Notes on the State of Vintage, Jan 2017


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    In the last few years, I've had little time to write plain old Magic articles. In addition to just general busyness, most of my time dedicated to Magic involved big projects like the Gush book or my HoV series. So, it was fun to be able to do something like this.

    This article makes some bold claims. I observed not long ago on these forums that the Restricted List has never been less prominent in this format, but was coy about why. In this article, I unpack an explanation.

    In the process, I try to diagnose the causes of some of the low-grade anxiety that seeks to have seeped into the Vintage player base in the last year or so. Part of this has to do with how Magic Online is changing Vintage, and our perception of Vintage. I'll admit that I did not anticipate these changes.

    There is much more here, but the article isn't too long either, so please let me know what you think!

    http://www.eternalcentral.com/so-many-insane-plays-notes-on-the-state-of-vintage-january-2017/



  • Interesting read. As usual, your work and thoughts are fun to digest.

    There is another dimension in my mind around an evolving player-base brought about by: age/time availability; MTGO; the proliferation of proxy-friendly events; the rising costs of physical cards; and the viability of decks considered unpowered. It is interesting to see an influx of new players as a result. A downside here, is that there feels like there is more conflict within the community now. Maybe the conflict was always there, but it was invisible to me. Drama is not a mandatory skill for this game/format.

    A possible side effect is that it feels like paper events are down from where they have been in the past, although, that may purely be geographically bound more so than anything else.


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    @rbartlet said in Notes on the State of Vintage, Jan 2017:

    Interesting read. As usual, your work and thoughts are fun to digest.

    Thank you. After publishing it, I realize this article looks more daunting than I envisioned. I wrote this as a short essay, with an emphasis on clear ideas logically presented, but even 7 pages single-spaced is longer than the average Magic article, I suppose. I say all of that to say that I hope that it doesn't require too much "digestion." The key takeaways, I hope, are clearly stated and driven home.

    There is another dimension in my mind around an evolving player-base brought about by: age/time availability; MTGO; the proliferation of proxy-friendly events; the rising costs of physical cards; and the viability of decks considered unpowered. It is interesting to see an influx of new players as a result. A downside here, is that there feels like there is more conflict within the community now. Maybe the conflict was always there, but it was invisible to me. Drama is not a mandatory skill for this game/format.

    I think a source of conflict is, and has always been, different visions for what the format should look like, especially as expressed by B&R list management. That's probably endemic to the format. I've written about this for more than a decade. People who can't stand the existing format or iterations of the format gradually drift away. But if there is one take-away, it's my suggestion that the current state of affairs is preferred to many alternative realities, which I sketch out.

    A possible side effect is that it feels like paper events are down from where they have been in the past, although, that may purely be geographically bound more so than anything else.

    Without question. The presence of MTGO has certainly dimmed my appetite and interest in paper Magic. It's logistically more convenient and often more rewarding to compete against players anywhere in the world at any time.



  • Nicely reasoned. I think the influx of newer players to the format have brought differing expectations of the evolutional speed of the format. This is neither good nor bad, just different.


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    Loved the article. Perfect piece to catch up on things for a new player, or particularly someone who's been taking a break from the format and wants to be informed.

    I did want to respond to one line:

    If 75% of the player base was thrilled with the format, but 25% deeply unhappy, is that really a better state of affairs than if 50% of the player base is a little unsatisfied, but few truly unhappy? I would suggest not.

    I love this, because it touches on the question "what does a good format look like", without quibbling over individual cards, which has a tendency to bring out personal biases in most players. I think B&R discussion should have more statements like this, and less statements like "Card [x] makes games [boring/bad/unfun/high variance]!"

    That said, I very strongly disagree with the idea expressed in that quote - I think we would be better off with a small group of passionate players at the expense of others. That's a pretty big topic though, so I don't want to dig too deeply into it when there's much else in the article to talk about!


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    A really nice article which provides a lot of food for thought!


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    @Brass-Man said in Notes on the State of Vintage, Jan 2017:

    Loved the article. Perfect piece to catch up on things for a new player, or particularly someone who's been taking a break from the format and wants to be informed.

    Thank you for the kind words, but,..

    My target audience for this article is more anyone who has expressed unhappiness with the format in the last 12 months, people like @Soly and others who periodically complain about one aspect of the format or another.

    The entire point of the article was to specify various complaints about the format, and then to properly contextualize them.

