Let’s get on with it. After the July 31 and August 1 Pauper Challenge, the first four weeks of Dungeons & Dragons: Adventures in the Forgotten Realms season looks like this:
It’s hard to separate this chart from the problems currently facing the format. Storm, Dimir, and Affinity represent a nigh-unassailable Big 3. Storm has 31.25% of all Top 8s while just over 21% of Top 32 volume. Dimir Delver/Faeries combine for 23.44% of all Top 8s with just over 18% of Top 32 Volume. Affinity is the most popular deck but has just under 22% of all Top 8s despite making up almost 27% of the Top 32 volume. Combined these decks account for around 66% of the Top 32 metagame.
How do they stack up against the rest of the field?
Weighted Volume takes each deck in the Top 32 Swiss result and compares it to an X-3 record. For each Swiss win above X-3 a deck gets 1 point. Totally the number of Top 32 wins above X-3, that gives us a pool and then we can use this number to see how decks are doing relative to each other. These three decks combined are occupying over 77% of that Winner’s Metagame.
I am not going to rehash potential solutions to the problems here (hint hint: cards need to banned). What I do want to propose is a way to try and prevent this from happening again. And with that I’m going to make a plea to the fine folks who make Magic:
Don’t stop making high impact cards for Pauper, however please do not be afraid of banning cards on Day Zero. Twice in the past calendar year cards have been released into the format that, before their release, people inside and outside the building saw as problematic (Fall from Favor and Chatterstorm). In both instances, these people were correct. Pauper is relatively small compared to the target format for both of these cards (Limited game play) and banning them before they saw any play would do very little to hurt their intended utility.
And since I know that Day Zero bans are not likely to happen (and would set a dangerous precedent if they did come to pass), please consider expedited bans if fears bear fruit.
If you’re the kind of person to go looking for Go Battle League advice on the internet, there’s going to be a few people who tell you to stick with a team. It’s a logical conclusion as good team comps should have play against a wide swath of the metagame. You’re also likely to find people telling you to avoid playing while tilted. That is to say play when your mind is clear and you’re not in the midst of a losing streak; when you can focus on the battles themselves.
As someone who plays the game from a disadvantage (one of my own making as I am not level 40 and have not dedicated myself to finding a full suite of GBL staples), I find these statements to ring a little hollow. While I may be able to come up with solid team comps, there is something to be said for when the meta shifts with your ELO and suddenly your team is no longer finding the right matchups to succeed. For me, especially after coming off a series of good sets, this can lead to tilt.
After closing out Wednesday at 2205 I felt good. Thursday things went a bit sideways. I had two sets where I had two wins, two losses, and a draw and five wins across the other three sets. This dropped me to 2133. I figured that the Sirfetch’d-Lapras’-AMuk team was still a solid choice given that those two draws came down to lag and just mistiming moves. I resolved to have a better day on Friday.
Friday started worse. I dropped to 2119 in my first set before bouncing back to 2134 in my second. Then in my third I just ran into awkward leads and I started to panic. I finished at 2118 and put the game down. I tried to figure out a way forward given what I was seeing. For whatever reason I was running into more and more XL Talonflame – something my team had trouble handling. While Lapras had a solid matchup I could not line up my squad such that Lapras could square off against the fire bird.
I made a chart of the backlines I was running up against and noticed a trend of Fire/Flying types and Steel or Fire/Flying and Fairy. I was also running into a fair share of Ghosts and Fighters/Counter users in the front. Finally I saw a smattering of Venusaur and Swampert as well, and more than one Cresselia and Umbreon.
Armed with this I went back to something I often use when trying to climb out of a ditch – an ABB line. I am not a huge fan of these all the time but they can give me a feeling of agency over my battles in a way that forces me to focus. Given what I was seeing I figured that a double Water backline, while risky given Venusaur and Melmetal, gave me a good chance against everything else I was seeing.
