My last article focused on 8 changes that I felt would improve events on Magic Online. The article generated a lot of responses and I wanted to address some of those today before ultimately talking about some of my updated ideas for improving the event offerings online.
Lee Sharpe, the Digital Product Manager for Magic Online, also wrote a response piece with his thoughts on my ideas that you can check out here.
Why are you only talking about events when they’re not the biggest problem facing MTGO?
The event offerings on Magic Online are not the program’s biggest problem. Historically the biggest issues facing Magic Online have been bugs, client stability, and user interface. Currently, stability is not as much of a problem as it has been in the past, but the interface is not great and there are still tons of bugs. The reason I chose to focus my first two articles on events specifically is because that is the area where I think user feedback can have the greatest impact in the short term.
About a year ago, Lee Sharpe was appointed to his current position in charge of events on Magic Online and around the same time Wizards of the Coast also hired a ton of new employees for their Magic Online team. Magic Online is far from perfect, but there has been a good deal of progress in the last year—especially with regard to online events.
I thought you said the Swiss queues were the most popular?
There was also some confusion over which Draft queue fires the most. In my last article I briefly mentioned that the Swiss queue actually fires more events than the 4-3-2-2 queue. This was based on my own personal observation of the Limited queues room over the course of a couple weeks.
These were the events that fired over a 3-hour period on a Monday in December:
6 Magic Origins (6-2-2-2)
3 DTK/FRF (6-2-2-2)
3 KTK/FRF (6-2-2-2)
11 BFZ (4-3-2-2)
27 BFZ (8-4)
19 BFZ (Swiss Pack-Per-Win)
34 Cube (Swiss)
21 Cube (Single Elimination)
In my observation the 4-booster sealed event rarely ever started, which is why I called for its removal last time as well. I averaged the numbers I got from these three-hour periods on different days and found that in Cube and Battle for Zendikar Draft (the two most popular formats) approximately 40% of the entries were in the top-heavy entry option, while the other 60% were in the flatter prize option (such as Swiss or 4-3-2-2).
Why do you want to remove the only Draft queue I play?
I think the most controversial suggestion from my last article, and likely the least popular, was my suggestion to remove the Pack-Per-Win Swiss Queue. I was under the impression that this queue was only as popular as it was because the 4-3-2-2 queue only awarded a prize pool of 11 packs instead of 12. A lot of players commented on Reddit and in the comments section about how much they care about the Swiss queue and their reasons for choosing it over the others. I thought that the demand for this queue was because it was the best available, but as it turns out a lot of people choose this queue because it’s Swiss instead of single elimination. It may sound obvious now, but I had assumed that a lot of people choose it over the 4-3-2-2 queue solely because of the 12-pack prize pool.
My other reason for being against this queue was because of my own experiences in other Swiss Draft queues. I hated joining Swiss flashback queues and getting a bye in a later round because someone dropped. I looked into the BFZ Swiss queues further after my last article, and as it turns out the drop rate on these is actually very low. Most of my experience playing Swiss queues was in flashback drafts and Cube where the drop rate is much higher.
Why do you want to take away Daily Events when they’re the only good event for competitive players?
A few people seemed to be upset that I promoted the removal of Daily Events, but I don’t think these people looked at my intentions overall. I was suggesting that these events would be removed and simultaneously replaced by a better alternative. Daily Events might have the best prizes for competitive players right now, but I was suggesting that they needed to be replaced by better alternatively—specifically the return of Premier Events and the creation of competitive Leagues. Some Daily Events aren’t getting enough people to start right now, and that is only going to get worse as more Leagues are available.
Why do you want to make MTGO only about pro players?
As a result of suggesting the removal of the Swiss queue, a few people seemed to think that I only cared about improving the prizes that would benefit competitive players. This is just not the case. I was proposing multiple changes that I thought would benefit both competitive and casual players. I think the goals of these two groups are very different, so it’s important to make queues and events that satisfy both groups. As I mentioned last time, I think the prerelease Sealed queues are doing a good job of having two completely separate prize structures and my goal was to apply that to the rest of the event offerings. Again, I think it’s important to look at all my suggested changes together, rather than just one change in a vacuum.
Your proposed two-entry system for Leagues won’t work!
