A Week of Change

Over the last week or so, a lot of Magic-related things have been announced. Since we’re in the middle of Announcement Week, that will continue for several more days. In this article, I’ll share my thoughts on the announcements thus far.

Thursday June 8: Pro Tour Hall of Fame Changes

The voting for the 2017 class of the Pro Tour Hall of Fame will happen in a few weeks. Starting from this year, there will be some tweaks to the eligibility and voting threshold. (There is also a minor modification to the rule that decides when a player gets removed from the ballot.)

For eligibility, a player must now have at least 2 final-day finishes (essentially a Pro Tour Top 8 or a new Worlds Top 4). This criterion was added to reflect a lot of the selection committee’s unofficial thresholds. I, however, care very little about the amount of final-day finishes, so I do not like this change. If this rule would have been in effect before, then I would not have been able to vote for Shota Yasooka in 2010 or 2011, where he was the second (after Gabriel Nassif) and first name I penciled in on my ballot, respectively. I would prefer if the selection committee could retain their freedom in choosing the people they felt were the most worthy.

For the voting threshold, a player must now appear on 60% (rather than 40%) of the ballots. This is an even bigger change, as under this new rule, 23 out of the 44 current members of the Hall of Fame would not have made it, at least on the year they were inducted. The likely result of this new threshold is that fewer people will be inducted every year, and it’s bad news in particular for players like Chris Pikula or Martin Juza, who would likely get close to 40% of the vote this year.

I can understand the change if an underlying goal is to make the Hall of Fame more exclusive (which the article hinted at but did not expressly state as a reason) but the implementation feels a bit drastic and inelegant to me. I would have preferred a more gradual ramp-up, like 45% this year, 50% the next, and 60% thereafter. Either way, it won’t impact my vote—I will still vote for the same group of people.

Monday: Metamorphosis 2.0

In an article by head designer Mark Rosewater, the new block model was laid out. It will give more creative freedom to R&D, which felt a little weird coming from someone whose mantra is “restrictions breed creativity.” But if the type of creativity that was bred was not working well, then a change is warranted, and overall, the changes seem good for the game.

Change #1: The Fall, Winter, and Spring Sets Will All Be Large Sets That Are Drafted Alone

Blocks had been around ever since I started playing Magic approximately 20 years ago, so this is a big change. It should be good from a storytelling standpoint, as they can now explore a story and a plane as much as is warranted, without having to draw out things more than necessary.

For drafts, I like the change. I have usually enjoyed single-sets drafts more than multi-set drafts. One reason might be because it’s easier for R&D to balance draft environments if they can focus their attention on single-set synergies only. Another reason might be because a single large set hits the sweet spot for the size of the card pool. To explain that, let’s look at some example formats:

  • Consider a fictive format with a very small card pool where Giant Growth is the only green instant. If your opponent attacks their 2/2 into your 4/4, then you always know what they might have. Figuring out what to play around is trivial.
  • Consider a Chaos draft involving every set and almost every combat trick that has ever been released. If your opponent makes the same attack, then they could have hundreds of possible instants, and it’s hopeless to try to play around one.
  • Consider triple Amonkhet draft, where they could have Shed Weakness, Spidery Grasp, or Synchronized Strike. In that case, I can exert some effort to figure out which card my opponent might have, and make the proper blocks if I make the right deductions.

So a single large set can reward deductions and memory. This adds a layer of skill to the game that might not exist in an overly small or large Limited format.

Change #2: The Summer Set will be a revamped Core Set

The new core sets will include reprints, which will be valuable for Standard. In the past, core sets often contained solid answers or safety valves (such as Pithing Needle or Duress), as well as cards that altered the game (such as Worship or Coat of Arms). With the right reprints, the pendulum may swing a bit from overpowered threats to better answers or diversity-promoting cards.

Core set drafts have been interesting in the past, so I have good hopes there, even if their focus will apparently be on providing a product aimed at newer players. I trust that their market research indicated that such a product was lacking, and if so, it’s a good addition. One thing I do hope is that if the draft format won’t be as good (which I could accept if it leads to the perfect new-player product) then the number of premier events featuring core set draft will be smaller.

Change #3: A Pull-Back on How Often the Gatewatch Will Appear

Nicol Bolas victory confirmed! Room for Tibalt to return!

