A New Format? It’s Possible.

Hello Magic players. I hope you all had a great weekend, and enjoyed watching the Pro Tour (or were lucky enough to go to GenCon). Today I wanted to take an opportunity to talk about one of the possibilities for the future of Magic: the Gathering, and that is a new format.

There are two theories I will cover here so let’s dig in.

Magic: the Gathering has several formats for competitive play. It’s oldest (Vintage, originally called Type 1), and second oldest (Standard, originally called Type 2) have been on the extreme ends of accessibility during the game’s 25 years of existence. Since then they have created other formats for the game:

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  • Extended: A format made in 1997 initially containing cards from Revised, The Dark, and forward. At various times it consisted of 6, 7, or 8 years worth of cards while rotating every 3 years. This format is noted for not only the Onslaught Fetchlands rotating out of Extended just as Zendikar was being released, but also a format that players only prepared for if it was on the schedule. You would commonly hear players talk about the upcoming “Extended Season”. Cards were bought, played, and then traded or sold as the season cycled from beginning to end. The intent of the format was to provide value to cards after they left Standard. This format was retired in 2013.
  • Legacy: A format sanctioned by the DCI in 2004 (which prior to then was called Type 1.5) it had its own banned list which has been adjusted over time. Shortly after its creation it was featured at Grand Prix Philadelphia in 2005. This format was intended to provide players access to the game’s earliest cards without having to acquire cards only legal in Vintage. It is still around today.
  • Modern: My favorite format. I predicted a format like this (although my idea was for a non-rotating Extended type format that started in Lorwyn), and the reprinting of Tarmogoyf, 2 blocks after Scars of Mirrodin rotated out of Standard. We got Modern, and then Modern Masters (although don’t ask me for the lottery numbers). This format was created by those who wanted a Legacy style format without buying Legacy cards. The Extended format was also losing popularity for many players as it felt like they were forced to play the format to grind out Pro Points. This format was created in 2011, and allows cards from 8th Edition forward. It maintains its own banned list, however in recent years some cards appear on both Legacy and Modern banned lists.

That’s 3 pretty strong formats, and if you look at them their creation was 7 years apart from the previous format’s creation. This could be just coincidence, or it could be purposeful (keep in mind a starting hand also has 7 cards, so add that to any tin-foil hat conspiracies), but it is at least something to note.

There are several factors currently available that lead me to believe we are nearing another format with this one lying between Modern and Standard. Here are my findings so far.

1: Lands

These lands from Battle For Zendikar were the third type of dual land printed with the basic land type on them where we had the complete cycle (the original Dual Lands, and Shocklands were the others). The key to just simply playing the game are lands as it’s THE key resource of the game, and good dual lands are required for any format to survive. They are the foundation that which we play, and their existence can not be stated enough. Here are some other lands from around that same era, and forward:

Not only did we receive new versions of lands in Battle For Zendikar, and Kaladesh, but we also received reprints of classic lands in Magic Origins, Ixalan, and Dominaria. That’s a lot to build a solid base from, and there’s nothing that says we will not be getting the original Fast Lands (first seen in Scars of Mirrodin) the Enemy Colored duals like the ones in Battle For Zendikar, or reprintings of the original Pain Lands from Ice Age now that Core Sets are back.

Having access to plentiful lands, especially non-fetchlands to cut back on excessive shuffling, allows a diverse number of decks to be viable which is always a goal of Wizards of the Coast when designing new cards for any set or promoting formats. These lands set the stage for not only decks available for play, but also establish my next point on why we’ll be getting a new format.

2: The Story

Magic Origins seemed to be the first set to embark on the current way the Magic story is told. We followed the five planeswalkers (Gideon Jura, Jace Beleren, Liliana Vess, Chandra Nalaar, and Nissa Revane) as they gathered to not only discuss how to defeat threats to the multiverse, but also converse with each other as their individual friendships evolved between each set. These characters became more than just those on the cardboard we collected.

We learned that Gideon went by a different name when he was younger, Jace was The Living Guildpact (which will be super important when we return to Ravnica this fall), and many more stories about the other Planeswalkers who collectively became known as The Gatewatch. Together they traveled to new planes, revisited others, and fought foes both old and new. There seemed to be a sense of continuity building up to a larger story.

