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By: TheWolf, Shane Garvey
Jul 13 2017 11:00am
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Normally at this time of the week I'd be doing a draft and writing my Limited Edition article, but seeing as though Magic Online is a train wreck as I write this, I'm doing something different this week.

First, a little bit about me. I'm 36 years old and have been playing Magic since Revised, though I have had some periods of time where I wasn't playing. I started playing tournaments in 1999. I have a background in sales and retail, and have also owned my own business in recent years. I feel it is important to tell you this just as some context.

Now, I am also aware this will be an unpopular opinion, but I want to offer an alternative point of view on the announcement that Wizards of the Coast will be changing how many deck lists they publish for Magic Online events. The full announcement is here, but a quick summary is this: Wizards will no longer be publishing ten random 5-0 League decks from each format every day, but instead will halve this number and make sure that each deck is somewhat different.

This is a good thing.

I have spent a lot of time going through various online forums, reading the arguments about why this is "the worst decision ever", and wading through the outrage. While I understand why people don't like this decision, I want to offer some opposite arguments.

THIS IS ALL ABOUT WIZARDS HIDING THEIR MISTAKES REGARDING STANDARD

In a sense, this is actually true. If Standard was a healthy format, Wizards would likely not have made this decision. We'd still have our 70 decklists a week and the world would keep turning. However, seeing as though Standard is not in a good position right now, this decision makes sense from a company point of view. It's at least an attempt to make the format healthier.

You'll see I reference Standard a lot in the rest of this article, simply because this is a reaction to the criticisms of Standard.

THIS WON'T PREVENT STANDARD FROM BEING SOLVED

No, it won't. But it will take some amount of time longer, and isn't that a good thing? There are people complaining all the time about Standard. How many times have you heard "Standard is boring," or, "Standard gets solved quickly"? The first point is obviously subjective, but the second point is pretty true. So, why is this the case? Simply, because you, me and everyone else with an internet connection can log on to various websites and see which decks are doing well, and then you, me, and everyone else gravitates towards those decks because, naturally, we want the best chance of winning. 

Is this wrong? No, it isn't, but it does lead to everyone playing the perceived best deck in order to get the edge over the competition. Wizards releasing less data just means we, as a group, need to dig deeper and wait for more data to become available (thus, needing to wait longer).

One of the first articles I wrote for this very website was a weekly series that analysed the Magic Online metagame. I saw this happen set in and set out with Standard - at first, the format would be pretty diverse, then it quickly degenerated into two-three decks that everyone was playing. By limiting the information, it will take people longer to figure out the "best deck".

PEOPLE WILL STILL NETDECK THE BEST DECK FROM GP AND PT RESULTS

Yep, they certainly will. But this is one-two events per week, as opposed to the 7 per week (plus GPs) that we would get every week from Magic Online. Plus, it will be less clear as to which deck is the best, so the early GPs (much like they are now) won't be a great indicator and people will be trying more decks. A best deck will be found eventually, but it will still take longer to find it.

THIS BENEFITS THE PROS, NOT THE AVERAGE PLAYER

While it depends on what the definition of "average player" is, it actually benefits both. Does it benefit Pros? You bet it does. Less information for the "average" player means that Pros in big testing teams get a large advantage. But then, maybe they should. They are professionals, after all, and professionals in other competitive areas usually have access to better training and facilities. So maybe this corrects something that should have been there all along. (Side note: I am not a Pro, and have never even been anywhere near the Pro Tour).

What about the "average" player? To me, the average player is the person who turns up to FNM most weeks, usually for Standard, or perhaps a draft. Does this benefit them? In my opinion, yes, in a way. My experience has shown me that these players often turn up to events early in a Standard season, then drop away as it goes on. Why?

Well, I decided to ask them. The main answer I got was "I can't compete as everyone is playing top decks and my deck can't beat them." The other answer I got a lot of was "It's boring playing against the same decks all the time".

Let's look at this. Should players feel entitled to be able to beat the best decks? No, they shouldn't. However, if that means that they are not even bothering turning up to an event like FNM, then that is bad for Wizards. This is not a good way to retain players.

"It gets boring playing against the same decks all the time." Personally, I think this is true of all constructed formats (and is why I play limited way more than anything else). So, if this new decision means that it takes longer for people to settle on the best deck, it should mean that there is more variety. If this keeps players, well, playing, this is good for Wizards (and by extension, us, the players).

Now, in my opinion, there is one group of players that this hurts, which is the grinders. The aspiring pros are very much disadvantaged by this, and I do feel for these players.

WIZARDS SHOULD JUST RELEASE ALL DATA FOR EVENTS

This one I have a lot of trouble understanding. Magic is, and always will be, a game of hidden information. Why should the metagame be any different? Why would someone want to know that "deck X has a 55% win rate vs deck Y, which is 60% vs deck Z..." and on and on. Having this information handed to you takes half the fun away from playing Magic. Sure, this would benefit grinders and pros, but it takes a lot of the, well, the magic, out of Magic.

