The Online nOOb’s Ongoing Saga: A League(s) of My Own

Pete checks in with an update about what he’s learned since his initial forays online, includes some basic trading tips for Magic Online newbies, and gives his evaluation of the usefulness of MTGO Leagues.

I spent a week detailing my initial excursion into the world of online Magic. You can read about it here, here, here, here and here. I have a few things to say about those articles and more about online. First, however, I have to say a huge thank you to everyone that offered advice in the forums and online. If you are starting out online, my articles might be interesting reading, but the feedback on the articles is invaluable.

I’m still playing online (when I get time), and still enjoying it. The rude or obnoxious people are few and far between, and the misclick and interface problems are far fewer.

Good times.

My first couple leagues ended. I won some packs. I used some of them to enter another 8E league.

I opened a Birds of Paradise.

A foil Birds of Paradise.

I also opened a Two-Headed Dragon.

A foil Two-Headed Dragon.

Shiny flying rares is what I do.

In the past, I have griped a lot about what I open. Mirrodin block – nine Quicksilver Fountains, no Glimmervoids. Odyssey – eleven Mudholes, two Call of the Herd. Etc. Guess I can’t gripe anymore.

Who am I kidding? Of course I’ll be griping. Beginning one minute after I get my product at the next London qualifier.

For all you conspiracy buffs – do you suppose that Wizards of the Coast knew I was writing about this and manipulated my packs in order to get me to write positive things about online? Little Wizards sneaking around the program, writing little patches just for me? Sure, I can see that happening. It’s me, after all. They wouldn’t do that for just anyone, but for me…

My superiority complex is better than your superiority complex.

Okay, I’m better now. I took my meds.

I want to write about how to get cards online. And where to play. And funky formats. And stuff like that. The problem is that I haven’t had enough time to make sure I know what I’m talking about. (To echo the masses “And that is different how?”)


I was home sick for a week (as detailed in the online nOOb series.)

Then I went to Pro Tour: Atlanta.

Then I came back to work.

That is not recommended. You get behind – it’s like missing your land drops on turns 3 and 4, but you cannot just concede and move on to game two.

I am almost caught up now. Way too much work, way too little time. I did come home some days, after a long, long day of work, and log on while making dinner. You know what neat things I discovered playing online while exhausted and distracted with other things?

Me neither. I can’t remember them at all.

PT: Atlanta was great. Ingrid was judging. I wasn’t qualified to play, so I was judging, too. I have lots of stories that only judges would care about, but I have one piece of tech.

Guys with Meat on Swords.

Zvi mentioned this first, but I have to agree.

Guys with meat on swords is tech.

Fogo de Chao is a Brazilian Steak House in Atlanta. It is a classy place (we judges were under-dressed), with a great salad bar and so forth, but the best part is the meat entrees. The restaurant has 23 different world-class meat dishes. Waiters wander around bringing these entrees right to your table. If you want some, they carve you a piece. If one entrée doesn’t sound great, wait 30 seconds and another waiter appears with something else. Filet Mignon. Sirloin. Tenderloin wrapped in bacon. Garlic pork. Lamb Chops. Ribs. It’s all good, but the chicken breast with bacon and herbs would be totally broken in any dinning format, and it is unrestricted.

All you can eat. And eat. And eat.

Wow. A power nine dining experience: maybe not the best ever, but at least Mox Pearl level. There were 17 of us at the restaurant. The tab was over a grand, but worth it.

Not much else to say about PT: Atlanta. If you care, you already know who won. It was Kamigawa Team Sealed and Rochester, and that format is dead now. I think it would be nice if they would do away with Team Sealed altogether – or at least with the rule that you cannot talk to your teammates during matches. You should be able to play a team format as a team. (That was something the judges talked about a lot. Giving out penalties for coaching in Team Sealed is hard on players and judges.)

Speaking of stuff judges talked about – I did get a chance to talk to Andy Heckt (Judge Manager for Wizards) and John Carter (Wizards Rules Manager) about the big 9E rules revision. As everyone knows, there was a rules revision/clarification with Unlimited (a.k.a. Third Edition), and a big one with 6th Edition. Ninth Edition is coming this summer.

Rule rotation time.

They wouldn’t confirm that the stack will be going away, but that was the gist of the conversation.

Seriously – you think I make this stuff up?

It went something like this.

me: “So, rules revision with 3rd, and with 6th, right? So, what can we expect in the big revisions with 9th?”

Andy: “Huh?”

me: “Can you confirm that the stack will go away?”

John: “Pete, don’t you have something you should be doing?”

So there you have it. No official confirmation, but what can you expect? I’m sure they are under a non-disclosure agreement, but I could tell they were just dying to tell me all about it.

‘Nuff said. Back to Magic Online.

I have primarily been playing in league games. I haven’t had the time to do a draft, or build many Constructed decks. Leagues are it, for the moment.

