Deconstructing Constructed – Magic Online: Epic Fail

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Tuesday, July 1st – There’s no easy way to say this… Magic Online is currently unplayable tripe. The majority of the current development team should be fired, and outside consultants with a clue should be brought it. No, I don’t care that they got a horrible task to start with; I’m just going to pretend to be Ranty Mc Drinks A Lot for this section of the article.

Today I’ll be going over the complete turmoil in Magic Online over this past week, and some of the biggest issues stemming from it. Following that will be the weekly Block Constructed update, which sadly won’t be all that big due to the complete lack of information coming in about Top 8s.

There’s no easy way to say this… Magic Online is currently unplayable tripe. The majority of the current development team should be fired, and outside consultants with a clue should be brought it. No, I don’t care that they got a horrible task to start with; I’m just going to pretend to be Ranty Mc Drinks A Lot for this section of the article. I’d also settle for Magic Online V3 being taken down and a release of V3.5 six months from now (although really it’d likely be a year) with actual functionality and a user interface that they actually asked someone to peer review. You know, like… a six year old with a box of crowns asked to design a menu. I’m sure it couldn’t be anything worse than what they came up with.

For those of you who were smart enough to wipe your hands of this whole affair, here’s what you’ve been missing. All the problems that were supposedly going to be solved with lag, crashes, and scaling from V2.5? Worse than ever over the past two weeks, to the degree that literally everything except casual games were taken offline and for a while, and even those wouldn’t work. How pathetic is that? We’ve gone from nearly full functionality (we lacked replays) and some server instability to nothing of relevance working.

Basically from June 22nd until June 27th, everything on Magic Online was, for lack of a better term, fubared. Games, drafts, everything of relevance starting sometime Saturday night basically started to lag, lock up, and ‘hang’ between games and sideboarding. Quite a few people reported it to be impossible to finish their matches due to the hanging or lag. The few that did reported time losses to their clocks causing some just to lose once the lag subsided.

The dev team then attempted to deal with this by restarting the game servers on multiple occasions, with little to no success. Maintenance is done with little notable effort, more maintenance takes place and again nothing really gets fixed. The lag and hanging issue takes down even casual games for a while. This continued for nearly the entire week. As I write this article (Sunday morning) it seems that queues are back up with this handy little warning.

“The draft queues will stay up as long as we don’t see a return of delayed match starts. Thank you for your patience while they were down.”

Well then, I mean everything is hunky dory now as long as the problem we had for five days doesn’t come back. No biggie.

I know I probably sound like I’ve gone into crotchety old-man mode. That most people have basically thrown their hands up at this point and, simply conceded that Magic Online will be borderline unplayable for at least the next few months in any serious capacity. But for a gaming company to hit an online game with an unannounced 12+ hour blackout is ridiculous by any gaming standard you’d like to use. If there was a DOS hit, that’s one thing… if the servers were melted in a fire, that’s another. But for some unnamed and seemingly unknown problem to the devs knocking out almost all critical play junctures for five days begs the question of why certain people haven’t been terminated yet.

Between this and the dog-sh** brown user interface which users have finally developed skins for to alleviate some of the ugly, I’m reasonably sure the majority of the Magic Online V3 original budget was used on various hallucinogenic substances and other such ‘business expenses.’ There was a great post on the Wizards boards describing how Magic Online basically works, and processes for those of you who aren’t big on programming:

That may help describe some of the basic processes being dealt with by the dev team and such. A few obvious points remain, such as why this garbage was pushed out the door where it had to be realized early on that the ‘release an obviously unfinished game and patch it up’ was completely unfeasible in a relevant time frame that would make anyone happy.

All that said, here are a few things that could be done to make life slightly less miserable for everyone involved.

1. Put the UI skins somewhere obvious to download… for example, right when the game screen comes up. Have them be freely available to anyone who wants to switch instead of, ‘oh, I stumbled along this in the Magic Online boards and it doesn’t suck!’ which is how I ended up finding the Gold skin model.

2. Open communication. There should be a daily status report somewhere (when you start the game client up) that’s updated every 12-24 hours. Even if it’s as simple as ‘Nothing is broken, the cake isn’t a lie.’ It would be a welcome change from the downright atrocious communication policy WOTC and Magic Online currently has toward the community at large.

