Hammie’s The State of the Program for December 14th
This series is an ongoing tribute to Erik “Hamtastic” Friborg.
In the News this Week:
Get Free Cube TIX:
Online Cube drafts pay out in Cube TIX – special tickets that can be used to play in more Cube events. This weekend, you can get free Cube Tix. All you need to do is log in to MTGO using the new client, and you will get a couple. Play in an 8 man or better event, and you get 4 more. The limit is 10 Cube Tix per account. Details here
Last Gatecrash PTQ this Sunday: Your final chance to qualify for Pro Tour Gatecrash is this weekend.
MOCS Last Chance Qualifiers Next Week: Wizards will be holding last chance qualifiers on December 22nd and 29th. These two events will each qualify one player for the MOCS Championship. The LCQs format is Return to Ravnica Sealed Deck. Each event is an 11-round Swiss pairings tournament with a Top 8 and is limited to 1,024 players. Prizes go to the top 256 players.
Replays: A reminder from last week: replays of other players matches during tournaments will be disabled with next Wednesday’s downtime. You will still be able to watch your own replays (assuming they appear in your games tab), and you can watch all replays for a limited time after the event ends. What you will not be able to do anymore is scout your opponent by watching their previous matches.
HammyBot: It’s still going strong! HammyBot was created to sell the late Erik Friborg’s MTGO collection to raise money for his widow and son. HammyBot is a great way to get cards while supporting the family of someone who supported the community. Here’s an update on the Bot, plus a note on a cool card that I saw on HammyBot.
Cards left on HammyBot: 28,732
TIX raised so far: 4,788
Opinion Section: How to Fix Eternal Formats, Part II
In part I, I talked about the Eternal formats: how Legacy and Classic are failing to fire, how the cost of the format is excessive compared to the prize payout, and how Wizards has to find a way to get those cards online. You can read that here
The first step Wizards needs to take is to make the Power Nine available online. They have said that they will do that, probably in August, to correspond with the 20th Anniversary of Magic. The next question is how. In the paper world, when I play Vintage with actual power, I often hear bystanders saying things like “Wow – is that real? I’ve never even seen one before.” When I play Ancestral or a Black Lotus. Wizards wants to keep that wow factor, if it can. One way to do that would be to keep the supply of Power cards extremely small, and the prices ridiculously high.
However, if Wizards does that, online Vintage will not happen. The format needs a minimum pool of players willing to assemble decks and play in events. That means, as I discussed last week, that the prize support has to be comparable to the investment in decks. Even now, without the power, too few people are willing to invest in Classic staples to fire Classic events. Adding extremely expensive power cards to the format would kill Vintage. The death of competitive online Vintage would have other negative consequences: for example, if the only time most MTGO ever saw Power was when they were getting destroyed by super-powerful decks in the casual room, Power cards will lose their cache.
So how to release the Power? A lot of people have made suggestions in this thread
. Some fall on the “keep it super expensive side.” Others want enough released that everyone can have them. It is a tough choice – but maybe one we don’t have to make.
In the paper world, Power comes in three different versions. Cards from the Alpha set have black borders and more rounded corners than all other cards, to the extent that Alpha cards are only playable in sleeves. Alpha cards were the first Magic cards ever released, and sold out in two months. There are very few Alpha copies around.
Beta cards have the same shape and corners as later Magic cards, and black borders. Beta corrected a few typos, and were the second print run, if you will, of the original set. Beta sold out quickly.
Finally, Unlimited cards came out in much greater numbers than Alpha and Beta, but had white borders. For both those reasons, Unlimited Power is a lot cheaper than Alpha or Beta. Players who have real money and really want to pimp out their decks play black bordered Power. Players, like me, who can just barely afford to play Vintage, have beat-up white bordered Power. The difference in price (and prestige, if it matters to you) is considerable. Star City Games lists a good condition Alpha Black Lotus for $4,999. A moderately played Unlimited Black Lotus is $999.
Wizards could take a similar approach online, and release different variations of the cards for MTGO, one scarce and expensive, one more common and somewhat cheaper.. Wizards has used two different sets of art for the Power Nine – the original art used in Alpha, Beta and Unlimited, and the new art, commissioned as prizes for Vintage Championships in past years. That new art is apparently going to be used in the Cube. Wizards also has both old and new frames, and can even make cards white bordered if they have too. This means that they could make a “traditional” set of Power with the old art and old frames, and a second set with the new art and new frames. One version could be released in very limited quantities, and would stay very expensive (especially the foil copies). The other would be released in enough volume that Vintage would be affordable enough to fire regularly (after fixing the prizes – see below.) The idea seemed worth pursuing. I wondered which version would excite players more – whether more players would want the new or old art & frames.
