Ahoy planeswalkers! It sure has been an exciting announcement week so far! On Monday we had a radical shake-up to the structure of Standard-legal blocks, and Wednesday brought a barrage of announcements about the products we can look forward to over the next year. This is clearly the sort of news that I cannot allow to pass un-commented-upon for a week and a half, so it’s time for me to hop onto the pile of hot takes for this week.

So, here’s my take: This is awesome. Let me share a few of the possibilities I’m excited about heading into the next year of Magic: the Gathering.

Single-Set Blocks

In general, varying the lengths of the blocks is going to be great for Magic’s story. Different stories want to have different lengths. While I think the story team does a good job of designing stories that fit the lengths of the blocks, giving themselves the flexibility to tell the stories they want to tell in the size that feels right for that story is going to be great.

For instance, the single-set block would be the perfect solution for one of the stories I most desperately want to see: the Gatewatch going to New Phyrexia to bust out Koth. In order for this story to work as a two-set block, Wizards would have to do some gymnastics: they would have to have the Gatewatch team up with what’s left of the Mirran resistance, or try setting Karn up to travel back in time and save Mirrodin, or have a war among the Praetors break out or something, because a jail-break can’t be the whole story for six months. With a one-set block, though? Reintroduce New Phyrexia, see the Praetors jockeying for position and power, and print five story spotlights about two or three Gatewatch members saving Koth and getting off of the plane, along with a new Koth planeswalker card, of course. That seems just about perfect to me!

Summer Cliffhanger?

So, here’s another thing I’m eyeing with the possibilities of how Wizards can structure stories: the cliffhanger. There’s really no reason that they couldn’t have a two-set block straddle the Core Set, or drop a cliffhanger in the third set one year and then return to it in the third set the next year, or spread a story about one plane across the first and third block with a “meanwhile” winter block whose events influence what happens in the third block.

This sort of story structure might be over-complicated, so I’m not sure if this is something that Wizards would actually do. However, at the very least it’s possible, and spacing out a plane’s sets might also have the benefit of allowing some of the people who worked on the first set to work on the second, rather than having to turn over so much of the design and development teams. It would also shake up the life cycle of Standard deck archetypes, which could be an interesting dynamic to explore.

What Will The New Core Set Be?

It seems likely that the Core Set is going to draw in some way on Magic Origins, allowing us to check in on worlds, legendary creatures, and planeswalkers that we haven’t seen in a little bit and permitting Wizards to get some needed reprints into circulation. And, for the Vorthoses of the world, we can probably look forward to one-off stories that tell us what these characters are up to and, perhaps, lay seeds for things that might come to pass in the normal expansions of the next couple years. The ten planes for ten color pairings of Origins seems excessive, but I could see something like checking in on five planes during each core set, maybe with a total of eight to ten legendary creatures and/or planeswalkers, each getting treated with a stand-alone story.

How Much Gatewatch, Exactly, Will We Be Getting?

As much as I have completely bought into the Gatewatch, scaling back their omnipresence is a badly-needed change. Giving them various spin-offs where one, two, or three of them go on adventures, maybe with brief appearances by other Gatewatch members, does a few valuable things: it keeps the story moving forward, gives us extended breaks from different characters to prevent burnout, and lends weight to the stories where the whole team does need to come together.

There are limits to what you can do with a whole-Gatewatch story. With Amonkhet, three of their four blocks are going to have ended with “and then the Gatewatch fought in a big battle against one or two powerful villains to save the plane.” (I omit Kaladesh from this categorization because, while the Gatewatch fought in a big battle, Tezzeret wasn’t a threat to actually destroy the plane.)

By contrast, with more limited groups, the win condition can change. Rescuing Koth or Elspeth is more apt to be a stealth mission. One or two Gatewatch members trying to recruit, say, Sarkhan or Narset might need to broker a new balance of power among the dragon clans (or between dragons and non-dragons). When it’s all hands on deck, it feels like a huge climactic battle is necessary, but more limited permutations of the Gatewatch might open up a larger array of stories that can be told.

How About Ixalan?

We still don’t know a ton about Ixalan, but we do know a few exciting things. We have Pirate Vraska and dinosaurs, and the Explorers of Ixalan supplemental product suggests that the block will hinge on the search for a mythical, El Dorado-inspired place of power. So that’s awesome.

One big question looms, however: what is the Gatewatch’s relationship to this plane? It is suspected that Ajani will have a role to play in this block (with Cary Barkett speculating that this block will be an Ajani solo spin-off, in keeping with the new plan to pare back the involvement of Gatewatch members in every block). If Ajani is indeed showing up on Ixalan, we need to ask, “Why?” Or, more specifically, “For whom?”

When we last saw Ajani, he was setting out to rally some new allies to the Gatewatch’s cause. So, if he is coming to Ixalan, there must be someone here that he thinks might join the Gatewatch. And that leads into my next question . . .

Is it Vraska?

I’ve been eager to see the Gatewatch expand its ranks, but Vraska absolutely is not a character I ever thought I would place on the Gatewatch’s shortlist. An assassin by trade, she has a history of killing Ravnican citizens just to get Jace’s attention, and Jace’s subsequent success in revealing the planeswalking gorgon to the Azorious earned him her enmity.

But, two weeks ago we got a story with a more sympathetic depiction of Vraska, reframing her as a champion of the downtrodden races of the multiverse. Now, that sounds like the profile of someone who might join the Gatewatch. And if this is where we’re heading, that is going to make for a fascinating shift in the Gatewatch’s group dynamic.

Beck Holden is a Ph.D. student in theater who lives in the greater Boston area. He enjoys drafting, brewing for standard, and playing 8-Rack in modern. He also writes intermittently about actually playing Magic at beholdplaneswalker.wordpress.com.

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