This past weekend, I sat down to watch LSV’s latest Ixalan draft. It’s his third such video, which feels quite low considering how many months Ixalan has been out. Then I realized: I’ve not touched Ixalan in over a month. This is the first time I’ve eschewed the de rigeur Limited format for an entire month since—well, since returning to the game in August 2010. Even when I was abroad for a month, I still found time to drop in on an LGS and play. I live for Limited. What gives?

The Obvious

There are plenty of reasons to be playing less Magic. My friends and I are older, so Magic competes with relationships, children, jobs, and newer leisure activities (ah, the paradox of disposable income). I’ve certainly been working hard enough that I can’t afford the time to jet off to a GP whenever I want. The LGS situation in New York City is less than ideal and doesn’t look to improve in the near future (a topic for another time). MTG Arena going into Closed Beta soon has curtailed my playing Magic Online as I wait for a far superior experience. But that’s not the elephant in the room.

The Elephant (flying) In The Room (and at your face)

Ixalan Limited is fine, at best (if I’m being generous). Its creative is superb. Its design is adequate—it’s simple (a pushback against the high complexity of the last several years) and contains Explore (a mechanic I’m not a fan of). Its development has rendered it akin to Amonkhet and Kaladesh—a format with a lot of neat options that are invalidated by how powerful and difficult to combat raw aggression is.

I’ve not loved a Limited format in some time, particularly not a large set format. I made the mistake of taking the summer mostly off from Hour of Devastation to rebuild my enthusiasm (having remembered how unfun the non-stop Magic of summer 2016 was), missing out on what’s considered the best Limited format of the past several years. But by “missing out,” I mean I drafted it several dozen times and had a good amount fun (and see why people loved it so). With Ixalan, I’ve just tuned out completely. The format was solved quickly—force a tribe, hope it’s open, and play auras—and doesn’t appear to have evolved since the first few weeks.

The format has been such drudgery that I’m strongly considering skipping the main event of GP New Jersey, the closest Grand Prix I’ll ever see in NYC (and a Limited GP, at that). I’ll go, sell some cards, perhaps play in an event; but do I really want to spend an entire day playing Ixalan Sealed, all for the purpose of then getting to draft it?

Eyes Forward

I don’t believe that Limited or Magic are doomed. Far from it—we’re in a time of many transitions and a few missteps which unfortunately were in unusually close proximity.

Adjusting to the two-block paradigm, readjusting to annual rotation, and then adjusting to the no-block paradigm were all major shifts that both complicated and distracted from normal R&D functioning. R&D then added a new team in Play Design and changed how they develop everything. We’ve seen a developmental shift away from effective answers in Constructed and Limited and are in the midst of a course correction. We’ve seen mistakes like Copycat, Emrakul, the Promised End, and Aetherworks Marvel get printed for different reasons and an entire team be created to help alleviate these and all other issues. We await MTG Arena which aspires to combine modern digital implementation with the best CCG in the business. There is so much hope for Magic going forward. And yet…

Sometimes, Things Just Aren’t Great

It’s hard to get back on the horse once you fall off.

It says something when pros stop recording Ixalan drafts, and so you stop following the format.

It says something when Standard, the flagship format, seems to have been precariously sinking, where players are told the format is healthy right before an emergency banning.

It says something when products are jammed together in tight release schedules and when premium products are lazily created and marketed.

It says something when one of the most visible women in Magic is bullied out of the game and Magic doesn’t comment, particularly in a time of national awareness of and disgust towards widespread abuses of women by men. For many of us, Magic is or was an escape from bullying, being unwelcome, or not fitting in. Seeing that same shit happen to pillars of the community isn’t right.

I love this game, I really, really do.

My first friendships came through Magic. Most of my friends and I share an obsession with the game. Magic taught me that game design is an achievable goal, created the network that landed me my first game dev job, and is the reason I’m in my dream career. I got into this business with the goal of trying to one day give back to Magic not just as a content creator, but as an employee. Magic’s missteps will pass. Wondrous Limited formats will come and go. Magic isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

I love this game, I really, really do. But some days, it’s harder than others.

There’ve been a lot of hard days lately.

—Zachary Barash

Zachary Barash is a New York City-based game designer. He works for Kingdom Death: Monster, has an MFA in Game Design from NYU, and does freelance game design.

His favorite card of the month is Guard Duty. It’s half of a Pacifism in every sense of the word, except for word count.

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