I did ask Wizards about this, and Sean Gibbons – the Wizards Community Coordinator – replied that “Some people prefer vintage looking cards, and some people love the newer art & borders. [I]t's a personal preference.”
I can see that. (Sean also answered some of my other questions – and politely declined to provide any scoops about unreleased information or decisions not yet made. I was kinda hoping Sean would use his Magic tarot reading skills
for info on those unmade decisions, but no such luck.
Back to business. A two-step release would seem to make the most sense. Part one would be an MED V set. This would be similar to all the other MED sets – limited playable, available for a limited period in draft and sealed queues, and in Daily events, etc. The set would pull cards from the paper sets that predated Mirage, and would be built so that limited would play well. In one respect this set would be different – it would have Mythics. The Mythics would be the Power Nine, and possibly some other old staples that would seem Mythic, like Sol Ring, Moat or The Abyss, or maybe the original Elder Dragons. Maybe. Creatures from back then seem so much weaker than those of today. Even Nicol Bolas
is no Emrakul.
Want to make the MED V Mythic Lottery really interesting? “Print” the set with 20 Mythics. The first nine mythics would be the Power Nine. The next ten would be one each of the true dual lands in new frames with the alternative art used in the online Cube. Let people know that MED V is the only way that those cards would be released online. Finally, the twentieth Mythic would be Jace, the Mind Sculptor, in the old frame. Jace TMS is only playable in Eternal formats, so there is justification for including it. Even if Wizards made MED V a 100 rare set, and announced that Mythics would only replace rares once every 20 packs, that would still be a lottery worth entering.
Note: Force of Will
could not be the 20th
Mythic in MED V. Worth Wolpert announced that FOW would never be reprinted in an MED set
, and Wizards won’t violate that promise. They don’t need to. (that’s foreshadowing - see below.)
MED V would be available for a limited time, then go off sale. It might reappear, briefly, in the future. This is the same approach Wizards has used with other old sets, like Urza’s Saga and Masques block, and previous MED sets. The limited time, coupled with the Mythic treatment and the fact that the MED sets are not played all that heavily, will keep the MED V versions of the Power Nine fairly scarce and valuable. It would also make foil versions of those cards really expensive. At least, I think so. Wizards can do the math. They can probably predict fairly accurately how many players will buy MED V packs, and they could use that information to control how many copies would be released. They have several methods of controlling the numbers. For example, Wizards could run the events for just a couple weeks. They could limit the number of packs for sale in the store, or make the set only available through TIX Only events. They could offer only Daily events, not fill and fire queues. They could even tweak the frequency with which Mythics replace rares, if they needed to. However they did it, the MED V versions of the Power Nine would be the online equivalent to Alpha and Beta power – the expensive versions that make anyone seeing them turn green with envy.
Now, before describing how I would distribute the more common versions of the P9, I want to recap the other two problems I discussed last week
: missing cards and cost of various staples.
MTGO was released at about the same time as Odyssey block, and online players were able to draft Invasion, Odyssey and the then current core set, Seventh Edition. Wizards released the new sets online shortly after each paper release, and released the sets from Mirage to Masques online in draft and limited formats as well. Sets made before Mirage were not designed to play well in limited formats, so Wizards cherry-picked from the thousand plus older cards to create MED sets that had decent limited play. People can argue over whether that play as good enough to be interesting, but it was clearly infinitely better than trying to draft a set like Legends.
The problem is that the cherry-picking got most of the good fruit, but it left a number of cards on the vine. Right now, approximately 800 cards are legal in paper Vintage, but have never been released online. A few of these have been seen in the top 8 of SCG Legacy events and in Vintage lists, (e.g. Nature’s Ruin
) but most of them are pure garbage (e.g. Seafarer’s Quay
.) The problem is that it is impossible to know what might become good someday. Bazaar of Baghdad
was considered awful – and actually was awful – until Odyssey made the graveyard matter. Now Bazaar is a $200 card in paper. Because of changes like that, Wizards need to get the missing 800 cards online.
The second problem was that Eternal formats, like Legacy and Classic, require a very high buy-in. Decks are expensive. The payout, however, is the same as any other format. So, if you want to grind, you can spend a lot for an Eternal deck, or a lot less for a Standard or Pauper deck, and earn the same prizes either way. Moreover, some Eternal players have little interest in packs of a new set, at least once the initial interest in the “newest thing” peaks. Many Classic players just sell the packs to Bots.
