And so people say to me, "How do I know if a word is real?" You know, anyone who's read a children's book knows that love makes things real. If you love a word, use it! That makes it real. Being in the dictionary is an artificial distinction; it doesn't make the word any more real than any other word. If you love a word, it becomes real. --Erin McKean, Redefining the Dictionary
Residual energetic and psychic emenations from the spark of planewalkers going in and out of the blind eternities like it was a windmill eventually coalesced into beings named eldrazi who by their very nature could not consume mundane sources of nourishment to sustain their existence.
Are they the same deck? They both overlap with a few cards, but I thought Esper Midrange was the current deck that uses things like Blade Splicer, while Solar Flare was the deck that was popular about 3/4 year ago that didn't play that much midrange stuff.
That said, Zac explained that they try to include control and occasionally combo archetypes in the Standard metagame. Both of these types of decks are certainly played (and competitive) right now.
Can I have a puff of what you're smoking?
Because I fail to see where any Control or Combo decks are being played on the tournament level right now, save for ONE Elf-Wave deck that we saw two weeks ago. The only other "Combo" decks are Havengul Heartless and the Gilded Lotus/Deciever Exarch/Deadeye Navigator deck that nobody plays.
Solar Flare isn't control, and you're more likely to have a sighting of bigfoot before seeing Mono-Black control played with any significance (sorry Niche).
Of the Control or Combo decks that are actually played, please show me where any of them aside from Kurt Crane's have had any success on a tournament level.
I played against (and lost to) a Grixis control deck at the Oakland World Magic Cup Qualifier when we were both 3-1, and a U/B Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas control deck at a recent local PTQ also when we were both 3-1 (so both decks were 4-1 after the respective matches). I also saw one or two mono-Black lists that looked controlling in the top 8 at a (different) recent nearby PTQ. Sure, this is anecdotal evidence, but my point is that these decks are being played and they are competitive. They probably have trouble against Delver because aggro-control is historically a terrible matchup for control, but as Delver becomes a smaller slice of the metagame, their odds improve.
As far as combo goes, Reanimator/Frites is also a type of combo deck, and it has seen intermittent success over the past several months.
I've also seen various control and combo lists played at my local store. If you're concerned about newer players getting to see these sorts of archetypes, you can rest easy - they are. I admit that I haven't seen a Havengul Lich or Gilded Lotus combo deck at my store, yet.
Solar Flare is midrangey, it aims to stick bigger threats than it's opponents and remove their early game to get the game sown up.
The Casual FNM'ers loving combo is from my own personal experience, the people who are trying to run HEartless decks, and Deadeye Navigator combo's etc are those casual FNM'ers. Those decks ONLY exist in a casual FNM context. Who doesn't see casual FNM'ers trying to pull off some weird interaction just once at an FNM?
Frites is kind of combo-y I suppose, however it is still creature based, as are the other "combo's" in standard, meaning it fails to all the same cards that are being used throughout the competitive decks.
I'm not saying make combo and control back to being over 60% of the field, but having greater options for newer players and older players can't be a bad thing. When combo's are balanced it's fine. If we had top tables of control, combo and various creature decks, it would give newer players much more to aspire to and find different routes to victory.
I'm currently teaching my girlfriends little brother how to play magic, so I built him three decks, aggro, combo and control. He says they are much more interesting to play with than the decks him and his mates usually run which tend to be durdly then drop a bomb, or board stall into a bomb.
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This is disappointing. This is really, really disappointing. As SadisticMystic pointed out above, turning the format into creatures-only DOESN'T encourage creature interaction. It turns it into one of the following:
1. I have the advantage in creatures, so I can attack without fear. If he blocks, I trade favorably; if he tries to race, I win. 2. I do not have the advantage in creatures, so I cannot attack. I'm just going to wait to drop Bomby Mythic Rare and then win. 3. I have a creature with evasion, so I'm going to attack with that and leave everything else back. 4. I am playing a heavy aggro deck like RDW, so blocking does not exist. I am going to attack every turn unless there's a really persuasive reason not to.
As you see, NONE of those involve complex combat calculations. There's no calculated risk in straight-up creature fights. You know that you're going to win or lose, barring combat tricks, which continue to get worse (no Giant Growth, depleting stores of removal, HEXPROOF EVERYWHERE). So you attack when it's advantageous, and don't when it's not. This translates to a lot of racing and stalling, and very little actual interaction.
Even beyond that, any amount of "complex calculations" loses importance as long as the combined, forward-moving efforts of the player base are able to comprehend and evaluate a given position. It's just like if you know that Fermat's Last Theorem is definitely proven, you don't have to rewrite all 130 pages, let alone understand every last step taken there, to establish a result that depends on it being true.
The final issue with this stupid creature metagame is the way it's being implemented: with huge, swingy creatures. A player lands a Titan, and everything's pretty much over. If you look at the best Control decks in the format, they pretty much boil down to: turn 1-3 play a couple of target removal spells and some acceleration, turn 4 play a sweeper, turn 5 or 6 drop a Titan and hope it's enough. These dumb creatures are now HOW you stabilize, not what you do ONCE you've stabilized. The reason that's inappropriate is that it makes the game much more luck-reliant. In a standard Control-Aggro matchup, Aggro just needs to get ONE creature to stick in order to win. It matters much less which creature it is. Similarly, Control needs just ONE removal spell to stabilize. It matters much less which removal spell it is. Now, it's about whether you can get the right creature AND enough land to play it. But once you do play it, the game ends. That's wildly inappropriate, because games suddenly become luck-of-the-draw. How dull. Don't get me started on Delver. Some games, it flips on turn 2 and you have a 7-turn clock starting right off the bat (more like 4 once that Runechanter's Pike gets equipped). Some games, it never flips and it's a vanilla 1/1 in a tempo deck. Stupid, stupid, stupid.
