What 2005 Will Bring

Posted in Serious Fun on January 4, 2005

By Anthony Alongi

Anthony’s predictions on Magic and its formats


After a couple years doing this column, I realized this site needs something. It’s a gap we’ve had for a long time, but we can no longer sustain ourselves without this critical resource. No media vehicle has survived for more than two years without such a device, so I’m just in time to help magicthegathering.com.

This site needs an annual prediction article.

My own take on annual predictions is necessarily tainted by favoritism for non-sanctioned formats. Fasten your expectation seat belts appropriately. I may allude to an occasional tournament or serious player here and there; but otherwise you’ll need to seek a different crystal ball if you want to know (for example) if Kai Budde will win this or that.

Seven predictions for 2005. Why seven? Because no one ever chooses seven for any of these lists. So, in increasing order of importance:

PREDICTION #7. I will use the clause “fasten your expectation seat belts” again in this column.
I don’t normally indulge in self-congratulation, but I kinda liked that line and I hope you did too…because you’ll see it again!

Scott Johns, this site’s content manager, mentioned something interesting to me a couple of months ago. He said (and by “said”, I mean “allowed me to paraphrase him as follows”), “Anthony, I’m beginning to notice a little audience fatigue in your articles.” Put another way – and he may or may not have meant this, but I think this is the root cause – I’m aging faster than the average magicthegathering.com reader, and it’s beginning to wear on me. Not fatally. Just occasionally, as with any job you’ve been at for a few years.

For example, I need to remember better that there are new readers every week who may not realize that my card previews don’t care if a new card will be good in tournaments. It’s a common occurrence in writing for many people: readers of any column look for what they know and recognize, and they get itchy when they don’t see it.

So is this the reader’s problem? No, it’s mine, and the way to fix it is to do the same thing carnivals and fairs do when you visit the roller coaster: they tell you what to expect, every time. Keep your hands inside the vehicle. Don’t try to stand up. Look out for casual Magic cards and formats where you pretend you’re a pink dinosaur. That sort of thing.

Corresponding resolution: Look, we’ve turned this into a New Year’s resolution article as well! Perfect. Here’s my resolution: I hereby resolve to keep this article’s goals clear and relevant, and to give readers fair warning when I’m going to go off the tracks.

PREDICTION #6. I will create a Be-a-Pink-Dinosaur format sometime this year.
Yeah, once again I’m captivated by my own offhand remark. Boy, these columns just write themselves, don’t they?

Okay, I actually got this idea from my five-year-old son, who – huge surprise here – likes dinosaurs. His favorite book is “T is for Terrible”, where a ravenous Tyrannosaurus Rex engages in some healthy self-doubt. (“I do not mean to be so terrible. Would I be so terrible if I were pink?”)

Healthy self-doubt is really good for creating new Magic formats – when a group is willing to take a look at its regular routine and shake it up, they try new things. So I’m reading this book, thinking about pink dinosaurs, wondering if my group could make something of this, and…well, I don’t know just what, yet. But I’ll let you know where it leads when I get there.

Corresponding resolution: Write a Be-a-Pink-Dinosaur format article before I forget and someone has to remind me.

PREDICTION #5. Somebody, somewhere, will come up with a format for seven and/or eleven players that catches fire.
I did a piece on prime-number formats a while ago and I like them okay; but what the world of casual Magic really needs is a format as intuitive and fun as Two-Headed Giant or Emperor. I’m not necessarily taking requests all year long; but I’m curious to see what appears in message boards, emails, and articles from interested parties.

Corresponding resolution: Keep a sharp eye out for brief, smartly-written descriptions of alternate formats for seven and eleven players. Relay one or two of the best ones, sometime after that Pink Dinosaur article.

PREDICTION #4. I will play with Unhinged and enjoy it.

I really do wish I could be a better mouthpiece for Wizards on this set – honestly, it’s a set for casual players, I’m a casual players, I write articles for casual players, do the math, am I right? The cards I’ve seen have made me laugh out loud. (The Laughing Hyenas still crack me up. I’m not a complex man.) I’ve encouraged our play group to do a Champions – Unhinged – Unhinged draft, but it just hasn’t happened yet. Not out of fierce resistance, just inertia. We’re still really getting used to Champions.

