Magic Online And You

Pro Tour champion Shaun McLaren writes humorously and passionately about his complicated relationship with Magic Online and the Wide Beta in particular. A must-read for active Magic Online players and those considering the digital version of the game.

Are your hands bloodied and raw from too much riffle shuffling? Are stuffy game stores with too many butt cracks bringing you down? Are you constantly
experiencing 3-0 money drafts with nothing to show for it?

Stop living with the heartbreak of the outside world. Start spending long days spent earning virtual peanuts.

Magic Online may be the right solution for you.

Side effects of Magic Online may include Crashing, Misclicks, TimeOuts, RageQuits, E-Shuffler Dysfunction, Loss of Value, and DoomSwitching.
Magic Online is not for everyone. Consult your nearest accountant before installing Magic Online. If you experience continued losing for any reason consult
Helene Bergeot immediately.

Magic Online.

Feel like a Planeswalker again.

Wizard People, Dear Reader

So you seek the secret ways of the Pantsless Magician.

Pull up a chair by the hearth as I regale you with how Magic Online helped me become the player I am today. I’ll share some tips and tricks, how I feel
about its problems, where it might be headed, and the competition it now has.

This will also serve as a record of the state of things for future generations of Magic Online players, hopefully as a reminder of some of the issues that
were long since solved and not as a record of how things were bad but not “Oh, God. The Beta is as terrible as we feared and now we’re forced to use it.”

Magic fans are passionate and Magic seems to evoke a flood of good or bad emotions from people every dang day. Everything I say is of limited scope; I
don’t have full info of what’s going on behind the scenes. Hopefully this doesn’t come off as complaining for the sake of complaining. Some thoughts have
been amplified and sarcastified for comedic effect. I want to make it clear that I love Magic Online and it helped me improve a lot. This is just the way I
see things.

Now that I’ve thoroughly covered my butt here, let’s get to griping.

But first, my MTGO story.

Long Ago in a Distant Land…

A young squire set out to make an account name for himself in the kingdom of MTGO. Thanks to a generous donation from the bank of Mom’s Credit Card, he had
the requisite funds to get that name. He called himself McTrick. He would later learn that powerful Wizards would have many account names to so they could
never be tracked. For now McTrick was happy with a draft set and a dream.

McTrick would regularly go broke in times of hardship and have to make another withdrawal, but he was happy learning at a steady pace. The festival of Nix
Tix was a regular occasion and a time of great joy and prosperity for all in the land. Ticket taxes were temporarily abolished. It was an event that bonded
players to the program and the benevolent rulers. Merriment and jigs ensued.

Over time, McTrick built up a collection and the future looked bright.

Until the once benevolent rulers, Wizards in a grand castle they had built from the taxes the villagers paid, became cold and unresponsive. The winters,
once a time of great cheer, became barren and harsh when the festival of Nix Tix did not appear.

Many left or simply dropped dead, valueless and without an uncommon to their name.

“Tighten your pick orders.” the survivors would say. “Rare draft anything worth a ticket. Squeeze out every 0.01 of credit from the bots and spend long
hours bartering in the marketplace searching for a deal.”

Things did not get better. The more ruthless survivors morphed and became inhuman and trollish. They would regularly voice their disgust, blaming the
innocent and the world. Deep down they felt disgust towards themselves, clinging to unhappiness of decisions long past. They would rage quit and
disconnect, wasting everyone’s precious time. Their insults became far more twisted and profane.

McTrick tried to adapt. He carefully inspected events, sniffing at them and prodding, making sure not to lose value. Starving villagers would plead to the
Wizards for respite but all they received was a cold shoulder.

Years later, McTrick, going by the name ArsenalMunch now, decided to enter a PTQ. It was during the time when the festival of Nix Tix would’ve been in full
swing in times past. Fortune and the Gods of RNG smiled upon him that day. He had made a name for himself in the Kingdom of MTGO and was ready to move onto
bigger challenges. Soon he would become powerful enough to tear down the Wizards castle walls and let their vaults full of value flow throughout the land
once again.

A Brief History of MTGO… of MODO… of Whatever.

