Announcement Week; TLDR

Connor Bryant
June 21, 2017
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This week, Wizards of the Coast has bundled up all of their announcements for the next year into one week. There are lots of big changes and new products coming down the pipeline so it is certainly an exciting time as a magic player. Unfortunately, unless you’re full time job is paying attention to the Magic news, (which mine is, humble brags), it is hard to keep track of everything going on. I am here to do that for you. Here are the blurbs of actual news and what I think it means for the game. 

Metamorphosis 2.0 by Mark Rosewater

The first Metamorphosis article was the announcement of the current Two Block model and the death of the core set. Metamorphosis 2.0 is the reversal of some of those changes. Let’s get into it. 

“All main Standard-legal expansions will be large, and all of them will be drafted alone. From a design standpoint, each will have its own mechanical identity, although there's potential for a small amount of overlap.”

This is an exciting change for those who enjoy draft. The old block paradigm would often have a large set and then the small set and they would be drafted together. The small set in this scenario was always overshadowed by the large set even though it was the first pack. This small change often made the draft format feel stale and was always a possible fail state for a new set. Moving away from small sets will let each set stand out on its own and feel special, which is a positive.

 

“Some worlds will be a single set while others might be two or three sets.”

This change is also great. With the two or three block method, the formula felt stale. The Gatewatch shows up to plane, everything seems fine in the first set and then boom the world flips on its head and some big baddie shows up. Nothing drives down property values quite like the Gatewatch rolling into town. This will allow Wizards to explore a world without the need to have some huge change in the world and it could space out sets based on the same plane. Imagine if Shadows over Innistrad and Eldritch Moon were a few sets apart and we didn’t know what was going on. Or the same with Mirrordin Beseiged and New Phyrexia. That potential for suspense is some awesome upside. It also allows WotC to move away from less interesting worlds after one set. Mark Rosewater even said that if they had the option at the time, Theros block would only have been 2 sets instead of 3.

 

“We're significantly pulling back on how often the Gatewatch will appear as planeswalker cards. For example, for all of 2017 and 2018, only a handful of planeswalker cards will be Gatewatch members, and that's including in Planeswalker Decks, where they'll appear slightly more often.”

Wahooo! I think everyone is fatigued of seeing Gideon, Chandra, Nissa, Jace and Liliana in just about every set. These are cool characters and exemplify the color pie perfectly but I am sick of seeing their faces. I like the idea of a Justice League of planeswalkers saving the multiverse but I also like the variety of having different stories told instead of a steady diet of vanilla story telling. The lack of auxiliary planeswalkers was a huge loss during this period that I don’t think WotC perceived when they become more Gatewatch centric. Those characters,(think Koth, Tibalt, Ral Zarek etc.), are beloved by players and not being able to see them or create new walkers was definitely a minus. I am excited to see less Gideon’s in the world.

 

“The more we worked on making Masterpieces, the more we realized that doing one every set would eventually lead to the overall quality level dropping below our standards.We're only going to do them when we can do something amazing. That means they aren't going to be something we do often, but when we do them, they're going to be memorable.”

Masterpieces changed the landscape of Magic when they were introduced. Putting valuable chase rares at very high rarities brought down the price of the rest of the cards of the set but did not destroy the value of the mythics and regular rares in the set. Their presence in sets were good for players that cracked a lot of packs but I think fatigue of them was happening. They were running out of cards that made sense and made it feel especially gimmicky. I think they had too many Masterpieces per set but there is definitely an issue with doing very few Masterpieces in a set. Only having 5 or so different cards as Masterpieces could flood the market on those and destroy their value; low value Masterpieces would be catastrophic for their allure. Unfortunately, WotC went the other way. I think they did too many different cards as Masterpieces and picked cards that weren’t as prestigious and weren’t sought after. This created low value masterpieces and chewed through a lot of their options. This aggressive approach lead to the discontinuation of the masterpiece series. I think it could be executed correctly but in its current iteration I like the move away from it.