I put Gengar (Shadow Claw-Shadow Punch/Shadow Ball) in the lead with Gyarados (Dragon Breath-Aqua Tail/Crunch) on the switch. Lapras (Ice Shard-Surf/Ice Beam) remains my closer of choice this season. In the seven sets since I switched to this team I rose from 2118 to 2248 (5-0, 3-2, 4-1, 2-3, 3-2, 1-4, 4-1).
The team works like many ABB lines where you will swap into Gyarados to draw out whatever is best against a Water type only to close things out with Lapras. But make no mistake – this team is carried by Gengar. Gengar can put a ton of pressure on opponents early thanks to its raw damage output and games often hinge on proper use of Gengar.
If I have an advantageous lead I’ll stay in and against a bad lead I will instantly swap. Against middling leads, however, is where I go dancing. I will often build up to a Shadow Ball and launch a Shadow Punch, then swap immediately into Gyarados. This move is most effective against both Talonflame and Empoleon leads as I can soak their move and then farm down with Dragon Breath or build up to a decent energy reserve. I then have residual energy on Gengar that I can use to pressure whatever comes in the back. It also allows me to preserve shields for Gengar which is vital in the mid and late game.
The thing that scares me most with this team is Venusaur because of course it does. Now Venusaur is not unbeatable thanks to Gengar and even Lapras has some game if you have a shield or energy advantage. Still, the best place to see Venusaur is in the lead where you can position your Gengar and Lapras ideally to farm it.
How long will I stick with this team? As long as I can. I’m under no illusions that too many teams involving Venusaur and Melmetal can end my gains. I also am going to have to watch for when the tides shift and I start seeing more Obstagoon in the front. For now though I’m going to keep trying to claw my way up the ladder.
Technically today was a success in that I gained ELO – up from 2193 to 2205. Such a small gain tells its own story. Let’s start with my first set where I ran the same squad as yesterday.
Note: I won’t list every battle, instead only focusing on those that proved interesting.
I went 1-4 in my first set which dropped be down to 2148. Some of these losses were bad matchups and one definitely was an overtap loss. The worst, however, was one where I did not burn a shield. I lost to Articuno lead with Swampert and Registeel in the back. On pure matchups I should have had a fair shot at a win. Not knowing my move counts against Articuno cost me as I let a Hurricane hit my Typhlosion and that was the deal breaker. If I had that health I likely would have been able to close it out but instead I ended up in the hole to start the day.
Given the last three sets I had with the Typhlosion team (1-4, 3-2, 1-4) I was already feeling as if the meta at my current ELO was hostile to my squad. I figured that an Incinerate fast move on Typhlosion would help some but I am not a fan of such slow animations on my lead. Instead I looked at the common leads I had faced over those sets and saw a decent number of Steel types and a lot of Obstagoon. A quick trip to PVPoke gave me the lead I needed: Escavalier (Counter – Drill Run/Megahorn). Escavalier is a ‘Mon I’ve used before and felt comfortable putting them in the front. I saw that my same Lapras (Ice Shard – Surf/Ice Beam) would be a solid cover. But that left me with the need for a safe swap. I knew I wanted something that could help against Machamp and Giratina – two opponents I had seen often – without being a dog to Steel types.
I settled on Flygon (Dragon Tail – Earth Power/Dragon Claw). Flygon may not have been the best choice but I have been interested in trying them out since the Dragon Tail rework and I figured that if it didn’t work I had this blog to keep me honest about that.
In my next 4 sets I went 3-2 every time for a total record of 12-8, and I definitely left two wins on the table. Here are some of my more interesting battles:
Clefable – Lapras – Registeel (Loss): This was in my first set with the team and going into the endgame I knew I wanted to bring in a full health Flygon to go against Registeel. But for some reason when my switch timer came up I went for Escavalier, which was low on health, and ended up losing the match.
