If you haven’t done so yet, make sure you head over to Star City Games and read Danny West’s excellent piece on changing the card count limit in constructed from four to three.

I love the idea of changing Magic from a limit of four copies of any card to three copies of any card across the board in constructed formats. Danny does a great job of summing up the driving force behind this initiative and the other benefits that could be realized. At the top of the list are affordability and creativity and it’s hard to argue with either one of those points.

But if I wasn’t going to challenge Danny’s points I wouldn’t be writing this article would I?

Inspiration comes from many different places and here we’re coming almost from a place of desperation. No one wants to have to cough up the money for four copies of Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy to play standard, or Tarmogoyf to play modern, or Force of Will to play legacy, or Mishra’s Workshop to play Vintage. The time for action is upon us as countless articles, including several on this very website, have addressed the issues.

But Danny West brings us a real solution. Is four Tarmogoyfs too much money? Get three. It’s as elegant a solution as the two-block paradigm. Having three sets in a block was a problem because there was only enough design space for two sets. So the solution was to cut back to two sets-per-block. Now we have a problem where four copies of chase mythic rares is simply too many for a constructed deck so is the solution as simple as to cut back to three copies?

Danny provided three key ways that this change would improve Magic:

  • Slightly increase card diversity and affordability
  • Make side-boarding more of a science
  • Create more challenging game-play and deck-building

Increasing card diversity in constructed should be pretty straight-forward. With a 60-card minimum and a 4-card cap, how many unique cards do decks tend to have? 15? 20? How high would this number go with a 3-card cap? Danny believes there would be a lot of change but do the numbers back that up?

Here’s the winning deck from GP Quebec City this past weekend:

Jeskai Midrange - Daniel Lanthier

Creatures (14)
 Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy
Mantis Rider
Tasigur, the Golden Fang
Soulfire Grand Master
Dragonmaster Outcast

Spells (20)
Dig Through Time
Crackling Doom
Fiery Impulse
Kolaghan’s Command
Ojutai’s Command
Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker
Utter End
Wild Slash
Lands (26)
Bloodstained Mire
Flooded Strand
Mystic Monastery
Nomad Outpost
Polluted Delta
Prairie Stream
Smoldering Marsh
Sunken Hollow

Sideboard (15)
Arashin Cleric
Dragonmaster Outcast
Exert Influence
Felidar Cub
Painful Truths
Radiant Flames
Virulent Plague

If you were counting you’d see that only seven cards in the entire deck take advantage of the four-card limit. The deck in total has 36 unique cards meaning each card has an average of 2.08 copies. On the surface, if Daniel Lanthier wanted to play this deck under Danny West’s proposed system he would have to cut one Polluted Delta, Flooded Strand, Mystic Monastery, Bloodstained Mire, Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy, Mantis Rider, and Crackling Doom.

On the surface this seems like a small change but the financial impact is actually quite significant. Using current TCG Player average values the deck would be about $165 cheaper without those seven cards. It’s a small part of the deck’s $800+ price tag, but it could be the difference-maker for a lot of people. Unfortunately this isn’t a consistent trend. Let’s look at Jake Mondello’s top-four deck from the same event:

Jeskai Midrange - Daniel Lanthier

Creatures (13)
Dragonlord Atarka
Hangerback Walker
Jaddi Offshoot
Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger

Spells (22)
Explosive Vegetation
Hedron Archive
Map the Wastes
Nissa’s Pilgrimage
Sylvan Scrying
Ugin, the Spirit Dragon
Lands (25)
Blighted Woodland
14 Forest
Haven of the Spirit Dragon
Sanctum of Ugin
Shrine of the Forsaken Gods

Sideboard (15)
Nissa, Vastwood Seer
Rending Volley
Ruin Processor
Seismic Rupture
Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger
Whisperwood Elemental
Winds of Qal Sisma

This deck has 23 unique cards for an average of just under three copies-per-card, but it plays the full four copies of nine cards. That’s actually only two more cards than the Jeskai deck opts to play four copies of, but the general density is a full card higher. Cutting those nine cards would save the deck-builder about $100 which is a significant part of the deck’s $550+ price tag. It’s important to note however that almost all of the value in the deck comes from four copies of Ugin, the Spirit Dragon at over $80 each and four copies of Hangarback Walker at over $14 each. That’s over $375, over two-thirds the value of the deck in the full four-copies of two cards.

Even though we save a lot of money and potentially reduce the value of Ugin and Hangarback, there’s a problem with applying Danny’s change to Jake Mondello’s deck. The loss of the fourth copy of Sanctum of Ugin, Shrine of the Forsaken GodsJaddi Offshoot, Sylvan Scrying, Map the Wastes, and Explosive Vegetation could make the deck unplayable. The core concept of the deck is rapid resource development into a card like Ulamog, Hangarback, Ugin, or Atarka. Remove the fourth copy of Hangarback and Ugin and you just add a third Atarka and a copy of any other large finishing card like Desolation Twin. But removing the ramp spells and the accelerating lands could make the deck completely unplayable.

Like I said before, I love this idea. However, I think there are three key challenges that will hold it back. First and foremost are the development costs to Wizards R&D. Right now, the Future Future League is responsible for testing constructed formats of the future. They would need to plan the change from four cards to three cards and then simultaneously test both formats while developing new sets. Maybe it’s less complex than I think it would be, but it would still be a burden on R&D that they may not have the resources to handle. This is more of a logistical hurdle than a technical one, so while it doesn’t prevent Danny’s change from being implemented it certainly would delay it.

Secondly, there’s a trade-off in the changes in diversity and creativity that would be spawned by this change. Decks like Jeskai Midrange, Abzan Midrange, Control variants, and the like would have to diversify card selection and we would see a larger range of flavors of these decks. That’s great! The trade-off would be for combo decks and aggro decks. Danny gives an example of U/R Twin deck in his article and the change in card-count limit turns the deck into more of a combo/control deck than pure combo.

Twin was already a combo/control deck so it’s a good candidate for the new system but what about decks like Jake Mondello’s ramp deck above? What about vintage and legacy Dredge? I think going from Four copies to three copies would pretty much eliminate dredge from the meta. I think decks like storm, boggle, and infect in modern could also be severely hindered if not completely crushed. Will burn decks still be playable if they have to replace the best burn spells with second-rate burn spells? It would still exist but it wouldn’t be as competitive.

While mid-range, tempo, and control decks would become more diverse, I fear that aggro and combo decks would be greatly affected in a negative way.

Finally, making this change for the purpose of impacting the secondary market is an incredibly risky move to suggest for Wizards who have traditionally shied away from making a large splash in the secondary market. While they continue to poke and prod in subtle ways with products like Modern Masters and Commander, the suggestion that they should make a sweeping change like this to drastically reduce demand is something that Wizards would need to think about for a very, very long time.

As Danny said, it’s very likely this never gets implemented, or wouldn’t get implemented for a very long time at least. But boy is it a really fascinating idea.

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