Happy New Year everyone! Ben Bleiweiss coming at you straight from the StarCityGames.com headquarters, where I’m beginning my third tour of duty for Pete Hoefling. 2004 was a great year for me, and it included my Bottom 100 cards of all Time countdown, Blog Fanatic, the Selecting 9th Edition Dilemma series, several set reviews, a near-lynching by the Vintage community, and Brian Kibler Bingo. This year promises to be even better, and I’m here to kick it off with my predictions for the world of Magic: the Gathering in 2005! Pluck your chickens now, cause they ain’t gonna have any feathers after this list is done!
Prediction #1: Ravnica block will be the next Invasion block.
I’ve had several discussions with people over the past few months, and I’m convinced that Magic is moving in a five year rotation – one that has proven to be integral for growth to the game. Magic began being designed in the three set/block format with Mirage. This release schedule continued with Tempest, Urza’s, Masques, Invasion, Odyssey, Onslaught, Mirrodin, and Kamigawa blocks. However, if you look at the ebb and flow of the game, you’ll see a pattern:
Mirage/Odyssey: Creature-oriented sets where slower, controlling decks are more viable, and multi-colored decks are a bit harder to come by, due to the scarcity of mana fixers. (MVW: Mono-Blue Control, Sands/Equipoise/White Weenie. OTJ: Madness/Mono-Black Control/Psychatog)
Tempest/Onslaught: Quick, weenie-fueled decks rule the day. Speed is at an all-time premium, and early-game tempo often decides matches. (TSE: Suicide Black, Sligh, White Weenie. OLS: Zombies, Goblins, White Weenie)
Urza/Mirrodin: The power levels are at an all-time high. Cards are banned across formats for being too powerful, and combo decks begin to dominate. (SLD: Academy, High Tide, Tinker, Replenish. MD5: Affinity, KCI, Tooth & Nail)
Mercadian Masques/Kamigawa: The power level of cards are intentionally powered down from the previous block (though this time it was planned – with Masques it was a knee-jerk reaction that went too far). Creature-based combat rules the day. (MNP: Rebels, Mercenaries, B/W Control. CBS: ??? – Spirits, Legends, Millstone?)
What comes next in this cycle? Invasion block, the block that saved Magic and put the game straight onto the path of rapid growth. The features of Invasion block were color fixing and multi-colored decks, where the mana and cards made any combination of colors in a deck possible and playable. There were a high concentration of playables in this block, but they were modular in nature – that is to say, the good cards could fit into any number of decks.
If this pattern holds up, Ravnica should be similar to Invasion – a multi-colored set with a lot of playables that are good but not overpowering. Not only do the trends point towards this, but Wizards has already announced that Birds of Paradise will be a rare in the first set of the Ravnica block. That confirmation would tend to support the five-year theory.
Prediction #2: Legacy will be the next Vintage.
Late in 2004, Wizards of the Coast completely revamped the ailing (and yes, it was the least popular and least played of all sanctioned formats) 1.5 format and changed it into Legacy: a format with a banned list separate from Vintage’s restricted list. Wizards immediately banned many cards that were on the Vintage watch list, setting up the format to be immensely popular. Think of it this way – Legacy is basically early Extended with a slightly larger card pool – but all of the most expensive and problematic cards from the earlier sets are already banned.
If I’ve learned one thing in my eleven years in Magic, it’s that people absolutely love playing with Dual Lands. This was no more true than the initial Extended rotations, which literally rotated all sets out of the format with the exception of the ten original Dual Lands (Badlands, Bayou, Plateau, Savannah, Scrubland[/author]“][author name="Scrubland"]Scrublands[/author], Taiga, Tropical Island, Tundra, Underground Sea, Volcanic Island). Legacy gives many players the opportunity to play with older, more powerful cards without having to worry about the first/second turn kill aspect present in Vintage. The revamping of Legacy also coincides with the first new mass-rotation of Extended, whereupon three blocks rotate out of Extended every three years. Currently Vintage, Extended, Standard and Block are being supported, but the rotation of Extended will leave a huge gap where Ice Age through Mercadian Masques blocks aren’t really the focus of any given format. Legacy fills this gap perfectly, bringing the waters between Vintage and new Extended. With the right support (Grand Prix? Qualifier formats?), Legacy could be huge.