My logic for this suggestion was that I don’t think MTGO has the critical mass to support two leagues in Standard or Modern, let alone some of the lesser played formats. A few people pointed out that the system I proposed would make WotC lose a ton of money since the better players with higher win percentages would all choose the competitive payout, while the more casual players would choose the flat payout. I was assuming the League would have a system to prioritize pairings within players of the same entry option first in order to avoid this exact situation. Regardless, Lee Sharpe has stated that it’s not possible for MTGO to have two entry options for the same league, so my original suggestion is no longer relevant anyway.
Why do you want to get rid of events and queues? 4-Booster Sealed isn’t hurting anyone!
The problem is that having too many queues actually does hurt the players. The more queues there are, the longer it takes for events to start. This is especially damaging if the queues are serving very similar goals. In my last article I talked about potentially combining the Swiss and 4-3-2-2 queues in order to create a new queue that might better serve the target portion of the player base. My philosophy with queues & events is the same as Goldilocks—I don’t want MTGO to have too many or too few, but the number that is just right.
My Updated Suggestions
Now that I’ve addressed some of the comments from last time, I wanted to get into my updated thoughts on improving Magic Online Events.
Right after I suggested always having a Flashback/Cube Queue in my last article, Lee Sharpe announced the Year of Flashback Drafts for 2016. A few people have given me credit for this due to the timing, but this event would have been planned before my last article was even submitted. I think the idea is great though and I’m obviously happy that we were on the same page.
Last time I suggested removing the Swiss queue for current set Limited, but I no longer think that is a good idea. My logic was that I thought a lot of players were choosing that queue instead of the 4-3-2-2 queue because of the missing pack instead of the merits of Swiss pairing. Based on the comments I read, it turns out that the Swiss pairing is actually what makes the queue appealing for a lot of people. I was also worried about the rate of players that would drop at 0-1 and 0-2, but from watching Battle for Zendikar queues I’ve noticed that the drop rate is actually very low when compared to Cube and flashback drafts.
While I am retracting my suggestion to remove the Swiss queue, I’m doubling down on my suggestion to add a pack to the prizes for the 4-3-2-2 Queue. All three Draft queues have the same entry fee and there’s no reason that they shouldn’t have the same total prize support. Lee Sharpe mentioned that part of the reason for not doing this previously is because they’re worried about segmentation between the queues. I would actually argue that a 5-3-2-2 queue would do a better job. Currently the 4-3-2-2 queue and the Swiss queue are very similar in their prizes, but the addition of this one pack to the top of the 4-3-2-2 Queue would cement that queue as the middle ground between the top-heavy 8-4 and the flat Swiss queue.
Prerelease & Release Events
Previously I suggested moving up the prerelease by a few days, but Lee Sharpe & Worth Wollpert have both confirmed that it’s just not possible right now. It’s worth remembering that the window between paper and online release actually used to be even worse. The gap between paper and online prereleases for Dissension was about 5 weeks. It’s unfortunate that nothing can be done, but there’s no further point in bringing it up when it’s not an option.
There are still a lot of other problems with the online prerelease as I see it though. Players are upset because they have given specific feedback about the shortcomings of the online prerelease and yet nothing has changed in their view. Look at this chart from the prerelease survey results that were posted in November:
It’s very clear that players feel like they are getting ripped off. For starters, prerelease drafts cost $1 more than normal, but only add one pack to the prize pool with the additional $8 in entry fees. I haven’t seen anyone specifically bring up the Sealed prizes, but those are actually worse value than the Draft queues. I made a graphic comparing the Prerelease, Release Event, and Daily Event Sealed queues:
Compared to the prizes provided by Release Events, the prerelease queues are terrible value. The queues cost $1 less to enter, but take away almost half of the prize boosters in exchange for a random foil rare from the set. It’s actually gets even worse for Oath of Gatewatch, because the avatar you get for playing in Release Events isn’t even different from the one you get for playing in the prerelease. When paper prereleases started having every card available as a prerelease card, it was no longer realistic to have them online. Without unique avatars or prerelease cards, we’re left with a more expensive version of Release Events that pays out worse prizes.
The survey about improving prereleases on Magic Online talked about trying to replicate the unique social experience from paper prereleases, but that honestly isn’t the problem. No one is expecting the online prerelease to be as exciting or social as the paper one, especially when it doesn’t come until two weeks later. All players want is to be able to play with the new cards as soon as possible, at a fair price, with fair prizes. The current prerelease is not accomplishing that. I think the best course of action is for MTGO to stop running the prerelease and instead have Release Events start when the prerelease normally would. Last time I suggested adding a single elimination queue during the prerelease, and this change would also do that since Release Events already have one as part of the normal three Draft options.
