Off Topic: Speculating About the Future is kind of known as the site for rumors. Each new set has many forum posters guessing and analyzing the prospective new cards. I am always amazed at how accurate the speculation can be with all the chaos. Worldwake will be upon us before we know it. As a land block, the easiest guess is that there will be man-lands. I am particularly excited about the next expansion. I love lands. I really, really do. If there was ever an opportunity to be on a design team, I would have begged, pleaded, and given away my firstborn to be involved in the process. I was a little disappointed by the absence of walking piles of dirt and rock in Zendikar. It’s okay; as long as they are in Worldwake. Otherwise, I will be really, really bummed.

Setting the Plan in Motion

Earlier this summer, Wizards announced the release of a new core set each year. The first introduction was M10. Marxist Magic players mark it as a way for them to make more money. Brought to you by the letter M. Yeah, a glimmer of truth may be there. It can be reasoned marketing approached the staff and notified them of a need to fix block rotations. With sales down during the summer, marketing wanted the core sets to be released in the summer months. The money train was the first big set of the block. Zendikar had just been released right before the holidays. Convenient? Not too long after the holiday season comes the new expansion. A player with a full set of Zendikar could easily hold the cash from Santa for the something new. I don’t think Coldsnap or Lorwyn was a fluke. They positioned the sets into the correct order before locking them in.

Wizards wants to make money. Duh. However, I think there is more to it. Pretending to be an evil employee for a moment. As a staff member, I would love the idea. Fixing the yearly rotation helps plan events. When picking a locale for the summer Pro Tour, I will know when the new core set will be released. I know approximately when the big prereleases will be. As the event planner, the order it would bring makes my life easier. I’m sure other areas within the company would be affected in the same positive light. As a player, I think it is a nice idea. Every summer, the core set is released. Every fall is the big expansion. Every year. Every single year. In summary, fixing the rotation causes less confusion for employees and players. It is a winning scenario for both parties except for the agents of chaos.

Still, I think there is a bigger reason. It gives Wizards the opportunity to keep a better handle on the health of the game. Once a year, they can inject the game with an antidote. Great Sable Stag or what not. A more effective treatment would be to remove the poison. Baneslayer Angel and Lightning Bolt are prime examples. Is Lighting Bolt making Red Deck Wins a menace? In M11, it gets yanked for Shock. The same is true for the overpriced angel. It makes sense. The more opportunities they have at influencing the Standard format the better. Going a little bit deeper, a yearly core set allows them to spread out the cards needed for certain archetypes. Take the new Eldrazi Elves decks. Elvish Archdruid was in the core set. The card could have easily been stuck into Zendikar. Why the core set and not in the other? If elves get out of hand, the card can get yanked out of the next core set giving the last block a new chance at life. Just think what would have happened if Bitterblossom was in the previous core set. Neutering the blue-black menace would have been a piece of cake. The solution: no Bitterblossom in the new core set. No duct-tape needed. That was easy. A piece of cake. What does this mean for Magic players? Expect the cards needed for a deck to be spread out over more sets.

Reading Between the Cards

Magic has changed significantly over the years. When I first started during Invasion, the development of cards were less connected. Cards were just made. Recoil is a prime example of what I mean. Was it made for some bounce discard deck the developers wanted to push? We never saw one. I felt Wizards was conscious of keeping the format healthy back in the good old days. Today, I feel the cards are much more connected. The tribal themes of the last few years showcase it. Okay, probably not the best example to make my point. Fine, take Windbrisk Heights and Spectral Procession. Coincidence? The connections between cards are much stronger nowadays. There is a bigger reason and purpose for each card. I am not implying each card is destined for top competitive play. Just making that clear.

Let’s start with the obvious. Vampire Hexmage. Its existence has a reason. Its purpose: planeswalker killer. Heck, they have said so. We may not know it yet, but I have a feeling a few of the other cards in Zendikar will prove themselves. One card bugging me is Punishing Fire. I really don’t think it was made simply to combo with Grove of the Burnwillows. A possible side-effect, but not the true intent of the card. Makes me wonder what else is in store for us. Some life gain deck coming our way in Worldwake. One card I don’t think is getting enough respect is World Queller. It kills Nissa Revanes and Eldrazi Monuments. A 4/4 body is beefy enough. An important part of the text is the word may. The controller may choose not to use the ability. The important question to ask is why. Why do we need this card? The card could have been easily worded to include specific references to creatures, planeswalkers, or lands. Instead, we got card type. Was it made to deal with creatures with shroud? Were white weenie decks having difficulty dealing with planeswalkers? The card has a reason. We just need to figure out why?

