A Rant About Magic Online and a Level-Headed Look at Faeries

Wednesday, December 15th – Todd Anderson has a love/hate relationship with Magic Online, and it’s evident they’re on a downswing right now. Read his grievances, and read why you should absolutely be running Faeries in Extended.

The Rant

What do you do when you lose a few matches in a row? Do you change decks, alter your draft strategy, or just take it in stride? Do you chalk it up to variance or try to figure out just what caused this losing streak?

What do you do when this losing streak becomes enormous, continually draining your resources and funds until you have basically nothing left? A losing streak doesn’t even have to be a literal losing streak but just one where you continually lose money in tournament play.

Right now, I’m in that spot. My Magic Online account is virtually drained, mostly from busted PTQs and 8-4 SOM drafts, but I haven’t been doing well in Constructed either. While having two losses usually keeps you from making the elimination rounds in these gargantuan PTQs, you can still grind it out for 3-12 packs! However, even making Top 16 barely gets you your entry fee back. This is where the problem lies, and no one seems to want to do anything about it.

Your average “good” player can go 7-2 in virtually any mid-level tournament, but even then they’re still barely breaking even. Having more than a 70% win rate should be rewarded with more than your entry fee, but the refusal to incorporate sliding pay structures in any cash-payout Magic tournament (or any Magic Online tournament) will keep this problem from ever being resolved. At every live tournament I’ve ever played in, the organizer altered the packs paid out based on attendance, so why can’t Magic Online?

With real-life tournaments like PTQs or Grand Prix, Wizards of the Coast “sells” these events to tournament organizers at cost, leaving the responsibility of finding a venue and the entirety of the profit in the hands of said organizer. With Magic Online, this process is entirely bypassed, giving Wizards of the Coast complete control over a free venue, as well as access to the entirety of the profits. The easy-access format also allows for larger turnouts, making for excessively large PTQs, ranging from 250-512 people.

At $30 (or event tickets) per entry fee, that means they’re raking in between $7,500 to $15,360 per tournament without the need to pay for a venue or the other costs that go into being a tournament organizer. Most of the money turns into pure profit with packs being virtually painless on the pocket in the online program, seeing as they can generate product at will. Their only point of loss is the $1,000 guarantee for showing up for the MOL Super Draft at the proceeding Pro Tour. That means that if the tournament maxes out, they’re pulling in around $14,000 profit and paying out packs to the rest of the players that cost them virtually nothing to make.

I’m not oblivious. I know that upping the pack payout in tournaments isn’t going to fix everything. It isn’t going to increase turnout by a major percentage. It probably won’t even make that many people happy. But if it makes your current consumer base happier and costs you virtually nothing, what’s the problem? Live tournament organizers have to pay money for product that they give out at tournaments, but WotC doesn’t. They make the product.

While many will argue that there’s inherent loss generated by maintaining a stable server, all I ask is, “What did they do before Magic Online PTQs?” With attendance at tournaments at an all-time high, doesn’t it make sense to reward people for playing, instead of just taking a full-on profit at the cost to the players? How much harder would it be to double the pack payout based on tournament attendance? Would it even be unreasonable to break a 512-person tournament into two different tournaments giving two different invitations?

I don’t think that would be unreasonable, as 512-person tournaments dwarf the average American Grand Prix from eight years ago, where they gave out many more invitations to the Pro Tour.

While there are many things I consider “wrong” with Magic Online, they are clearly doing something right, but so many things could be done better. While their continued response is “we’re working on it,” I don’t feel like things are getting done, or at least not in a reasonable time frame. With each PTQ profit, they could pay someone three months’ worth of work to help improve the client. Instead of raking profits, why don’t you reinvest into your product to make it better? With the rapid progress of gaming technology, doesn’t it only make sense to have more experienced people working on your client?

I know they realize that millions of people play World of Warcraft, and a major expansion was just released for it. What then, I ask, is more important than trying to keep your yearly growing consumer base happy and spending money on your product? As the client continues to grow more and more outdated and with the prizes staying the same, what is to keep people from branching off into veins of similar fantasy-based competition?

