Ever since it first launched back in 1993, Magic: the Gathering’s diversity has been one of its greatest strengths. Not only are there countless MTG cards to build decks with but there are also numerous distinct and enjoyable formats. Thanks to these features, MTG offers players incredible variety that suits all manner of different players.
While variety is the spice of life, within recent years, the distinct formats of MTG have become more and more important. This is thanks to MTG players being urged to only engage with the formats they want to. With so many MTG products being released each year, this approach feels increasingly needed. After all, keeping track of every new card and release can feel like a full-time job.
Unfortunately, while Wizards’ new player choice-driven business model has allowed MTG’s profits to soar, there are issues. Namely, MTG is becoming more divided than ever before, with its formats constantly fighting against one another for dominance. In turn, this means some formats can be left feeling unsupported, much to the dismay of fans.
The Commander Conundrum
As one of the oldest MTG formats around, EDH (also known as Commander) was, once upon a time, a rather niche format. Once predominantly played casually and between rounds at FNM, this format was beloved, but hardly the most popular. That was, however, until recently, as over the past few years, the Commander format has absolutely exploded in popularity.
Providing incredible deck-building freedom and a use for old otherwise redundant cards, Commander has breathed new life into MTG. So much so, that this format, which isn’t even governed by Wizards, is now leading MTG’s design direction. Considering Commander is the most popular format around, many players have been especially pleased by this new design philosophy.
Unfortunately for Wizards, not everyone is so happy about the “eternal world” design philosophy. As, in the eyes of some MTG players, formats such as Standard and Draft are being forfeited as a result. While controversial, it does seem easy to identify Commander’s problematic influence. After all, premier sets are crammed full of legendary creatures and high-cost bombs that can seem out of place.
Thanks to the seemingly obvious influence of Commander, many MTG players have been keen to share their frustrations with Wizards. Going so far as to blame Commander for ruining MTG, it’s safe to say some players despise Wizards’ current direction. Unfortunately for these disgruntled players, however, it appears Wizards isn’t deviating from this proven design formula anytime soon.
Without decisive action being taken, complaints about MTG’s current design philosophy haven’t gone away. Flaring up around practically every set release, it’s common to see players lamenting the death of Standard at Commander’s hands. Now that March of the Machine has just been released, unsurprisingly, we’re seeing near enough the same complaints all over again.
Everything Is Fine
The latest to voice their frustrations about MTG’s design philosophy to Lead Designer, Mark Rosewater, was Tumblr user Myswimmingfurybouquetstuff. Within their post, Myswimmingfurybouquetstuff went so far as to ask Rosewater if Wizards could “reboot/retcon 60-card MTG as its own separate game?” Criticizing not just Commander, but Draft too, Myswimmingfurybouquetstuff stated “It feels like all 60-card formats are dying slowly anyways.”
In responding to this question, Mark Rosewater plainly rebutted the suggestion that 60-card formats, like Standard, are no longer important. “60-card constructed formats are a huge part of Magic and we design a *lot* of cards for those formats.” Alongside this declarative statement, Rosewater also highlighted how MTG’s formats are all important to the set design process. “Designing sets to give cards for many formats is core to how we design sets.”
Furthering Rosewater’s dismissive response, several players across social media mused that Myswimmingfurybouquetstuff’s criticisms may have gone a step too far. As, while Commander has long been seen as a source of problems, the same typically isn’t said for Draft. This led to players such as u/Zedkan on Reddit, pushing back against the latest complaints. “Too many cards for Limited? You mean the only place that 90% of cards see play? Lol.”
While many players lept to the defense of Draft chaff, somewhat unusually, even Commander caught a rare break. Rather than just rallying against the prevalence of legendary creatures, players like u/Mediocre_Man5 noted that good Commander cards are typically still good cards. Subsequently, while they may not be designed for 60-card formats first and foremost, they can still have a major impact.
“Every set that gets released gets derided by players as a ‘Commander set,’ then when the cards from that set end up causing huge shifts in other formats’ metagames, those same people complain about WotC creating artificial rotation in every constructed format by pushing cards for constructed too hard.
Do you want more Ragavan/Fury/Murktide Regent? Because that’s what happens when WotC designs cards for 60-card constructed.”u/Mediocre_Man5
No End of Problems
While Commander may have escaped too much criticism this time around, that doesn’t mean players were entirely happy. As, instead of piling on the Commander hate, several players pointed out other problems with modern MTG set releases. Kicking off the complaints, u/narvuntien suggested that Standard’s demise isn’t thanks to Commander, but rather the lack of blocks.
“The issue really seems like the abandonment of similarly themed 3 Set blocks or even two-set blocks is what is making Standard feel bad. Without thematic and importantly mechanical linkages between sets, you can’t make anything other than just put all the best cards together decks. You play a ninja deck you are only playing Kamigawa you make a toxic deck it is only ONE. There is not enough of a connection between sets to play a properly themed standard deck.”u/narvuntien
Just like the rising prevalence of Commander, this disconnect isn’t a new issue in the eyes of many MTG players. The same is true about the concern that modern MTG sets have too much text, which u/GingasaurusWrex raised. Having been a growing concern over the years, we’ve seen this issue flare up time and time again. Especially thanks to Alchemy and MTG Arena, which introduced scroll bars to cards!
“Design for limited, design for standard…idc But please design cards with less text. My eyes are glazing over on so many cards. Feeling like Yu-Gi-Oh! lite.”u/GingasaurusWrex
Unfortunately for the players complaining about Commander influence and the problems facing Standard, it’s unlikely Wizards will introduce sweeping changes. After all, as Mark Rosewater stated, Wizards is already doing what it can to support 60-card MTG formats. Even if you don’t believe this statement, it’s important to note that Commander is an influential powerhouse for good reason. It’s not just a beloved format, it is also the most popular one around. Subsequently, it seems fair that it should guide the direction of the game, even if less popular formats are made worse as a result.
It is, of course, possible that Wizards of the Coast will renew their focus on Standard within the near future. Whether or not that happens, however, remains to be seen. As, for now, especially after the March of the Machine: The Aftermath leaks, it certainly seems Commander is front and center.