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By: Kumagoro42, Gianluca Aicardi
May 26 2014 11:00am
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I love this game. I love writing about it. Compiling lists about it. Evaluating it. Sometimes, I even play it. I'm an Accidental Player.

 Three weeks ago, we apprehensively learned that, according to Wizards' plans, MTGO's current client (version 3.0, or "V3") is supposed to cease operations for good, and be replaced with the new client (version 4.0, or "the Beta"), sooner than expected. Such topical switch will take place somewhere between the beginning of July and the launch of Magic 2015, whose online prerelease is set to begin on July 25, 2014. That leaves us with less than two months to say goodbye to the version of the client that we've used – and often maligned — for 6 years, since April 22, 2008.

 The upcoming change of client is already causing a lot of hand wringing, Chicken Little Syndrome, and generally sour feelings in the MTGO community. Before working through the stages of grief and letting V3 go, though, we have the duty, as users, both to make sure to know exactly what we're leaving behind, so to have a clear idea what to ask from the new client, and to celebrate an old friend's often overlooked accomplishments.

 Like the title of this series suggests, the main pleasure I take with the game isn't playing or collecting, as much as it is deckbuilding. I just love to carefully put cards together and look at the resulting decks like you would at ships in a bottle, and I use to do just that almost daily. Which means I know all the best, most effective ways to build and manage decks in V3, and I can see all too well what the Beta is still sorely missing in this department. I'll leave to others to comment on other crucial areas like the duel scene and the trade scene; what I primarily care about is for the deckbuilding capabilities of V3 to be widely known, and ultimately transferred in some form into the Beta.

DECKBUILDING IN V3: DID YOU KNOW THAT...?

 First things first: let's have a look at what our current client can do where deckbuilding is concerned. And what I mean when I talk of "deckbuilding" is essentially everything you do in the DECK EDITOR tab. You can see below my typical setup, as visualized when working offline (you do that by just opening the client without logging in, then clicking on the collection or deck editor tabs – the visualized collection will be the one from the last account that performed a login from your computer):

Don't let the dark irony of Abandon Hope being the first card listed escape you

 In the DECK section, I leave enough room to show 24-card rows, so the land base of most of my decks will be visible, then a sizeable space for the SIDEBOARD section. In both cases, the go-to visualization (that, unfortunately, in V3 needs to be reset every time you open the program) is "Piles by converted mana cost", accessible through right click in any empty area of the deck section. The interesting part is the CARD POOL (which I visualize by list, not by card pictures: they're the "lines" and "eye" buttons on the top right, directly underneath the NEW button). This is section where the V3 really shines. Let's start with this: when you want to find a card to add in the deck you're building, you type its name in the search window and click the SEARCH button or hit enter, right? WRONG!

Never do that! It's slower than molasses!

 The search button is NEVER used to find a card you already know. I use that option exclusively to filter a specific rule text, or a mechanic, or anything else that's related to some specific interaction I need, since the search is performed on the entire raw text of a card, so you can find anything that way, including an artist's name (it's essentially all the advanced search options of Gatherer condensed into a single input window, which sometimes is awkward, but other times might result even more powerful). The reason why you don't want to take this route to find a card is that the search engine is really slow. It's considerably faster in the Beta, but V3 has actually another, supremely faster way to search for cards that the Beta is currently missing: the incremental search or "search as you type" feature. It means that if you want to search for Tarmogoyf, you just have to start typing its name while your mouse is hovering anywhere over the card pool (this is important, this feature won't work if your mouse cursor isn't there, or if the database isn't in the "list" mode), and the database will automatically and instantly move there, through incremental steps.

After you type "TA"...

...then after "TAR"...

...then you just added an "M" and that's it, you're done!

 The time needed to go from "Abandon Hope" (or any other point in the list) to "Tarmogoyf" is about 1.5 seconds. The time needed to perform a search for Tarmogoyf with the search window is almost 10 times that amount (at least with my old Athlon 64 3500+ 2.20 Ghz, 3 GB RAM). You don't even need to exactly get to the card you want this way, because you're still browsing the global list, all the cards are still there, you can just scroll up or down from the nearest point you reached (you might have noticed I'm looking through all the cards – MY CARDS option disabled – and all the versions – SHOW ALL VERSIONS option enabled – so I can see how many versions of a card exist, and choose the one I like better). What you achieve when you perform a regular search through the search window, instead, is to filter out all the other cards, which means you'll have to reset the filter afterwards, an operation that takes another good chunk of your time.

