Tony Sculimbrene is proposing the wrong solution to the wrong problem. If the problem really is that not enough players are being attracted to the game, the solution is not to destroy one of its premier formats. Canning Extended will not bring new players into the game… But it will punish those players who have gone beyond newbie status.
Magic has tiered tournament structures for a reason: The different levels of play are designed to attract different levels of players. These tiers are designed to bring people into the game, and to allow them to progress. You can even look at the different levels of tourneys as a reward: The more you put into the game, the higher you can rise.
The types of tourneys reflect this in the level of skill needed. From novice to expert, the ranking is roughly:
- Casual play
- Friday Night Magic
- Sanctioned store tourneys
- Regionals, States, etc.
- Pro Tour qualifiers
- The Pro Tour
- The Masters
- The DCI Invitational
Obviously, you need skills to play – but you also need the cards. The tourneys are also structured in a different ways, to allow people to with differing card collections to still play competitively. Here’s the ranking, based on the number of cards you need to play competitively.
- Sealed deck
- Draft (slightly higher, since you need more cards/packs to practice drafting)
- Current block format (not block party)
- Type 2
- Type 1.5
- Type 1
Being able to play Extended or Type 1 competitively is, in a way, a reward for collecting cards, trading cards, or otherwise developing your collection to the point where you have the card pool.
I know you can play in any format with a preconstructed Peck, but I’m talking about being competitive. No one won an IBC qualifier with Trounce-O-Matic.
Building up your card collection happens over time. I remember being a newbie, and wanting to play competitively in different formats. It was worse with us: Our opponents played Type 1 with the Power Nine, while we played the cards we had. You don’t win much when your collection is 200 cards, and the opponents have 20,000 to draw from. However, Ingrid and I bought more cards, played more formats, and our collection grew. Now we can play competitively in Extended, and even in Type 1 (if we choose our decks carefully, so we don’t compete for the Power cards we do own).
Getting cards is a reward for playing. We have played a lot of drafts where the prize was the rares – or choice of the rares – opened. Better players end up with more and better cards, as a result. I also remember coming home from a weekend at GenCon, having won several dozen booster packs playing Magic. Again, that is a reward. (Unfortunately, that weekend prizes were Masques block, so none of the rares are worth much now.)
The money is relative right now. The most expensive cards I am looking to get for Extended, at the moment, are probably Urza’s Rages. Rage is a lot more expensive than a dual land.
I wrote an article a few months back about money and Magic. One of the most important points is that it costs money to play competitively. The higher level you want to compete at, the more money it costs – just like any other competitive hobby. In auto racing, you can drag race in the family mini-van, but you will lose. The levels move up in racing, just like in Magic. Here’s a comparable ranking:
- Fast driving
- Illegal street racing
- Dirt track
- Stock cars
- Formula One
I probably missed some, but you get the idea. The higher levels of anything are something you compete for, and invest time and money for.
Eliminating Extended would simply punish those people who have made the investment necessary to play at that level.
So why is that important? Well, Magic exists because stores and dealers are willing to support it. The stores and dealers can support it because it is profitable. It is profitable because the formats are established, the dealers can predict what cards may sell for, and buy cards accordingly. The cards have value because players advance and seek out the older and/or more powerful cards. Eliminating formats, or places to play the older cards, will always drive some players away from the game – and they will generally be those players most likely to buy the more expensive and older cards. Newbies may buy cards, but they will more likely buy either packs or old staple cards, like Birds of Paradise or Lightning Bolt. It’s the advanced players who will buy duals, power cards, and Legends rares.
The other problem with Tony’s suggestion is that Block Party does nothing to make the game more playable for more people. Three reasons for this:
First, the blocks require people to have sets of cards from that block. The Ice Ages block required four Necropotences and the black creatures to support it. Saga block means Strokes, Morphlings, or the artifacts. Right now, the Rebel decks from Masques block look pretty obtainable.
