Magic is the greatest game ever made. There's innumerable ways to play the game and challenge yourself mentally, compete for glory, or else to just have fun.
Over the last few months, you've likely come to know me primarily as a player of Pauper, a format of only common cards. Over the years, the format has grown to be one of the biggest community-made formats of all-time, culminating in a massive boom last year.
Unfortunately, the competitive metagame for the format has been reaching critical mass as of late. In case you missed it, I wrote a piece a few weeks ago on the state of format health and the potential case for bannings. At that time, I was already enjoying the format less than I had in some time. While my two favorite decks, Elves and Boros Monarch, were performing well, I'd stopped enjoying playing the games. It felt like the games were the same over and over again and were a constant upward grind to try and win.
January 21st came and went and we saw no bannings. What little enjoyment I still had in the format started to quickly deteriorate. Other players have expressed this as well, stating the only reasons they're still playing often include the need for qualifier points to try playing for the MTGO Pauper Championship at the end of the year. Others have retreated from more competitive play in favor of playing brew decks that the current top competitive meta doesn't allow.
Metagame data from Challenges continues to show a two-deck dominance between Dimir Delver and the Boros Monarch variants. This past week was an outlier, showing a more healthy Top 16 that featured Burn not just winning, but claiming three spots in the Top 8. Many point to this as a sign of a healthy meta. However, the rise in Burn comes from a deeply inbred metagame between this small number of decks and a small turnout (only 57 players) due to other events like the Super Bowl. It's likely for the top decks to readjust their lists for next week and rebound back to the top once more and re-establish their dominance.
With the format in such dire straits, I've wondered what I should do. I could continue to try grinding, but that would just be unfun and I'd likely make myself feel worse. I could brew some just-for-fun decks, but as a more competitive player I'd likely find myself unhappy with the increased number of losses I would take. With few enjoyable options, I've turned my eye to other ways to play the best game of all time.
One of the things that makes Magic so much fun is that there's actually innumerable ways to play. Between a plethora of formats and alternate playstyles, there's simply no shortage of things you can do. When looking for other options, it comes down to a matter of whether you wish to be more casual or more competitive.
If you want to look for something far more laid back and casual, it's difficult to not enjoy yourself by playing Commander. Pauper may be one of the best community-driven formats of all time, but nothing comes close to Commander. Taking your favorite legendary creature and building a deck around it not only gives you a more personalized feel to your deck, but provides you with endless ways to have a good time with friends.
The best part is you can build it how you want. Some players build off a $20 budget while others still prefer to have a fully blinged out deck costing multiple thousands of dollars. You can do it any way you want. It's not always about winning, but often about the laughs you have along the way. This alone makes it something I can't recommend nearly enough.
If you want something more competitive, there's always going to be formats like Standard, Modern, and even Legacy. With these formats, it all comes down largely to your budget, though play experience is certainly recommended for the later two.
Standard, the format ranging roughly two years' time, has rarely been better than it is right now. Despite the format having its boogieman in the form of Sultai (formerly Golgari) Midrange, there's no shortage of fun decks to play. Do you like to play Aggro decks? Mono-Red and White Weenies are fantastic right now. Control? Lots of options. Tempo? Izzet Drakes is killing it. Go-Wide? Bant Tokens would like a word. No matter your playstyle, it's really never been a better time to be a Standard player, especially with the rise of MTG Arena.
If you have a little more to invest, Modern is an even better place to find what you like and play it. The decks do often cost more up front, but unlike Standard, the decks never rotate away. They can become less popular and fade a bit from the metagame, but you'll ultimately never truly see them disappear. Given that Modern has had the highest level of competitive support over the past few years, you'll almost always get some use out of your decks
Then there's Legacy, the most expensive format you can play short of Vintage, which is inaccessible to all but the most invested of players. I can only truly recommend Legacy to those who are deeply entrenched, have a strong local playerbase (or else wish to play online), and are willing to pick up some truly expensive lists. For those who do, you'll be rewarded with some of the best gameplay Magic has to offer.
If you're looking for something pretty squarely between competitive and casual, there's also Limited, where you open packs and play with them right then and there. Because you can only use what you open, the playing field becomes much more even. Even the best players sometimes lose due to variance and that's certainly true here where a casual player can find a Pack Rat and overtake a game with only the smallest amount of effort. You can even build a Cube, a custom draft pool to play with friends. It's the kind of thing, whether playing Draft or Sealed, that brings people together and makes events like the regular prereleases some of the best ways to play period.
If you're looking for something a little bit different altogether, there's plenty of other options for alternate playestyles. There's formats that Wizards of the Coast has brought to the table, such as Planechase or Archenemy that require other cards, but there's different ways you can do things too.
Have you ever heard of Wizard's Tower? It's a way to play where take a single stack of cards and play with just those. Wizards recommends using boosters, but players have taken simple piles of cards, sleeved them up, shuffled them together, and played with them. You can find more in-depth rules here.
If you have enough players, you can even try something like Emperor. The Format usually requires you to have six people in two teams squaring off against one another. Each team consists of an emperor in the middle and two knights on each side of them. Sitting in a circle, you're only allowed to attack a player you're sitting next to. This means a knight can only attack the knight beside them until they are defeated. At that point, the emperor can be attacked. Once you defeat the emperor, the game is over. This casual form of play has had many variations over time, so your way to play may be a bit different, but it's never any less enjoyable.
If all else fails, it may be worth it just taking some time away from the game in general. Play a video game you've had your eye on for awhile, read a book, or even get outside and do some activities you might not otherwise do. Ultimately get some new experiences and let Magic sit for a bit of time, be it a few days or maybe even a month or two. I've done both of these and even longer in the past myself, and when I was ready to return to the best game ever made, I did so refreshed and with a healthier and more positive outlook.
As for myself, you can expect to see a bit of discussion on other formats across the board over the next few weeks. If you want to see me talk more about Pauper, don't worry, I'll still be doing that as well. While I may have made it seem like I was talking about finding alternatives to Pauper, I'm mostly talking about the format as the current example of this kind of thing.
For example, we just saw a similar situation over the last few years with Standard where it became so unfun to play and watch that players ran from it in droves and stores focused on Modern instead. I've watched Legacy come and go from shops, as has Modern. Even Limited events can vary, as some players may love one format and despise another.
No matter how you play, though, I encourage you to find the way that gives you the most enjoyment. When all else fails, take the time to make sure you don't hurt your mental state too much. After all, you should put yourself first and foremost. Magic is just a game, even if it's the best, and it'll still be here when you're ready to return, no matter how long that may be.