I finally feel like I’ve caught my breath from 2022. I took most of a week off work, slept in, painted the nursery, watched a bunch of Kubrick, and reset my brain after a hectic and frantic year. 2022 was, in more media than Magic, an information overload, and I have hopes that 2023 will be a bit calmer. More specifically, I have high hopes for Magic in 2023—with more of a focus on Phyrexia and celebrations of three decades of Magic, I think it’ll be a banner year for the game. While we have those two as guarantees, I also wanted to call out particulars, some realistic, some recherché, but all predictions for Magic that would make 2023 a standout year for me:

2023 Prediction #1 – Modern Shake-Ups

I’m having a lot of fun playing Modern these days, but it’s not the same format we were playing before the pandemic. We once had a non-rotating format that allowed us to relive old archetypes or create fusions of the most powerful standouts from a decade-plus of cards. With the launch of the Modern Horizons series, though, Wizards has printed scores of cards that don’t have to pass through the Standard pipeline and can be specifically designed to enable or sabotage strategies or tuned to a higher power level, leading to very appealing but dominant designs. Modern is at risk of becoming a “best mashup of cards” rather than a “best deck” format, and you can only play against 4-Color Omnath enough times before you start having nightmares about shuffling. I miss the days of Dark Confidant and Ensnaring Bridge, sure, but more than that, I miss brewing decks for Modern instead of trying to scrounge up a set of Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer. Modern has always been expensive, but there was a security in acquiring the top cards and knowing (even if we were a bit misled) that they would be good for years to come, barring bannings.

I don’t think the solution is to avoid printing new cards into Modern—which isn’t even on the table, as we have a Modern-legal Lord of the Rings set coming in the autumn—but to revisit the ethos of Modern. Is it a turn four format? Is it a format that spotlights cards that were too good for Standard? Is it Legacy Light or Pioneer Plus? A good place to start is to revise the banned list—what was declared too good in 2012 may no longer need to ride the pine in the post-Horizons era.

Splinter Twin, backed up by Force of Negation, may still be too good as a turn-four combo deck with counter protection, but at least let us try it out in a world of Solitudes and Elesh Norn, Mother of Machines. Deathrite Shaman has, I imagine, gone from one-drop format boogeyman to “Fury bait,” and I miss seeing it in my opening hand, so drop it from the list. Zero- and one-mana artifacts need to stay banned, I get that, as do the single mana card selection staples like Ponder and Faithless Looting but Umezawa’s Jitte should be a valid Stoneforge Mystic target once more and old public enemies like Summer Bloom, Punishing Fire, and Birthing Pod deserve the chance to re-earn their banned status (which I have a hard time believing would be the case). This may be me reading too much into the 30th Anniversary Countdown Calendar Secret Lair, but seeing those monochrome Deathrite Shamans and scumcore Birthing Pods gave me hope that 2023 Modern may be a different format.

2023 Prediction #2 -The Return of an Old Friend

Dominaria United gave us Liliana of the Veil, which was the powerful Planeswalker’s introduction to Pioneer and Historic and a standout of the set. While her star has plummeted in Modern, she’s been a great addition to Standard, Pioneer, and Historic, and hasn’t warped any format. Her reprinting may have been a signal from Wizards that they’re willing to ramp up Pioneer/Explorer/Historic’s power level, particularly for old Modern staples that have become outdated in a post-Horizons landscape.

Enter [/mtg_card]Tarmogoyf[/mtg_card]. It’s fallen to a fraction of its peak, with numerous reprints siphoning off its reprint desirability. Wizards can’t make any more money off of Goyf in Modern, so why not bring it to a new audience as an attention-grabbing reprint in March of the Machine? Between Graveyard Trespasser, Unlicensed Hearse, and Scavenging Ooze, graveyard removal in Pioneer and Standard is robust and maindeckable, and Fatal Push and Abrupt Decay would keep Tarmogoyf in check even if those fail. A return of the Goyf would hit several targets, including building excitement for an upcoming set, providing content for discussion on sites like this one and on social media, and catalyzing new strategies for formats that Wizards wants to spotlight in the coming year. It would also draw in players who have become disillusioned with Modern and exploit that most nebulous but marketable resource: nostalgia.

