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Insider: The Struggles Facing Eternal as a Format

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With the announcement of Eternal Masters, we have seen a lot of price spikes for cards on the Reserved List. Some of them, like the spike of Volcanic Island, make sense. Others are clearly speculators making grabs at literally anything that can't be reprinted. When's the last time you've had a Legacy opponent cast a Meditate?


The whole thing stinks of bad speculators investing in nonsense that they'll only ever sell to greater fools. It's extremely reminiscent of investing in 93/94. Yes, prices on many cards are spiking---many are even the cards people want to play! That said, this type of speculation is both toxic for the formats that it impacts and just bad investing.

I've had some Arabian Nights cards that were inflated by 93/94 pass through my store, and much to my surprise I was actually able to sell them, but they're rather absurd targets for speculation. The people who bought them were literally just people intent on reselling them later, likely without understanding that the odds of finding real buyers who want to play these cards for these prices is infinitesimal.


More interesting than Reserved List cards spiking, is the question of whether reprinted Legacy staples will be able to maintain any value and/or rebound after they drop. Without tournament support, Legacy can't realistically grow, so Eternal Masters threatens to increase supply without impacting demand, unlike Modern Masters. As such, I don't necessarily like buying reprinted Legacy staples the way that I would advocate for buying recently reprinted Modern staples.

You hear from some players that Legacy is dying, while others have evidence of well-attended Legacy tournaments. I don't think Legacy is dying, though tournament support for large events has obviously decreased recently. Regardless of whether you think the sky has fallen on the format or if you're still able to get local events to fire with good attendance, it is clear that the format's growth has an established ceiling. This is based on the existing copies of cards on the Reserved List, whether we're close to reaching it or not.

People hate the Reserved List. Many Legacy players hate it because it drives the prices of the format to a point where new player acquisition is difficult. Players who don't own Reserved List cards but are interested in owning things like the original dual lands hate it for much the same reason.

The people who make Magic don't like that they can't just give the people what they want, but they understand that breaking literally the first and only promise they ever made would lead to poor customer relations.


While the Reserved List isn't going anywhere, many players are trying to find a middle ground between Modern and Legacy---a format where they can play powerful cards like Dark Ritual and Brainstorm, but where manabases alone don't cost over $1,000.

I both own Legacy cards and don't have much in the way of free time to play them, though I do recognize that a supported "Eternal" format would absolutely cause market movement. As such, I've been keeping an eye on the advocates for launching such a format, because it stands to have an impact on my inventory. I'd probably play the format if it looked sweet too, but the full story is that I'm much more interested in the format as a market force.

If you haven't kept up on the movement to make Eternal a thing, Chaz did a good write-up here on Quiet Speculation, and I'd also check out Saffron Olive's write-up on MTGGoldfish from back in November on No Reserved List Legacy. For deeper information, you can swim through the Reddit sub-forum.

Making It Happen

As things stand now, Eternal doesn't look to show any more promise than Tiny Leaders. It has generated some interest, but as far as actually taking off as a format goes, there's a lot of work that needs to be put in.

We're living in a very different world than when EDH, now Commander, became established. A couple people put in some work to make something unique, people saw them play, and pretty soon people were hooked. It took a lot of time for prices of EDH staples in increase in value significantly, and the affordability was a major selling point for many.

Magic markets just don't work like this anymore. You'll recall that there was price movement for Tiny Leaders even when the only way to find a game was to walk around and hope somebody else had a deck. People buy into cards for all kinds of reasons these days, many poorly unsubstantiated ones, and it's impossible for a format to gain traction without price movement.

Making Eternal happen really boils down to the format being marketable. You have to ask yourself both who is going to play this format, and how you're going to get them to play it. There are some real issues with Eternal along these lines.

Affordability

If the problem with Legacy is the Reserved List, then it really just boils down to price. While Eternal would likely be cheaper than Legacy, it would also drive prices for any playable staple relative to how popular the format is. The bottom line here, is that if you want to sell people on Eternal then price is a terrible place to start.

Sure, it's cheaper than Legacy and Vintage. Congratulations. So is literally every other way to play Magic. It's a meaningless statement. Eternal would still be expensive.