Wikipedia Version:


Here’s the short version:

The company Leaping Lizard made MODO, something Wizards of the Coast didn’t think would be possible or viable. (Who in their right mind would buy cards
that didn’t exist?) The first version was OK but wasn’t designed to handle too many people or upgrades. It eventually started having serious problems as it
became more popular and new sets were added. Version 2 was made and it was worse than Version 1. So they made Version 3 and it was even worse. Now to solve
all of these previous blunders, they’re making Version 4, AKA The Beta.


What does MODO even stand for? I have no idea…OK, Wikipedia says it’s Magic Online with Digital Objects. Should have known.

MTGO stands for Magic: The Gathering Online (I hope, since I’m not fact checking that one.)

This seems like a much better acronym…in theory. Most old school players still refer to it as MODO, or on occasion, @$#&!!! Why is that? The problem
with MTGO is that it is four syllables. No one has time to say 4 freaking letters in a row. Em Tee Gee Oh rolls off the tongue like a ball of garbage. A
third camp got around this problem by calling it MITGO for some reason, pronounced like someone who’d for Mitt Romney to become president but accidentally
mess up and say “Mitt Go!” instead of “Go Mitt!” or like when you play a Mitt and pass the turn. I do not understand these people and never will.

I think the lesson is to let things come naturally, even if they don’t make as much sense, or you get into a whole Robots vs. Affinity type of deal.


Give us more value! It looks and feels like I am not getting enough value from Magic Online! Please pay out more packs and tickets stuff. I would like some
more, please and thank you. Hey, are you even listening to me?

This is how most discussions about the prize payouts from events seem to go.

As it stands for the average person, Magic Online is a nice hobby that will cost them a couple of bucks here and there, obviously not much of a concern if
you’re mostly casual and looking for some fun. If you’re very good, it can be thought of as a hobby as well as a bit of an investment. Not only can you
make a few bucks, but you’ll also improve as a player and do better in future Magic tournaments. At best, stretching MODO for all it’s worth, using every
trick and digital object in the book to your advantage, it can be a job.

Speaking as someone who has long since “Gone Infinite,” AKA able to sustain my MODO bankroll without having to put any real money into the system, the key
is restraint. Never play an event purely for “fun.” If you care about turning a profit or keeping your head above water, only play daily events unless you
are testing for a specific event.

Fun is a factor. There’s nothing wrong with spewing value on cube drafts (the practice might even be relevant). It’s just completely unrealistic that you
are turning a profit here in the long run.

I would think they want more people to go infinite and not just be throwing their money into a virtual black hole. You still need to invest money in the
beginning. As it stands now, pulling a number out of my behind, maybe the top 5-10% of players have recouped their initial investment and are able to break
even or better.

I can’t help but compare the prize payouts to poker, where the house takes a percentage cut from the prize pool, say 10% of all the entry fees. This model
actually increases the payouts based on how many people enter. What an interesting and intuitive model. Magic Online does not do this. Ever.

Take online PTQs, for example. Say you have 600 people up at 6am to win a plane tick… a slot at the Pro Tour.


Let’s see here on the old calculator. OK. Windows Start Button. Hmmm, where is Accessories? Stupid Windows 8. OK, search “calculator,” lesseee. Got it.
Times that and that. Do I have to clear this thing each time? Add that and that. Carry the 3 for good measure aaaaand done.

The total payout comes to:

– 1064 packs (valued at a generous 3.5 tickets each is 3724 tickets)

– 1 foil set, 1 non foil set (valued at a generous 250 tickets)

– 1000$ cash for the winner and approximately 1000$ dollars’ worth of EV for playing on the PT

– 31 QPs

– and 1000 planeswalker points since you were such a good boy all year

So all told, just over $6000 in value with some spare change for any extra intangibles.

Now let’s see how much people paid in entry fees. Dang it, did I close that little calculator… OK, here we go.

30 tickets x 600 people = 18000 tickets.

6000$ out / 18000$ in = 0.3333333333 units of value

Hm. Yeah. Don’t worry, I did the math. Despite all those threes, I’m thinking that’s not such a good deal.

Now, if I can recall back to where there still were online PTQs, most of them weren’t quite this big (although some were bigger.)

Online PTQs are a great way to show support to the players and allows anyone who is dedicated to Magic, especially those outside the U.S., more chances to
be on the Pro Tour. Unfortunately, right now, that blind hunger is the only thing bringing in entrants. I’m willing to pay a premium to play Magic and
willing to pay a premium to try and get on the Pro Tour, but even so the cost is unreasonable. Switch to payouts based on the number of entrants. Take 10%
of our entry fee, take 20% of our entry fee. Heck, you can take 50% of our entry fee and have it be an improvement.

