At long last, last weekend, MTG finally had its official 30th anniversary. Thanks to this, we can finally say that Magic has 30 years of incredible and highly successful history behind it. While this is true, the game does have a problem… In fact, every TCG does, even every turn-based game for that matter! Regardless of what you’re playing, typically, the player who goes first has the advantage – most of the time, at least.
Thankfully, while this benefit is almost unavoidable, it has been known for literally thousands of years. During this time, designers and developers have learned they obviously need to combat this implicit advantage. In some games, such as Go, the second player gets compensation in the form of points, 6.5 to be exact. Other games, however, like MTG, have opted for a different approach. If you’re playing first, you don’t get to draw a card on your first turn.
A New, Slower, Start
Despite the disadvantage of not drawing a card, most MTG players will still opt to play first. While you won’t see this 100% of the time, especially in Limited, for the most part, playing first is still an advantage. Considering the Play/Draw rule has been around for decades, however, surely it’s not a game-deciding difference… Right? Unfortunately, statistics in formats like Pioneer can suggest otherwise.
Over the decades this rule has been around, MTG players have been no strangers to debating this topic. Arguing that something, or nothing, needs to be done, complaints, and comments around play advantage are certainly not new.
On MTG Arena this week, Wizards debuted the new Midweek Magic: Slow Start event. As the name suggests, this limited-time Alchemy event slowed down the start of each game with an emblem. That emblem, which you can see below, effectively means that if you’re playing first, your first land enters the battlefield tapped.
As you can imagine this Emblem significantly reduces the advantage of playing first in MTG. No longer are aggro decks able to play a one drop and immediately start swinging in for damage. Similarly, Blue players can’t Consider before their next turn to begin sculpting their hand. Even big slow green decks can’t play Delighted Halfling on the play for some extra ramp. Unsurprisingly, given the name, this emblem makes games slower.
As a Midweek Magic theme, the Slow Start event is an interesting twist on Magic’s formula. Just like Momir events, these can be a lot of fun to play, however, Slow Start may be more than just fun. There’s a non-insignificant chance Slow Start could be a glimpse at the future of MTG.
The Future of MTG?
To be as upfront as possible, WotC has not stated the Slow Start event is a preview of what’s to come. Subsequently, we should temper our expectations about what this event means for the future of MTG. After all, it could just be a bit of harmless fun that someone at Wizards created for players to enjoy… That being said, however, many MTG players are theorizing this could be a sign of what’s to come.
Discussing the event on Reddit, many MTG players were seemingly shocked that Wizards was trialing something new. User u/Scapegoat289, for instance, mused how they “never thought I’d see they how whereby the play/draw imbalance would be addressed. [It’s] my single biggest gripe with this great game, and yet here we are.” Similarly, u/PowderedMerkin questioned if “[Wizards] are testing for a potential rule change.”
Ultimately, as we clarified moments ago, we don’t know why Wizards created this event. As u/Scapegoat289 points out, however, events like this do have a history of heralding changes and new developments. “I know it’s just an event, but this is also how the whole card nerfing thing [Alchemy] started.” With this past precedent in mind, it’s very possible that Midweek Magic could be a public testing ground.
As for the event itself, reactions have been decidedly mixed. While several players such as u/KJJBAA and u/Traditional_Kick_887 liked the concept, even calling the idea “great,” it does have its problems. For instance, as u/PasswordEnjoyer highlighted, this concept potentially punishes “fastlands,” while rewarding taplands all the same. This could turn formats like Standard into a boring ol’ midrange soup. Alongside this, many MTG players remarked how control decks and oddities like Manaless Dredge could be massively helped by this change.
Not to Everyone’s Tastes
Unfortunately, while the Slow Start event does have an interesting, potentially important theme, it does have a problem: Alchemy. Whether you love it like me or hate it like everyone else, the Slow Start event uses the Alchemy format. This means, if you decide to play it, you’ll see plenty of Orcish Bowmasters and The One Ring. Of course, alongside this, you’ll also have to contend with Alchemy’s digital-exclusive cards and mechanics.
If you want to, the Slow Start event is still running on MTG Arena at the time of this article’s publication. Somewhat disappointingly, however, it does end today on the 10th of August. Thankfully, despite the short runtime of this event, and the controversial format, Wizards should be able to gather some valuable information. Provided, that is, that Wizards is gathering information about win rates from play/draw for this event.
Ultimately, as we mentioned before, there’s no telling if Slow Start really is the future of MTG or not. There’s a chance, Wizards is simply trialing the idea, with further iterations planned for the future. Similarly, it’s equally possible this event could return in the future for a different format to further test it. At the moment we simply don’t know, so, we’re just going to have to sit and wait patiently.