Thursday, October 9, 2014

The End of the Beauty That Was The "Core Set"

About a month and a half ago, Mark Rosewater made the most important Magic-based blog post in recent memory. In it, he revealed Wizards' plans for sets going forward. Instead of one core set and a three-part set each year, Magic will now offer two new two-part sets each year, basically one each season.

There are parts of this revelation that other people will find most interesting. A concurrent change involves the variety of sets available for use in Standard play; the lack of a core set means that three different sets of content will be in play, as opposed to the two sets plus core set previously active.

But the most relevant change to me is that 2015 will offer the final core set in Magic's (foreseeable) future. Rosewater makes a compelling case about the problems with the core set. It pursues two audiences, but only pursues each of them halfway. New players enjoy the simplicity of most of it, but each core set brings back a legacy mechanic to appease the experienced players. Neither group is wholly satisfied, so the set leaves each group with something to be desired.

That said, it was perfect for what I'd like to call the "intermediate player," aka myself. I know a bit of Magic throughout its history, but I haven't delved deeply into any one set. My fellow "Bros" were deep into Innistrad, and another friend of mine was all-in on Scars of Mirrodin, but I never got enveloped by a particular set such that I knew the ins and outs of its play at all levels (Limited, Standard, Block Play, etc). I could've seen myself getting into RTR if I had unlimited funds for it, but when you don't feel comfortable putting in the time to play tons of matches, you just don't get that level of immersion.

Core sets are easier to work with, because they draw on a lot of repeat cards from the past. When you see Serra Angel or Giant Growth or Mind Rot, you know what the card does, its general power level, and what kinds of cards you want to play it with (except Serra Angel, which you want to play with all cards). Being able to draw from a base of knowledge while incorporating a new concept (Scry, Exalted, Slivers, etc) was exactly my level of interest/expertise. So, it saddens me to know that I won't get annual core sets to look forward to.

Now, there is some cause for hope. Mark Rosewater has a quote in his blog post that makes me think we might be getting something interesting to "replace" the current core set model, while still appealing to new and casual players. The exact line is:
"This would mean we'd have to solve the problem of what to do with new players, but there had already been talk of creating a product line solely for them, anyway."
My imagination is taking me to a few different places. There's still one core set to be released, which presumably will fit into previous molds of supplementing the block sets with simple, highly functional cards. So that's something for which we can hold some excitement.

But, either for the 2015 core set, or going forward beyond that, I'm imagining something like "the core set to end all core sets." That is, a core set that will endure for the foreseeable future as the definitive set that Magic offers to new and casual players. It's the "getting to know you" greeting that can be easily picked up, difficult to master, and can stay the same over a longer period of time, so casual players who don't want to have to learn a hundred new cards every time they play can come and go with the game as they please.

I think something like this would welcome new players into the fold on a casual level. Maybe the "core set" doesn't have any particularly valuable cards, so maybe it's only a $30 investment to get the entire set (with a reasonable number of duplicates for deck-building). Thirty bucks isn't that large a price to pay for people to augment their board game collections with a known quantity that a lot of people play. I know I have several friends who might be more open to the game if it came in a box and had distinct features and components.

I haven't decided for sure how I want to move forward with this discussion. I know I want to go through some sort of exercise on it, but that's yet to be determined. If you have any suggestions or discussion points you want to make, feel free to do so in the comments. I read them all.

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