 

Magic Digital Next Update By Jeffrey Steefel

“ First, our first Wizards of the Coast–designed game under this new umbrella is in development and underway! I'm afraid I have to be coy about this one as well, but I can tell you that we will be revealing much, much more about this digital game at HASCON September 8–10 in Providence, Rhode Island. That reveal, I can now say, will include early demos of the game!”

This is a bit of an announcement about an announcement. Since the hiring of the new CEO Greg Leeds from Microsoft, WotC has focused more on the digital side of the game and Magic Digital Next is the embodiment of that. The new product being revealed this September is exciting because we don’t really know it is going to be. It is supposed to be somewhere between Magic Duels and Magic Online. This is a huge pivot point for digital Magic.

 

We have also partnered with Cryptic Studios—creators of games like City of Heroes and Neverwinter—to produce a Magic: The Gathering massively multiplayer online game. The partnership is new, so we can't tell you when you'll be able to start roaming the Multiverse, but that day is coming!

This announcement came out last week but is still pretty exciting. I think we are a while away from this happening but this is an exciting opportunity for MTG.  

 

In order to make room for the next generation of Magic digital products, Amonkhet will be the last new content update for Magic Duels. Hour of Devastation will not be released on the platform.

As someone who works in a local game store and often fields questions from new players about how to learn more about Magic, the discontinuation of Duels of the Planeswalkers is sad to see. It is a great introductory product and filled a gap for the game. I don’t really understand this especially being months away from the announcement of their next product. I think it is a mistake to not put out the new expansion on Duels and just shows how underdeveloped the digital side of WotC is. They have lagged behind in that area for years but refuse to bolster that team. Software developers are expensive but WotC has suffered from their lack of investment in this area and continues to do so.

JUNE 13, 2017 Banned And Restricted Announcement By Aaron Forsythe

 

Announcement Date: June 13, 2017

 

Standard:

Aetherworks Marvel is banned.

 

All other formats:

No changes

 

Effective Date: June 19, 2017

Magic Online Effective Date: June 14, 2017

The list of all banned and restricted cards, by format, is here.

Next B&R Announcement: August 28, 2017

Lumping this in with the rest of these exciting announcements from WotC is a dirty trick. I bet some Standard players were pretty happy about this though. Marvel was by far the best deck in the format and was a frustrating play experience.  The deck was beatable but warped the format and drove down Standard numbers. That is enough of a reason for a ban with me and am excited to see what new Standard looks like. If you want to see what WotC’s exact reasoning was, the announcement itself is definitely worth the read.

"Finally, we're very aware the toll these bannings take on players and the game. We would not have made this move if we didn't believe it wasn't better for the long-term health of the game (Marvel would, after all, not rotate until late in 2018). Furthermore, when we moved to our new B&R schedule to allow us more flexibility, we oversaturated the game with these points where we may or may not ban things, leading to uncertainty in the community. But at some point—and we may have already gotten there—banning fatigue sets in.

As such, we're going to pull back on these announcements. We will not have another banned and restricted announcement until after Pro Tour Hour of Devastation. The next announcement will be on August 28."

The ban fatigue referred to here is real. Players have a hard time investing into Standard when the narrative surrounding it is about bannings, unfun environments and instability regarding the bannings and rotation schedules. All of this uncertainty has led to record low Standard numbers and the approach that WotC took with the first wave of Standard bannings with the printing of Aether Revolt didn’t help the situation. Having multiple ban windows without bans when there was an apparent need created frustration and a weekly discussion of bans. That isn’t good for player confidence and it showed. Their approach meanwhile didn’t make a ton of sense on the actual bans. Aetherworks Marvel was an obvious problem and broken card that was easy to identify when the Aether Revolt bans were announced. I also think that Felidar Guardian could have been nipped in the bud. A release day ban of Felidar Guardian would have been very understandable if they just claimed it was a mistake and an oversight and they could have moved on. That would have given us an Aether Revolt format and Amonkhet format that weren’t tainted by these obviously broken cards. WotC claimed to be more aggressive when they initiated the first bans but instead they wrung their hands instead of taking swift actions. This hand wringing led to 6 months of a damaged Standard format and while they can’t get that time back, they can try to assure a better  format going forward.

