In many, many, many ways, 2020 is shaping up to be a very weird year. But even before the world hit pause and tournaments were cancelled, this was already a strange year for folks like me.

This is the year of Commander and Secret Lairs—and I don’t play Commander and have yet to desire a Secret Lair. My favorite products are extra fancy draft formats; but there won’t be a followup to Mystery Boosters, Modern Horizons, or Ultimate Masters this year, since Commander Legends is year’s innovation product (and Magic is thankfully scaling back from three supplemental sets annually).

As a result, there’s nothing for me this entire year aside from Magic’s quarterly expansions: Theros Beyond Death, Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths, and the two upcoming sets, Core 2021 and Zendikar Rising. I’m not much of a Core Set lover, so that really leaves me with one product I anticipate wanting to spend a good chunk of change on. I want to stay on the Magic bandwagon and I want to keep supporting my local game store, but I also wish there were more for me to be engaged with and excited to purchase.

Back in November, I wrote about how Magic might be shifting its spotlight so I’m no longer part of its primary audience. Instead of something downbeat, I’d like to be constructive. If I’d had my druthers, what feasible things would I like to see?

New Digital Frontiers

One of my favorite computer games as a kid was the 1997 Microprose MTG game set on Shandalar. It taught me how trample actually worked, gave me my first taste of playing with the power nine, and stole hundreds of hours of time. While many of its game mechanics are likely unnecessary—like the food system, or movement on a map—I’d love to see a single player Magic experience that combines real Magic cards with the wild, unbalanced gameplay that a single player digital format allows.

It might not be financially feasible to add single-player adventures into Arena, because free-to-play players generate value by providing opponents to paying players and might become paying players. That said, Hearthstone made something really fun with designs like Kobolds and Catacombs. I wish I could be diving into dungeons, either in a silly or serious story—playing with cards that upgraded as I used them across matches, or ridiculous new takes on Power that could never be printed, or with cool enchantments starting on the battlefield. Perhaps something like this is already in development.

And, on a much simpler note, it’d be really, really nice if there were competitive Limited events on Arena now that we’ve got human drafting.

Get the Squad back together

I miss the Gatewatch. Sure, some of their stories were much better than others and they pulled a ton of focus from other Planeswalkers in Standard when they were active; but their adventures commanded attention. I enjoyed watching their relationships evolve and seeing the same characters more than once every three years. I read the fiction every week and for the first time, had friends eager to discuss it with me.

After the Gatewatch picked up three new members in Teferi, Kaya, and Ajani and lost a member in Gideon, we’ve seen little of them and had far less story to follow. I’d love to find out that they’re returning, that Core 2021 will feature them getting back together. Perhaps Zendikar Rising will show them dealing with and moving past the trauma of losing Gideon, or exploring how the aftermath of all their romantic relationships abruptly and confusingly ending in War of the Spark.

Magic’s story keeps me involved when I can’t play Magic with my friends, and I can’t do that now. But I’ve been disengaged and disappointed for yeas now. I’ve read The Secretist, War of the Spark and the Wildered Quest, but skipped The Gathering Storm, War of the Spark: Forsaken and Sundered Bond and folks say I’ve not missed much. Ikoria in particular feels just flat as a world, as Kristen Gregory sagely put it. It’s smart for Magic to build its planes upon recognizable, resonant tropes but dull for the world to feel like little more than its tropes. I don’t know why I’m supposed to find General Kudro of Drannith villainous when cards like Deadly Rollick demonstrate just how casually Ikoria’s behemoths kill them, nor why The Ozolith matters. It’s harder to care when the world is defined by forces of nature and not people (and their reactions to living in such a world).

It’d be really nice for Magic to wind up another big, overarching story, one where we can explore diverse worlds but maintain some story connection across planes and releases. Eldraine and Theros pick up years-old threads but don’t connect to anything recent. Ikoria’s is seemingly disconnected from everything, and if it isn’t, I don’t know what I’m supposed to be noticing. Here’s hoping there’s something epic coming round the bend as the Gatewatch renew their oaths and prepare to fend off a Phyrexian invasion of Elspeth’s home plane.

Archetype Horizons

Modern Horizons might have inflicted damage upon its intended format (and other formats), but it succeeded in being relevant, selling well, generating excitement, and having the best price point ever for a premium draft product. For 2021, it’d be wonderful seeing something follow in its footsteps. While enough ink has been spilled over the problems of Arcum’s Astrolabe and why it shouldn’t exist, it’s wonderful seeing snow go from a niche favorite to actually playable, or seeing ninjas get a bit more time in the limelight (even if they’d rather remain in the shadows). Urza, Lord High Artificer might be too strong, but it’s great seeing Magic’s character from when I was a kid finally show up on cards—and unlike in Commander products, these are meant for play in nonrotating formats (and tend to play better in cube).

It’d be awesome to have more support for offbeat strategies and under-represented characters. Modern Horizons made me wonder just how much better MMA2015 could be if they could make a few new elementals-matter cards in blue-red to make the archetype function. They found a cool new UR mechanic they liked so much that they immediately reused it in Eldraine—imagine them doing the same for BG so it doesn’t have to be graveyard or counter-centric so much of the time. Perhaps Jumpstart will provide this experience over the summer, perhaps not—it won’t be a draftable product, but it could be something new and fun.

There’s certainly going to be a followup to Modern Horizons; here’s hoping it’ll be coming sooner rather than later. I’ve got money I want to spend on Magic and not much to do with it for the foreseeable future.

We’re in very uncertain times. Ideally,  Magic will emerge from the Covid-19 crisis stronger and with a slate of products to delight us and garner our support. I know I’ve been worried about the game leaving me behind; but I want the game to thrive to keep giving me goodies to update my cube with, and to once again provide physical tournaments for me to fly across the globe attending.

We’ll get back to a new version of normal soon enough. Until then, I can cross my fingers that Magic’s working on some things for me in addition to the things that aren’t (and it’s a very good thing for everyone that they’re not exclusively designing products for people like me). Here’s hoping.

And, as always, thanks for reading.

Zachary Barash is a New York City-based game designer and the commissioner of Team Draft League. He designs for Kingdom Death: Monster, has a Game Design MFA from the NYU Game Center, and does freelance gatame design. When the stars align, he streams Magic (but the stars align way less often than he’d like).

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