I really hope you guys at Wizards realize soon how terrible this is for the metagame. You're turning the game into Sorcery-speed, when all interaction happens at Instant-speed. You're turning it into a topdeckfest. You're turning it into Delver Goldfish, instead of the calculations of Control. It's just sad.
As the theory goes (which I ascribe to anyway, and I'm certainly not alone in doing so), the increased prevalence of luck in the game is a deliberate crafting on their part. The line of reasoning goes something like this:
-When Timmy plays against Spike in earlier Magic settings (let's say prior to 2005), Spike is still his same old self, figuring out which plays evaluate the best. Timmy isn't interested in such calculations, and leaves so much win equity on the table, and that's not even speaking of what he throws away in deck construction. Spike probably goes to town to the tune of about a .970 win rate. -Timmy may not care about maximizing wins, but he's not going to stick around for 60 years in a perennial loser's role like the Washington Generals either. If he cares about "adventure" in the game but finds out that isn't a factor that weighs into success rate (represented in the game as win percentage), he's going to abandon the game and look for something else that ties into his values more closely. -So maybe Timmy would be better off as the audience for a different activity. But Wizards wants to actively appeal to Timmy as their core audience, for a key reason. As the psychographic ruled by adventures and experiences, Timmy is the most impulsive type of player. And while Spike's focus on optimality may even extend outside the game setup, to such matters as "If I want to keep playing the game, what's the right amount of cards I should acquire from the new set, which cards are they, and what channel should I use to obtain those cards?", the pure Timmy mindset gives into the impulse and splurges--even oversplurges often. Coincidentally (or not), such spending, while it may be to his own detriment, works to the benefit of one Wizards of the Coast, a subsidiary of Hasbro, Inc. And they, like the control player who's simply inviting his opponent to overextend while sitting on a Wrath, aren't going to object to that at all. -So if their goal is to allow Timmy to experience more success as a means of positive encouragement, kind of like the customer rewards programs you'll find at a casino, what can they do? Some of his opponents will, by the nature of their approach to the game, be able to exhibit a dominant strategy over him at any decision-making juncture that's allowed to arise. One obvious solution is to limit the number of such junctures that are allowed to exist--in other words, actively reshape the game into something that is less about the players and more about the cards. This calls for "splashy" cards that automatically create massive swings in Win Probability while being disguised as a dragon, or a giant hell-bent on rampaging all over the place, or whatnot, with their optimal lines of play dictated by nothing more than a blunt force hammer to smack your opponent over the head with, because the hammer brings the game to an end soon, and that means fewer steps on the decision tree and fewer opportunities for their valued customers to make a misplay and ruin everything.
It would be interesting to get an official answer on behalf of R&D to a thought experiment: You have two players, each with the same pool of cards to build a deck from. Let's call one the Logical Strategy Vocalizer, a hypothetical being who understands all the information it's entitled to under the rules, and makes decisions according to which course of action provides the greatest average equity according to its internal equity tables. On the other side of the table we have Extremely Evel Knievel, a player who's had two years of experience with the game and enough fundamental strategy knowledge to get through DotP 2013, but who is ultimately driven by the game's visceral experiences that R&D talks about wanting to provide front and center. The two players play 1,000 games of Standard, taking place simultaneously in 1,000 parallel universes a la Arabian Nights--in any case, the experiment is constructed such that fatigue isn't an issue for either player. In different universes, they might build different decks from the card pool, either because an attack on an unknown metagame calls for a probabilistic weighting of archetypes, or because someone might just be in the mood to play different colors in different universes. Then the question is, how many of those 1,000 games does R&D want that E.E.K. player to be able to win? Expressed another way, what is the greatest extent to which the L.S.V.'s decision-making should be allowed to affect its win percentage?
If you ever get an answer to that (which is pretty unlikely in itself), you can run a slight modification of the thought experiment. Previously, we held card accessibility to be constant between the players. This time, we'll give the L.S.V. a budget of $50 to accumulate its card pool (and assume that card-borrowing favors are a non-factor), while EEK is willing to spend $500. Re-running the 1,000-game test under these circumstances, how many games should each player be able to win this time?
The results of those two exercises could tell a lot as far as the likely future roadmap for design. But of course, if R&D even has answers, they would be closely guarded as marketing data.
Excellent post. I also am very curious about how much of a skill factor MtG should require in the mind of the developers. I'm sure that many of them who have been competitive players in the past (like Zach) would like to see the skill factor go up but with the limitations they've placed on themselves shown in the article it is probably difficult. In addition they are likely aware as you pointed out that the more mediocre players who stand a chance of winning games consistently the more customers they'll be able to keep.
Unfortunately the balance of money and wins based on the products that R&D has given us over the past 2 years means that I haven't been buying cards. It's probably best for Magic as a whole but I certainly can't keep up. I'm going to see if I can flesh out a modern deck with the cards I have and leave standard for the rich kids.