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What I Want From Magic: The Gathering In 2024

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2023 was an up and down year for Magic: The Gathering.

There as a lot of good -

  • The Lord of the Rings: Tales of Middle-Earth showed us that an IP crossover could be a lot of fun if done well.
  • The return of the paper Pro Tour was a much-needed breath of fresh air, providing both a return to the competitive Magic of old, as well as reinstituting a system of aspirational play for players playing at the RCQ or RC level. There is once again a path for an average player to win a tournament at their local store and convert that into Pro Tour glory. Reid Duke winning the first Pro Tour was just icing on the cake.
  • For the most part, Limited Magic has been having a very nice resurgence. While March of the Machine was the only true banger Limited format this year, all the other ones were good to great, and the bonus sheets have been a really fun addition to Limited as a whole.

However, there was also bad -

  • An overwhelming deluge of product releases, which has led many players to burn out or just straight up ignore certain products. This "quantity over quality" approach has also led to some pretty half-baked products as well.
  • A bunch of really bad Wizards of the Coast PR stuff, from Pinkertons to AI art debacles to laying off employees during the holidays and more.
  • A focus on printing cards for Commander has infected almost every 60 card format in one way or another with power creep, from Atraxa, Grand Unifier to Forth Eorlingas!
  • Because of the success of The Lord of the Rings: Tales of Middle-Earth, there's going to be a huge push for more IP crossover stuff, which weakens Magic as its own IP

There's obviously a lot more that could go on both lists, but it's a reasonable summary of the year.

After a lot of "best year in Magic ever" in a row, 2023 was finally the year where we started to see a blemish in the "unstoppable growth" department. Hasbro has been pushing the limits of Magic: The Gathering hard in the last few years, being one of it's few profitable brands, and we're starting to feel the effects.

That being said, here is my wishlist for Magic in 2024!

Less Product Releases

It has been a common refrain from Magic players for the last few years that it is becoming increasingly difficult to keep up with releases.

We exist in a state of perpetual hype and preview season, leading us to the old adage that "when everything is special nothing is." It's almost hard to get excited about new sets these days because we have so little time to play with our toys before we've got new ones being shoved in our faces.

This onslaught of product also makes it very difficult to even care about some products, and this feeling of burnout is one of the most dangerous things for the future of Magic. Magic won't die as a game because people hate it, it will die because people stop caring, and burning out your audience is a dangerous game to play.

More Care In Each Release

As a result of this, the quality of each release has also suffered as well.

Coppercoat Vanguard
Pia Nalaar, Consul of Revival
Nissa, Resurgent Animist

The real dud of the year was March of the Machine: The Aftermath, which felt like an extremely rushed conclusion to the Phyrexian Invasion story arch. The Aftermath has to be one of the worst selling sets of all time, a micro set that felt more like a supplemental Commander release than anything. The set was confusing, felt tacked on, and this is all despite having a number of cards that have made a pretty big impact in Constructed.

Despite (very successfully) building up the Phyrexian Invasion storyline over the last year or so, it completely failed to stick the landing in March of the Machine and The Aftermath, which is a microcosm of the issues of the super bloated release schedule. It's hard to be excited about anything when you don't have time to breathe, and what should have been an incredible story ended up fizzling out.

Larger Focus On Paper And In-Store Play

There's no doubt that the Covid-19 pandemic was devastating to the state of paper and organized play for Magic. However, it goes deeper than that.

The restructuring of organized play into the Magic Pro League and the abolishment of aspirational competitive play (getting in to the MPL was essentially impossible for your average player), as well as the focus on using MTG Arena as the platform of choice for pro level play and the shift in focus to Commander decimated the notion of organized paper Magic play.

Stores stopped running FNM, turned everything into Commander Night, the SCG Tour stopped existing, and it became increasingly difficult to get matches of sanctioned Magic in with your paper cards.

Thankfully, we've seen a shift back to paper play.

The return of the Pro Tour, and with it the Regional Championship and Regional Championship Qualifier seasons, have returned Magic to an aspirational system where your average player feels like they can achieve something special. This has led to a resurgence in paper play at all levels, especially in Standard, which is huge for trying to get back to where Magic was pre-pandemic.

Friday Night Magic, with Standard at 6pm and a draft at 7pm every Friday, was instrumental in my growth as a Magic player, as was the PTQ, Grand Prix, State/Regional Championship system that bit me with the Magic bug that has never gone away. Cultivating that experience for newer players is vital for the growth of Magic as a whole.

We've gone from this as well as the SCG Tour and other independent series, back to what feels like the dark ages, and I'd like to be going the right direction for once.

Big Improvements To MTG Arena

One of the biggest frustrations with the last few years has been Magic recording record profits year after year, but constantly making cuts rather than reinvesting in the brand. We've seen this in the quality of some of the products released, but the biggest spot it is apparent is on MTG Arena.

There have been some good improvements on MTG Arena over the last year, be they new formats like Timeless or some quality of life stuff, but it feels like MTG Arena has lost more than it has gained over the years.

MTG Arena isn't a new program any more.

We used to have a high level of polish in the game, with fun animations and sounds for all mythics and many rares, as well as even for some popularly played commons and uncommons. Casting a card for the first time was always exciting to see what it would do, but now we get essentially nothing each new set. There's also a multitude of small quality of life issues, duplicate protection for reprints, and more, as well as the general economy issues that have been reinvigorated thanks to the introduction of the Timeless format and a bunch of commons like Brainstorm and Lightning Bolt requiring rare wild cards.

Smuggler's Copter

And that's to say nothing of the fact that Explorer has actually gotten farther away from Pioneer rather than closer this year, thanks to the unbanning of Smuggler's Copter, a card not currently on MTG Arena. Timeless has been a big hit and is a very fun format, but not having access to Pioneer on MTG Arena yet is a huge miss.

If you're going to announce record profits, that's great! But we want to see at least some of that invested back into the product.

A Focus On Getting New Players, Not Milking Current Players

Perhaps my biggest fear about Magic in the last few years is how much it has focused on getting as much money out of its current and heavily invested players rather than acquiring new players. It seems like Wizards of the Coast and Hasbro would rather sell a $100 Magic product to a hundred players rather than sell a $10 Magic product to a thousand players, and this shortsightedness will hurt the game's long-term prospects.

A lot of Magic's profitability in the last few years is predicated by decades of good will from the community. People love and care about Magic so much because they've been playing for so long. They remember opening their first Mystic Enforcer from that Odyssey pack they bought with their allowance money, watching Jon Finkel and LSV win Pro Tours, that one time they made top 8 at states, that big fun drive down to Atlanta for that Grand Prix, and more.

However, the majority of memories made in the last few years have mostly revolved around buying products; Secret Lairs, IP crossovers, serialized cards, collector boosters, Magic 30, and more.

There hasn't been a push to grow the game, get in fresh blood, or create new memories, just capitalizing on what already exists and trying to make everything a collectable. And that scares me for the long-term health of the game.

Here's To 2024!

Magic is the best game ever made, and I have hope that 2023 was a bit of a wakeup call for the brand about how hard they can push the product bubble. I think we've hit the high watermark, and things will start to recoil and bit to something more reasonable.

Or at least I can hope.

Either way, I'm excited for the continuation of the Pro Tour, and hopeful for some good releases this year!

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