Last week we received a long overdue update on Wizards of the Coast’s plans for the new Arena Constructed format. Historic is a brand new non-rotating format that Wizards of the Coast are introducing solely to MTG Arena. It aims to provide a home for your cards in your collection after they rotate from Standard.

Despite the big information dump, not all of it has gone down well with the community. Some of the decisions have been correctly lambasted, but other points have been overlooked or ignored entirely. I am here today to give my thoughts, so join me in a precursory glance at Historic!

Historic should feel distinct from Standard.

Why bother with Historic if it is basically the same as Standard? This is the biggest hurdle facing the new format. Flashy cards can be added to the format, which will excite the community for a time. But it will take more than that to keep Historic fresh. If Historic was left to be a non-rotating format of sets that are only on Arena, it would be set up to fail, similar to the rise and fall of Hareruya’s Frontier format.

To remedy this, what WotC have suggested is to introduce a number of cards (currently quoted as 15-20) each quarter to provide a positive impact to Historic. My initial fears upon reading this was that if a small number of cards were going to be introduced, it would be highly likely that these would either be format warping or to a much higher power level than that of Standard. With MTG Arena’s tweet later that day, it seems as though this has already been realised, with card ideas being floated of Wurmcoil Engine, Dark Confidant, Brainstorm, and Firebolt.

The card that stands out to me amongst that list is Wurmcoil Engine, a card that warped Standard and still does major work in Modern. Having access to Wurmcoil Engine alongside the current Bant Ramp shell would be devastating to aggressive decks, especially something like Mono Red.

I understand WotC’s sentiment: to keep the format interesting, new additions will need to be made. But limiting themselves to 15-20 powerful cards seems like a hindrance. If the number of additions can be widened—say double, to 30-40—then the power level of the cards can be toned down and let the format grow more organically. Cards such as Blood Artist, Restoration Angel, Stormbreath Dragon, and Tireless Tracker could be reintroduced without warping the format in ways that Wurmcoil Engine, Brainstorm, and Dark Confidant potentially could. This would also breathe some life into popular but less successful archetypes in our current Standard format, such as Aristocrats, GBx decks, or even develop new archetypes such as Bant Flash.

Not only is format-warping a point of consideration, but the introduction of these cards will mostly invalidate the cards that have rotated. That defeats the entire purpose of the format. This is a format with the aim to allow players to keep using their cards from previous Standard formats, but introducing new cards will simply dissuade players from using their old cards.

The cost of these cards are also a point of consideration (which I’ll talk about later), but supplemental sets will typically provide reprints of valuable cards with limited supply. Think of the likes of Tarmogoyf in the Masters sets or Battle Screech from Modern Horizons. In Arena however, there are no limitations on what chase rares, mythics etc they can include as all cards will cost the same.

Wizards of the Coast have already stated that they are apprehensive of adding previous sets into MTG Arena due to the level of effort involved in programming the card interactions, but this reason is misguided. Players are not expecting new sets added on a monthly or bi-monthly basis—that would make the format too unstable—rather they expect sets to be introduced more sporadically. The historic format itself lends to the idea of looking into past sets for updates, but at the same time we are receiving updates from new sets being introduced into standard.

Releasing a previous set into Historic every 6-9 months would be a reasonable task, as it helps the format to stay fresh. If WotC do not want to go down the route of previous sets, then why not revisit a previous experiment from Magic Online: Tempest Remastered. This allows you to introduce a full block or combination of sets while also regulating what problematic cards are introduced. Imagine the likes of Kaladesh Remastered (Kaladesh + Aether Revolt) being introduced: you could easily not include problems from previous Standard like Aetherworks Marvel or Felidar Guardian.

Ultimately, we cannot fully judge this point until the first wave of historic cards are announced, but for the growth of the format there should be apprehension on what potentially is added.

Historic needs competitive relevance

For the more competitive players, or those that simply don’t find rewarding or challenging gameplay in normal queues, then this is an easy win. Even so, Historic comes with its share of questions. Historic’s ranked rating will contribute to the same rank as your Standard rating, so how will this impact Mythic Championship qualification? We could end up with scenarios where a player could qualify for the MCQW without having played any Standard.

The article does state that there is consideration for having a separate Historic rank, which would make sense if the Historic queue was permanent. Current plans are to only have the queue be active for the final four weeks of the format—as such any ranked rating would render the format close to meaningless.

Providing a constant ranked platform for Historic should help it grow and give incentive to play, especially if we can separate out the ranks.

Historic must help Arena’s long-term health.

Now this point is the elephant in the room. But why? Creating Historic is a noble aim, and the future of the game concerns every Magic player. But Wizards’ approach is causing some outrage.

While trying not to be cynical, all this seems to be is an attempt to obtain more money from players, rather than nurture MTG Arena. Player retention should be given a larger focus in this regard. This puts Wizards into a lose-lose situation though. Lowering crafts down to the Standard 1:1 ratio would be seen as quenching the flames from the fan base, while keeping it at the current 2:1 ratio would be seen as Wizards being stubborn.

Wizards would stand to gain a lot more by making the format as available to players as possible. Providing true value to rotated cards in collections requires a fun and engaging format with many happy players. But that may require heavy management of the card lists.

But it’s not all doom and gloom. We know enough to be excited about the creation of Historic, even if the first announcements leave us uncertain. With Historic not being introduced until November, there is still time for all of this to change for the better. Historic is necessary for the long-term growth of Arena, but it will need a lot of attention to keep it sustainable as a format.

Daniel Roberts (@Razoack) is a UK based player writing about all things Standard. Playing since the release of Gatecrash, he loves nothing better than travelling to European GPs with friends and losing in the feature match area. His best record is 12-3 at GP Barcelona 2017, but he’s aiming for that one more win.

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