The Case of Historic

Recently I have heard a lot of news surrounding this new format called Historic. When I first heard rumors about it several months ago, I was excited! A non-rotating format that didn’t have fetches and had a lower power level than Modern was enticing. (Especially because Modern has been turbo-charged the past few months). An Arena only format didn’t faze me at first, cards were going to be rotating and they needed a place to go, and I might actually play Arena if there is an eternal format there as I can never really get into Standard. Then the news dropped about what Historic really was going to be. You can read the article here.

After this article came out there has been a lot of negativity surrounding the Historic format, and I can’t blame people for being angry. Wizards have not done a good job promoting the new format and have made a lot of questionable choices. As someone who is personally excited for Historic, I started writing this article under the assumption that I would defend the choices Wizards made and offer a contrarian opinion, but after spending a long time thinking about it, I’ve realized that Historic needs to be criticized as what they are doing is predatory and will only hurt the format and their player base. Today I want to spend my time talking about the contentious parts of Historic and sharing my opinions on it.

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Powerful Cards

The first thing I would like to discuss is the inclusion of powerful cards such as Brainstorm and Dark Confidant in the format. This is actually one of the points of Historic that I would like to defend, as I can understand why Wizards would try to innovate with the format like this, and also because I think it has the potential to be really fun. Wizards do not have a great track record of keeping new formats alive, with formats such as Frontier, Tiny Leaders, and most recently Brawl failing right as they begin. (Brawl is looking to make a comeback, however).

Frontier is the closest analogy to Historic so let’s talk about why it failed. Frontier was meant to fill the gap between Modern and Standard and become the new Standard plus. It started off by simply being a format that had a different cutoff point: Magic 2015. The idea was simple and little was done to promote it or make it unique from Modern. The problem lied in that it was too similar to Modern/Standard and it lacked a distinct identity. Fetchlands were still in the format without the awesome legacy of cards to back it up while simultaneously it had the same problems of 4 color goodstuff decks that Standard was trying to deal with. Frontier died because it could not carve its own niche.

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Historic is trying to carve its niche by choosing which cards are allowed to enter the format. This is an incredibly exciting proposition. Adding cards to bolster certain decks and nerf others is a great way to keep the format in check, and to constantly allow new and exciting things to enter the format. I do believe that adding in cards like Dark Confidant and Brainstorm is a little too ambitious to start, but I believe that the gameplay they are trying to emulate is based on Cube. Cube is one of my favorite formats, and by curating the cards that enter the format they can create an environment that is as well-tuned as a cube. If it were possible to create a 60 card format that had the gameplay of Cube, it would easily become my favorite format and would be very appealing in a way that Modern and Standard are not. I do agree that adding in cards as powerful as Wurmcoil Engine or as problematic as Brainstorm at the start of the format is bad for the health of it, I like the way they are thinking and I hope that they continue this idea of adding in old and powerful cards.

What would be a better way to introduce these iconic cards of Magic then? Starting off with a much lower power level is probably the way to go, and slowly increasing the power as the format gets older. This way cards such as Jadelight Ranger actually have a chance to shine in the format before cards like Tarmogoyf get added. You could also try adding in cards that are reminiscent of old Standard formats. We are going back to Theros soon, so why not add cards such as Gray Merchant of Asphodel to remind us of that Standard season. By doing it this way, Historic can not only serve as a marketing tool, but it can help us remember Magic’s long history. Iconic decks such as Wildfire, Madness, and Jund can all be featured in this new format and have a chance to compete with the last few years of Magic. Starting with Dark Confidant, Wurmcoil Engine, and Brainstorm runs the risk of homogenizing the format and turning it into a single deck metagame. Before you, add-in cards that are eternally playable, try adding in cards that are closer in power level to our current Standard format.

2 Wildcards

On its own, the issue of adding in powerful cards is concerning but not an issue. The real reason that the player base is in uproar is charging 2 Wildcards per card in Historic. Wizards reasoning for this is that they want to introduce newer players to Standard, and have them move onto Historic when they are ready. The real reason is that Standard will make more money than Historic, so by discouraging players from playing Historic they will make more money. I wanted to defend this point, and talk about it from the perspective of the company, but the more I thought about it the more I realized that this is a terrible move for both Wizards and the players.

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This obviously screws over the players because if they want to join the hot new format, they will need to pay twice as much to enter it and compete. Wizards want this format to cost twice as much because they want the player base to stay in Standard where WotC can make more money. Eternal formats are notoriously bad at making money for Wizards because once a player gets the deck they like, they stop making purchases. However, as much as Wizards would prefer for every player to play Standard, Arena needs an Eternal format, especially because it lacks a dusting system. If a player spent a ton of wildcards on Dinosaurs only to have it rotate they need a place to play that deck or they will stop playing Arena. By making Historic cost more to play then Standard, Wizards is making it so that there will be a much smaller playerbase for Historic which means that that Dinosaur player that just sunk a ton of time and money into building their deck won’t be able to play it. Because they can’t dust their deck, there is absolutely no reason for them to keep on playing unless they are willing to grind a whole new Standard deck which most players aren’t willing to do.

Long term this makes sense from a business perspective. Standard makes more money so incentivizing the players to stay in Standard rather than joining a new Eternal format is exactly the kind of thing you would say to a stuffy board room of executives. Of course, if there is no Historic because the format dies when it’s first introduced, this long term gain is not going to be found. Let’s say that the format does survive, and manages to become a normal format with the likes of Modern. Why is it still bad to have twice the entry point? If you gush to your friend about how cool this Historic format is with Brainstorm and Bob and they make an Arena account to try and join, only to find out that they can’t make a deck unless they play a lot of Standard first they aren’t going to try. What if Standard really sucks at the time? This inaccessibility of the format does not give players a reason to play Arena beyond Standard, and if Standard starts to suck a large majority of the player base will leave instead of staying around for Historic.

The value of crafting a card that is legal in both Eternal and Standard formats is worth way more than crafting a card that is worth twice as much but is only legal in one format… 

What kind of things can Wizards do to encourage players to stay in Standard then? Well, they could offer fewer rewards for going undefeated. But that doesn’t feel good and will make the player feel cheated. They could create a dusting system and offer double for cards that are Historic. But that will probably just kill Historic as you could get 2 decks for the price of one. Hearthstone, Arena’s biggest competitor, has already crossed this bridge of creating an Eternal format, so let’s see how the industry-standard went about it. They made cards in Standard cost as much as cards in Wild. Crazy, I know, but if you think about it, the value of crafting a card that is legal in both Eternal and Standard is worth way more than crafting a card that is worth twice as much but is only legal in one format. Charging a premium to play the secondary format makes no sense and is only going to serve to make the format inaccessible, and therefore die.

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Conclusion

I really want Historic to be good. One of the main reasons I don’t play that much Arena is because I enjoy Eternal formats far more than I enjoy Standard, and Historic is my first chance to get that kind of format on Arena. Adding such powerful cards right out of the gate seems excessive, but I can see that they are trying to create a format with its own unique identity, and I feel that it has a lot of potential and could become a really awesome format. But making cards cost twice as much is not only a terrible move for the fans that want to play this game, but also for Wizards itself. Putting a price wall in front of a format ultimately means that fewer people will want to play and may even kill the format. For the longest time, I thought that the reaction to Historic was overblown, and I thought that Wizards has to make money somehow, but after critically analyzing the situation I’ve realized that the double wildcard problem will not only serve to alienate your fanbase but will also earn you fewer profits in the end. Thank you for reading, I hope you have a great week and an amazing Tuesday!