Yawgmoth’s Whimsy #217 – Three Year Anniversary

Read Peter Jahn... at StarCityGames.com!
Wednesday, March 12th – It was almost exactly three years ago that I first started to play Magic Online. MTGO has been a huge part of my Magic ever since. Given that it is an anniversary – and that other things are also seeming to repeat – it seems like a good time for a retrospective.

It was almost exactly three years ago that I first started to play Magic Online. MTGO has been a huge part of my Magic ever since. Given that it is an anniversary — and that other things are also seeming to repeat — it seems like a good time for a retrospective.

I was sick this weekend, and Monday. Not Adrian Sullivan sick — I did not have walking pneumonia and still win my PTQ. Instead, I stayed home and alternately slept and slumped in front of the computer. Three years ago, Ingrid came down with the flu, and I started showing symptoms a week afterwards. It was a nasty flu — miserable, no energy, headache, and sleeplessness. I decided to start playing MTGO to give me something to do while fighting it.

I wrote about my first experiences with online play in a Star City Daily series: the Diary of an Online nOOb parts one, two, three, four, and five. Those articles covered my first days online, my first league, my first draft, my first Constructed games, etc. I reread those yesterday. It is amazing how little has changed online.

In February, 2005, I wrote most of the articles awhile waiting for a tournament or league play to start. Same this time. I was staring at the same waiting for players box, and although I have a new avatar now, the rest of the program looks almost exactly the same. I am still playing in leagues, although right now that is because it’s online release week for Morningtide. I am also waiting for a Premier Event tournament to start. The next one with an available slot is in about an hour and a half.

Three years ago, you could draft, or play sealed events, featuring Mirrodin, Eighth Edition, and Kamigawa block, but without Saviors. None of those cards are Standard legal anymore, unless reprinted — and almost none are played in other formats. There are exceptions: Vedalken Shackles and Umezawa’s Jitte were seeing play in Extended, and Molten Rain is still being played. I just looked at my Mirrodin block collection. I have 152 Mirrodin block rares, and almost none of them are being played in anything outside casual decks.

I also notice that I am still whining about not having cards. Sorry — I‘ll try to stop that.


Looking back, the biggest change in online play is the number of players. Back in 2005, Wizards was still doing some things to promote the program. They had a Magic Online column, and made a point of having Online kiosks at gaming conventions like Gencon and Origins. Today, if those computers are set up at all, they are not in high-traffic areas, and no one is demoing the program.

Today, Wizards has too many players. The transaction server cannot handle the load during peak times. Wizards has had to disable certain features, like replays, at times, and has actively discouraged other types of activities, like having selling bots in some rooms.

Wizards has reduced the number of crashes, due to high server load, through these mechanisms. I have not seen many, but I have seen a few. I have lost games, matches, drafts, and events when the servers went down and could not restart. Generally, the lost events have not been loses for me, but rather events that have been cancelled due to the crash. In a few rare cases, however, I have had a crash and been unable to log back on before my event timed out. That is rare, but it has happened.

In terms of numbers, I play 4-6 times a week, often for several hours at a time. I see a crash maybe every couple of weeks. I have been in events that have been canceled maybe once every other month, or less. I end up losing a game or match due to a crash maybe once a year.

Wizards has always been very good about providing refunds. I guess they have plenty of practice.

The biggest non-change, of course, is that MTGO V3.0 is still not here. People started discussing Version 3 about the time I got online. The “beta test” started about a year ago. The program is still not ready. I have played on the beta, and it exists. It is not perfect, yet, but it is Magic. I expect it will be out, sometime, and that we will all play it.

Note: Version 3.0 will be a change. It will be controversial. Lots of people will say it is terrible, and that it is going to kill Magic. Lots of people will say they will never spend money on the game again. In that respect, it will be just like every other change that has ever happened. Personally, I expect that the new program will be just like the card frames: different, not really my preference, but not a problem.

Wizards has made another concession to server limitation during the release week: they alternate drafts and premier events, and limit the premier events. The server load is too great is both events are running, so drafts run for 24 hours, then Premier events runs for 24 hours. The PEs start every 15 minutes, and they fill up within minutes of being announced, even though the announcements are made a couple of hours in advance. The release PES are limited to 32 players — meaning five rounds — and have no Top 8. Prizes are paid to anyone with a record of 3-2 or better. This will be my third event, and I have finished with a 3-2 record in the previous two. I won 4 packs each time — after invest 2 tix, 3 Morningtide packs, and a Lorwyn Tournament pack.

