A couple years ago, Matt Elias wrote a brilliant article entitled Your Format Sucks. That was two and a half years ago, however, and formats have risen in popularity (Modern and Commander) and fallen (everything else). What hasn’t changed since then, though: Every format in Magic still sucks.
Legacy Still Sucks
Way back in the prehistoric age of 2009, Legacy was an adorable little format in which local gangs in theme-costume attire practiced and developed their own little localized decks, then once every couple years, they’d meet up for the big showdown to prove that really you should just be playing Brainstorm and Force of Will. Now we’ve had the wonderful benefit of the StarCityGames Open series, where every week, a new set of players proved that you should just be playing Brainstorm and Force of Will.
And what happened once the SCG Open series dramatically reduced the rewards for doing well in multiple tournaments? Why, the decks became awful, of course! Now it’s extremely easy for Legacy players to convince themselves that they have a thriving metagame, consisting of dozens of decks (none of which have names indicative of what they are), when in reality, master magicians like Levin, Sacher, and Thompson proved that Legacy can be just as dull and predictable as your average Standard environment. That’s the true mark of being a great innovator: tuning decks to be so good that no one wants to play the format anymore.
But wait! We can play Legacy online now and not have to pay exorbitant prices for long-out-of-print cards because the reserved list doesn’t exist online! Well, there was a healthy Legacy metagame online for a few months. Then, Modern came back into favor, and the Legacy events stopped firing. But at least the decks you can’t play with are cheap, right? Well, you can pick up dual lands for around $20 . . . but Force of Will is around twice as expensive as its paper version because if a card isn’t on the real reserved list, that should be made up for by refusing to reprint a card the availability of which is key to the format existing.
Vintage Still Sucks
I feel that there’s a big practical joke happening that no one let me in on. I have never seen a Vintage tournament. I have never even seen a Vintage tournament on the calendar at any card store. I can’t even remember seeing a game of Vintage played. Yet somehow, people are convinced that this format exists. I’m not so sure.
Most articles about Vintage that I see are desperately trying to prove that you can build a Vintage deck for cheap (to counteract the notion that every Vintage deck costs $4,000), which brings up the obvious question: Why would anyone want to spend hundreds of dollars to build a budget deck in a format in which he or she will never be able to truly compete instead of building a real deck in a format people actually play?
At this point, the goal of Vintage seems to be showing off the fact that you have a Vintage deck. It’s something you throw money at when you’re forty because you’re too boring to buy a convertible or pick up a mistress.
Modern Exists Now! It Sucks Already.
Before anything else, we need to clear up how Modern became a format so that we can move past the fancy-new-format sleight of hand.
Step 1: Extended changes from seven years to four years (see section below)
Step 2: Modern created that starts with Mirrodin, just like the last pre-rotation Extended format
Step 3: Ban stuff!
Alternate thing that would have been exactly the same: Extended no longer rotates, and we’re changing the banned list.
How did we fall for this? We’re such suckers.
I’ll be honest, though; that last season of Extended was awesome, mostly because I got to play Elves, and it wasn’t completely awful. Apparently, though, because that format had a diverse metagame with somewhere around a dozen different decks that would rise and fall out of favor with new innovations and metagame shifts, something had to change.
Wizards banned the best linear cards from previous Standard decks, ensuring that every viable deck was something fun that people weren’t sick of—Oh, sorry, no, Jund is one of the best decks. Well, they also started out by banning the best combo cards, so you wouldn’t lose on turn three—Oh, Blazing Shoal kills on turn two? Awkward. Let’s ban that as well. And while we’re at it, let’s get rid of the control deck that spits out an Emrakul if you don’t kill it on turn five—Oh, hmm, that still happens.
So, after all that work was put into banning aggro decks that were too fast, reliable combo decks that were too fast, control decks that grinded out slow advantages and never tapped out, and big-mana control decks that set a you-must-be-this-fast-to-compete barrier to entry, what are the four best decks? Affinity that kills on turn four, Melira Pod that’s versatile and practically impossible to disrupt, Faeries that’s a goddamn Faeries deck again are you kidding me, and U/R Tron that can also spit out an Eldrazi for 5 mana.
But Green Sun's Zenith? That had to go.
Here’s the thing about banning the fast, reliable, unfun decks in the format: There’s always going to be a slightly worse deck willing to jump in and take its place. Plus, if you’re trying to protect the first-time tournament-goer from the experience of getting blown out, it’s going to be damn near impossible. Some way or another, the competitive players are going to design decks that thrown-together homebrews cannot beat. The terrible secret of bannings is that they prohibit worse players from using those cards as well. That Green Sun's Zenith might get put to good use in a Zoo deck, but someone going to his first Modern tournament had a good thing going using it to search for Kavu Predator . . . and that made his deck significantly more powerful.