Over the last two years, they’ve done a lot of things right with Magic Online PTQs and the Magic Online Championship Series (MOCS), giving more people a chance to achieve their dreams of playing on the Pro Tour. This has been a wonderful spotlight on their online program, giving your average player a chance to make it to the biggest stage in the world. It has generated a lot of profit and a lot of hype that I’m not quite sure the client can live up to. You need to do more. You need to reward your customers for choosing your product.

While it’s the goal of every corporation to make profit, you have a very fine balance of keeping your customers happy while profiting. If they feel jaded, you’ll start to lose business, ultimately hurting your overall gain. Why do you think that companies spend so much money on advertisements? While it’s a complete hemorrhage to your bottom line, it will help you in the long run, generating future business. If everyone complains about how terrible your payout structure is, do you think that’s good for business? The negative advertisement can be detrimental to you in the long run, pushing serious players away from the “negative EV” tournaments.

The StarCityGames.com Open Series is doing it right, and I can’t stress that enough. Last year they attained record turnouts for their tournaments, increasing sales of their product and generating a ton of buzz. Additionally, they created the Invitational, which created priceless hype for the website and tournament series. While the prize payout of $50,000 will definitely hurt their bottom line, they can chalk it up to advertising because of how well the Invitational helped advertise their tournament series and their website.

They also upped the payout to their tournaments and even added a few new tournaments to boot. With the Open Points system rewarding players to travel more and play more, they have done something that WotC has refused to do over the last few years: reward the customer base when they’re good to you. Star City realizes that people want more bang for their buck, and even if you’re offering an obstacle most people will never be able to hurdle (the highest levels of the Open Points system are incredibly hard to attain), people will still yearn for it and continue to show up in an attempt to achieve it.

A week ago from this past Saturday, I played in a $5K Standard tournament with Valakut. My list didn’t have anything special other than a few maindeck Pyroclasms, and the matches I won were mostly due to my opponents making multiple mistakes, but I ended up ninth after an early draw that destroyed my tiebreakers. I was pretty upset but came back the next day to battle in a Sealed $5K and ended up splitting the Top 4. I thought it would make me feel better if I did well in that tournament, like a shot at redemption. But, even though I won a bunch of money, I felt nothing. I didn’t feel accomplished. I didn’t feel like I was that much more accomplished. To me, there was nothing on the line. Winning that tournament didn’t qualify me for the Pro Tour.

Here’s an idea, SCG: make your Open tournaments give a PT invite to the winner (or even Top 2 depending on the size). How much do you think that will increase your turnout? How many more people will want to play out the tournament instead of splitting in the Top 4 or Top 8? While it may not be feasible to get that many invites for your tournaments, you could just make your PTQs a cash-based payout tournament that happened to qualify the winner for the next Pro Tour. If that doesn’t spark conversation about your series, I don’t know what will.

A Faerie for your Thoughts

With Extended on the horizon and Grand Prix Atlanta being the next major event, I thought I’d go over my favorite deck from Worlds (and possibly my favorite deck of all time): Faeries.

While there are some cool combo decks, as well as a few aggressive strategies you could choose, Faeries still remains the best choice for Aggro-Control. With Punishing Fires dead due to the rotation of Grove of the Burnwillows, Faeries is primed to make a comeback in a big way. You have a few new tools to help stop Great Sable Stag, and Volcanic Fallout is not nearly as popular as it could be, making this a great opportunity for you to test with Faeries and gain an edge on your opponents. Knowing all the intricate interactions will give you the greatest opportunity to outplay your opponents, giving you plenty of free wins.

With the right list, your deck is nearly unbeatable, since you have answers to virtually every threat your opponent can produce. On top of that, after sideboarding, you get to eliminate the dead cards you would potentially draw. It’s necessary for Faeries to play a decent number of removal spells to help stabilize against the aggressive matchups, but these cards are mostly dead against control. After sideboarding, you have the ability to turn those dead draws into daggers, helping to increase the possibility of your great draws.