The prerelease events are also particularly horrendous when it comes to cost vs. payout. The loss of value is justifiable for prerelease events only if you
need to practice for the Pro Tour and they are your only option.

Time Commitment

So we know to play Daily Events. Daily Events actually pay out slightly positive EV and it doesn’t matter how many people enter them since payout is
record-based. Hooray!

Hold on a minute, Skippy. They recently capped the number of people able to enter a daily event. So if you want to enter a Standard one, you’re gonna have
to enter it an hour or more in advance before it fills up. You can also test your click draw speed against other hungry grinders by trying to enter it at
last second as someone drops after realizing they have something better to do for the next 4 hours.

And hours you shall spend, three if you’re lucky, four if you’re not. That is, if you do well. If you 0-2 you’ll be out of there in under an hour and a
half with nothing to show. You might spend less than half your time actually playing and half waiting for the next round.

I recommend doing a workout between daily event rounds.

This one is simple and short so you’re less likely to find an excuse not to do it.

You also have the option to start multiqueuing, AKA playing in two or more events at once. Your play will inevitably slow down, leading to more wasted
in-game time for your opponents. This seems to be mainly an issue where the problem only gets worse because people are trying to work around the wait time
between rounds.

The Magic Online Championship Series would be one of the few parts of Magic Online that would actually exceed expectations; it’s hard to complain about a
monthly free event that pays out thousands of dollars. But we can and will complain thanks to all the recent high-profile crashes that led to the event
being suspended, along with PTQs, indefinitely.

Either as a dedication or a hobby, you want to be having fun, you don’t want to be kicked off. People spend weeks preparing for these events and make time
in their lives to play them. Having these important events regularly crashing is just not acceptable. It’s frustrating. Now it’s just kind of a given you
are taking on a risk every time you boot up that you have a chance your event won’t finish. The MOCS and PTQs are gone right now. What’s better, broken or
nonexistent? Personally, I would prefer broken unless their disappearance was significantly contributing to a solution.

The MOCS also continues the theme of poor name choices, mostly because of the confusion it causes. What’s the tournament for the sixteen MOCS winners
called? The Magic Online Championship Series Championship? It gets confusing when the qualifiers for the championship are also championships themselves.


So imagine you’ve qualified for a MOCS (the monthly ones, not the year end one), and you tested for weeks and picked your deck and made sure you had that
Saturday free. You’re doing well and looking to be on track to make Top 8! Suddenly the event crashes. After waiting around another couple hours to see if
they can get the event rolling again, it’s announced that they’re rescheduling for next week. But you promised to take Sally to prom then! Well, tough
luck, Sport. Enjoy the free draft set as our little way of saying sorry.

The compensation MODO pays out for broken events isn’t enough. If you’re 2-0 in an 8-4 draft and the server crashes…entry fee refund. No QPs. No Packs.
Less than you would have gotten for losing. Add that on top of the time you spent. At least you had fun.

Some of these bugs could potentially get fixed at some point and will be lost forever. Let us remember. Take a moment to mourn the loss of value.

Chat Bugs – Sometimes you can’t see what you’re typing in chat and have to just assume it’s being sent.

Card Bugs – Plenty of these, although they usually get fixed in about a week. Cards you can’t cast, cards that don’t do what they say, cards that draw the

Deck Errors – You can’t enter this event because your deck is insufficient. My deck is not insufficient!

The Inaction Bug – You’re waiting for your opponent to act as his clock runs down. He’s about to time out after 10 minutes of inaction. Well, actually
you’re the one who is timing out and the only way to know is to right click your name and see if you can see your rating. This means you’re still connected
to the server. Why is there no indicator to show you’re connected under the clock?

I was 4 – 0 in a MOCS once and in between rounds. It looked like I was connected and waiting for the next round as I watched TV in the other room. Turns
out it only looked that way. I was dropped. Lesson learned. Always make sure you’re connected.

Trades – You can only make cards tradeable outside of a trade. You can only trade 400 cards/tickets at once (up from 75).

