Yawgmoth’s Whimsy #230 – Intentional Draws and MTGO

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Thursday, June 12th – I was going to write about IDs in MTGO last week, but I ran out of time. It’s a bit less topical now, since the Wizards folks have made their announcement, but I can talk a bit about why IDs are allowed in the paper world, why they are problematic, and what changes when they are gone.

I was going to write about IDs in MTGO last week, but I ran out of time. It’s a bit less topical now, since the Wizards folks have made their announcement, but I can talk a bit about why IDs are allowed in the paper world, why they are problematic, and what changes when they are gone.

The Powers That Be have announced that the lack of the option to intentionally draw a match during Swiss rounds of Premier Events was not a design bug or omission. It was a deliberate choice made when writing the program. The folks at Wizards did spend an additional week or so in final discussions on whether to change that, but they decided against it.

Here are some extracts from Scott Larabee’s post on the Wizards boards. Basically, this is the official word:

Intentional Draws will not be enabled in Magic Online. This decision was made long before the actual work on Magic Online 3.0 began.

The reason: we don’t need them.

“Huh?” you may ask.
“But we can ID in paper tournaments,” you say.

Paper Magic and Online Magic are not the same game. There are many differences between Paper and Online Magic. One of the main differences is the very reason why we don’t need (nor are we going to offer) ID’s on Magic Online — the timers or “Shot Clocks.”

IDs are a necessity in paper play. The reason that we allow IDs in paper play is that we cannot prevent players from drawing the game anyway. Players could simply start a match and not play until time runs out. Or they could play the match in such a way that each player wins 1 game and then time runs out. In either case this would be a draw.
Because we cannot prevent draws in paper Magic, we allow IDs. If we could prevent draws, we would not have IDs in paper Magic.

In Magic online, draws can be prevented. If players choose to sit and not play, one player will lose.

In the past, we’ve stated that we want Magic Online to mirror paper Magic as closely as possible. That’s still true, to a great extent, but in places where online capabilities exceed those in the analog form, we’re going to use the opportunity to make the changes that we “wish” we could make in paper. (or vice versa).

As I said above, if we had the ability to accurately enforce time limits and/or use shot clocks in paper Magic, we would be removing the ID ability there as well.

I would have looked far more omniscient had I finished this article before Scott’s post, since it says a lot of what I was planning to say. I can at least elaborate.

A Recap of Last Week’s Article:

This is relevant.

Last week I wrote about a couple areas in which paper Magic and MTGO differ. The main areas were the ability to look at cards during drafts and the chess clock style timers used in MTGO. The chess clock timers are the relevant factor. Because of chess clocks, Magic Online matches can be accurately timed, and when time runs out, we can clearly identify which player used too much time.

That simply can’t be done in the real world, for all the reasons listed in the last article.

Having an accurate clock means that MTGO matches do not end up in draws — someone always wins, either by winning outright or because the opponent runs out of time. You simply cannot have matches that end in draws due to time running out.

Actually, on Magic Online, you cannot have matches that end in draws at all, unless the players agree to “call it a draw” and quit the game. In tournaments on MTGO, it simply cannot happen.

Unintentional draws, that is.

You can have a game end in a draw, of course. If both players are at five life, and someone casts Hurricane for 6, the game is a draw. The match, however, continues, until someone has won two games or someone has timed out.

Why We Have Intentional Draws in Paper Magic:

As Scott said, Wizards allows intentional draws in paper Magic because they cannot be prevented. As he said “Players could simply start a match and not play until time runs out. Or they could play the match in such a way that each player wins 1 game and then time runs out.” As a thought experiment, imagine that intentional draws were not allowed, and that players had to play the match out.

Imagine two players that want to draw, because a draw will ensure that both make the cut. If either loses, they miss it. However, they have to play. They decide to run the clock out.

The players shuffle thoroughly, then present right at the three-minute mark. (Players have a maximum of three minutes to shuffle and present decks at the start of the round.) The players then shuffle each others’ decks thoroughly.

