Happy New Year everybody! I’ll be the first to admit that 2020 has not been the kindest year to any of us. Despite that, Magic is still going strong as it gave us all something to do when we were, and still are, bunkered down for the foreseeable future. Let’s talk about the major happenings, the good, the bad – click on the headings to go to the article and take a trip down memory lane. I hope you enjoy the read! Also be sure to check out last year’s review.
The first major set to kick off the new year was Theros Beyond Death introducing heavy hitters like Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath, Kroxa, Titan of Death’s Hunger, Elspeth Conquers Death, and Dream Trawler.
This was the first introduction of the Escape mechanic which has had a mostly positive reception, save one large Simic exception.
As of right now, this is the last official Magic World Championship to ever take place since it got rebranded as the Grand Finals. This tournament featured 4 premiere strategies in nearly perfect harmony, Temur Reclamation at 25%, Monored Aggro at 25%, Jeskai Fires at 25%, Azorius Control at 19%, and the lone Kanister playing Jund Sacrifice at 6%.
Jeskai Fires was the talk of the tournament as the deck had functionally no presence in a metagame presumably dominated by Temur Reclamation and Azorius Control. Jeskai Fires would make a strong run in the hands of Marcio Carvahlo who almost took it all the way to the end, however…
It was a hard fought battle between the definitive titans of the game, but the GOAT himself, Paulo Vitor Damo Da Rosa came out on top with his and Ondrej Strasky’s innovative take of UW Control with extremely few wincons and mostly interaction.
This was a super unique event as anybody with a ticket to the DreamHack was able to participate in this tournament! The metagame was presumably set in stone until a rogue player who held the rank 1 spot on Arena ladder came out of nowhere to crush the tournament with a rogue brew. Who was this exactly? None other than now well known Aaron Gertler with his revolutionary Temur Clover deck.
Temur Clover was the perfect deck to bring in a field dominated by UW Control as the extremely powerful engine deck easily went under and over everything UW was trying to accomplish.
The second Historic Anthology came out with some impactful cards such as Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, Waste Not, Goblin Ruinblaster, Meddling Mage, and Platinum Angel. Surprisingly, with the amount of powerful cards introduced, most of them haven’t made too much of a splash beyond the few that I listed, but there’s still time for a powerful card like Knight of the Reliquary to put in some work!
Ikoria would’ve made a strong impact on the format with the release of extremely powerful cards in Genesis Ultimatum, Lukka, Coppercoat Outcast, Shark Typhoon, Extinction Event, and Winota, Joiner of Forces. However, Wizards had bigger plans for us with the release of two new mechanics: Mutate, which unsurprisingly has been underwhelming, and Companion, which cracked Magic open like an egg.
Companion was literally game breaking as having access to an additional card that can’t be interacted with before it enters the stack would by itself be broken even if the payoffs weren’t that powerful (ex. Jegantha, the Wellspring). However, considering the sheer strength of most of these Companions and the deck building requirements not being harsh enough, you couldn’t play a match in any format without seeing a Companion in it.
Gyruda was the first one to make waves as it was utilized in a combo shell with Thassa, Deep-Dwelling and Spark Double. That was cute and all, but players quickly realized that Lurrus of the Dream-Den (especially in older formats) and Yorion, Sky Nomad were the real prizes as they were the most powerful effects for the least restrictive deck building cost. Obosh, the Preypiercer saw a good amount of play next in Odd aggro decks, Jegantha, the Wellspring was used in any deck that could happen to cast it, and Lutri, the Spellchaser quickly tore Vintage in half.
These designs were clearly experimental and powerful, but it can’t be that bad, right? If you want to reminisce, check out the day 1 decks here!
Alongside the Ikoria release, the much anticipated Player Draft was added into the game as well! No longer did players have to draft against the bots with questionable skill any longer and instead, draft with other players instead! This was a huge improvement to the game as players quickly found out the bots were relatively exploitable as their pick strategy couldn’t evolve as quickly as the natural metagame did!
