Over the past year, it’s been very clear that Wizards of the Coast has been taking steps to try to revitalize Standard, especially in a paper setting. All Store Championships moving forward, starting with The Lost Caverns of Ixalan, were announced to be incorporating the Standard format. Meanwhile, Standard Showdown events would resume in hopes of providing a spark to the format at local game stores.
Perhaps the biggest change to the structure of the format, though, was announced back in May 2023. Standard is unique in the fact that it is a rotating format. Previously, sets would rotate after a two-year window, not giving a lot of time for new cards to flourish. Now, Standard sets rotate every three years, which is a massive change.
Unfortunately, not everyone is on board with this change. Many players are complaining about the lack of metagame shifts as the same specific cards continue to dominate the format over a longer period of time. However, other players view the three-year rotation period in a more positive manner. Today, we are going to take a deep dive into some of the pros and cons of this change, as well as go over a few points of emphasis that Wizards of the Coast should take into account as they continue to try to revamp Standard’s outlook.
One of the biggest issues with the three-year rotation, especially for players who enjoy keeping up with Standard over long periods of time, is simply the lack of change amongst the top decks. A recent Reddit post focusing on the fact that a handful of the same cards have continued to thrive in Standard over the past year generated a ton of discussion. Even though there are positives to the three-year rotation, this is certainly a true area of weakness.
However, part of this issue has to do with the order in which the sets happened to make their way into Standard. Back in September 2022, when Dominaria United came out, four sets rotated out of Standard. This caused a massive metagame shift at the time, while simultaneously introducing one of the most powerful and expensive cards to Standard: Sheoldred, the Apocalypse.
Dominaria United also happened to give us Leyline Binding, one of the essential tools for the Domain ramp decks. Since then, while Standard has certainly had new decks pop up here and there, black-based midrange decks and five-color ramp shells have been consistently at the top of the totem pole. Even though sets like The Lost Caverns of Ixalan have been quite powerful, cards like Deep-Cavern Bat and Cavern of Souls proved to be upgrades to these already well-established archetypes.
One aspect of this that isn’t talked about enough, though, is the fact that there were no sets rotating out with Wilds of Eldraine. When the change from a two-year to a three-year rotation was made, this expansion meant that we would essentially be going an extra year before new sets would begin to rotate.
This means that, while there are sets scheduled for rotation in September 2024 and September 2025, September 2023 was left in a unique spot. This only further enhances the problem of a lack of metagame shifts. It’s quite possible that this is less of an issue moving forward.
Some players have mentioned that this could have been less of an issue if the Standard changes took place after Midnight Hunt, Crimson Vow, Kamigawa, and Streets of New Capenna rotated out of Standard. This way, we would still be able to see how things might play out over a full two-year period, just with a smaller initial card pool.
Set-Specific Mechanic Issues
“It also gives us stronger tools to create an environment where decks are more “color(s) and mechanic” (like Green-White Toxic or Blue-White Soldiers) and less midrange.“Aaron Forsythe and Billy Jensen
Another big area of weakness with the change to a three-year rotation is the fact that decks built around set-specific mechanics have to compete with a larger card pool. For instance, Poison decks in Standard built around the Toxic mechanic, are made up almost entirely of cards from Phyrexia: All Will be One. Because newer cards won’t feature the Toxic mechanic, other decks tend to improve in card quality while the Poison decks stay largely the same.
Interestingly, in the “Revitalizing Standard” article from Wizards of the Coast, part of the goal was to create an environment where these mechanic-specific decks would thrive. Obviously, some decks like Bant Poison and Azorius Soldiers have been strong at various points in Standard over the last year or so, but midrange piles have been dominant and only getting stronger as more cards are released.
Not to mention, there have been tons of mechanics that were never strong enough for players to build decks around them. As we have moved past the block setup for MTG sets, making sure some of these mechanics associated with individual sets break through in Constructed should definitely be a point of emphasis moving forward.
Ultimately, while a lack of metagame shifts isn’t ideal, it was clear something had to be done if the goal was to get players playing Standard at local game stores once again. A huge problem many players ran into was that the cost of buying into a rotating format was simply too high. Not only would you risk your cards becoming somewhat obsolete over time, but the fluctuations within the metagame forced competitive players to constantly adapt.
While some cards like Sheoldred and Cavern of Souls are expensive up front but should maintain some of their value as multi-format staples, this isn’t the case for all Standard staples. Top tier Standard decks nowadays are extremely pricey, and having the option to play and update one Standard deck over the course of a year or two is a nice benefit to have.
In this sense, many players believe they have more time to use their decks before they lose value post-rotation, which is an important step in the right direction. Coupling this with Wizards of the Coast making a concerted effort to keep Standard tournaments rolling and some players are starting to see some changes in the format’s popularity at the local level. It’s certainly worth keeping an eye on the Standard metagame moving forward, as well as the health and popularity of the format in general.