3. Be more open to rolling the game back when a patch doesn’t hold. Don’t just make everything worse and then shrug and say, ‘Oh, we’ll fix it down the line.’ How about just fixing the damn stuff on your own time and letting me keep a semi-workable version of Magic Online instead of waiting another week or more?

4. Add Cube. I don’t even care if we can make our own yet. Make an official Magic Online Cube and get queues of that up. We have EDH, but not Cube in some fashion. That’s awful.

Block Update

Not a lot to say for this week; there was only a few results to list from last week. A few more PTQ results were found from Italy, and ghweiss was nice enough to report the results for a Swedish qualifier.

19 PTQs, 8 foreign

PTQ Winners (total of 20, because the Naples PTQ was a two-slot):

11 Faeries
4 Five-Color Control
2 Kithkin
1 Elementals
1 Merfolk
1 G/B/U Midrange

Mostly confirmed winners for this weekend:

Seattle: Faeries
Edison, NJ: Faeries

As you can see, Faeries continues its reign of terror amongst the land, mocking many with the almost non-use of Shadowmoor cards yet destroying everything in sight. Apparently the warped metagame which disallowed Kithkin and things like Five-Color Control pre-Shadowmoor was the only thing keeping Faeries from coming out of the woodwork and dominating.

Unfortunately there doesn’t seem to be a lot we can do about it. A number of decks supposedly can beat Fae, but unfortunately it only takes a mana-screw or mulligan for them to pounce on in a Top 8 and that’s it. Even the deck I plan on playing this weekend, although having a good match against Fae over time, still can drop a couple in a row. That’s really it; there isn’t a deck that can’t get into a slide against Fae in a single match setting.

Deck of the Week

Paolo Bergamaschi III
B/R Assassins
2nd at a PTQ in Bologna, Italy

4 Auntie’s Hovel
5 Swamp
4 Mountain
3 Leechridden Swamp
4 Graven Cairns
4 Mutavault

3 Murderous Redcap
4 Fulminator Mage
3 Shriekmaw
3 Sygg, River Cutthroat
4 Scarblade Elite
4 Taurean Mauler

4 Tarfire
4 Profane Command
4 Nameless Inversion
3 Thoughtseize

1 Thoughtseize
4 Festercreep
3 Chandra Nalaar
4 Warren Weirding
3 Puppeteer Clique

This is probably my favorite deck to date, just because of how many useful cards it runs and the amount of removal packed in here. You’ve got 12 spells that kill creatures and 10 creatures that can also do the job. In addition to that, the Sygg, River Cutthroat and quad Profane Command can mean a controlled aggression can take place. A few 2/2 creatures beating face while clearing the path. Firespout them away? Sure. Drop a Redcap as a follow-up and then a Profane Command the turn after. The only thing I’m disappointed not to see is a few Demigod of Revenge, which I think could probably increase the ‘reach’ of the deck moreso than Sygg. Certainly with this many removal spells you could buy some time to hit five mana (albeit with another land added).

Even against something like the W/G deck, where a deck like this would traditionally have problems, with Thoughtseize, Shriekmaw, Inversion, and Scarblade Elite it can take down basically any creature short of a Doran or Chameleon Colossus without too much trouble. Post-board even those creatures don’t scare it, as you can burn off smaller dorks at the end of the opponent’s turn and then Weirding the last man standing. Without Profane Command or any card drawing, you don’t have to necessarily get value when you trade your cards for theirs; you merely have to break even and abuse the threats that get better with time (Profane, Mauler, and Sygg).

Decks like this, which instead of larger creatures, instead rely mostly on utility, are something of an underutilized ideal. Murderous Redcap is a really good creature that can be abused in things like this, the G/B/U Rockish deck, B/R Goblins, etc. Speaking of B/R Goblins, it happens to be well positioned if Faeries continues to dominate Top 8s. A mixture of fast aggression and a lot of removal to take care of Scion and Clique could be very difficult to stop. Remember that you still have some decent guys from that tribe / related to them, even in Block… Knucklebone Witch, Frogtosser Banneret, Mad Auntie, Redcap, Marsh Flitter and so forth. They are solid creatures that fill out a nice curve, backed by plenty of effective removal and burn.

Despite the seeming conformity of everyone to the current Block Constructed format, there are still a few outliers that can make a breakthrough with a little refinement. Best of luck to everyone, and see you next week.

Josh Silvestri
Team Reflection
E-mail me at: joshDOTsilvestriATgmailDOTcom