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By: one million words, Pete Jahn
Mar 03 2017 2:00pm
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Three Things I Have Never Understood About Magic Online.

If you are reading this as a stand-alone article, then the week was even worse than expected, but got better at the last minute. 
This was originally supposed to be the opinion section of this week’s article.  Now I usually start working on my article on Tuesday, when I look over the previous week’s results and decklists.  I download the week’s prices from and start crunching numbers, usually late Tuesday or Wednesday.  Sometime Thursday I review the news and finish the article.
This week was crunch time at work.  I finished some major projects then had to travel to give a speech.  I got home Thursday evening, and my Internet was out.  Completely.  I could not download prices, check websites, or even get the shells, macros and spreadsheets I use for the article, because those are all stored in the cloud.  Worse yet, I did not have my laptop, so I could not hunt for public WiFi.  (Our local Starbucks frown on bringing your own desktop machine…)
As of early Friday morning, my connection to the net is still toast.  My ISP is working on it, but no estimate on when this might be fixed.  Of course, if you are reading this, then it must have been fixed in time to upload this part.
Whatever – on the MTGO-related things that I have never figured out.
Why Can’t MTGO Attract More Players?
Back in the bad old days, MTGO (or MODO, as it was called at the time) was written to run off a single server.  That design limited the program, and whenever the number of users approached that limit (early on 2k players, IIRC, later 4-5k. I think, no Internet so I can’t check.)  Whatever the number, when player counts got high enough, the program started failing.  Sometimes it just threw out interesting glitches, and sometimes it crashed.  Repeatedly.  If you were playing back then, you probably remember the “brown bar of death”  - a program loading bar that sometimes never completed. 
Anyway, back then it made no sense for Wizards to try to recruit more players, because the big problem was too many players.  However, that’s a couple versions ago.  Wizards fixed the single server issue.  They also supposedly built a new collections server and did a bunch of other stuff to improve speed and reliability.  Supposedly, too many players is not a potential problem.  In any case, my impression is that the number of players is below historic levels, so even if there is a theoretical cap, we can’t be close to it, can we?
There are a ton of things Wizards could be doing to market MTGO – everything from giving out coupon codes for free drafts at live events to waiving the $10 new account creation fee for new players – but Wizards is not doing any of them.  Right now it seems that Wizards is putting more effort into marketing the Magic Puzzle Quest than MTGO.  Why?  I don’t know.  Maybe Wizards is so unhappy with the current interface that it won’t start really pushing MTGO until the next interface / Magic Digital Next.  Possible – but I have said this before each previous version of MTGO was introduced. 
Why No Daily Rewards?
My first point of confusion was why Wizards isn’t trying to recruit new players.  I also don’t understand why Wizards doesn’t provide more incentive for players who already have accounts to play more.  Why not provide some sort of reward for logging on and playing?  Most other games do.  Most successful games do.  Even Magic Puzzle Quest has daily rewards.
A few years back, Wizards tried awarding MOPR points for just logging in, but they discontinued that.  I don’t know why – maybe because they were counting log-ins, not matches.
Here’s a simple way of getting players to log on more often: weekly rewards.  Each week, starting with the downtime, players earn rewards based on the number of consecutive days on which they log in and play at least one match to a conclusion (no insta-drops).   If you log in for at least three days in the week, you get a common,  chosen at random out of all the commons in the MTGO card pool.  Four days gets you an uncommon, five days a rare, six days a rare or Mythic, and logging in all seven days gives you a random Mythic or bonus card.     If you play sanctioned matches, you also get Play Points equal to the square of the number of days you played.  (If someone plays sanctioned Magic every day for a week, 49 Play Points is not an unreasonable reward, is it?) 
That’s just off the top of my head.  I don’t know if those numbers work out, but I like the framework.  If Wizards was to try something like this, it would need to tweak the payouts, because we gamers are definitely going to try to game the system.  Even so, I think getting existing players to play more often would be worth it.
How Can Just One Version of a Card Be Bugged?
Here’s my biggest question:  how can one version of a card be bugged, but other versions work fine.  I have seen this issue on the big blog on occasion – a promo version of a card does not work, but a regular version does.  Or vice versa. 
Now I am not a big-time programmer:  the bulk of my programming was done last century, and the most recent stuff has just been coding Arduinos, but I cannot imagine how you could get bugs like that.  Rationally, wouldn’t you program the basic rules of the card once, and have things like artwork, version symbol, frame, foil/no foil, etc. be properties that associated / linked to that single programming.   If you do it that way, then if you add a new version of the card, you just create the new art and link it to the existing rules for the card.
In effect, the rules text is a subroutine, and each version of the card would call that subroutine.  
The alternative would be writing the rules text into each card itself.  That appears to be what Wizards has done.  That also makes sense, if cards are going to remain unchanged.  But cards don’t stay the same.  Wizards is tweaking card workings all the time, and those changes have to be replicated for all versions of the cards.   Take Pacifism, for example:  there are a couple dozen versions of Pacifism in the card pool.  A couple years back, Wizards changed the wording of Pacifism to add the subtype “Aura.”  If the rules text were a subroutine, or equivalent, Wizards could have just changed that subroutine and the changes would have automatically been applied to every version of the card. If, on the other hand, the rules are hard-coded into every individual version of Pacifism, then Wizards had to change the code in every single version of Pacifism (and check the changes, etc.)  That seems inefficient, but the fact that we are seeing bugs in individual versions of the card, when other versions work correctly, makes me wonder.  Maybe Wizards does code versions one at a time.
I just don’t get it.
Last minute addition:  it’s noon, Eastern Time.  My ISP has finally fixed things, so I am back online.  It’s way too late to do the whole article, so I’ll just post this. 
A full State of the Program next week.  Promise.


