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By: ArchGenius, Marcus Rehnberg
Dec 10 2015 2:00pm
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One of the most difficult things about being part of the Magic Online Community is that there really isn't much of a community in which to join.

We all have different ideas of what we want from Magic Online and I'm betting that it is very difficult for WotC to sort through those ideas in order to separate the good ideas from the bad ones.

One of the main problems with open forums is that controversy rules. It's very easy to be a troll and criticize other people's ideas rather than give support to other people's ideas. I can understand how WotC gets a bad reputation for listening to their customers because they don't seem to be very responsive, but it's hard to respond to a million ideas that take the game in a million different directions.

For the record, WotC has listened to a lot feedback and made several positive changes in the game. Here is a short list of the positive things that WotC has done that the community has asked for.

  • 1 vs. 1 queues
  • Swiss Drafts
  • 6222 Drafts
  • Cube Drafts
  • Alternate Entry Fee Options (IE all tickets and Play Points)
  • Constructed Leagues
  • Highlighting searched text in the trade room
  • Importing and exporting deck options Numerous scheduled event changes

I'm sure I'm missing a lot, and I'm focusing heavily on limited event changes because those are the changes I follow. I draft a lot, but I rarely play any form of constructed Magic.

I could think of several ways to improve the drafting experience online, but I don't see much point in doing so.  WotC already has won my time and money in the drafting department even though I still have annoyingly frequent issues with being disconnected during a draft.

I have little to no interest in drafting the most recently released set because the secondary prices of the most recent set always go down so low that you can never turn a profit at drafting.  I appear to hold a minority opinion on that because there are tons of players eagerly throwing their money at the most recent set regardless of the expected value of drafting that set.  That's one of the reasons I think it's relatively pointless to use expected value in any type of argument to make a change in limited tournaments.

When looking at the profitability of a set to draft, I tend to focus on the uncommons and rares, they will show up much more often than the mythics.  A set with 4-5 expensive rares often produces a table where about 4-5 players at the table are doing better than breaking even.  

  • Khans has 5 rares above $6.00 and a few expensive mythics
  • Dragons has 5 rares above $6.00 and a few expensive mythics
  • Fate Reforged doesn't have much, but it does have 3 mythics above $6
  • Origins has the rare, Hangarback Walker at $14 and mythic Jace at $68.
  • Battle for Zendikar has Gideon at $27 and Ulamog at $10.  The dual lands in Battle for Zendikar are all around the $2 range when the duals in Khans are around $9.  Battle for Zendikar is about as bad as Fate Reforged in terms of expected value, but at least with fate you are only opening one pack of it in a draft and two packs from more expensive sets.
  • The Cost of Battle for Zendikar packs is significantly more than Khans, Dragons, and Fate.

Why is Battle for Zendikar so much more popular than Dragons, Khans, or Origins? I'm guessing that the average Magic Online player would rather play with the newest cards than worry about Expected Value.

This leads me to the conclusion that while prizes are important, most players aren't tracking it like the stock market, and most players will ignore small incremental changes in expected value.  That leaves me and everyone else that really cares about Expected Value in the minority, which means it's basically a dead point of argument.

So, what then, is a valid point of argument? 

My answer is growth. How can Magic Online attract new players? What would it take for existing players, including myself, to try new things?

Magic Online is a very difficult program to figure out.  It has millions of rule interactions, an interface that looks like a series of spreadsheets rather than a card game or video game, and there is very little in terms of in game tutorials.  In other words, Magic Online is not very welcoming to new players.  

So where are new players coming from?  I'm guessing that almost all new Magic Online players are coming from existing paper Magic players or players of the various Duel of the Planeswalkers games. In other words, new Magic Online players probably already know how to play magic, and have played it in some other form.  But it's hard to even get physical magic players to give Magic Online a real shot.  I've tried to get my physical magic playing friends to try Magic Online.  It doesn't work, but they all play Hearthstone.

So why would someone choose to play Magic Online in addition to the other forms of Magic?

Pros to Playing Magic Online:

  • You can play at any time of day.
  • You can challenge yourself against a higher level of competition than you could find at your average local game store
  • You can play against specific players even if you aren't physically near them
  • You can play certain types of magic you can't find at your local game store such as Cube and Flashback Drafts

Cons to Playing Magic Online:

  • [Cost] You have to buy all your cards all over again, and once you buy them their stuck online. (Set redemption kind of addresses this but not very well)
  • [Casual/Playtesting] Quality casual games are almost impossible to find. (Quitters and haters can drive most people away from random casual games real quickly, and there is no real matchmaking ability to find an equally skilled opponent)
  • [Cost] The least expensive match of constructed Magic will cost you $2 to play
  • [Trading/Decks] The trade interface is horrid and will take you a long time to buy a deck unless you know the shortcuts. If you're a new player, you won't know the shortcuts
  • [Cost/Decks] No one can easily loan you a deck. When you get starting playing physical magic, your friends can loan you cards or even a deck.  Good luck with that on Magic Online.
  • [Social] There is very little social interaction in Magic Online, and most of it is negative in the form of someone yelling at you when you beat them.
  • [System Performance] Lag, random disconnections, accidentally mulliganing due to a double clicking on the play first button, and other performance issues can really kill enthusiasm for the game. 

So, what improvements can WotC make in order to reduce the negatives and therefore get more players to play.  (More players means more support, more options for us, and all around a healthier environment for us players.  Growth is good for everyone)

Let's start with the easy targets, trading, deck construction, and system performance.  They are not optimal and they are expensive and difficult to fix.  We will probably have to live with them for the long term.  The trade bots are actually doing a lot to minimize the trading issues.  I have no idea how Magic Online would survive without the bots. There is nothing further to discuss.  Moving on....