 Speaking of filtering, the V3 has nice shortcuts for those. You can click on one of the mana or card type symbols (flaw: they never added the planeswalker type) to filter that one out; but more useful is the fact that you can right-click on one of the symbols to filter all the other ones out (mana colors and card types are handled separately, so if you want to look at all the white sorceries only, you must right-click on the white mana symbol, then right-click on the sorcery symbol). And what about resetting everything back to no filtering? That's super-easy: just right-click anywhere on a "dead point" of the tool bar at the top, for instance on the left of the white mana symbol, and it's done. (This kind of filtering isn't very fast, of course, just like with the search feature, which is essentially a "filter all cards except the ones that include the text I just typed", whereas the incremental search is a browsing aid).

 Now, as we noted, the "search as you type" functionality requires the pointer to be hovering on the card pool, but it also follows the current sorting of the database. The cards will usually be sorted by Card Name (it's the default), but the same functionality can be applied to any of the other database columns. You first have to click on the column's name to sort the cards by that column's criterion (click again and the sorting will become Z->A rather than A->Z). For instance, click on the Creature Type column and the cards will be sorted by ascending creature type. At this point, provided your mouse is hovering anywhere on the card pool, if you start typing a creature type's name, then you'll get to the first card with that type. For example, type "E" and you'll be transported to the first Efreet, follow that with an "L" and you'll get to the first "Elder", then add an "F" and here's the Elf group starting. There's no limit to the typing depth, so if you want to browse through the Elf Shaman type, just sort the cards by Creature Type, then type "Elf Sh"... done, you're there. You can now scroll down and look at all those Elf Shamans with ease. And it just took you one second, while still leaving you immediate access to the full, unfiltered database. If at any point you typed wrong and want to reset the incremental search, just hit backspace, and you will be back to Abandon Hope and (in spite of this bad omen) you'll be able to start typing from scratch.

 The incremental search functionality is what makes the Beta editor still severely lacking compared to V3. A second, equally major issue is the lack of direct correlation between the cards in the deck and the cards in the database. In V3, when you click on any card in your deck (which, incidentally, you can enlarge by holding both the left and the right mouse button on it – in fact, you can move the mouse around holding both buttons and you'll see the magnified versions of all the cards you hover on), the database automatically and instantly move to that card's entry. Double click on the database entry, you add the card to the deck; double click on the card in the deck, you'll remove it. (The same actions can be performed by just dragging the card names/pictures, of course). You never lose track of a card when you remove it, because you'll inevitably get to its database entry (unless a filter is currently applied to it, which is why you shouldn't filter cards out unless it's absolutely necessary).

V3 vs. BETA: A CHALLENGE

 Let's see all of this in action now. I recorded myself building a 60-card deck plus sideboard from memory (this one, that I used in the latest Ham on Wry tournament and features 42 different cards) first on V3, then the same list on the Beta (using the latest update: build 3.4.81.404), with the goal to have the deck properly displayed and sorted by converted mana cost. You can see how much slower and frustrating the process is in the latter case, taking as much as twice the time it was required in V3. Please note that I'm using my regular setup in V3, so I'm showing all the cards in the pool, not just the ones I own (then again, I just sold a few of them to buy them back once Vintage Masters is released), and in both cases I allowed myself to commit a few mistakes.

DECKBUILDING IN BETA: WHAT'S MISSING HERE?

 We've seen how the two main flaws of the Beta editor are the lack of the incremental search feature, and the lack of a direct correlation between cards in the deck and cards in the database. What else? Let's have a look at the general layout.

 

 The first thing you might notice is how weirdly the Beta manages the screen space. I suppose it's optimized for 16:9 monitors, but my 4:3 is still a LCD 19" working at 1280x1024, so it shouldn't feel this crammed. In V3, I had room to show my entire deck plus sideboard; in the Beta, the same deck ends up partially off-screen, and I can't rearrange the areas in a way that lets me keep what I want to see and ditch what I don't need, because the top area of the screen contains both the card pool and the filters, arranged horizontally, and they expand and shrink together. Generally speaking, the Beta editor emphasizes horizontality, which I guess is to the benefit of the 16:9 monitors, but feels strangely outdated, considering modern graphic design favours verticality, taking cue from website layouts. In any case, it should be possible to rearrange all these windows to at the very least recreate the V3 experience rather than a worse one.

