With the release of The Lost Caverns of Ixalan, Wizards of the Coast made it clear that there would be additional emphasis placed on the Standard format. Store Championships associated with Ixalan’s release as well as sets moving forward in 2024 would exclusively feature the Standard format. Additionally, in conjunction with the launch of Murders at Karlov Manor in 2024, Wizards of the Coast announced the return of the Standard Showdown event series.
Each of these steps were designed to help Standard flourish, rather than continue to struggle, especially in comparison to other popular Constructed formats. Unfortunately, some might argue that the problems with Standard lie deeper than just the state of the format and the events associated with it. As a rotating format, it can feel quite bad to invest money to buy a deck only for it to be obsolete soon after.
Of course, the move from a two-year to a three-year rotation period helps a bit, but the metagame in this format without a plethora of sets involved often shifts drastically with each set release. This forces players to adjust to stay on top of things, but this isn’t always a cost-effective strategy. In fact, The Lost Caverns of Ixalan Standard format in particular is rather pricey, especially on MTG Arena.
The Standard Metagame
In paper, cards like Sheoldred, the Apocalypse are extremely expensive. This is part of the reason many players might turn to MTG Arena in the first place. After all, Arena provides a rather convenient place to play at your own leisure. On Arena, though, things don’t get much better, as the top decks all require a ton of Wildcard investment.
Even a deck like mono-red aggro, which has a manabase built of mostly basic Lands and has historically been a solid budget option, plays a surprisingly large number of rares. These cost issues are abundant, and it’s safe to say players are not happy. To showcase just how expensive buying even one top tier Standard deck on Arena can be, it’s important to look at the Standard metagame as a whole and how many Wildcards it would take to build each deck optimally.
What seems to be the best deck in the format, five-color ramp, requires an absurd number of Wildcards to build. In general, this deck utilizes 40 rare Wildcards and up to 10 mythic rare Wildcards. Outside of a handful of basic Lands and cards like Invasion of Zendikar, the entire deck is made of rares and mythic rares.
Next up, we have all the various black-based midrange decks. Even the cheapest of these versions in terms of Wildcards spent, Dimir midrange, requires over 30 rare Wildcards and generally at least 6 mythic rare Wildcards. Meanwhile, Esper midrange is even worse than five-color ramp, with over 40 rare Wildcards necessary to purchase the deck from scratch.
Essentially, all of the multi-color decks, from midrange decks to Azorius Soldiers to Azorius Artifacts, require massive Wildcard investment given the range of dual Lands needed to keep the decks consistent. Mono-red aggro is currently the only mono-colored tier one strategy, and even with roughly 18 basic Lands in the mix, the deck plays upwards of 20 rare Wildcards. To show just how staggering this is pricewise, it’s important to point out how expensive purchasing Wildcards on Arena is.
Purchasing Wildcards on Arena
On Arena, there are a few different ways to earn Wildcards. As you open packs, be them bought via gold or gems or won as prizes in events, some slots may feature Wildcards instead of a card of equivalent rarity. If you open enough packs over time to start earning duplicate copies of commons or uncommons, you will also make progress in what is known as The Vault.
The Vault is a reward system that gradually fills up as you open more redundant commons or uncommons. When you reach 100%, you will earn 3 uncommon, 2 rare and 1 mythic rare Wildcard.
However, for players that are new to Arena that simply want to grind with a Standard deck of their choosing, Wildcards can be bought in bundles. These bundles are extremely expensive, though. 4 rare Wildcards cost $9.99, while 4 mythic rare Wildcards cost an absurd $19.99.
This means that, to purchase five-color ramp in full, with 40 rare and 10 mythic rare Wildcards needed, you will pay a whopping price of $159.87, with only 2 mythic rare Wildcards to spare. Furthermore, each person is limited to purchasing 10 of each bundle per set release, making it impossible to buy an optimized version of Esper midrange.
At this point, players trying to purchase this many Wild Cards may have more success purchasing a massive amount of packs on the MTG Arena client.
While $159.87 might not sound all that bad for a deck that typically costs over $400 in paper, there are a few key differences that leave players upset. First, purchasing Wildcards costs the same amount of money, regardless of whether it is spent on an expensive mythic rare like Sheoldred or an otherwise cheap mythic rare, like Sanctuary Warden. Mono-red aggro in Standard, despite requiring 19 or more rare Wildcards, can be purchased for well under $100 in paper.
In fact, nearly half of the cost of the deck in paper comes from a playset of Bloodthirsty Adversary. None of the rares in the deck cost much money at all in paper, yet you are still required to invest a bunch of money to obtain those rares on Arena.
Not to mention, you always have the option to sell or trade your Standard cards in paper. Not only does this make it feel less costly to buy into Standard in paper, but it means that, as the metagame shifts, it can make it easier to switch from one deck to another without feeling like you are breaking the bank.
One of the things that players seemed to be most frustrated by was the fact that Standard doesn’t have a top tier deck that doesn’t require a lot of rares or mythic rares. Many players feel like it is rather difficult to compete without these overtly powerful cards in their decks, and therefore, they feel like they need to invest more to win more.
Unsurprisingly, for many players, this further showcases the problem of buying into a rotating format. As _4C1D points out, it can feel a lot less painful to shell out some money for a strong deck one time and simply tweak it over time than to repeatedly buy decks as sets rotate out.
If that weren’t enough, players have already voiced their frustration with cards like Faithless Looting that, despite being available in paper as commons, were specifically printed at rare in the bonus sheets of certain sets on Arena. Therefore, they required using rare Wildcards to craft.
Then, in the case of Faithless Looting, the card was downshifted to common on MTG Arena through the Shadows of the Past card dump. For players that invested rare Wildcards to obtain Faithless Looting prior to this printing, they were not given rare Wildcards back.
While new players can certainly start out by building mono-colored decks that are unoptimized but still consistent enough to generate wins and grind out daily quests, this is certainly a frustrating reality that new players have to face. As Ford-Fulkerson suggests, lending out additional Wildcards to new players may help them get hooked on Arena in the first place, which is a win-win for the player and Wizards of the Coast.
Hopefully Standard features some less pricey decks for MTG Arena with the addition of Murders at Karlov Manor. With the extra focus Wizards of the Coast is placing on Standard moving forward, the current situation is far from ideal.