Discussion in 'CPA/WOTC Magic Issues' started by Spiderman, Oct 20, 2016.
Revisiting Standard Rotation
Well, Standard doesn't matter to me, but it does demonstrate a willingness to tinker and admit a mistake (if such it was, no opinion on the substance of it), so that's good.
I'm pretty much in the same boat as Melkor. I've toyed with the idea of playing Standard, but haven't seriously pursued it, and I currently can't make enough time for tournament Magic in general for it to be worth it. The consensus I've seen is that the faster rotation schedule was a mistake, so reverting that mistake is a good thing. There's also a significant minority who take issue with the change for their own reasons. Most of them seem to be tournament players who prefer the exploratory aspects of tournament Magic, when many of the cards are still new to the format and the competitive archetypes still aren't fleshed out.
Notably, although I've seen this latest change described as a simple reversion, that all it's doing is undoing the previous change, there's actually more to it. Before the change, core sets were still part of the Standard rotation. Currently, there are no revealed plans to bring back core sets, so while new, new Standard might be closer to old Standard than it is to old, new Standard, there is a distinct difference. Whether or not that's good, I cannot say.
Yeah, I don't think anyone who comes here now plays Standard, but it's always news, just to keep abreast of what's going on
I want to elaborate on the history here, but especially on the core set. Even though I'm not a Standard player, it has become the most important format for the game and that gives it wider implications. I do think that speeding rotation up was a mistake, and reverting that is a step in the right direction. But...
-Wizards of the Coast crippled the Extended format with changes to it, then killed it. While this doesn't affect Standard directly, it might have had a deleterious effect indirectly. Extended used to be extremely popular as a tournament format. It rotated, so old cards eventually left the system, but it rotated slowly enough that players could play and fine-tune their pet decks for years. Extended had a lot more deckbuilding options than Standard, which was attractive to a lot people. Rotation enabled it to be more dynamic than Legacy or Vintage, while the larger cardpool made it more intricate than Standard, which seemed like a "flavor of the month" format by comparison. I never even played Extended myself, but I certainly played decks that were strongly influenced by the format. This put a lot of pressure on Standard to be more of a flagship format for representing new set releases. But it was in Extended that the players got the really famous, iconic decks. Modern doesn't serve that function. It now goes back 13 years, with a card pool large enough that the major archetypes are more stabilized.
-Magic has grown, but the influx of new players has no environment that serves as a home for them to keep playing with their cards and adjust slowly, over time. Legacy is daunting to the vast majority of players, with deck costs routinely adding up to thousands of dollars. Modern doesn't really work either. It reaches all the way back to Eighth Edition, long before most players started. Someone who picked up Magic in 2012 or whatever isn't going to buy into Modern unless that person is keenly interested in the format and determined to spend enough money to break into it. But Standard rotates so quickly that most players get overwhelmed by it. Fast rotation is probably great for extremely active, deck-brewing, tournament-grinding players with enough money to keep buying the hottest new Standard staples regularly. But the majority fall behind and lose interest in Standard. Slowing the rotation back down might help with that, but the rotation was too fast already. Again, not too fast for everyone, but too fast to have a broad appeal, especially to casual players. This is anecdotal, but in nearly 20 years of playing the game, I've noticed that most people who quit Magic leave because of life changes: family, work, school, moving somewhere, losing playgroups, etc. But of the other people who I've seen leave the game, just about all of them quit because they were playing Standard and got burned out on it.
-Back when I started playing, Wizards of the Coast was trying a new system, which evolved over time but was eventually abandoned. They grouped their Magic products into three levels based on complexity. There was "Starter Level" with products meant to familiarize new players with the game. They botched early attempts at designing Starter Level sets, but I think the idea had merit. Rather than fix the problems they ran into, they just stopped making Starter Level sets. The "Advanced Level" was used for the core set. At the time, the core set was all reprints. While the pool of cards in the core set wasn't constant, it provided a bit more stability, keeping many of the same cards and reprinting cards from other sets in future iterations, which let players keep using more of their cards, mitigating format rotation burnout, at least a little bit. The "Expert Level" was used for expansion sets, and these sets were allowed to have more complexity. Because WotC abandoned this system, they got stuck. Now pretty much any set has to guard against complexity so as not to overwhelm new players. Take experienced players who have played with every set and ask them which block of sets they'd prefer to play with most. It's Time Spiral Block. It sure is for me, hands down, and I know others have said the same, including WotC employees. It's also the most complex block ever, totally inaccessible to new players. That complexity has depth, and depth is good, but you have to get used to it. I think that if WotC were allowed to use more of the tools they've already demonstrated they have, to include more depth in Standard, it would be a more interesting format. Instead, lately we've gone from everyone whining about Azorius Control to everyone whining about Siege Rhino to everyone whining about Collected Company to everyone whining about Looter Scooter. The problem isn't efficient, powerful cards. Those are fine. The problem is that without depth, there aren't enough tricks to thwart whatever cards turn out to be most efficient in a simple, easily readable format.
-The core set was becoming, more and more, just another expansion set. We let it happen. I kind of cheered it on a little bit, which I now sincerely regret. I'm guessing that the old-style white-bordered, reprint only core sets just weren't making enough money. It's understandable and I'm not saying that I have a perfect solution, but I think that part of the problem was just the bad luck that attempts to renovate the core set took place around the same time that WotC was about as bad as they ever got when it came to avoiding reprints of popular cards. Products like Eternal Masters, Conspiracy: Take the Crown, and the Kaladesh Inventions demonstrate that they're willing to do some very nice reprints—now. But that's now! In the few years following the rebranding of the core set up until after Magic 2015, the second to last core set ever, WotC was overly cautious about reprints, for whatever reason. They dipped their toes in the water with Modern Masters, but gave it a very low print run. It wasn't until the first Conspiracy set that they began a more realistic program of providing needed reprints for cards with stupidly inflated price tags. Reprinting sought-after cards would be a good way to sell the core set. It would free up design space in expansions, and reserving the core set as a gateway for less experienced players would allow for more complexity in expansions.
This is all just partially informed speculation on my part, but I think I see ways to improve the current system. Bring back the core set as an all-reprint set. Tie beginner-focused products to the core set. Make the core set contain a pool of proven, classic staples. Clean, simple cards that are the best at what they do. Lightning Bolt, Counterspell, Disenchant, etc. Give stuff new art to keep it fresh for collectors and such. Don't replace the core set too often, but do it at intervals and rotate the stable of regular cards enough so that the Standard environment they help shape is always different. Keep mechanically simple, but don't be afraid to push the power level. Throw in some big bombs that will sell packs and give people a chance at previously less accessible rares. Increase the complexity of expansion sets and actually design them with the content of the core set in mind, so they can exploit what's available or perhaps provide weapons against some of the power in the core set. Slow down Standard enough that it doesn't drive players away. Take pressure off Standard to be such a flagship format for the game, perhaps by reviving and tweaking old stuff like Block Constructed and Extended. It might seem radical, but really, a lot of this could remain business as usual.
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