Similar to Historic Anthology 2, this set also featured some real heavy hitters in Akroma’s Memorial, Gempalm Incinerator, Phyrexian Obliterator, Timely Reinforcements, and Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger. Unlike Historic Anthology 2, cards like Akroma’s Memorial and Ulamog quickly made their way into Golos strategies as Karn, the Great Creator became the newest tech in the Golos mirrors. Furthermore if you wanted to beat Field of the Dead, you couldn’t do any better than slamming an Ulamog and exiling two of them!
Magic players were shocked and absolutely thrilled when Wizards announced the first tournament of its kind, the Arena Open. A chance for anybody to participate and win up to $2000 was a huge draw for many players to battle it out for some serious cash. For the first open, Day 1 was only Best of One while Day 2 was all Best of Three, so that was a bit of a shock to more competitive players who functionally only play Best of Three. Unfortunately for the participants, the format was Standard which was absolutely plagued by Jeskai Lukka Fires with nothing else coming even remotely close to being as good. However, Wizards wouldn’t take too long to admit their mistakes.
Ok, maybe it was bad. April 17th to June 1st holds a dear place in my heart as the absolute worst Standard format I ever played as Jeskai Lukka Fires completely destroyed every other archetype and it wasn’t close. However, Wizards did course correct relatively quickly with banning Fires of Invention and Agent of Treachery in Standard and also suspending them in Historic, presumably to avoid a direct port there on June 1st.
Furthermore, after a lot of speculation on how Wizards was going to fix the broken Companion system, they changed it from being able to cast it directly from the Companion Zone whenever it’s legal to you paying 3 colorless mana sorcery speed to put it into your hand. At the time. I thought this wasn’t a great solution compared to the popular pseudo-mulligan idea, that you replace a card in your hand with the companion, but this change turned out to be a very solid idea. As a direct consequence of the rules change, most Companions fell off the map initially, only revitalized later when people realized it is still a free card, albeit 3 mana more expensive.
This came as a shock to functionally nobody as Winota was absolutely tearing Historic up at the time. Utilizing cheap creatures like Llanowar Elves, Fauna Shaman, Bonecrusher Giant, and Legion Warboss for non-human attackers to fuel Winota’s ability to find broken Humans like Angrath’s Marauders and Agent of Treachery, it was clear that the deck was too hard to beat for the rest of the format at large, thus catching a suspension.
I’ve been playing Magic for a long while, but I can safely say this was one of the most exciting Core Sets to ever be released in my opinion. Featuring a slew of strong new cards in Elder Gargaroth, Terror of the Peaks, Sublime Epiphany, and Thieves’ Guild Enforcer, this would’ve been a great set if they only had those heavy hitters. However, a huge amount of loved reprints also made their way into the set including Baneslayer Angel, Massacre Wurm, Azusa, Lost but Seeking, Containment Priest, Solemn Simulacrum, Ugin, the Spirit Dragon, and my personal favorite, Scavenging Ooze. With so many new powerful tools to try out, Standard looked like it may have new life yet, however, it was still bogged down by the ghosts of Standard’s past in Uro, Wilderness Reclamation, and Teferi, Time Reveler.
For a long while, Historic was a relatively dead format, not so much in playability, as there was no real incentive to play it. However, Wizards made it clear with the release of Jumpstart that, whether the community knew it or not, they had big plans for the format in the future. It’s hard to talk about every important card that came from Jumpstart as there were just so many, but it was clear Wizards wanted to make a big splash in Historic. Whether it’s from everybody’s favorite Goblin, Muxus, Goblin Grandee, to one of the best lands legal in any constructed format, Phyrexian Tower, this set had so many powerful cards.
This was groundbreaking as this was the first time Historic mattered in any competitive capacity, and many players were excited to sink their teeth into it. At the time, the premiere strategies were Auras, Goblins, Reclamation decks, Sultai, and Field of the Dead decks so although the power level of the format was extremely high, it did feel relatively balanced as there were many strong options to choose from. Despite the relative feeling of balance, Historic was to change very shortly.