Second, block party is a much more boring format. Part of the real joy of playing Extended is the wonderful synergy between cards that the format engenders. Oath of Druids mixes well with Gaea’s Blessing. Rancor goes well on River Boa and Vine Dryad.”Activate Cursed Scroll, naming Fireblast” is a standard – if unwelcomed – phrase. However, all of these would be lost in Block Format, since every combination listed above crosses Block lines. But that is what makes Extended interesting.
Third, block party will punish newer players. Extended is already a tough format to learn. To play it well, you have to know what a ton of cards do, and how they do it. In Block Party, that number goes up. How many new players really understand how the pump knights work, or the other cards that Dave Price put into his Ice Ages block at the invitational? How many know enough not to get suckered by a Legends block deck, especially since most of the cards will probably be in Italian?
Moreover, if the issue is just cost, then block party isn’t really an answer. Extended does not have to be expensive – and T2 or block is not necessarily cheaper. Lets looks at some current block decks, some IBC decks and some T2 decks. I’ll sort them by expensive rares, (relatively) inexpensive rares, and cheap cards. Some old uncommons, like Force of Will, get lumped into inexpensive rares.
Finkel’s Pro Tour deck:
Expensive rares: Rage, the twelve duals, Meddling Mage
Inexpensive rares: Lightning Angel, Force of Will, Adarkar Wastes, Flood Plain, Force of Will
Cheap: Disenchant, Counterspell, Swords to Plowshares, Wasteland, Ophidian, Impulse
Kai Budde Pro Tour-winning deck:
Expensive rares: Three Donates, Illusions of Grandeur, four duals
Inexpensive rares: Force of Will, Intuition, one Mana Short, Merchant Scroll, Sapphire Medallion, Shivan Reef
Cheap: Accumulated Knowledge, Counterspell, Impulse, Rushing River, Thwart, Capsize
Your Move Games Reanimator Deck:
Expensive rares: Vampiric Tutor, Rishadan Port, Squee
Inexpensive rares: Nether Spirit, Entomb, Krovikan Horror, Contamination, Crosis
Cheap: Buried Alive, Reanimate, Animate Dead, Duress, Exhume, etc.
Hot Garbage – Carl Jarrell:
Expensive rares: Birds of Paradise, Urza’s Rage, Pernicious Deed, Call of the Herd
Inexpensive rares: Spiritmonger, Kavu Titan, Shivan Wurm, Llanowar Wastes, Sulfurous Springs, Karplusan Forest
Cheap cards: Ebony Treefolk, Flametongue Kavu
Type 1 BBS deck:
Power 10: All of them
Expensive rares: Morphling, Masticore, Mana Drain, Tolarian Academy
Inexpensive rares: Back to Basics, Force of Will, Merchant Scroll, Misdirection, Powder Keg, Grim Monolith, Nev’s Disk
Cheap cards: Counterspell, Mystical tutor, Fact or Fiction, Diabolic Edict, Impulse, Wasteland, Strip Mine
What’s the most expensive deck on the list? Type 1 BBS.
What is number 2? Carl Jarrell’s Type 2 deck.
Of course, this doesn’t prove anything – individual examples never do – but it does show that it isn’t automatically Extended that is the most expensive format to play in. Moreover, if you have played extended in a past season, it is usually less expensive than T2 or block to upgrade for the new season. Last year Ingrid played Counterslivers, and I played G/B Survival. The cards we are looking for to complete decks this time around are nearly all T2-legal cards: Entomb, Rage, maybe a Meddling Mage. It was actually a lot harder to get the cards for States (seen any Call of the Herds around?) than for Extended.
I also disagree with the idea that Extended is all combo decks. Looking through the Pro Tour decklists, I found three combo decks: Donate, Raisin Bran (Cavern Harpy /Aluren) and Pebbles (Enduring Renewal/Goblin Bombardment). Only Donate did really well – but partly that was because Kai Budde played it. (I said before that no one can win an Extended Tourney with Trounce-O-Matic – the Apocalypse precon – but I might make an exception if Kai played it.)