 One of the most infuriating flaws in this editor, which is fortunately also one that appears very easy to fix, is that the selection in the card pool is given the same white color of half the rows. I can't even understand how this might have happened, but they somehow implemented a selection highlight that in half the cases does NOT highlight anything, making really hard to tell which card in the pool you're currently selecting.

 Another aspect that needs work is the deck management. You're given meaningless options like choosing the deck box label (which you won't see ever again, since we're talking virtual decks with virtual cards here), but you can't locally save the decklists as .txt files (or any other format) anymore, which is vital to archive and exchange lists between players and through Internet articles and resources, and to enter the decks into player run events. Another consequence of this "server only" approach is that every time you restart the client, the decks are reloaded from the server. An operation that, the client itself says, "may take several minutes". Can you imagine the moment when you'll be playing a draft, crashed, and have to restart and wait while your client tries and accesses your decks for no particular reason? And I, for one, have HUNDREDS of lists at any given time. All this seems to confirm my suspect that whoever designed the Beta didn't have a lot of hours of actual experience with V3 under their belts, building decks, entering events, maintaining a collection, trading, and so on. It feels designed by well-intentioned people who missed the most subtle nuances of what living and breathing MTGO day in and day out for months and years actually entails. See also how the Beta keeps giving you only the cards you own, which is not the way you build a deck: you look at the entire pool of cards available in the format you chose, THEN you procure the cards you miss.

 The Beta editor has some good aspects, too. Let's wrap this up by listing them:

  • the search feature is faster than V3
  • the cards look better
  • the filters include all the current types, down to Planechase planes and other oddities
  • you can choose to exclude non-collectible (finally!) and foils  
  • the client remembers your settings (not entirely functional yet: the client isn't remembering that I want to visualize ALL the cards, not just the ones I own)

 Unfortunately, the flaws vastly exceed the positive elements both in number but especially in strength:

  • the incremental search/search as you type feature is missing
  • the cards in the decks aren't linked to the card in the pool
  • the screen space is poorly handled
  • the large preview card gets in the way (I don't even try to have it active)
  • the popup with the card rules also gets in the way of the list and isn't deactivable
  • the white selection in the pool is the same color of half the rows
  • the decks can't be saved locally
  • the cards can't be enlarged outside of the preview window
  • the cards you don't own are less clearly indicated

 In conclusion, in order to fix the Beta deck editor in the essential points, so to allow the deckbuilding experience not to be considerably worse than with V3 (and changing client towards one that provides a worse performance appears counterintuitive, no?), the following changes should be implemented. I invite you to politely ask Wizards to implement them, through the feedback form and the official Beta thread in the forums.

  • Restore the incremental search/search as you type functionality on the list view of the editor
  • Restore the direct link between cards in the deck and cards in the pool
  • Allow for the decks to be saved locally as .txt files
  • Fix the issue where the same background color is used for the selection in the list

 The Beta is almost there. It'll be our home for many years to come. Let's not Abandon Hope!

14 Comments

It would appear that the by MarcosPMA at Mon, 05/26/2014 - 14:01
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It would appear that the autosave "feature" is still there during deckbuilding (whenever you make a change to your deck, the deck is saved with that change). Any comments on that?

Another function that should by Kumagoro42 at Mon, 05/26/2014 - 14:09
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Another function that should be given the option to be disabled, of course. And the whole issue would be easily solved if you had access to a separate local save: at that point, the server deck could even autosave for convenience, and you would still have the original .txt to come back to if needed.

Most of these functionalities mimic popular programs: for instance, any program of the Office suite has an autosave function. Problem is, none of them FORCES you to have the autosave enabled.

One correction. V2 was by Paul Leicht at Tue, 05/27/2014 - 06:22
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One correction. V2 was officially taken offline in November of 2007. I know this because I was unable to use V3 on my old XP machine because of the quadrupled RAM requirements. Having just lost my mom that year sort of landmarked a number of events that stick out in my mind and losing MTGO for 2.5 years is one of them.

I wasn't around, but I guess by Kumagoro42 at Tue, 05/27/2014 - 18:30
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I wasn't around, but I guess that date, which is what I found listed on Wikipedia as a "birthdate" for V3 (there's a lot of references to Wollpert et al. in that article, so I didn't question it), may mark the moment when the new version was considered fully operative, with the "beta" label removed and such? An occurrence that might have followed the "time of death" of V2.5 by a few months. I expect the current beta to still be called beta for a little while even after July, then eventually becoming officially V4 and losing that "beta" logo that appears when you launch it.