Player A wins the die roll, and elects to play first. He considers his hand, does some counting on his fingers, holds his head, complains, then mulligans. He shuffles – pile and riffles — then presents. His opponent shuffles thoroughly. Player A draws his six.

Repeat the above until the player has mulliganed to four — or maybe three.

Player B does the same thing.

By the time they finally start playing, a large chunk of the round is already gone — and both players have nothing going on, because they have empty hands. Still, they play as slowly as they can.

We don’t really have to imagine that happening. Once upon a time, intentional draws were not allowed. Mike Long and Mark Justice were in exactly that situation, and stalled the clock out. That created enough of an uproar that the DCI allowed IDs thereafter.

Now the actions described above are right on the borderline of slow play and/or stalling. One forum poster claimed that “any reasonably experienced judge” could easily prevent that sort of thing. Well, I, for one, am probably a “reasonably qualified” judge, and I doubt that it would ever be easy. I would hate to have to try.

Think about what preventing stalling would require.

The Mulligans: Let’s assume that the judge was in the right place to see the player’s hand, and could identify and remember all cards. That’s a huge assumption — it is actually hard to see a player’s hand, the cards are often in foreign languages and all we judges can spot are names and bits of artwork. Moreover, if a player is trying to stall, and not get caught, they are probably going to be cagier than usual about letting judges see the cards. (Sure, judges could ask to see the cards — but asking, explaining why, etc. will take yet more time, not to mention interrupt the player’s deliberations. That should be avoided whenever possible.)

Assume a player mulligans. The judge would have to decide whether that mulligan was correct, or whether the player was mulliganning a good hand in order to stall.

Easy, right?

Here’s the hand the player just mulliganed: Orim’s Chant, Second Sunrise, Conjurer’s Bauble, Archeological Dig, Mystical Teachings, 2 Island.

Should the player have mulliganed that — on the play — or was the mulligan a stalling tactic?

That’s a randomly generated hand from the “Sunny Side Up” deck that a bunch of French players brought to Worlds in Paris. A real deck — but few people remember how to play it. That’s the point: at every big event, judges see unfamiliar decks, even if they are very familiar with the format. If you don’t like my example, think about the same scenario involving a Quick n’ Toast player, and assume you had never see the decklist.

Nail in the Coffin #1: If the DCI was going to try to prevent intentional draws, it would require judges to both observe and second-guess all mulligan decisions.

Okay, let’s move on to gameplay. It’s turn 4. The Quick n’ Toast player has a Vivid land and a Reflecting Pool in play, plus Rune Snag and Wall of Roots in hand. The player draws a Vivid Creek. She thinks for a while, fiddles with her land, thinks some more, then passes. The whole turn took under thirty seconds. Good play? Stalling? Can you penalize her for not playing the Vivid Creek, or is bluffing more action cards valid in this situation?

Should a judge make that sort of call?

Suppose, instead of a land and a Wall of Roots, the player had three uncastable cards, like Cloudthreshers? In that case, fiddling with lands and pretending to play something might be a way of bluffing a lack of counters. Is that something a judge should be calling?

Nail in the Coffin #2: Judges should not have to second-guess complex plays, or undercut bluffs.

Here’s a simpler situation: the player has an expensive threat in hand. He does not have the lands to play it. The player then fails to charge up a storage land at the end of the opponent’s turn. So, is that a deliberate attempt to slow down the arrival of a threat, or a real oversight?

Nail in the Coffin #3: Judges would have to decide whether “mistakes” were deliberate.

There’s a bigger problem with the charge-land example, however. If the judge decides that the player deliberately “forgot” to charge the storage land, then the penalty is not slow play — it is stalling. Stalling is a serious offense, and the penalty is disqualification without prizes.

In short — the options for the judge faces when two players are trying to run out the clock is often 1) find no penalty or 2) DQ. Sure, slow play warnings — and upgrades — also apply, but in the last example, at least, the only real choice is stalling or nothing. That’s a rotten choice.