Magic online is less by ArchGenius at Fri, 03/03/2017 - 15:22
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Magic online is less attractive to new players because it is much more expensive to start up than the fremium alternatives. I'm guessing WotC doesn't want to introduce quality fremium options because they are afraid their existing player base would switch to less profitable ways of playing.

Question by MichelleWong at Sat, 03/04/2017 - 09:35
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Not offering alternative models or daily rewards to attract new players is a symptom of a larger problem concerning Magic Online.

If a highly competent LEADER takes the helm of Magic Online (who has all the qualities of a great leader and manager of staff, such as willingness to listen to great ideas, willingness to try good ideas and monitor their impact, willingness to be tough on under-performers in the company, willingness to change to adapt to the market, diplomacy with subordinates and with the Board, hard working, passionate, willingness to persuade the Board that investing more money is in the interests of the company etc etc), we will see some amazing things to come for this program.

To take an example in the paper game, Mark Rosewater is extremely competent as the Lead Designer of the sets he leads. It's clear that he gets it. The design of future sets where he is the Lead Designer will be in safe hands, and I look forward to seeing what great sets lie ahead. If every Head of Magic Online were as competent as he is in his/her respective field, this program will be a masterpiece to behold!

I've said this dozens and by Joe Fiorini at Sat, 03/04/2017 - 08:41
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I've said this dozens and dozens of times; MTGO needs to reward the players much more. I've even wrote a blog post about it before.

For anyone who plays MTGO but doesn't win very much, what is there incentive to keep pouring money into the game? Going 2-2 in a daily means you spent twelve dollars to play a video game for an hour and a half maybe. Playing a League and not doing well isn't much better depending on what kind of league you played. Drafting is a losing enterprise for most people as well, and usually you don't open anything "worth" your time.

Now, in paper Magic I can always say that "At least I got to play Magic all day, socialize with friends, and have a rewarding experience even though I didn't win much". For example when I went to the TMD open last August I placed 26th out of 126 people. That put me into the bottom prize bracket and I won a pack of Eternal Masters for my troubles. That pack wasn't much considering that I paid $50 to play, but I was still happy with it. I had a lot of fun meeting people, and I just wanted to win as many rounds as I could and get some good practice in. I love Magic Online to death, but it just doesn't have the same benefit for me.

I think that small prizes and daily rewards for people would do a lot to encourage more folks to play. I also think that they could do cool stuff like offer a play mat feature. That would be a lot of work, but how cool would it be to win a play mat?! Also, they could give out avatars for stuff. Say you play in a Power Nine Challenge event, all participants could get a Time Walk avatar, and the winner could get a Power Nine Avatar or something. I'm confident that they could come up with prizes and bonuses that people would enjoy and wouldn't crash the economy.

Just my two cents! I certainly hope someone listens.

There was 'playmats' in a by xger at Sat, 03/04/2017 - 11:32
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There was 'playmats' in a sense previously. However, they were bugged and your opponent always saw the green background.

I'm with the poster below that effectively losing chat is one of the worst aspects of the current client. I think when everyone was in a chatroom that was stuck on screen, there was far more chance to make friends. We are all still put in the chatroom for each room (Just for Fun, etc.) but you have to manually open it, which no one does.

For me it's the lack of by JMason at Sat, 03/04/2017 - 10:19
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For me it's the lack of social interactivity. In the previous client it was easy for me to form friendships and chat. The current client discourages contact. You're lucky to get more than a glhf from anyone, and that's presuming the chat window didn't undock itself .

Some other points:
25 minute time limits have eroded casual play.
Wasting time resetting preferences that should be sticky but are not.
Fan favourite formats removed.
Rubbish performance on wifi.

An excellent summation. The by AJ_Impy at Sat, 03/04/2017 - 10:55
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An excellent summation. The loss of the social aspect and the casual formats saddens me.

