Eldritch Moon Standard Retrospective

Posted in Latest Developments on September 2, 2016

By Sam Stoddard

Sam Stoddard came to Wizards of the Coast as an intern in May 2012. He is currently a game designer working on final design and development for Magic: The Gathering.

Hello and welcome to another week of Latest Developments. Today, I want to look back at the Eldritch Moon Standard season so far, as we approach the start of Kaladesh previews. You can read my similar article on Shadows over Innistrad Standard here.

I really enjoyed writing that article and giving people some insight into our thought process for Standard, but I realize I wrote it a bit too early. I spent a bit too much time patting the team (and myself) on the back for how diverse Pro Tour Shadows over Innistrad was, without waiting to see how the metagame shifted in the following weeks. As it turned out, the format ended up collapsing quite a bit after the Pro Tour. The diversity we saw there really came down to white decks, whether it was the Humans deck, Green-White Tokens, or Collected Company. Unfortunately, many of the cool decks from the Pro Tour, like Red-Green Goggles, were good enough to have strong showings in the next few weeks but were clearly a step behind the white decks.

What's Working

The first few tournaments running up to the Pro Tour looked somewhat similar to the pre-Shadows over Innistrad tournaments. The Eldritch Moon tournaments were a bit more diverse in their Top 8s, but still saw a sea of Bant Company in the Top 16s. This led to a lot of people decrying before the Pro Tour that the format was solved. I'll be honest—I was pretty scared before the Pro Tour that we would see the format really devolve into one deck, but (once again) the top Pro Teams took the advantage of having a known quantity as the top deck, and metagame very well against it.

It's a pretty big deal, in my mind, that neither Pro Tour Shadows over Innistrad or Pro Tour Eldritch Moon were won by Collected Company decks. Both of those Top 8s had a number of new decks, and a lot of really cool decks. Eldritch Moon showed up in a huge way at the Pro Tour, with Liliana, the Last Hope and Emrakul, the Promised End making the biggest single-card breakouts, while delirium and emerge showed up in a huge way for deck strategies. Because of that, I view the Pro Tour results as a huge win and a great showcase of what Standard can be.

Beyond just that, we've seen a lot of very cool things show up in Standard in the past few weeks, with decks like Blue-Black Zombies, Green-Blue Crush, and the Blue-Red Thermo-Alchemist deck. I think what I am most happy about with these decks is that they are doing fun and unique things within Standard.

To that end, I think Standard is pretty fun right now. There are a lot of pretty cool things to do, which isn't always the case. The games are also skill-testing, and there are unique archetypes.

While there is a lot of good stuff to talk about in Standard, I don't want you to think I am going to ignore the elephant in the room or just give niceties about the format. The hope with this series is to have an honest discussion, and that means moving on to the problems with the format.

What's Not

For as much success as other decks have had in the past few months (in terms of winning events), it hasn't done much to keep people from playing Collected Company. It would be pretty hard to deny that Collected Company is the strongest deck in Standard right now, regardless of how much success any other deck has found. Although nobody may have "solved" the deck by the time the Pro Tour came around, after all the new decks emerged, people went back to the drawing board and came back with better versions of Collected Company.

The current Standard metagame is not something I would consider to be healthy. We are in a spot where there are plenty of decks that people enjoy playing, which are having a reasonable amount of success, but a ton of people are still playing Collected Company. I can tell you how diverse the format is until I am red in the face, but if you go to your local tournament and play against Collected Company decks three times in every seven-round tournament, you may not really care about what other decks are possible. Collected Company has also left a big footprint on the metagame, really hurting most of the format's aggro decks as well as blue control decks. So, even if you want to play a deck that isn't Collected Company, you might be inspired to play Collected Company anyway due to the success of the deck. The good news is that Collected Company doesn't have a positive win percentage across the board—there are decks that are favored against it, even if they aren't necessarily favored against the rest of the field.

Another big concern for us about Standard is just how hard the format is to play. There is a lot of information to track with delirium and emerge, and Emrakul makes for some very complicated lines of play. It's important to know when your opponent can cast Emrakul and try to set up your board to minimize the amount of damage they can do. Because of all this difficulty, we saw a ton of games at the Pro Tour go to time. On the surface, that may seem good; there are a lot of skill-testing moments in Standard, but when they get to be too difficult for most players, you start seeing a lot of games going to time. That's not good. We want games to come to a satisfying conclusion, and a draw in extra turns is not our idea of an ideal ending. In fact, one of the biggest pieces of feedback that the members of R&D on site got from pros was about just how hard it was to play games in Standard. This isn't just a risk for low-level players; this is a real risk for top-level pros.

As Mark Rosewater mentioned in his State of Design article last week, there has been a proliferation of keyword mechanics in the past few years. Design hands a lot over, and some new ones get made in development. When we make a keyword, we generally try to have those keywords show up in Standard—which means that we have decks in Standard with six or more block keyword mechanics in them. And when you have multiple mechanics that require some amount of tracking or sequencing, then things get really complicated. Fortunately, we learned this lesson after seeing how complicated Battle for Zendikar and Shadows over Innistrad blocks were, so we pulled back a bit on Kaladesh. That doesn't mean there won't be plenty of things to do, but hopefully (over time) Standard will become a bit simpler and easier to grok—especially for newer players—without losing much of the depth.

To me, this format shows a lot of the strengths about how we build sets, and how we try to set up Standard. Several different things broke in ways we were not expecting, and several cards were much stronger than we expected, but there are still a lot of viable deck options in the format. We will see what happens with the World Championship this weekend, but I doubt that people will all be playing Collected Company. Many people will likely go for other decks that they think can give them an edge.

Moving Forward

As you know by now, we work almost a year ahead of time in making Magic sets, so Eldritch Moon had been finalized for months by the time we saw the results of Pro Tour Shadows over Innistrad. It's probably not a shock to know that, in hindsight, there are cards I would've changed in Eldritch Moon if I'd known exactly how the Standard metagame had played out.

Rotation is happening very soon, which I am excited about. I will be really honest—I am looking forward to not seeing Collected Company in Standard, and I am sure that many of you are in the same boat. It is a great card for Modern, but like so many cards that are in that position, it is just stronger in Standard than we would've liked. In a month or so, we will start to see new archetypes pop up, and some of the decks that Collected Company kept out of Standard will also be playable. Kaladesh offers up a whole bunch of new cards, and with the Standard rotation, things should be wide open. I can't wait to see what decks come out of people's brewing with this format.

That's it for this week. As of today, you have probably begun to see all the preview content for Kaladesh from PAX West, but it is far from over. Tune in to twitch.tv/magic this weekend to not only watch the World Championship, but also see more cards from Kaladesh. And then next week, I'll be back with a sweet preview card.

Until next time,

Sam (@samstod)

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