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Local game stores and casual players were the hidden winners of the Magic Showcase 2021

The non-core sets releasing over the next year are some of the best entry points to Magic’s many game modes.

Image credit: Wizards of the Coast

The cavalcade of announcements and teasers dropped during the August 24th Magic Showcase 2021 livestream did not leave local game stores and more casual players out in the cold. A bevy of new and returning game modes for 2022 gives those who love physical Magic: The Gathering, along with the curious, a reason to return to brick & mortars.

Competitive card slingers will once again get a chance to prove their mettle by competing in the returning Store Championship events. First introduced in 2017 and only running for two years, the format invited the regional heavy hitters to compete at the local game stores for bragging rights and promotional prizes. The 2021 iteration returns in December and is chockablock with promo cards for everyone who takes a seat at the table.

Participating players will take home a foil Arbor Elf just for trying their luck. Those who break into the top eight collect an alternate art Collected Company, while the undisputed cardboard champion will clinch a foil promo Wurmcoil Engine. Those last two prizes will bear the name of the participating store along the bottom, issuing physical proof of the bearer’s abilities in local Magic.

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The Challenger Deck series also returns later this year with four competitively designed decks for the Pioneer format. The series replaced duel decks in 2017 and ramped up both the power and potential of their offerings, including the number of rare cards in each deck. Like its predecessors, the 2021 Pioneer challenger decks will come with 60 cards, a sideboard and a deck box designed to hit the table and offer a respectable challenge to most opponents.

The Pioneer format allows cards from 2012’s Return to Ravnica forward through the present, meant to use cards and strategies broadly considered as “modern” Magic: The Gathering. It’s also a great door for fresh players ready to move on from casual kitchen table play and itching for a challenge. The four decks will be available starting October 15th.

The less competitively inclined can try out an interesting new event centred on the Commander format called Commander Party. According to the admittedly brief tease, groups of players will brandish their 100-card decks in matches meant to tell a story set on the plane of Innistrad. Factions will compete against each other, and everyone involved will earn as-yet-unknown promo cards.

It will be interesting to see how this event shakes out. Wizards has spent the last decades supporting the fan-favourite Commander format via official decks and the poorly-timed draftable Commander Legends last year. Many claim Commander is one of the better entry points to the trading card game for casual players, and an event that prioritizes storytelling and team cooperation plays directly into those strengths. The first Commander Party weekend takes place between October 30th and 31st, with others ostensibly coming in the future.

One of the most exciting announcements was that Jumpstart would be returning in 2022. The hybrid deckbuilding and constructed format was designed for in-person casual play, making its July 2020 release a tragic decision that many figured signaled the premature death of an otherwise incredibly fun game. Players pick two themed packs of cards, mix them together and hit the table with their chimeric creation. The simplicity and replayability positioned it as one of the better way to teach new players and introduce them to Magic: The Gathering’s wealth of mechanics and flavour.

Jumpstart 2022 won’t arrive until later next year - an interminable wait for this author - but will deliver an expanded 46 themes, including multiheaded creatures and the colourless Mana Eldrazi, along with new cards printed specifically for Jumpstart. Magic Arena is about to receive its own version of this format in the form of Jumpstart: Historic Horizons, which hopefully signals Wizards of the Coast’s dedication to giving the enjoyable game mode a brighter second chapter.

Head designer Mark Rosewater made a hilariously goofy appearance during the stream, wearing an astronaut helmet and wielding painful puns, to announce Magic’s next Un set. These silver-bordered cards tend to really push the experimental envelope and are usually reserved for the most casual play due to their tendency to outright break the game’s rules in a self-parodying manner. The last full set, which was designed to be drafted like any other release, was 2017’s Unstable

Rosewater claimed he wanted to design an Un- set from the top down, meaning the team would start with a theme or idea and then create cards and mechanics that supported a broad aesthetic. Unfinity, slated to release in the second half of 2022, will be flavoured after a galaxy-hopping space carnival. The only mechanical elements revealed thus far are the groan-worthy “Space-ic Lands” that will replace Basic Lands and show off the more bizarre corners of the multiverse.

All of this is predicated on a future where the COVID-19 virus, its Delta variant and any others are somehow contained enough that in-person events are both feasible and advisable. Wizards of the Coast’s representatives and presenters repeated “when it is safe” as if it were a mantra during the hour-long Twitch stream, even as they detailed plans for enticing players back into stores. For both individuals and local stores, the unfortunate reality is ensuring their safety will continue to be a personal responsibility.

Dicebreaker has reached out to Wizards of the Coast for more information on if and how they plan to ensure the safety of players returning to enjoy the games and cards announced during the stream.

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