Tenth Edition has brought some new things to the core set that you've no doubt heard about—black borders, foils without reminder text, hot new art, and some exciting new cards for Constructed and Limited alike—but the set also came with a quieter innovation, one that could be exceedingly relevant for this weekend's proceedings: Tenth Edition was legal in Constructed just one week after its release on July 14, shaking up the Nationals scene and surely setting some kind of land speed record for a card set.
Many factors went into this decision, but I was more interested in its effects. I headed out onto the floor to ask some of the pro players here whether they felt the set's rapid rotation into Standard had had an impact on the Standard portion of U.S. Nationals.
"Certainly," said Pro Tour–Geneva winner Mike Hron, "but not on me, because I didn't really playtest at all." Hron felt that those who had prepared more for the tournament would get extra mileage out of Tenth Edition.
"Of course," he added, smiling, "part of the reason I didn't prepare is that I didn't have enough time…"
Hron opined that the immediate impact of the new core set was not what had rotated in but what had rotated out, but he also pointed out that, as a well-known Limited specialist, he was not necessarily the right person to ask.
Interested to see if others echoed his sentiments, I asked 2006 U.S. National Team member Luis Scott-Vargas the same question. "Everyone could have used more time, but that's not necessarily a bad thing," he said. He felt that with fewer decks for people to copy, innovators are probably rewarded by the new schedule.
Coverage powerhouse Brian David-Marshall said that people had mostly just slotted new cards into old decks—Incinerate, Mogg Fanatic, Treetop Village—but that those new cards were catching some players unawares.
"Someone played Head Games against Paul Jordan," BDM recalled. "Paul, A: didn't know what it did, and B: didn't know it was legal."
BDM pointed out that at least one player went 3-0 in the Standard portion of Friday's event running the backwards discard spell in an otherwise fairly straightforward Solar Flare list, and it has replaced the Haunting Hymns in many black decks.
Grand Prix–Columbus champion Steve Sadin, who had been standing by and nodding as I spoke with BDM, chimed in, "The mana's so good I don't know what to play around, or even what's in the format." He called Mogg Fanatic "a little bit worse" than Kird Ape, but did point out that the goblin would have made the cut in his predominantly red Regionals deck, which Kird Ape did not.
David-Marshall and Sadin concluded that on balance, the fast entry of Tenth Edition was a positive, rewarding players who took the time to become familiar with the new cards.
Pro Tour gadabout Zac Hill didn't think the scheduling change had had such an impact. "Pretty much all the hit cards, like Seismic Assault, people saw," he said, pointing out that no lesser mind than Kenji Tsumura had tried and failed to break the Extended-popular red enchantment since the set debuted.
"For most of these cards, people know what they do," Zac said, though he conceded that there might be a deck based around some overlooked Tenth Edition card. "Citanul Flute, maybe?"
Zac relished the feeling of a wide-open format: "I think it's a positive. Any format that you can't just play [constantly] online, figure things out, get stagnant, is good for Magic."
He also pointed that, although the new cards in Tenth Edition had not spawned any new decks, that hardly meant that the format was devoid of innovation. He agreed with Hron that the chief impact of Tenth is in the cards that were removed.
"You've lost all the defining decks," he said, and indeed, a look around the room reveals a paucity of Dragonstorm (whither Seething Song?), aggro decks branching out in decidedly darker directions with the removal of Kird Ape and Savannah Lions, and black-based control decks adapting to a world without Persecute.
"The format looks completely different," said Zac. Incinerate and Mogg Fanatic, he felt, are keeping down the dredge decks that emerged after Narcomoeba and Bridge from Below hit Standard, while other Future Sight additions like Tarmogoyf and Coalition Relic are still working their way through the metagame while a few older cards like Aethermage's Touch are finding new life. He pointed out Aethermage's Touch / Momentary Blink decks from the Grinders on Thursday and Pat Chapin's four-color Coalition Relic control splashing a singleton Beacon of Immortality (!) as proof that the format is far from solved.
You can say many things about the new Standard format, but "solved" and "stagnant" are not on the list. Everyone I spoke with agreed that the decks at this tournament are not as tuned as they might otherwise have been, but that that means that the format will continue to evolve, leaving room for innovators to get ahead of the curve. There's no doubt that some strange new concoctions will be served up at upcoming Nationals tournaments and in Magic Online Premier Events as Tenth Edition percolates through the format and powerful minds across the globe have more time to turn their attentions on the new Standard... which is not to say that some interesting things aren't bubbling up here in Baltimore, too. Stay tuned Saturday for some interesting decklists…