One of the things I've always liked about Magic, and something that's differentiated it from so many other tabletop games, is its variety. You've got Modern, you've got Standard, there's Commander, Draft, Pre-Release, the list goes on and on. And that's only the official formats. Let's not forget how big an audience that Kitchen Table play has. With the release of the new booster packs, I thought now would be a good time to go over exactly what sort of audiences different modes of Magic cater to, and how exactly they achieve that goal.
I think the best way to start this discussion is to look at a few of the most common ways Magic can be played. Specifically, the formats that allow you to construct a deck before coming to play and pit it against other decks with the same constraints as yours.
For those of you who've been following us for any amount of time, you know that Standard is our format of choice. I can't speak for DBoe and JB, but for myself, I like the constraints that Standard puts on the players. You'll rarely get a card pool that allows for a degenerate combo like Hogaak Dredge before the ban because the card pool is smaller and easier to test. It does, of course, happen occasionally (I'm looking at you, Saheeli Rai) but not all that often. Also, it keeps the decklists fresh, so when you're looking to play Standard, the question isn't so much "what's the list to play X archetype?" as it is "how can I put together X archetype?"
In a more general sense, Standard has a few attractions over other formats. The entry price is the lowest out of pretty much all of them (excluding Kitchen Table and Pauper). Yes, you can spend $200+ on a Standard deck, and sometimes you have to in order to play at tier 1, but usually not. Also, it has the most recent cards, meaning availability is a lot simpler. You can get packs at any LGS or even places like Walmart. Older sets are much harder to find. Finally, Standard is generally simpler. You don't have to have as many cards in mind, and the mechanics don't have so many unintuitive interactions. You could also add that Standard is governed by the Play Design team as well.
It may not seem like it, but with Modern, you have to take an entirely different approach if you're someone who comes from Standard. Yes, the only real difference is the card pool, but non-rotating formats just don't behave the same way. Only when new sets are introduced does anything change, and only in small ways. I've personally played only two Modern decks: BW Death & Taxes, and Hardened Scales. There really isn't much innovation to be had in Modern. That's not to say it's nonexistent: that's not true. But your options for deckbuilding, assuming you care about winning, are sorely limited in comparison.
What Modern does have over Standard in spades is customizability. That cool BR or Jund -1/-1 counter deck I wanted to play when Scorpion God was legal? You be that exists in Modern. Miss playing Siege Rhino? Him and all his copies are waiting for you in Modern. Just about anything you can think of, or any deck that didn't quite make it in Standard is in Modern. You do have to give up some win percentage points most of the time, but if you're having fun, it's worth it.
I also wouldn't want to move on without talking about price, since that's most people's sticking point when it comes to avoiding Modern. Yes, you will have to spend more in Modern. Depending on how good of a deck you want, a lot more. But there are budget options as well. Burn and 8-whack can take games off of anyone, even if they aren't tier 1. However, your Modern decks won't rotate out, which can be a big positive. The more money you put into your deck, the happier you'll be that it doesn't go anywhere in a year or 2.
The last of the big constructed formats I'll talk about here is Commander. I gotta say, the good games I've had in Commander are some of the most fun I've had in Magic, period. They're right up there with going 4-0 on a midnight pre-release.
I wouldn't recommend Commander to someone just starting out Magic. It's wild. It's crazy. And you will have 20-year-old cards with the strangest wording interacting in ways no one ever imagined with some bulk rare from last set. You have to have at least a decent grasp of the rules and either a judge nearby or an understanding between the players on how to handle situations like that.
If we're looking at audiences, Commander is the absolute best format for unpredictable multiplayer games that let you truly express yourself through a deck. You can play a familiar Commander that, while not packing any surprises, is still supremely satisfying to play, or you can bring jank and shock the whole table when your strange strategy actually starts working. Some people even enjoy the competitive aspect, as winning on turn 3 against 3 other players trying to do the very same can also be quite fun (Not for me, though).
It does go almost without say, however, that the price point for commander can be insane. You're already needing 100 cards instead of the usual 60, plus all of Magic is your card pool. There are some very old, very unique cards that could be very important for your commander.
In summary, here are the audiences I believe these formats appeal to:
Standard - People who aren't comfortable with a high upfront cost. They don't enjoy diving into the truly obscure or odd layers of Magic rules. They enjoy card pool constraints because it forces more creativity in deckbuilding. They like their cards more easily available.
Modern - People who don't care so much for deckbuilding and want to know a meta deck upfront OR they love deckbuilding, aren't dissuaded by the price point, and feel too constrained by the Standard pool. They may want to play a crazy combo deck and don't really mind playing against crazy combos themselves. They may also enjoy a skillful execution of a more complex deckplan than Standard can provide.
Commander - People who want to fully express themselves through a game a magic. It could be they have a hardcore turn-3 combo with Baral, or they're mono-white angels with Avacyn. This is the largest potential demographic. They want a multiplayer experience.
The New Booster Packs
With those items in mind, let's now look at the new booster packs. Here's the official article on them.
I think, even with all these changes, the Draft booster is still going to be by far the most purchased one. There are a lot of different reasons, including their functionality as the way to play draft, to their familiarity—people know exactly what kind of value they're getting from it. Yes, Wotc has defined exactly what all these packs have, but numbers can't beat the known when it comes to something like this. Will it keep this place in a few years when people have a better idea of what they want? Hmm, hard to tell. Maybe?
The Theme boosters seem pretty cool to me. I've never considered buying packs when I'm looking for cards, but the Theme boosters could possibly change my attitude. If I'm looking to play a one or two color deck, why not buy a few of those packs? They have a much higher chance of having the cards I'm looking for, and I can get some trade value to get whatever I don't find. I gotta say, while buying singles is pretty much always the right financial move, buying packs can be fun.
This right here is what has me the most excited. Now, I'm not saying I'm going to go out and buy 20 Collector boosters when the next set comes out, but this booster offers players a lot of different things, some of which they didn't have before. It offers a consistent (or at least targeted) way of getting premium-bordered and full-art cards. It offers easy access to foils, which will lower the price of foiling out recent decks. It gives Wotc a good place to put cards like Buy-a-Box promos into the hands of more players, which means you're not going to have to worry about showing up right after pre-release to pick up a box if you want that promo. And it gives players who care about style a perfect place to put their money.
When we take different audiences into consideration, I see a few being attracted to a these new boosters. We may even have a new audience emerge as well. For Draft boosters, I think this is just going to be the default, at least for a while. But Theme boosters could snag a lot of interest from people like us here at LandSayGo. People that enjoy building decks and are constantly looking for something new, or some kind of direction or inspiration could definitely find value in the Theme Boosters. Also, I can see new players who don't know what to buy getting the Theme boosters. If you're familiar with the Welcome decks, those are all mono-colored. So someone who enjoyed a certain color might want more of the same.
Finally, the Collector boosters. I think the clear audience here is collectors and those who want to bling out their deck. I know people in both categories. Plus, people looking to have a little more thrill in opening boosters and don't mind the price would be interested in these. I think their biggest impact will be in lowering the prices of premium cards, but there's a lot to be said for just opening them too.
Is there any intersections between audiences of formats and boosters? Well, that's the interesting part. I don't think there really is. I think it proves exactly how diverse the pulls toward Magic are. People who like all of those formats might not feel a pull toward any particular booster pack, and someone who knows exactly what kind of booster pack they want might swing between formats every couple weeks.