Standard MTG Was Left To Die In Favor Of Commander And These Numbers Prove ItDiscussion Standard
Genoslugcs · May 25, 2023 · 4 min
Once upon a time, Standard was the format. It was the format that you could go to any LGS and find people playing on Friday nights. It was the format that received the most coverage, and it was the entry point for new players to the game. Sets were designed almost exclusively for Standard and Modern, Vintage, Legacy, and Commander players, absorbed what pieces were relevant to them. Newer plays may be surprised that there wasn't Commander Precons along with every Standard set once upon a time.
At some point, it came to someone at WOTC/Hasbo's attention that they could make a lot of money pushing toward Commander. When they realized this, the focus shifted from maintaining a healthy Standard to turning Commander into the beast it is today. They succeeded in their goal, but they lost Standard in the process. And without the TLC that it once gave it, I don't think they'll get Standard MTG back to its former glory.
The Push Toward Commander
You may not have realized the shift if you haven't been around MTG for more than a few years. But having chase cards like Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer (a card that isn't and never has been, Standard legal) in a Standard set is to sell boxes of sets that should be for Draft, Sealed, and Standard to Modern and Commander players. That wasn't something that used to happen.
I did some digging, and Ravnica Allegiance from 2019 had eight legendary creatures in the entire set! Yes, only eight. For comparison, March of the Machine has 35. March of the Machine: The Aftermath (a Standard-legal set) continues this trend - Of the 50 cards in the set, 21 are legendary creatures, and most have almost no synergy with the Standard card pool.
Furthermore, Commander precons have more than doubled in the last four years. Let me rephrase - 55 of the 96 precons in existence have been released in the last four years. That's 57%.
So, in the eight years from 2011 to 2019, they released 41 precons. In the four years since, they've released an additional 55. And there's not even counting the Dr. Who, LOTRs, Commander Masters, and Wilds of Eldraine precons that will hit shelves later this year.
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I chose 2019 to pull numbers from because that's when my LGS stopped hosting Standard gameplay. Granted, Covid was right around the corner and complicated things. However, numerous correlations exist between the push for Commander and the decline of Standard starting around then - Legendary creatures per set quadruple, precons more than double, and paper Standard tanks.
This is also the year WOTC started explicitly making products (like Modern Horizons) for other formats and the year Pioneer was launched! And lastly, as a coup de gras, MTGA released in 2019 and gave those who did play Standard the perfect excuse to stop playing it at their LGS.
Standard did not die; it was abandoned in favor of other formats. And until it's shown some legit care instead of quick fixes, it won't come back. That's why I'm not hopeful that the changes to the ban schedule and the Standard Rotation will help if the deeper problems are addressed.
Other Contributing Factors
I believe that the push to make Commander more popular was the undoing of Standard MTG. However, there are a few other factors that contributed as well. Wizards of the Coast stopped competitive tournament coverage and then stopped having them all together. Again, the Covid pandemic played a role here, but at the time, I think the company was happy to take the shift to MTG Arena to the bank.
These events and their coverage used to be a big deal. Again, going back to 2019, Mythic Championship 1 was phenomenal. Phenomenal! Watching Autumn Burchett battle it out in the finals against Yoshihiko Ikawa was truly exhilarating. There was something special about watching two high-level players locked in such a skill-intensive match-up. Autumn Burchett was playing Mono-Blue Tempo (which came to around $40) against arguably the best deck in the format, Esper Control.
It made me want to play Standard Magic: The Gathering. And I did. I went to my LGS and played. I watched people play the exact deck Autumn had played against the Mono-Red build of the day, and both players' hands were shaking as they navigated counterspells and key cards, like Tempest Djinn. Their brows beaded with sweat as they played. It was MTG at its best, and it was Standard.
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It's also worth noting that not everyone played those decks - There was Mono-Blue Tempo, Mono-Red Aggro, Orzhov Midrange, Dimir Control, Esper Control, and Izzet Drakes, and those are just off the top of my head. The meta wasn't so locked into midrange strategies. In other words, coverage of competitive Standard got me in the door of my LGS and playing Standard, and I'm sure I'm not the only one. I don't think WOTC (even now) realizes how important these big, significant events were for the format.
The fact that Commander has exploded and Standard has decayed is something many people realize. However, I don't think many people realize that there's a direct cause and effect between the two. As I went deeper and deeper into the rabbit hole that is the expansion of Commander, it began to paint a clear picture of what happened. At least to my eyes, anyways. And the beginning of the end seems to have come about in 2019. I'm sure there are reasons and that others have different opinions, which I would love to hear in the comments.