It’s been two weeks since Mark Rosewater hit us with the bombshell announcement that Magic is fundamentally changing. Since then nearly 60% of all Magic players have rage-quit the game and the other 40% are crying in the corner as they watch the value of their collections plummet. Wait… hold on… the community actually approved of the change? Okay, who are you people and what have you done with the Magic community…

The Third Block Problem

In the beginning there was the core set and there were expansion sets and Richard Garfield looked upon the game and said that it was good. But things could have been better and in the fall of 1996 Wizards released Mirage, the first set in a three-set block. This began a 19-year long struggle between the success of the three-set block model and the failures of the third set in the block.

Weatherlight. Exodus. Urza’s Destiny. Prophecy. Apocalypse. Judgment. Scourge. Fifth Dawn. Saviors of Kamigawa. Dissension. Future Sight. Alara Reborn. Rise of the Eldrazi. New Phyrexia. Avacyn Restored. Dragon’s Maze. Journey into Nyx.

These are the victims of the three-set block model. Some, like Saviors and Prophecy were sorely lacking any kind of excitement. Some, like Future Sight and Dragon’s Maze simply had too much crammed in to them. Others were too gimmicky (Scourge, Alara Reborn), or overpowered (New Phyreixia, Urza’s Destiny), or just took things in the wrong direction (Apocalypse,  Avacyn Restored). All of them have led us to the ultimate solution.

Wizards is getting rid of the third set and will be moving to a two-set block paradigm.

The solution is so simple that some people may wonder why we’ve never thought of this before. In fact, this exact model has been explored once in the past. In the fall of 2007 the world was introduced to Lorwyn, the first set of a very interesting block model. Lorwyn was the first of a two-set block with Morningtide. It was immediately followed in the spring by another two-set block: Shadowmoor and Eventide. The two blocks were connected by story, but not by mechanics. Lorwyn focused on a strong tribal theme while Shadowmoor was all about hybrid color pairs. The two blocks failed on a variety of levels. Soon afterwards, the Core Set became an annual occurrence and the idea of another four-set double-block was pretty much forgotten about.

But now Wizards is going to try again. Beginning with the Fall block in 2016 we are not only going to have the first pair of two-set blocks since Lorwyn, it’s going to become the norm going forwards for the foreseeable future. After 19 years of attempting to design and develop a three-set block, Wizards has finally conceded defeat to the entire concept and turn to a brighter future.

Saying Goodbye to the Core Set

The biggest loser in this story is the Core Set, but in reality it isn’t a huge loss at all. The purpose of the core set in the past has been to provide reprints of format staples, shape the next 15 months of Standard, and introduce new players to the game. Losing the reprints just means that there will be an increase in the number of reprints we see spread out in the four expansions every year. Shaping Standard will now be the sole provenance of the expansion sets. Beginners will now be able to learn the game all year round, not just in July and August when the core set is being drafted.

In fact, one has to wonder how the core set survived so long at all. For a long time, from 1995 until 2009, it was only released every other year. So how did beginners learn to play if the introductory product only came out biannually? It truly baffles the mind, but it’s good to see that something so simple as having an introductory product available all year round has finally been addressed.

Farewell Core Set. No one will miss you.

Over the next year I expect there will be a lot of tributes to the core set. It has often been the vessel for change in the game. Magic 2015 introduced a new machine-readable card-frame. Tenth Edition rid the game of white borders. Eighth Edition introduced the modern card-frame. And most famously, Sixth Edition brought the stack to the world. It will be a year-long nostalgia celebration but when it’s over there will be no more core sets and we’ll all be better off that way.

Telling Stories

The final bonus of the new model is that we’ll have two blocks every year which means two stories every year. Mark Rosewater implied that this will mean in increase in “return” stories where we can pick up where we left off. This is great news for fans of the game and fans of the lore. The burden on the creative team will be great, but they’ll be up for the task. Earlier this year at PAX East I had the pleasure of interviewing Jenna Helland. I wasn’t able to get around to publishing the interview, but Jenna explained that the creative team is working very hard to tell stories through the cards. We saw this begin in sets like Innistrad and hopefully the experience of playing Magic will continue to improve.

Pro Tour Update

Grand Prix Salt Lake City


North American Grand Prix tournaments always bring the stars to town and this week they all descended upon Salt Lake City. 13 of the top-25 ranked players in the world attended the event, with an impressive seven of them making the cut to day two. Surprisingly missing the cut was (9) Tom Martell who finished the day without winning a single match of Magic. Day two began with (11) Shaun McLaren and (15) Jacob Wilson both in a top-8 spot with (17) Eric Froehlich looking in from just outside in 9th place.

After the first draft of day two, future Hall of Fame inductee (13) Paul Rietzl had also climbed his way to the top tables and unranked pro players Jamie Parke and Matt Sperling were right there as well, competing for a shot at the top 8 in Salt Lake City. As round 15 began, the top 8 was already stacked with Rietzl and Froehlich in the top two spots. Jamie Parke was also looking to hold onto 4th place. Meanwhile, Brandon Nelson, Jacob Wilson, Shaun McLaren, and Matt Sperling were all looking to win and make the top 8 on tie-breakers.

After a few draws in round 15 the final eight competitors prepared for the single elimination rounds. Parke, Rietzl, Nelson, and Froehlich held on to make it in to a star-studded top-8. The highlight match of the quarterfinals pit Brandon Nelson against Jamie Parke. Nelson took game one but Parke managed to force a third game. Unfortunately for Jamie Parke, Nelson advanced to take on Eric Froehlich in the semis. Meanwhile, Paul Rietzl dropped two straight to Sam Bataresh who would play against Chris Woodall in the semis.

Both semifinal matchups went to a third and deciding game. In the end it was Brandon Nelson and Sam Bataresh shuffling up for the final match of the 893-player tournament. After two games and thirty minutes the younger Nelson was victorious. Congrats to Brandon Nelson, GP SLC 2014 champion!

Top 25 Rankings

Another week without a Pro event, another week without a change in the rankings. Expect the Grand Prix in Salt Lake City to shuffle things up a little bit for next week’s update.

The Quick Hits

Surprisingly enough, there wasn’t anything terribly interesting to report upon in the world of the Magic community. So instead, here is a round-up of community members commentary on the upcoming changes to Standard and block structure:

Wallpaper of the Week

My eyes. The goggles. They do nothing.

The new art on Sarkhan is pretty rad and the eyes alone make me want to give it a strong grade. On the other hand, Sarkhan Vol is meant to be a minority character, specifically of Asian descent. However, his artwork continues to fail to adequately portray his ethnicity. Wizards has been making a strong effort in recent years to portray a wider array of minorities and women. That is admirable and should be applauded. However, that does not give them a pass when they fail to do so. Hopefully more art of Sarkhan will help portray his ethnicity more accurately. An Asian planeswalker is a great role model for the Asian player-base which is quite numerous.

Grade: B-

The Week Ahead

This weekend is the final week of qualifiers for the 2014 World Magic Cup. If you still have hopes of qualifying for your national team, make sure you look up the official schedule. For those of you who are not trying to qualify or have already qualified, enjoy the last weekend of Magic 2015 drafting or the last weekend of nice weather before the Summer ends.

What We Learned is a weekly feature here at Hipsters of the Coast written by former amateur Magic Player Rich Stein, who came really close to making day two of a Grand Prix on several occasions. Each week we will take a look at the past seven days of major events, big news items, and community happenings so that you can keep up-to-date on all the latest and greatest Magic: the Gathering community news.

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