John Randle waltzed into the Top 8 of Worlds with a 6-0 record in Extended with this list of Faeries:

While there are some things I would change due to personal preference, I feel like I should discuss some of his more peculiar choices and why he made them.

Disfigure is amazing in a format where aggressive decks are rampant, and the card kills almost everything that gives you problems. Knight of the Reliquary and Doran are major exceptions, but the single mana is incredibly important. Secondly, against control decks, your removal is virtually dead anyways, so he chose the best removal and just chalked them up as dead cards against control (which is virtually true anyways). Personally, I would’ve played another Smother over Doom Blade, since Smother kills many more problematic creatures than Doom Blade, including Putrid Leech and Doran, which will be major players due to results from Amsterdam a few months ago.

John Randle also chose to play a fifth discard spell maindeck, adding in the singleton Inquisition of Kozilek to supplement the Thoughtseizes. Inquisition was chosen over Duress for a few reasons but mostly because Inquisition hits almost every relevant creature from the opponent’s hand before they can cast it, in addition to being able to hit Prismatic Omen and Bitterblossom from the opponent’s hand. Many decks rely on an early threat to stabilize, so hitting one or two with your discard spells before they can cast them can be crucial.

The two Jaces puzzle me, but I can see why you’d only want two in a deck with so many powerful four-drops. Cryptic Command and Mistbind Clique clutter up that spot, and John has already cut a Cryptic Command, so maybe that number is correct. Having too many four-drops can clutter your tempo-based draws.

Every other card in the maindeck seems fairly reasonable, but the biggest upgrade comes from Darkslick Shores. That card is unreal for Faeries, allowing for their early discard to connect while still being able to cast Cryptic Command on turn 4. It’s another great dual land for the deck and is also a major upgrade to Drowned Catacomb, which many people were using earlier this year before Amsterdam.

The sideboard is a different story, offering a lot of creative answers to problematic cards. Faeries traditionally has trouble dealing with Great Sable Stag and Volcanic Fallout, so you have the potential to sideboard into Ratchet Bombs, Wall of Tanglecord, and Wurmcoil Engine, morphing into a traditional U/B Control deck. Jace Beleren and Glen Elendra Archmage are just amazing against control decks and are great cards to substitute for your removal suite when it becomes superfluous.

The second Tectonic Edge in the board is for matchups that use hideaway lands or potentially a slew of creature lands. You don’t always have the extra removal spell to waste on a Mutavault, so having a Tectonic Edge at the ready could prove invaluable. However, with the restrictive casting costs in your deck, you can’t really afford having too many colorless lands, so having the second in the sideboard is fine. It also gives you a 26th land to sideboard in against control.

My only real problem with the list is that you have very little in the way of actual card advantage except for Cryptic Command and Jace. Bitterblossom can be your early source of card advantage, but you don’t really start getting ahead unless you hit four mana. This leads me to believe that the deck wants a 26th (or maybe even 27th) land in the maindeck to achieve this goal, since you’re forgoing the Preordain plan. With so many cards used at instant speed, I could even see sideboarding all of the Jaces. He’s fairly mediocre against RDW and Jund, which are sure to be popular due to their efficiency and low monetary cost.

With such an open format, people can’t dedicate that much hate specifically to your strategy without excessively degrading their matchup percentages against the rest of the field. Cards that are good against Faeries are not that good against anything else, which leads me to believe that many people will be vastly underprepared for the winged menace. Additionally, there will be the masses who believe their Faerie matchup is fine because they can beat their friends all the time, leading them to believe that their four Volcanic Fallouts are all that are necessary to win.

In a world without hate, can anyone hope to beat Faeries at a reasonable rate? While the metagame isn’t quite set, this is definitely my #1 contender for “deck to play” at Grand Prix Atlanta, as well as at the early PTQs during the next season. People will be sure to play whatever they feel is good in testing, but testing against below-average opponents can give you skewed results and ultimately lead to losses against prepared opponents.

Until people can prove that Faeries is a bad choice, play it. The feeling of overwhelming your opponent with a flurry of 1/1 fliers is quite nice.

Thanks for reading.
strong sad on MOL