"Magic is just golf where people cosplay as the putter."
There's more to that metaphor than is apparent at first glance. The comparison of Magic and golf is tied to their spectator appeal—there's no doubt that there are people that exist out in the world that like to watch both games being played, but they're both games built within well-insulated communities that have a high barrier to entry. Looking at a Magic tournament and fully understanding what's going on is difficult, even for long-time magicians. Magic coverage has tried to address this quandary for close to a decade now, and has settled on letting cool new decks attract casuals while sophisticated gameplay appeals to the hardcore mages watching from home.
Every website should have a Bruce Richard. He's the best. It's easy to write off "casual" as purely subjective, but Richard isn't necessarily discussing Cutting-Edge Tech™, he's talking about making friends and building a community through Magic. The combos he elucidates are a means to that end.
This week, Richard cast a critical eye on the Pro Tour's new Team Series, and on Pro Tour Aether Revolt itself.
I'm already so sick of the egotistical posts and banter surrounding the Pro Tour Team Series, and it hasn't even started yet. #Gexit— Brad Nelson (@fffreakmtg) January 30, 2017
This tweet reads to me less as a condemnation of the Team Series itself but as a reaction to the self-aggrandizement the Team Series engenders. With no invested spectators talking about the teams, the players populating them have no choice but to talk about themselves. As a general rule, people strongly dislike brazen displays of self-branding. Richard observes:
These teams offer me no "hometown pride." My parents weren't cheering for Dex Army or ChannelFireball Ice when they were young. It also doesn't help that I know half of these teams will be gone next season, while the other half will have many new faces as players try to maximize their chances to win team prizes next season.
Organized Play's latest ill-fated attempt to revamp Magic's appeal, essentially stuffing a square peg into a round hole and assuring confused viewers that the square peg is an e-sport, has not gotten off to a good start (the fact that OP is branding this year's iteration as a "soft launch" does not make it above criticism). The Team Series will get more interesting as the year goes on, and it is a good idea in and of itself, but right now it only exists in service of an idea that Magic is an e-sport, and that it can hoodwink Twitch viewers, looking for the next big thing, into thinking so. As Richard's article concluded, it cannot.
Let golf be golf. Sponsorships are great; ill-fitting polyester shirts, not so much. Magic appeal and the source of its consistent growth has nothing to do with Hearthstone. The PGA Tour did not look at the rise of football and suddenly put golfers in pads.
Bruce Richard was the audience the Team Series was hoping to court, and it failed in spectacular fashion. It's important to not perceive Richard's takeaway as a lack of commitment to the game: that's not only reductive but demonstrably false. If anything, Richard was rooting for the Pro Tour to hook him! His account of his viewing experience ends on watching a judge call and being thankful he was not playing on the Pro Tour. This is not because he didn't understand what was happening—he followed everything, it just happened to be completely at odds with how he enjoys Magic.
Magic is a massive game. It's one of the many advantages it enjoys over its contemporaries. Let it be big! Casuals and Spikes aren't competing over The Soul Of Magic, they're just two groups that enjoy the same game differently. Too much time and energy has been spent trying to bridge that gap, as opposed to delivering the best experience to both groups. As of publication of this very piece you're reading, the Team Series is another failed reminder of that.
For all the pats on the back I give myself for realizing that Scrapheap Scrounger was going to be amazing... holy moly did I miss hard on Winding Constrictor. "It's just one counter... how big a difference can one counter make?" DERP. Turns out when an ability that's designed to give one counter suddenly gives two, it throws the balance of the game out of whack. That is what Winding Constrictor does, and it became the backbone of every black-green deck overnight.
Speaking of defining cards of Aether Revolt Standard, Unlicensed Disintegration certainly puts a strain on any deck looking to play it—are you black-red? Do you have enough artifacts to justify playing it over Murder?—but the payoff is tremendous. Unlicensed Disintegration reminded me a lot of Blightning during Kaladesh preview season, but the more I play with it, the more I realize that it's actually our Flametongue Kavu (don't @ me).
There I was, early on in pack one of an Aether Revolt draft, when I saw the third Dark Intimations in five picks go by. "Should I have taken it?" I wondered. "Should I have taken all of them?!?! (Answer: no.) Better question: What is the Bolas Planeswalker in Amonkhet going to look like?
I'll just leave this here:
Heart of Kiran fell off the board this week, but Aethersphere Harvester lives on, mostly because it serves a similar function (it's not even clear which card is superior) at a diminished price point.
Jon Finkel, the best Magic player ever to live streamed, piloting a Modern Storm deck featuring Baral, Chief of Compliance:
Thanks to Winding Constrictor, Skullbriar Commander decks are back en vogue, triggering a rush on Rite of Passage. I drafted the ever-loving crap out of full Mirrodin block when I was a kid, and even back then, I was very confused that Rite of Passage and Mephidross Vampire were in the same set. They both combo with Triskelion, but Mephidross Vampire is so much better! Magic is weird.
Spire of Industry was a Godsend to the Mardu Vehicles decks, but here, Craig Wescoe uses it in a Mono-white deck to good effect as a way to active Bomat Courier and Scrapheap Scrounger at little cost.
You've seen what Fatal Push can do in Standard—basically, if you're not playing four in your 75, you're playing too few. Now Seth Manfield runs it in Modern for your viewing pleasure:
Aren't they cute? They're like little anteaters.