Happy New Year! As the calendar turns over to 2015, we are graced with the first wave of spoilers for the next Magic set, Fate Reforged. Be sure to check out our rolling commentary on the new cards.

You may recall that a few months ago I wrote about the maddening complexity of Khans of Tarkir that ruined my prerelease experience. Khans really pushes the limits of complexity for a modern set. The set grew on me and it proved to be a challenging and interesting limited environment. I managed to achieve some competitive success, making day two of Grand Prix Orlando and then winning a sealed PTQ. But honestly, I never really fell in love with drafting the set like I had for previous fall sets.

After I won my PTQ in early November, I stopped drafting Khans and didn’t miss it very much. I felt like I had put in a lot of work to figure out how to succeed in Khans limited, that work paid off, and now I did not need to subject myself to the hassle of drafting Khans anymore. I finished up the Team Draft League season, but did not draft Khans again until I hopped online for some drafts last week.

Sponge_and_Vacuum

Tell me more!

Coming back to the format was again interesting and challenging, but not exactly fun. Perhaps I care too much about winning, which forces me to contend with how to properly draft the cards and play tight Magic. It felt more like a chore than a game. The last two months of the year are supposed to be the exciting time of exploring the depth of the fall draft set, going deep on underdrafted power cards like Spider Spawning or Scholar of Athreos. Return to Ravnica has another of my favorite archetypes, “Golgari splash Thoughtflare” a.k.a. the Axebane Guardian deck. But with Khans, I couldn’t be bothered to draft Goblinslide or whatever goofy archetypes are possible. And honestly, I haven’t seen or heard a ton of other people talk about fun things to do in Khans draft either.

It has been nice, or at least useful, to take a break from limited because I needed to immerse myself in constructed to prepare for Pro Tour Fate Reforged. Standard and Modern have been fun, although I think Khans made Standard a lot better than it did Modern. Now that Fate Reforged spoilers have begun, though, I need to start preparing for the updated draft format as well. What I’ve seen so far hasn’t gotten my hopes up.

Manifest. I knew they were going to do something to evolve morph in Fate Reforged, and that it would probably involve turning other cards face down in some way. Manifest does that for sure, but in a really crazy and random way. They aren’t even morphs! It’s going to be important to use the Morph and Manifest overlay token cards to differentiate the two types on face-down 2/2s. Extrapolating the identity of opposing morphs and manifests is a crucial skill for competitive limited, and the ranges to calculate for each of the two types of cards are completely different.

roadsign

Good luck.

If it is a morph you’ll have at least a reasonable idea what it is. You have in-game practice analyzing morphs. If you’ve played a decent amount of Khans limited, you’ve probably got a decent read on how people play their morphs and which ones show up most often in which decks. But do you remember the early days of the format? Late September of last year, how comfortable were you performing the in-game thinking necessary to process board states involving morphs? That hurdle was a large part of what turned me off to the format, complexity-wise. Mastering the morph subgame is an entertaining challenge, and I did enjoy that process of learning Khans limited, but it eats up a lot of the available brain waves. If you have to think too much, to constantly, your brain loses its ability to register that you are also having fun.

Now add manifests to the mix as well. A manifest is probably not a card that can be flipped over (because creatures typically fill 12-18 slots of a 40-card deck), but if there is a creature behind the mask it could be anything. Sixty percent of the time, it’s just 2/2 that can’t flip. Forty percent of the time, it’s a random creature from the deck. Maybe it’s a Mardu Warshrieker, which isn’t too fearsome when it flips, or maybe it’s an Abzan Falconer that just gave your opponent’s team flying for three mana at the least convenient time. Keeping track of potential manifest flips is going to be frustrating. Most of the time a manifest will only have a potential value that is marginally better than its 2/2 state, but maybe ten percent of the time its potential value will be massively more significant. If you care about doing everything you can to keep from getting blown out in a game of competitive FRF/KTK limited (say if you are preparing for the Pro Tour next month), you are going to have to figure out how much to think about opposing manifests. Morph might not take up as much mental bandwidth anymore, but manifest runs the risk of maxing it right back out.

antseyes

This might just be too much.

Now, I will admit that it is pretty cool that Magic is capable of taxing my brain beyond its capacity to enjoy itself. I love thinking. Analyzing. Mapping out decision trees. Weighing probabilities. Piecing together a mass of hidden information, on the fly. Going into Bayesian mode. Abstracting out from the decision-making process to evaluate the process itself. Operating on many levels simultaneously. I love this. And I think I’m pretty good at it. I do this stuff all the time, in every aspect of life. Magic is one of the best, most fun ways to think. Magic has massive complexity built in as its baseline, and I love that. So . . . when I feel overloaded, that is significant.

I’m excited to learn FRF/KTK/KTK draft for the pro tour. I feel I can hang in a new draft format with the best, and I can’t wait to prove it. The extra complexity probably helps me. In law school, for example, I always wanted the exams to be very hard. That way, the curve would be more differentiated. When 85% is the best anyone can manage to score, I feel confident that I will be at the top of the curve, and that was my experience in law school. I like challenges. I do my best when the competition demands it.

I just worry that pushing Magic’s complexity this much isn’t as good for everyone as it is for the competitive players like me who thrive on it. Maybe the complexity of morph and manifest (along with all the other complexity in Khans and whatever else comes out in Fate Reforged) is lenticular, and less analytical players don’t notice it. I certainly operate close to the “thinking too much” line and put myself at special risk for being overwhelmed by complexity creep. But I’m not so sure. I think one of the big draws of playing Magic is its deep and complex strategic thinking. That’s what Magic does better than just about anything, and that complexity is there no matter what level you are on in the game.

Anyway, we’ll see. The new set is barely spoiled. It will be weeks before I or any of us will get to play with the cards. The flavor looks awesome, and the cards look fun. I hope the new format is more fun for me than Khans solo. But I’m worried.

Brendan McNamara (MTGO: eestlinc, Twitter: @brendanistan) used to play Magic in the old days. His favorite combo was Armageddon plus Zuran Orb. After running out of money to buy cards and friends who were willing to put up with that combo, he left the game. But like disco, he was bound to come back eventually. Now he’s a lawyer by day and a Dimir agent by night.

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