Shadow Snorlax – Sirfetch’d – Abomasnow (Win): I thought I was toast. The match came down to Lapras against Abomasnow when I had one shield left. I had to shield an Energy Ball and I was sure my opponent was going to build up to a second Energy Ball and end my day. Instead they threw a Weather Ball and ditched, allowing me to farm down their Sirfetch’d to build up to an Ice Beam and snatch victory.
Machamp – Venusaur – Giratina (Win): I was down to a low health Escavalier and an unseen Lapras and figured that I was going to get farmed down by Machamp. Instead I blind swapped into Lapras and they did the same into Giratina. That gave me an opening to farm their dragon down and go on to win.
Gardevoir – Scizor – Empoleon (Win): My last battle of the day, I was able to win because my opponent got greedy. They over charged Empoleon in farming down my Flygon and I brought in a full health Lapras. They kept farming down, throwing one Drill Peck. I kept chugging along, building up to Surf when they swapped into Scizor. Scizor was at a pretty low HP count and I was able to farm it down enough, soaking Night Slashes, to the point where they brought in Empoleon again I could connect with one Surf for the win.
I am very likely to run this team back tomorrow. While I’m not seeing nearly as many Obstagoon leads (only two in the four sets), I saw enough Fairy and Steel types that Escavalier makes sense in the front.
So this is something new for me – writing about Pokemon GO Battle League. I’m not going to go into too many details of the mechanics of battle in this piece (for my more Magic focused readers, I’m happy to answer questions and I’ll write something in this space soon), but instead I’m going to go forward with the understanding that if you’re reading this you have a general understanding of GO Battle League mechanics (or you really like me).
I haven’t played Open Ultra league since they started offering Premier Cup. I felt like I could not compete given that I lack many Legendary and Mythical options. However when looking at the Remix Cup meta on PVPoke I had a feeling of dread – as a level 39 battler I was cut off from XL Mons and as such would be at a significant disadvantage. So I looked at my options and Open Ultra and decided to make my push in that field despite lacking some top tier options.
I ran two sets yesterday (July 26) with Lapras (Ice Shard – Ice Beam/Surf) lead, Sirfetch’d (Counter – Leaf Blade/Brave Bird) closer and Gengar (Shadow Claw – Shadow Punch/Sludgebomb) on the switch. I scored a 4-1 my first set and was riding high until my second set where I tanked and went 1-4. I ended the day with an ELO of 2155 (way off my season high of 2406) and took a look at what I faced to try and game plan for the next day.
I saw a ton of Steel-Fairy duos which wrecked the team I had set. I also noticed a fair amount of Giratina and Cresselia. Given what options I had at my disposal I settled on a Typhlosion lead (Shadow Claw – Blast Burn/Solar Beam) with Obstagoon (Counter – Night Slash/Hyper Beam) and Gyarados (Dragon Breath – Aqua Tail/Crunch) in the back.
Today I woke up and used a few minutes before the rest of my family stirred to do some battles with that team. I went 2-3 (ended on 2132) when I realized my backline might have been decent against Giratina but was pretty awkward against other Dragons and Fairy types. I went back into the tank and settled on Alolan Muk (Snarl – Dark Pulse/Gunk Shot) on the switch with the same Lapras as the closer.
My logic was this: Typhlosion with Shadow Claw could handle a lot of leads while storing energy and A-Muk is just a solid safe swap, with both giving me some game against Giratina and Fairy types. Lapras would give me some solid Fire coverage back up Dragon coverage. Surf was not the worst against opposing Steels and Swamperts either.
Here is how my sets broke down:
Abomasnow-Charizard-Machamp – Loss. I could have won this one except I forgot I had Acid Spray on Muk. If I had a decent Poison move I win.
Blaziken-Alolan Muk-Cresselia – Win. I stayed in for the lead and matched them. I timed a switch to preserve my Muk against theirs and managed to Dark Pulse down their Cresselia.
Gallade-Giratina-Clefable – Win.
Venusaur-Alolan Muk-Empoleon – Win.