Maybe people could argue that the Reanimator decks that took two YMG members to the top eight are combos, but I don’t think they qualify. First, reanimation is a valid archetype, and one that Wizards has long tried to create. Second, the deck still wins with creatures, plus some control elements and even a Contamination lock. It is flexible, reactive, and has multiple paths to victory.
As for other decks that did well, they generally won with creatures. A lot of the decks were what I call general utility decks – they had utility cards, creature removal, and enchantment/artifact removal. They were not singly focused on getting something into play. They were exactly what I would prefer in a casual deck – just tighter and tuned for duels.
It is unlikely that you could get the same level of flexibility and utility out of a block deck. Blocks have far fewer cards, and much fewer options than even a Type 2 deck. Only IBC decks, like U/W/B Dromar or Desolation Angel decks, have that level of flexibility. I know my Masques and Saga block decks didn’t have that flexibility, although some of the Living Death decks from Tempest might have come close.
Another advantage to the current Extended is that the metagame is wide and varied.* Very few decks have nothing that can defeat them, and few well-built decks just die to some others. This is not always true in block party. Some blocks are very deficient in mass removal – which means that the Rebels decks can blow them out. Some blocks are just weaker than other blocks. This means that the total number of viable, competitive decks in Block Party is just plain smaller, and some decks will automatically lose to others. A block party format will have some decks that can beat most of the field, but simply fold to one or two decks. A block party format means that players will be knocked out of tournaments because of bad matchups more often, with no option other than to hope for better matchups.
Tony also says that Block Party will result in playing cards that rarely get played. Maybe, but the same thing is true of the ass-drafts we used to have at the store, where we would buy closeout packs and draft something like Fallen Empires, Fallen Empires, Homelands, Fifth Edition. Some rarely-played bad cards were played, but that did not mean that the games were all that fun. Many, many cards are intended only for Limited play, and others are just bad. It is entirely possible to build a format in which Homarid Warriors and Hopping Automaton will be heavily played, but I have no desire to play in that format.
However, the most important reason to keep Extended is that it is the most creative of the formats. The pool of cards is so big, and the variety so great, that many deck types are viable. Moreover, the tier 2 decks are much more interesting in Extended than in any block. In the last PTQ last winter, I beat a Life deck that gained its owner over ten million life each game, beat Sligh, Stompy, Survival and control, and lost to Full English Breakfast and Replenish. I also saw Enchantress, Trix, Pebbles, Forbidian, Counterslivers and many other decktypes. The skill, creativity, and beauty of the format lies in finding the strange and wonderful interactions that can occur. True, once in a while something broken appears, like High Tide or Trix… But far more often, people develop interesting decks. Decks that are tough, competitive and innovative. Decks that leave people asking for decklists and wondering how to sideboard.
Some of those could be found in Block, but every Block format has already had its share of PTQs and development. Extended is always new, as new cards enter the mix every time a new set is released.
In short, I have no desire to see whether IBC Desolation Angel can take Rath block beatdown, or get further confirmation that Saga Wildfire decks rule Masques Rebels. Those decks were done once, and I don’t need to see them again. I would much rather see new deck types – like YMG Reanimator, Star Spangled Slaughter, G/B”Secret Force”, r/U Donate, Raisin Bran, etc. Look at the top eight from the last Extended PTQ. Three decks were brand new. Four were old archetypes, with new cards in new colors (Oath with Wild Research, Trix with Fire/Ice, Three-Deuce with Call of the Herd.) The last was a classic control deck: one with counters, removal, enchantment destruction, Wrath of God and creatures. That type of deck is a sign of a vibrant format, not one that needs to be replaced.
See you at GP: Las Vegas. I’ll be playing extended, and enjoying it.
* – I think, although the Reanimator decks look pretty brutal in playtesting. However, that will mean that decks that can pack Ebony Charm, or even Honor the Fallen or Ground Seal, may gain some ascendance. Nothing out there appears unstoppable.