Magic Report Card

Grand Prix Boston-Worcester winner Brian DeMars grades the Limited and Constructed formats of the past year and provides some suggestions for improvement.

Hello everyone and welcome back.

I’m really excited for Grand Prix Detroit this coming weekend, especially since it is the first Grand Prix in my hometown in nearly a decade. Unfortunately, I don’t have a ton of advice for tournament-goers about Modern that I haven’t already offered up in my Affinity article from a month ago: 

I am 99% going to play the Affinity decklist from that article.

I will be beating down in Motown.

Being from the Detroit area, I can suggest a couple of things to check out while you are in town.

Unfortunately, the Tigers and Lions are out of town this weekend. 🙁

Slow’s Bar BBQ on Michigan Ave is a little bit of a drive from the tournament site but is easily one of the best places for food in the city. The kitchen closes at 10 PM, and expect a wait because it is always busy.

The Magic Stick club has a dubstep performance featuring Loud Star and Mantis Saturday night. The club is also cool because it has a built-in and working bowling alley, which makes it a pretty cool place to hang out for the evening.

City Club downtown is open and plays music until 4 AM on Saturdays, mostly New Wave and Industrial dance tracks.

The Detroit Institute of Arts is open until 10 PM on Friday and 10AM-5PM on Saturday and Sunday. The DIA has some great stuff to check out if you end up looking for something to do for an afternoon or evening.

Greektown is another option, as it has food, entertainment, and places to walk around and sightsee. Obviously, there is also a casino attached if you are interested in that sort of thing.

If you have a car and don’t mind driving, there are also a lot of nice restaurants and nightlife entertainment in Royal Oak, which is about a fifteen-minute drive from Cobo.

Although I don’t really have any new technology or info about the Modern format, I still wanted to give some sort of input for readers planning on attending Grand Prix Detroit.

Anyway, being that everything is going to change in about a month with the release of Theros, I am going to run through and share some thoughts I have about each format as it exists now and discuss what changes I would like to see come in the fall.


Let’s talk about the Limited formats that have been made available in the past year.

M14: D+

I strongly dislike M14 Limited, which is strange because I really, really enjoyed M13 for both Draft and Sealed.

The biggest problem, which many people have already pointed out, is that the blue cards (particularly the commons) are simply much, much better than any of the other options available. The games are slow and extremely prone to ground stalls, and casting Divination and fliers is a better strategy than doing anything else.

I’ve got the M14 blues.

The set also suffers from having too many weak commons that a player shouldn’t want to play. I have drafted M14 about twenty times, and that was more than enough for me; I’d rather just pass the time and get my Limited fix playing DGR or triple RTR until Theros comes out.

I’ll be happy to see M14 Limited go, not just because I’m looking forward to playing with Theros cards but because I did not enjoy playing the format in the first place.


I love this format, and it is one of my favorites of all time. There are so many options available, and the format really rewards looking for openings to move in on color combinations, signaling, and in general making smart pick decisions. I really hope that the Limited format that comes with Theros block comes anywhere close to as fantastic as Return to Ravnica block was for Limited play.

How do people pass these cards?

I love the way that the format allows players to construct decks of literally any color combination allowed in all of Magic and also that three-color combination decks are viable.


Gatecrash is a fun and playable Limited format but suffers from a lack of diversity. In general, the format is fast and rewards players for recognizing that playing an aggressive curve is the most important rule in the format.

The Boros and Orzhov Guilds easily outclass the others with respect to their gold cards, which generally warped the draft experience from the onset as people would often start off trying to force these combinations.

Bloodrush was also a mechanic that I specifically didn’t enjoy for Limited play because it devalued one’s ability to block by having a plethora of combat tricks that only worked offensively.

No Blocking Zone.

In a large percentage of games, it was understood that all that was happening was that two players were racing by attacking and chump blocking—which is fine as long as it doesn’t happen too often.


I absolutely love this format and really enjoyed playing it last fall. If anything, I hope that Theros comes anywhere close to being a single set that offers the complexity that Return to Ravnica did for drafters.