Swampert-Alolan Muk-Giratina – Win. I swapped immediately and managed to win without really using Typhlosion.
Sirfetch’d-Articuno-Kingdra – Loss. I didn’t realize how much damage Leaf Blade would do to Typhlosion and it cost me.
Obstagoon-Venusaur-Cresselia – Win.
Scizor-Giratina-Obstagoon – Win.
Cresselia-Giratina-X – Win. When they swapped into Giratina and I counter swapped, they conceded.
Cresselia-Togekiss-Abomasnow – Win.
Machamp-Togekiss-Venusaur – Loss. I overtapped a Shadow Claw at the end. If I did not misclick I think I might have been able to win.
Obstagoon-Talonflame-Cresselia – Loss.
Poliwrath-Swampert-Alolan Muk – Loss.
Lapras-Clefable-Giratina – Win.
Escavalier-Swampert-Empoleon – Loss.
Obstagoon-Umbreon-Talonflame – Win. This was a tough one that I managed to steal by storing energy on Typhlosion and getting off three Blast Burns on Umbreon.
Charizard-Giratina-Togekiss – Win.
Empoleon-Alolan Muk-Gengar – Loss. When Gengar came out I conceded as I was too far behind.
Alolan Muk-Swampert-Venusaur – Loss. The Venusaur came at the worst spot for me as I did not have enough time to get off two Ice Beams from Lapras.
Dragonite-Charizard-Scizor – Win. I swapped immediately into Alolan Muk and overcharged. This let me get off enough Dark Pulses to bring down their Dragonite and line up Lapras with Charizard and Typhlosion with Scizor.
Overall: +38 ELO.
I was happy with the team but seriously considered switching it up after the fourth set. I was not set up to lock down Counter users/Fighters in the lead, as my swap would line up poorly with theirs. After the last set I feel decent about starting tomorrow’s with this line up but have potential Charizard, Blaziken, and Gyarados led teams ready in case things do not line up in my favor. That being said I think one of my losses in set 3 (Escavalier lead) is winnable if I time my moves better and don’t fall for shield baits.
Another Monday and no changes to the banned list. I’m tired folks. After three weeks of Dungeons & Dragons: Adventures in the Forgotten Realms season here’s every deck with at least 2% of the Top 32 volume:
Affinity and Storm each hold 35% of all Top 8 slots this season and 5/6 wins between them. They are just under 50% of the metagame by volume and hold nearly 58% of the winner’s metagame share. Dimir Delver/Faeries and Delver are putting up respectable numbers but the long and short of it is that the metagame is adapting to the new normal and Pauper is shifting towards a three deck format (Affinity, Storm, Counterspell).
Maybe it was always this way. Maybe the format was always this unplayable garbage. I’d like to believe otherwise but honestly, I’m just tired.
I do not want to spend many words on the July 17 and July 18 Pauper Challenges. It isn’t that the results aren’t worth discussing but rather that all that can be said about the current metagame has been said multiple times: Affinity and Storm are miles better than almost everything else in the Challenges and until we see some bans, the metagame is going to remain stagnant.
After four Challenges, this is every deck to make at least 3 appearances in the Top 32 – a 2% volume threshold. It is clear that the metagame is heavily skewed towards the top. This wouldn’t be as large an issue if not for the fact that the metagame today looks remarkably similar to all of Modern Horizons 2 season – the same two decks at the top while Dimir strives to be relevant.
One thing I have done a poor job of discussing is what my ideal Pauper looks like. I tend to get lost in the numbers talking about what is dominant in the field and looking for edges or ruminating on format health. Today, instead of trudging through a well worn path, I want to talk about my vision for Pauper as a metagame and maybe more – as a format.
Pauper is a non-rotating format. Unlike other non-rotating formats it is rarity gated – that is only cards printed at common are legal. Because of the way set design works (and the nature of Magic itself) powerful effects – the same kind that tend to impact formats like Vintage, Legacy, and Modern – are printed at higher rarities. As a result it is harder to “shake up” Pauper with these releases as the cards entering the format are, inherently, of a lower power level.
