Last week, I wrote an article about how Hearthstone’s copying of Magic’s strategy of obsoleting old cards will probably result in very good things for Hearthstone. One of the things that I forgot to mention is that Magic, themselves are changing the rules. They are SPEEDING UP the obsolescence pattern. And players are thrilled.
Magic used to ship a core set, a big base set and 2 smaller sets every year, and only cards shipped in the last two years were usable. For a long list of reasons, they are switching to only two-set blocks (a large set and a small set), and every year they will ship two blocks. And here’s the important thing: they are moving from a 2 year obsolescence pattern to one that is 18 months.
However, what’s notable is that people are thrilled not just because of the addition of new cards, but the removal of old cards that had caused the game to stagnate.
Development was trying to tackle the metagame problem of Standard getting stale too quickly. This new rotation would shake things up a little but it wouldn’t have enough impact to solve the problem. You see, a metagame is more shaped by what leaves the environment than what enters.
Put another way, currently everyone who doesn’t play with a card named Siege Rhino hates the card named Siege Rhino. It’s so dominant a card that the entire format warps around it – either you play it, or you have to play cards specifically to deal with it. Before the format change, players who were sick of this 18-month old card would have to endure it until this Autumn. People at my gaming store are dancing a jig that it will rotate out this April instead when we return to Innistrad. Magic routinely has had trouble selling their spring sets – most people instead choose to play less until the ‘big set’ comes in the fall if they don’t like the current metagame. Clearly, they are hoping this changes.
Meanwhile, another format called ‘modern’ is completely fucked. And the new set released a card that created a new deck so powerful that 44% of all magic games in that format now run that particular deck. People are talking about this like it’s the armageddon.
Now is the part of the show where we have to understand that, logically speaking, the decks that are coming out of the woodwork to beat Eldrazi will not always beat it, and the decks that Eldrazi already has a very healthy matchup against (like Burn for instance) will still lose to it. This places Eldrazi in very terrifying company, because it means that it’s one of the most powerful decks in Modern that can still beat the decks dedicated to stopping it.
Modern will likely only get fixed by banning something – a path they are generally loathe to do, but likely will have to do in order to stop the collapse of what is normally a very popular format.
As for Standard’s move to 18 months – one interesting part of this shift in business strategy is that Magic announced this… in 2014. I.e. they announced it before the cards they were about to ship would shorten to have only an 18 month lifespan in standard, in case that affected anyone’s purchasing decision. I only call this out because it underscores how the Wizards of the Coast team is, and has been for some time, one of the class acts of the game development industry.
(And while we’re at it, Mark Rosewater’s weekly column is perhaps the best game design column there is).