    The alternative title for this article could have been, to borrow a phrase from Kendrick Lamar, "We Gon be Alright."

    I did want to respond to one line:

    If 75% of the player base was thrilled with the format, but 25% deeply unhappy, is that really a better state of affairs than if 50% of the player base is a little unsatisfied, but few truly unhappy? I would suggest not.

    I love this, because it touches on the question "what does a good format look like", without quibbling over individual cards, which has a tendency to bring out personal biases in most players. I think B&R discussion should have more statements like this, and less statements like "Card [x] makes games [boring/bad/unfun/high variance]!"

    That said, I very strongly disagree with the idea expressed in that quote - I think we would be better off with a small group of passionate players at the expense of others. That's a pretty big topic though, so I don't want to dig too deeply into it when there's much else in the article to talk about!

    That section of the article is probably the most important. I'd infer that the kind of policy approach you appear to prefer is the kind that Brian Weissman advocated for in the past, where he'd advocate an archetype biased B&R policy regime (in essence, restrict anything that harms Keeper).

    My answer to it is in the article, but here's the relevant quote:

    A format where most players are happy, but a discrete and insular minority are unhappy would reflect, likely, imbalanced B&R List management, favoring some segments over others. Instead, a format where there is a low grade discontentment is probably reflective of a balanced and fair state of affairs.

    That might be the most important statement in the article.

    I don't believe the DCI should cater to any segment of the format or player base. In any case, I've been arguing against biased format management for decades.

    People have always complained about the format for many reasons. Change is hard. But we all need to evolve. Even Vintage players.

    @Winterstar said in Notes on the State of Vintage, Jan 2017:

    Nicely reasoned.

    The best possible compliment. Thank you,

    I think the influx of newer players to the format have brought differing expectations of the evolutional speed of the format. This is neither good nor bad, just different.

    Agreed. Players who play Vintage on MTGO may have more impatience with a "stale" format that paper players. Thank god the DCI isn't making B&R list changes to Vintage just to "keep things fresh." That's one of the worst things they could do.



  • So, in full transparancy... I can ALWAYS find something to bitch about.


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    @Smmenen The article is insightful and well-articulated. I found the section on homogenization to be particularly interesting, specifically the pondering of the restricted list.

    @Soly I think that critiquing the format and opining about the state of vintage are reasonable actions. Sometimes, however, we (vintage players) have a tendency to scour the spaces between space to find things to complain about.


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    @Brass-Man That makes more curious and I think that's a topic worth exploring. Right now without any insight into what you mean exactly, I would disagree. I think new players are very important to the health of vintage. People come and go, some stay, but turn over is guaranteed and new players are needed.

    However, I could be misunderstanding what you mean (I certainly wouldn't be surprised). So what I'm saying is I possibly disagree but it depends on what you really mean? Does that make any sense? lol


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    @Smmenen Interesting article. :)

    While I have personal opinions and would not mind to see a Gush restriction, I will stipulate I think the format is awesome, but I do think it could be better. However, that is all personal opinion and what is better for me is not necessarily better for everyone. Which is something I also advocate and why I oppose restrictions for the sake of something being "unfun". I hate the use of the word "fun" when it comes to restrictions/bannings. I really do. What is not fun for someone is fun for someone else.

    For example, I don't enjoy burn decks in magic , but other people do. But because I don't enjoy burn, that means something needs to be banned? Absolutely not. Obviously that doesn't directly apply to vintage (at least I'm not aware of a good burn deck in vintage), the idea still does. Some people find prison unfun, some people adore it.

    What deserves restrictions is when something completely warps a format (which is a discussion on itself what warping really means).



  • Why, oh why, are people so afraid of restricting Workshop and letting chalice and golem off the list? PO and mentor (gush decks in general that run a ton of 0 drops and 1cc cantrips) would get kicked in the nuts by decks able to run 4x chalice. Even dredge and fish would utilize it easily. Shops would still have 1 workshop and 8 conditional sol-lands, making it still viable, but less likely to land a 4 drop or multiple 2 drops on turn 1. The turn 1 golem or chalice @1+sphere or chalice @2 hurts (thus why they restricted chalice and golem) is overly crippling and often GG before you ever take your first turn. But taking away the ability to get past 3 mana reliably on turn 1 and not have 6 + mana on turn 2 not only weakens shops, but it weakens gush, storm, and mentor by hitting 0 drops and giving other strategies more of a chance.