In general, I would say that I like drafting DGR better and that DGR is a better Draft format than RTR, but such a statement is almost unfair to how good RTR is. Firstly, while DGR is better (in my opinion) than RTR, it also has two more sets of unique cards to add to the mix and thus the complexity of the format. What RTR accomplishes, it does with only one large set of cards (as opposed to two large and a small), which is a monumental feat indeed.

In my opinion, RTR is the best single set expansion Draft format of all time, and I will be sad to see it go.

Goodbye, old friends.

Except for Pack Rat and Mizzium Mortars—good riddance, you runners of Limited games.


Standard: B

I had a really hard time evaluating how I felt about Standard in the past year because there were elements about it that I both really enjoyed and appreciated and others that I strongly disliked.

I will start with the positive and describe what I liked about Standard.

Firstly, there were a ton of different decks that were good, viable, and interesting in context over the course of the year.

Bant, Hexproof, Jund, Rock, Reanimator, B/R Zombies, Jund Aggro, Esper Control, Junk Aggro, Junk Tokens, Aristocrats (Acts I, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII, VIII, etc.), Mono-Red, R/G Beats, Naya, and the list goes on.

Any format that can facilitate that many different decks cannot possibly be bad. When a format is good, it allows new decks to come into being in order to combat the decks that already exist. Therefore, it is important that the card pool has cards available for these new metagame predators to come into being. There were a lot of good cards printed in the past year and a lot of options available.

In general, I believe that RTR block was an amazingly designed set and probably the best possible thing that could have happened for Magic’s growth.

The bad part is that prior to RTR Innistrad block and M13 brought a lot of really unenjoyable Magic cards into being that unfortunately warped Standard for the past year.

Blast the past.

Unfortunately, these cards are extremely powerful and really warped Standard around them. Also, many of these cards are not really cards that people seem to enjoy playing against week in and week out. For instance, Geist of Saint Traft and Bonfire of the Damned are among the most unlikable Magic cards to lose to in the history of the game.

With that being said, the big change is going to come when this cast of busted Innistrad cards finally rotates out of the format and we start anew with RTR and Theros.

A large and difficult riddle that will need to be answered.

The biggest question mark for moving forward with Theros is going to be whether or not Sphinx’s Revelation is beatable and how adjusting to a new format without many of the other powerful cards will work out. With cards like Thoughtseize seeing print, maybe the answer will be that Revelation decks will become inbred for the mirror match, ultimately leaving them vulnerable to R/G’s beaters and planeswalkers or fast aggro.

I don’t know (and we haven’t seen all the cards yet), but I hope that one bad apple won’t spoil the whole bunch moving forward.

What I’d Like To See Next: Something from Theros that will keep Sphinx’s Revelation in check for the next four months!

Modern: A-

I strongly agree with almost everything that Wizards has done in order to popularize and promote the Modern format.

It’s cool that the cards are getting reprinted so that they will be available for players to actually play and that the DCI is being proactive in banning cards and strategies that push the format to be too fast or cards that would be too dominant like Jace or Bitterblossom.

Currently Modern is my favorite Constructed format that I regularly play, and I have enjoyed exploring the format and playing with and against a bunch of different decks. As a format, Modern is pretty solid. It has a bunch of different decks that are cool and interesting, and everything seems to have good and bad match ups across the board, with no one deck really dominating the metagame.

I would venture that the Goryo’s Vengeance deck breaks the on principle "no turn 2 kill decks" premise and should probably be banned.


I am very much looking forward to battling Modern this weekend at Grand Prix Detroit and hope that Theros brings some new and interesting cards to the format. However, I also believe that bettering the format will ultimately be a consequence of properly managing the banned list and not solvable via new printings.

I give the DCI strong applause for quickly responding to problematic cards with banning in Modern, particularly:

Hey, is it cool if I cantrip for a half hour?

It’s good to know that somebody is keeping an ear to the ground and making solid decisions regarding the format’s health and playability.

Reprinting Commander cards like Scavenging Ooze to be made legal in Modern is another huge step toward making Modern an even better format. The key to Modern is that it needs to feel like an Eternal format in order to achieve its maximum potential, and having cards like Scavenging Ooze legal in the format is a big step forward.