Slow play would / could be appropriate in many of the above examples. Called often enough, it will end the match (first offense = warning, second = game loss, third = match loss — and you can call it multiple times in a single match, if warranted.) However, slow play is a controversial call. I have rarely had players argue over judge calls for game play errors, decklist errors, etc. The ones that most often draw complaints from players are slow play and — for some unknown reason — tardiness.

In effect, slow play is a judgment call — like calling balls and strikes in a baseball game. Slow play is akin to calling “ball” on a close pitch — and having players trying to run out the clock deliberately is like a pitcher trying to pitch an entire ball game on the corner of the strike zone. The difference is that going over the line is never “ball two” — it’s either the ballgame or an ejection.

Nail in the Coffin #4: The penalties for going over the line are harsh.

A few other things to consider — if the DCI did want judges to enforce the “no intentional draws” rule, they would need more judges, because a single judge can only watch for slow play at one match at a time. They could also change the definition or penalty for stalling — but that has other impacts (e.g. players could win game 1, then stall like crazy — at least until the opponent called a judge over to watch the game.)

I’m not trying build an argument about whether the DCI should have allowed IDs. That decision has been made — presumably for all the reasons listed above, and maybe for some I haven’t mentioned. As Scott said: Because we cannot prevent draws in paper Magic, we allow IDs.

The Problems with IDs

If you have ever watched the judges post standings in the later rounds of a big event, you may have noticed that judges stay right next to the standings. That is not to prevent players from stealing the pairings, and not because we are worried about graffiti. The judges are there to prevent collusion and bribery.

In a perfect world, the only thing that would decide the outcome of a match is game play. In the real world, cash can influence the outcome of everything from boxing matches to elections — and that includes Magic matches. Judges try to prevent that, but the best we can really do is to make it harder for players to “make an arrangement.” Judges — and the DCI — do a lot in that respect, but it cannot be completely stamped out. (In any case, that’s another article.)

Intentional draws allow for another type of collusion. Players can accept something — maybe unstated, but expected — for not winning in a situation where the player would never have considered conceding.

More importantly, even if an intentional draw is not collusion, according to the rules, a large percentage of Magic players consider it collusion. A lot of players see the ID as unfair — and it does drive some of them away from tournament play. Not necessarily a lot, but some — and even a few leaving organized play over this is a bad thing.

No question Wizards is not happy with IDs. As Scott said: As I said above, if we had the ability to accurately enforce time limits and/or use shot clocks in paper Magic, we would be removing the ID ability there as well.

Note that this same reasoning also applies to concessions. Wizards allows concessions because they cannot be prevented. It is even harder to prevent someone from throwing a match — or to show that they are deliberately throwing the match — than to enforce the no-ID rule. Bad play happens, even when the player is not trying to lose — and you can make bad plays on MTGO just as easily as in a paper game.

What the Lack of IDs in MTGO Means to Players:

Previously, in a 32 player online PE, any players that went 3-0 simply drew in rounds 4 and 5 and were assured of a spot in the Top 8. Now, with intentional draws impossible — they cannot draw in. They have to play it out. Top 8 is not a guarantee.

If the players with 3-0 records cannot win the next two rounds, then their fate will be determined by their tiebreakers. In a 32 man event in which draws do not happen, a couple 3-2 players will make Top 8, but it does not have to be those that started 3-0.

To illustrate how this works, I created a fictitious tournament in DCI Reporter, and worked through the tournament. I created a fake player base with 8 pro players, 8 mid-range players, eight casual players, two players that drop early regardless of record, and some players that stay in all rounds regardless of their record. (And myself, because I was tired of trying to find fake DCI numbers for fake players.) I also created an odds table for results, using a six-sided die. For example: Pro player versus casual player: 1-3 = pro player wins 2-0, 4-5 = pro player wins 2-1, 6 = casual player wins 2-1. In general, players dropped after three loses (with stayers and droppers exceptions to the rule.)

