A ONCE AND FUTURE THING. OR A HISTORIC WASTE OF TIME?
So the Magic community, and Arena players in particular got some news a couple weeks ago. News that has the potential to be massive. News that I think is lost among the hand wringing and outrage over wildcard redemption for cards rotated out of standard. The Historic format will begin shortly after the release of Throne of Eldraine and the standard rotation of M19, Ixalan block and Dominaria. The announcement that excited me was not so much that there will be a format to support those cards on Arena, no longer in standard. But instead the announcement that curated cards will also be added to this format. I’m going to have to preface this article with the following: As is my penchant, I’ll be speculating. A lot. If you find that tiresome or uninteresting, by all means.
One thing we know for sure is that Wizards wants to craft an engaging experience for Arena players and Historic. Were this not the case, I don’t think they’d bother to code and add new cards to Arena for the format. Another thing we know is that WotC doesn’t want fetchlands in standard or too much shuffling at high profile tournaments.
They’ve said as much and it does make sense. Magic the Shuffling is a common refrain in regards to the modern format with its hyper consistent mana bases. What we don’t know for sure is what the long term goals for the format are. But I can and will speculate.
Another format that tried to capitalize on a standard rotation was the doomed Frontier format. Unlike Historic, it had access to fetch lands and basic typed dual lands. What this meant was, the format quickly became a solved extension of a miserable standard full of four colour good stuff decks. And decks that were lousy with the shuffling problem. And in fact, any format that extends back to Khans of Tarkir will inevitably have this problem.
Another issue cropping up have been dissatisfaction with the vintage, legacy and modern formats. Cards are exorbitantly costed on the secondary market and not available in booster packs. And Wizards can’t or won’t reprint to demand. Additionally, modern has until recently been in a rocky metagame, dominated by fast, uninteractive decks looking to play solitaire. Players have been talking about a post modern format for a while now. And why not Historic.
Here’s the thing. Adding a back catalogue of magic sets to Arena was never going to make sense. It would be a massive time and money investment for so little payoff. So many players despaired of a compelling modern adjacent format on Arena, WotCs fastest growing, marquis product outside of booster packs. Giant caveat though. We never really needed entire sets added to Arena. Consider that only a fraction of cards see play in eternal formats, everything else pushed to the side by raw power level.
And if Wizards is smart and dedicated enough, they can sculpt that post modern format. With full discretion on what cards to add, they can avoid degenerate combos or issues like perfect mana and over shuffling. We could potentially see cards like counterspell, lightning bolt, primeval titan and damnation alongside the new toys our recently healthy standards have had to offer. And I for one am so excited to see what they do with it.
Of course Arena is a low risk, high traction place to test out the Historic format. But given its potential advantages, I see WotC test running this format as a new competitive way to play paper magic. A way with non rotating cards and powerful interactions but without some of the inherent liabilities of modern, vintage and legacy.
That’s what really has me excited. I’m thrilled at the idea of a heavily curated and accessible eternal format that we can play in paper. Wizards have been making some very smart and forward thinking moves recently. And I really and truly hope this is the shape of what’s to come. Of course I could always be wrong. Historic could crash and burn or flicker out with a whimper. But I live in hope for new and engaging ways to play the game I love. As always, good luck and good skill.