Prediction #3: The value of Extended cards will skyrocket in Magic Online
This is the big moment that Wizards has been waiting for – ever since the inception of Magic Online, there’s been one dream – the unification of the real life and of the online Extended formats. In November of this year, that dream becomes a reality as Extended will consist of 7th though 9th Editions, and all expansion sets from Invasion forward. The price of Invasion block cards have already skyrocketed due to the scarcity of their release, but this will not stop players from investing heavily as Magic Online has proven to be an invaluable playtesting tool for the serious minded PT aspirant/player. I expect that the key November 2005 Extended cards from Odyssey block will be the ones which increase in value the most, as Invasion block cards have more or less hit their largest period of fiscal growth, and OTJ is in relatively short supply compared to any other block than IPA. Cards such as Psychatog, Cunning/Burning Wish, Cabal Therapy, Circular Logic, and other soon-to-be-most-powerful cards in Extended will triple to quadruple in value as people go on a mad rush to put together decks from a very limited supply pool. Get these cards now, because they will only keep increasing in value as the magic date arrives.
Prediction #4: Magic will experience unprecedented growth, especially in the European markets
Magic is healthier than it’s ever been before. Sales across the board keep climbing and climbing, and Wizards has realized that keeping the game fresh and healthy is the top priority – hence, they keep expanding R&D’s influence and talent pool, in order to ensure the health of Magic. This growth shows no sign of slowing down, and is spurred on by another factor: the strength of the Euro versus the American Dollar. It wasonly a couple of years ago where the Euro was worth about $.90, but now the Euro is pushing $1.35 American. This means that the purchasing power of European players is nearly twice that of their American counterparts, and it gives the Europeans (at least, those in countries which have adopted the Euro – The Brits and their pounds have an equally favorable exchange rate) a great way to buy into multiple Constructed formats – an Extended deck which costs $300 to an American is half that price to a player in France. The attendance of European Grand Prix has skyrocketed past the levels of the Magic craze in Japan four-five years ago, with attendances often nearing the 1,400-1,500 player mark. Between the financial incentive to buy into the game and the great finishes by several top European players at all Magic stops this year, Magic will continue to grow at a ridiculous pace across the Atlantic, and I would not be surprised to see a Grand Prix in Europe this year which nears the 2,000 player mark.
Prediction #5: American Professional Magic will continue to take a nosedive to even more embarrassing levels
People argued last year that Americans are doing worse at Magic than ever before, and that several other countries were poised to become the Magic superpowers of the world. This has happened – between the Europeans (with a special nod to the French – I hate it when all the different countries in Europe are lumped together when they are all completely diverse, but such is the case for sake of argument here – I just tend to think that the best Magic in the world is being played in France, by the French right now), the Asians, the Australians (when they get opportunity to travel) and the South/Latin Americans, U.S. and Canadian play is at an all time low.
Part of this is because of Poker taking away many of the top U.S. players (though you could argue that all the other nations have the same access to gambling but have not had the same rate of attrition as our country), and part of it is because of the rising standard of play afforded by 24/7 practice available on Magic Online. Also, none of the feeder games for Wizards of the Coast have panned out in the United States (especially the Star Wars Games, Neo Pets and Duel Masters), which has kept fresh blood from being infused into Magic at the younger level (remember: There’s a ton of new players who came to Magic: The Gathering directly from Pokemon). Because of the lack of new blood, poker distractions, and #4 above, I expect the level of Magic play in the U.S. and Canada to slide even further than it’s slid now, to the point where our country isn’t even on the radar this season.
How could we solve this? American Pro Players just don’t seem to be as enthusiastic about the game as they used to be, and many online discussions from these players tend to be destructive (“you’re wrong”, and “God, your new deck sucks and could never win”) rather than constructive (“let’s discuss this” and “let me try out your new deck idea and see if it’s viable”). This is an attitude much more prevalent in our country than in other countries, and contributes directly to our being plastered horribly at Magic competitions. Open the community and make it someplace nurturing rather than belittling and you should see growth rather than wilting.
Prediction #6: Three cards will be restricted in Vintage by December 1st, 2005.
These three cards are Mishra’s Workshop, Dark Ritual, and Bazaar of Baghdad. With the increased level of competition and increased visibility and density of Vintage tournaments over the coming year (including the nine Power 9 Tournaments hosted by our own StarCityGames.com – shameless plug!), the remaining broken, unrestricted cards in Vintage will float to the top of the stack and will be the targets of restriction. The three most powerful, unrestricted cards right now are Workshop, Ritual and Bazaar. I’m not going to go into the details here, as much to say that Workshop and Bazaar were banned in Legacy (which banned many cards that were being watched for restriction in Vintage) and that Dark Ritual has been banned across other formats in the past for being a combo enabler – one which has been and will continue to be exploited in Vintage.
