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By: Psychobabble, PB
Mar 04 2015 1:00pm
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Block constructed is a format that has been around ever since the block structure was introduced to Magic with the Ice Age cycle in June 1995. It has a long and storied history in competitive magic, with many high level competitive events played in the format, from PTQs to Pro Tours to the World Magic Cup. While it has never been the most popular format, it has always been seen as a legitimate and frequently enjoyable competitive format that best showcases the themed mechanics of a block and sows the seeds for standard decks in the next rotation. Unfortunately, it's not clear that block constructed will survive to its 20th anniversary later this year. In this article I take a brief look at the state of the current KTK/FRF block constructed format on MTGO, outline why I think the format is worth saving and suggest some steps which can be taken to revive this format before it's too late.

KTK/FRF Block Constructed

In an unannounced and unexplained move, WoTC pulled the THS block constructed format off MTGO with the release of M14 last year. There was no indication at the time as to whether this was a permanent or temporary move and I can only surmise that WoTC pulled the plug on the format at that time in anticipation of the usual drop off in interest in the format when the core set is released and the old block constructed format set starts to get a bit stale. There was no official announcement that the format would be returning with the release of KTK, and the fact that there was going to be no block constructed pro tour in the 2014/15 season (for the first time since 1996) led some to believe that it had quietly been killed off as a supported format online. That proved to be incorrect, although the only official confirmation of its return prior to being available in the client was indirectly, thorough an announcement that it would be a MOCS format in December 2014. Sure enough, when KTK cards were released online, KTK Block constructed became a filter (although, it never did get a Gatherer filter, unlike every previous block). Strangely, though, it still wasn't supported in scheduled or on-demand constructed events. Block format events had always previously begun as soon as pre-release events started. Block daily events and queues suddenly appeared though, after the bizarrely-long two week pre-release/release window for the new set had ended. None of this was explained or foreshadowed in any way to the best of my knowledge.

In the past, interest in block constructed has been highest right after a new set is launched. Everyone's excited to play with new cards, and there's no better format to play new cards in than block constructed, where they (obviously) have the biggest impact. The format also lets you try out the various linear themes built in the set and sandbox or experiment with the interesting new cards in a more low powered and slower environment. Block tends to get solved quicker than other formats after new cards are added, but the initial exploration period is quite exciting and plays in well with the pent up hype for new cards. In the first couple of weeks of previous block formats, participation in daily events has always been very high, with usually enough players joining to give four or five 4-0 players in each of the reported events. That did not happen this time. The first reported events of the new format had only one or two 4-0 players and it was much harder than usual to get a game in the practice room or 2-player queues. In my opinion, this was due to unexplained delay in the official launch of the format. People had no idea if the format was even going to exist and then it didn't properly launch right at the time when interest in it was historically at its peak. The format did ok after that, but never had the level of interest in it that previous block formats had.

The same launch delay occurred with the latest set, FRF. Again this was unexplained. But this time I kept waiting for daily event decklists to be reported, but they never were. I thought something strange was going on, like maybe there had been a decision made to not report these deck lists to stop the format getting solved or something. Then I noticed something exciting with the newly re-vamped daily event schedule - there was a block constructed daily early in the week right at the perfect time for me to play! I eagerly queued up for the even the other night a few minutes before it was due to start and then realised why there were no reported decklists. There were only two people in the queue, including myself. It was obvious to me that none of the previous dailies had fired, something I've since confirmed by asking around.

This is a real shame, because there's some interesting potential developments in the format. First of all, Temur got a huge shot in the arm with a number of new powerful creatures. This is the deck I've been playing with:

Temur
KTK block constructed
Creatures
4 Heir of the Wilds
4 Savage Knuckleblade
4 Frost Walker
4 Flamewake Phoenix
4 Yasova Dragonclaw
4 Shaman of the Great Hunt
1 Ashcloud Phoenix
25 cards

Other Spells
3 Stubborn Denial
4 Wild Slash
3 Arc Lightning
2 Crater's Claws
12 cards
Lands
4 Frontier Bivouac
3 Swiftwater Cliffs
2 Rugged Highlands
2 Thornwood Falls
4 Wooded Foothills
4 Mountain
2 Forest
2 Island
23 cards

Sideboard
4 Disdainful Stroke
1 Arc Lightning
1 Crater's Claws
2 Dig Through Time
3 Ashcloud Phoenix
1 Stubborn Denial
2 Outpost Siege
1 Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker 12 cards
Shaman of the Great Hunt

The deck is simply brutal against anything that doesn't put up much resistance on the ground. It has a lot of massive, resilient threats that hit hard and frequently at haste-speed. The maindeck is essentially pre-boarded against some combination of Jeskai, Mardu or BW aggro, with 4 Wild Slash and 3 Arc Lightning. The biggest weakness is probably Abzan, maindeck Disdainful Stroke would help there but the match is far from unwinnable without it, given your flying threats and crater's claws being able to take out Rhino's if necessary. Post board you get more tools for hurting on control, along with a bit of extra burn if necessary. The biggest issue with the deck I've found so far is mana, it has very heavy coloured mana requirements (especially with all the double red), while also wanting to be somewhat pro-active which makes taplands a bit of a liability.