  • I don't know precisely what effect restricting Workshop would have on the format, but I agree that in terms of raw power, it is undeniably broken. It's a Black Lotus every turn for an artifact deck. And every year there is a new quality artifact made that either increases the clock or increases the lock.

    In my view Library of Alexandria is noticeably less powerful, and it is restricted.

    I'm curious to hear some nuanced theories about what would actually happen if Workshop was Restricted.



  • Really enjoyable read Steve and I agree with most of your assertions. I'm not quite sure I agree with your almost final point though that Vintage should change slowly. I think many long-time Vintage players are certainly suffering from an almost moribund format becoming a living one again thanks to MTGO - but I'm not really sure, that's who should be catered to if the format is to grow. ie: Vintage's best hope to attract new players is via Magic Online, Online players notice formats getting stale far quicker due to the high turnover of play, so to keep those new players in the format we/the dci should be thinking about meeting their expectations. That might mean more regular changes in what constitutes the format.

    That said, I would hope first and foremost for change via unrestrictions, new printings and perhaps better errata management (eg restoring something like Transmute Artefact which might boost an alternative blue strategy). I personally enjoy the fact that the format is less about the restricted cards than ever before - and also don't believe that less variance in the power level of cards leads to lower skill. I think many sub-optimal plays are rescued in Vintage by drawing into broken one-ofs; ripping Time Walk or Ancestral for the win for example. Try piloting control in Standard right now for an idea of how skill-testing a low-powered, homogeneous format can be....

    If we are talking restrictions though then I do agree with the above posters, that there might at least be a sober discussion to be had about restricting Workshop whilst also unrestricting Chalice and/or Golem. I think Thalia decks have shown the viability of aggro-prison strategies in the format without the namesake from Shops decks, such that Workshop's holy cow status as 'keeping the format in check' no longer stands. I also wonder if fans of playing interesting, fun artefacts might not be better served by Workshop being restricted - for much the same reason Birthing Pod was in Modern. It simply puts too much of a brake on what R&D can print going forward.

    Just a couple of thoughts anyway. Before the printing of Ballista, I might have said it was time for Mentor to go. But it's good to see the emergence of a new card that could perhaps reign in a card that has otherwise superceded all alternative win conditions for gush decks. I'm in favour of Gush sticking around - I think over all its impact on the format is favourable. But I would say the last six months has felt very stale in Vintage to me and that, as an online player, I've been seeking my kicks elsewhere. That's been a revelation to me personally - I'm playing Standard now for the first time since Tempest block and always draft the new sets, plus the various cubes - and I greatly enjoy being involved in Magic more broadly. But I do also think that this is emblematic of why Vintage needs to get to grips with being a living format, and one which lives mostly online, where there is plenty of competition for players' attention. Retreating into the lofty Vintage mindset of yore and spurning the many possible new players online would at this point be disastrous for the format. The only problem is, that I do not believe, that even if we as a Vintage player base are willing to move with the times, that Wizards is equipped to do so, too. They simply don't have the staff resources to keep a close eye on the format, to be nimble or rigorous with restrictions, to free cards from stifling errata etc....it is perhaps only because of this - because of the fear they'll cock up the format - that I am sometimes grateful Vintage is left to evolve slowly.....

    Cheers for a thought-provoking read as always Stephen. Sorry you didn't make it into the VSL this season, at the very least to provide historical perspectives and reasoned arguments when the sometimes hysterical commentary flares up.

    (Edited to correct the god awful predictive text function on my shite mobile phone)


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    @Thewhitedragon69 said in Notes on the State of Vintage, Jan 2017:

    Why, oh why, are people so afraid of restricting Workshop and letting chalice and golem off the list?

    The fact that you're still making the same exact argument you were making before Thought-Knot Seer was printed, without adjusting it in any way or even mentioning the possible impact of 4-Chalice Eldrazi on the metagame, strongly implies to me that you haven't played a lot of vintage in the past year and a half.


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    @Smmenen @mdkubiak

    Weismann campaigning for a new B&R list was before my time as a vintage player, so I can't be sure whether that's something I support or not :D . At a high level, my opinion isn't focused on any one archetype, or new players vs old players, but rather the business maxim, "if everyone is your customer, nobody is your customer"

    A small group of passionate players writes articles, hosts podcasts, runs tournaments, and inexplicably buys websites. If designing the format in a way that gets a few people motivated happens to alienate others, those others have a huge variety of other formats, games, and hobbies to enjoy instead. I'm not saying the format should be crafted in a way that I'm passionate about it ... just that it's important someone is more passionate about it than they are about their best alternative.