To solve both these problems, I would create special booster packs, to be awarded only as prizes for Eternal events. Dailies, Premier and possibly 8 man events would pay out in special boosters. (Two man events would pay out in regular packs.) These “special booster packs” would have thirteen cards drawn from a special set (a huge set) of cards, one “basic” land and a foil. The packs would not be redeemable or usable in limited – their only value would be in the cards they contain.
The thirteen cards would be drawn from a cube-like list. The list would include:
1) All the cards not yet online. Even after MED V, that list should be 700+ cards long. If MED V is not widely distributed, then it might be all 800.
2) The Power Nine, in the “wide distribution” frame and artwork.
3) Force of Will.
It needs to be reprinted if Legacy and Vintage are going to be popular, and this would allow it to happen without breaking Worth’s pledge not to put it into an MED set.
4) The ten dual lands, in the frame and artwork which appeared in the MED sets.
5) (Wasteland). It is a critical part of the Legacy format, and the format needs more copies.
7) An assortment of Eternal only cards that are in short supply, and could use the assist. Masques cards come immediately to mind. Cards like Rishadan Port and Tangle Wire are not just super expensive online – they are almost impossible to find.
The basic land would be a basic land, at random, from one of the pre-Modern sets. It could be an Urza’s Saga Forest, a MEDII Swamp, or an Onslaught Plains. If I ran the world, I would include Unhinged lands, as well. They won’t come up often. There are ten pre-modern sets on MTGO that included basic lands, and each set had four or five different artworks for each land type. That’s about 250 different lands, so the odds of getting an Unhinged land would be about one in fifty. That just adds spice to the lottery.
The foil in each pack would be a random card off the above list, or a land. It would be equally likely to be a Black Lotus or a Seafarer’s Quay, or it could be a foil version of one of the basics.
For this to work, the special prize packs have to have an average value, in terms of the cards in the pack, that is greater than that of normal (e.g. RtR ) boosters, but not too much greater. After all, the format would not be playable in limited, so the value would be in the cards being opened. I chose $7.00 as a target, the price for Modern Masters boosters. That way Wizards could also sell the pack in the store, if it chose to.
Estimating the value of the packs is tricky. I assume that, after MEDV, there will be about 725 cards not yet on MTGO that could be brought online. (See last week for a discussion of those that cannot be printed online – the dexterity cards, the ante cards, etc.) Cards like Seafarer’s Quay will have little value, but Wizards needs to make them available, and dealers will want at least a few of them. I would expect dealers to sell them for $0.02-$0.10, depending on playability. Initially, when demand is far higher than supply, the unprinted cards will be worth a lot more, especially to dealers. The value of special prize packs will fall over time, but the initial value should entice more players into the Eternal formats, even in the early days when the P9 are still very expensive. Initially, I estimated the wholesale price – the price dealers would pay – at around $0.05 each for the never-before-on-MTGO cards, at least for the purpose of valuing the packs.
However, the card mix in the special boosters would include the P9, Force of Will, the ten duals, Wasteland: valuable cards indeed. The packs would also include a mix of uncommons and rares that the Eternal formats need to see in greater volume. (Mercadian Masques, I’m looking at you.) Those cards could come from any pre-Modern sets, including Commander and Planechase. These cards are what adds value to the special prize packs. Here is my initial list of cards to fill out the packs.
This list may look a little weird. It includes some, but not all, of the really expensive Eternal cards online. (I deliberately excluded Gaea’s Cradle, for example.) It also includes a couple cards that are just fun, or were or might be Eternal playable. That mix is deliberate. My goal is to make some cards more available, not to destroy the value of dealer’s card stock. The goal is to get more cards into the card pool, and to keep the expected value of the prize packs around $7.
Now if I just added the cards listed just above to the 750 unprinted cards, I would have approximately 800 cards in the “set.” If I mix them randomly and fill the boosters with 13 cards plus a foil, the expected value of the pack is going to be around $25 or so. To cut that down, the proportion of unprinted, non-Power cards has to increase. If the 750 or so unprinted cards were to appear three times for every one of the chase cards (P9, duals, FOW, Wasteland, etc.), then the value comes out about right.
Initially, with Force, Tangle Wire, Rishadan Port, etc., all really scarce, and the P9 in that format being very scarce, the packs would be worth a lot more. They would be a very strong incentive to enter Eternal events.
Using this sort of prize payout would add more of the chase cards to the card pool, but not a huge number. The influx should slightly depress prices, but not by much. Let me crunch some numbers and show you what I mean.