More seriously (I mean, Bolas isn’t going to devour the Gatewatch, is he?), this is an excellent change. There are currently 4 Nissa planeswalkers legal in Standard, which is a bit of an overexposure. Also, there are only so many times you can read “Gideon becomes a 4/4 or 5/5 Human soldier creature with indestructible and damage prevention” before it gets boring.

Change #4: The Masterpieces Series Will Revert to Being in Fewer Sets

I liked the Masterpieces for providing collectors with a beautiful (to some) and valuable product while keeping the price of Standard down. But the number of cards that are sufficiently iconic to be worthy of a Masterpiece is limited, and the rate at which they were being printed was not sustainable. Amonkhet already had Attrition or Divert, which did not feel particularly exciting.

So scaling down Masterpieces seems fine, but I wonder if it would have been better to keep them in every set at a lower number. For instance, 5-10 masterpieces per set only.

Under the new system, sets without Masterpieces will likely have inflated prices of chase mythics, which doesn’t seem desirable. On the other hand, we won’t have small sets anymore. Since small sets were typically not opened as much as large sets, chase mythics from small sets were often ridiculously expensive. These two effects might cancel out.

Change #5: Formation of a New Group in R&D Called Play Design

This is not exactly a new announcement. Matt Sperling already discussed it several weeks ago, so I won’t go into too much detail.

What I will say is that this is definitely a positive change. It’s good to see that R&D is iterating on their process, recognizing problems, and adding resources where necessary. A more balanced Standard is fun for everyone, and I’m happy to see that additional people will be tasked to work on the health of tournament environments in general. Hopefully, fewer bans will be needed in the future.

Tuesday June 13: Magic Digital Next Update

This announcement had very little new information, apart from ending Magic Duels. It also confirmed a news article from last week: Cryptic Studios is making an MMO within the Magic universe. Magic’s color wheel, fiction, and plane multiverse could make for a nice MMO setting, even if it’s not going to be about the card game itself. Then again, they may be 10 years late to the MMO craze.

An announcement that would have excited me more would have been an update of Shandalar, with new graphics and new cards. The game is old but I really enjoyed the game play: You traveled from town to town, battled NPCs for ante, bought and sold cards at a bazaar, and eventually ended up with a broken deck. I recorded some videos several years ago, and Raphael Levy has been streaming the game recently. I’ll just keep hoping for Shandalar 2.0…

Tuesday June 13: Aetherworks Marvel is Banned in Standard

They actually did it! The absolute madmen.

Personally, I dislike bans in general, as they come with a large cost. But Aetherworks Marvel was initially not meant to be legal alongside Battle for Zendikar for so long, the announcement was well-reasoned and articulate. I found it interesting that Marvel’s win percentage on Magic Online did not point to true dominance—there were various ways to beat it, and Marvel in this environment was not actually a wise deck choice. I wonder if people would have rapidly moved away from Marvel if MTGO data would have been freely available.

Either way, Aaron Forsythe looked beyond how good the deck actually is (at least when everyone is ready for it) and took other aspects into account. The sheer popularity of the deck and the game play aspects were big red flags. Although the article did not explicitly mention the randomness of spinning the wheel as an undesirable play pattern, unbeatable draws were confirmed to be unfun: “The best games of Magic are ones that involve counterplay on both sides.” That is a fair position to take.

As for Modern, I would have liked an unban or two, but apart from that I agree with Willy Edel.


The thing I like best about the announcement is that they are changing the number and timing of future B&R announcements. Having 8 moments per year indeed led to too much stress, and by pushing the announcement until after the Pro Tour, competitors can start testing properly right away, rather than having to wait not knowing whether or not something will be banned. Also, R&D can take the results of the Pro Tour and subsequent event into account when making their ban decisions. I view this as an improvement in every way.

In terms of Standard developments, I would expect a comeback of Mono-Black Zombies. The archetype had the worst win percentage against Marvel according to the MTGO data, and at Pro Tour Amonkhet it had a good matchup against Mardu Vehicles. If Zombies rise up, then that may be good for more controlling decks with sweepers, and we may just end up in a healthy environment.

Standard has had a rough time lately. Let’s hope this is the end of it.

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