The comments in the forums about leagues are interesting. Several people had a lot to say, and said it.

A Short League Primer:

A league is a sealed deck tournament that runs for four weeks. Leagues have a maximum of 256 players – once that number is hit, another league forms. You begin the league with the equivalent of 5 booster packs. You build your deck from those cards, and play others in the league. Each week, you can add one booster pack to your pool of cards.

The first five league matches per week create your ranking. A win gives you 2 points. A loss gives you one point. If you play more than 5 matches per week, the extras count as tiebreakers. At the end of the month, the league ends and prizes are awarded. The top 128 players get prizes – in other words, you get a prize if you end in the top half. Higher places get more packs, of course.

I have finished a couple leagues, now, and have typically won two packs (but these were early leagues, and I lost some games to misplays, or other effects.)

If you look at that purely from a profit motive, I played a lot of games for very little profit. Two packs is about eight bucks, which is not much for 20-30 hours worth of playing. Drafting might be better.

However, I don’t play Magic for a profit. I look at Magic as entertainment. From that perspective, I paid a bit over $33 (8 packs, 2 tix, plus tax) at the online store (yes, there are other options – I’ll talk about those some other time) and got to play Magic anytime I was online for a month. That was the price of a decent meal out for two, with drinks, or movies for two with soda, candy and a lot of popcorn. As an entertainment value, that’s pretty good. The two packs I won are a bonus, as are all the cards I get to keep.

There are some things you can do to improve your chance of winning. The most important, according to several people in the forums, is not to join a league that is over four hours old, and to play your for-points matches immediately. They reason that you want to play when everyone is just starting. That decreases your chances of running into someone with a broken deck who is playing for tiebreakers.

You see, to place very high in a league, you need to have a good record in the league as well as good tiebreakers. You play 20 games for points over the week, and get 2 points per win, 1 per loss. Let’s say you finish with a record of 18-2, giving you 38 points. Some other players may also have 38 points. The tiebreaker is the number of wins in extra matches each week. Those extra matches score 2 tiebreaker points for a win, and lose one tiebreaker point for a loss. People with lots of time, and broken decks that have given them really good records, often play a lot of tiebreaker matches. You don’t really want to play against these people, if you can avoid it – at least, not if you really care about winning the whole thing.

This isn’t Swiss pairing. When you are at the league screen, you can click on the play button and you will either get into a game immediately, or get the pop-up screen showing your avatar waiting for a game. If you have not yet played your five league games per week, I think the game tries to match you with players playing league games before it matches you up against someone looking for tiebreakers, but after a minute or two without such a player, it matches you against whomever wants to play – including the guy looking to improve his tiebreakers.

The theory on playing immediately after the league starts is that all the players, even those with bad decks, are in the mix. Later in the week, a few new players will appear, but the percentage of sharks with good decks hunting tiebreaker points will increase.

Now, I have played my league games as time permits throughout the week, and I have not had much problem with tiebreaker hunters. I have hit a couple, and lost a couple matches, but I have hit just as many new players trying to learn the game, or people like myself who don’t have the time to play for hours on end when a new league first opens.

The other advantage of league play is that you can experiment with your deck a lot, especially once you have played your five league games per week. I have had some sealed pools where there is one clear best deck that I played, but I really wanted to try some strange and wonderful alternative builds. A great example was a Kamigawa sealed deck with a solid, if not spectacular R/U fliers and splice build, plus three Hondens, a Genju of the Realm, Reach and 2 Sakura-Tribe Elders. I played the U/R, but I really wanted to try the five-color Genju build, just for fun. In league, I could.

You can build your best deck in MTGO, then save it. You can then build other decks, and save those under other names. Changing your deck completely just requires clicking on “load” and the deck name. Since you can do the building early, before entering a match, this makes transitional sideboarding far easier online than with paper cards.

If you want to test a build out, you can take your deck and play solitaire games or match it up against other decks in the casual rooms. This can let you practice with your deck, or test different builds. However, I find it easiest to just play extra matches with my different builds in the league. Sure, it might not help my tiebreakers, but unless you are in the top 20 or so, tiebreakers don’t seen to matter very much.

Right now, MTGO has three flavors of leagues you can join.

Mirrodin Leagues use Mirrodin tourney packs, plus Darksteel and Fifth Dawn boosters, with additional Mirrodin, Darksteel and Fifth Dawn packs in weeks 2-4. If you are a marginal player, but really want to win something, then join a Mirrodin league. The last league I played in had 133 players. Since the top 128 players get boosters, you could win one pack with a final record of 1-19.

8th Edition leagues use – surprise – 8th Edition boosters. I have really enjoyed the couple 8E leagues I have played in. The level of competition is just high enough and the percentage of angry, unhappy players is small. I have had a lot of good matches. Of course, it helps that I have an insane deck at the moment (R/G/w with burn, mana acceleration and both Two-Headed Dragon and Blaze as finishers.) Even so, the base set is better for sealed play than I would have thought.