 

25th Anniversary Announcement Day

Product announcments

"...all we know so far is that Pirate Vraska battles Dinosaurs. But do you need anything more? Find out when Ixalan releases September 29.

Explorers of Ixalan is an out-of-the-box multiplayer Magic experience that challenges you to defeat your opponents along the way as you search for the lost city. Begin your exploration on November 24, 2017.

The Art of Magic: The Gathering—Ixalan will be available January 2, 2018.

Duel Decks: Merfolk vs. Goblins, which releases November 10, 2017, pits two of the most recognizable tribes in the history of Magic against one another with two ready-to-play 60-card decks.

From the Vault: Transform takes the From the Vault series and, well, flips it. From the Vault: Transform, which releases November 24, 2017, collects fifteen of our favorite transforming cards, each with its own story to tell.

On April 28, 2018, we look to the past to move forward as we return to Dominaria with our next large set!

As part of our celebration of our 25th anniversary, we will be releasing a 25th anniversary–edition Masters set on March 16, 2018. The product will contain 249 cards from across Magic's entire history and will provide a drafting experience like previous Masters products. Available in English, Japanese, and Simplified Chinese.

On July 20, 2018, we once again will be introducing core sets back into Magic. We've got some tweaks to the formula prepared, so look for more information as we get closer.

We're (finally) traveling back to the wacky world of silver-bordered cards when Unstable releases December 8, 2017."

The news of product releases is exciting as Wizards seem to be listening to the players. Players have been pining for the next Un- set and it is finally happening. Ixalan is an exciting set and the copious leaks already diminishes some of the excitement for the set but it is a different take on a set and will be cool to see. The supplemental products are cool and will allow for some important reprints. 

Playing with the Pro Tour By Scott Larabee

"While we're still finalizing the Pro Tour dates after Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan, we have decided to move away from always having the Pro Tour take place two weeks after a set releases to give us more flexibility in our scheduling.

We're going to see the first test of this with Pro Tour Ixalan. Then, Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan will still take place two weeks after the set releases (Feb. 2–4, 2018), but the Pro Tours for the rest of the year will not."

Moving the Pro Tour to later in the season is scary to me. The reason the Pro Tour is the most prestigious tournament is because of the lack of good information accessible and seeing what the greatest minds in the game show up with. Moving the Pro Tour back without a major tournament like Worlds before it puts the format in a lame duck situation because the best players are incentivized to not show their hands. I don’t think we should mess with the timing of the Pro Tour too much.

 

We're holding a special 25th Anniversary Pro Tour where the format will be a team competition!

This is an exciting announcement for the Pro Tour but I think it has logistical flaws. A few years ago, the call of the players for the return of team tournaments was answered. Team Sealed tournaments take place almost every season and very well attended. My fear is the effect of the team structure on the individual Pro’s status in the Pro players club and it has a lot of negative effects for the players. This also is a concern for the local RPTQ qualifier who may not know two other people on the Pro Tour and I am not sure what the solution is for them. I am open to the team Pro Tour being awesome and it was something that was done in the past but we will see how they address how these potential issues.

 

On the Shoulder of Giants by Dan Burdick

"Play Design is responsible for bridging the gap between the set-design process and the experience of playing the game at all skill levels. From the beginning of story arc planning to the end of a set's legality in Standard, Play Design becomes increasingly more active in providing guidance, design input, and playtesting, all from the perspective of what it will be like to play in the environment that's being created. Over time, we will help shape gameplay for everyone who sits down and draws a card from a new set."

The announcement of Play Design being led by Dan Burdick as a new department in R & D is a positive change for the game. Having more effort put into what Standard will look like is really important especially after this year’s catastrophe. This is a great change but part of me wonders why this hasn’t always been a thing. I assume Development was more responsible for these things but not in a hard-fast way and they had to do this while creating fun Draft environments. That is a lot on their plate but it seems doable with enough resources. It is unfortunate that the added man power  came after hitting this breaking point where things went wrong but at least they got there.

Announcement week Wrap Up

It is an exciting time to play Magic and the people at Wizards are really trying to put out the best product possible while listening to the players. They haven’t done everything flawlessly over the last year or so but I am hopeful for the future.

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