Yawgmoth’s Whimsy # 243 – Five Stupid Ideas

Read Peter Jahn... at StarCityGames.com!
Thursday, September 19th – In recent weeks I have had a lot of time to think about Magic, and too little time to actually play it. That means I have no real tech, but lots of gripes. Rather than just gripe, though, I want to look at some really dumb ideas that I have recently heard.

In recent weeks I have had a lot of time to think about Magic, and too little time to actually play it. That means I have no real tech, but lots of gripes. Rather than just gripe, though, I want to look at some really dumb ideas that I have recently heard.

One dumb idea that I had all on my own — the ability to play Magic while driving. Between work, familial obligations and so forth, I’m putting in almost a thousand miles per week behind the wheel. Wouldn’t it be great to be able to play Magic during that time?

It would be Braille driving — you just feel the bumps…

Yeah — stupid idea.

Speaking of stupid ideas — I’ll grab for the low hanging fruit.

Stupid Idea # 1: The Mothership Gets Balls

It’s (American) football season. That’s the one time of the year where I watch network TV — and see commercials. God, I can’t stand commercials.

One commercial that annoys me is the one where the guy turns his car into a football helmet, and the wife just walks away. Just inane — both halves of the couple are jerks, but what he supposedly did to his car is ridiculous.

Sort of like this:


When I first loaded it up, I spent three minutes waiting for the page to jump to another screen. Then I exited the website and tried again. I clicked on everything visible. It never occurred to me to scroll down off the screen — that all the relevant links would be hidden off screen.

I have now bookmarked the content page, so it isn’t too bad. Still, I can’t find things. I read a forum post saying that the decklists for MTGO Top 8 events are on the page somewhere. Can’t find it. I tried to find any info on Masters Edition II (MED2) on the website. I gave up after a couple of fruitless minutes.

If this was a project for a college course — say Art of Graphical Web Design 303- I would give this an A. I have been reading the content on the mothership daily, for at least five years. As a long-time, daily user of the website, I give it a different grade. I’m not reading it daily anymore.

Stupid Idea #2: MTGO Messing Up Clans / Chat

MTGO v3.0 has had a number of teething problems. It is playable, but it is not really fun, yet. I have found that my annoyance with the ugly interface, strange effects, and general weird design is directly proportional to my won/loss ratio. In other words, if my deck designs are working / I am winning, it is not much of a problem.

The one are that has not been fixed yet, and that bothers me, is that neither chat nor clans are particularly functional. Chat is vertical, running down one side (or, optionally, in a strange box if the “dock” is minimized — but that box has strange click functionalities and overlays some of my cards. Neither option is very good. Clans were really broken for a while, to the point that I have totally ignored mine. If Wizards has fixed clans, I haven’t heard about it.

Why does this bother me? A few articles back I quoted some passages from the book Developing Online Games: An Insider’s Guide. Here’s another passage worth quoting.

It’s the Socialization, Stupid!

In the end, an online game is really just a mechanism to allow players to socialize in a context. In the industry, we are fond of saying, “They come for the game and stay for the socialization.” There is more than a little truth to that statement. Past a certain point in a player’s “career” in a game, being with friends and associates online is more important than the game itself, or at least equally important. If both elements aren’t present, the player really has no reason to stick around.

This has manifested itself in the form of guilds and teams that stay together for years and sometimes move from game to game as whole entities if they find a game offering better tools for socialization and togetherness that enhance the bonds players form. Many designers go wrong by assuming that the gameplay will always be the primary reason for being there and pay more attention to adding content than to refining tools for establishing and maintaining social bonds.

The writer identified two functions critical to any online game.

Robust Chat Tools
Full-Featured Guild/Team Organization

Guess Wizards did not read the book.

Stupid Idea #3: Too Many Sets Online

In the last twelve months, Wizards has offered the following sets for sale online.

Tenth Edition
Ravnica *
Guildpact *
Dissension *
Time Spiral
Planar Chaos
Future Sight
Masters Edition *
Elves vs. Goblins

* no longer available

Wizards has stated that it intends to start selling From the Vaults: Dragons this week, and will start selling Masters Edition II next Monday. Shards of Alara will be available in a month or so, and Tempest block will appear later this year.

Cranking sets out this fast — faster than in paper — is just too fast. I don’t really object to the sets going on sale; I object to the sets going off sale. Right now, Wizards has a marginal product and way too few users. Both the product and user numbers will improve, but until it does, taking packs off sale will just make it that much harder for future players to try to accumulate the cards necessary to play in Constructed events. Wizards should have left MED I on sale for a while, and considered extending the sales of old sets like Time Spiral. Yes, I know that the paper world takes them off sale, but in the paper world does not have all of MTGOs problems.

Stupid Idea #4: MED II Preview Card Choice

Since the idiots on the MTGO MED II beta spoiled the whole list, the MED previews were cancelled. I was all set to preview — well, frankly, I had bad cards. I’ll comment on them next week, once the set is officially out.

Sometimes the preview cards are good. Sometimes the preview cards suck, and you have to put a lot of lipstick on the pig. (No, that statement has nothing to do with Gov. Palin.) Writing reviews is always a challenge when the cards are marginal. Fortunately, I have a good card for the Shards preview.

Stupid Idea #5: Random Prize Payouts in Con8s

I have listed other people’s ideas, so it is time to list some of mine. First, though I want to say that I love the idea of Swiss eight-man Constructed events. It is the one thing that would get me to pay for con8s. The only problem is that I have had a constant set of conflicts the last two weeks, so I have had time to play in exactly zero so far. That may change if the relatives leave early enough this evening.

