Why is Wizards Hoarding the Magic Online Data Relevant to You?

Their stated goal with this change is to curate what decks are shown to you and to provide a variety of decks. Realistically, I feel this change will have the opposite effect and give people with access to their own data even more of an edge. You know who this change does benefit? Myself and every other content creator, because we gain more power over shaping the metagame. Who loses? Well, the Magic Online website and MTGGoldfish, whose main purpose is to help provide us with those handy 5-0 lists.

Here’s how I’ve come to read the average announcement concerning anything to do with how Magic Online manages their data.

Oh you didn’t see the most recent announcement? Here’s the gist:

“Our current method for presenting deck lists for Magic Online Leagues is to randomly select 10 of the top-performing deck lists per format per day. Starting July 10, we will be reducing the total number of top deck lists being presented per day from 10 to 5, and each of these deck lists will be randomly selected with the caveat that each list will be at least 10 cards different from every other list.”

So instead of a random smattering of 5-0 decks that give a skewed view of the metagame but at least gives you some insight into what’s doing well, now we have an even more skewed view of the Magic Online metagame. Awesome!

Why This Is a Problem

Of course, you may wonder why this is an issue at all. After all, the decks showcased were already limited to 5-0 finishes, and not even a full listing. We saw this most recently when people would screen cap any time Marvel decks were 7-8 of the 5-0s on a given day. But this was still useful—it at least showcased the most basic of trends and some level of popularity. With limited data, we took what we could get and it helped inform decisions. Now the limited pool of data has been cut down further and purposely diluted.

Purposely forcing variety by including the "at least ten cards different" rule eliminates almost any remaining value the data had. To give an example: Very few people took the Mono-White Monument deck seriously with one 5-0. It looked janky and unless you played it, it was hard to tell what exactly its plan was when it didn’t draw an Oketra’s Monument. Once it popped up 3-4 times, including multiple copies on the same day and by different players, more people took it seriously and other people bought into it. Then it evolved and became a tier 1 strategy at the end of Amonkhet Standard. Part of that only happened because it was clear that the deck wasn’t one-trick by one pilot or a lucky finish or two.

Under the new system, players will assume that any "innovative" decks have been boosted up and require a much higher burden of proof to get any attention. There also easily could’ve been days where the Monument deck was shut out by this system! What if there were a set of 5-0s that was Temur, B/G Energy, Zombies, Mardu, and Grixis Colossus? Sure, a pair of Monument decks went 5-0, but you didn’t need to know that, right? Multiple rogue decks finishing well on the same day are potentially punished by this system and have a real chance of getting locked out.

It works the same way in reverse as well when you see a listing of 4 or 5 off-meta decks. Does that actually mean anything? Am I now going to think the Marvel/Mardu/Caw Blade boogeyman is now gone? No, I’m going to just ignore that day because I have no good way to measure their trend line. If it happens multiple times, it still may not mean anything because whomever is publishing the lists could be creating the illusion of diversity.

There’s no way to get an illustrative metagame out of this system. I get that’s what they want here, but deciding people aren’t reading the data available correctly by stifling the amount of data available is a really silly way of handling it. This would be bad enough if it was only Standard, which typically has a smaller metagame to begin with, but this also applies to all MTGO Constructed formats—good luck Modern and Legacy players.

Modern players in particular get really hosed here. All that tech to be gleaned from a few users trying out specific variants or tech cards and succeeding? Gone. They’d have to be lucky enough to be continually featured or have someone talk to them, or they’d have to post on Reddit or somewhere for you to know. Modern already had a varied metagame and now it’s extremely unlikely all the archetypes on a given 5-0 day will be posted.

What’s Going to Happen

So assuming this change doesn’t get reverted, what’s going to happen? People aren’t going to magically decide to become innovative. Sorry, it doesn’t work like that. Instead we’ll see an even stricter adherence to the "This Top 8'd a Pro Tour/Grand Prix, so I'm going to jam this." Those are the most useful data points remaining, so all you do is emphasize them more. I sure hope we never have an awkward Top 8 consisting of seven of the same deck or it’d be really easy to build a misleading narrative...

Speaking of building narratives, the secondary result of this is that people who are interested in the bleeding edge technology are going to rely on content creators. Who better to give you at least some idea than the people battling a ton of Magic? What about Magic Online grinders who, while not able to give you a big picture, can at least track their matches over hundreds of games? Anecdotal evidence is the big winner here and the same goes for anyone who wants to push a certain deck or version of a deck.

Refined decks will become a thing of the past, as our ability to see mutations in the core of decks will be limited at best. Imagine if only a handful of people had the transformational planeswalker plan out of the Mardu sideboard. That’s certainly a huge edge for your next tournament. Now think of how slow that’s going to proliferate without Magic Online deck lists backing it. Innovation will be limited to a handful of grinders putting in max time to their preferred format and pros with larger testing teams.

Oh, and the Open series suddenly becomes even more relevant for those kinds of innovations, especially for Modern. By removing data points all you’ve done is made the remaining ones much more important to those who cares about trying to get an edge. Meanwhile, everyone will think you’re purposely curating these lists to try and avoid looking bad at your jobs.

How to Fix It

Release all the data. You want a cut off? Release all the 5-0 and 4-1 decks, and let people figure it out for themselves. Letting us see the 4-1s might actually let rogue decks gain more of a foothold.

At a bare minimum, roll back this change for every non-Standard format. Standard is the only format we should be worrying about becoming outright solved. With Modern and Legacy it becomes blatantly obvious what the problem cards are over a long enough time frame. You aren’t helping anyone by limiting that data, just making it worse for the enthusiasts of those formats.

What are your thoughts? Do you think Wizards' attempts to go back in time are going to have any effect on the solvability of Standard? Let them know by emailing them.

Post-Script

The first 5 decks have been released and we have… 2 Temur Energy, Zombies, U/R Emerge, and Mono-White Monument. So even with this new variety rule in place, we still end up with very similar strategies taking up those slots. If there was ever a time to show 5 completely different decks to showcase the benefits of this change, now would be it.