Slightly before 10:00pm EDT on Saturday, June 30th, 2012, the Classic format passed away after a long coma caused by mysterious trauma suffered on May 5th 2012 (the day after the last Classic Daily Event). Doctors and Classic enthusiasts alike are baffled by what had caused the nearly 2-month coma, but some have postulated it was the result of several lingering health issues. Chief among these suspected complications was apathy. The recent release of miracles in Avacyn Restored, numerous free tournaments, and the demise of Classic Quarter certainly all contributed to the plight of Classic. Of course, several other afflictions, dating back to when the format was conceived, contributed to shortening its lifespan as well. Classic was 6 years old.
I’ve dreaded writing this article for weeks. I’ve always been optimistic that Classic would be able to rebound and thrive despite the questions clouding its future. Unfortunately, it appears that the time has come to face the facts. Classic, as we have known it to be, is officially dead. We’ve all let the format die a slow death while in denial that there was something wrong in the first place. I can’t help but feel that Classic is going the way of the dodo, 100-Card Singleton, and Kaleidoscope.
Since the end of the Winter Celebration, Classic has managed to fire exactly 7 sanctioned events, with 0 events over the last 2 months. Over that time, there has been a pair of back-to-back large PRE Classic tournaments, but I think it’s safe to say that most of the people that showed up for the “Ham on Wry” events did so either out of respect for Erik Friborg, or because of the insane EV (free tournament with nearly everyone receiving some sort of prize). There was also one season of the Classic League thrown in the middle, but it had the lowest turnout of the 4 Leagues that MMogg had run.
Some of you might be asking yourselves: “Why would someone with this level of prominence in the format want to write an obituary about said format?” especially one that just finished writing about how great the format is in their Year 1 Retrospective? Well, first and foremost, I think the truth needs to be acknowledged. Someone needs to come out and say it. There is a fair bit of denial in the community (myself chief among them) that things would eventually work themselves out. My personal belief is that we need to be open about the problems that we are having and elicit some discussion. As they say, the first step is understanding and accepting that a problem exists.
However, much like the Death of Superman, it doesn’t have to be the end of the Classic format. In fact, it could be that whenever Classic comes out of this extended lull, it will be even better than it was before. Unfortunately, the biggest problem right now is fighting back the apathy that has developed over the last couple of years. To me, there is no bigger problem than ourselves.
Having said all that, there are two paths we as a community can take: admit that the format is dead and there is no return, or step up to the plate and bring Classic back from the dead.
How did we get here?
Let’s start at the beginning. All Eternal formats (yes, Modern included) elicit a stigma from the general population that the barrier to entry is too high. I’m not here to argue the validity of such feelings, but the reality is that it is a common feeling, and perhaps one that can never be fully relieved under any circumstances. What is worth discussing here is what can be done to minimize this effect, short of having Wizards simply hand out all the cards for free.
It is possible to build cheaper decks that don’t require Force of Will, (blue) dual lands, and the rest of the $10+ cards that exist in Classic. While those decks may not win all of the time, they are viable. Red Deck Wins is probably the cheapest deck to build right now. In fact, Wizards practically handed out a free RDW deck to everyone just a few days ago with the Fire and Lightning Premium Decks! Even if you didn’t manage to score a free deck, you can buy one for just a few tickets. Will RDW win more than 50% of their matches? Probably not, but it certainly can win games, and with just a few tweaks, might be able to compete with the “unfair” decks like Storm and Dredge. This might be something I will try to investigate and write about in an upcoming article.
Not everyone will want to sling Mountains and Lightning Bolts at their opponents, though, so what could be a slightly better alternative? How about GW Hate (Maverick) or Dark Depths? Both decks are fairly cheap and offer enough disruption to keep most decks on their heels. I’ve written about the GW Hate deck last year and you can find the primer here. Dark Depths (or Dark Times) is on my “to-do list” of primers.
Along the lines of barriers to entry, I’d like to share with all of you an interesting conversation that I had recently with user KingofPop on the Scheduled Events discussion boards. While I don’t have the full transcript, the conversation went something like this: KingofPop is interested in Classic and had actually invested in the dual lands at the release of MED4. Once he noticed that the events were not firing, he sold off the dual lands and lost interest in the format. I believe that KingofPop is just one of many people on the periphery of Classic. While KingofPop decided to sell off those cards, I am convinced there are many people out there like KingofPop, some of whom even have the cards but simply don’t use them outside of the practice rooms. Either way, I don’t think financial cost is the biggest barrier to entry. Rather, it may be a prime example of the “if you build it, they will come” phenomenon. If the events start firing, then others will undoubtedly get interested again, being hopeful that their time thinking about the format would be well-spent!