This banned announcement was interesting because half of it was glaringly obvious where the other half completely caught the community by surprise. In Pioneer, it was no surprise that many 2 card combo pieces like Inverter of Truth, Kethis, the Hidden Hand, Walking Ballista, and Underworld Breach were not long for the format as it was quickly devolving the format into degenerate territory. What wasn’t expected though, was the Standard bans.
Considering the Standard format was going to rotate on September 25th, nobody really expected Wizards to make any more changes to Standard and let the format ride it out, but the will of the people prevailed. Wizards banned large offenders like Wilderness Reclamation, Growth Spiral, Teferi, Time Raveler, and Cauldron Familiar (the first 3 which were going to rotate out with Zendikar Rising) in Standard and Teferi, Time Raveler and Wilderness Reclamation suspended in Historic. This was a huge relief for Standard and Historic players as this breathed new life into formats completely dominated by the now banned cards.
Wizards wasn’t satisfied with just releasing the highly impactful Jumpstart set for Historic, but also brought back many of the classics from Amonkhet in Amonkhet Remastered. This set brought back many favorites from the set including Gideon of the Trials, Glorybringer, God Pharaoh’s Gift, and Scarab God.
Although these were cool cards to have, for better or for worse, the highest impact cards were the ones artificially added into the set. Absolute powerhouses like Thoughtseize and Collected Company snuck their way in the set alongside other powerful cards like Wrath of God, Pact of Negation, Demonic Pact, and Rest in Peace. Once again, Historic was completely upended with the addition of so many high impact cards.
Once again, Wizards showed that they wanted Historic to become a mainstay format by basing the illustrious Mythic Invitational around it! For those who are avid Historic players, a lot of these decks should look quite similar as the deck was packed with Jund Sacrifice, Goblins, and Sultai, but Seth Manfield eventually taking it down with the Sultai Midrange deck!
This was a big day for many reasons. Firstly, with the addition of Zendikar Rising, the Ravnica Block rotated out ushering in a small 5 set Standard format. Second, Zendikar hosted what I consider to be one of the best mechanics of all time, the MDFCs (Modal Double Faced Cards) where (for this set)n one side was a spell, and the other side a land. Third, Zendikar Rising introduced a whole suite of powerful new options with Felidar Retreat, Kazandu Mammoth, Emeria’s Call, Yasharn, the Implacable Earth, Soaring Thought-Thief, and Omnath, Locus of Creation. With a brand new Standard environment to explore, there were a lot of directions to go to make great decks. Although this is minor comparatively, this was also the first time an article of mine was ever published here! I think this is still a rather accurate guide, but clearly I undervalued a certain 4 color Mythic a bit too much.
Although Uro was a very reviled card in Standard and badly needed to go, the announcement surprisingly was scrutinized significantly more than praised. Why? Omnath, Locus of Creation remained untouched despite being the main offender in the format. So how did Omnath decks do after Uro was banned? They simply replaced it with pretty much anything else and went on to take over Standard from there. Oops.
A split format between Historic and Standard, this pseudo-Worlds event was fought out between 32 of many of the game’s best players. Standard was functionally overrun by Omnath with a staggering 23/32 decks featuring it. It wasn’t as bad in Historic, but it still was 1/3rd of the metagame with 11/32 participants bringing Omnath there as well.
It was hard fought between many top players with Austin Bursavich taking down teammate teammate Aaron Gertler in the finals with the 75 card 4C Adventures mirror.
October 12th, 2020: Omnath, Lucky Clover, and Escape to the Wilds Banned in Standard
After a convincing performance at the Grand Finals, Wizards quickly realized Standard needed to change before it completely fell out of favor with the player base, and they delivered. Axing the two biggest offenders in Omnath, Locus of Creation and Lucky Clover was a great choice on their part. Surprisingly, they also cited Escape to the Wilds as a potentially problematic card that needed the boot as well. It was a bit strange at the time, but I was actually a big advocate for banning Escape as well as it was by far the best midrange card draw available which would pigeonhole any slower strategy into playing it. Forcing all midrange decks to start with a Gruul shell would’ve killed a lot of new archetypes from flourishing and I’m happy to say Wizards hit it out of the park with this announcement.
