a lhurgoyf is.
Rescued from the Scrappy Heap: Atog was a scrappy thanks being the most printed card other than basic lands for a few months after Revised, but by the time Mirage made atogs an iconic race, not only had the haters disappeared in a puff of apathy, but the people who liked the atogs' goofily-large toothy grins and power in decks built to feed them were more plentiful than ever.
Mark Rosewater is the head designer and is essentially the public face of Magic design and development. If something goes wrong, it's his fault. Even if he had nothing to do with it, it's always MaRo's fault. People often mistakenly call him the head of Magic R&D as a whole. The game's inventor, Richard Garfield, seems to have escaped this.
The Reprint Policy, featuring the Reserve List: cards that can't be reprinted ever again, not even with another name. This was originally done to protect secondary market prices on certain older cards; now kept pretty much only due to promissory estoppel laws that would punish them if they broke it. Many people gripe about it because it prevents reprintings of several cards that would be average power under current metagame conditions, like Thunder Spirit, while not preventing several powerful cards that weren't rare from being reprinted...which Wizards has done with cards like Sol Ring and Demonic Tutor. Wizards also ran into trouble when they tried to exploit a loophole in the original policy wording which allowed them to reprint reserve list cards as foils; they eventually closed that loophole in deference to the collectors, breaking the base even further.
Portal: Three Kingdoms gets a lot of hate from players in the Americas and Europe because it never saw wide release in those regions. Not helped by how utterly expensive some of the cards in the set are as a result of limited printings.
Banding. Banding is easier to understand than "bands with other" and many times more versatile, but it's still complicated and unintuitive, and has been the butt of many jokes over the years as a result.
"Affinity for artifacts," although often acknowledged as a fair mechanic in a vacuum, gained infamy through its association with the "Ravager Affinity" deck that dominated the format at the time, so much so that its key cards were banned from tournament play. The backlash was strong enough that when Scars of Mirrodin revisited Mirrodin, the designers chose not to bring it back in fear that its new incarnation would inherit the Scrappy legacy of the mechanic.note Source.
Cards that require a coin flip have consistently been among the least popular cards in their respective sets, according to Wizards of the Coasts's market research. Head Designer Mark Rosewater explains.
Countering. A countered spell or ability simply fizzles. All the cost of it must still be paid (and sometimes, that's much worse than just mana), but the user gets nothing. This is very frustrating and the methods to get past it are rarely obvious to new players. This is a big reason the scrubs mentioned below say "no blue". In fact, countermagic is so unpopular that R&D has deliberately been reducing its effectiveness.
Land Destruction, or land removal in general, even if temporary. Due to land cards being of limited supply in any given deck, and that players must get those lands to actually play their cards (a major problem for any unlucky player), plus that normally a player may only play one land card per turn, destroying those lands will render a player having to wait several more turns to regain their land cards, by which time the opponent will have already have far more lands to play their actual game-winning cards without opposition. Similar to countering above, and perhaps to a much greater extent, land destruction as a mechanic has been significantly reduced in number and effectiveness.
Scrub: As always, in contrast to the “Stop Having Fun” Guys: any card that the Scrub's deck can't deal with is "cheap", and anyone using it is trying to ruin the game for everyone who wants to play real Magic. It's common for people seeking casual games in Magic Online to put something similar to the following in the description:
No blue, no land destruction, no goblins, no elves, no nonbasic lands...
Seinfeld Is Unfunny: New players may be mystified as to why certain famous/infamous cards have such a reputation. Sometimes this is because of their still immature grasp of the game, but other times it's because those cards were simply good in their particular metagame, making their dominance a matter of context. Or even that the rules of Magic have changed so that whatever made them good in the first place doesn't work anymore.
“Stop Having Fun” Guys: As strong a force as the scrubs. Usually found battling against anything perceived as making the game easier.
So Bad, It's Good: A handful of cards, particularly from early sets such as Legends, are so thoroughly useless that they're regarded with a degree of affection by players. Chimney Imp, for example, is a particularly iconic one, attaining a status of Memetic Badass on the official forums.
