After Commander’s rise to becoming the most popular paper format, MTG has undergone significant changes. Earlier this year, Wizards of the Coast even announced a new Commander-centric design philosophy to better support the format. Dubbed the “eternal world” by MTG’s Lead Designer, Mark Rosewater, this new philosophy puts Eternal formats front and center. While this design philosophy should be a great boon to Commander MTG players, rotating formats such as Standard may be left paying the cost. Subsequently, some MTG players and pundits have even claimed that Commander’s immense popularity is ruining MTG. While not every player agreed that Commander’s rise is a problem, players could at least agree who was at fault: Wizards of the Coast and Hasbro. As MTG’s owners, this targeted blame seemed sensible. However, it now appears that another party may be at fault; players.
One of the many problems seen throughout recent Premier sets is the overabundance of Legendary Creatures. In 2017, sets such as Aether Revolt and Hour of Devastation only had 15 and 11 Legendary Creatures, respectively. However, recent sets, such as Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty and The Brothers’ War, contained 42 and 32 Legendary Creatures. Despite this dramatic increase, not all MTG players would consider this design change a bad thing. Legendary Creatures are essential to a set’s frame and story, after all. Alongside this, they also provide more options to Commander players looking to build interesting or themed decks.
Not everyone, however, is so happy about the influx of Legendary Creatures invading recent premier sets. There have been claims, for instance, that the overabundance of new Legendary Creatures devalues and dilutes the prestige of past legends. Additionally, many MTG players quickly complain that these Commander-focused Legendary Creatures shouldn’t be forced into Premier sets. With no end in sight, MTG players have been understandably concerned about the game’s new direction. Subsequently, some MTG players have even resorted to pleading with MTG’s Lead Designer for something to be done.
Taking to Blogatog, Tumblr user Jjustin1379 recently asked Mark Rosewater, “is there a limit to the number of legendary creatures printed a year? I don’t want more than 50 a year.” While reducing to just 50 Legendary Creatures a year is quite a big ask, unfortunately, Mark Rosewater didn’t have good news for Jjustin1379. Responding to their question, Rosewater revealed that “there’s no limit.” Explaining this decision, Rosewater simply told players to “read this blog. Players are constantly asking for specific Commanders to play the niche strategy they enjoy.”
From Rosewater’s statement, it appears that the blame is being shifted onto players rather than this issue being Wizards’ fault. After all, how could it be Wizards’ fault if they’re listening and carefully responding to player demand? As you might expect, many MTG players weren’t too happy with this assessment across social media. On Reddit, for instance, players pushed back against Rosewater’s suggestion that player demand was actually being satiated. “My only problem is when we get new legends that are just watered-down versions of older legends,” u/Pyr0hemia stated. Similarly, u/broodwarjc questioned, “why then are so many legendaries doing repeat stuff? I feel like we only get 1/4 new niche commanders in each set, and 3/4 are worse versions of better commanders.”
Furthering this point, u/uiop60 suggested that many of the new Legendary Creatures are simply too weak to be helpful. “It’s a poor answer because cycle after cycle of uncommon legendary creatures are far too underpowered for even casual Commander tables; even if they are designed to fill a niche, they disappoint the people who want that niche filled.” Rebutting this point somewhat, other Reddit users pointed out that not every Legendary Creature has to be a format-defining powerhouse. “I never understood the complaint of ‘too many legendaries!’,” u/True_Italiano stated. “You were never going to build every Commander anyways. So who cares if it’s 50 or 200? Legendary supertypes allow WotC to push cards and feel safer doing it in constricted formats. It’s one thing to complain about product fatigue (I totally get that), but being annoyed with the number of legendaries that exist is odd.”
Embodying much of the MagicTCG subreddit’s feeling, u/EmTeeEm pointed out that this isn’t a new issue, and unfortunately, it doesn’t have an easy solution.
“See: the response to every set. Even DMU with more than 40 legends and a bunch of people were disappointed their favorites didn’t get a new card. And who knew Rusko had so many fans that would be disappointed he only got an Alchemy card?
Personally, I don’t think the quantity is an issue. Some portion of cards are mostly intended for Limited, casual Constructed, or Commander, and it really doesn’t hurt for any of those to be Legends. I get that it dilutes interest but at the same time, you get all these options that may just include your new favorite or make space for the ultra-deep cut you always wanted.
The only big problem is the 60-card/100-card crossover cards. Sometimes a legend would be great in Standard/Pioneer/Modern and being a legend makes it worse. Other times (especially with tribal lords) any cool card will have people wishing it was a legend so it could be their Commander. But that tension happens in various ways between all sorts of different groups, and can’t be entirely prevented.”u/EmTeeEm
Solution in Sight
Unfortunately, as u/EmTeeEm points out, there isn’t an easy fix for this problem, if it even is a problem at all. Due to the format’s popularity, it’s in Wizards’ best interests to cater to demand and create more Commander-focused MTG cards. This, however, will continue to disappoint players on both sides of the argument, who lament not having what they want. Thankfully, for Wizards, there is a potential solution hidden amidst all the products they’re currently releasing. While enfranchised players, and remarkably banks, are opposed to the amount of product being released, specific products do better serve specific audiences. Supplemental Commander decks, for instance, provide a home for powerful Commander MTG cards that’d be too strong in Standard.
While these supplemental products haven’t severely shrunk the number of new Legendary Creatures in premier sets, Wizards is aware of the products’ strengths. In a recent interview with us, Principal MTG Designer, Gavin Verhey, explained as such for The Brothers’ War.
“With a story as large-scale as The Brothers’ War, it’s difficult to fit everything we want into a single card set. One of the great ways we get to help show off as much as we can though is with other pieces of the set, like Alchemy which has Crucias, Titan of the Waves – a character who would go on to become Bo Levar, one of Urza’s nine titans! I led the design of the Brothers War Commander Decks and getting side characters like Sanwell, Avenger Ace and Farid, Enterprising Salvager into them helped bring some cards that didn’t have a position in the main set to life.”Gavin Verhey
Ultimately, while Wizards has access to various solutions, at the end of the day, MTG is a business. This means, for better or worse, Wizards needs to appease its audience, whether that be casual, hardcore, or hybrid players. Subsequently, we don’t expect to see fewer Legendary Creatures in Premier sets anytime soon. This may come to the detriment of Standard. However, perhaps this will finally give Brawl its time in the spotlight.