    If out of 100 people, 25 of them are deeply passionate about vintage and 25 of them hate it, you end up with a 25 person vintage format.

    If out of 100 people 100 of them think "vintage is alright", you end up with 100 Hearthstone players.


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    Workshop is certainly a power 9 level card. More belonging on the P9 than Timetwister (in my opinion). However, there are a lot of ramifications of restricting the card. If you reduce it to 1, you seriously hurt Workshop decks, Two Card Monte, etc. Yeah, there are other "Sol Lands", but they come at generally a huge restriction. Ancient Tomb hurts you, City of Traitors go away as soon as you play another land, Eldrazi Temple is only usable in an Eldrazi dependent deck. Workshop has it's own inherent restrictions with it being only able to cast Artifact spells.

    I'm not exactly excited at the prospect of playing against 4 Chalice of the Voids. I think that is a very dangerous proposition to make, especially as @Brass-Man said, when you team it with Eldrazi. 4 Chalice of the Voids would also basically kill Paradoxical Outcome decks. At least, make it very fringe. I think the last six months or so have made it much more difficult to unrestrict that card (and I was one that called for it to be unrestricted, so hypocrite maybe?). From a personal standpoint, I think Chalice of the Void is way more "unfun" card than any taxing effect. That's just a personal opinion though, take it or leave it (though this whole message is a personal opinion).

    But going back to Workshops, let's say WOTC does restrict the card, what do you honestly do to replace Workshops? Okay, you have 3 open slots, but three incredibly important slots. I don't think it's as simple as putting in other "Sol Lands" to make up for the loss of Workshop. The value of Workshop to the curve of a Workshop deck cannot be understated. I would be very hesitant in playing cards like Wurmcoil in my sideboard as an example. Not to mention Triskelion (as a 5th Walking Ballista), or any card that costs more than 3 in the deck. The same thing happened when Lodestone was restricted. It wasn't as simple as slotting in 3 new taxing effects or more Phyrexian Revokers. Every card in the deck would have to be evaluated again.

    That doesn't even account for the monetary ramifications of restricting the card, but I'll give in and say I don't want WOTC to make decisions based on that.

    On another point. I don't think people are crazy for suggesting it, or even necessarily wrong (though I do disagree), I just think there is a lot to consider even on the mere thought of restricting Workshop.


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    @Brass-Man said in Notes on the State of Vintage, Jan 2017:

    @Smmenen @mdkubiak

    Weismann campaigning for a new B&R list was before my time as a vintage player, so I can't be sure whether that's something I support or not :D . At a high level, my opinion isn't focused on any one archetype, or new players vs old players, but rather the business maxim, "if everyone is your customer, nobody is your customer"

    A small group of passionate players writes articles, hosts podcasts, runs tournaments, and inexplicably buys websites. If designing the format in a way that gets a few people motivated happens to alienate others, those others have a huge variety of other formats, games, and hobbies to enjoy instead. I'm not saying the format should be crafted in a way that I'm passionate about it ... just that it's important someone is more passionate about it than they are about their best alternative.

    If out of 100 people, 25 of them are deeply passionate about vintage and 25 of them hate it, you end up with a 25 person vintage format.

    If out of 100 people 100 of them think "vintage is alright", you end up with 100 Hearthstone players.

    If 25 are passionate and 25 hate it, what about those other 50? :P


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    @mdkubiak honestly? they probably play Hearthstone. 25 is still better than 0.

    We're not talking about a national policy decision that helps out some people at the expense of others. If people who hate vintage quit it to play another game, those players, the vintage community, and the community of the new game they join all benefit.


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    @Brass-Man

    I wasn't disagreeing with you, I was just joking around.

    I agree from the standpoint that yes, if someone isn't having fun playing, they really shouldn't be playing. Nothing wrong with taking a break, trying a different format, or quitting altogether. A game should be fun. That much I agree with. However, I do want to see new blood in the format and the last thing I want to see is vintage become this insular group of players that don't welcome new players. That it should only be "their" vintage. Of course, I'm not saying you're saying that, just pointing out the obvious I guess.


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