One thing that hasn’t changed in three years — my play skill has not improved.

The waiting for a tournament to start has not gotten any better. Back when I started, I sat around waiting, but my dogs would wander over and lay their heads in my lap, hoping for cookies. That has changed — and not changed. Waiting for games is still boring, and my dogs still lay their heads in my lap. Different dogs, now. The two I had when I started playing were elderly, and died within weeks of each other. Since then, we have adopted two new members into the pack. Young dogs — they still lay their heads in my lap, on occasion, but I have to be a bit more alert when they leave the room. They still chew.

Still waiting for the event to start, but I will share the deck from my first PE.

8 Forest
8 Swamp
1 Vivid Grove

1 Garruk Wildspeaker

1 Fistful of Force
1 Incremental Growth
1 Obsidian Battle-Axe
1 Revive the Fallen
1 Violet Pall

1 Bosk Banneret
1 Bramblewood Paragon
1 Elvish Warrior
1 Everbark Shaman
2 Game-Trail Changeling
1 Gilt-Leaf Seer
1 Hunter of Eyeblights
1 Kithkin Daggerdare
1 Leaf Gilder
1 Lys Alana Huntmaster
1 Marsh Flitter
1 Mournwhelk
1 Shriekmaw
1 Treefolk Harbinger
1 Unstoppable Ash
1 Weed-Pruner Poplar

Yes, I managed to 3-2 with that deck. I suck.

I lost one match to a double mulligan game 1, followed by an explosive nuts draw for my opponent. Since we were both in the 2-0 bracket at that point, his explosive start was very good. It was also a mirror match. He played Thoughtseize, Paragon, Perfect, Garruk plus Vanquishers, Shriekmaw, overrun.

The final match I lost due to my dogs. I let them out after the end of the fourth round. Buster spotted a turkey and gave chase. The turkey flew low. Because of the big snowdrifts, the dogs were able to run right up and over the fence, headed for the wetlands, and the highway beyond. Since I’m a little heavier than the dogs, I kept breaking through the snow, and could not keep up. Eventually, the turkey got away, but not before the dogs had gotten quite a way into the swamp. I followed, and eventually we all made it back. However, by the time we got back, the tournament had started and I had lost game 1.

Game 2 I had him on the ropes, and managed a massive strike. He had Pollen Lullaby, and won the clash. I had nothing in hand but two lands, while he ripped Marsh Flitter and ended up killing me with Turtleshell Changeling and fliers, while I could not draw enough removal to get past all his blockers.

Maybe I should have been playing around Pollen Lullaby, but I did not, and since I had lost game 1 due to dogs, that was match.

Number of times Garruk showed all tournament: 1.


Reading over the old articles, I see that I did not know how to get singles. Not surprising, since I had no tix at that point. I also did not know much about trading, or buying cards for MTGO.

Today, I’m pretty experienced. I have bought a lot of cards.

When I started, the primary methods of buying cards was in the marketplace, or online, via eBay or a couple card sites. Three years ago, automated card buying bots were simple and rare. Today, they are everywhere, and very sophisticated. Early bots could just manage offering cards at 2 for a ticket — but all cards in the Bot were for sale at that price, and you had to pay in full ticket increments. Today, Bots can offer a variety of cards at varying prices, and they will keep track of your change to be used in future purchases.

The Bots make getting cards really easy. I just wonder what will happen with Version 3.0. I haven’t done any programming for years, so I don’t know just how difficult it is to build a program to interface with MTGO v3.0. I hope that either the Bots can still function, or that MTGO v3.0 has enough features built in to make buying singles as easy as it is now. Three years ago, finding a particular card was a lot harder.

Still waiting for the PE to start.


I have seen a lot of changes in the formats over the years. In the past, Wizards ran a lot of unusual formats as Premier Events. They still do. The formats have changed, however.

When I started playing, PE formats included Standard and Extended, of course, as well as sealed events. The list of PEs back then also included Singleton and Prismatic. Once Mirage was introduced online, Classic PEs also began.

Hey — my event is about to start!

Over time, the number of players for Singleton and Prismatic formats dried up. Basically, the formats — especially Prismatic – heavily rewarded the few who had invested time and money in them, and pretty much excluded everyone else. After a while, they routinely began failing to get the minimum 24 players required to start the event, and finally Wizards took them off the schedule.

Today, the main PEs include Standard, Extended, and Lorwyn Sealed, plus Classic, Momir Vig, Time Spiral block and so forth on the weekend. Momir Vig is an online only format that is too random for my blood. It’s in the same category as Vanguard — an interesting idea that works online, but really does not interest me.

