The Problem With MTGO…

There’s a pervading sense of ennui on Magic Online when it comes to problems. Adepts range from nice, well-mannered types with senses of humor and an ability to enforce rules and inform people politely, to hair-trigger pissants to whom a typo’d f in a word is clearly an attempt to mask profanity, and will merit the full punishment that they can deal.

One of the best ways, I’ve learned, to get a really good rant going is to start with a totally unreasonable statement that you feel strongly about, then go on to build on it, with steady layers of unreasonable irritation, until such time as any readers you have successfully buoyed along (i.e., those who read the whole thing) will be nodding and going “Yeah!” This system has an added bonus in that basically everyone who disagrees with you will jump straight to the forums to have a good old-fashioned cry about you, and you can be all self-righteous about how they’re not even listening to your (non) argument.

I can’t seem to manage that this time.

I’ve tried to approach it from a number of angles. “Magic Online is a piece of crap” is about as good as I could manage, and I don’t even agree with it. It’s just buggy. The problem is that this current problem I have is one that can’t be solved for me by the sense of pervading apathy it gives… but it does solve it for the people concerned.

Let’s give this formula a shot.

Whoever it is in charge of fixing bugs on Magic Online needs to be fired and his job should be given to someone more competent — like, say, a trained seal.

I don’t even have a name to attach this to. I don’t have a great identity to slap this label of stupidity upon, and I certainly don’t have enough hard information to make a good, cutting comment in one sentence. I just have an emotive argument that relies on pointing out that circus animals with no programming experience, design experience, or even rotatable forearms and opposable thumbs, are more likely to get off their rear ends and get work done than the people who currently are being paid for it.

There’s a pervading sense of ennui on Magic Online when it comes to problems. Adepts range from nice, well-mannered types with senses of humor and an ability to enforce rules and inform people politely, to hair-trigger pissants to whom a typo’d f in a word is clearly an attempt to mask profanity, and will merit the full punishment that they can deal. Bribery seems to ring a bell too, as does the total incomprehensible nature of the prize splits. And reporting misconduct, too — let’s not forget that in order to report misconduct, you have to:

Find an adept
Ask what you do
Get given a URL
Fill in a form at that URL
Make a screenshot of the incident
Get a game log number
Wait for six months
Have nothing happen at all

You stop bothering. I’ve given up on it. And that sucks — the system only works as long as you do something about it… if it’s being supported.

See, the problem is that by giving us these layers of (completely opaque) conduct rules, issue discussion and adept-player interaction, Wizards have given the illusion of giving a damn. People will not report problems because, well, I’m sure someone else has. Why bother reporting misconduct? It’ll take too long. All the while there is this image of MTGO as a family-friendly, well-meaning system designed to orchestrate fair play and responsible maintenance… while it doesn’t seem to be anything of the sort.

This isn’t even the main issue. The main issue here is that Wizards aren’t fixing bugs.

Go get Empty-Shrine Kannushi, and go get Concerted Effort. Put them both on the table. Once, this would crash the game wholesale — now, it just has the far more mundane effect of doing nothing. Dredge was another problem — if you ever drew multiple cards with dredge involved (and what are the chances of that, I wonder?), and chose any combination of draw or dredge, you wouldn’t get to see what you’re drawing! Good thing no deck wanted to check that during the resolution of something that let you draw multiple cards!

Then there’s Doubling Season. Multiple times, bugs were reported about Doubling Season — how it interacted with Graft, how it interacted with Cumulative Upkeep, and how it interacts with itself. There are still problems going on with DS — and it’s been out for almost a whole year now!

The Kannushi has been bugged now since Betrayer’s been released. For perspective, that’s over fourteen months, and is a mere two months before it stops being Standard legal. I’ll bet you any money that the Empty-Shrine Kannushi is not going to be fixed before October. I also bet you that we won’t hear a squeak about it, because it’s not a very good card and can be put on the backburner.

Dredge took six months of being legal before as relevant a bug as that was fixed — and I daresay Ichorid was part of the impetus there. But let’s take a step back and check out an old standby of mine that I wrote about in one of my first articles, Bottled Cloister.

Now, I love the Cloister. I have been a big fan of it for some time, using it in B/W strategies (House Guard for Cloister!), R/B strategies (more long-term than Dark Confidant or Phyrexian Arena), and the occasional R/G strategy. It’s seen tournament play — serious tournament play, in fact. Dave Meddish wrote about Syndicate Control some time ago, and the deck’s still fun to play. Cloisters were showing up as a good way to outfox Owling Mine, too — though of course, not clearly as techy an option as one could have.

