As is my custom this time of year, today I want to take a look back at Magic in 2015, as well as look forward to what the future may hold. As always, I
want to look at both my own experiences throughout the year, as well as at Magic as a whole. Has Magic – and my relationship with it – moved in the right
direction in the past year? Let’s take a look.
First, I want to look at what I put forward for my hopes for Magic in 2015 in my reflection article last year:
Keep Standard Fun
– Right now, Standard is great. There are a wide variety of different decks that are all competitive, so you can pretty much play whatever kind of deck
you want and have a good chance to succeed. That’s pretty much the perfect environment. I think Wizards has a really smart and talented group doing
design and development, and last year’s stagnation was the exception rather than the rule. So far, Fate Reforged spoilers look pretty awesome, and the
next set is actually called Dragons of Tarkir, so I have high hopes for awesomeness ahead.
Prior to Battle for Zendikar, I would have called this pretty much an unmitigated success. Through most of this year, Standard
was a great format with an ever-shifting metagame and lots of varied and viable decks. Both Fate Reforged and Dragons of Tarkir were
awesome sets, and Magic Origins was similarly fantastic, sending core sets out with a bang.
But then everything changed when the Eldrazi Nation attacked.
Okay, maybe not everything, but I couldn’t resist the Avatar reference. In fact, in some ways, not nearly enough changed. The biggest contribution of Battle for Zendikar came in the form of mana fixing, with the new Battle Lands completely upending the way people look at mana in Standard. Having
awesome mana fixing can be fun for a while because it feels like you can do anything, but the current Standard format demonstrates that “anything” really
means “a subset of a few very powerful things.”
The less colored mana matters, the more players are pushed toward raw efficiency in both mana and card values. As I’ve discussed in my recent articles
talking about Temur, it just feels foolish to try to play a real creature deck right now since seemingly every other opponent has Crackling Doom and
virtually every single one has Murderous Cut. We see more and more decks just trying to play the cheapest threats and answers possible and maxing
out on cards like Painful Truths because they can just burn through everything and reload so easily. In a world with more normal mana, it’s much harder to
find a critical mass of everything that you’re looking for in the same colors; however, in the world we’re living in right now, casting double blue card
draw spells in the same deck as Cracking Doom is commonplace.
I hope that Oath of the Gatewatch can shake things up meaningfully, but I have my doubts. The problem is structural, not simply a matter of the
right cards not being there. Perhaps the cards that use colorless mana will be good enough to dissuade people from cherry picking the best from everything
all of the time, since it’s hard to use Battle lands alongside anything that produces colorless. Interestingly, those cards may turn out to be something of
a buff to the enemy color pairs with painlands in Magic Origins, since those lands can actually tap for colorless unlike basics, creature-lands,
and Battle lands. Food for thought, at least.
But even outside of anything related to game balance, the single thing I can’t stand about Standard right now is all of the shuffling and searching.
Fetchlands were annoying enough when they first entered Standard and you were looking for one of eight copies of a basic land, but when you’re digging
through your deck for your single Cinder Glade or Prairie Stream every game, it’s miserable. When I played in the #SCGINVI in Vegas earlier in the month,
virtually every Standard round went nearly fifteen or twenty minutes past time, in part because of the endless shuffling and in part due to the endless
slogfests between Painful Truths decks going on.
I’m really looking forward to the day when Standard has no fetchlands. If the enemy fetches end up getting reprinted in 2016, I may just lose it.
Speaking of things that can send me off the deep end…my other goal for Magic last year:
Improve Magic Online
– Please? Pretty please? The state of Magic Online has been an ugly blemish on an otherwise great year for Magic, and has significantly detracted from
my personal enjoyment of the game. The release of V4 was received negatively across the board, and since then, it still feels like we’ve just been
playing catch up to old problems.
Since “make it better” is uselessly vague, this is specifically what I hope to see for Magic Online in 2015, in order of priority.
– Stability improvements:
Let’s not have this ever happen again.
– Fix card/interface bugs:
– Improve streaming friendliness:
Streaming is the future of games, and Magic Online is living in the past. V4 is terrible for streaming, with everything from layered windows to
hard-to-read cards to confusingly oriented and sized pop-up windows to events that involve more waiting than playing. In one of my last Magic streams,
I was live for almost five hours, and less than two of that was actual gameplay. I’ve heard promises of leagues to help with the latter problem, but at
this point, I’m not holding my breath.