Here are the results after round 3. Rank is obvious. The names reflect that this was done far too late at night. OMW% is the first tiebreaker, Opponent Match Wins percentage. Player Game Wins percentage (PGW%) is the second tiebreaker, and opponent game wins (OGW%) the third.

Rank Name Points OMW% PGW% OGW%
1 Proplaya, Greg 9 55.6 85.7 54.2
2 Proplaya, Chuck 9 55.6 75.0 54.2
3 Proplaya, Hal 9 44.4 100 44.4
4 Proplaya, Dave 9 44.4 100 41.3
5 Stayer, Bodine 6 77.8 57.1 73.8
6 Ego, Alter 6 66.7 66.7 63.3
7 Proplaya, Bob 6 66.7 62.5 56.9
8 Proplaya, Fred 6 61.1 62.5 52.6
9 Midrange, Carl 6 55.6 66.7 58.7
10 Jahn, Pete 6 55.6 62.5 54.0
11 Midrange, Ace 6 55.6 50.0 52.4
12 Casual, Howard 6 44.4 71.4 44.4
13 Proplaya, Erroll 6 44.4 66.7 44.4
14 Proplaya, Adam 6 44.4 62.5 44.4
15 Midrange, Hank 6 44.4 62.5 38.9
16 Stayer, Coulter 6 33.3 62.5 33.3
17 Midrange, Frank 3 77.8 28.6 75.0
18 Dropfiend, Albert 3 66.7 40.0 56.7
19 Casual, Frank 3 66.7 37.5 52.8
20 Casual, Abe 3 66.7 28.6 66.7
21 Midrange, Gill 3 66.7 28.6 63.7
22 Casual, Edgar 3 55.6 42.9 58.9
23 Midrange, Doug 3 55.6 42.9 57.3
24 Stayer, Dwight 3 55.6 37.5 54.2
25 Casual, Chris 3 38.9 42.9 38.7
26 Casual, Dave 3 33.3 42.9 36.5
27 Stayer, Achmed 0 77.8 0.0 78.0

Note that four players, including Dave Proplaya, are at 3-0 at this point. Next round the four 3-0s are going to play each other.

Now let’s move ahead to the standings after round 5, just before the cut to Top 8.

Rank Name Points OMW% PGW% OGW%
1 Proplaya, Hal 15 53.3 100 48.345
2 Proplaya, Greg 12 76.0 66.7 70.5
3 Ego, Alter 12 64.0 66.7 57.8
4 Jahn, Pete 12 54.7 69.2 50.8
5 Proplaya, Erroll 12 49.3 72.7 48.3
6 Stayer, Coulter 12 46.7 69.2 46.5
7 Proplaya, Chuck 9 64.0 53.8 62.6
8 Midrange, Carl 9 62.7 54.5 61.0
9 Proplaya, Dave 9 56.0 66.7 51.8
10 Midrange, Gill 9 53.3 50 48.9
11 Midrange, Ace 9 52.0 53.8 51.3
12 Midrange, Hank 9 50.7 57.1 48.0
13 Proplaya, Fred 9 50.0 57.1 48.9
14 Proplaya, Adam 9 46.7 61.5 47.5
15 Proplaya, Bob 6 60.0 46.2 56.7
16 Stayer, Bodine 6 60.0 41.7 58.6
17 Midrange, Frank 6 55.0 41.7 56.2
18 Midrange, Doug 6 53.3 45.5 48.9
19 Stayer, Dwight 6 50.7 38.5 49.6
20 Casual, Howard 6 48.0 50.0 49.3
21 Stayer, Achmed 6 48 36.4 51.0
22 Casual, Frank 6 46.7 42.9 43.8
23 Casual, Edgar 6 41.3 50.0 42.5

Both Chuck Proplaya and Dave Proplaya have lost the last two rounds, after starting 3-0. Dave has dropped to ninth and missed the cut. Carl Midrange, who started 2-1, has passed him. Let’s look at why.