Cloister has been bugged since its inception. In testing the other night, Rivien Swanson and myself found a handful of “fun” bugs.

Cloister initially would crash the game upon its first trigger if an opponent auto-yielded it the first time. It would then crash the game again if multiples were employed — but only the first time its opponents’ upkeep ability triggered. This has been generally solved, but still occurs sometimes.

Cloister will always Remove From Game split cards face-up, and never give them back. This might be a bug with the split card code and not the Cloister itself, since the same is true of Ignorant Bliss. I guess having half a year to fix a bug with a known mechanic wasn’t enough time.

Cloister, since the release of Coldsnap and prior to a recent bug fix, removed the cards from the game face-up! How fun!

Cloister’s reordering effect — by sliding the cards under the Cloister itself for visual effect — had a side effect where it caused the cloister to move while it RFG’d the cards. When they were RFG’d face-up, this had the side effect of putting cards in very odd positions — you’d find two Mountains being hidden behind a Swamp, a Swamp hidden behind a Skred, and the Cloister itself up on a different row with no cards under it.

Pursuant to #4, sometimes if you hid a cloister under a cloister, and it reordered it so it was hiding something and not being hidden under anything — the Cloister thought it was in play! You’d start your turn and get multiple “ghost” Cloister activations that would return the (in-play?!) Cloister to your hand, draw you a card, and then continue.

These are bugs that simply will not occur in the pen-and-paper part of the game with proper rules enforcement. These are not bugs that require advanced knowledge of the rules to avoid occurring. Cloister has a remarkably simple effect — move cards from zone a to zone b, keeping them hidden — from both players. Then at another triggered ability, move cards moved from zone b to zone a by the previous ability, back to zone a. This is not rocket science!

But what can we do? Well, we can report it. Indeed, we did — in a very thorough way, enumerating the problems and possible reasons for it. With our understanding of the rules as an assistance, we were relatively well-equipped to manage this undertaking, no less — and the next day, they managed to undo one of the new bugs. Hooplah! So now it has three bugs instead of five! And let’s ignore that the Cloister still will always eat split cards!

So after a full year of being in circulation come October, a simple — very simple — card has been ignored. Multiple bug reports have been lodged, and it’s still not fixed. Sure, they’re trying, but at last check you don’t get paid to Try. You get paid to Do.

Though if they’re not paying people to fix the bugs it might explain something.

Several people are already scurrying to the forums to say “This is all 3.0’s fault, you silly silly boy!” and that’s all well and good. One can indeed account the impending release of 3.0 (please watch me hold my breath for it) is leading to programmers being sloppier in other areas, putting “non-priority” stuff on the back burner. To this I say… So?

Refresh me on how the current Standard environment somehow needs and deserves less maintenance than does a project they’re already saying they intend to hold back if it needs more time? Where is the correlation? They’ve had a year to fix these bugs, and they still haven’t done it.

There’s an added problem here, though a subtle one — that is, your average MTGO player reports things as bugs that aren’t. People who don’t understand the “countered” (fizzled is such a better word) rules, for example, or those who don’t understand how CMCs interact. These aren’t bugs, they’re user errors. I’m sure plenty get reported.

But then, it feels like nothing that gets reported gets fixed. Nothing that doesn’t get reported gets fixed. So where does that leave us?

Scott Adams offers the Dinosaur Theory. That is, you just continue doing your own thing at your own pace and your manager, by the time he has become aware of your slack-jawed lack of progress, will have been promoted or shifted sideways in a sufficiently active company. It’s what it feels like here with Wizards — they’re just doing their own thing, content in the knowledge that if they ignore us long enough we’ll go back to just pouring money into their pockets.

The sad thing is, they’re probably right. I know I can scarcely muster any furore about this — just a sort of weariness, borne out of precedent.

Anyone got any good news for me? I’m trying to see the wood for the trees, wondering if there’s any way to make it clear to Wizards that I’m not happy in any way that will actually make them take notice. Quitting is pointless — I’m nobody, and will easily be replaced. Getting ten people to quit is stupid — I couldn’t manage it and it’d be rude just to convey my point. Getting an article published… well, I doubt that’ll do much good.


The irony is that I’m one of these Wizards apologists that supposedly are ruining the game by wanting people to pay for things that aren’t theirs, avoid breaking the law, and give the guys designing the game some slack. But with this aspect of the company’s outlook, all I can feel is a lazy kind of hopelessness.

Hugs and Kisses
Talen Lee
Talen at dodo dot com dot au