A set like Magic Origins (emphasis mine) seems to make a lot of sense as a starting point beyond what a border looks like (Modern starts in 8th simply because that was a change in the card border). There have been a lot of sets between the release of Magic Origins to now, and if the goal of Standard design is to take your Standard decks to Modern “with a few upgrades” that gap gets a lot larger with each new release. Having a new format start at Origins would reduce that gap, and allow players to hold onto Standard cards as they leave one format while entering another. This will also allow them to not only keep up with the story of their favorite characters, but serve as an entry point for new players just learning how to play Magic. When you tell your friend about your favorite fictional work you usually give them a story that signifies the beginning of that work, don’t you? The same would apply here.

3: Enter the Arena

Currently in its closed beta Magic Arena is an online free-to-play (F2P) game where you build your own deck to compete against other opponents. While Wizards of the Coast already has Magic Online to play Arena is made akin to games like Hearthstone. You can’t trade cards (or get rid of cards you don’t want), but you do build your collection over time through various means, and paying real money for digital objects is completely optional.

As its first year has moved on they started adding cards from before Ixalan to increase the card pool, and there is nothing stating they could not do that again to develop another format to play. While this is a digital product it would allow players to build a deck via free-to play, and then buy the cards they want in paper as they have tested significantly with the cards they want to play. Arena would truly be the online platform to bring in the next generation of Magic players with 2 constructed formats to play, and allow them to keep adding to it with the release of each new set.

With these 3 points in mind they have 2 options if they wanted to create a new format:

  • Have a non-rotating format where it’s Origins forward. Clean. Simple.
  • Have an Extended type format where for a few years you have Origins through the current set, and then sets rotate away as new ones are released. With how the original Extended format was received this may not be ideal.

Could adding a new format cause issues? Sure. Modern was not 100% successful worldwide upon its release. It took time (and the reprinting of the original Fetchlands) to catch on, but once it did it quickly became one of the most popular formats to play. Yes it has its flaws (as does any format), but in time those are adjusted by either finding the proper technology in the card pool, new cards in sets being released, or cards being banned. The same can be done with a new format, and if given time to flourish it too can be a success.

At the current rate of set releases the gap between Standard and Modern may become too wide for new players to try non-rotating formats, and feeling like they are stuck playing Standard only prevents them from exploring more of the game. Playing Magic does not become a constant in their life, and feels less “sticky” (as they say in the business and marketing world). Developing a new format provides not only the player another avenue to play, but also provides the local game store another outlet for players both old and new.

I don’t expect anything in the next few months honestly. I would give it at least a year before Wizards of the Coast would start taking its first steps towards something like this. This gives you time to stock up on play sets of all of these lands, and save up for the pending reprint of Shocklands in Guilds of Ravnica this fall (WotC would be INSANE to not print them for the 3rd time).

That’s all I have for today. What are your thoughts on this? Do you see something like this in the future? Do you see something else instead? Please share your thoughts below, and make sure to follow me on both Facebook as well as Twitter.

Until next time where I talk about my favorite deck from Pro Tour 25…

TAP MORE MANA!!!

Scott Campbell, better known as MTGPackFoils, has been playing Magic since he was 17 (which was in 1993). He’s known for loving decks such as Azorius Control, Jund, and others (especially in Modern). He is a husband, father, and a former nightclub DJ.

3 comments

  1. They just tried a new format in Brawl and that was basically DoA. I wouldnt mind a new format, but frontier never really gained traction. Starting at Origins would be a logical place but I feel like leaving fetches out is actually bad for the format overall. Less shuffling, yes, but a higher emphasis on simple decks because you won’t be guaranteed to fix into the right mana easily. But I doubt they print fetches in standard again. KTK was widely felt as bad for standard.

  2. I’m super curious about your data for Brawl being poorly received. Obviously regional differences are a real thing, but my playgroup has really enjoyed Brawl.

    1. I’m glad your group has enjoyed it, however talk about the format overall his dried up. Rotation is also happening which will mean some cards will have no value in the format, and overall that is bad for a new format.

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