Multiplayer is like that, too. Sometimes I’m really interested and play a lot, then I don’t play for weeks.

We are starting. My pool:

1 Burrenton Bombardier
1 Forge[/author]-Tender”]Burrenton [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author]-Tender
1 Cenn’s Heir
1 Cenn’s Tactician
1 Judge of Currents
1 Kithkin Healer
1 Kithkin Zephyrnaut
1 Knight of Meadowgrain
1 Mosquito Guard
1 Oaken Brawler
1 Order of the Golden Cricket
1 Stonybrook Schoolmaster
1 Weight of Conscience
1 Wellgabber Apothecary
1 Wispmare

1 Cryptic Command
1 Declaration of Naught
1 Deeptread Merrow
2 Disperse
1 Ethereal Whiskergill
1 Floodchaser
1 Inkfathom Divers
1 Jace Beleren
1 Latchkey Faerie
1 Merrow Harbinger
1 Mulldrifter
2 Negate
1 Nevermaker
1 Pestermite
1 Ringskipper
1 Sigil Tracer
1 Stonybrook Angler
1 Stonybrook Banneret
1 Zephyr Net

1 Black Poplar Shaman
1 Bog Hoodlums
1 Boggart Birth Rite
1 Final-Sting Faerie
1 Footbottom Feast
2 Moonglove Changeling
1 Morsel Theft
1 Noggin Whack
1 Prickly Boggart
1 Prowess of the Fair
1 Weed Strangle

1 Blades of Velis Vel
1 Brighthearth Banneret
1 Ceaseless Searblades
1 Consuming Bonfire
1 Countryside Crusher
1 Crush Underfoot
1 Giant’s Ire
1 Hostile Realm
1 Hurly-Burly
1 Lash Out
1 Lowland Oaf
1 Luminescent Rain
1 Lunk Errant
1 Mudbutton Clanger
1 Rage Forger
1 Seething Pathblazer
1 Shard Volley
1 Stomping Slabs
1 Sunflare Shaman
1 War-Spike Changeling

1 Ambassador Oak
1 Battlewand Oak
1 Earthbrawn
1 Elvish Eulogist
1 Elvish Promenade
1 Everbark Shaman
1 Fertilid
1 Gilt-Leaf Seer
1 Heritage Druid
1 Imperious Perfect
1 Kithkin Daggerdare
1 Lignify
1 Lys Alana Bowmaster
1 Lys Alana Huntmaster
1 Masked Admirers
1 Orchard Warden
1 Treefolk Harbinger (premium)
1 Winnower Patrol

1 Obsidian Battle-Axe
1 Thornbite Staff

1 Shimmering Grotto
1 Vivid Creek

I should give you some white space to think about the deck, but no need. I’ll stick in some thoughts instead.

Prices and Prizes

When I first started playing, the price of packs was already $3.29, if I remember correctly. When MTGO first appeared, a lot of people wrote, at length, about how that price was impossible, and how the program could never work with those prices. Later, packs went to $3.99 each. People screamed and moaned — and kept buying packs.

People keep drafting.

Wizards is being very careful to make sure that MTGO does not hurt sales of Magic the Paper Product. That is why packs sell for full retail online. Just recently, however, Wizards offered a mild discount on bulk purchases of the online-only Masters Edition packs. I’m sure that some serious economists are analyzing the data produced by that experiment, and I hope that the result justifies some sort of “box” discount in the future.

I have also seen changes to the price of 8-man tournaments, both in terms of the packs paid out in prizes and the costs to enter the events. The changes occurred, people screamed and yelled, then people got over them. I will be interested in seeing what Wizards does once v3.0 is here, and they can actually promote the program with an eye towards getting more people to play.

I am not looking forward to online PTQs, however. The 150 player paper PTQs are grueling enough — I can’t image a multi-thousand player PTQ, running 14 rounds plus a Top 8. Man, that would take forever.

