Big Changes Coming to Standard

Changes Coming to Standard

Hello everyone!  Welcome to Standard Weekly!

Following the announcement at Magic Con Minneapolis, that standard will move from a two-year rotation to a three-year rotation, we got more information about the future of standard on this week’s WeeklyMTG.  Here’s a link if you would like to watch the episode.

Joining Blake Rasmussen on WeeklyMTG were William “Huey” Jensen, Director of Play Programs, and Andrew Brown, Principal Game Designer.  They had a lot to say about the future of tabletop standard and the desire to see a return to in store tabletop standard play.  Key to their approach is building up tabletop standard while maintaining tabletop Pioneer and Modern at their current level.

Currently in the Atlanta area there is little to no standard play in stores.  Caffeinated Gamers is one of the few store that offers any Standard events.  With each Store Championship playing standard when possible and having some Saturday standard events.  Having standard as a viable in store format is important to the overall health of Magic the Gathering.  While commander has taken off since the pandemic, it is not the best place for new players to learn how to play the game.  My youngest son started playing Magic when he was 12. He learned to play at Friday Night Magic and tabletop standard at home.  So having a viable in store tabletop standard is necessary for the growth and future success of Magic.

The first big announcement for standard is that there will be a yearly Banned and Restricted announcement annually before previews for the fall rotation set.  While neither Huey nor Andrew gave a direct answer to what we can expect at this annual banning announcement, it was clear that the intent of the annual banning announcement would be to remove problematic cards from standard.  My interpretation was that Wizards would like to see an end to the value-based midrange format that standard has been for most of the last several years because of the end of blocks in set releases.  The longer a problematic card has been in standard, the more likely it is to be banned than a newer card.  My expectation is that we will see cards from the four sets that would have rotated get banned to the overall benefit of standard.  I will look at some of the cards I think should go later.

They stated that this year’s announcement would occur on May 29th, 2023.  This is the day after Area Championship 3, so I expect cards that will see heavy play during the event on the ban list come Monday.

For those of you who are new or newer to Magic, set releases followed a block format for many years.  A block would typically consist of two or three sets that were designed together and got to tell the story of a plane over the course of the sets.  This allowed strategies unique to the block to develop across the sets.

Beginning with Throne of Eldraine this changed to a set-by-set release that visited a plane and moved on to another plane for the next set.  This resulted in less continuity between sets and resulted in many deck types lacking the cards needed to become a successful part of standard.  For example, tribal is a popular way to construct decks.  Whether you like Elves, Goblins, Humans, Merfolk, Vampires, or any other of the many creature types, you could usually create a tribal deck around one type of creature regularly in standard.  The shift in set development philosophy resulted in the loss of this type of deck construction.

Based on the conversation on Weekly MTG, Wizards wants to see this return to standard and for players to return to other deck construction strategies lost because of the set development changes.  This is a very positive change.  My experience playing tabletop and Arena standard over the past few years has been less than desirable because playing midrange value decks became a requirement for winning games rather than an option.

Feeling forced to play Esper, Grixis, or Esper Midrange does not feel good.  Especially when my personal play style typically leads me to play aggro decks.  In fact, I have searched for most of the last year and a half for a good aggro deck to play.  Particularly a Mono-Red deck that could compete with the dominant midrange decks in standard.  I finally found a Mono-Red deck that was competitive after the release of Phyrexia: All Will Be One.  Having good aggro deck options is important to the health and well-being of standard.  They help prevent players from playing overly greedy midrange strategies.

The other side of the coin from aggro is control.  As a strategy, control has all, but fallen out of favor in standard.  Typically, control decks rely on board wipes, planeswalkers, and value cards to create a sense of inevitability in a game that the control player will win.  These decks have also lost favor because of the rise of value midrange strategies.

Magic is at its best when we have a rock-paper-scissors format.  This means that we have one or more good aggro, midrange, and control decks in the format.  We have this in Pioneer and Modern.  Hopefully, the changes to standard will result in a return to this type of format.

Second, there will be incentives for stores that return to in-person tabletop standard play.  Huey and Andrew did not provide specifics, but they confirmed that additional support would exist for stores.  What this means for players is that in addition to Friday Night Magic prize packs, that come with a rare or mythic from the current set, a second rare or mythic from the current standard, and an alternate art version of an uncommon from the current set, there will be a play program for standard.  This should encourage more players to play tabletop.

Third, a question was asked about mana bases on the stream.  Dual lands will continue to be a regular part of set releases, so the overall mana bases for any color pair should be better going forward.  In addition, we can expect to see more utility and colorless lands.  We will see utility lands like those from Throne of Eldraine.  There was a land in each color with a special ability that helped decks in that color.

We can also expect to see challenger decks again that will hopefully bring needed reprints to standard.  Challenger decks were a product that sold a slightly underpowered version of a currently popular deck in standard.  The last set of challenger decks had a Rakdos Vampire deck, a Mono-White Aggro deck, a Gruul Stompy deck, and a control deck.  These decks allowed players to explore a strategy for a low buy-in cost.  Then if a player liked the deck, he/she could make changes to the deck to bring it in line with the best version of the deck in standard.

 A micro set like March of the Machine: The Aftermath is a possibility to get needed reprint cards into standard.  One of the consequences of the pandemic was that many players do not have many of the cards that were from set in while in-store play was limited.  Also, stores are not opening product like they did pre-pandemic.  This has limited the availability of cards on the secondary market and made the cost of the best cards in standard higher than they previously were.

We will find out on May 29th how bans will affect standard.  My suspicion is that Invoke Despair and Fable of the Mirror-Breaker get banned.  By removing each of them, the format should open up some.  Invoke Despair has warped standard because it kills a creature, an enchantment, and a planeswalker.  Enchantment removal is a new ability for black.  It typically is a white or green ability.  Giving it to black has only enhanced what black already does well.  Fable of the Mirror-Breaker has been the best card in standard for most of the last year and a half.  Banning it would take away midrange decks ability to filter cards and gain mana advantage from the Goblin token’s triggered ability.

Another card I would like to see banned is The Wandering Emperor because her ability to flash into play has made her the bane of aggro decks.  By banning her, this will enable aggro decks to have more space to run in standard.  When aggro deck must kill an opponent by turn four this makes it very difficult for aggro to function in standard.  Ideally, aggro would have the breathing room needed to change that clock to turn five or six.  This should increase the likelihood of aggro returning in a significant way to standard.

That’s it for this week.  I’ll see you next time!

By: Scott Trepanier

Scott began playing Magic the Gathering in 1994.  His preferred format is standard.  Typically, you will see him playing aggro decks focused on quickly defeating his opponent but will pivot to midrange or control when standard is unfavorable for aggro decks.  He began creating Magic content in 2019.