This has changed somewhat in recent years. As Pauper has become more popular we have seen a slow uptick in the number of commons in non-Masters style sets that see play in the format. These cards rarely make huge waves but as we saw with First Day of Class that is not always the case. Part of the issue with new cards entering the format is that at common we already have many of the best iterations of effects – a better version of Lightning Bolt or Counterspell isn’t walking through the door. More than many other factors this prevents new cards from making waves in Pauper.
The lack of churn can lead to stagnating formats. If the majority of releases do not have a major impact then the competitive games are going to feature the same decks, cards, and strategies over and over. This in it of itself is not bad if there is a balance between the decks. When there are several viable decks – such as during Strixhaven season – then the fact that there may have been a best deck or two mattered less since each deck had reasonable counterplay in the meta and there were several strategies that could succeed given the correct metagame.
That metagame was a direct result of Commander Legends and the addition of Cascade threats to Pauper. Annoyed Altisaur and Boarding Part provided counterplay to both Flicker Tron and Monarch endgames. That in turn made it so that these strategies were regressed a bit, allowing other strategies to emerge given proper metagaming. Compare that to the current state of affairs where it does not matter what deck emerges since it is going to get run over by Storm or Affinity.
My ideal Pauper metagame is one that is dynamic. There can be a best deck or a clear top tier but given the trends in the metagame a player can make the right call and be rewarded. The worst metagames, in my opinion, are ones where this choice is removed.
I understand some people like the current metagame. They like trying to get an edge with specific cards in the established decks. I like that too but I feel that when you’re dealing with a small set of potential options some of that fun is removed from the equation.
To be clear, if Storm and Affinity both had clear counterplay that could limit the efficacy of these strategies week over week, I would be fine with them existing.
But Alex, someone out there is surely saying, this is why Pauper needs more powerful downshifts.
The danger of relying on downshifts to solve the problems is that they are almost always answers as opposed to threats. For these cards to be printed at common there has to be an incredibly specific limited environment that calls for them at that rarity and, like it or not, Pauper has to come after Limited in design considerations. A card like Dryad Militant or Skullcrack would need pretty messed up Limited formats to be viable commons (and yet these are two of the more often mentioned options for downshifts).
I want Pauper to thrive and grow. I want there to be a huge swath of viable decks that, given a reasonable set of circumstances, could do well. I would love to see decks like Tortured Existence and Mono Black Control spike a victory or a Top 8 even if they come less frequently than Delver and Tron.
I know that, as I publish this, we may be less than 24 hours from a ban. I also know that at some point in the not too distant future, perhaps in as soon as two years, we may have a similar problem arise from the next Masters level product. My hope is by then we have a clearer idea of what Wizards wants Pauper to be and then we, as a community, can at least judge the new cards by that metric.
After a brief hiatus due to personal matters, my recaps are back.
In a fashion.
I don’t want to take too much time wrapping up the Modern Horizons 2 season as it was dominated by Affinity, Storm, and Dimir. Those three archetypes took down over 67% of the Top 32 finishes and over 75% of all Top 8 slots. These decks were dominant to the point where the next most played deck – Burn – accounted for 5% of the Top 32 metagame. The gap between the 3rd most played archetype (Dimir) and Burn was over 12%. By comparison the most popular archetype during Strixhaven season was Dimir Faeries and it only accounted for 14% of the Top 32 metagame.
I’m also not going to spend too much time talking about the July 10 and July 11 Challenges except to say that Affinity and Storm continued to rule the roost. The card to make the biggest splash from the latest set is Celestial Unicorn, which showed up in three decks across the weekend.