Look at it another way. Everyone is excited for Standard when a new set is released; people watch the Star City Games streams, looking for the new tech and seeing what cards are powerful. Now, imagine if, a week after the set was released, Wizards released all of their Magic Online data for the Leagues. You are told "Deck X has an overall win rate of 73%", which is the highest of all the decks. What deck are you likely to play in your next League run, and what deck are you going to run into all the time? Suddenly everyone is playing the same deck and the format goes back to being boring. 

THIS WILL MAKE THE FORMATS MORE STAGNANT, NOT LESS, AND WE'LL SEE LESS JANKY DECKS

I'm not sure I understand this one either. If anything, having each deck Wizards publishes each day be at least 10 cards different should lead to an increase in the number of different decks we see. Probably not by a lot, but a guaranteed five different decks is more variety than what we get now. While there are certainly days where we see a wide variety of decks published, there are other days where 7 of the 10 decks are Mardu Vehicles. 

 

Let's give these changes a chance. If it makes the formats worse, Wizards can always revert back to what they used to do. But what if it makes things better? We don't know, and at least Wizards are willing to make some changes to try. For that, I give them credit. 

I'm sure a lot of people will disagree with me on this, and that is fine. Everyone is entitled to an opinion, and perhaps I am totally wrong when it comes to this. However, while there are some downsides to this decision, I think that it will result in a net positive for Magic as a whole. Let's give it a chance.

6 Comments

Let me just state by Paul Leicht at Fri, 07/14/2017 - 01:56
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Let me just state unequivocally and emphatically I disagree with your premise. That said, I like that you put it out there for discussion. Why do I disagree? As you said yourself, people will netdeck. The netdecking will occur regardless of how analyzed the meta gets. What will end up happening is there will be less risk taken by the majority of players because there will be no incentives to try fringe strategies without understanding more clearly how they are affected by the meta. (And how consequently they would fit into that meta.)

Also there is no such thing as saving someone from not "having fun" in tournaments. People who regularly attend tourneys do so to win. That's not to say they don't have fun but it isn't their primary objective. While there is a certain amount of "fun" to be had at local stores during FNM, I suspect the home brewers will avoid the narrower and less interesting mix resulting from lowering the data out there for the common person to engage with.

I lived through the "dark ages" of magic and as a non-pro with lots of pro acquaintances I hated being in the dark, especially when everyone else seemed to be "in on it". Sometimes a kind soul would take pity and throw a few pointers my way (For example, Zvi talked to me once about counter spell ratios in control decks (in the Standard of the moment) as a way to help improve my brewing. It did help a little.) But for the most part I struggled until we started getting more access to data from being on the internet. I am not a statistician or even really that interested in the minutia that make up "best of show" analyses of deck performances. I do find it interesting to see how those conclusions are arrived at sometimes (through articles for example) but I lack the patience to really delve into it the way say Matt Watkins does.

Those who thrive off of stats and information are merely at best leveling the playing field a little and the pros will still come out ahead enough that it isn't really about the competition. To my mind this is SOLELY about patching the formats for WOTC's benefit. And I am sure it is a benefit to them if only to obfuscate what is really going on so that they don't have to account for the format the way it is.

It is possible you might not remember when they cut the deck stats down from nearly full information to what it was before this last change, but BlippyTheSlug had a series of articles (which I highly recommend) where he basically documented the changes to the modern meta and how this change affected that and how solved the format became despite this "tactic". Withholding information certainly does help the pros a little but imho the cost to the rest of the player populace makes it a bad move not a good one.

re by Hearts at Fri, 07/14/2017 - 04:25
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To my mind this is SOLELY about patching the formats for WOTC's benefit. And I am sure it is a benefit to them if only to obfuscate what is really going on so that they don't have to account for the format the way it is. - Leicht

Amen.
Unbalanced formats, mythic buildarounds, only so many cards may fit together with them, and so on.
Behind that we have the phenomenon of wotc constantly diminishing the pilot factor of the game, a gazillion small things, eroding and eroding, cant even announce combat now and activate things before attackers. Outside those gazillion small things players have two things that can jump on them any time; the oracle that can make random rulings between (two) cards, and judges that can pick and choose between documents in almost whatever situation they choose creating differing outcomes as it suits them.

When will they attack the pen trick ?
MTR 3section4; If a player whose turn it isn't touches his pen during combat he can no longer use priority unless it is to respond to something the opponent does.

That's not a rule. Looking by JXClaytor at Fri, 07/14/2017 - 08:51
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That's not a rule. Looking at the MTR right now, and 3.4 talks about proxy cards.

The rulebook you quote from by AJ_Impy at Sun, 07/16/2017 - 18:37
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The rulebook you quote from is fascinating. Got a link?

No, not the MTR, the rulebook by AJ_Impy at Mon, 07/17/2017 - 11:40
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No, not the MTR, the rulebook you quote from. The one which says "If a player whose turn it isn't touches his pen during combat he can no longer use priority unless it is to respond to something the opponent does." in 3section4. That rulebook. Can you link it?