Prediction #7: 9th Edition will be a different, more diverse base set
I think Wizards learned a lesson with 8th Edition, especially if you read the story about how Phyrexian Arena got into the set on MagicTheGathering.com. To encapsulate, the Arena was a last minute addition to the set, whereas Wizards did not want any upkeep effect cards in the base set, as they might confuse new players. However, Phyrexian Arena was popular and has tested well with new players. In addition, Wizards has hinted strongly that they are going to move all cards to the class/race subtype (so Samite Healer will be a Human Cleric instead of just a Cleric), which would further complicate the base set. Plus, Wizards has also publicly stated that trample will make a return in 9th Edition. What does this all mean?
Since 6th (Classic) Edition, Wizards has filled the base set with cards which are as simplistic as possible, in order to make the game easily accessible to new players. However, this has also really widened the gap between the base and expansion sets in terms of learning mechanics. Several mechanics have disappeared from the base sets, including upkeep effects, trample, and protection from. In addition, several basic mechanics have been seriously toned down in number, including cantrips and first strike. The lesson Wizards learned from Phyrexian Arena wasn’t that they should include a ton of upkeep effect cards in the base set, it’s that it’s okay to throw in a lot of different mechanics, as long as you keep them simple. And why not – giving players more of a sampler of what’s out there in the game will whet their appetites a lot more than keeping the sets as vanilla as possible.
This means that I expect previously taboo elements to be included in 9th Edition. This includes multi-colored cards, Legendary creatures, and block mechanics. Why? Because throwing in a couple of each of these types of cards gives new players a wider variety of mechanics to identify with/want to play with. It makes these players want to go out and seek other cards with these same mechanics, and also paves the road for the return of these mechanics in upcoming blocks, without taking the new player completely unawares. There’s no harm in having the base set be a buffet rather than a bowl of oatmeal, and I expect there to be a lot of variety in mechanics in 9th Edition that hasn’t been present in years.
Prediction #8: Wizards will throw more money into the Pro Tour
I’m not sure if this will be in the form of an additional Pro Tour stop, additional advertising, more Grand Prix, more money at the Pro Tour/Grand Prix or what, but Upper Deck has given a serious challenge to Wizards of the Coast on the tournament level. Yu-Gi-Oh tournaments which are analogous to PTQ’s are regularly getting 100-200 player turnouts, and the larger Yu-Gi-Oh tournaments (Shonen Jump) are pushing higher and higher numbers. On top of this, Upper Deck has put a lot of money into pushing Vs. as a competitive player’s game, enough so that Wizards needs to take notice. The production values at the Pro Circuit stops for Vs. are much higher than those of Pro Tour stops for Wizards (Upper Deck regularly springs for giant statues of superheros, floodlights, artistic murals, and the Batmobile). Yes, Magic is a million times more popular than Vs., but that Vs. has become successful mainly on the strength of marketing to Pro Players and to the aesthetic appeals of convention-goers speaks volumes about this business strategy.
Prediction #9: Several Extended staples from Tempest through Masques will be reprinted in 9th Edition, Kamigawa block and Ravnica block
With the rotation of ten sets out of Extended in November (6th Edition, Tempest, Stronghold, Exodus, Urza’s Saga, Urza’s Legacy, Urza’s Destiny, Mercadian Masques, Nemesis, Prophecy), several cards will be lost for good to the format – unless they are reprinted first. Rumors have it that there’s a functionally similar Mogg Fanatic appearing in Betrayers of Kamigawa (the only difference being that it is a Spirit rather than a Goblin), Propaganda has become Ghostly Prison, and there’s the ever-present rumor that Armageddon will make a return appearance in either the last set of this block or in 9th Edition. With so many Extended staples going to the wayside, Wizards will seek to reprint a number of them in either identical, functionally identical, or functionally similar forms.
Prediction #10: Disciple of the Vault will finally be banned in Standard in June 2005
Aaron Forsythe has addressed the Disciple/Affinity issue in his MTG.com column, but let’s face facts – Disciple is the problem card in Affinity if you’re not going to ban the artifact lands. I don’t care what excuse you’ve got (such as “how do you explain to people that a 1/1 for B was one of the most powerful cards in the block” – which is hogwash, given the place in history of Goblin Lackey, Ramosian Sergeant, and Goblin Welder), the card has got to go before it ruins both Regionals and Nationals. Affinity will be viable but not over the top without Disciple – just give the little guy the axe and let people play in a more balance, fun format where Channel/Fireball doesn’t exist. The popularity of Standard is pretty low right now compared to other formats – people are really excited about Extended, they are really excited about Vintage, there is an early buzz and excitement about Block Constructed – but they hate Standard. States attendances did not grow as much as they should, and a large part of that is because of the dominance and preponderance of Affinity decks. Killing Disciple in Standard will increase excitement about Type Two, and will help both Friday Night Magic, Regionals and Nationals immensely.
Ben can be reached at [email protected]