In case you’ve somehow missed all the hubbub about it, recently, Wizards announced truly major changes to the Standard MTG format. Continuing the roughly two-year cycle of rotation changes, this time, Wizards is pivoting Standard to a three-year structure. Coming into effect with the launch of Wilds of Eldraine, this MTG set won’t trigger the usual Standard rotation. Instead, Innistrad: Midnight Hunt, Innistrad: Crimson Vow, Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty, and Streets of New Capenna will be sticking around for another year.
Having been steadily waning in popularity over recent years, this rotation change is undoubtedly needed to revitalize the format. Giving existing cards an extended lifespan while allowing greater synergy, this change certainly seems beneficial. Appearances can be deceiving, however, as, according to some players, this change couldn’t have come at a worse time. With powerful cards and overabundant fixing throughout the format, it seems players are in for another year of misery.
A Replacement to Rotation
At the moment, the Standard meta is entirely dominated by a few exceptionally powerful and versatile MTG cards. The worst, or rather best, of these cards, are Fable of the Mirror-Breaker and Reckoner Bankbuster. Utilized extensively throughout Pro Tour March of the Machine, and the Standard metagame, these MTG cards are absolutely everywhere.
For better or worse, it seems likely these cards won’t be problematic for too much longer. This is due to Wizards of the Coast recently announcing an overhaul to their banning system which should make things more consistent. Alongside this announcement, Wizards also revealed a Standard ban wave will happen on May 29th. Considering their somewhat problematic prevalence, it’s expected this ban will hit one, if not both, of these powerhouse cards. Whatever happens, however, it should hopefully shake up the format in place of a traditional rotation.
Unfortunately, however, while this expected shake-up should help mitigate the power of the all-conquering Rakdos Midrange, it’s unlikely a cure-all fix. After all, Standard’s problems run a lot deeper than just Fable of the Mirror-Breaker. Thanks to Standard’s smorgasbord of land, the format has divulged into a “five-color midrange soup.” Those aren’t just our pessimistic words, but rather a description by MTG’s Principal Game Designer, Andrew Brown.
Thanks to these lands, such as Streets of New Capenna’s Triomes, almost anything is possible in the format right now. This may seem like a fun time for all, with creativity running amok, however, in reality, everything is rather stale. When everything is playable, there’s no sense not to just play a pile of the best cards around. Thankfully, there are some decks that break this mold, however, MTG Goldfish’s meta breakdown doesn’t paint a pretty picture. At the time of writing 61.7% of the meta is midrange soup.
Paradoxical Power Problems
Thanks to Wizards of the Coast’s changes to Standard, it seems this midrange soup is here to stay. After all, the cards that enable these three, four, and even five-color shenanigans are likely sticking around for another year. As you can imagine, many of the players who enjoy the format aren’t too happy about this. Subsequently, many players have been speaking out on platforms such as Reddit. Recently reigniting this discussion was u/Lil_Bullywug on the MTG Arena subreddit, who didn’t hold back with their criticism.
Stating the “Power level is too high for a longer Standard rotation,” Lil_Bullywug lamented the incredibly grind-y nature of Standard. This is supposedly thanks to the prevalence of power creep within recent sets, which has new players struggling to keep up. Without rotation, Lil_Bullywug claims these problems are only going to get worse. This will obviously be a massive detriment to new MTG players, especially those joining via the upcoming Steam release.
Following on from this point, u/alirastafari highlighted where this troubling power creep seems to have emerged from. “The trouble lies in the cards that you can just spam into any deck and gain an absurd amount of value. Everything is a must-kill, so everything has to ETB or be a 2-for-1, so every deck has to run a bunch of answers, so the cycle continues.” Not only is this incredibly frustrating to play against, but it’s also incredibly expensive, for both paper and digital players.
“Ah yes, the 26 rare dual lands that are currently in standard. Plus what, 5 Triomes, and one legendary land per color so another 5? So you’re saying if I want to complete my standard mana base…. It would only cost me 144 rare wildcards. Lmfao.”u/Firefistace46
Given that both wildcards and actual cards aren’t cheap, this can make Standard an incredibly unappealing format for new and old players. Especially since the looming threat of rotation threatens to ruin their investments. Unfortunately, however, solving this problem isn’t an easy feat. As u/Jman50k noted on Reddit, it’s practically impossible.
“Standard has always grappled with a paradox: If the new cards are not powerful enough for other formats, their value plummets when they rotate out, causing a bank run-like effect on the market and making them a poor investment. On the other hand, if the power level of these cards is too high, they get absorbed into non-rotating formats, raising the entry barrier for average players.”u/Jman50k
From all the problems players identified, it seems like a lot of work needs to be done to fix Standard. Thankfully, Wizards of the Coast can do precisely that if they want to. Since they may MTG, there’s nothing stopping Wizards from banning dozens of MTG cards in order to keep the format fresh. Would this be incredibly unorthodox? Absolutely yes. Is it what Standard needs right now? Honestly, there’s a very strong case for it. So much so that I personally wouldn’t mind seeing every land that was meant to rotate out be banned instead. Also Fable of the Mirror-Breaker. Fuck Fable of the Mirror-Breaker.
Considering that Wizards isn’t going to stop releasing sets, which will inherently shake up Standard, this approach may seem rather drastic. While partly true, these changes may be sorely needed, as upcoming sets haven’t been designed with a three-year rotation in mind. The first set to be designed with a three-year rotation in mind is currently codenamed Quilting. Quilting doesn’t release until Spring 2024.
Due to this important detail, Wizards may need to be liberal with bans until Standard is correctly balanced around the three-year rotation. This, however, is obviously not a perfect solution, as banning cards makes the format more difficult to follow. For better or worse, however, Wizards seems to be taking this ban-embracing approach to heart. During the latest Weekly MTG, Wizards announced they’ll be considering bans three weeks after the release of a new MTG set. While these bans will be rare, and won’t always affect Standard, this window should allow Wizards wiggle room to keep Standard fun.