Finally, of course, there is Kamigawa block. If you want practice for the upcoming PTQ season, which will be Kamigawa sealed, this is a good place to start. In week one, you will be playing with a typical pool, against other typical pools. In later weeks, as people add boosters, you will get more experience playing against combos and more synergistic builds – and see more of the rares in action.

At the end of the month, you will have 8 rares, 24 uncommons and 80 commons to play with, or to sell. Plus, with any luck, a booster or three in winnings.

If your goal is to win as many packs as possible, then draft (or maybe single elimination Standard if you have the cards) is probably a better option. Premier tourneys are also good options, if you can spend eight straight hours at the computer. In my situation, where I can only get an hour or so online at a time, league play is perfect.

A few more comments or thoughts on leagues. In my online diary series, I talked about having two game requests open for a while, then having them both become games simultaneously. That has now happened a couple times. I think what is happening is that the league attempts to pair tiebreaker hunters with tiebreaker hunters, and for-points players with for-points players. However, I think the system also goes through the leagues periodically and matches anyone that has been waiting for a while. I don’t know this, but it seems likely.

I can now juggle two games at once, and often win them both, but I try to avoid it. For one thing, it’s rude. I’m making my opponent wait at random times while I do something else. That breaks up the game flow for them. I try to avoid launching multiple game requests now, unless I have had game requests go unanswered for several minutes in each room sequentially.

Finally, Jim Beam said, in response to one of my daily pieces: “I winced a bit when you joined three leagues at once…that’s a lot of games to play.” Man, did he get that right. I can just about manage two leagues at a time right now.

In my online diary series, I also advocated playing in leagues as a way of getting cards. That was probably overrated. Many people posted good advice on obtaining cards in the forums. I hope to write about that later, or, better yet, someone with a lot of experience with MTGO can write a primer.

Basically, I have found five sources for cards, in addition to trading with random people.

1) Online shop

2) Marketplace / Message board

3) eBay

4) Online retailers

5) the auction

The official Wizards online store requires a credit card, but you can get what you need immediately, with a minimum of hassle. You pay retail, plus sales tax depending on where you live. You can get boosters, tickets, tournament packs and precons from Mirrodin forward. This is a no risk option, and involves almost no waiting.

The Marketplace is an official MTGO room where you can post buy and sell offers, and find others doing the same. The place is overrun with automated trading “bots.” I have spent some time there, but it’s a mess. You can pick up random common cards cheap – mainly from the bots offering 16 or 32 or 64 commons or uncommons for 1 ticket. These work, but they are far more likely to have Wandering Ones than Mana Leaks, and you can waste a lot of time trying to find useful cards in these rooms.

The Message Board is another place to list offers. It is supposedly searchable, but that feature does not work for me / from my computer. The online documentation has not helped. I haven’t spent any significant time there.

Online auctions, like eBay, also offer digital cards and tickets. The prices range from reasonable to high, and the selection is limited. You also run a risk making online trades with people you don’t know – there are scammers and cheats on eBay, but if you check the feedback you should be okay. Surprisingly, eBay is a good place to buy tickets, if you can afford to buy in volume and don’t mind the hassle. Tickets seem to sell for about $0.90-$0.95 apiece, in lots of 50 or 100. Auctions also result in some delays, since you have to complete the auction, make your payment, then meet up with the auctioneer online and transfer your product.

There are some online traders that offer digital cards (unfortunately, StarCityGames.com is not one of these.) I have checked some out, but have not bought anything. Like any online store, they tend to have what you need and you can find it without hassles, but the prices are higher than if you hunt around or get lucky in an auction.

The best place I have found for cards, however, is the auction room on MTGO. This is a user-run auction. You join the room by typing “/join auction” from any comment line other than one in a game. The room has some rules and etiquette, and needs an article of it’s own, but I find it fascinating. Last Friday I was working from home, and had the auction scrolling away in a window while I worked. I didn’t buy anything, but it does provide some idea of relative prices. (Someone should also write about this.)

Some very basics on trading for newbies:

You right click on someone’s name to get a menu, including information, chat and trade. If you click on trade, the program opens a trade window. You see what they have up for trade, they see what you have. You can get things by clicking on them, which shifts them into the “you get” window. The person on the other side of the trade is doing the same thing, and whatever they chose shows up in the “you give” window. You can also chat during the trade. Once you are all happy, check the stuff, then click “confirm.” This will bring up a second screen, which shows what you are getting, and what you are giving up. Double check all of this, then click “Perform this trade now.”

In your collection window, you can make each of your cards tradable, or not tradable. You can also right-click on the collection screen and get a menu to make all or none of your cards tradable, or only those over 4 tradable.