My biggest critique of Modern right now is that the Zendikar fetch lands are really expensive and are likely to continue to rise as the format goes forward. I don’t think that $100 for a Misty Rainforest is out of the question in the next year without a reprinting. Wizards has done a good job with the Ravnica shock lands but will have to find a creative way to ensure high fetch land prices don’t drive potential players away.

What I’d Like To See Next: Flusterstorm made legal in Modern. Zendikar fetch lands reprinted in Modern Masters II.

Legacy: B

I appreciate that Legacy is a format that people (myself included) like to play because it has lots of broken and exciting plays.

Anybody who disagrees with my strong applause of the way the Modern banned list has been handled will also be in opposition to my dislike of the Legacy banned list.

Show and Tell me why this card is legal?

All of the Oath, Show and Tell, and Reanimate cards that are actually good were designed for a world where they put cards like Verdant Force and Morphling into play.


My friend Jon Johnson told me about an incident last year where an old-time player showed up to a local Legacy tournament with his old-school Mono-Black deck and somebody Showed and Told him about a Japanese language Emrakul into play. The guy asked:

"What does that card do?"

"Well, its a 15/15, flying, can’t be the target of colored spells, uncounterable creature that if I cast gives me an extra turn and that has annihilator 6." 

"What’s annihilator six?" 

"Well, when I attack, you have to sacrifice six of your permanents."

The old-school guy did not believe the card was a real card, and a judge had to be called to confirm that Emrakul, the Aeons Torn is actually real and does what it does.

A player can play around a Verdant Force, but there isn’t a darn thing you can do about an Emrakul, Griselbrand, or Omniscience.

In formats that don’t rotate, when something is good, it stays good forever, and Show and Tell is on that level (Brainstorm too!).

I used to play a weekly Legacy tournament out in Ann Arbor, and I have basically just stopped going because I don’t really feel the format is for me anymore.

Personally, I would be more prone to play Legacy if the DCI were to make some changes and shake things up a little bit more.

Show and Tell is stale, Reanimator is stale, Delver is stale, and Stoneblade is stale.

These are the decks that I see consistently doing well on the StarCityGames.com Open Series circuit and that everybody plays at the weekly local tournament, and they are the same decks that people played two years ago updated with new printings that make them even better (and pull even further ahead and away from the rest of the pack).

I understand this is only one man’s perspective and only a piece of a bigger truth. There are a lot of people who like the dynamic, understand the dynamic, and enjoy the subtle relationships between these decks that develop over time. I do appreciate that element as well, which is why I said "Legacy just isn’t for me right now."

My critique of Legacy is that it tends to stay very much the same and that the powerful strategies appear to have cemented themselves at the top and are not and will not go anywhere in the foreseeable future.

I don’t like and strongly disagree with the sacred cow argument and don’t believe it to be true.

If you restrict these cards in Vintage, I will quit.

Vintage has a history of slaying its sacred cows despite the warnings of fans that such actions will "ruin the format" or "result in mass quitting." Vintage has lost popularity in the past decade, but not as a result of the DCI restricting or unrestricting cards. Vintage’s decline is a direct result of the end of the SCG P9 circuit in North America, the exponentially climbing prices of rare and hard to acquire reserve list cards, the growth in popularity (and SCG Open Series) of Legacy, and the overall lack of tournaments supported by WotC.

The parallels between Vintage’s decline and the predicament facing Legacy are striking.

Vintage replaced by Legacy —-> Um, Modern?

Rising prices on reserved list cards —-> Um, dual lands?

Lack of WotC support —-> Do we expect Modern GPs or Legacy?

The good news for Legacy fans is that at least SCG has your back and will continue to provide good, high-level competition and high-turnout Legacy events for the foreseeable future.

My point here is that perhaps there is value in shaking Legacy up and dethroning some of the sacred cows in the here and now as a way to drive new interest and new enthusiasm for the format.


I would also like to see this card back in the format. I thought it was a mistake and a cop out to ban it before, and I believe we are paying the consequences of that mistake now. We were told that Mental Misstep was responsible for killing all of the Wild Nacatl decks and that this would level the playing field, but I don’t see any difference.

If Brainstorm is such a sacred cow that it can’t ever be restricted because it isn’t what the people want, why not have a card in the format that actually counters it?!

Ok, that was the bad, but now for the praise.

I’m not all hate, spite, and dissatisfaction . . .