2023 Prediction #3 – A Grave Pact Reprint

Speaking of nostalgia, this is simply a sop to myself. Grave Pact has stolidly remained at $30 or so, which appears to be a threshold Wizards keeps their eye on for Secret Lair printings. It’s a bit too cruel for Jumpstart and technically off-flavor for Dominaria Remastered, so it was left out of those sets, but I have to imagine that it finds its way into a Secret Lair at some point in 2023. It hasn’t seen a reporting in five years, and even then, was in a pricey Commander Anthology, which mostly remained intact and didn’t affect the secondary market. Dictate of Erebos is a fine (albeit still half Grave Pact’s price) replacement, but the Stronghold original dodged a reprint in Commander Collection and is desirable enough to boost the sales of a splashy Secret Lair, perhaps one with art similar to the MSCHF version of Grim Tutor. A “Grave Tidings” Secret Lair with Grave Pact, Oversold Cemetery, Call to the Grave, and Skullbriar, the Walking Grave with classic gravestone styles would be irresistible.

2023 Prediction #4 – An Unexpectedly Broken Interaction

There’s nothing desirable about breaking Magic, whether it’s Urza-era combo winter, every decklist starting with “4x Skullclamp,” or the arms race to break Companions. That said, sometimes a quirk of the rules shows up after the printing of a new card or class of cards and inspires creative deckbuilding. I’m not talking cards that inspire day-one bans like Felidar Guardian or Memory Jar or frantic rules changes like Valki, God of Lies, but something very specific: an understudied interaction that enables something unique. The best example of this is “Oops, All Spells,” a deck that, by the standards of Magic deckbuilding, shouldn’t exist, but Wizards accidentally allowed.

A contender in Legacy, a pillar of Pioneer before it bit the dust, and a sporadic Modern experiment, “Oops, All Spells” exploits the Zendikar Rising double-faced spell lands and Balustrade Spy to flip your entire deck into the ‘yard and then resolve a Thassa’s Oracle. It’s surprisingly consistent and hilarious to pilot, and creatively used the much-hyped modal double-faced cards against the spirit in which they were printed.

The arrival of these sorts of decks feels like when the teacher would leave the classroom and chaos would immediately erupt. We know we’re not supposed to be able to do these things, and we know we’ll get punished once someone notices, but in the meantime, the transgressive thrill of creative destruction elevates us. There’s something so human, so inspiring, about being given a set of tools to build something functional and instead creating a Rube Goldberg device.

Who knows what form this could take in 2023—augmented reality cards? Equipment like Flesh & Blood’s that sits in the command zone? Transforming emblems? Microtransactions in real life (black border Booster Tutor)? Cards that interlock together to go from lands to three-dimensional Fortifications? Heroclix-style miniatures for popular Commanders that have in-game effects? As I see it, because I have a pretty adversarial relationship to art, it’s Wizard’s job to provide us tools and it’s our job to either break or build with those tools depending on our attitude at a given moment. A crowbar can be constructive or it can be a bludgeon, a simple lever or an essential tool to burglary. Some tools are blunter than others, and my hope is that this year gives us a useful but unexpected tool we can use for transient mayhem (as an aside—it’s funny that I would never think of myself as “Jund” but I am 100% the intersection of Golgari and Rakdos).

I’ve never been a big resolutions guy, so I think of a new year as an opportunity for hope. There are forces that want to take that hope—that want to make money off of siphoning away that hope—and so it’s an act of self-compassion to take a few minutes at the start of each year and nurture those hopes. At the start of 2023, I have political hopes, personal hopes, and, yes, Magical hopes, and I know not all will turn out—and I’m secure in that knowledge. If nothing else, it’s fun and/or unsettling to revisit those lists years later and see how things turned out or failed to do so. The point of hopes, like years, is that they’re ephemeral but renewable, that they recur and return, even if in different forms.

Rob Bockman (he/him) is a native of South Carolina who has been playing Magic: the Gathering since Tempest block. A writer of fiction and stage plays, he loves the emergent comedy of Magic and the drama of high-level play. He’s been a Golgari player since before that had a name and is never happier than when he’s able to say “Overgrown Tomb into Thoughtseize,” no matter the format.

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