Instead I’m going to talk about last Tuesday when Gavin Verhey from Wizards of the Coast stopped by the #MTGPauper Discord for a chat. Gavin stops by a few times a year to check in on the format, take the pulse of people there, and answer some questions. One question and answer in particular has set off a segment of the community, and I want to address it separately.
You closed the last fireside-chat with the question: What should Pauper be? The community still feels divided to me. I’m curious what your opinion/perspective is currently. Ideally that could be used as the starting point for some conversations within the community across social media to get you a legitimate answer.
And here’s Gavin’s response (emphasis added):
I do think that ultimately a lot of this is on the players to figure out. Pauper has always been a format by the players, for the players. I remember playing in fan-run Pauper events on MTGO 12+ years ago with my homebrew Teachings decks! But I will say this: the Pauper community isn’t large, and dividing yourselves isn’t going to get you the critical mass you need. Working together is going to be important. I know there are many different opinions out there on format health, and what should be banned, and so on, but making this an inclusive community where everybody feels welcome, even if you (respectfully) disagree on aspects of the format or what decks are best is crucial to earning that larger seat at the table. We’re about to enter back into a brave new world of in-store play and a whole new generation of players who came to Magic during the pandemic. Be the landing place for them as they try playing paper. Work with your stores to run events. This is, in some sense, your chance for a whole new generation of Magic players to find a home here. Create the Pauper community you want to see in the world, and success will follow
I am going to hold off on my personal reaction to this and instead try to paraphrase some of the discontent around the answer. Pauper, at the moment, is not in a great place. Some in the chat felt that this response (and others – the conversation is preserved) was trying to sidestep the issue at hand by saying that it was on the Pauper community to drum up interest in a format that currently kind sucks. Some took this as a Catch-22: if you want people to pay attention to the format (and as a result get more eyes on it), you need to get more people to play it while it is “not fun”.
That, understandably, is not great. The people in the chat are highly engaged and if they heard “we can’t fix the format until more people are interested” that is not a great message to receive. But taking a step back I think this reading of the response is disingenuous.
The way to get more attention on any format is to get more eyes on it and more people playing it. People wouldn’t play Pauper and be invested in its long term health if it weren’t, on some level, fun. Pauper (when healthier) presents a unique puzzle.
And yet, the only time the format enters the wider conversation of Magic is when something is broken in the format OR the certain elements of the community are hostile to people who do not play the format regularly.
To me this is what Gavin was trying to hammer home. If the community wants more people to care about the format and to help prevent problems like the current metagame from dragging on then we need to do the work to make the format an attractive and welcoming community. We cannot just get up in arms when things are terrible. People need to be out there making content and talking about the format when things are going well.
I know I fall into this trap too – I didn’t get my reputation as ban-happy for no reason. But if there’s one thing I know it’s that people will remember all my negative comments far more than my positive reviews. I think that Strixhaven season was one of the healthiest in recent memory and said as much…but that doesn’t drive the same engagement as when I say “Gush is broken”. And so it’s on us – the Pauper community – to make enough noise that when things are good that we are impossible to ignore when things get bad.
This post is coming almost a week late. I could say it was because my toddler’s day care was closed and I was chasing him around several playgrounds (which is true) or because I was preparing for a visit from my in-laws (also true). But that’s only part of the truth.
Put simply, Pauper is not fun for me right now. I am not enjoying the games and I’m not enjoying the metagame as an observer. The June 26 and June 27 Challenges did not do much to change my opinion. Through the first four weeks of Strixhaven season there were 16 decks that made up at least 2% of the Top 32 metagame. Through the same time period in Modern Horizons 2 there are 9.
Pauper is a three deck metagame. Affinity is the most popular with nearly 29% of the Top 32 metagame and almost 30% of all Top 8s. Squirrel Storm and the two main Dimir Variants are around 19% of the Top 32 metagame and the archetypes each have 15 Top 8s (around 23% of all Top 8s). So we’re looking at these decks taking up 67% of the Top 32 metagame and almost 77% of all Top 8s.