Since I have not had a chance to play, I am not sure what type of packs the 321 events pay out. I’m guessing it is either all Shadowmoor or something that ends up creating draft sets for players winning three rounds. That’s useful, but I have a different idea. What about making the prize payouts random?

The simplest idea would be to have the odds of a prize pack being 67% Shadowmoor and 33% Eventide. That would give anyone a reasonable chance to win a draft set if they win three matches. Why stop there? Why not give players a chance to win Tenth Edition boosters, too — since Tenth is a widely drafted format. The players who just sell the packs would not mind — the price of the packs is all about the same. A prize payout of 25% Tenth, 50% Shadowmoor, 25% Eventide would give someone winning twelve matches, on average, a draft set of Tenth and three draft sets of Shadowmoor/Eventide. You could even throw in Lorwyn / Morningtide.

Better yet — and another way to both attract players to the queues and get more cards into the pool, how about this prize payout:

For each match won, you get one pack, at random, with the following odds:

24% Shadowmoor
12% Eventide
10% Lorwyn
5% Morningtide
14% Tenth Edition
10% Masters Edition II (after next week, of course)
3% Mirage
3% Visions
3% Weatherlight
3% Coldsnap
2% Time Spiral
2% Planar Chaos
2% Future Sight
1% Masters Edition I
1% a booster from Invasion Block
1% a booster from Odyssey Block
1% a booster from Onslaught Block
1% a booster from Mirrodin Block
1% a booster from Kamigawa Block
1% a Seventh, Eighth or Ninth Edition pack

I think that’s 100% – I’m too lazy to double check again.

Once Shards hits online, the table could be adjusted to include Shards, and reduce the odds of Time Spiral block packs.

This would provide a big incentive to players to enter the Con 8 Queues. First, it would offer prizes not available elsewhere. It would add more cards from old sets to the overall card pool. It would also get more packs from other sets into circulation, which might lead to more people playing in other draft formats, like Mirage block draft. When those have been available, they almost never fire. (I know; I still have a Mirage draft set sitting in my collection.)

Does this have some downsides? Maybe — could truly be a stupid idea. Or not.

It won’t “violate” the no reprints policy — Wizards already pays out old packs as prizes for special events, like the Invasion block sealed events. It can be done.

It should not have a serious impact on the total number of older rares out there, and should not impact the overall demand. Let’s assume that this idea is wildly successful, and increases the number of con8s by a full order of magnitude. Right now, the con8s are firing at about 2-3 per hour, equating to about 30 prize packs per hour. Based on my table above, that would mean that about 72 packs of Apocalypse are paid out each month — meaning that the total card pool would get, on average, about one Vindicate and one Deed per month. That is not going to change the market dynamics. It might drive down the price of sealed packs of older sets, but even that should not have much impact. The availability of unopened older packs might also create some demand for player run older drafts — which could increase the price.

In any case, it sure would be fun to win a pack of Invasion.

Wizards — I’m offering this idea free of charge. Please use it.

(Yes, I know about the gambling law implications, but I think the pre-published odds table gets around that issue. If not, then the random cards in a booster could also trigger the gambling issue, and that does not seem to be the case. Of course, I’m not an attorney, and I am certainly not offering legal advice free of charge. That’s for WotC legal to figure out.)

Stupid Idea #6: Bring Your Own Packs Leagues

I found this one in the forum discussion on leagues. People were discussing different options and alternative formats. That’s always interesting, and people come up with a lot of ideas. One idea stood out: each player could choose their own 8 packs, instead of everyone playing with the same 8 packs (e.g. Lorwyn & Morningtide.) the positive side to this concept is that someone with some old packs could end up playing with a really interesting mix of old packs. It would be like chaos drafts, where people end up playing cards from a dozen or more different sets.

Of course, that is not what would actually happen.

Whenever you brainstorm an idea like this, it is not enough to think of the cool options. You also want to suggest the idea to that one friend who always finds the loopholes. You know – the guy whose superhero has five levels of shrinking and five levels of growth, because the two don’t cancel, they combine. Ask him what he can do with an idea like this.

Actually, the answer is pretty obvious. Just for kicks, I opened eight Eventide packs. At first, I was intending to list all the cards, but then I got smart. Listing all 120 cards would pump my word count, but a few examples are sufficient. Could you build a decent deck out of the following?

3 Battlegate Mimic
Double Cleave
2 Hearthfire Hobgoblin
Balefire Liege
2 Puncture Blast
4 Flame Jab
6 various Noggles
Assorted other Red creatures

Or, if you don’t like Red…

3 Snakeform
Wistful Selkie
4 Shorecrasher Mimic
Sturdy Hatchling
3 Favor of the Overbeing
2 Slippery Boggle
3 Wickerbough Elder

There were also four Unmakes in the pool.

The other option would be to play eight Coldsnap boosters in your league. I briefly considered busting eight Coldsnap boosters and seeing how stupid the decks were, but I’m not going to. I had far more booster packs of Eventide than I could possibly draft between now and Shards, but I don’t have any spare Coldsnap. I’m certainly not going to buy any, just for this.

For the rest of you struggling with the aftermath of various hurricanes and other storms, my sympathy. I have also spent the last weekend dealing with missing shingles, chainsaws, and flooded basements instead of playing Magic — but nothing like what many of you are experiencing. Good luck everyone.