The state of Standard, and why we need Amonkhet
It’s been a few months since the Magic the Gathering (MtG) Pro Tour, even longer since Aether Revolt, and nothing has changed. It may be harsh to say, but this may be one of the worst Standard environments to date. This is saying a lot coming out of Abzan Midrange aka “Siege Rhino Winter”. Although that season was annoying, it’s not completely homogenized like it is today.
On March 13, there was a banning announcement from Wizards of the Coast (WotC): no cards were removed from any format. This decision is in stark contrast with previous bans of Smuggler’s Copter, Reflector Mage, and Emrakul. Now the meta includes Mardu vehicles and the Saheeli combo that take up just over 50% of the competitive scene. It’s all anyone is playing at any major tournament!
What’s the Answer?
There isn’t a clear one. Some are saying to ban more cards, but that will hurt the price of cards players have invested money in. After all, Magic the Gathering is different than other competitive esports. In more popular esports, the only price of entry is a computer and the price of the game, whereas MtG is limited by physical cardboard with a defined supply. Players often have to spend hundreds of dollars to compete with a deck that may well become useless after just a year, unless they get lucky.
There’s a lot more to pricing cards and Magic economy, but that’s an article for a different time.
So, banning cards means a player more than likely will lose money they don’t want to re-spend. This could result in losing a player and that their limited money, which is a death sentence for any business. What can we do?
There really isn’t an answer.
What really sucks is the amount of fun and interesting decks that lie just beneath the thick ice of Mardu Vehicles and the Saheeli combo. Some commentators are calling this a two-and-a-half deck format, which feels generous. Even for me, calling it a one-and-a-half deck format still feels generous.
In the past we’ve seen top performing deck builds take up three, maybe four slots of the Top Eight decks at a given tournament. They don’t take first place every time but still remain a strong constant as a deck to beat. Now, variations of Mardu agro decks are taking up five to six of the Top Eight slots. Players just can’t beat it.
WotC have a delicate job of giving players a balanced play experience and not have players feel they’ve wasted their time and money buying the cards and losing at tournaments. There’s too much risk in banning or unbanning cards. One minor solution could be introducing a “Restricted” list, which is used with the Vintage rule set. It only allows one copy of certain cards in a deck. Restricting the biggest pieces in powerful deck may give the other decks below the surface a chance to shine.
The final option is that us, the players, just need to be patient. Once spoiler season for Amonkhet starts it will bring new cards and abilities that might change up the meta game enough. Then again, it might not. The clearest path is to just wait.