We’re a month in. It’s safe to say that this experiment is not working.
On Tuesday, July 6th at 3pm Eastern, Gavin Verhey will be stopping by the MTGPauper Discord to answer some questions. People have already started posting some queries and you can bet that Storm and Affinity are on everyone’s mind.
I am not a professional Magic player. Those dreams died a long time ago when I realized that I just did not want to put in the time and effort into The Grind. Yet I barely remember a moment in the past 25 years where I was not thinking about professional Magic in some way, especially as I pursued a new dream of doing event coverage. Today I just feel sad – for players who did dedicate themselves to the dream and for the community of folks around the professional scene who also have their future held in limbo. I don’t want to waste words on speculating and theorizing on why the powers that be have decided to whittle away at the elite level of play so publicly while not providing a plan. Rather, I want to talk about why I think this is a mistake and what I would like to see once we reach the next era of Professional Magic.
Magic is a huge part of my life. It is my primary hobby and a source of income. I love the game and the friends I have made along the way. And one reason I keep coming back to shuffle cardboard is that sense of discovery. When I was a kid this meant cracking open a booster pack or a starter deck to see what new cards I could add to my collection. Today it’s about scouring spoilers for new deck ideas and tech for Commander. For several years my discovery was driven by the Pro Tour. At some point I had reached the limits of what I could figure out on my own. That’s when I found the pro scene. Suddenly I had new avenues of acquiring new knowledge. There were entire metagames to devour and intricate plays. Taking away the elite level of play cuts off a vital pipeline of keeping a certain stripe of player – one who is always eager to be up on the latest tech and decks – engaged in the game. This is to say nothing of strategic discovery. Magic is an incredibly complex game and I know that I’ve gotten better by following the professional scene. These are players who are approaching the game at a level that I cannot easily achieve and being able to watch them and potentially consume the content they generate gives me that insight. But what happens when there is nothing left to strive for? What if just being the best amongst your group of friends is good enough? While plumb the depths of strategy for every little edge if none of it matters in the wider ecosystem of the game?
I don’t want to see Magic lessened in any way. I fear that without professional level play – some tangible level to aspire to – the incentives to innovate and develop new strategies will stagnate.
To be clear this is not a knock on people who enjoy the game as it exists in front of them. I am not trying to take away from people who are going to iterate and innovate on their preferred format and decks. They should enjoy it at whatever level of engagement they find appropriate. That being said, what is the point of striving to be the best if there is nothing to strive towards. But for those of us who do want to strive, a professional level has to exist to scratch that itch.
For years the Magic community has been told to wait for the next big thing in professional play. Even now we are being told that something is in the works for the 2022-23 season. The community’s trust can only go so far. And given the recent track record, why should there be any trust given to the people in charge if we do not know who they are? There is no way to win back trust immediately but there are a few ways to start the process. The first is to restore the slashed prize pool of the 2020-21 World Championship. The second is to give the community some insight into who is making the decisions regarding organized and professional play and have them share their vision of the system. I’m not asking for a detailed plan for every strata of competition; I’m not asking for the names of events or locations, or even prize pools. But knowing that someone is making the decisions, and having an idea of what the system could look like (not just what it won’t look like) could go a long way towards rebuilding trust. I also believe that a good way to win back some amount of trust is to bring professional level players into the fold for a discussion. This does not need to be everyone who has ever achieved a pro point, but rather players who have sustained success at different levels of competitive play. Give them the parameters of what the system can and can’t be and then get their insight into what can make it succeed given the current limitations.