A constructed Premier Event will pay out 135 packs in prizes, but Eternal Premier events are rare. Once the Power is online, Wizards might schedule more, say one Vintage and one Legacy per month. If they fire, that adds 270 special prize packs to the pool. Right now, there are 12 Classic and Legacy events per week. Other than converting from Classic to Vintage, I doubt that that Dailies will change, so we will have about 60 Eternal Daily events per month. If a Daily has 24 players, it will have 1 or 2 undefeated players after 4 rounds, and 6-7 players at 3-1. That means each daily pays out, on average, 56 packs per event – more if there are more players, less if less. Monthly, that’s going to mean that the events will pay out something like 600 prize packs. In total, that’s about 850-900 special prize packs per month.
That may sound like a lot, but remember that any given chase card will show up, on average, once every 175 packs. 900 prize packs would means that five Black Lotuses are added to the card pool each month from Dailies and Premier events. That is not a lot. If the 8 man Eternal queues also pay out in special prize packs, that would increase the numbers, but I don’t have enough data to estimate how many. (Two man events cannot pay out in special prize packs worth 7 TIX each, unless the price were raised way above 2 TIX, so those need to keep paying out RtR packs.)
Adding a trickle of new Power, Force of Wills and so forth to the pool will probably have very little effect, at least initially. To prime the pump, Wizards could make the special prize packs available for sale, at $6.99 each (like Modern Masters). That would let casual players get their hands on the cards, would get more power into the card pool, and put some (emphasis on some) downward pressure on the reprinted Eternal staples in the set. Wizards might limit the number of packs released, either by making them available for sale for a limited time, until a set amount were sold, or limit them in some other way – or not. If the packs were available in the store for $6.99, then dealers would pay less than that for prize packs players won – maybe a couple TIX less, but prices for the cards inside would have to fall a lot before that would happen. If it did, it would mean that the entry cost of Eternal formats has also fallen..
Over time, the list of cards in the special prize packs (this needs a better name) could change. Wizards could revise the list of cards, say, twice a year. The 750 not-on-MTGO cards would probably stay, at least until enough cards had been released that dealers had some in stock. Wasteland and Force of Will would probably stay, but Wizards might put in only half the duals each quarter, and switch them the next quarter. The extra cards would definitely change, with Wizards adding any cards that they felt were in short supply, and removing cards that the format had plenty of.
If Wizards wanted to model past practices for this Eternal only set, they could make the changes periodically, but not announce exactly what was in or out of the card pool. Players could discover that as they cracked packs. After all, when Richard Garfield designed the game, he expected that most players would never know all the cards that were in print, and be surprised on occasion. I’m not sure that that would be a good idea, but it might be fun to watch the posts: “Hey – Gaea’s Cradle is in this time around. I busted one!”.
Changing the contents of the special prize packs every so often may also help to deter hoarding. Right now, some people buy up large numbers of copies of various cards, either as a speculation or in an attempt to corner the market. This behavior gets a lot riskier if Wizards could decide to reprint that card in the next special prize packs, thereby increasing supply and partly countering such efforts. Now special prize packs would never introduce enough cards into the card pool to really force those prices to crash, even if the special prize packs were sold in the stores, but they could provide pressure.
To recap, here’s what I would do, if I were in charge of releasing the Power online:
First, I would have the limited specialists at Wizards craft a new MED set to be the best limited format it could be, given that it is pulling cards from the pre-Mirage card pool. The set would have 20 Mythics: the Power Nine, the ten duals, and Jace, the Mind Sculptor in the old frame. MED V would be available in draft and limited formats for a month or two, with NIX TIX drafts only for another month, to let players use up any unused packs. After that, MED V would only appear periodically, like the other MED sets.
Second, I would create non-redeemable “special prize packs” that would contain cards needed online. They would contain a random mix drawn from the card pool described above: the non-power cards not yet on MTGO, plus the power, duals, FoW, Wasteland and a couple dozen other cards that needed to be reprinted. The not-yet-on-MTGO cards would be three times as common as the chase card. Special prize packs would be contain 13 cards, pulled at random from that list, a basic land from an Eternal set, and a foil. I would make “special prize packs” available in the store for a limited time.
Third, I would have someone come up with a better name than “special prize pack.”
Fourth, I would change the prize payout of Legacy and Vintage queues from current set packs to special prize packs. I might also up the entry fee by 2 TIX – I’m not sure. I would have someone do some market research to determine if that was a good idea.
Anyway, that’s the concept. I spent a lot of hours working and reworking this idea, and I hope I haven’t miscalculated the numbers. Too much of this math was done in my head, while commuting and while travelling to and from a summit meeting. I apologize for any errors.
Cutting Edge Tech & Prices:
I simply ran out of time this week. Next week, for sure.
“one million words” on MTGO.