Draft Bug – Right click a card to reserve it as your pick if time runs out. Instead you get first pick Izzet Cluestone. Not complaining about getting the

Notification Bug – Constantly check to see if your next round started yet, since MODO can be very sketchy about when it informs you.

Goldfishing Bug – Sometimes when you’re in goldfishing mode the end turn button sticks…wait, this doesn’t even exist.

Mute Bug – It would be nice if the mute button actually muted. Well played.

Cube Bug – Sometimes the cube draft events disappear for months at a time before the issue is resolved. This is a regular and patterned occurrence, almost
as if there were a sadistic intelligence behind the glitch.

So what happens if you encounter a bug? Fill out a form to get your compensation. I recommend you bookmark this page and do this as fast as possible.

Those are just some of the quirks I have encountered off the top of my head. Share your most annoying Bug stories with me. I will pick my favourite one and
give 50 phantom points and a Phyrexian Guildmark to the winner, as soon as they become tradeable.

I wish I got a sense of honesty and openness about exactly what’s happening when the program crashes or events are temporarily removed. It all just feels
like a big show of signalling that things happening.

It might be refreshing if they said “Hey, we know things suck and we aren’t doing anything to fix them. We don’t have to. Deal with it.” OK, I can respect
that. I mean, I’m still using your product. If I knew for a fact that the events being taken down was speeding up the process of fixing things it would put
me more at ease, but I’m skeptical to say the least. Realistically they should be shooting for 99% of PTQs and MOCS finishing and 99% satisfied customers.
Not a lot of crashes from a percentages standpoint; it’s just a big deal when things do go wrong.

Tips and Tricks

How hard is the competition on Magic Online?

I would say the PTQs are harder than IRL PTQs. Every hungry “top of the local Magic scene food chain” ringer is entering that PTQ and worked on their deck
for a month. If it’s Constructed, they had to hurdle over the barrier to entry and get the cards for their deck, or at least borrow them from a friend.

This is not necessarily all bad; you want to be playing against strong opponents when you’re training, and it’s easy to look at online PTQs as training
because there are a lot of them, so it’s less devastating when you scrub out. This will mold you into someone to fear when you head to your next IRL PTQ.

Another nice thing is Magic is booming so the overall skill level should be trending down as more new people join.

You can’t see you opponent, so it’s difficult to glean information on their attentiveness or mental state. This makes reads and bluffs on a player more of
a science.

You should be constantly gathering evidence on your opponent as you play. If you’re good at it you might not even notice you’re doing it. If you’re in the
0 – 1 bracket of a Daily Event or Round 1 of a Prelease Swiss event, your opponent is likely less skilled than average.

Timing tells are also important. Long pauses could be a new opponent thinking things through or a bathroom break. If your opponent tanks on a seemly hard
decision, it makes a huge difference if it was in the finals of a PTQ. He may have the combat trick to fear and have instantly known the right play and
just be trying to look weak.

Mtgstats.com is a useful site for looking at what decks your opponents have played in the past and how skilled they are. I hardly use it since it can’t be
used in live tournaments and the edge it provides is negligible.

Play slowly.
Use your clock. Your opponent can surf the internet. Take as much time as you want to think.

Anonymity is bad enough. Add an element of luck and it’s like pure gasoline on the troll fire. It’s so easy to rant and rave when you’re unhappy with
yourself and you have a captive audience you can transfer the blame to. These are people and they have problems like everybody else. You can only control
your reaction to them.

My advice: Do Not Engage.

The Beta

The summary.

Instead of the bad, let’s talk about the things I do like:

It still uses the clock system. It’s your time, so spend it wisely. You can take ten minutes to make a decision if you want. Time out, you lose. It can be
abused and slow play is annoying but you can surf the internet or join another event.

It downloads quickly.

Playing Magic anywhere, anytime is still awesome.

Sometimes you’re not forced to play it.

Doesn’t make Planeswalker Point-based invites to the PT look so bad.

In all seriousness, technology obviously needs to change and be upgraded. Take Facebook, for example. Everyone seems to hate whenever the look or layout of
Facebook changes, but they actually need to make a bunch of small changes over time or the whole thing will stagnate and we’d be left with
the original Facebook.

If new players are preferring the Beta, then that’s OK (although I don’t know if they actually are). I’m willing to deal with that and adapt from my
dinosaur perspective.