I will give credit where credit is due, and Magic did do many things right by Legacy in the past year.

Cards people actually WANT to play with.

It is possible to print cards for Eternal. All one has to do is print a one-cast creature that can be cast with one of either of two different colors of mana that has three separate insane abilities . . .

Deathrite Shaman is a game-changer for sure, and it is a fun and interesting Magic card because of the strategic depth it offers a player—or it is an abysmal to play against because it seems to beat a player singlehandedly by doing everything from accelerating out threats and answers to gaining life to stay alive and then is also a finisher. Oh, and it is incidental graveyard hate.

Deathrite Shaman in a format with fetch lands is an obvious game-changer.

Abrupt Decay is a card that I’m also super happy to see in print because of the way it checks and balances Counterbalance.

Reign of terror is over finally.

Who wasn’t sick of losing to Counterbalance + Sensei’s Diving Top?

I like when designers acknowledge a problematic strategy that is both powerful and "feels bad" to play against and give players a really good way to deal with said strategy.

Spin the wheel (top).

For those of you who didn’t know, I was one of the first people to work on or write about Shardless BUG way back over a year ago before Deathrite Shaman was even spoiled!

In any event, I really like the Commander and Planechase sets and the neat and wacky Eternal cards they bring to the table. Keep up the good work, Wizards!

Overall, I gave Legacy in the past year an above-average grade because of good printings. I would like to see some of the top dogs taken down a notch (as is my nature regarding Eternal formats) but am at the least satisfied with those decks staying as is at the top as long as new cards continue to be printed that are high impact.

What I’d Like To See: Mental Misstep unbanned.

Vintage: A-

Speaking of the Commander sets . . .

For those of you who don’t know, the next Commander sets will become legal for tournament play the weekend of Vintage and Legacy Champs in Pennsylvania this fall. Hopefully, this Commander set will pick up where it left off, providing Eternal fans with new printings that will change the game.

It has been a very productive year for Vintage fans, with a lot going on and the format continuing to grow into what it will ultimately become.

The potential for Magic Online Vintage play seems just around the corner, which I believe will spark a whole new interest in the format—an exciting premise indeed. It’s only a matter of time before the Power Nine makes its way into digital form, and with the Twentieth Anniversary celebration stuff looming, the timing seems right.

Also, the format seems to have really sorted itself out over the course of the past year and developed into a very nuanced and interesting playing field for players.


The dominance of Mishra’s Workshop seems to have finally been contained in recent months. I assume it is partly due to players finally understanding how to tune to beat and play well against Workshop decks. The new sophistication of non-metal mages against Workshop appears to have leveled the playing field somewhat.

I also really like the unrestriction of Regrowth last spring as an option that opens up new opportunities for Gush and other blue mages to investigate and explore. As I have already stated, I’m always a fan of mixing things up and taking chances with regard to banned and restricted lists just because they force new action in formats (particularly ones that don’t rotate) and keep things from getting too stale.

My biggest concern for Vintage is that the B&R announcement will come with the release of Theros right on the heels of the Vintage and Legacy Championships in Penn. This means that aside from getting a whole new pool of cards to play with and explore, other more monumental shake-ups could be in store for Vintage fans.

Not only will there be new cards via Theros and the Commander set, but there could also be changes at the heart of the format due to restriction or unrestriction.

I don’t have any information about what is going to happen. However, the two changes I could actually see happening are:

Gifts Ungiven is unrestricted and/or Lodestone Golem is restricted.

Jace, the Mind Sculptor is restricted.

BUT U CAN PLAY!!!!! Meh.

I would be in favor of Gifts Ungiven being unrestricted because I don’t think it even matters. Basically, people don’t play Gifts already, and letting people play four of a card they don’t even want one of is a nonissue. In most scenarios, it’s just a worse Jace, the Mind Sculptor.

Now, if they restricted Jace and unrestricted Gifts Ungiven . . .

I have mixed feelings about Lodestone Golem. On one hand, it is "unfun" to play against and leads to a lot of "non-games." However, turn 1 Lodestone is really no less fair than turn 1 Jace, Tinker, or Ancestral, so what difference does it make?