As a vendor, I can't operate in the same tournament hall as two other vendors and expect customers to come to me because my prices aren't the worst in the room. Prices either need to be very competitive or they shouldn't be something that you list as a positive aspect of your business. Stop trying to sell people on price with regard to Eternal, or the format will fall flat on its face.

Game Play

If we're comparing format design to operating as a vendor, then the actual quality of playing the format is comparable to selection. I am allowed to charge higher prices as a vendor if I have everything, because you'll probably be selling me your cards to purchase something my competitors don't have. Modern players pay more for Modern than Standard because the format supports game play that they like more.


So who's your market then? You're going to have a hard time marketing Eternal to Legacy players the way the format is currently discussed. I could play with my Volcanic Island in a well-established format already, so how are you going to sell me on Steam Vents?

Realistically, Legacy players are the last people you need to concern yourself with if you're pitching Eternal. This is compounded by the fact that Legacy players are a relatively small demographic.

Modern players are probably your primary source of players, as they already own much of what they need to play, and this is a real problem for the format. Wizards has already invested a ton in promoting Modern, and there's a risk that people gravitate towards this format with a wider card pool and then start to lose interest in Modern.

Standard players are a possible group to reach out to, but they will likely need to pick up a lot of cards to play Eternal, many of which are rather expensive. New players are incredibly unlikely to pick up the format, in the same way that it takes time to get into Modern.

Realistically, your target market is Modern players. Standard players with money and particularly adventurous Legacy players are potential expansions of this market.

Presentation

So you're sitting down with a Modern player, and they express interest in trying your new format. They ask what the ban list looks like. Your face gets red. You say that it's the Legacy ban list plus the Reserved List. They are unfamiliar with the Reserved List. You present them with a list of hundreds of cards, many of which are unplayable. They laugh in your face and lose interest completely.

Like it or not, presentation matters, and detractors of Modern make a point of saying that too many cards are banned. Eternal's banlist is several pages long, and there's no good reason for most of it. You can't just tell a new player that they can't play Reserved List cards. They won't know what you mean, and there will be a lot of confusion with regard to what's on it and what's not.

Hell, I have to reference the list when I look at building decks for the format. I know that Lion's Eye Diamond is on the Reserved List, so I can't play Belcher. Can I play Oops All Spells?

Are Elvish Spirit Guide, Tinder Wall or Lotus Petal on the Reserved List? I don't think so...? How would a person even know this? It's a matter of memorization or referencing a long and horrible list. If you think the current Eternal banlist is something that could realistically be an element of a format WotC would adopt and support, you've got another thing coming.

The Solution

What you could realistically do is trim the fat and remove all the nonsense cards from the banlist instead of just broadly applying the Reserved List. I don't think it matters if you make Thunder Spirit legal in your format. It's super expensive, but nobody needs it anyway.


This solution is fine, but it still leads to some players laughing at the fact that your format allows Ancient Tomb but bans City of Traitors. You're still subject to arbitrary nonsense. In the course of explaining to Chaz why I thought this was a real problem that isn't getting enough attention, I accidentally came up with a very elegant solution.

Just make the format Masques block forward.

Urza's Destiny was the last set that added cards to the Reserved List, and Mercadian Masques was the first set not to update the list. If we just start with this set we don't have any stupid-looking bans on our format that we didn't expressly add ourselves.

You might wonder about all the sweet cards in Legacy that this format ends up missing out on. Well, seeing as our format is post-Reserved List, they can all be reprinted! Many of which are likely to show up in Eternal Masters!


As of now, there are some goodies that we miss out on. Off the top of my head, Lotus Petal and Elvish Spirit Guide haven't been reprinted into a post-Masques set, and there are definitely some other oddballs like High Tide that don't make it. It remains to be seen if these cards will be in EMA, though the option is still there.

Frankly, missing a few cards leaves a much better looking format than one with a banlist with a scroll bar. This might even be a positive! It helps differentiate the format from Legacy in a more meaningful way, and offers a unique card selection without expressly piling onto the banlist.

