Reflecting Pool - 2018 in Review Part 1
In retrospect, I couldn't have picked a better year to start writing for Cardmarket. There were so many things that happened this year - whether it was the ever-changing Modern metagame or the release of Arena – that it's difficult to parse through and pick the most memorable news that came out of 2018. Considering I already tested my editors' patience with my Standard Golgari Midrange Compendium two weeks ago, I decided to split this article into two parts that will span two weeks. Without further ado, let's dive right into arguably the year's biggest storyline!
1. Standard Is Dead. Long Live Standard!
For a set released back in 2016, the Kaladesh block made sure to let everyone know that it had overstayed its welcome in Standard. Whether it was Aetherworks Marvel or Smuggler's Copter, many of the block's most problematic cards simply weren't costed reasonably and let loose into an environment in which Kaladesh and Aether Revolt were by far the strongest sets in Standard. To make matters worse, cards such as Hazoret the Fervent, Teferi, Hero of Dominaria, and Goblin Chainwhirler compounded Standard's woes by giving rise to de-facto best decks that homogenized the metagame. Standard attendance plummeted during Kaladesh and Amonkhet's time in the sun, with tournament organizers such as Star City Games announcing that they would plan fewer Standard tournaments in the upcoming year due to their lack of faith in Wizards' ability to create a healthy Standard environment.
However, fast forward to now and there's nothing but praise for the current Standard format. Although GRN Standard approaches the sunset ever closer with the upcoming release of Ravnica Allegiance on January 25th of next year, the metagame has continued to adapt and evolve. Even now, original, creative rogue decks seem to pop up every week, whether it's Sam Black's Boros Control deck or Ali Aintrazi's Mono Black Mastermind deck. In fact, the healthiest Standard in recent memory brings us right to this year's biggest news…
2. Arena's Arrival
Wizards of the Coast had neglected the CCG market for a long period, with their only offerings being MTGO and Magic Duels. MTGO was the "full" Magic experience in that it attempted to emulate paper Magic as closely as possible in a digital setting. An application that looks like it would fit better in an era of Microsoft XP, MTGO suffered from the horrendously unintuitive and ugly interface, the existence of a secondary market, and a glacial pace when it came to QOL improvements and bug fixes. I don't know whether to laugh or cry when I recount that MTGO didn't implement its league events until the fall of 2015. Magic Duels was another lackluster and problematic offering of its own – designed mainly for beginners, gameplay on Duels was handcuffed to avoid complicated interactions and deckbuilding restrictions were put in place that didn't mirror how Magic was normally played. Combined with a history of bungling digital products and the sudden discontinuation of Magic Duels after Amonkhet, the announcement of Magic the Gathering: Arena, or Arena for short, was met with skepticism from the larger community.
To give a brief summary, Arena is Wizards' newest digital offering that attempts to offer players a modern take on playing Magic as authentically as possible. The application offers limited, Standard, and events such as singleton but most importantly has the updated UI and gameplay that Magic's digital competitors had long since boasted. In other words, Arena is the long-awaited and legitimate answer to Magic's competitors in the CCG market, whether it be reigning king Hearthstone or heralded newcomer Artifact.
Despite getting off to a rocky start in Closed Beta due to a laggy client and a limited card pool, Arena has been nothing but a success since the launch of Open Beta. There is no doubt in my mind that Arena is the future of digital Magic – and even Magic in general – and I can't be happier to come home after a day of work, sit down in front of my computer, and play a smooth, polished game that I had always wanted to play.
3. Jace & BBE Unbanned... And Fail to Impress.
The Modern community loves to discuss the ban list, and Wizards gave everyone something to talk about when they announced in February that Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Bloodbraid Elf would be unshackled from the confines of the ban list. Players began immediately jamming the cards in every deck they could, with some lists opting to throw both of them together in the same deck. Jund and Blue-based control decks flooded the MTGO leagues in the short-term, yet in the long-term picture, these cards ended up doing little to affect the Modern metagame in the way that many (including myself) had expected.
As it turns out, four mana is a lot for a format as fast and unforgiving as Modern. Modern is as fast as it's been since the banning of Gitaxian Probe and tapping out on turn four for a four-mana value card does little on a boards teeming with zombies, phoenices, and seven-mana planeswalkers. While the unbanning of the two cards has given hope that more cards will make their way off of the ban list, there's definitely a lingering sense of disappoint that these cards didn't turn out to be as strong as we had hoped. For some, however, that feeling might be a sense of relief instead.
4. Brawl's Flash in the Pan
Despite Modern's popularity, the Magic community had been eagerly looking forward to the "next" big format for several years now. We saw the rise and fall of Tiny Leaders (EDH with a CMC restriction of 3 or lower) and Frontier (a format starting with M15 and onward), but these formats were neither advertised nor endorsed by Wizards, and it made sense that the seemingly non-organic growth of these formats would lead to their quick demise.
Brawl, however, had the blessing of Wizards' very own Gavin Verhey. In an article back in March on the Mothership, Gavin introduced the format to the Magic community as a rotating, sixty-card variant of EDH. Future articles instituted a ban-list (goodbye, Baral) and a change in life totals for 1v1 matches, and GPs throughout the year offered Brawl as side events to varying levels of success. Despite all of this, Brawl was phased out towards the end of year, leagues for the format were removed from MTGO, and it all but died in the eyes of the community.
Sadly, it's a shame that the format died – due to its singleton nature, decks were affordable and customizable. The Standard card pool ensured that decks didn't include all of the terribly designed mistakes of the past twenty-five years (yes, I'm looking at you, Commander), and a sixty-card deck allowed enough consistency for various strategies. Here's to hoping that Brawl can make a Dread Return or a variation of it will be reborn from its ashes to give us a new, lasting format. Standard singleton, anyone?
Anyway, that's it for this week – stay tuned next week for the second half of my year in review!
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily Cardmarket.