Magic vacillates between three phases: the hype of spoiler season, the fun of playing with new cards, and the lull as excitement dims but before the next spoiler season begins. Ideally, spoiler season kicks off just as a format is getting stale. This process happens at a different rate for most players, but once upon a time, the solution was fairly simple. When Magic had only four major releases each year, it spread them out approximately equidistantly, so about three months apart.

As Magic has grown and catered to more audiences—both a great thing for game players of all stripes and a boon to the game—this paradigm has shifted. With more products, there were more spoiler seasons and more releases in close proximity. It was challenging to sustain hype when it felt like half the year was spoiler season. It was hard to play sets like Conspiracy 2 and Iconic Masters when they were surrounded by releases other draftable sets.

As time went on, Wizards addressed these unfortunate consequences of its successes by shortening spoiler seasons, having more targeted marketing, and encouraging players to seek out products they want, rather than assuming that every product is meant for them. This helps bring some balance back to the cycle of spoiler, play, and lull. And it’s that lull that I want to discuss today.

An early start

Streets of New Capenna is not my jam. After a week and a half, I gave up. I stopped playing, and I haven’t missed it. I just didn’t have much fun. As for why, there’s plenty of discourse on the state of the format, so I’ll save my impressions of its design and development for another day—though I do feel compelled to note that the change to Arena’s Limited economy is a factor unrelated to the set. Every Play-In Point I’ve earned is a frustrating and constant reminder of the gems Wizards took away so I could have yet another useless-to-me Arena currency.

With Streets of New Capenna well in the rear view mirror, my lull has already begun, earlier than ever before. And there’s a long gap from its release in late April to Dominaria United’s in early September. That’s a long time to be in the worst part of the Magic release cycle. However, there are ways to fill that break between Standard sets.

Supplemental fun

For more than half a decade, summer has been the season of supplemental sets, and this summer is no different. We’re already in preview season for Commander Legends: Battle for Baldur’s Gate. As soon as it comes out, we’ll likely enter spoilers for Double Masters 2. There’s even a chance Double Masters 2’s release will dovetail with the delayed Unfinity’s card previews. Three sets within a few months is a lot, but they’re ostensibly for different audiences, so they ideally won’t tread on each others’ toes too much. Surely, there’ll be something for me to pass the time with this summer?

Battle for Baldur’s Gate combines Commander Legends (a format I barely played and did not enjoy) with Adventures in the Forgotten Realms (perhaps my least favorite Limited environment of the past decade). I have low expectations that it’ll be a format I’ll enjoy. To be clear, I don’t at all want to yuck anyone else’s yum—the set seems intended for other people and I hope they have an absolute blast. Moreover, I recognize that sometimes I can be absolutely wrong when I discount something I end up loving. Still, it feels unlikely that Commander Legends 2 is what’ll fill the lull.

Double Masters 2 is more promising. I’ve long written about how I love Masters sets. That enthusiasm has dipped a bit after Modern Horizons and Modern Horizons 2 provided awesome draft environments that also introduced new cards and archetypes. Thanks to the pandemic, I have no nostalgia for the first Double Masters (I drafted it once on Magic Online and it was fine. It wasn’t very memorable).

The gimmick of two rares per pack doesn’t excite me, as it feels liable to make draft worse rather than better. The introduction of $100 VIP Boosters and $60 Collector boosters? Well, they’re not for me, and they feel more than a little bit excessive. I’ll definitely give Double Masters 2 a try if I’m able, but if it’s like Double Masters 1, it could be too expensive to be played much (especially with how available Modern Horizons 2 boosters still are).

Finally, there’s Unfinity. I have no idea when it’ll come out, but if it follows in Unstable’s footsteps and provides an awesome Limited environment, I’m sure to love it (and struggle to get my Spike-y friends to play it). Sadly, there’s no guarantee it’ll come out this summer, and if it does, it’ll be competing with Double Masters 2, Battle for Baldur’s Gate, and Streets of New Capenna for attention and dollars. But if it does come out this summer, I have the highest hopes for its ability to fill the gap.

Playing vs. paying

One might say, “The answer is simple. Zach, you’re burned out. Of course you’re not eager to play.” And it’s true, I’ve written about how playing Magic digitally has caused increasing burnout with each set. It’s not only healthy but necessary to scrutinize one’s passions to make sure they still bring joy. But the thing is, I do want to play! I’ve done in-person drafts with friends and they’ve rekindled my drive. I want to team draft! I want to the play my new cube! I want to jump in a van way too early on a Sunday morning and drive to a PTQ. I am more excited about playing Magic now than I’ve been in years, and the future looks brighter than it has in a while.

The odd thing is, right now, all the things I’m most excited about don’t involve making many, if any purchases. Back in 2019, I wrote about my anxiety that Magic was passing me by, that with the spotlight shifting onto larger and more profitable customer types, Magic would eventually stop making things for me. At this exact moment in time, for this particular, long lull, that may well have come to pass. But now, I’m no longer afraid of Magic forgetting about me and players like me. Sure, not every set is for me, and sometimes there’ll be a Streets of New Capenna that’s ostensibly very much for me yet misses the mark, but I still love playing. I’m still enjoying Modern Horizons 2 (a year later!), drafting with friends, and being a part of Magic communities. I just designed my second cube (my first was created in 2012) and I can’t wait to playtest and refine it.

It’s a shame that Magic isn’t giving me more things I want to buy and play right now. I want to support Wizards and I have a Magic budget I’m not burning through (for once), but they’ve already given me plenty and certainly will do so again. With time, we’ll see how many people feel the way I do. Perhaps this’ll be Magic’s best summer ever and I can anticipate more long lulls, or perhaps it won’t be and I’ll have more sets each year that I eagerly await. At the end of the day, as long as Magic is giving me joy, it doesn’t matter how much of that comes from new Wizards products or existing ones. Still, it’d be nice to have more to look forward to next year.

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

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