Further, this model presents the format as an expanded Modern format---not a limited Legacy. Modern players, once again, are going to be the bulk of your audience. This stuff matters.

Don't underestimate the value of a clean presentation. If you want Eternal to take off, I strongly recommend taking this approach. As it stands right now, Eternal is being presented as a mess of a format that people are claiming is cheap. The presentation sucks and the concept of it being affordable is a lie. I have low confidence in it taking off as it currently exists.

Wrap-up, and Investing in Eternal

If the format is pursued as it's currently drawn up, I would keep an eye on it to see if it's successful in spite of its pitfalls, but I would not invest in anything because of Eternal potential. I would continue to shy away from reprinted Legacy staples, as I see them as being less lucrative than Modern staples. If the presentation for Eternal changes, or if the format takes off as is, then I would revise this position entirely.

Currently, I do think that there will be select positions to watch from EMA, as many of the cards that will be reprinted have non-Legacy applications. My current premise for being interested in an EMA position is casual and Cube appeal.

With the way Wasteland is tanking I imagine that it will increase in value over time after EMA launches, but at nowhere near the rate of Modern staples. Basically what I'm saying is that EMA looks like a good set to avoid out of the gates.

If this position is to change, it will be due to Eternal, and if Eternal is to take off I believe some serious revision is necessary. If you want to see Eternal become a supported format, then I honestly believe the information I've presented here are very important considerations. I wish you luck, and hope that you found this information beneficial.

Thanks for reading,

-Ryan Overturf
@RyanOverdrive on Twitter

7 thoughts on “Insider: The Struggles Facing Eternal as a Format

  1. I’ve always thought Masques-forward was a logical place to start this. However, what supplemental sets do we include then? If you include just sets released in the normal rotation, we lose EMA, Conspiracy, FTV, and all the Commander goodies. There’s also cards like Judge promos that were reprinted since.

    But if you decide to include ALL supplemental products released since Masques in 1999, we end up with a few goofy cards like Mox Diamond or Phyrexian Negator that are still on the Reserved List, but reprinted through the foil loophole. Mox Diamond is the main offender, but it still begs the question of how to handle non-Standard release cards.

    1. So, I checked the Legacy overview on the Mothership. This is their blurb:

      “Cards from expansions and special sets (like From the Vault, Magic: The GatheringÔÇöCommander, Duel Decks, Conspiracy, etc.) are legal in the Legacy format on the date of release of the expansion or special set.”

      Obviously we don’t want promos and one time releases of RL cards showing up in our format, so this needs some tweaking. I think you can just specifically list Commander products and special expansions. Alternatively you use the same verbiage and ban Mox Diamond, Phyrexian Dreadnaught and what-have-you. I agree that this is a slightly awkward area, though still not as big a problem as dealing with the RL itself.

  2. Gavin Verhey did this exact thing on his own, pre-WotC employment…and it may have directly resulted in Modern becoming a format (and him getting a job there). He called it ‘Overextended’. Here is the website, with results from testing and events and other info:

    http://mtgoverextended.com/

    -AA

    1. I’m well aware of OverExtended, and in fact I double-checked to make sure this wasn’t the same thing because I would have referenced this as a good base to start! Over-Extended was Invasion forward according to the link, which makes for a couple huge differences- Port, Dark Ritual, Brainstorm…

  3. What originally caused Extended to fail is when WOTC decided to not keep to their 7-year rotation schedule, and lopped it off to a 3 year rotation (so, basically, Standard + 1 year)–Players voted dramatically with their feet, leaving very few ‘new Extended’ tornaments, and almost no demand. OverExtended began to get tournaments/players as a response, and Modern was WOTC’s response to that to try and draw players away from a non-WOTC format to one they could support (and control). We’ll have to see if this iteration of OE can stick–and whether the format is diverse, or will require a lengthy list of quick bans similar to Modern when it first began.

    1. I think turning Eternal into a playable format is definitely possible. You have to be smart about the banlist, but there’s real potential there. The real problem is that there is no way that WotC is going to publish the Reserve List as a banlist on the Mothership. I firmly believe that this is a 0% proposition.

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