Wizards announced that they intend on porting Arena from computer to the mobile platform! Per the announcement, both iOS and Android were planned on getting Arena in early 2021, but we haven’t much about the plans since.
Since the pandemic has made competitive play extremely difficult, Wizards implemented a new competitive system for MPL and Rivals players in the form of League Weekends. Starting October 26th, there would be many weekends throughout 2020 and 2021 where MPL and Rivals players face off against their respective contemporaries in many matches to earn points to determine their end of season standing.
This League Weekend was Standard which was presumably taken over by UW Yorion, but the MPL and Rivals had some surprises left in store for us. Despite UW Yorion being considered the best deck, it had an abysmal showing being upstaged by Dimir Rogues and, surprisingly, Gruul Adventures. UW supposedly could crush creature decks, however Gruul had so much power behind it that it was easily able to smash through the competition, landing Rei Sato a stunning 11-1 start to the League weekend.
More Arena Opens means more money. Since there was a big outcry in players being forced to play Bo1 on Day 1, Wizards added a new Day 1 option of qualifying through Best of Three. Now you could either go 7-2 in Bo1 or 4-0 in Bo3 to get the coveted token.
Once again the tournament was a resounding success with a huge slew of different archetypes all getting the coveted 7 wins for the maximum cash finish!
Made up of winners from the various Red Bull qualifiers held throughout the year, the 16 winners went into a split format gauntlet to battle it out for the $30000 first prize. This was a 1 day event which made each player to first play 2 rounds of Historic, 3 rounds of Standard into the single elimination Standard Top 8.
Although it’s fun to see a new strategy take down the event, Kazune Kosaka decided not to mess around and took the best deck in both Standard and Historic to battle with, Gruul Adventures and Sultai Midrange.
A continuation of the League weekends, many of the players were looking to either further their lead in the race or try to make up for a poor performance the week prior. Where Gruul Adventures was the talk of the tournament the first time around, Monogreen Food was the standout deck this time. Played only by Ken Yukihiro and Chris Kvartek, both players posted excellent records for the weekend with Yukihiro taking the top spot with 8 wins and Kvartek tying for second with 7 wins. Gruul and Rogues still put up great showings, but Food would take over Standard for the next few weeks.
Unlike the previous two Historic only sets, Kaladesh felt significantly more balanced with nothing egregiously broken added, but a lot of solid role players in the Kaladesh Fast Lands, Bomat Courier, Sram, Senior Edificer, Chandra, Torch of Defiance, and Fatal Push.
I prefer when a format doesn’t completely warp the format around it, and better yet, Kaladesh Remastered gave us one of the best Limited formats in recent memory as well!
Once again the Arena Open graces the player base and it was back to Historic! This time, right before the Open occurred, the new Paradox Engine Combo deck came out of left field and completely took the tournament by surprise! Although Sultai was still the top dog, Paradox Combo certainly gave it a run for its money with placing 2 players at the coveted 7 win mark versus Sultai’s 4 players.
Thank you for reading all the way to the end! Magic has certainly had a difficult year with not only the pandemic to worry about, but a lot of pushed card designs that required major fixes to multiple formats. For every thing that went wrong this year though, Wizards did their best to constantly adjust to make things right, whether it was in card design or competitive play. Looking forward, here’s what I’m hoping will happen in 2021.
- Return of In Person Events: This will of course be a function of when the pandemic can be put under control, but I have high hopes that we will be able to return to in person events sometime in the New Year.
- Upgrades to the Arena Client: At times, Arena still feels like a program that struggles to keep up with other modern TCG games. Whether it’s bugs, crashes, lack of common features like spectator mode, Arena still has a ways to go to catch up to other card games that have Arena beat in these areas and others. I believe Magic: the Gathering is still the best TCG out there, but Arena certainly isn’t the best program out of all the TCGs.
- Mobile Play: This was mentioned before as a goal for Wizards in early 2021, but the ability to play on the go will likely entice a large number of players to play even more than they already do or to pick Magic up for the first time. Anecdotally, I first picked up Hearthstone because it was a mobile game then transitioned to the computer client, a common story amongst many people.
Thank you again for reading! Hopefully you have a great New Year!