Perhaps the biggest barrier, though, is actually knowledge. Classic is a format of intense decision-making under conditions of limited information. Mastering the format takes a lot of time: learning when to play spells (or when not to), what traps to watch out for, and of course, effectively sideboarding. Naturally, experience is gained by playing against competent opponents, and lately, the Tournament Practice room has been barren. If we start to make concerted efforts to hit the Tournament Practice room, perhaps more people can get in the practice they need to feel comfortable competing in Daily Events?
OK, but why should I join a queue? What’s in it for me?
Classic has suffered from the quintessential Magic Online Catch 22: as fewer events fire, interest diminishes until it’s reached the point that people refuse to enter because the events are unlikely to fire in the first place. This might be the biggest problem right now! Apathy amongst the community has caused people essentially to give up trying to get events to fire. This has to change.
Here’s another way to look at it: Why would anyone take the time and money to invest in Classic if they can’t enter any events with those cards? There is virtually no influx of new people! So how do we get more events to fire? Well, one of the problems is that the community no longer knows when the events are being offered!
I included this list in an earlier article, but it’s worth repeating here:
The new Classic schedule is as follows (all times listed are EDT):
Monday 10:30:00 PM
Tuesday: 09:30:00 PM
Wednesday: 07:30:00 PM
Thursday: 08:30:00 PM
Friday: 04:30:00 PM
Friday: 11:30:00 PM
Saturday: 02:30:00 PM
Saturday: 09:30:00 PM
Sunday: 10:30:00 AM
Sunday: 07:30:00 PM
The recent time changes, while practically begged for, have actually backfired. Prior to the recent schedule change, people knew exactly when Classic DEs were being offered. Everyone knew there were a Saturday afternoon/evening event and a Sunday morning/afternoon event, depending on what time zone you were in. Occasionally, people would show up for the Thursday evening event. Now? I’d be hard pressed to guess that even 10% of the Classic-playing community knows when the events are these days. I’ve done my share posting on the various forums trying to remind people when the events are being held, and I’m not the only person either. Yet, despite our efforts, the word is not getting out there. This leads me to my next thought…
The Fall of Classic Quarter
Vintage has the Mana Drain and Legacy has the Source. For the longest time, Classic Quarter (“CQ”) filled a similar role for Classic. It was a place for people to post anything and everything about Classic. While CQ still offers all of the same features that everyone used before, traffic has been down significantly. While I don’t have any numbers to support this, I certainly see the number and quality of posts dropping precipitously. It’s quite depressing actually.
DangerLinto, the curator, if you will, of CQ, has put in countless hours of his life to driving Classic. I can’t imagine that Classic would have survived without him over the years. Unfortunately, real life issues have taken away a lot of the time that Danger was able to put into the site and the format.
Making matters worse, there were some prominent controversies regarding the Wizards-sanctioned Player of the Year race, which led to it finally being dissolved earlier this year. While this is neither the time, nor the place, to discuss those controversies, the reality is that without the Player of the Year race, many people have left the format (in addition to those who left as a direct result of said controversies).
The community needs to rally around the format’s discussion boards. Having a home like CQ or Magic-Eternal.com is vital. There needs to be a place that people can depend on to be there when they need information about the format.
One of the more surprising aspects of Classic is that for as long as I can remember, the prize payout has been the latest Core Set. While Modern, Legacy, Standard, and Block enjoy receiving rotating prize support based on the latest Limited Draft sets, Classic is relegated to second-rate prize support. This is always a problem from April/May onwards, as the Core Set’s value absolutely plummets. A quick look at the Classifieds in client shows that bots are selling M12x3 for 7 tickets or fewer. Buy prices are about 1.5 tickets. At that rate, finishing 3-1 in a Daily Event would yield a whopping 3-ticket profit, hardly worth the time commitments testing and playing. Makes you question the investment in Forces or Dual lands for a measly 3 tickets, huh?
