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Are Pro Teams Ruining Magic?


The Modern format is broken at the moment. There’s no way around it—the recent Magic Online Pro Tour Qualifier was half Eldrazi, Modern leagues and Dailies are 40% or more Eldrazi, and Friday Night Magic is covered with it. Pick the results of your choice; the decks are the same, all the way back to Pro Tour Oath of the Gatewatch—yes, the Pro Tour, where numerous professional Magic teams met in advance and independently cracked the format in half, sailing many of them into the Top 8 but wrecking the format for tens of thousands of other Modern players.

Who Is to Blame?

Eldrazi Temple
Sure, this is partly on Wizards of the Coast for creating cheap, powerful Eldrazi and introducing them into a format that already contains two powerful Eldrazi lands. Eldrazi Temple taps for 2 mana when casting colorless Eldrazi, which is every Eldrazi in Battle for Zendikar and especially Oath of the Gatewatch. Eye of Ugin reduces the generic cost of these Eldrazi by 2. Combined with a third land, Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth, Eye of Ugin effectively taps for 3 mana.

Suddenly, these undercosted, overpowered Eldrazi are even more undercosted, and with the help of Simian Spirit Guide, they can be cast as early as turn one. Nothing like a Thought-Knot Seer on turn one or two ripping away any sideboarded hate cards and paving the way for bigger threats like Reality Smasher. Nothing like two Eldrazi Mimics on the battlefield followed by a Reality Smasher for 15 power with very little investment. These plays are the rule, rather than the exception.

Would the Magic hive mind have come up with this Eldrazi deck eventually, even without the help of pro teams? Perhaps it would have, but it would have been organically, over time, and not in week one of a new set’s release.

Some Formats Don’t Get the Scrutiny

Mark Rosewater of Wizards of the Coast has even commented that Legacy has one advantage that Modern doesn’t have. With no Legacy Pro Tours, there are no pro teams solving the format early on, and deck diversity remains the order of the day. (Although it seems the Eldrazi deck can even be ported to Legacy with little loss in win rate; add in City of Traitors and Ancient Tomb for up to sixteen lands that effectively produce 2 mana each.)

The Culpability of Magic Professional Teams

Back to the thesis: Are pro teams ruining Magic by solving the format so early? Remember that Wizards of the Coast has told Magic statistics sites to stop aggregating win percentages for top decks in Standard and Modern because they were contributing to solving the format too early on. How, then, could Wizards feel about numerous pro teams introducing the Eldrazi menace to Modern so soon?

I mean, this is ridiculous. When the Regional Pro Tour Qualifier online the other day had a dedicated hate deck that ran Oust and four copies of Supreme Verdict in the main deck—and still lost in the finals to Eldrazi—there’s a problem here. While one could argue we won’t know whether the deck is truly broken until after Grand Prix Detroit, there’s a bad feeling in the air that history will repeat itself.

It’s partly the fault of the company that created the cards, and it’s partly the cards themselves, but some of the blame has to go on the pro teams that have dedicated time and effort to busting up a format in order to further their own Magic careers and make money. By doing this and winning themselves cash, they have turned the format upside down for the rest of us, to the point that it’s unenjoyable to play with and against these decks.

It’s Going to Stay This Way

Because WotC is unlikely to emergency-ban, the format is going to stay this way until Shadows over Innistrad is released, and Modern could very well hemorrhage players between now and then. Without the Modern Pro Tour happening when it did and the existence of pro teams, Modern might have evolved into Eldrazi Winter until the release of Shadows, which probably would have helped restore it to normal through bannings or colorless hate cards. Instead, a few select players won some cash and Pro Points, and the format is in shambles. How is this good for anyone other than the pros?

What Can Be Done?

Thought-Knot Seer
The pro teams should change nothing. They’re doing what they do because it’s their careers, but Wizards can take steps to stop enabling them to pillage and salt a format in the process.

Smashing together pro teams, a Pro Tour, and a new set’s release at the same time is probably a bad idea. Wizards may want to time things this way to give a new set maximum play or have professionals set the tone for a format going forward, but it’s leading to overall negative play experiences. Wizards should align the Pro Tours toward the middle to end of a set’s life and just before a new set arrives. Fill the schedule in the weeks after a set’s release with Grand Prix, Regional Pro Tour Qualifiers, and other medium- to high-level events.

Wizards should test a new set thoroughly in both Standard and Modern, allocating more resources where necessary, and either redesign or preemptively ban cards in order to anticipate what professionals are going to do when they get their hands on the cards. When mistakes are made, in this case, Wizards should be more liberal with emergency bans and unbans in order to protect a format from burning to the ground in the aftermath of a Pro Tour.

The Takeover of Modern

One of the symptoms of this mess is the massive popularity of Modern at the moment. It’s a truism that Modern has outgained Standard in popularity over the past several months, with some Friday Night Magics boasting more Modern players than Standard or Limited. Large Modern events have massive attendance. The recent Star City Games Regionals, which were Modern format, had numerous reports of attendance overflow, player caps, games in hallways, and far too few judges and staff. The dominance of Eldrazi at the expense of other decks is threatening to put a huge damper on this growth.

Because of this, Wizards must take Modern more seriously when designing and testing new sets and when scheduling the highest level of events. The company must also take a long, hard look at the ban list as it stands. It’s not just about Standard anymore, and with such an enormous card pool to work with, Wizards’s job is now much harder as a result. Wizards of the Coast must step up to the plate to prevent professionals from running roughshod over a game that we all love.

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