Today’s article is about what I think is a critically important feature request for Magic Online. If you think this is a good idea, let me know why, and if you think it isn’t, I’d love to hear why as well. But please refrain from kneejerk reactions about the state of the Magic Online software or certain bugs (“They can’t even fix scrolling standings!”). We all know the program needs to be improved or overhauled, and my point today is to perhaps spec something out that could be included in such future revisions or reboots.

The idea first was brought to me by a coworker, Ian Spaulding. Working with other Magic players is great if you’ve never had the privilege. Talking about the weather or the local sports team at lunch gets old, but talking about Magic never does. So anyway, the idea Ian and I have been kicking around is for “On-Demand” events with the following structure:

• For Sealed Deck, you have 90 minutes to build the deck, and packs are cracked, and the timer starts immediately after you join the event.

• Events are 4 rounds, like a Daily Event (5 rounds could work too but our initial proposal mirrors Daily Events).

• There aren't a bunch of events, just one ongoing event you can join and rejoin over time. This will make sense as we get to the other rules.

• For either Sealed or Constructed, to play the rounds you just click “Ready To Play” and are either taken into a match if someone else is ready, or you wait for another person to click “Ready To Play.”

-> You will only be paired against someone with the same record as you, which for a 4-round event could be 0-0, 1-0, 0-1, 2-0, 0-2, 1-1, 2-1, 1-2, 3-0, or 0-3.

• When that round is over, you can click Ready To Play again or take a break of any length (10 minutes, 5 days, whatever).

• You can drop at any time and join a new one, but you can only have one active On-Demand event of each format.

• Prizes are similar to Daily Events, but with reduced payouts for Constructed (the Constructed DE payouts are too high for an event you can play over and over again).

• This should only be offered in a couple formats that can sustain a critical mass of Ready to Play players, such as Sealed Deck (current block), Standard, and Modern. Additional formats could be added if user support is there, but initially let’s play it safe.

• At the end of each season, the final day allows pairing not strictly by record to allow everyone an opportunity to finish their events without perfect matchmaking. (Perfect matchmaking is attempted but not enforced after a 5 minute wait).

Why This Would Instantly be the Best Tournament Structure on MTGO

I play far less Magic Online, and Magic in general, because the required time commitment is both large and blocked off in one big chunk. I don’t have 5 hours to set aside most days, so I don’t play. Often I do have 1 or 2 hours with which I’d love to play, but I hate playing casual games. There isn’t really a current offering that fits my schedule, and I know my schedule is just like many other’s.

I’m [card]Ready // Willing[/card] to spend more money on Magic and play a lot more, but they won’t let me.

Many players who have played Magic Online as long as I have will remember Leagues. Leagues provided the scheduling benefits I’m talking about, but they had some serious drawbacks. The pool was restricted to only the league you were in, so matchmaking was more difficult. You were able to play far too much with the same initial investment, which sounds great for players but might explain why they disappeared, never to return. A suggestion must be positive for both players and WotC, which I think On-Demand is, where Leagues perhaps weren’t.

In many ways, the genesis of On-Demand is, “How would we fix Daily Events? How would we fix Leagues?” **LIGHT BULB** We can fix them both, make a profit center for MTGO, and provide a ton of fun and flexibility for the players.

Notes on the Structure

90-minute deckbuilding:

On-Demand gives more flexibility regarding deckbuilding time, since other players won’t be waiting for you to finish. Still, an untimed building period would torment perfectionists and excessively encourage illegal groupwork. 90 minutes is a good balance between extended time but not infinite time to work on deckbuilding.

4 rounds:

Pairing by record means the more rounds you add, the more different records there are, and the harder it will be to make a match. Even with 4 rounds there are 10 different records, so you need a good number of players in the pool to have a critical mass. I strongly suspect that for Sealed Deck (current block) and the most popular Constructed formats, so many people would join that matchmaking wouldn’t be an issue at all. Occasionally you’d be waiting but not for long. 3 rounds and 5 rounds are definitely worth considering and/or beta testing as well. Finding a balance here will be important, and 4 is just our initial best guess.

Ian and I disagree on this point, he thinks 8-player events (3 rounds) and 4-pack Sealeds are the right testing grounds for the idea. He thinks the player pool is larger and matchmaking will be even easier. They also have more established prize structures. Ian might be right, but I think the 4-round format is in greater need of a timing solution so I would debut with the major overhaul, and I don’t expect critical mass of players to be an issue. We feel either would be a good start, though.

Only one active event at a time, per format, per player:

This one is a bit tricky, but I think you get an overall better user experience if you don’t allow players to overwhelm themselves with multiple On-Demand queues of the same format. Flexibility is cool, but simplicity counts for something too, and disabling some functionality can enhance the user experience. Here we have an already new structure that requires tracking and active clicks just to complete an event. By keeping things somewhat simple we make sure people can find a match at 1-2 and 0-3, will be dropping if they have no intention of playing another round, and the number of “active” entries is a true reflection of activity on the system.

Reduced Payouts in Constructed (Relative to Daily Events)

The payouts for events can’t be too high for events that fire over and over again. The packs will just lose their value, which tends to be bad for both players and WotC. Constructed Daily Events are currently a great value and it makes some sense to incentivize players to participate in these events. We don’t need those same incentives for On-Demand, and I think the payouts should be lowered accordingly. Again, I want anything I pitch in a serious way to have all participants in mind, and not just be the “chocolate water fountain” suggested by a candidate for class president. Lowering the payouts a little bit (or just raising the entry a little, which is probably a more elegant solution) wouldn’t strip the appeal of these events away, you’d still be playing Constructed On-Demand and earning packs if you were doing well.

Conclusion

Magic Online can be a lot of fun. I hate missing out on that fun when my I don’t have 4-5 hours or I don’t even know how much time I have. Sometimes I lose the argument with my girlfriend over whether I’m “going to be sitting there playing all day” and I’ve even dropped from active events because I just wanted to take a break or something came up.

The flexibility of On-Demand would result in so many more matches being played. Instead of rounding up the 27 players who happen to be ready to play Modern at exactly 10 p.m. with the next 4 hours available, let’s round up everyone who wants to play Modern and let them play!

Another key benefit is that much of the 4 hours an event can take is actually just waiting for the rest of the field to finish the round. People like me who play fast are rewarded with boredom. In On-Demand Magic, playing fast means playing more, and that’s what fast players appreciate. And if I need a break because my #$#%@% opponent topdecked 3 turns in a row, I’ll take that break and when I’m done crying/screaming/scaring nearby kids or pets, I’ll keep playing.

I really hope this idea finds the right audience at WotC, and if anyone there wants to discuss it further with Ian or me, please let me know.

-Matt Sperling
mtg_law_etc on Twitter.