JMason and Joe Fiorini, by MichelleWong at Sat, 03/04/2017 - 10:47
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JMason and Joe Fiorini, thumbs up to all your points.

re by Hearts at Sat, 03/04/2017 - 20:14
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Few mtgO players is also because of the cheating and collusion in higher paper events. Since they cheat and collude you get fewer (new) winners to create (new) circles of players that might aspire to play on the pro tour/gp level. In order to play on that level you would have to practice a lot on mtgO.

Please submit evidence of by JXClaytor at Sat, 03/04/2017 - 21:44
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Please submit evidence of cheating and collusion to the DCI.

How do you know? by TheWolf at Sun, 03/05/2017 - 03:42
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How do you know this level of cheating and collusion exists? I'm genuinely curious.

re by Hearts at Mon, 03/06/2017 - 05:51
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Been around the higher level play scenes and seen things with my own eyes.

Care to elaborate? by TheWolf at Mon, 03/06/2017 - 06:01
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Care to elaborate? You've been around players colluding and cheating the system? I seriously hope you reported these players to the DCI. As you seem to know who even the coffee lady is at Wizards of the Coast, it seems you must have some connection to the inside, so why not use your position of privilege in order to get something done about this cheating and colluding?

re by Hearts at Mon, 03/06/2017 - 06:11
Hearts's picture

For the reason that the problem is the DCI itself (and DCI is wotc, dont get fooled by names and titles again).

I could give you details about a lot of stuff/happenings, but being behind a dummy nickname I dont see the point.

Private conversation by TheWolf at Mon, 03/06/2017 - 07:43
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I'd be happy to have a private conversation with you via whatever medium you choose. You make some pretty wild accusations; seems it's time to put up or shut up, as the expression goes. What say you?

In fact by TheWolf at Mon, 03/06/2017 - 07:45
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In fact, if you can provide me with compelling evidence that this exists, I'll happily support your claims on this very site and defend you against the nay sayers. You seem to be trying to let the cat out of the bag, so to speak, so how about you spill the details?

Coffee Lady by MichelleWong at Mon, 03/06/2017 - 08:48
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Anyone who thinks that the coffee lady has as much decision-making power as Mark R or Jeffrey S cannot be taken seriously.

In the imaginary world in which Hearts dwells, I could imagine this conversation taking place at WotC headquarters:

Coffee Lady: "Good Morning Mark, a coffee with 2 sugars and milk as usual?"

Mark Rosewater: "Not interested in the coffee Laura, I'm more interested in your designs for the next block after Ahmonkhet!"

Coffee Lady: "Glad you asked, here are my design proposals. Look forward to your feedback, hope it's all positive!"

I agree by TheWolf at Mon, 03/06/2017 - 17:53
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I agree and I'm pretty sure Hearts will not be forthcoming with any information, but rather be happy to stay in their conspiracy theory world over alternative facts. However, should he or she be willing to provide further details, I will be willing to listen in private.

Collusion etc by Lawnmower Elf at Sun, 03/05/2017 - 04:15
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I don't know if it's cheating, but I have watched streamers and they get tips in their chat about what cards to play. Maybe they are playing casual games, I don't know. Maybe this behaviour is acceptable.

And I agree that MTGO could use some strong direction but as I understand it, they don't pay enough. Pay peanuts, get monkeys. And monkeys is indubitably what we have now.

And I do miss the chatrooms, why that feature was slaughtered is a mystery. Maybe someone thinks that chatting customers are not paying customers.

It is acceptable, otherwise by MarcosPMA at Sun, 03/05/2017 - 07:46
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It is acceptable, otherwise streaming wouldn't be a thing. After all, what's the point in watching someone play Magic Online live if you can't interact? In theory every single opponent you play could be streaming and/or have friends helping them. That's a hard thing to police.

Also, the downside of streaming is your opponent could open the stream and have perfect information about anything you do. Generally speaking I think most high profile streamers don't need the help. "Chat lethal" (chat providing a play that they believe is lethal but is not) is a thing.

Skype sharing by TheWolf at Sun, 03/05/2017 - 08:28
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Not only that, but people are known to share their screens on Skype and have people help. I've even done this, to help out people getting used to the client or the game.

The biggest thing is there is by Paul Leicht at Sun, 03/05/2017 - 17:18
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The biggest thing is there is a 2 minute delay between streaming and viewing the stream. I don't think this leads to much cheating in general. Sure it can happen but it is impractical and slow and also obvious when it does happen.

the delay does not need to be by stsung at Mon, 03/06/2017 - 13:11
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the delay does not need to be that big. Usually streamers set some kind of delay for their streams but my configuration can run with 12 seconds delay.
it is still a lot but if someone would want to help me when playing on Magic Online they could. I watched few streams were there were more people in the room giving advice to the player or discussing plays etc...

and I also know that some players play PTQ Finals like this. What can we do about this?