My deck:

Looking at this, I could either play Blue, for Jace, Cryptic Command, and fliers, or GR for decent stuff and removal. Having seen what the common Weed-Pruner Poplar can do to a deck full of x/1 fliers, and seeing very little removal in Blue, I opted for the RG build. If you disagree, sound off in the forums. Here’s my build:

9 Forest
8 Mountain

1 Consuming Bonfire
1 Earthbrawn
1 Lash Out
1 Lignify
1 Shard Volley

1 Ambassador Oak
1 Battlewand Oak
1 Brighthearth Banneret
1 Ceaseless Searblades
1 Countryside Crusher
1 Everbark Shaman
1 Gilt-Leaf Seer
1 Imperious Perfect
1 Kithkin Daggerdare
1 Lowland Oaf
1 Lunk Errant
1 Lys Alana Bowmaster
1 Lys Alana Huntmaster
1 Masked Admirers
1 Treefolk Harbinger
1 War-Spike Changeling
1 Winnower Patrol

1 Obsidian Battle-Axe

Round 1: Opponent rating 1847

I’m not rated that highly. I’m also not happy when I open with one Mountain, six Green cards, four of which have GG in the cost. The mulligan hand still has six Green cards. The mulligan to five is better, with Perfect, Lignify, and — most importantly — lands.

My opponent has the 2/2 Cricket dude, Woodland Changeling, some reinforce stuff, Oblivion Ring — and Chameleon Colossus. I Lignify it, and he drops Mulldrifter, then Vigor on turn 7. I draw some lands and scoop, when he starts whacking his Mulldrifter with Jagged-Scar Archers.

Game 2 he gets a Woodland Changeling, and boosts it turn 4 with Reins of the Vinesteed. I have no removal other than Lignify, which does not work too well with an enchantment. I draw the Perfect, and he has Moonglove Extract. I draw Masked Admirers, and he has Crib Swap. I get a Countryside Crusher into play, and get the Axe on it, but it has to wait until it gets bigger than the 4/4 Woodland Changeling, and its friend, the 4/4 Game-Trail Changeling. I rip Lash Out to kill a pesky flier — and he has the reinforce card in hand. The clash reveals Lignify for him and Forest for me, and I scoop.

Probably should have built the Blue deck.

The Caliber of Players

I have some time, so I want to talk about the caliber of opponents online. They vary. This is release week, so they vary more than usual, but they are still all over the board. Ratings only tell part of the story. My last opponent was rated about 1850, and played well. I have also seen players rated around 1850 who played like they were complete idiots — or blind drunk. Maybe the later. I have also faced players that still open Limited games with Lightning Bolt or Shock to the face.

Ratings don’t tell the whole story. Many players have multiple accounts. I have two — one for serious play, and one for rare-drafting and storing spare cards. The rating on the primary account is marginal — about 1700 before this week, but I have managed to drag it down while going 3-2 in PEs.

Round 2: Opponent rated about 1550.

I keep a decent hand. My opponent opens with Prickly Boggart, then Prowls out Stinkdrinker Bandit on turn 2. I have no removal, but I do have a turn 3 Obsidian Battle-Axe. He has a turn 3 Mad Auntie. I stall on three lands, but do get a Battlewand Oak to hold the Axe. I Lignify the fear dude, but he also Squeaking Pie Grubfellows and Thieving Pie Sprites, and I die on turn 6.

Game 2 I mulligan to six, keeping a hand with 3 land, Masked Admirers, Consuming Bonfire, and Gilt-Leaf Seer. This game he play the Axe, but can’t find a second Forest for a while. However, my opponent is doing nothing, until he fires off a Violet Pall on turn 6. However, he soon begins finding removal and creatures, and it gets close. I knock him down to four, with Shard Volley in hand. He drops Cairn Wanderers and a Boggart Loggers. I have Treefolk Harbinger and Ambassador Oak, with elf friend. He attacks, leaving my thee attackers facing his two defenders. His Cairn Wanderer is now a 4/4 flying forestwalker — 6/5 with the Axe, so blocking is not really an option, and living much longer not really a possibility. I swing, his last card is Pack’s Disdain, so I lose.

Okay, important rule: when you are playing in a PE and are at 0-2, you drop. However, the deck is better than I am, so I decide to play on. 3-2 still gets packs.

Round 3: Opponent ranked 1349.


The shuffler does not like me today. Opening hand: SEVEN Mountains. Mull to six — no land, nothing with a casting cost under 4. Mull to five and don’t get much, but I can play.

My opponent has a one-drop, a 2/2 two-drop, Reinforce to kill my 2/2 blocker, a Harbinger to fetch Nameless Inversion, and Shriekmaw. Once I deal with all that, he plays Profane Command to get back Shriekmaw. I lose.

Game 2, he does it again, but adds an Eyeblight’s Ending and Warren Pilferers for the Shriekmaw. This time I die to Marsh Flitter.

I have no idea how he can be 0-2. I ask, and he just laughs.

I don’t want to look at my rating.

Here’s hoping your release week went better than mine.