There's a pretty easy by TheKidsArentAlright at Tue, 05/27/2014 - 23:46
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There's a pretty easy workaround for the autosave "feature". Just save a copy of the deck and tinker with that. Annoying, yes, but hardly make-or-break in my mind.

The worst part for me, or anyone else that builds decks the way that I do is the inability to manually sort piles. When building from the ground up, or even tinkering, I like to sort cards by function. For example, I put Wasteland and Stifle in the same pile (mana disruption), likewise with Propaganda and Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale (creature control). It is actually impossible to arrange cards like that in V4, which was the most frustrating aspect of building a deck on it for me.

The reason for this is both by Paul Leicht at Wed, 05/28/2014 - 08:52
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The reason for this is both understandable and yet mindboggling at the same time. Understandable because when you are starting a project like this over you leave out a lot of "common sense" functionality just so that you can test proof of concepts. Mind boggling because no one thought these functions important enough to put back despite not wanting to "bloat" the design.

Imho this is one of the biggest fails of this ongoing fiasco. The people in charge of deciding what stays and what goes seem entirely out of touch with what is actually wanted and needed by the players on average.

Or perhaps I should be more cynical and assume that they deliberately decided to alienate the players they felt least likely to be contributors to their bottom line. After all, it is the drafters that drive the engine so to speak. If the drafters are happy (ish) nothing else matters right?

The short-sightedness of such thinking is astounding to me. But it makes sense in a way. After all, the Corp can't really account for what goes on in the secondary market or the forces that entity brings to bear on the drafters who provide their bread and butter.

Or perhaps they have considered that and decided that the influx of new players will make up for the thousands of casual players who drop off the game as the client ends up not serving their needs. Maybe they assume new players will know no better and will take whatever pitiful client they are given since it is a way to play Magic from the comfort of one's home/office/etc.

All of that means you probably will continue to be frustrated as will I and many other casual players.

Actually the problem with by Dawwy at Thu, 05/29/2014 - 03:00
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Actually the problem with influx of new player is that digital card game scene is rapidly evolving and mtgo isn't good enough to attract players on its own. People will play Dotp, will want to play mtgo then they will hit giant stone wall of uselessness and then they will quit. They will go to some other card games, worse than mtg but with digital interfaces much better than mtgo.

That's your opinion and you by Paul Leicht at Thu, 05/29/2014 - 05:01
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That's your opinion and you aren't alone in that view but I suspect that WOTC doesn't see it that way at all. If they did they would be doing all in their power to make the client better not merely minimally functional.

Though lets be real, DOTP is not MTG. It is MTG Lite and anyone who thinks that you can get a top notch video game out of MTG (DOTP doesn't come close imho) is probably in for a rude awakening. The first thing that MUST happen is that people can play an actual game of MTG. Not MTG Lite.

Pokemon, Hearthstone, Sol Forge, etc are not MTG either. Some have varying degrees of charm. (I won't play any of them though since I don't care for pokemon, won't play anything published by Blizzard, and don't think much of Sol Forge particularly since they never did fix the bug that causes a DEP error on my PC. They never even got back to me to tell me they weren't bothering. They just dropped it like a hot potato.

That said if dissatisfied customers slowly bleed off into these other games, I doubt very much WOTC will notice. Instead what I think will happen is that when the drafters eventually can't sell their cards for enough tix to play again, they will stop drafting. No good secondary market because Casual Players are shafted = No place to sell draft leavings to get tix to buy packs. After the game gets a bad rep being a poor place to test/draft, the money flow will stop. Eventually even this will correct itself as the game is fun even when the client is terribad. Witness: V3 after 7 years.

Is Magic not "magical" any more? by Fred1160 at Fri, 05/30/2014 - 09:03
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I'm not gonna be the guy that says Magic is dying, but I think it may be losing some steam.
Last Saturday I played in a paper tournament and there was a Yugioh tournament going on at the same time. I was surprised that there were twice as many (at least) Yugioh players as there were Magic players.

Not only that, but in the four hours I was there, they were selling Yugioh singles out of the display cases left and right. In four hours, I was the only one who bought a Magic single out of the case.
It was just a regular Saturday store tournament for Yugioh but it was Game Day for Magic with lots of extra prizes and stuff.
I'm seeing people selling out their collections and dumping their MTGO accounts like I've never seen before and switching over to other games.