If it is not clear, I believe professional Magic is a net positive for the game. I want to see the system return in the future even if I don’t have a shot of qualifying. I want to spend my days watching the very best sling cardboard and show me everything I don’t know about the game. I want there to be Pro Tour level events with some sort of qualification path. I think the Player’s Tour System was a good base but could be improved upon. If anything, Magic is a global game and having large geo-region events is good, but pales in comparison to having the world’s best battle on the regular. I believed that Grand Prix tournaments had outlived their utility before the pandemic and I don’t think they should return to that model. Grand Prix were originally super-Pro Tour Qualifiers – a way to battle against the best people in your immediate vicinity. They evolved into de facto Magic conventions with the main tournament – the Grand Prix itself – playing a vital role in the rise up professional ranks. I’d love to see conventions continue. I’d love to see a tournament in the vein of the original Grand Prix – the best players in your region. I’d also love to see a parallel tournament that features rising competitive players as a stepping stone to whatever the Pro Tour is moving forward. We had a taste of this with Mythic Championship Magic Fests. I don’t know what the best version of these events will be, but I think having a stepping stone towards professional play is important, but it can’t be the same tournament where pro players have their future on the line. There need to be broadcasts of these events. Magic is a dense game and trying to mesh the sometimes plodding pace of play with the excitement evident in other made-for-viewing games is a recipe for disaster. While it was not perfect the old Pro Tour broadcasts, with several games running concurrently, helped to keep the show moving. I do think something needs to be done to help the casual viewer understand what they are watching – perhaps using old matches from the archives and overlaying captions and graphics on them to help explain as interstitials – but it should not fall to the booth to explain the basics.
Magic: the Gathering – Arena is a wonderful program. It is an amazing tool for helping people learn and stay engaged with Magic. I think it is a bad vehicle for elite level play. Arena, for all its advantages, never lets the game breathe – it is busy. That is great for catching eyes but it does not give folks enough time to process the game thanks to the ever looming threat of the rope. That being said, Arena should be used for invitational style events. These tournaments should be focused on maximizing for viewer experience and should leverage the unique elements of Arena – such as the ability to provide some truly bizarre game formats – as a way to be entertaining and informative. Can Arena be used for some high level play in a new professional structure? Absolutely! But I do not think it needs to be the only way people can consume and participate in the highest echelons of play and reducing Magic only to Arena is a disservice to the game, the platform, and the community.
I don’t know if these are solutions. I don’t know if my ideas will fix anything. I don’t even think these are the best ideas out there. But they are mine as a huge fan of Magic and the professional scene. And hopefully I get to be a fan again, watching in the future.
The first six weeks of the Modern Horizons 2 season shows just what happens when mistakes are repeated or somehow, made worse. Taking into account the June 19 and June 20 Challenges here is where the Top 32 metagame stands – minimum of 4 Top 32 appearances:
Storm is a problematic mechanic in formats with better answers. Even with plenty of “answers” available to an army of squirrels, even with hate being nearly everywhere, the new Storm deck is putting up great numbers. The only deck that is clearly doing better is Affinity which recently got indestructible artifact lands and a new free 4/4 to go with Myr Enforcer. Affinity already has more appearances in six weeks than every archetype except Dimir Faeries had in the entirety of Strixhaven Season.
Storm in Pauper is a mistake. Any time a Storm card has represented a clean kill it has proven to be too powerful (and before someone chimes in to say that Temporal Fissure wasn’t a clean kill I would advise them to stop looking at the 0.01% of the time someone built back from a one sided Upheaval). Artifact Lands were a mistake that only managed to survive so long in Pauper because they represented a real risk in a format featuring Gorilla Shaman.
Now I get it – Pauper is always going to matter less than Modern and Limited. Both Chatterstorm and the new lands play a vital role in Modern Horizons 2 Limited and needed to be printed. But at this point it is increasingly clear that they have boosted two decks far beyond the rest of the metagame and action needs to be taken. Chatterstorm should be banned and something needs to be banned out of Affinity to balance the deck for the metagame.
As far as downshifts or new cards go, I doubt anything could be released that would solve these issues. Modern Horizons 2 provided the perfect opportunity to print a soft hate card for Storm at common. And it isn’t there. So that leaves banning as the last option. Unless you like a three deck metagame.
Me? Not so much.
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