I’m not sure I can overstate how important this last point is. Despite Hearthstone having miniscule tournament prize support compared to Magic, there
are many professional Hearthstone players who make their living from ad revenues and sponsorship dollars because of their visibility from streaming. If
Magic streaming could attract even a fraction of the eyeballs that Hearthstone does, being a professional Magic player would be a much more realistic
In some ways, Hearthstone is a competitor to Magic, but in some ways the relationship is symbiotic. Hearthstone is exposing millions of people who have
never played a TCG before and likely never would have picked one up to the genre, which is great for Magic and games like it. I’ve had more than one
person tell me they started playing Magic after reading my posts about it after coming to my website via Hearthstone. I don’t expect Magic can reach
the level of smoothness and polish that Hearthstone has as a video game, since it’s not designed for the medium, but if it can even get above
“embarrassing” in the near future, the boom that Hearthstone has created for the category could do the game a world of good.
Yeah. About that.
As I’ve said before, I will give credit where credit is due. The League system that Magic Online introduced this year has substantially improved the
experience of players looking to find competitive matches without significant downtime. My complaint from last year – of streaming for five hours and only
playing for two – is a thing of the past. That’s certainly a good thing. But it isn’t nearly enough.
Streaming isn’t just the future of games – streaming is the now. More people tuned in to watch the League of Legends World Championship this year than the
NBA Finals. The peak concurrent viewership for the final match was 14 million. But perhaps more importantly to what I’m really talking about is the fact
that at any time of day, there are tens of thousands of people tuning in to watch players on their own streams from home.
Now, you might say this comparison isn’t fair, since League of Legends is a fast-paced game with lots of action that is much better suited to streaming
than Magic, and of course you’d be right. I have no expectations that as many people would ever want to watch Magic Online as would watch League of
Legends. But right next to League of Legends in that picture is Hearthstone. If you want to say that isn’t a fair comparison, since Hearthstone was
designed from the ground up to be a digital game, so it’s much more spectator-friendly, I’d agree with that too.
But how big is this handicap we’re willing to give Magic Online?
Well, let’s find it. It’s not on the first page. Nor is it on the second. You have to scroll down pretty far before you finally find it, deep among games
ported from ancient console systems and other things I’ve never even heard of.
This is at around 9 PM on a Wednesday night. Sure, that’s a little late. But it’s late for every other game too, and during peak hours, Magic still rarely
makes it anywhere close to the front page. I think the only times I’ve ever seen it there have been during Pro Tours, which are obviously not actually
broadcasting Magic Online.
While obviously there are a lots of things that are out of Wizards’ hands when it comes to making Magic Online better for streaming, there are many things
that are not. Magic Online almost seems to go out of its way to make streaming it difficult, requiring a myriad of different specific settings to even show
up as a stream source in the first place in the most popular streaming program, OBS. Any time you put even the smallest barrier in the way of someone doing
something, some percentage of people are going to quit. How many of you have thought about streaming Magic, had something go wrong when you were trying to
set it up, and then decided against it? I know I certainly have, and I know big streamers in other gaming communities who have too.
It may seem like I’m harping on the streaming experience too much, but I think most people don’t recognize nearly how big a deal it is or how important it
can be for a game’s visibility. People browse Twitch all the time looking at games to discover new things. Some companies these days forsake traditional
advertising and instead pay popular streamers to play their game to get the word out. And it works, too. I’ve had tons of people tell me that they learned
about games from watching me play them, and have gone on to play those games all the time.
Magic could be one of those games. But only if Magic Online were better.
I guess this year we got leagues, at least. Baby steps, I suppose.
As for my personal goals for 2015…
Grow my media empire
– I use this term jokingly a lot, but I’ve really enjoyed working on
my own site
this year. I really enjoy doing broadcast and content creation work, and I hope to expand both the amount and the kind that I do in 2015. Oh, and I
need more merchandising, like new playmats, t-shirts, and sleeves. Preferably with Shiro on them.
This is a definite yes. I started essentially streaming full-time in May of this year, and with the help of my wife have begun regularly posting content to
my YouTube channel as well. We did release a new playmat with art I commissioned from Steve Argyle for our wedding, which of
course features Shiro in majestic fashion. And I already have plans for Shiro sleeves and t-shirts lined up next year, too! On top of all of that, I’ve
gotten heavily involved in the Hearthstone event commentary scene, and was one of the casters for the finals of the World Championships at Blizzcon, which
peaked at around 175,000 concurrent viewers.
Amidst this, I’ve had a lot of people ask me why I gave up Magic for Hearthstone. It’s an understandable question, seeing as I spend most of my time these
days playing a card game that isn’t Magic. But I don’t really think about it that way.
I still play Magic, and I still love Magic. Magic is my favorite game in the world, both historically and to this day. But I’m a married man now, with a
wife and a dog to think about, and for me flying around the country or even the world every weekend playing Magic just isn’t realistic. I think if
something like the SCG Tour® existed ten years ago back when I was just out of college, I would be all over it. Sometimes I find myself somewhat jealous of
the likes of Brad Nelson and Todd Anderson, since they have so many chances to play in big tournaments that matter. But I think my days of road tripping
and couch surfing my way to events is behind me.