At one point last year, Wizards promised some sort of rotation of prizes. Had that actually taken place, it would have been a slightly better solution to the problem. In fact, right now is the perfect time to change from M12 to DII payout since the preeminent prize payout is currently triple Avacyn Restored. While a large 3rd set isn’t always available, Wizards could do something about the atrocious payout for Classic.
One of the more spirited discussions on Classic Quarter revolves around suggesting alternatives to payouts of eternal formats, specifically Legacy and Classic. One of the perks of the Winter Celebration was the door prize of a textless-Ponder for all participants and a foil version for those who went either 4-0 in a Daily Event or Top 8-ed a Premier Event.
Adapting this as a normal procedure would be welcomed by everyone. If there is one thing that Classic players enjoy, it’s blinging out their decks with the most hard-to-find foil versions of Classic playables. This could in turn drop the prices of the non-promo versions of Classic playables, or at least increase their availability. With only 10 events on the schedule each week, there would still be a limited supply of these promos and it would be a great way to mitigate the Core Set payout problem.
Another idea is to have a rotating payout of out-of-print sets such as Mirage Block or Urza’s Block, etc. Each month, the prizes could rotate to a new block and the following month could offer a nix-tix limited queue of the previous month’s pay-out. A side effect would be that it could lower the price of some Classic cards as more supply enters the market.
Legacy is supported by a thriving paper-equivalent metagame. There are quite a few writers who have regular columns regarding Legacy and the events that happen every weekend around the world. Classic has no such paper equivalent. If someone wants to read about Classic, there are currently my articles, and well… that’s about it. Several other people have produced articles and even regular series, though none has stood the test of time (I’m not saying that my 1-year feat is all that remarkable, rather that I’m just about all that’s left).
Obviously, there is the hope that one day, Classic will be converted to Full Vintage by releasing the Power 9 and a few other cards that have not made their way into the system as of yet (most, though, are terrible). In a recent Q&A with Wizards on Friday, June 29th, Worth Wollpert, Director of the Magic Digital Studio, responded to the question of whether or not Power 9 would make it online as follows: “What I’ll say is that they’ll make their way to MTGO eventually. It’s a genie we cant put back in the bottle once we let it out, so I want to be *very* careful about the execution. It’s definitely top of mind, all.”
Clearly, the desire for releasing the Power 9 is there, so there can be no further speculation that it can’t happen. On the other hand, there was no definitive timeline for when they would be released. It’s possible it could be 2, 3, maybe even 5 years down the road, but Worth’s last line is what leads me to believe that it’ll be sooner rather than later: “It’s definitely top of mind, all.”
In the end, no matter how long it takes for the Power 9 to come online, it should have no bearing on Classic in the meantime. Anyone who stopped playing Classic simply because there is no definitive outlook for getting the Power 9 online is missing the point of the format. Classic is the only place to play with the “too powerful for Legacy” cards while also offering some things that Vintage can’t offer, such as several Vintage-restricted cards that are unrestricted in Classic (that is, cards “too powerful for Vintage”)
The Classic League and various other free events over the last year have had the intention of bringing a large-scale event to the Format and provide alternatives to those with busy schedules. They are nothing but successes, except for the fact that I (and many others) feel that it has led to the expectation of free tournaments with high EV. There are several people who have participated in these free tournaments, but never join any queues. Understandably, some have schedules that prevent them from entering the events at the corresponding times, but I get the feeling that there are others who only join the events because they are free. While that is their own prerogative, it does not contribute to a healthy format, especially one with so few players to begin with.
Going Down With a Fight
I’m throwing down the gauntlet right here. If anyone out there wants to help save this format, now is the time to do it. Now is the time to make an effort to join the queues (early too, not with only 5 minutes to spare, where it looks to prospective players like it won’t fire), learn the new schedule, playtest in the Tournament Practice room, and spark up discussions on the community forums.
Classic is near and dear to enough people that letting the format die would be a crying shame. To borrow Jack Shepard’s speech from one of my Top 5 favorite TV shows, Lost: “It’s been 2 months, and we’re all still waiting. Waiting for someone to show up in the queues. But what if they don’t? We have to stop waiting. We need to start figuring things out…. It’s time to start organizing. We need to start figuring out how Classic is going to survive here…. but if we can’t live together, we’re going to die alone.”
Clan Magic Eternal
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