Mark Rosewater announced some pretty exciting news today, so if you haven’t read his article, take a look. I just want to briefly talk about some of the effects of this change, particularly from the perspective of someone who plays a ton of Standard (and will likely play more as a result of these changes).
1) No More Third Set
I like this change. The third set was often the cause of a less interesting and less focused draft environment. Because it’s only one pack and has pressure to introduce new themes/mechanics, it tends to either dilute draft by adding archetypes that aren’t fully supported or mimic the first two sets too closely. Neither of those are great, and I can list plenty of old formats where I liked AAA and AAB, but did not care for ABC. Reversing the order you open packs does help, but it’s still better to have three of a big set followed by two big set + small set. You get the shakeup of the second set while still supporting all the big-set archetypes, and instead of having a more disjointed format once the third set comes out, we just get a whole new draft format. More draft formats is definitely awesome.
As for Constructed, there’s no particular need for a third set. Two sets is enough to fully support interesting themes, especially if you don’t need to worry about saving good stuff for a third set, and I’m not worried that we are losing interesting space on this front.
2) No More Core Set
This also has a positive impact on draft. Instead of trying to balance the needs of an introductory product with the desire for an interesting and varied draft format (which favors complexity in order to push different archetypes), we just skip the whole thing and find different ways to cater to the audiences core sets were intended for. As much as I like knowing that Divination will be printed every year, I’m not really going to miss core sets when it comes to draft. They have been pretty good considering the bar they have to hit on complexity, but I still prefer heavier themes than core sets offer.
Do you know why I’ve drafted Innistrad hundreds of times? It’s not because it’s simple, let’s just say that. It also reinforces that flavor really is a big part of Magic. Innistrad had A+ flavor, and core sets can never hit that level of thematic cohesiveness. If the elimination of core sets means deeper and richer Flavor Drafts, I’m all for it.
3) Rapidly Solved Metagames
This is a big one. Magic has gotten SO popular that there are way more tournaments, more in-depth coverage, and more people jamming each format than ever before. That’s awesome, but it stresses each card set and each format to a greater degree.
Just look at this last year. Pro Tour Theros showcased a bunch of new and interesting decks: Mono-Blue, Mono-Black (with 2 Pack Rats, which was soon upped to 4), Mono-Green Devotion, Esper. That was awesome. It became significantly less awesome when the exact same decks were tier 1 for the entire remaining season. It isn’t an exaggeration to say that the Mono-Blue main deck did not change more than a handful of cards over the course of three new sets, and I don’t really know anyone who thinks that’s wonderful news (besides those who just love evolving Cloudfin Raptors, I suppose).
Under the new paradigm, this can’t happen. New sets are going to push out old ones more quickly, which makes it impossible for the metagame to ever stay the same that long. By rotating Standard more frequently, not only are we going to see bigger metagame shifts, we are going to see more of them.
This change makes me incredibly happy—this year of Standard was very demotivating to me, and I very quickly lost interest, even as new sets came out. The decks stayed the same for too long, even if they were interesting at first, and I felt like testing and tuning were not an effective use of my time. In this new world, I anticipate playing a lot more Standard, because it will be more novel and more varied, as well as give me an actual incentive to discover new decks and new additions to known decks. I historically haven’t loved Standard, and this change gives me hope that I may become a fan, which I think is a huge win.
4) Keeping Your Collection Current
This news isn’t all upside, though. With an 18-month rotation instead of a 24-month, you have to be more diligent about keeping your collection up-to-date, which means more aggressive trading/buying/selling, and a greater cost. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a huge monetary cost, as I’m sure people who pay a lot of attention to metagame trends can trade their cards such that they keep up, but that’s still a time and effort cost. It also won’t necessarily be a huge cost, as the same number of cards will still be printed, but it’s hard for me to predict exactly where it will land.
I do hope that the cost isn’t too prohibitive, because that affects a ton of people who play Magic, and I’d hate if people who wanted to play were priced out. I spent a lot of my Magic-playing time under a pretty strict budget (I learned to play when I was 11), and even if that isn’t a huge factor for me now, I do remember when it was central to my experience as a player.
I’m really excited about these changes, and I look forward to when they go into effect. This makes the news of 3 Standard Pro Tours per year a lot brighter, even if this rotation doesn’t happen until after Khans.