Corresponding resolution: Convince our group to do a Champions – Betrayers – Unhinged draft as the new set releases, since we’ll be all confused anyway.

PREDICTION #3. I will hear even more stories about play groups doing Emperor drafts.
In early 2004, I began beating a drum about Emperor draft, which our play group really enjoys. (While you can read the archived article on it, the basics are that you play Emperor format, but with decks you’ve made out of packs just like in a booster draft. Emperors sit between opposing lieutenants while they draft, then you switch around seats so that you’re playing normally.)

I’ve begun receiving emails from folks who’ve tried it, and they all love it. It opens up entirely new card choices and strategies for players who come from the “drafting” side, and it’s a neat new twist on Emperor for players who come from the “casual” side. If your group has six or more players on a given night, you should give it a whirl.

You don’t have to buy more booster packs to do this – use the packs you get during regular purchases (especially with Betrayers coming out soon), and just wait to open them.

I know – I really can’t do that, either. But try, if your budget’s tight. You’ll be glad you did.

Corresponding resolution: Gently encourage more players to try this format throughout the year, without being annoying. Collect a few stories from groups who try it and love it. (Yes, that’s an invitation to email me.)

Time to trade those Astral Slides for Oaths of Lieges?

PREDICTION #2. At least one moderately high-profile “serious” Magic player will ease off of tournament play and privately ask for my advice on fun multiplayer formats.
The last prediction’s going to be a bit aggressive, so I thought I’d do a shoo-in here. While different people follow different paths, I have noticed a trend in recent years. As Pro Tour players leave college and enter the world of full-time work, they want something different from their Magic game. The competitive pressure becomes less important since there’s plenty of that in the day job, and the friends you can keep become more important because the ones you just left back in college are scattered all over the place.

So I hear every once in a while from someone I met while I was covering Pro Tours a couple years ago, or someone familiar with my writing who “never read your stuff before but I find myself playing more and more multiplayer.”

Like I said: different players follow different paths. Some of today’s Pro Tour players will keep doing what they’re doing. But a bunch of them will do what they know is right. They’ll start playing multiplayer. And we’ll be here waiting for ‘em. (That came out sounding more ominous than I intended. Ahem. What I meant was, “welcome back, friends!”)

Corresponding resolution: Tell Kai it’s natural, it happens to everyone, and he’s welcome to join us on Thursday nights if he’s ever in middle America.

PREDICTION #1. Wizards will take concrete, public steps toward the sanctioning of a team play Magic format.
Now everyone: please fasten your expectation seat belts! (Woo-hoo! One prediction right, six to go.) This is not a formal statement by Wizards, so I don’t want anyone to get upset at them if it doesn’t happen. I have no inside information and I’m guessing just like anyone else. But I do believe the case I made a year ago for sanctioned team play is strong. (Briefly put, sanctioning team play would be profitable, and would energize a large portion of the Magic customer base.)

I also believe that by proposing some semi-formal multiplayer Magic rules, Wizards is taking a critical step: opening hundreds of thousands of “test labs” around the world which can uncover the kinks in a formalized rule system for group play. What rules work, and which don’t? How will they find out? Why, you’ll tell them through message boards and articles, phone calls and emails, whether they ask for it or not. In essence, you’ll do a ton of research for them and hand it over for free. Which is completely cool – companies that listen ought to reap some rewards, and it's not hard to figure out who else benefits in the process.

Whether Wizards gathers this research and uses it is up to them, of course. They may keep the proposed rules just that – proposed rules. But I will not be surprised if we see another nudge toward setting up exciting tournament opportunities for players who love to play Magic with their friends, feel like they could learn another way to play, and want to spend more of their money doing so.

Corresponding resolution: Keep gently prodding Wizards about this. I wanna see ‘em make tons of money off of this – simply because I believe we’ll all find the results incredibly satisfying.

Next year, we’ll revisit this list and make even bolder predictions. (Is that a super-bonus eighth prediction, you ask? No, because it will happen in 2006.)

Anthony cannot provide deck help in any year divisible by 2005.

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