The first tiebreaker, in Magic events, is opponent match wins. This means that, if you play opponents with better records, you will have better tiebreakers. Since Swiss pairings pair, to the extent possible, players with identical records, anyone at 3-0 will be paired with at least four undefeated players by the end of round 4, and even if they lose, they will be playing another 3-1 player in round 5.

Chuck Proplaya played the following people:
* Round 1: Casual Frank, who went 2-3
* Round 2: Bob Proplaya, who went 2-2 drop
* Round 3: Fred Proplaya, who finished 3-2
* Round 4: (lost to) Hal Proplaya, who finished 1st at 5-0
* Round 5: (lost to) Alter Ego, who finished 3rd at 4-1

Dave Proplaya played the following people:
* Round 1: Achmed Staya, who finished at 2-3
* Round 2: Frank Midrange, who went 1-2 drop
* Round 3: Bodine Staya, who finished at 2-3
* Round 4: (lost to) Greg Proplaya, who finished 2nd at 4-1
* Round 5: (lost to) Errol Proplaya, who finished 5th at 4-1

Carl Midrange played the following people:
* Round 1: Earl Midrange, who went 0-2 drop
* Round 2: Doug Midrange, who finished at 2-3
* Round 3: (lost to) Hal Proplaya, who finished 1st at 5-0
* Round 4: Fred Proplaya, who finished 3-2
* Round 5: (lost to) Pete Jahn, who finished 4th at 4-1

What, in the end, was the difference between the players? Both Chuck and Carl played better opponents than Dave. In round 3, Dave and Chuck were both at 3-0, but Dave had beaten three players who would wind up with losing records. Carl was at 2-1, but his only loss was to a player who would go on to win the whole tournament.

After round 3, all three players played high-powered opponents. Chuck and Dave both lost, but Chuck lost to higher placed finishers. Carl won one match.

In this case, at least, what the elimination of intentional draws has done is to prevent a player who got his 3-0 record purely be beating (relatively) bad opponents from getting a pass into the Top 8. That player could have made it in — but that would have required that he beat just one powerful opponent in either of the last two rounds. Dave didn’t, so he missed the cut. Carl did, so he squeaked in.

This is not a bad thing.

I did not skew the outcomes or play with the construction of this tournament to get these results. I created the player pool, built the tournament, and paired round 1. Then I started rolling my d6 and entering results. DCI Reporter did the pairings for the next round, and I rolled my d6 some more.

The result is clear — the main effect of eliminating IDs is that players who have never faced a strong opponent cannot get carried into the Top 8 while players who beat better opponents miss the cut.

It’s about time.

In Defense of Worth

I probably sound like a WotC apologist already, so I might as well keep going. (I’m not. For one thing, WotC folks are not allowed to use “WotC” — the name of the company is “Wizards of the Coast.”)

Worth Wolpert put out a post saying that he was considering the no-IDs issue a couple of weeks ago, and that either he or Scott would have a statement “soon.” That statement, coming a week later, said that no IDs was policy, and that MTGO v3.0 had been deliberately built without IDs. People started saying that Worth was lying when he said it was still under discussion.

Sheesh — forum trolls.

I didn’t bother to ask, but I’m sure that both statements are true. I have no doubt that the ID option was left out of version 3.0 on purpose. Once PEs were running, and players asked about it, Worth and others probably did have lots discussions about putting it back in. People were unhappy. In the end, the WotC folks decided to say “yes, that’s the way it is, and that’s the way it is supposed to be.”

They could have said “that’s the way it is, but we’ll change it.” They said that about a ton of other options, including the lack of splits in the finals of an 8-man. It’s not like Worth has not had lots of practice saying “Yes, we built it that way. Sorry. We’ll get it fixed.” He could have done it again.

Personally, I’m glad he didn’t.


“one million words” on MTGO