What Do The Latest Changes to Magic: The Gathering Mean For You?

Justin Clouse | 26 Aug 2014 04:01
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Earlier today, Mark Rosewater, lead designer of Magic: The Gathering dropped a bomb of an announcement on the Magic community concerning the future of the game. Don't worry, Wizards of the Coast is not doing anything that drastic. Magic will continue to be otherwise be the Magic trading card game for the foreseeable future. The announcement really just pertains to the structure of how the game is released and the Standard format rotation. You can read the whole post here, but the short version is that over the coming year the following changes will go into effect.

- The block release structure will change.
- Blocks will be two sets, a large and small, instead of three set.
- Core set is getting removed entirely.
- The yearly schedule will be two blocks, before it was one core set and a block of three sets.
- Standard will be rotating more frequently.

Obviously this announcement has some pretty major and far reaching implications and I'm going to break it down here as I see it. As I mentioned in the news post, these changes do have the greatest impact on organized play. If you're the sort that attends FNM every week or plays competitively you're going to get more out of it than a casual player. But that said, I do think there's potential for this to impact the kitchen table as much as the Pro Tour.

Two Set Blocks

Almost since the beginning of the game, Magic has released in a fairly predictable pattern. Each block consisted of three sets, a large fall set and two small sets coming out in the winter and spring. WotC has ventured off and experimented with this method a few times, like the Lorwyn and Shadowmoor cycle and occasionally changing up the order and size. A lot of this was due to a pervasive issue with this system, the third sets just weren't typically very interesting. There were a number of contributing factors: most of the best design work for the block gets front loaded into the earlier sets, the mechanics start feeling stale that many months later, small sets don't have much impact, and the list goes on.

The theory behind the two set method is that it will condense what was normally stretched thin into three complete sets. Now all the best ideas for that block's mechanics can be cultivated into a tighter collection of cards. Every mechanic and archtype can be more carefully crafted and supported. This may even increase the quality of cards in general as less filler or design holes will need to be filled. This just means the potential for better environments in both constructed and limited. No more lame third sets fouling up an already interesting draft metagame and no more dud sets that barely even make a dent in Standard.

For the couple interesting third sets like Rise of the Eldrazi, I'm happy to make the cut for the likes of Dragon's Maze. The three set structure might have better supported the natural story arc of beginning, middle and end, but personally I'd rather have better game first and work out the kinks in the lore second.

Core Set

Core sets have been a bit of an odd beast for a long time in Magic. The original notion was that it was eventually going to be the perfect "core" set of Magic cards that wouldn't change. Lately it's been used more as a dumping ground to ensure that certain cards, especially those that didn't otherwise fit in the blocks, were still available for the Standard metagame. As discussed in the post, there was also this conflicting notion that core sets were supposed to be a simpler, with fewer and only returning mechanics, in order to appeal and attract new players, but this was at odds with the fact that only more invested players were interested in the yearly release. I suspect that WotC was also finding that products like Duels of the Planeswalkers was also serving as a much better introduction and gateway into the game.

While there have certainly been some standouts lately, the burden was simply a little too much and something needed to give in order to make way for the new schedule of doing two blocks, each with two sets, instead of a core set and a block with three sets. I don't think most are going to particularly mourn the passing of core set when it means more blocks or new mechanics. I do wonder what this means for staples and reprints. It's possible we might see more of what M15 did where reprinted cards that don't actually appear in boosters are technically in the set, and thus legal, or we'll simply see more function reprints. Come on, we need another Lightning Bolt, right?

Once you start hitting the point in Magic where the donation box gets more cards than your binder or finding out about bulk sell rates become a thing, much of the point of core set becomes a little moot. I certainly don't need a hundred copies of Pacifism.

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