Did I miss the memo?

I don't know, honestly. It's by Paul Leicht at Fri, 05/30/2014 - 11:55
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I don't know, honestly. It's gone strong for 20+ years. Yu Gi Oh is (in theory) for a different audience. The younger crowd enjoy it for its simpler mechanics and (arguably better and certainly flashier) japanese based art.

MTG may suffer from some of the problems D&D suffers in that people who don't play may avoid it as the old-guy on the block. It isn't all that new and exciting. Particularly since it seems like the mythic rarity model pushed the prices of singles up instead of down since most of the mystics being printed aren't just playable but must have 4 ofs. I could be way off on this because I am not into paper mtg as a thing anymore.

Okay... by Fred1160 at Fri, 05/30/2014 - 12:45
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What you say makes a lot of sense. The people I talked to Saturday (and this is a relatively "big time" store that does a lot of mail order business and has sponsored some big-time tournaments) said pretty much the same thing you're saying.

The idea that your standard deck must have tons of mythics to be considered worthwhile is a huge problem for them. Not only that, but one big complaint I saw was that there is a perception that Wizards does not listen to their customer base. Their attitude of "we know what's best for the game" turns a lot of people off. MTGO is seen by some as being in full meltdown mode and when you add up stuff like all that it's no wonder that the game has lost some people.

I think data have that MTGO by Kumagoro42 at Fri, 05/30/2014 - 17:52
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I think data have that MTGO has more users than ever, Theros was the most successful draft format ever, and recently we had the largest paper tournament ever, and so on. If anything, Magic is still peaking. It's one of the reasons why V3 needed to go: the number of players outgrew the client and servers' capability to handle them.

And check this article by Forbes, listing the best digital card games of 2013, where they put MTGO at #2, despite writing, "With new faces in the marketplace, the client can seem like an antiquated dinosaur and some recent issues have had impact on competitive play." (With link to Wollpert apologizing for the whole November mess). MTGO, and by extension Magic, are still firmly in the zeitgeist.

Great Article by The Milk Man at Tue, 07/22/2014 - 20:28
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5

A great article to look back at, unfortunately it doesn't look like they have heeded any advice to fix these issues

Oh no, a few things I by Kumagoro42 at Wed, 07/23/2014 - 17:32
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Oh no, a few things I lamented here have been fixed, contrary to popular belief (and the "sky is falling" mentality of MTG players, which I personally abhor). Or I just didn't find the way to do what I wanted to do when I wrote this (the "hidden", "secret" nature of some shortcuts is a whole different criticism, but that was true of V3 as well. Better to have to work a little to find that a solution to your problem exists than not having one at all).

You gave me the occasion to update this article.

"the cards in the decks aren't linked to the card in the pool"

This is technically still true, but it's not such a big concern as I thought it was, because there are new cool options that sort of make up for it. For instance, if you want to add an additional copy of a card you already have in your deck, you don't have to search for the card again, you can right-click on it and choose to add 1-3 additional copies. (The trouble is still there if you removed the last copy and want it back.)

You can update card versions, which is really cool and useful. For instance, I just sold old versions of cards and re-bought them as cheaper VMA versions. If I open a deck that has a card marked as no more in my collection, with just one right-click I can have the client automatically update ALL instances of it with those in my collection.
This is particularly useful for lands, if you manage your collection properly. I only own Unhinged lands. Say I want to add 10 Forests to my deck. With V3, I needed to go to Forest (usually by typing "Fore..." with the mouse hovering on the pool), then scroll until the Promo Unhinged version was shown. With V4, I just have to add basic lands with the automatic "draft-like" button, then click on one of the Forests and tell the client to replace them all with those in my collection, that are the right ones. Much much quicker, for once.

"the cards can't be enlarged outside of the preview window"

They can. You can zoom on them with the right mouse button as before. My bad.

"the large preview card gets in the way (I don't even try to have it active)"

Considering the zoom on the card is there, and quicker, the preview window is totally useless and can remain hidden, so no problem there.

"the decks can't be saved locally"

They can. And very easily. Right click on the deck's name (the right mouse button will save us all!), then choose Export. Compared to V3 this process has become much quicker, because the deck files come pre-named with the same name they had in the client, so you don't have to write down a name anymore.

It's also easy to keep the decks stored in the hard disk and use the "import" function just in the same way you would use the "load" function in V3.