Well, if we’re going to play a broken combo-based format, at least this one will be cheaper . . . right? Here’s the weird thing about pushing a new format that relies on a few key rares from seven years ago: They’re going to go up in price. Now, instead of a lack of dual lands that prevents people from playing the format, it’s . . . well, it’s still a lack of dual lands. And Dark Confidant. And Tarmogoyf. But at least this time, they can reprint them! They’re totally going to since they’re not prohibited by any silly reserved list! That’s like, the point of this format! Right?
Any time now? Please?
Extended Really, Really, Genuinely Sucks
And now for the tragic casualty from the creation of Modern. Before, no one played Extended when it wasn’t Extended season (because it was only played by people trying to PTQ), and now . . . no one plays Extended. At all. A four-year format just makes no sense because it’ll consist almost entirely of just-rotated Standard decks that we go to other formats to get away from.
Just officially get rid of Extended so we can end this sad charade, please.
Standard Still Sucks
Often, when Standard rotates, it creates a wave of confusion, leaving people almost entirely unable to come up with decks to play due to the importance of that block to the environment. Scars block is not like that. The reaction will be something along the lines of, “Huh? No one can play Dismember or Swords anymore? Nice.” Then, they’ll go back to their almost-entirely-Innistrad-based Standard decks. Any Standard format that includes a block as low-powered as Scars is going to feel strange and transitional at virtually all points in time. How often is it that the two defining cards that give name to the best decks are from the large set that just came out?
One of those cards, of course, is Delver of Secrets. Comparing Delver decks to Faeries would be too easy (things fly! Counterspells! Underpowered beaters! Shooting yourself in the head rather than playing against it!), but those decks actually feel very Jundish to me. The cards are 4- or 5-mana two-for-ones, and your most important card relies on the top card of your library.
The other big deck in the format: Wolf Run! Play a lot of lands. Play guys that find lands. You have a counterspell? Crap. Guess I needed more lands.
You can play mono-green! The guys are hard to deal with, but if your opponent has a “game plan,” you might be in trouble—not only do your guys have hexproof, but playing mono-green gives your opponent’s creatures hexproof.
All hope is not lost for those innovative deck-builders out there, though: Because no deck has a strategy beyond, “Play some spells that are equal quality as my opponent’s spells,” you can take parts of one deck and randomly mash it with another deck for no noticeable drop in win percentage. Mono-green with Wolf Run? Sure! Delver with the famed late-game and skill-testing nature of Red Deck Wins? Why not! Tempered Steel with the dawning realization that Tempered Steel is the only deck that will change when the next block comes out? Entirely necessary!
EDH Commander Sucks
I must have gotten my definitions crossed somewhere. I could have sworn that “casual” meant you grabbed some fun decks without sleeves and had some fun with a three-colored fading deck or that you threw together some weird concoction with Mirage commons from a shoebox. Because this “Commander” thing? No, this is not casual as I remember it. Commander is the sort of format that people would play in an Oscar Wilde short story, in which they’re deathly afraid of offending the other person’s sensibilities or making cutting remarks about the other person’s uncultured nature.
We’ve all come to terms with the fact that tournament Magic is expensive. That’s understandable. To play the game at a high level of competition, sometimes you need to spend money for that mythic in order to compete against the best players around you. But for a casual format? That doesn’t even make sense. Y’all are just trying to make this thing more expensive on purpose. Spending $20 on a foil common from Prophecy? That’s not Magic, that is a caricature of a trading card game. When competitive players with play sets of Tarmogoyf are giving you weird looks about how you spend your money, maybe it’s time to rethink your budgeting. If Commander is about just having fun and kicking back with your friends, man, can’t you play fun Magic with your friends and afford the pizza that night?
But Commander isn’t just playing around with your friends. This is a FORMAT. It has RULES and CUSTOMS and a BANNED LIST. But you shouldn’t try to avoid the banned list by making a deck that wins too soon or do anything that violates the SPIRIT OF THE FORMAT. (I believe this is some sort of Commander-only legendary creature that is available only in altered-art form for $200.)
Commander is on its nadir. It is less a format than a series of contradictions that question why any of us bother with Magic in the first place. It has a vast number of rules in order to enforce having non-competitive fun. I’m not going to convince any Commander players that it sucks, but we’re all rolling our eyes at you when your backs are turned.
Before we finish this up, I’ll leave this here without comment.
Block Still Sucks
Wizards is developing blocks in a more holistic fashion so that the sets stand up to close inspection and tell interesting stories just with the way they’re constructed. This has nothing to do with Block, which is a format in which exactly one deck is playable ever.