Leagues are the present and future of Magic Online, but as a competitive player they are not appealing to me in their current form. I’ve played over 100 League matches and I’ve been paired against the same record under 5 times. This suggests to me that the League pairing system has to be improved. As a competitive player I want to play matches against relevant players and decks for higher stakes—the current version of Leagues does not satisfy any of those goals. Competitive players have been asking for a League with more top-heavy prizes and I think MTGO needs to deliver as soon as possible. In terms of potential prize structures, I still believe in the prize payouts that I suggested last time. To be clear, this second League option for certain formats would be run alongside the existing League in that format.
Lee Sharpe confirmed in his Tumblr post that it’s impossible for an event on MTGO to have two entry options for the same event. My main reason for suggesting this for Leagues initially was because I was worried that there wouldn’t be enough players to support two separate events in the same format. I think the MTGO team and I are on the same page though in that we want these new Leagues to replace the existing Daily Events and 8-player queues. The main draw for the current Daily Events and 8-player queues is that they provide the best prizes for players when they win. A new League with competitive prizes would serve those same goals while also providing the benefits of Leagues such as convenience of play time. To me the logical next step is to replace the current Standard and Modern Daily Events and 8-player queues with 2 new Leagues with a more competitive prize structure.
Another area that can be greatly improved on Magic Online is to offer bigger events. The Vintage and Modern festivals were very successful, which is why I previously suggested going up to four or five festivals per year. Today I’m going to make that suggestion even more specific and propose that MTGO host four festivals per year in Standard, Modern, Legacy, and Pauper. I think that having four festivals allows these events to cleanly fit into the four-season calendar that the 2016 MOCS and the Pro Tour already use. Instead of continuing to hold a yearly Vintage festival, I think the Vintage community online is better served by the monthly Power 9 Challenges that have been doing very well since they started. These events have been very successful, but they also need improved prizes as many of the players that play in them have said that the prizes offered the past few times were not adequate. Now that promo cards aren’t being given out for every monthly MOCS, there should be a reasonable amount of promo options that could be used to buffer the prize pool for this and other events.
In his Tumblr post on events, Lee Sharpe said that “Limited, Standard, and Modern are generally well-served by MOCS and PTQ events,” an idea that has been echoed on Twitter when players have expressed their desire for more big events. There should be big events for players to play in online when they are not interested in winning the qualification for the MOCS or the Pro Tour. People should not be playing in a PPTQ with no intention of playing in the Pro Tour if they win, just because it is the best prize support available on a Thursday. Once Daily Events are replaced by new League offerings, I think that the best thing MTGO can do is to bring back Premier Events. I think that three or four Premier Events per day during the week is a good start, with the potential for more on the weekends. These would have a rotating format and time schedule similar to Daily Events. I am also suggesting that these events payout extremely well in terms of prizes. These events would be the incentive that would convince players to build decks online, while the new League offering would provide alternative matches at player convenience.
The existence of the “Wizard Ticket” is no longer needed now that Play Points Exist. For those of you who don’t know, the Wizard Ticket is what certain employee accounts have that let them enter events. When employees started being able to play in events again last year, Play Points didn’t yet exist and Phantom Points weren’t usable in every event. Now that Play Points exist, there’s no reason for employee accounts to not just use those to enter events instead. This may seem like a nitpick, but there’s no reason to have an entry option that thousands and thousands of people can see, but can only be used by a fraction of them.
I don’t understand why the MTGO team continues to use Commander and other new-border promo printings for cards like Balance and the dual lands when the vast majority of the player base seems to prefer the original printings. My fear is that this is a result of the licensing rights for the art in the first few printed sets. If that’s not the case though, I highly recommend using what is considered the “best” printing of each card for the online Cubes.
• Add a booster to the prize pool for the 4-3-2-2 Draft queue.
• Stop running the MTGO prerelease and instead start Release Events earlier.
• Remove the Standard/Modern Daily Events and 8-player queues and replace them with two “competitive” Leagues.
• Run 4 festivals per year, one in each season (Standard, Modern, Legacy, Pauper).
• Bring back Premier Events.
• Get rid of Wizard Tickets and let employee accounts use Play Points instead.
• Use the original art and old-border cards when possible for the Cube.