Yawgmoth’s Whimsy #256 – The Year in Review

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Thursday, January 1st – By the time you read this, it will be next year. Time to look back at the year that was. A lot has happened since we were drafting triple Lorwyn…

By the time you read this, it will be next year. Time to look back at the year that was. A lot has happened since we were drafting triple Lorwyn…

Let’s start with Lorwyn — and the concept of a four-set block. That was a first this year. We drafted triple Lorwyn, Lorwyn / Morningtide, triple Shadowmoor then Shadowmoor / Eventide. It is a very clear statement from Wizards that we will be expected to buy four sets a year. This year, of course, the fourth set will be Eleventh Edition, so we will see a more traditional three-set block in 2009. Since new core sets come out every two years, I expect that we will see four-set and three-sets-plus-a-new-core-set alternate from here forward.

That certainly beats having another Unglued / Unhinged / Unfun set. Or a stand-alone, like Coldsnap. When it came to drafting, that was an unfun set, too.

Overall, I have had two main reactions to the four-set block. First, I have been a bit sad, because the cost of getting all those cards has been high. I can’t play everything I want, even in block and Standard. On the flip side, the four-set block has made drafting more interesting.

When it comes to accumulating cards for Constructed, the third block has always been problematic. By the time it rolls around, I generally have most of the cards from the first block, and many of the cards from the second. If I try to draft or play sealed to get the cards, I always wind up with far too many cards from the first sets.

The alternative, drafting triple third set, is not much better. If you have tried drafting triple Eventide, or triple Urza’s Destiny for that matter, you know what I mean.

The end result is that the cards from the third set are always overpriced, because the supply is too small. Having four sets, and drafting LLM and SSE, does help increase the supply of the later sets.

More importantly, it keeps Limited interesting. You see new cards more often, and stop seeing first set cards more often. Changing first packs after six months beats changing first packs only once a year. (Don’t believe me — remember that we will be busting Shards of Alara as our first pack from now until November. Think about that.)

In February, Wizards announced the principle of “acquisition,” and the loss of the fourth Pro Tour of the year. I wrote about that, of course. The idea of outreach to more players made sense then, and now. I was really sad about the Pro Tour, of course, since I love attending, but I do understand the budget issues, and I also understand that growing the player base involves a mix of effort to attract the both tournament players and the rest of the world. There is a whole lot more “rest of the world” out there.

My big concern was that the number of Grand Prix events also appeared to be dropping, despite the fact that Grand Prix tournaments are the most accessible of all marquee events. Since then, I have been pleased to see that Wizards has announced more events, in more places. Wizards has also changed the cut — it went from top 64 or 128 to everyone with an x-y or better record. That makes it a lot easier for non-pros to make Day 2, while still giving the players with byes a significant advantage. I think it will be a plus for everyone — except possibly the judges, who would have to work a draft day 2 with 200+ players. Not really a challenge, though — we do it at Worlds.

In March, I wrote about my third year anniversary on MTGO. I had been playing online for three years, and the program was almost exactly what it was when I signed up. The cards had changed, the program had not. Version 3.0 was still expected sometime in the near future, and the program crashed a lot. I had bookmarked the web page for getting refunds for crashed drafts on all three of my computers.

At that point, Trading worked. Auction sort of worked. Leagues sort of worked, but were limited to a one-week duration. Replays were shut off. Large events were non-starters. Drafts generally worked, but weekend drafts were marginal.

We saw a lot of the BBOD — the brown bar of death, which appeared when the server would not respond to load game requests.

Magic Online was a lot of fun — sometimes. It was a serious pain, at other times.

Eventually, Shadowmoor appeared. I wrote a set review for Shadowmoor, disguised as a Blue versus Green debate. “Highlights” included the following :

River Kelpie – 3UU – Creature – Beast
Whenever River Kelpie or another permanent is put into play from a graveyard, draw a card. Whenever a card is played from a graveyard, draw a card. Persist

Rating: 2. This looks like some sort of strange Dredge hoser, but if it is, it is too slow and does too little. Beyond that, I don’t see that many decks that actually play cards from the graveyard, making this a 3/3 with persist for five mana. Not exciting.