Workshop seems to finally have settled back into what it is going to be—a big player but not a dominating or oppressive force. So (as much as it pains me to say this) unless Mana Drain, Jace, Standstill, or Dark Confidant go on the restricted list alongside Lodestone, I think the card is probably fine.

My one gripe is that the Commander set comes out so close to the Championships. If there is a Flusterstorm or Scavenging Ooze in one of the sets that people are actually going to need for the event, it becomes problematic how people will be able to acquire the cards so close to the event date. For reference, the release date for Commander 2013 is November 1, Vintage Champs is November 2, and Legacy Champs is November 3.

What I’d Like To See:  Don’t release new Eternal card sets the day before the Vintage and Legacy Championships.


Promos: F

I don’t know how else to put it, but the promos that Wizards has been putting out are absolutely rancid.

All Is Dust as a GP promo? Are you kidding me?

Woohoo! Full art Goblin Diplomats for Game Day!

Buy a box, six-drop Sliver.

Terribad. Awful.

What I’d Like To See: Print promos people actually want. How about some Modern staples for FNM foils like Inquisition of Kozilek, Electrolyze, Remand, and Spell Snare?

Policy: D

I appreciate that we are in a transitional period as far as tournament and tournament organization goes, but there are seriously a lot of things that need immediate improvement.

Going 12-3 at a Grand Prix and getting no prize in inexcusable. With tournaments being so big, it only makes sense that prizes should scale based on record beyond Top 8 or Top 16.

As a tournament player, I would favor correcting any scenario that creates a "feel bad" situation for players who really should be proud or happy about the result they have achieved. 12-3 at a Grand Prix is a result that even a professional player should feel pretty satisfied with, not one where a player should end up scratching their head and being angry, upset, or sad about having achieved.

The same can be said about my experience at Pro Tour San Diego. I went 10-6 and finished in 77th place, missing Top 75 by half a percentage point on tiebreakers. 30 points extended from 48th place all the way to 82nd place, meaning that 27 players with a record of 10-6 got $1000 but seven did not.

I also ended up with a 65th-place Grand Prix finish (for no prize) last season.

The same is true of the policy of finishing in the Top 25 at a Pro Tour to qualify for the next Pro Tour. Five players with 33 points made the Top 25, and eight did not. Well, you went 11-5 at the Pro Tour but had 0.2 tiebreakers worse than somebody else, so he or she gets to go but you don’t.

The policy and the prize structure specifically create scenarios where people are going to feel bad when they really should be happy or proud about the result they achieved.

Also, it is absolutely insane that invites don’t pass down from people who already have invites to an event. INSANE. INSANE AND TERRIBLE.

Why don’t Planeswalker Points acquired from Pro Tours count toward anything relevant!? It doesn’t make any sense. The Planeswalker Points acquired at Pro Tours don’t actually count toward anything except lifetime total. Lifetime total at this point is basically irrelevant.

I have heard that these points are "too good" or unbalance byes at Grand Prix. If players who win a PTQ get 1000 free ones, why shouldn’t points earned at Pro Tours count too?

Most of these things seem like a drop in the bucket to fix and would get extremely positive reactions from basically everybody in the community.

The new "World Championship" sucks. The 99% hate it compared to the old version. FAIL. FAIL. FAIL.

Bring back old style Worlds and turn the new Player Championship or whatever it is into an Invitational to design a likeness card.

What I’d Like To See: Abolish "feel bad" policies. Scale pay out by record beyond Top 8 or Top 16. Pass down invites from players who double qualify to the next unqualified player in line. Fix the irrelevant Planeswalker Points issue. Restore actual Worlds.

2012–2013 Magic Report Card

M14 Limited: D+
Ravnica Limited: A+
Standard: B
Modern: A-
Legacy: B
Vintage: A-
Promos: F
Policy: D

All in all a pretty good year for Magic. The cards and most of the tournament formats have been awesome and handled in a manner that is in my opinion very positive. There are quite a few areas where I believe improvement could be used, and hopefully some of these things will get sorted out in the future.

I have all faith that Theros is going to be great, and the timing couldn’t possibly be better. Everybody, it seems, is excited for a change in Standard and Limited, and I predict that Theros is going to be absolutely, positively gigantic.

Everybody is ready for change because change is good.

Brian DeMars