I’m also optimistic that the masses will have similar complaints that I have and point out problems so the Beta will get better. I prefer to be a late
adopter of technology when all the bugs are sorted out. Stupid Windows 8.


Magic Online has real competition now, even if it still offers something nothing else does, the ability to play Magic. Online. Hearthstone is getting close
to providing this service, though. The game is very similar to Magic in many ways. The differences are new and interesting. Younger, smoother, faster, more
polished. Who wouldn’t be tempted to sneak away at night and try to last seven rounds in the arena?

How big could Magic be if they had a slick interface with a tutorial like Duels of the Planeswalkers? How is there a separate video game that is doing the
thing Magic Online is supposed to be doing?

I’m not going to hide that I enjoy playing Hearthstone and scream Magic 4 Eva. It’s damn good. It’s damn similar to Magic. The game is surprisingly deep
and balanced for something marketed as a casual game. Balancing updates to cards happen instantly without a need for banning. Let’s say Hearthstone rolls
out something similar to PTQs and the Pro Tour, complete with live play in little hearthstone boxes and special touchscreen battle arenas to battle in.
They could even have online Pro Tours where the elite compete in day-long tournaments for ridiculous cash prizes broadcast on Twitch.

If they set their sights on competing with Magic… let’s just say I have a long-forgotten level 57 troll mage that I need to stay away from. Blizzard
might come and consume us all. Ruthlessly. We would be helpless to do anything.

It’s unclear what effect Hearthstone will have on Magic as it stands and how fast it will affect it. Does a rising tide lift all boats? Change nothing?

I believe the inferior product will be dwarfed. Why drink the purple stuff when sweet sweet Sunny Delight is waiting for you?

For some of us the Magic tendrils have infected our brains and crawled down through our spinal system. Our blood pulses not only Red but Blue, White,
Black, and the other one. But brand loyalty can only take you so far. Eventually quality and incentives will drive the player base. It’s possible
Hearthstone’s competitive scene never even takes off, or they do it worse than Magic.

I can’t claim to know what might cause Magic to stop growing. The good times are currently rolling, but if I had to guess, it would be because it was doing
things worse than Hearthstone, or possibly SolForge, or Hex, or some future game.

Thousands are currently trying to climb the Hearthstone legendary ladder for very few incentives. How important is the pro dream to the average player and
the game as a whole? How important is the fact that the cards exist?

Hard to say.

Logging Off

My advice to you is to not delete Magic Online. Unless you feel like it.

This isn’t a fairy tale. There aren’t any evil wizards in a castle to defeat that will solve all the problems. Magic Online isn’t a person. It is as it is.

I just know there’s something that ain’t right with that Magic Online program. So how can you or even we change things? Well the short
answer is I think you and even we probably can’t. Seems like we get responses to our concerns which are basically ye old jerk-around with
the occasional borderline passive-aggressive punishment rather than a solution.

Ideally they would be straight-up with us. We are hiring X new people, putting Y dollars in money to fixing Z specific problems, and we should have all
that done by uhhh Q. But the old client is already an abandoned sinking ship and the Beta is quite possibly a Titanic waiting to happen.

Perhaps a mass boycott would do something? If there were suddenly a major drop in users, someone might take notice and start throwing money at the
problems. Are the problems really that big of a deal at this point? Maybe, but I don’t think so.

I get my QPs (‘cuz hey, the MOCS is still awesome). I test for events.

Magic is doing great and who am I to judge? I still use the product. I want to see Magic Online get better and succeed. I think everyone using it does.
It’s kind of like a really fat guy who has a hot girlfriend. He’s gotta be doing something right. Maybe it wouldn’t hurt for him to lose a couple of
pounds, but all you can do is make a suggestion and move on when you’re ready.

Would it be nice if some of these issues were addressed? Sure, but I don’t expect them to be in any sort of hurry, if at all. Continuing with the
metaphors, it’s perfectly fine to love a three-legged dog. He can still play fetch and entertain you when you’re bored; he just won’t be too quick about it
and he’ll suffer a few more crashes than normal. I urge you give the little guy a break when he pees on the carpet and not whip out the newspaper. Just
gently scold him and hope that with time and love his behavior will get better.

In the grand scheme of things, it’s not something that you should let rustle your jimmies (says the guy who just wrote a lengthy article about it). Just
remember you are making a choice every time you play Magic Online, and at this point you certainly know the risks.