Impractical and slow. The thing is it does not really need to be obvious and usually you don't need to be guided through the match. Just from time to time a player needs an advice or opinion on something. Many players take a lot of time to actually do something in a game of Magic. Some lag, some multitable, some do whatever else they want in the meantime and in premier events it often takes long time till priority is passed.

Does anyone know who is the by MichelleWong at Mon, 03/06/2017 - 04:01
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Jeffrey Steefel has been appointed the Vice President of Digital Games Studio, which has Magic Online under its umbrella, but this is not the same role as Worth's.

It seems to me that WotC did not replace Worth's position on a like-for-like basis, instead choosing to give Jeffrey the role to oversee all of the company's digital offerings. If this is the case, this seems bad news for us, because Jeffrey's scope is so wide that he may be stretched too thin, not able to dedicate 100% to improving Magic Online (30% is a closer estimate). Whilst he has a team which he supervises in Digital Games Studio, we have not been informed of the names of those who work in DGS, and Magic Online is still one of the many projects of DGS, so who knows if it will be enough. Any opinions?

My opinion: We are going to see the same slow progress for a long time. ie. Every news story coming out about Magic Online will be either "Here are the events which are coming up over the next month!", or "Here is the Bug Blog" (a very incomplete one, mind you), or "Hey, we've made great changes to Magic Online! What are those changes? Drum roll please...Oh we changed the default sticky keys!" (acting as if this is some major news we should all be rejoicing about!).

The elephant in the room is "Why has the UI not improved after so many years?" Very basic improvements which the community has been asking for for years, like giving us a chat bar by default for all players in that room, giving us skins like in previous versions of Magic Online, improving the multiplayer experience, improving the casual experience, reducing all the rediculous wasted space in the in-duel screen so that cards don't look tiny, will all fall by the wayside.

If you don't believe me, just read through the last 2 years of Magic Online articles from the Archive and you can see that there were no functional changes in the Magic Online interface. What tops off the irony is that WotC justify this by saying for years that they are focusing on "stability and performance", when this is the only game that I know of that has stability and performance issues despite their years of focus trying to solve this problem.

re by Hearts at Mon, 03/06/2017 - 05:47
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Laura Darlington at wotc decides just as much as Mark Rosewater and any Worth or Jeffrey Steel, and she is just the coffe lady there.

Titles this and departments that, dont be fooled, and dont get me started about design and stuff, it is mostly done on sketches in the lunch room.

I fear you might be right by TheWolf at Mon, 03/06/2017 - 06:06
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I fear you might be right about this. However, I would add that I believe we might be shown a new client towards the end of the year, with a modern UI, but then we will be teased with it for a long time with the release date being pushed back and back and back...

Just wanted to point out that by Paul Leicht at Mon, 03/06/2017 - 14:52
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Just wanted to point out that Chris K is in Worth's actual position.

Thanks Paul. Good to know by MichelleWong at Tue, 03/07/2017 - 03:21
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Thanks Paul. Good to know that Chris K is now the Head Honcho of Magic Online.

The new sticky keys are by Rerepete at Mon, 03/06/2017 - 18:46
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The new sticky keys are horrible and lead to less chat interaction.

You say something in chat, then press "1" to Okay something, the "1" goes into chat. Never had that with using "F1"

while this is annoying by stsung at Tue, 03/07/2017 - 04:46
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while this is annoying pressing F2 while the window is out of focus or when you have cursor in the chat simply does nothing. When you notice that 1 is in the chat window you know that you need to click on the duel screen and press 1 again...

you can set the hotkeys back to the previous function keys if you want in account/input settings.

Active Player = Whose turn it by Hearts at Tue, 03/07/2017 - 11:29
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Active Player = Whose turn it is. Non Active Player = whose turn it is not.

AP: Battle ?
NAP: ... yes.
...nothing happens for too long time.
Judge: NAP is DQed for stalling because he is the one who had priority for the too long period during which no game action was made.

Where did this happen at? by JXClaytor at Tue, 03/07/2017 - 17:44
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Where did this happen at?

re by Hearts at Tue, 03/07/2017 - 19:55
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Should it have happened ?

. by Hearts at Tue, 03/07/2017 - 19:57
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Ok so this is not a thing by JXClaytor at Tue, 03/07/2017 - 21:03
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Ok so this is not a thing that actually happened.

re by Hearts at Wed, 03/08/2017 - 00:07
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Do not claim what you do not know to be true.

Right by TheWolf at Wed, 03/08/2017 - 00:20
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We also do not know that it is true apart from someone on an internet forum using a fake account posting such drivel without proof.