What Rotation Could Be

There are a lot of good arguments to be made for rotation. But I’m not going to make them in this article. Whatever I say, the people who want to play the non-rotating format will not understand why some of us want to play a rotating format. It’s impossible to make an argument good enough to justify stealing resources, players, and creativity from the format a lot of people would prefer. So instead, I’m just going to talk about what I personally would ideally want rotation to look like, and tell you an overly optimistic story about one of the infinite possible futures.

On May 2nd, Direwolf Digital would post an announcement titled “Rotation is coming to Eternal!”. In this post they would say that when set 6 releases, they are going to be rotating out sets 1 and 2 into their own format where all cards are playable. This format would simply be called “Eternal” while the rotating format will be called “Standard”. The Eternal format will replace the Casual game mode on the game mode select screen. Casual mode would be leaving entirely, and DWD would explain this by referencing the confusion Casual creates for newer players, and the fact that splitting the player base into four groups might have an adverse effect on queue times.

With rotation, set 1 and set 2 packs would be leaving the card pool in reward chests. Gold and Diamond chests would exclusively contain packs from sets 3 to 5. All players who were playing before rotation would get a small severance for all the cards they have from sets 1 to 2. Players would get 20 dust for every rare and 80 dust for every legendary that’s leaving the format. This means that someone with a full collection of these sets would receive around 40,000 dust going into set 6. And although this isn’t significant, the gesture itself is appreciated.

In the month and a half before set 6 releases, players would have heated debates about rotation in the community discord and subreddit. Many think that the format will just become more 3 faction good stuff, while others think it’s going to break the game entirely. The crux of the debates would be about which cards are going to be rotating out, and fairly quickly a list of the most important cards that won’t be standard playable emerges in the public consciousness.

The most important cards that would be rotating are the banners and seats. Many contemplate about the viability of both two and three faction decks. Some say that crests being in the format means that slower three faction decks will be dominant, while others believe that two faction decks would benefit more due to how important seats are to three faction decks. Two more cards will immediately stand out as some of the premiere pieces of early removal, Permafrost and Torch. Although Permafrost is not respected as a piece of removal, it’s still a popular card, and Torch is in 60% of decks. Many speculate that this would actually be a boost to aggressive strategies, as midrange decks that run fire cards can pick off early units without much downside. But the counter-argument to this is that most of the greatest aggro cards would be rotating out. Champions of Fury and Glory would both be gone, Oni Ronin, and most other good early game units would also be rotating out. Aggro would have to be drastically different in the new format.

But it’s not like Midrange decks don’t take any hits, as Sandstorm Titan and Heart of the Vault would also be leaving the new format. Many believe that this spells the end for the classic time midrange deck, as most of the shell relies on cards from sets 1 and 2. Not the least of which is Initiate of the Sands. The rotation of Statuary Maiden is also not trivial, as it’s still a popular midrange card. A lot of the premiere removal, card draw, and card selection would also be rotating out. Quarry, Wisdom of the Elders, Harsh Rule, Vanquish, Annihilate, Slay, and many others would disappear completely from the game. Midrange-Control and Control strategies would have massive removal-shaped holes in their strategies. And even though Desecrate covers a lot of them up, the entire landscape of removal will change significantly. Over time, most people would come to the conclusion that so many of the best cards from most decks would be rotating out of the game that the archetypes will end up being fairly balanced again, but it would mostly depend on the direction that set 6 will take the game.

When the set 6 spoiler season starts, people immediately grow excited for the future. Although the spoilers come fairly slow, some of the first cards spoiled are great removal spells, big time units, and small fire units. It feels like DWD has really gone all out with the set and used all the new mechanics to rebuild the older, more basic cards from scratch. One of the final reveals is a new cycle of playable power cards, which are especially good for faster decks. This dispels most of the fears about bad power bases. And on the launch day of the set, many new brews with just the new card pool are already circulating, and it’s seeming like although the game is changing completely, everything is still viable enough. On the first few days, most people head over to standard, so the queue times for the eternal format are pretty bad. A few brave people soldier it out and brew new decks for the format. The influx of high power options for set 6 turbocharged all the old decks in the eternal format too. When this information starts circulating, more players bring their new cards over to the eternal format to experience the high-power metagame.

It turns out that splitting the player base was not a travesty. Games in standard take about 20 seconds on average to match-make while games in eternal take around 40 seconds. It’s a bit worse than it used to be before, but there are enough people playing the game that the effect was really not as bad as people thought it would be. Players have meaningful choices about what they want to play, as standard offers a play-style where every game is extremely different with completely new decks dominating the landscape, while eternal has games where the decks are powerful, and innovations can change the entire metagame in just a few days. At the end of the day, most players would be satisfied with the available options, although a vocal minority will complain about the one time they got a 5 minute queue at 3 AM.

1 Comment » for What Rotation Could Be
  1. SilentNSly says:

    I still hope that DWD innovates on the concept of rotation and does it differently; and in a way that can only be done easily in a digital only game.

    One option would be making only cards from drafts (which are cards from the latest set and a curated list of “rotating” cards from older sets) playable in the new format. The two nice things about this is that it keeps Draft and Standard closer; and it lets DWD “rotate” old favorites back in.

    Another option would be nerfing older cards (like they have done with Icaria, the Liberator, etc) to let the newer cards shine.

    Yet another option would be a “rotating” ban list that they could use to rotate meta cards out of the new format.

    I am sure there are even more ways to perform a rotation that what was first implemented with paper MtG cards decades ago.

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