Let’s discuss the elephant in the room.
By now, everyone should have read, or at least skimmed, Mark Rosewater’s most recent article, Metamorphosis.
Just in case you haven’t (and that link up there isn’t easy enough to click), here’s the outline of changes:
Change #1: Beginning in the Fall of 2015, Magic Blocks Will Be Two Sets Each
Change #2: Beginning in the Fall of 2015, Magic Will Have Two Blocks Per Year
Change #3: Beginning in 2016, the Core Sets Are No More
Change #4: Beginning in 2016, the First Set of Each Block (the Fall and Spring Sets) Will Cause a Rotation
Change #5: Beginning in 2016, Standard Will Be Three Blocks Rather Than Two Blocks
It seems that players are excited for the change. The feedback has been extremely positive and, though many are wary, most players are happy that Wizards is addressing some of the big problems with Standard gameplay (I mean, it is the most popular format!) and rotation.
I’m not a Standard player, myself, but I am a local game store manager, so I want to talk about this change as it will affect your LGS and why.
Let’s go in the order that MaRo does, to keep with the theme.
#1 - The Third-Set Issue
Mark Rosewater mentions how the third set of every block is a “problem child” and the comparison couldn’t be more true. For most LGS, the third set of the block is the most underwhelming in terms of sales and interest. This has been for various reasons but the consensus is that the third set of each block is a step farther than most players care to go. In his article, Rosewater says “A common lesson I give is this: ‘Make sure your game ends before your players are tired of playing it.’ I explain that if the game ends and the players are still invested, they end the game excited and wishing to play again. If the game ends after they wanted to stop, though, it makes them leave the game with a negative impression, which decreases their chances of playing again.” This is the same principle with the third set (something Maro mentions soon after). A good example would be Dragon’s Maze. For the first time ever, we put Dragon’s Maze packs on sale. People just didn’t want them. Thinking about it, I still don’t want one. Commonly, the third set of the block felt out-of-place, thus its underperformance. Despite the love for Innistrad and Dark Ascension, Avacyn Restored fell short. Though I wasn’t working at a shop at the time, New Phyrexia feels like it might be a small exception but looking back on Mirrodin Besieged makes me not want to even cite this as an opposing example (but I hate MBS more than most).
So, for me, elimination of the third set in the block (and moving to a two-block system), is the perfect change. Let players get just a bit of a continuation of the block (one set beyond the first). It’s just enough to keep them interested but not so much that it drowns them. LGS don’t have to worry about the third set underperforming anymore. They can focus, instead, on the new block’s debut which will likely garner more interest from players.
#2 - The Core-Set Issue
This is a two-pronged issue. Rosewater explains how R&D grapples between the audiences for the core set: beginners and experienced players. These are the same issues that make core sets hard to sell to customers inside LGS. If it is for beginners, why is the expectation that beginners will only need one product per year? Why bring back old mechanics for beginners when they don’t know any different? If it is for experienced players, as Maro asks, “why do we keep the overall complexity so low? Why do we only use returning mechanics and only one at a time? Why do we strictly limit what the set can do?” These sorts of issues are what make the set less exciting for existing players and therefore a hard sell. It also decreases the excitement for existing players because they know that the set will be more simplistic and lack any depth. New players generally like to stick to the newest set released, even if we try to sell them the core set. Like most players, they want to have the newest and most relevant cards.
Getting rid of the core set is another bit of great news for LGS. Again, the focus can be on the new set. Core sets are normally underwhelming to customers and taking away the underwhelming sets in Magic can only be a plus for LGS. I, personally, feel like core sets are like a weird low point in between sets. There’s no story to give the set a theme and sometimes the returning mechanic is just…. unexciting.
#3 - The Metagame Issue
Here’s where most Standard players are seeing this as a positive change (and where Standard players are happy, LGS are normally happy). The “puzzle” of Standard is solved very quickly after sets are introduced and rotate. You don’t have to check any sort of book or magazine for the top decks to build, just click a button on your computer! As Rosewater says, “Formats, especially Standard, get solved faster because the ability for players to iterate and learn has greatly accelerated.”
What does this mean for LGS? Well, the new changes mean more frequent card rotations, a fresher Standard card-pool, and less chance of bored Standard players leaving the format for extended periods of time. I’m super excited about this. At any given point, there’s 5-6 sets in Standard (as opposed to the 5-8). We’ll keep the same general number of cards in Standard at all time (which means less of a differentiation in sales). The more frequent rotation means that there will be more occasions where players have to switch their decks out for something new (more single card sales). This is a huge improvement.
#4 - The Storytelling Issue
Hey, more story-centric block opportunities means more story-centric blocks. We’ll get two opportunities to visit (or re-visit) planes every year. So, more opportunity for cool new themes that bring players in! And, if one block doesn’t quite capture the interest of players, there’s a sooner chance that this can be remedied with the next block.
For an LGS, anything that will introduce more hype for a set is a good thing. More compelling stories do that. Thumbs up for me.
#5 - The Space Issue
R&D already feels like they don’t have enough opportunity to re-visit planes that players are asking for as well as introduce new planes. See my statements for #4. Again, this is a good thing for LGS.
As you can see, these changes are just as great for LGS as they are for the players. Despite the confusion that will result from the switch from 3-set-blocks to 2-set-blocks, most LGS should see an increase in interest in Magic that should result in an increase in sales. Not only that, but Maro also hints that there will be products dedicated to introducing new players. No word on what those might be but that’s another huge plus to your LGS. Bringing in new players is a necessity for your store and a product devoted to that can only help do what the core set struggled with.
I’ve seen a few discussions about how the Draft format will function after the 2-set-block is introduced but no word on that either. Since the first set of the block will commonly be the larger set, it makes more sense to draft 2 packs from the first set and 1 pack from the second set, but tell me what you think! I can see how players might get bored of the first set after 3 months and want some more of the newer set after it releases.
I’d love to get some feedback from the Magic community about their views on these changes, so here are my ending questions.
What do you think about the new changes? What does your local game store think of them? How do you think Draft should work? What effect do you think this will have on Standard card prices?