Squick: Uktabi Kong, a card (tap two apes to produce an ape token) which invokes a number of sex tropes, but especially:
Yawgmoth's cure for phthisis actually worked, and his rant about the Thran cheerfully using magic they only barely understood for everything made a lot of sense.
Phyrexia, be it New or Old, is an entire plane of condensed Nightmare Fuel, and are the archetypical capital-E Evil faction of the game. They also have incredibly powerful magic and magitech due to their scientific approach to understanding the multiverse.
Technician vs. Performer: One of the oldest ongoing disputes amongst competitive Magic players is whether netdecking or not is more "pure". Netdecking is the concept of taking a well performing decklist, and fine-tuning it to your meta. The alternative being to develop a rogue strategy specific for the anticipated metagame.
They Changed It, Now It Sucks: Too many times to count. Examples include the rules changes introduced here, but the game has to tweak itself a little every year, and each year brings a plethora of complaining, along with the beeping of cash registers to drown them out.
The major rules overhaul with Sixth Edition caused a massive outcry among players at the time.
Perhaps the biggest Internet Backdraft occurred in 2003, when they made some rather drastic changes to the cosmetic layout of the cards.
Four words: Planeswalkers as playable cards.
As of the M14 core set, both players may have a copy of a legendary creature. Cue cries of how this cripples clone decks.
Tier-Induced Scrappy: The most powerful cards and decks, as players grow tired of seeing the same cards at the top tables of every tournament. Victims have included:
The Jund deck that dominated Standard after the release of Alara Reborn.
Jace, the Mind Sculptor's unprecedented price tag (about $100 at its peak), combined with his status as a staple in multiple formats, has earned him a lot of unpopularity among some segments of the player base. It got to the point that Wizards had to ban Jace from decks.
This applies to the Homelands expansion. Almost all of the cards were too weak to see any play, even outside of tournaments, giving it a reputation as a set consisting of nothing but useless junk (The Duelist once admitted the only worthwhile card in the set was an ok anti-weenie card, and people only played that when there were block rules that required decks to contain cards from every expansion in the current rotation; later, Merchant Scroll gained some popularity as well). Packs of Homelands cards were still available in stores for next-to-nothing long after it had "officially" gone out of print. Player reactions were so poor that in 2006, it was retroactively replaced in the Ice Age block with Coldsnap.
Fallen Empires, too, for about the same reasons. Although it did have several cards that saw tournament play, its best cards (such as Order of the Ebon Hand and Hymn to Tourach) were common, so players didn't need to open many packs to collect all the cards that they actually wanted. It was also massively over-printed, with almost six times as many cards printed as any expansion set before it (approximately 350 million cards, compared to the 62 million of the preceding set, The Dark) and almost as many as the then-current base set, Revised Edition (estimated at 500 million cards over its lifetime.) This imbalance between supply and demand kept the price of Fallen Empires packs very low for a very long time.
After the overpowered Urza's and Rath blocks, Mercadian Masques block was deliberately underpowered to help re-balance the game. Unfortunately, the result was a weak block that did nothing to stop Rath and Urza from dominating competitive play, and its popularity dipped further after the premiere of the following Invasion block, a fan favorite that changed the metagame without being broken.
Even worse, bland mechanics and character designs meant it just wasn't fun. One big problem with Mercadian Masques was all the reprints of weak cards. (Kyren Glider < Goblin Glider, Moment of Silence < Festival, the return of storage lands from Fallen Empires.)
Kamigawa block tried to do the same thing after the the insanity of Mirrodin, and fared about as well. It was followed by Ravnica to boot, a reasonably powerful set that's been a fan-favorite since printing (even the less powerful cards are considered fun).
Too Dumb to Live: The writers of the Guildpact, for intentionally writing in an antagonist for whom failure was NOT the only option, because "hey, there's an empty slot." The spoilered mistake sets in motion the plots of the entire original Ravnica trilogy.