Quiet Contemplation: A response to "Everything is Midrange"

A couple weeks back, I read a blogpost from Nick Nobody titled "Everything is Midrange Now". Post presents an interesting perspective with how Magic has progressed through the years. For many of the "veteran" (how many years qualifies you?) cube designers, they initially built their cubes in a different era of WotC card designs, a huge factor as it shapes the baseline for how the designers evaluate cards. For myself, I approach cube design with the mind set that Lingering Souls is playable in all format (it has long been pushed out). The design and power level of cards have come a long way since then. Nick reminds the reader that maybe it's time for older magic players to reflect on their game. For the full context of what I'll be touching on I highly recommend reading his article as it is not a long read either.

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Based solely on the title of the post, one would assume that Nick is going on a tirade about how WotC has ruined the game and "Black Blank blah-blah-blah". This isn't what happens, he instead ponders on his experiences playing with newer cards. He states that the recent power creep from newer cards has forced decks to lose/ tone down unique characteristics in order to remain viable.  Decks have been incorporating more proactive cards to either push their game plan through or to ward off the opponent's big threats. This has taken shape in aggro decks curving up while control decks are curving down to play cards like Sheoldred, the Apocalypse or the Wandering Emperor. The resulting decks that look like different spectrums of midrange or so he claims.

In general, the power creep has been popular among the cube community as it filled in gaps, some of which I didn't know I wanted until it happened. Despite this, Nick's opinion is valid and one that should be heard. It has me thinking about the state of the game and what it means for cube design. I believe good cube design is when it's expected for drafted decks can have a quirk that helps the deck stand out while still being good decks. The concern for me is whether or not every deck eventually becomes goodstuff.dek. It's not a play experience I'm thrilled to have. Unfortunately/ fortunately, the powercrept cards are nice to play with making it hard to not include them as they bring a lot to the table.

In the context of Nick's post, let's take a look at Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer that was released in Modern Horizons 2. He has become the negative face of recent card design. Upon just looking at the stats, you have a 2/1 for 1 mana, this already makes it desirable in red aggro. Tack on the ability to generate treasure tokens, this makes it now desirable in every deck already as the slower decks have a card to speed them up, while faster decks still have their aggro card. Now add on the exile effect, this gives every deck a form of card advantage, especially important for aggro as it allows them to continue further into the game. Lastly, add on top of all that Dash, which mitigates the problems of drawing this card late. As a whole package, you have a card that will excel (not just be playable) regardless of what deck it is in. Ragavan is one of many cards that ended up being like this.

I understand where Nick is coming from, though I do not agree with this total assessment yet. The most important part of defining decks is the skeleton (where cards fall when sorted by played mana value) rather than by the cards played. Decks, aside from combo deck, fall into a spectrum. On one end, you have leaner faster aggro decks and on the other slower, bigger control decks.When looking at aggro decks, there is a clear inclination towards playing a lower curve skewing towards turn 1 and 2 plays emphasizing creatures. When viewing the other end, control decks are built to maintain slow the game down skewing towards powerful late game plays. Right in the middle of both are the midrange decks that are exactly what you imagine, decks with an emphasis on turns 3-5 plays. These distinctions are how we define decks and they remain so even with the inclusion of newer cards.

 Below are pictures from the past several months on Reddit. Imagine adding Ragavan to each of them, would that ultimately change how the deck will be played? I think not.

Boros Aggro from my Playgroup

Rakdos Aggro from Helix115

Azorius Control from Mikemanthousand on Reddit

Ultimately, my opinion is largely sourced from my playgroup. It is made up of players that have been playing for almost over a decade and haven't really kept up with the game too much in regards to competitive 1v1 play. Many of them have the "Boomer" mindset of what decks should look like and what they want to play. Thus when we play, the decks do look distinct and a bit more traditional. By extension, I would assume other players fall somewhat into something similar to my playgroup. It should be noted that my cube doesn't run the MH2 elementals because I just never got around to acquiring them. I have seen the effects on Modern and noticed a lack of traditional aggro decks from what I am seeing on MTGGoldfish. So it could very well be that we're stuck in 2015, while Nick is living in the present.

I do believe that Nick's opinion will come true if WotC keeps cranking out more amazing three drops. Only time will tell on this one as WotC has made the decision to be more conscious about card design and powercreep.

Last thing, it is important to remember that cube is a format you have control over. Simply put, the curator chooses what cards to add and what cards to remove. If you don't like a particular thing, be it the game play, the deck feel, etc. you can always make adjustments or not if you like the way it currently is.

The End Step

I could have potentially misunderstood the entire argument in his blogpost, so correct me if this is the case but I do want to say I like Nick's work. He is one of the reasons why I started getting into writing about cube. I first came across his stuff when I began working on cubes all the way back in 2015-2016. He has been important to how I build and design my cubes as his posts are dense and overwhelming, but they contain a lot of good information that is still relevant. If you haven't seen his stuff and you're interested in cube, I highly recommend taking a look. MTG Cube Blog

Outside of blog writing, I've been also working on my YouTube channel running a general magic podcast with my friends and making YouTube shorts about cube. It's been an interesting endeavor and I plan on continue working on it, but I don't find it as enjoyable as writing these articles for a variety of reasons. If you want to take a look, just click this link here.

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