You can only give or receive 32 cards at a time in a trade. To move more cards, you need to perform multiple trades. For example, I bought complete playsets of all the Onslaught commons for a couple dollars, and it took multiple “trades” to move the several hundred cards.

Onslaught is a recent set, but no longer available from Wizards online. However, a lot of players have spare commons, so these cards are easy to get. If you know people that have been playing for a while – especially drafters – they might be able to give you a few cards. After all, no matter how many decks you may have together at any one time, you never need more than 4 copies of any online card.

Some readers looked me up on line and gave me cards. Many thanks. One person even gave me some rares, which completely made my day. Absolutely amazing!

Many, many thanks!

Anyway, I (or someone) should write more about how to get cards. Not me, at least not now. I want to finish with some comments on leagues and cards. Leagues are a great way to get into the game, and get some cards to start with. League play probably isn’t the best way to get particular cards. To illustrate, let’s look at Eighth Edition.

The set has three chase rares that will be played whenever legal in Standard, in Extended and in other formats. These will have resale value. These include Birds of Paradise, Wrath of God and City of Brass – and Birds of Paradise is going to become available in the next set, released next November, which cuts the value a bit. (Black bordered are usually worth more than white bordered.)

The set has another dozen or so very strong cards that are often played in tier one decks, such as Persecute, Glorious Anthem, Plow Under, Bribery, Ensnaring Bridge and Worship. Closely thereafter are a bunch of rares that are important in some metagames, often as sideboard cards. These include things like Defense Grid, Disrupting Scepter, Evacuation, Hammer of Bogardan, Ivory Mask, Millstone, Sacred Ground, Temporal Adept and Trade Routes. Finally, there are a few rares with unique effects that can become the center of combo decks if the right other parts are printed. This makes them worth having, since their value can shoot up is the decks appear. These include cards like Intruder Alarm, Howling Mine, Teferi’s Puzzlebox, Obliterate, Blood Moon and Grave Pact. Last, there are another dozen or so cards that new players and kids love, like Serra Angel, Thorn Elemental and Shivan Dragon, and that have resale value as a result. The other half of the rares are pretty much useless. Murderous Betrayal and Oracles Attendants are going to bring no more than $0.50 on the open market – probably less – and they will never be playable.

Eighth Edition also includes some staple uncommons that are occasionally seen maindeck, or appear as critical sideboard cards. These include CoP: Red, Blaze, Boil, Choke, the tap lands, Diabolic Tutor, Flashfires, Hibernation, Pyroclasm, Rewind, Slay, Spiketail Hatchling and Thieving Magpie. The set also includes a couple cards that serve as combo enablers or components, like Fecundity in Beacon Blaster, or Zombify.

Finally, the base set always includes some staple commons that are often playable, like Boomerang, Dark Banishing/Terror, Fertile Ground, Inspiration, Mana Leak, Naturalize, Rampant Growth, Ravenous Rats, Shock, Volcanic Hammer, Shatter, Unsummon, Vicious Hunger, Vine Trellis and Wood Elves. In Ninth Edition, Llanowar Elves will return to its place in this list.

Eighth Edition includes 110 rares, 110 uncommons and 110 commons, plus basic lands. Each booster pack includes 1 rare, 3 uncommons, 10 commons and one basic land. The odds of getting one of the three chase rares, per booster pack, are about 2.7 percent. The odds of getting one of the approximately 15 rares you would want at any time are about 13.6 percent per booster pack.

Playing in a league will cost you eight Eighth Edition Boosters, plus 2 event tix. At the online store that costs $31.52 plus tax. However, I am winning an average of 2 packs per league, so the cost is about $28.00 after winnings. That means I am paying about $28.00 for eight rares, 24 uncommons, 80 commons, eight basic lands. Not a good deal until you throw in the ability to play practically unlimited matches for a month with minimal waiting.

In the packs you open for a single league, the odds of a chase rare are between one in four and one in five. In other words, you should expect a Birds, Wrath or City in about one league in five. (I have already opened my Bird, so I am ahead of the average.) The odds of opening at least one playable, if not chase, rare per league are pretty close to 100 percent. However, than means at least one copy of one of 15 cards – not your choice of cards. To get a playset of any given rare, you would need to play in, on average, 55 leagues. That’s a lot – but on the plus side, you would probably have playsets of every rare at that point.

Leagues are better for accumulating commons and uncommons, but even there the are not amazing. If you were to play in six 8th Edition leagues, you could expect to have playsets of all the commons, and have at least one of every uncommon. It would take 18 leagues to have a reasonable expectation of getting playsets of all the uncommons.

Leagues are a great way to get started with Magic Online, but there are better ways of getting individual cards. I’ll write about that sometime, but now I have to quit writing. My opponent is done sideboarding.


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