The Great Experiment

Magic has many factual, scientific and set rules for construction for card sets. Making cards is also an art. As an experiment, there are inherent risks. Take cascade: a subtle mechanic with large implications. Hypergenesis decks have been born out of such a mechanic. Cascade hasn’t proven itself a ridiculous force. Potent, but manageable. Wizards has ways to reduce the implications with risk management. One such tactic it appears is to produce new tests in small doses. Cascade can be seen only a few cards. Sure, a number of them exist. In the grand scheme of things, it is a very small amount of cards compared to the total card pool. Small test runs. If the mechanic proves too powerful, the idea won’t be revisited. The mechanic has proven powerful and it is my guess it won’t be revisited unless the game can deal with it with other means. While at it, Ethersworn Canonist and Double Negative. Why were those cards made?

The other thing I have noticed is the more controversial experiments tend to happen in the third set of a block. Cascade in Alara Reborn. The untap mechanic in the later part of the Lorwyn block. It also appeared in limited doses. The best example is Future Sight. The set was riddle with experiments. My hunch is there would have been a huge backlash if it weren’t for the incredible bombs in the set. Tarmagoyf and Tombstalker anyone? Honestly, I really think those cards were upped to keep the nay-sayers in check. I think of it as giving a lollipop to a kid getting a flu shot. Sleight of Hand. Pissed off at the changes to the visual appearance of the Future Sight? Oh, but look. Look at how awesome Tarmagoyf can be even with the changes. Do you really think the faces of the cards were changed just for morbid curiosity? It was a test run. If the past is any reflection and the rumors hold true, the Rise of the Eldrazi will prove the same.

The biggest experiment of late at the heart of many blue players’ disdain is the weakening of counterspells. It is no secret that blue has been neutered as of late. I really don’t believe it is because the developers hate blue. Right behind land destruction, counterpells is the most hated. The reason for it is simple. Can the format survive without counterspells? Blue spells have always been the checks and balances of the game. I have always thought those blue spells as a necessary evil. Without them, the game would spiral out of control. As we have seen, the format appears relatively healthy. Originally, Jund looked like it was going to stomp out the competition. With multiple tournament reports, a large variety of decks have posted good numbers. I think such an event is an exciting time for Magic. We are no longer stuck with decks only capable of beating blue. We have Eldrazi Elves, Jund, Boros-Bushwhacker, various mana-ramp decks, white weenie, and red deck win decks. The downer would be a degenerate format. To ensure it doesn’t occur, the sets are riddled with answers. Some obscure as in World Queller or the more obvious in Lightning Bolt, Oblivion Ring, and friends. Time will tell.

A Cooperative Effort

The unhealthy state of the economy impacts everything. When driving through the downtown of various cities, I can notice the increasing number of For Lease signs sticking in the windows. I don’t think Magic is in danger. The largest impact will probably be on the local card shops. Stores I am familiar with that have gone under complained about the landlord not willing to decrease rent or certain landlords actually increasing the rent. I find it a little worrisome landlords would rather have a space empty than getting something out of it. To help save cost and the amount of merchandise on hand, many have made the decision to get out of the selling of singles market. They have switched completely to only selling product off the shelf. If the economy gets worse, I can foresee a big shift of the singles market being dominated by online stores. The shift was already happening, but the economy will possibly push the shift even further. I think the bigger retailers will stay healthy while the smaller shops suffer. In smaller towns, some may even close altogether. The closing of small local card shops makes me sad. I believe the local store is the life-blood for Magic. Without them, the game suffers.

The other day I was shopping at a local food cooperative. I’m not by any means an organic health nut. Cooperatives merely have items not found in the big local grocery stores. I do like the idea behind co-ops were the locals buy memberships or stock into a local business/organization. The thought sparked an idea about Magic. I wondered if co-ops could be the answer for smaller communities without a store. Local Magic players could come together to make a Magic co-op. Each member would pay dues in order to rent space in a building. The money from the dues would go to paying for the rent, heat, electricity, and etc. Since the co-op doesn’t care about profits to an extent, boosters purchased from the co-op could be sold at cost. The expense of dues could off set by the relatively cheaper cost of buying boosters.

Another option is to charge a set price for boosters. The cost per booster could be adjusted to any dollar amount. My thought is prices should be set to stay easily competitive. Profits from boosters would pay for the cost of renting the place. Months were profits exceed the money needed for rent; the money could be stashed and utilized later for whatever the members feel the need to buy. New chairs, tables, television, and additional product are just a few items to mention. Otherwise, extra profits could be given back to the members of the co-op. Nonmembers would still be allowed to attend and purchase product from the shop. They just wouldn’t receive any perks as reduced booster prices or reimbursements.

As more and more retail space becomes available, I can foresee landlords giving deep discounts to anyone willing to move in. For Magic groups looking at forming a co-op, I can see the coming years being a great opportunity for them. The rent in smaller communities can be especially reasonable. This is good news for communities looking for a place to call home. Will the idea work in practice? It could. Getting a group together may be the biggest challenge. After accomplishing the task of forming the co-op, there are other possible perks. A member could be allowed access 24/7 to the store. No store hours. Nobody barking about food being in the retail. No storeowner preventing players from having a FNM, Legacy tournament, or a weekend of EDH. Paradise.


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