The format also seems to have evolved to feature a real control deck. I've played against a number of players who are on an esper control plan, utilising a number of new control cards:

Citadel Siege and Reality Shift shore up the deck's weakness against previously (almost) unbeatable cards like Rakshasa Deathdealer, Ashcloud Phoenix and Bloodsoaked Champion as well as the new Flamewake Phoenix by giving you a legitimate way to deal with these guys at any stage of the game. Pressure Point is an interesting one, it's a good way to keep your life total healthy while cycling through your deck and delaying until you wrath the board away. Citadel Siege forces your opponent to overcommit into your wraths, and Pressure Point helps that plan along too. Postboard, Monastery Mentor becomes a great way to punish your opponent for sideboarding out all of their creature removal.

There's many other paths in the format that seem worth exploring. Outpost Siege looks amazing in mardu aggro, which also got some excellent new tools as outlined in my set review, while Abzan got some more incremental but powerful tools in the form of Tasigur, the Golden Fang and Valorous Stance. I've even seen some people messing around with Dromoka in an abzan "+1/+1 counter matters" shell, including Abzan Ascendancy and various +1/+1 counter lords. Sultai also looks like a promising angle to explore, especially now that it has a wrath, and I'm sure Ugin can find more of a home than just as a finisher in the UBx control deck (green ramp with Whisperwood, Frontier Siege and eight 2-mana dorks?). I certainly don't see this being a mono-deck format, or one that's not conducive to brewing, all the tools are there for a relatively varied and interesting block constructed format.

Is the format worth saving?

Given that I've carved out my content-writing niche as (I think) the only writer on the web covering block constructed, you'll be unsurprised to hear that my answer is yes! But I do think there are good reasons for WoTC to try and save this format:

  • It has been very popular on MTGO before. Block constructed has typically been the second or third most popular constructed format on MTGO, measured by daily event attendance. The new MTGO events manager Lee Sharpe has said that he would be taking a stats-driven approach to event scheduling in the future. Well, the current situation of "not firing" is not at all reflective of a format which has traditionally attracted very good participation.
  • It gives new players a path to build up a standard collection. It can seem daunting for a new online player to buy in to an entire, 2-block, standard format at one time when they join the platform. This is especially the case when they can see that half of those cards are going to lose a huge amount of value at rotation time. Block allows these players to ease into a standard collection by only buying cards which will be on the radar (barring metagame shifts) for at least another year.
  • It gives standard players another way to use their current-set cards. WoTC like selling new cards and people like getting extra value out of their cards. Block is a great way to meet both of these objectives, as it's only played with cards from the newest block and these cards inevitably also form a part of the standard metagame. Financially, it's a better deal for WoTC to promote block than eternal formats, which mainly provide (immediate) financial benefits to secondary market participants.
  • It's often the only constructed format where linear block mechanics can be shown off. Designers put a lot of effort into designing block themes and while these do frequently manifest themselves in standard decks, it's a lot harder for them to do so in a larger card pool. There are great "block-theme" decks that never get the chance to shine in standard but can in block constructed, and it'd be a real shame to lose this aspect of the game.

It is worth noting that the upcoming change to the core set/block structure will have a big impact on block constructed going forward. Block is usually most interesting when it's at its full 3-set incarnation. However, one and two set block formats are interesting too and I think the format can still thrive in the new block structure. Even if it can't, then there's still one last three-set block format to come with the release of Dragons of Tarkir, and I'd love to se some effort put into a swan song if that's what it's to be. Which brings us to the question of what to do...

What can be done to save block?

Formats "dying" become a self-reinforcing circle, because people won't put the effort into building decks for and participating in formats if they don't think others are doing the same. And right now, unfortunately, block constructed is, well, if not dead then sleeping very, very heavily. It will not revive itself without external action. However, given that past performance indicates that there is a lot of latent demand for the format on MTGO, I think it won't take too much to kick things off again with the release of the next set with some combination of the following actions:

  • Launch the format fully as soon as new cards are available. The 2-week delay feels like forever when you just want to get playing with new cards in a new format, and seems to be the single most likely cause for the drop off in interest with the past two sets. Reversing this change is a necessary first step.
  • Publicise the format's return. If there's been one consistent feature of WoTC's communication about all of the changes to the format it's that there hasn't been any. When people don't know a whether a format is there or not, supported or not, they don't bother putting the effort into preparing for it. This doesn't take much, just some updates in the existing weekly announcemnts and then maybe a special announcement when the new format is live.
  • Some sort of special event/promo. Perhaps to celebrate the fact that the format is 20 years old this year, but also to give it a jump start and to celebrate the full block format, there could be some sort of special event in the format or promo for early participation. Maybe it's a "play against the devs" event, maybe a series of large match play tournaments with winners going to a final or maybe something more casual like a series of low entry cost, flatter prize payout tournaments - just something, and associated advertising.