I’m going to keep going to tournaments next year, but much like this year they’ll likely be the Pro Tours and a few Grand Prix nearby. I did always try to
make it out to the Open Series weekends when they came to California and Las Vegas, and I’ll miss them, but I can’t handle the sad lonely Shiro pictures
that Natalie sends me whenever I travel for tournaments as she waits for me to come home.
Playing in fewer events will certainly make it harder to make good on my goal from last year:
Win Something –
I’m a competitor, through and through, and even if I have taken something of a step back from Magic in the past year, I still want to win.
Does Friday Night Magic count? This goal was a big miss (though not if you count Hearthstone, where I won both an individual event and the MVP award in a
$250,000 team league event). That’s not terribly surprising, really, seeing as I played fewer events last year than I have in any year since I started
playing competitively again. You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take, as they say, and I didn’t take a whole lot of shots.
I did feel like I was at least successful on a deckbuilding level. I was one of the major contributors to the Abzan Aggro deck that Jacob Wilson played to
a Top 8 finish at Pro Tour Fate Reforged, and my G/W Megamorph deck from Pro Tour Dragons of Tarkir went on to be one of the most popular and successful
decks in that Standard season. I actually feel like I identified many of the most powerful cards from each of the new sets to build my decks around for the
Standard Pro Tours – Den Protector, Nissa, Vastwood Seer, and Painful Truths – but stumbled in a few cases to find the right builds when I ran out of time.
- 4 Elvish Mystic
- 4 Fleecemane Lion
- 3 Boon Satyr
- 2 Courser of Kruphix
- 2 Warden of the First Tree
- 2 Hidden Dragonslayer
- 4 Den Protector
- 4 Deathmist Raptor
- 3 Nissa, Vastwood Seer
I’ve always enjoyed the challenge of deckbuilding and have found it much more enjoyable and rewarding than actually playing the games sometimes, which is a
big part of why I’ve always enjoyed Constructed much more than Limited. Succeeding vicariously through my decks is almost as good as winning myself. But
winning sure is nice…
And for my last goal from last year:
– Just yesterday, a friend of mine told me that I should play U/B Control in GP Denver because he thinks it’s the best deck. I told him there was no
way I would do that. He asked if I would play it if I knew it was the best deck and all of my decks were bad, and I told him if that were the case I
just wouldn’t go, because I’m only going to have fun, and I don’t think I’d have fun playing U/B Control.
This one was a slam dunk. I had a great time playing Magic this year, in large part because I only ever did it when I really wanted to do so. The pro tours
were generally in excellent locations, which made it all the better – I think Vancouver is my favorite place for tournaments outside San Diego, and the
latter only really wins out because I can literally drive there.
A few years back, I was playing a ton of Magic and winning a lot, but I just wasn’t enjoying it. I felt compelled to play by the constant hunt for Pro
Points, and the constant grind led me to having barely any fun at all. This year? I dropped from Grand Prix Vegas as soon as I picked up my second loss
because I realized I’d have more fun out on the town with Natalie and my fellow gamers than I would trying to battle my way through the biggest tournament
ever for a chance at a decent result.
It reminds me a lot of the movie Searching for Bobby Fischer, which once upon a time I used to watch before every Magic tournament in which I
played. In the movie, the main character, Josh Waitzkin, is a chess prodigy pushed by his father to play in tournament after tournament, and he eventually
loses his passion to the pressure and wants to quit. It isn’t until he takes a total break from chess to rebalance and refocus that he is able to come back
with a clear head and claim the championship.
Except I’m not really winning nowadays, but that’s not really the point. It’s a great movie. One of the best about competitive gaming out there, I think.
Go watch it now.
But more importantly, be certain to keep perspective about Magic’s role in your life. If you’re not having fun or you’re getting burnt out, perhaps you
should take a step back and re-evaluate how you’re approaching things. I know I’m much happier for having done just that.
Okay, that’s a lot already. But let’s take a look at my goals for 2016!
First, for Magic as a whole:
Take Advantage of the Growth of Gaming
Gaming, and competitive gaming in particular, is experiencing enormous growth right now. E-Sports is a hot new industry attracting tons of venture capital
and big names who want a piece of it. Mark Cuban played in a League of Legends exhibition match against the CEO of Intel earlier this year. Former NBA
player Rick Fox just bought a League of Legends team, as did a group including the co-owners of the Sacramento Kings.
Magic has been in the competitive gaming space for a long time. Magic, too, has grown in recent years, but has lagged far behind in terms of capturing as
much of the growing audience as they could.
This is really a twofold goal, both relating to streamed Magic – for big live events and for Magic Online.