Now that I’ve said that, someone will break this in two.

I ended up eating some crow (erm, Raven) on that one.

Around this same time, MTGO went dark. Version 2.0 was pulled. Version 3.0 was installed. In mid April — MTGO was back. Sort of.

The program was gawd-awful ugly at that time. Do you remember the “Mana Wheel?” It was a pointless graphic that ate a ton of space and really screwed up multiplayer. The graphics hurt your eyes. Trade had bugs. Leagues proved impossible to implement — Wizards had somehow not thought about how to sequester cards while the league ran. Set redemption did not work. The buttons on the interface were strange — the ones you did not want were huge, the others small and hidden.

Drafts worked, sort of. Then they died. They sort of worked, on and off, for a while. For a week or two we had nothing but Constructed play — and trade was so screwed up that you could not get the cards for Constructed decks.

It was not good times.

I wrote an article wondering whether Morningtide would be the New Invasion Block? In other words, I was wondering whether Morningtide cards would prove so rare — since no one was drafting them — that they would forever be super-expensive. That’s what happened with Invasion block — when MTGO was introduced, all the cool kids drafted Odyssey, and Invasion block prices have been really high ever since.

I just did a quick check of the prices for Morningtide. Mutavault and Bitterblossom are nuts. Reveillark is a good $5.00. Everything else is cheap. Lack of set redemption, or something, has really repressed prices on MTGO. Suits me — I’m a buyer, not a seller.

I missed out on a week or so of early MTGO pain when I went to Pro Tour: Hollywood. I wrote about that. I also went to Grand Prix: Indianapolis, which was completely nuts. We had a pazillion players, and worked like fools, and totally enjoyed it. I went to U.S. Nationals, and GP: Denver, and GP: Kansas City, and Pro Tour: Berlin. It was amazing.

I did not make it to Memphis. I had no money or vacation left. The later was the kicker.

As they say, “Work is a terrible price to pay for income.”

In mid June, Wizards announced that intentional draws were being eliminated on MTGO. Wizards hadn’t even written the functionality into Version 3.0. People screamed and hollered. Various people claimed that it was all decided, and that Magic Was Dying, and everything. Little of that was true. The functionality was not there, but the same could be said for redemption and leagues. The difference is that Wizards was working to restore redemption, and is still working to restore leagues. IDs are not coming back.

The dirty little secret is that, in a paper PTQ with over 100 matches in progress, judges simply could not enforce time limits without allowing draws due to time. With draws due to time a reality, you cannot determine whether a draw was due to really timing out or due to stalling (unless a judge is watching the entire match, which does not work during the Swiss because there just are not enough judges).

On MTGO, someone will time out first. The chess clocks solve the problem of preventing untimed matches, or draws when time expires. Draws are not required, so IDs are not required.

Players are still not completely happy. Things are different — OH NOES!!. I don’t have any strong feelings about the matter. I have been in the situation where I could have, in the past, drawn twice to make Top 8 and had to play it out. I have also been in the situation where I have played my way into the Top 8 because other people have not been able to draw.

The math says that playing matches out make it more likely that better players will make Top 8, even if they take an early loss. Eliminating IDs also makes it less likely someone can make Top 8 with a bye round 1, an easy match against a bad player who got lucky round 1, then a win against a manascrewed opponent round 3 and two IDs to Top 8.

By now, you may have realized that I am not recapping decks throughout the season. I had planned on doing some of that, but I noticed that other writers have been doing that already. I’ll stick to the non-deck year in review.

Somewhere during the summer Wizards announced changes to Prereleases. A lot of people had concerns — especially the large TOs. In general, TOs don’t make much money on PTQs and so forth — but they used to make up for that with large, profitable prereleases. The changes, which allowed stores everywhere to get into the act, cut out those profits.

The prereleases were down, but if a TO works at it, the players do show up. If your TO has concerns, have him or her talk to Steve Port. His Legion events in Minneapolis and Madison were the second and fourth best attended events, and it is not like Madison and Minneapolis are huge metropolises, when compared to places like New York or LA.

Wizards has announced further changes to the prereleases. It sounds like the Conflux events should be better to even better.