 

From a player's perspective, WoTC will be far more likely to do something if they know there is continuing player interest in the format. Tweet the official magic online account (@Magiconline) or the events manager (@mtg_lee) or email the official MTGO feedback account (magiconlinefeedback@wizards.com). I believe the format can be saved, and I hope and trust there's enough interest from WoTC and players alike for the necessary steps to be taken to revive it.

6 Comments

Great Article by Dwarven_Pony at Wed, 03/04/2015 - 15:13
Dwarven_Pony's picture
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I agree wholeheartedly. I am an example of a player who would play Block Constructed but not Standard. Why? It is just easier to get on top of, and less intimidating. And as you say, it's a stepping stone to Standard. Perhaps if I fall in love my Block deck, then when the new Block comes along, if my deck is still largely viable (being able to keep say 60% of the cards in the deck), then I would strongly consider joining standard.

Thanks for the feedback. I by Psychobabble at Wed, 03/04/2015 - 18:14
Psychobabble's picture

Thanks for the feedback. I actually feel strongly enough about this that I created a twitter account and have been spamming some accounts with links to this article. If anyone else cares about the format, do the same!

https://twitter.com/Psychobabble_au/with_replies

Have they said that they are by MrWishyWashy at Wed, 03/04/2015 - 20:19
MrWishyWashy's picture

Have they said that they are they taking Block away? I figure due to the new block structure that block would be obsolete.

I never loved block since it always felt like a pretty degenerate format. I played 2 Blocks and both were pretty boring since they usually revolve around a single card. RTR was about the UW Azorius package while THS was Elspeth + 56 other cards. With block going off the Pro Tour, Im not sure what interest there really will be for the format.

I would not mind there being more options for a variety of formats, but Block is probably the one I felt that I personally wouldnt miss. If they are going to get rid of Block, they should find a new MTGO exclusive format to replace it with. Tiny Leaders would be an interesting welcomed edition as a competitive format since it would feel in between Modern/Legacy and could create a lot of diversity.

It sounds like you played by Psychobabble at Wed, 03/04/2015 - 21:12
Psychobabble's picture

It sounds like you played single-set THS and RTR block formats. Both of those formats were indeed dominated by the cards you mentioned, but by the time the format was fleshed out with additional sets became quite diverse. RTR featured seven competitive decks by the end (GW populate, GB midrange, Rx aggro, Esper control, RG midrange, Grixis control, Bant/UWR control), the most popular of which was Rx agro while in THS, Elspeth virtually disappeared from the format by the end and while things like BUG control, junk constellation, bladk aggro and heroic decks came to the fore.

As I mention in the article, it's not clear that the format was intended to continue in the new 2-set block format, but it definitely could imo and it's the best format around to complement standard.

I very, very much doubt that WoTC will adopt a commander-esque format like tinyleaders as a sanctioned, competitive format. Could be wrong tho!

I dunno about that man. I by MrWishyWashy at Wed, 03/04/2015 - 21:42
MrWishyWashy's picture

I dunno about that man. I played both formats with all 3 blocks and it was never that exciting. The problem that is always with block is that there is never enough answers to everything. The format always get dominated by one thing and has maybe a few rouge decks that if they can lucky they do well since the card pool is just so small. You even see it at the PT too since the top 8 decks are usually 50%-80% of whatever the best card is of that format and then the 20% that might get lucky to spike a win or get bounced round 1 of the top 8. PT DGM was 6/8 Esper, PT, while PT JOU was 4 Elspeth Decks, 3 BUG decks and a heroic deck. The format by nature just cant really get too interesting since its only 500-700 cards that are available and probably only 25-40% of those are actually competitive.

I doubt Tiny Leaders will be a real thing in general, but anything that would be interesting sides whatever is currently available would be cool. They should just make a 60 singleton format with something similar to Legacy ban list or have cube dailies or something. It would be cool for you if block could stay around but it seems like the chances of it sticking seem slim.

Just for reference, stats on by Psychobabble at Wed, 03/04/2015 - 21:55
Psychobabble's picture

Just for reference, stats on day 2 metagame for each of the past two block pro tours. No deck came close to 50% of the metagame:

http://i55.servimg.com/u/f55/16/47/60/92/ptjou510.jpg

http://i80.servimg.com/u/f80/16/47/60/92/pro_to11.jpg

Top 8s are a very small and unrepresentative sample of the overall metagame. The only full block format in recent time that has been completely broken was ISD block, and even that took until almost a month after the pro tour for people to discover the jund/splash white deck that ultimately dominated.