It’s no surprise that Standard is in a rough place right now. The gameplay is stale, and the format is relatively unpopular both in paper and online. Not to mention the barrier for entry to a rotating format is super high for the average player. Standard used to be a premier format of choice within the community and a large focus by Wizards of the Coast. Is it possible to get back to those days? While it may be difficult, there are some changes that would go a long way towards creating a bigger and better Standard environment.
A Dull Format
Even for long-time Standard enjoyers, there has been little reason to continue to play Standard for anyone who doesn’t enjoy playing with or against Fable. The format has become extremely homogenous. Cards like Fable and Reckoner Bankbuster have come close to reaching Oko, Thief of Crowns territory in how much they warp the format. As a result, the first thing that needs to be addressed is bans.
Banning cards is not foolproof, especially if done repeatedly in a short period of time. However, with the announcement of an increase to a three-year rotation for Standard, the initial reaction from the community was a resounding groan due to the potential of this stale format to last even longer. Right now is a perfect opportunity to ban a lot of problematic cards. While the format’s popularity is at its lowest is the right time to make a major shake-up in the format. At minimum this would create an incentive for some people to come back and see just how much room for innovation there could be. This is especially true given how popular Fable is in Pioneer and even Modern. Letting Standard give off a different vibe is a good place to start.
Providing Arena Incentive
With the growth of Arena as a program that appeals to a large part of the MTG community, it is important to maintain a quality Standard environment. This not only encourages more people to play Standard over Arena-only formats such as Explorer which can translate to a growth in Standard in paper, but also encourages people to invest in wild-cards, a win-win for Wizards of the Coast. Unfortunately, there is a major problem right now that make things difficult. The Arena economy makes investing in a rotating format quite a hassle. Many people want to play and tweak their decks over time, rather than have to continuously invest in new ones. Even still, there are ways to begin to reconcile things and promote Standard growth.
The first way is to add more Standard tournaments to Arena that could lure people in. The Arena Open is a wildly successful tournament structure, allowing competitive and casual players alike to invest their gold and gems into a chance at winning thousands of dollars right from the comfort of their home. Instead of having it be Sealed almost exclusively which cuts incentives to play any Constructed format in the first place and thus buy wild cards, switch up the format to Standard every once in a while. The more people that take the first step to play Standard on Arena, the more people focus on Standard moving forward and actually want to play Standard in paper.
Speaking of paper Magic, it is truly quite interesting just how much Standard has fallen in recent years at the local game store level. I remember playing Game Day events and Store Championships and having a blast, Now, stores are encouraged just to run either Limited, Pioneer, or Modern to attract the biggest crowds. As such, playing Standard with paper cards has largely fallen by the wayside. Wizards of the Coast helped this issue some by making the Pro Tour March of the Machine formats Standard and Draft, which at least got people talking about Standard in the first place. Still, having the Regional Championship Qualifiers that fed the Pro Tour be Pioneer meant people really weren’t paying attention enough at the local level.
I understand that having these Qualifiers being Standard could make attendance at the events slightly worse, but even this could be largely prevented by creating a good incentive for casual players to show up in addition to just those looking for their Regional Championship invite. For example, Wizards of the Coast already provides promo cards for these events. They could help promote both Standard and these Qualifier events by upgrading these promos to slightly pricier Standard-specific cards that leave a big barrier to entry for players. This could help broaden the audience at these events while also creating a reason for players to look towards playing Standard in general.
The Issue of Price
Perhaps the biggest problem with Standard’s popularity is simply that people don’t want to spend a lot of money. After all, Standard is dominated by expensive cards like Sheoldred that, combined with Standard being a rotating format, make it difficult for people to want to invest into the format. One of the best ways to help combat this could be to print Challenger decks similar to those printed for Pioneer in 2022. This could slowly drive some of the prices of expensive cards downward while also providing a simple product to help new players get started. Any way to make the barrier to entry more reasonable is a good thing for rotating formats especially, otherwise it makes it tough to compete with other formats.
The last piece of the puzzle is making sure there is a balance between bans, new product, and consumer confidence. This is definitely easier said than done, but this is part of the reason I suggested making changes sooner rather than later. While Standard is at its lowest point is the best time to make changes, as less players are fully invested, therefore less players are negatively impacted by these changes. One way to cause problems would be to implement a shake-up, get more people invested in Standard, then quickly make major changes again. This is where the three-year rotation comes into play, and why it could help the format moving forward. Players that buy into Standard will likely want to keep playing Standard over a period of time, and this is a good way to ensure that.
By shaking up the format with bans early, people might start looking to Standard as the new hotness for innovation. If you can keep these players interested by maximizing incentives to play both in Arena and in paper, they become more likely to want to invest. Drive the price down a little with new products designed for Standard specifically, and more people will continue to invest. From there, building consumer confidence can keep this player base involved for longer. While this model definitely has its flaws, it is a great place to start fresh, which feels like a necessity to save Standard at this point.