Over the last six months, MTGO has made a lot of progress.

The number of players is climbing. In some-to-many areas, the numbers are above the numbers under V2.5. In others, we have work to do.

The best part is that Wizards is listening.

The big Premier Events were not firing. Players suggested cutting the minimum number of players from 32 to 24. Wizards did so, and the events have been starting again. The sizes vary — but they are happening. Sealed deck events get the best numbers, and Classic the worst, but that is to be expected. Classic is expensive.

Wizards has also been experimenting with other formats. It has adopted Pauper and 100 Card Singleton — formats created and popularized by casual players — and offered tournaments in these formats. Wizards has also offered eight-man single elimination matches in the formats — and four-man single eliminations queues, and eight-man Swiss queues. Some of these have been more successful, some less, but Wizards has been willing to try.

It would be nice if Wizards had some really good PR people working on getting the word about these changes out to players. The information is often hard to find. That said — it is far better now than it was a few months ago. Articles on the Holiday drafts and special premiums were actually on the front page of the flagship for a while. Two months ago, those announcements could only be found buried in the forums.

For that matter — the fact that Wizards is doing online premiums is great. Anyone that plays in any sanctioned events over the holiday season gets a special, foil Woolly Thoctar. That’s a Red, Green, White, and Gold card — the Christmas colors. Isn’t that cute? The card itself is not the important part — the fact that the card is being released at all is the important part. Wizards is starting a rewards program, and we can expect a variety of rewards based on playing, participating, etc. It works in paper — it will work online.

The question is, what do I have to do to win one of those shiny Vindicates? I wants!

Late in the year, MTGO released the “new” Masters Edition II. The Masters Editions have some pluses and minuses. On the plus side, it releases old favorites from early sets — without having to release all the chaff from those sets. On the minus side — MEDII included way too much of that chaff from some of the worst sets ever. I have drafted MEDII a lot, and I can clearly state that I will never, ever use many of those cards for anything. Unlike the paper versions, they cannot be folded up and wedged under a table leg to stop it from rocking, so they have no value at all. Armor of Faith? Barbed Sextant? Lat Nam’s Legacy? Thallid? Thoughtlash? Please, spare me.

On the other hand, MEDII contains five of the ten original dual lands. The duals, plus Necropotence and a couple other chase cards, are literally the only reason to draft or bust the packs.

I have a complaint about MEDII. Wizards has had Mirage on sale forever, and no one plays it. Wizards has said that Mirage may stay on sale indefinitely. MED I, on the other hand, was removed from the store way too early. Wizards should consider rereleasing MEDI, and having it on sale forever. Mirage block can rotate out. Eventually, we could draft MEDI / MED II / MED III.

Maybe. In any case, the price of duals is way too high, and the number way too low. That is primarily because MEDII has 6.87 billion rares, and only ten are worth having. I know. I have done at least three dozen drafts and some sealed, and I have opened exactly one dual land. The set is too large, but Wizards says they understand, and MEDIII will be better.

I hope so.

On the other hand, Wizards has released Tempest online. I am loving Tempest. In part, this is nostalgia. Tempest was part of Standard when I started playing sanctioned tournaments, and Ingrid and I still know all the cards pretty much by heart. It also does not hurt that I won packs in a PE, and have kept winning packs in drafts. After several weeks of drafting, I am still at about a dozen packs.

I like things better when I win. Even things like the old interface (before Wizards fixed the colors) did not bother me when I was winning. In Tempest drafts, I’m winning.

For that matter, I am enjoying Constructed. I have been playing Extended, Classic, Standard, Pauper, Prismatic, and 100 Card Singleton, and winning in all of them. Even with my versions — most of which are a card or two short of everything. For example, in Standard I play the Boat deck with just three Figures of Destiny, and I play Chapin’s Cruel Control with one Cruel Ultimatum. I play classic decks with just two copies of each dual land, and only three Force of Wills.

The good part of all this is that I can still win with these decks, in the Casual Play: Tournament Practice room at least. However, I’m not really ready to take them into the pay-to-play queues quite yet: I’ll spend my money on the cards first, then on entering the events.

After all, I get to play either way.


“one million words” on MTGO