Magic live coverage needs a huge overhaul. I’m cautiously optimistic that the announcement about the reduction in coverage next year means that we’ll see
more resources and better broadcast teams at the events that are broadcast. I’d love to see higher quality cameras and more and better produced segments as
well – though obviously those things cost money.
Those things cost other broadcasts a lot of money too, but other broadcasts have sponsors to help defray the costs. It baffles my mind that Wizards of the
Coast hasn’t even seemingly tried to attract sponsors for Pro Tour and Grand Prix broadcasts outside of official partners like Ultra Pro. I understand that
you won’t have the same computer hardware manufacturers as games like League of Legends, but I’ve competed in and broadcast Hearthstone events with
sponsors ranging from Amazon to G2A to Windows to Totino’s Pizza Rolls.
I’m sure FanDuel and DraftKings would be happy to buy any ad spots you’d be willing to sell!
But the real point is that gaming is getting the attention of real advertisers, and Magic is being left behind. If Wizards doesn’t view the value of the
advertising they’re getting for Magic alone as being worth paying to put on a good broadcast regularly, maybe someone else will.
And when you cash that ad check, can you please spend some of it on Magic Online?
No More Fetchlands
Seriously. I mean it.
Okay, that’s short and sweet for Magic. For me?
Well, same as last year, really.
Grow my Media Empire
It’s going well so far – now to keep things growing! And don’t worry – I’m going to keep writing for StarCityGames next year, and I’ll keep doing video
logs about my Pro Tour experiences on my YouTube channel. I am not lost to Hearthstone forever, by any means. And that Shiro shirt and
Shiro sleeves are coming!
I recognize that it’s a long shot with how few events I’ll be playing in, but I still want to win! I plan to compete in every Pro Tour next year, even
though they’re so far away, and at least a handful of Grand Prix or so. The first will be Grand Prix Oakland just next week! And if I want to win, based on
my Magic Online testing of late, I probably shouldn’t play any kind of Temur…
But even if Temur isn’t an option, there’s still this:
- 4 Rattleclaw Mystic
- 2 Dragonlord Atarka
- 4 Scaleguard Sentinels
- 4 Thunderbreak Regent
- 3 Dragonlord Dromoka
- 3 Den Protector
- 2 Dragonlord Ojutai
- 2 Deathmist Raptor
- 3 Nissa, Vastwood Seer
Okay, I guess it’s sort of Temur – but it’s nothing like the Temur decks I was playing before. It’s more just throwing out scary Dragons than anything
else, and if there’s anything I love in the Magical world, it’s a chance to smash people with Dragons.
I just built this deck this week, and it’s certainly still very raw, but I’ve been having reasonable success with it on Magic Online. I actually had
trouble sleeping the other night right after I put it together and found myself playing in a Magic Online League in the wee hours of the morning to pass
the time. If a deck can get me to not only willingly open Magic Online, but do so at the cost of precious sleep? It’s definitely got something going for
I’m not totally sold on the exact mix of cards, nor on the sideboard, but the shell has been playing well so far. The basic idea of the deck is to leverage
the Battle for Zendikar mana fixing (that I railed against so much earlier) to let me do what I’ve wanted to do since Dragons of Tarkir
came out: play a multi-color Dragon deck that actually uses Scaleguard Sentinels! Both Sentinels and Draconic Roar are incredibly powerful when they’re
turned on, and they play both offense and defense extremely well.
One card that has completely overperformed has been Sarkhan Unbroken. It wasn’t in my first incarnation of the deck, since I was concerned with my ability
to cast it with my mana base, but after my first league outing, I felt like I needed a threat that was resilient against all of the removal out of decks
like Jeskai Black. I’d had a lot of success with Sarkhan before in previous iterations of Temur and tried it here, and it was just fantastic. This deck can
use every part of the buffalo, from the card advantage to the mana ramp to the token creation to the dream of the ultimate: putting an army of Dragonlords
in play. I haven’t pulled it off yet, but I’m looking forward to the first time.
Now, I know that this deck falls afoul of my earlier read about the format punishing creatures and rewarding card draw and incremental advantages, but one
of the things I’ve found in the games that I’ve played so far is that your opponent only realistically have so many copies of Crackling Doom. If you force
them to start killing your creatures with 3/4 ‘s on turn 2 and just go up the curve from there, eventually you may stick some kind of Dragonlord–the game
doesn’t last long from there. Maybe I’ve just been fortunate in my games against those kinds of decks so far, and maybe in reality I’m a huge underdog
against Jeskai Black and the like, but I can’t give up a chance to play this deck. It’s just too wholly everything I love in Magic.
And really, that’s what it’s all about, right?
What are your goals for next year? And where do you want to see Magic go?