Standard is on everyone’s minds these days and it’s not difficult to see why that’s the case. Seemingly every high-level event features Standard as the constructed format of choice. While last year’s World Magic Cup featured Modern, pretty much every other event is all about Standard. You simply can’t escape it on coverage or at your local events.

Since Standard is the talk of the town it’s under far more scrutiny than it ever has been before. In the past there were Modern, Block, or Extended format Pro Tours and weird formats for things like the Invitational, and Star City Games also used to feature more Legacy and Modern events. In that world of competitive Magic the community’s minds were scattered across many formats. That’s no longer the case.

It’s important to remember that Wizards of the Coast wanted this. They pushed Standard for a variety of reasons, none of them particularly great or awful but all of them questionable. Whatever the reasons may be, the result is clear, Standard is under a very powerful microscope whenever it is featured in tournament coverage, and the community doesn’t necessarily like what it’s seeing there.

Wizards has their reasons for pushing Standard (sell packs, appease pro players, reduce R&D’s workload) and the community has their reasons for resisting (format diversity, irritating meta-game, redundant coverage). But, it’s interesting to note that this all comes down to how hot the spotlight is shining. For example, when Modern was removed from the Pro Tour, it was because focusing the spotlight on an under-developed format resulted in too many cards being banned, something unhealthy for a non-rotating format that was supposed to have a low cost of entry.

Legacy and Commander and Pauper, for what it’s worth, would likely see similar fates to Modern if they were placed under the all-seeing eye of the Magic community for too long, in a spotlight that was too hot. And this is where we come to what is likely Wizards of the Coast’s greatest conflict: What’s good for playing Magic may not be what’s good for watching Magic.

This is of course a conflict that all competitive activities run into, sometimes literally. For example, hitting each other repeatedly in the head is almost certainly not good for the people who play professional football. But, the hitting is great for watching Football. The same is true for hockey players, who would definitely be better off without punching each other in the head but the entertainment value is off the charts.

Magic, however, has a problem in the opposite direction. It continues to cater to what’s best for playing the game instead of what’s best for the viewer/fan experience. If that doesn’t change, they’re going to face a lot of problems when it comes to growing their audience. If watching the game isn’t any fun, who’s going to want to play it or buy packs anyways?

As you Ponder that, here are ten thoughts from my notes on the current state of Magic:

1. One of the biggest problems is format diversity and it’s why we had an emergency ban of Felidar Guardian. But, as defending world champ Brian Braun-Duin pointed out this week we went out of the frying pan and into the fryer as Cat Combo was replaced with the almost equally-oppressive Aetherworks Marvel decks.

2. Heading into the Sunday portion of Grand Prix Santiago there are two undefeated players. Javier Luna is playing Mardu Vehicles and Rodrigo Trujillo is playing Temur Aetherworks Marvel. A Standard format that is built on these two decks looks very much like the format before Felidar Guardian was banned and that’s not a good look for everyone who claimed that banning the Cat Combo would improve the format.

3. Much further north at Grand Prix Montreal there are four undefeated players going into Sunday competition and three of them are also playing Temur Aetherworks Marvel. The fourth undefeated deck is Green-Black Constrictor. Obviously we don’t actually learn a whole lot by just looking at the six undefeated decks after nine rounds of Grand Prix competition, but a field that is two-thirds Temur Marvel isn’t hard to envision. Standard isn’t out of the woods yet.

4. Going through the end-of-day standings for the first day at Grand Prix Santiago and Grand Prix Montreal I can’t help but notice that while a player’s position in the Top 25 Rankings is highlighted, their Pro Team Series membership is not. The top tables are full of top pros but it’s hard to glean that from the coverage information. If I were in charge of “Magic Digital Next” then I would be working on fixing this, since it’s a purely technical problem.

5. 471 players sleeved up Standard in Santiago and another 849 did the same in Montreal. Almost a year ago simultaneous Standard Grand Prix were held in Minneapolis and Manchester with attendance of 1,530 and 1,695. Now, granted that the United States and the United Kingdom are home to larger populations of Magic players than Chile and Canada, this warrants deeper investigation.

6. Grand Prix Toronto last year, the last weekend in April, was also Standard constructed and had an attendance of 1,728. That’s more than double the number of players in Montreal this weekend. Grand Prix Costa Rica, the first weekend in June, was also Standard and had an attendance of 497. That’s on-par with Santiago this weekend. So why the massive drop-off in attendance in Canada?

7. There’s a lot of speculation in the community that declining attendance at tournaments, specifically Grand Prix events, may have been involved in Helene Bergeot leaving her longtime position running Organized Play for Wizards of the Coast. There’s no reason to believe that’s the case but like many situations involving a high-profile employee leaving a company, no one is saying one way or the other.

8. Helene began working for Wizards at the end of 1995 in Europe, relocating to Renton eventually and taking over Global Organized Play. Her influence and contribution to the Pro Tour and Grand Prix and pretty much ever competitive event cannot be understated. If you’ve ever enjoyed a competitive event, you probably have Helene to thank.

9. Obviously Helene leaves a big hole in the management of Wizards of the Coast and the direction of Organized Play. The rest of the year is pretty much set in stone, and with Channel Fireball taking over running Grand Prix events beginning next year, it will be interesting to see if this is a move towards Wizards outsourcing the operations of the Organized Play. If that was the case it would make sense for Helene to move on to something else before the transition was complete.

10. Last, but not least, congratulations to Gerry Thompson who won Pro Tour Amonkhet in Nashville. He’s decided to auction off some memorabilia from the event including the physical deck he piloted as well as the trophy from the event. All of the proceeds will be donated to Planned Parenthood, an organization that does amazing work for women in this country. If you are looking to collect some one-of-a-kind Magic memorabilia and donate to a good cause, make sure you follow Gerry on social media.

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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