I haven’t yet had time to read the Onslaught spoiler. Usually, I print the new spoiler and take it around with me to read in my spare time in order to have it read as soon as possible. I usually especially do this with the big expansion of a new set – after all, such an exciting time in Standard usually follows. So why am I waiting for enough free time to read the spoiler directly from the computer? Because I don’t see the need to be on the cutting edge of the new environment.
I’ve been playing Magic since Tempest became legal – and every October, my mind has been consumed with the repercussions to be felt in the Standard environment. In order to understand the past Standard rotations, let’s take a look at all the ones I experienced. Then, when we come to this November’s rotation, I’ll explain my reasons for proclaiming it mediocre in comparison.
Out: Mirage Block
In: Urza’s Saga
At this point, I was still a scrub. Granted, I’d brought my blue-white deck down about a hundred cards, but I still thought my Unstable Shapeshifter/Phyrexian Dreadnought combo was da bomb. Whereas most people bemoaned the loss of Firestorm or cheered the rotation of Cadaverous Bloom, I found myself mourning over the absence of Empyrial Armor. However, it wasn’t because my White Knights (whose total in my deck was zero) would now be Shockable, but because my Soltari Champions would be! In this year, I had my first taste of losing some "old favorites," but I suppose that it was for the best. No Phyrexian Dreadnought in the format forced me to move on to new tricks. Enter… Rewind! (No, not Tolarian Academy; I was still a scrub, remember?)
Out: Tempest Block
In: Mercadian Masques
If the rotation of Mirage Block was my first step onto the school bus in kindergarten, the rotation of Tempest Block was driving away to college. I’d bought so many cards that were now useless. So many starter decks (remember the scrubbiness?) down the drain. For the first time, I’d be playing solely with cards that came out after I began to play Magic. And, to top it all off, I was losing my favorite card of all time (at that point): Propaganda. I just loved that card – it was (and still is) very good, and I actually realized it back then! I didn’t know what to do with the knowledge, but I still used it in my deck!
So, in came Mercadian Masques to slow down the environment. Now, those who have been playing for far longer than I have might see the speed of Magic as parabolic (using available data). The original sets gave way to generally long games (aside from Black Lotus, Channel, Fireball, I win), and thing sped up after that. White and Black Weenie (with Necro) and combo decks made games go faster. The top of the curve happens right when I’m starting to really understand the game of Magic: At the Tempest Block/Artifacts Cycle Standard environment. Whereas many players saw the natural course of the second-fastest set ever to be rotated, it wasn’t natural to me at all! More than one mana for a two-power creature? What were they thinking? However, the introduction of Rebels (which I liked to begin with, but came to despise*) was a smooth transition, so I survived. All in all, I saw a major transformation of focus with a little slide to help me along the way.
Out: Urza’s Block
The biggest note about this rotation was that things were really s l o w i n g down. However, at this time in my Magic career, I was fully aware of the environment (and an active contributor to Star City!), so I could definitely see the benefits of a slower environment. In fact, having found my niche as a control player, I counted down the days until I’d see my last Pouncing Jaguar and Wild Dogs. Additionally, I was definitely excited about the multicolor format of Invasion – I’ve always been a fan of multiple colors, and Invasion was allowing me to do it easily! Absorb and Undermine also made their way into the Top Ten Most Valuable Cards list for my control deck, basically because they became staples. (More on this later.)
Also, from a storyline viewpoint, the inception of Invasion was very exciting. It began what I consider to be a very well-planned and well-written Phyrexian invasion of Dominaria about which I was fascinated to read. Yawgmoth is one of my favorite Magic characters, and his emergence and subsequent in Apocalypse was one of the defining moments of Magic history. The 2000 rotation was an altogether red letter event in my life and the life of millions of Dominarians.
Out: Masques Block
It’s final: Wizards is slowing down the environment. Odyssey introduced us to heavily costed, powerful effects that seemed much more like the Invasion block than Masques. With the rotation of Rebels, the final nail was placed in the coffin of speedy decks. Fires died, and, though madness was yet to be born, the likes of death before turn five would rarely be seen again. Wizards had experimented with speed and found it lacking, so it brought us back to a more moderately-paced game.
Out: Invasion Block
That brings us to this year. What’s the big change that Onslaught brings? Please email me your answers because I see few. Now, don’t get me wrong: I think that Onslaught is an excellent set, and I’m very happy to see the return of Cycling along with the interesting mechanic of Morph. But, in comparison to past years, this rotation is not quite so jarring. Although I’ll be severely missing the core of my BUWUG deck (the extra U is for bluetiful), including Absorb, Undermine, Dromar’s Charm, Vindicate, Recoil, and Fact or Fiction, I’ve seen enough Odyssey Block Constructed to know what’s in store for the upcoming months. (And you don’t think that’s different? – The Ferrett) There will be a lot of creatures, and I’m sure that my control deck will make it through. Wizards hasn’t given us the ability to play with good combo decks yet (I’m still an avid fan of Bargain and an advocate of the return of this or a similar deck), so it’s mostly the same-old, same-old. (Read about Wake, chief – The Ferrett, pointing towards the first viable combo deck in years)
So, although I’m looking forward to the interesting mechanics and creature orientation (Wrath of God just keeps getting better and better) of Onslaught, my primitive desire for exciting change has not been met. Is this a bad thing? Not necessarily. Stability can be seen as strength. Furthermore, when "Bargain" is rediscovered, it’ll be a much bigger shock to everyone, making a somewhat unremarkable transition of power all worth while!
* – Though I might revisit the deck now that everybody and his brother aren’t playing it.