Next let's tackle cost.  Magic is not working on a freemium gaming model.  It is expensive to get started, it is expensive to continue to play, and it is expensive to play at a high level. This will turn off most of the kitchen table magic players out there.  How can we win them over?  

Suggestion 1: Offer free/redeemable Play Points in Magic Online packs.  

There are already advertisement cards in Magic packs, just edit them a bit to allow them to be redeemable and use the already existing Magic Online Promo Code mechanism to make it work. For instance, replace the "Try Magic Online Advertisement Inserts" with a "Redeem this code for 4 Play Points on Magic Online" inserts.

Of course, 4 Play Points isn't going to actually get you much play time, so that leads to my second suggestion.

Suggestion 2: Offer play options at a lower price point that 2 Tickets/$2 but higher than free.

Totally free play against random opponents is not good. It just breeds a bunch of quitters who keep playing and quitting games until they get a "God Draw" or find an opponent they like.  A player who isn't too good, too bad, too annoying, and is a perfect gentleman who will buy them lunch, and take them to the movies.

Most of the time free casual play is a trap unless you already know the people you are attempting to play against.   

Player run events are a bit different, however they represent a small portion of the casual matches played online and theirs is a labor of love. 

Texas Hold'em has blinds in order to stop people from folding every hand until they get pocket aces.  Hearthstone gives small token rewards to the winner of casual duels in order to give players a reason to at least try to win even if it looks like they don't have much of a chance.  Magic Online needs cheap but not free options to keep players from rage quitting at the slightest provocation, but also encourage players to try out new things without worrying about the cost of a match.

I'm a drafter, and I know very little about standard, modern, legacy, an vintage.  I know more about Legacy Tribal Wars than any of those formats. If I was to try out one of those formats, what would I do.  I would probably look up the successful decks online, figure out how much they cost, buy one for anywhere between $50 and $1000 dollars and then start testing that deck against meaningless casual opponents or serious opponents at $2 a match. Leagues are a slightly better option but that's still about 1.6 tickets a match and I have to buy 8 tickets worth of matches and use the same deck I don't even know if I'm going to like playing.

Tabletop magic players can make a deck with proxies and test it out.  Tabletop magic players can borrow a deck from a friend.  Tabletop magic players can try before they buy.  Is that possible on Magic Online?

Suggestion 2b: Offer Cheap (4 Play Point) Phantom Constructed 1 vs. 1 matches.  

I can already feel the angry comments being prepared.  "If we offer phantom constructed options, it will kill the need to buy cards, people will stop playing constructed altogether and no one will buy the singles from drafters and drafts will die too."

I'm not suggesting that we allow players to construct their own decks and use them even if they don't have the cards.  No, that would be crazy.  I'm suggesting that you offer a selection of phantom deck choices (or random assignment of phantom decks if selecting a deck is too technically difficult to implement online)  It's easier to explain this one with a couple of examples.

Example 1:  Replay the Pro Tour - Play one of the Top 4 different decks from the last Standard/Modern/Legacy Pro Tour events against someone else playing one of the same decks.

Example 2: Constructed Cube - Play a 1 vs. 1 Commander/Planechase/Tribal Wars match against someone else using one of the 6-8 decks we've playtested and found to be roughly balanced but still crazy.

Example 3: Flashback Constructed - Want to know what it was like to play Invasion Block Constructed, now you can find out.  Here are the top 4-6 decks from back then, choose one (or randomly select one) and play it against someone else.

These formats are easy to balance because the decks are fixed.  They are also just a teaser.  Eventually, if players like these events, they'll want to create their own custom decks are start playing their own creations. But at least by then they will have some idea about how the format is played and what to expect.  It's a way to allow players to try it before they invest in a deck, but it is not something that is so awesome that it will draw people away from playing with their own decks. 

Moving on...

How do we tackle the social aspect of the game?  Why reinvent the wheel?  The local game stores already do a great job of setting up a great magic social experience (with some exceptions).  What we need to do is come up with a way to merge physical magic with Magic Online.  That leads to my next suggestion.

Suggestion 3:  Make clans based on the local game stores. Each local game store can have a clan, and hold events and competitions against other clans/local game stores.  

People love to feel like they are part of a team, clans were an effort to do that, but clans didn't have much in-game support.  If we recreate the clans around local game stores, then the local game stores can provide all the support for their clans that is needed. Basically think of the girl scout model (my daughter is in girl scouts).  The girl scout troop supports itself without much work from the larger organization.  This includes recruitment, events, social interaction, and support. Here are some of the things that a local game store modeled clan could do.

  • Offer physical prizes for online events sponsored by their clan
  • Promote their own events
  • Recruit new players
  • Create rivalries and competitions against other local game stores (just look how this has worked with football's popularity)
  • Hold physical tournaments where the winner of the tournament gets to represent the physical game store for the month in Clan Leader only online events
  • Connect with online players that live close to the local game store

This type of change requires very little effort from WotC, just give the local game stores some prizes and maybe a special clan leader account and let the local game stores promote themselves on Magic Online.  In other words, change the Community Cup into a local game store vs. local game store competition.

So what about all of the players that don't have a local game store?  They can adopt one.

Suggestion 4: Improve redemption, Prize Wall

Along with making local game stores into clans, improving the physical rewards you can get from playing Magic Online would promote more players to join Magic Online from the local game store environment.  

Redemption seems to be a special product that is only constructed to be given out with Magic Online.  I'm betting it takes a reasonable amount of resources to create this special Magic Online physical product that isn't distributed to any store for resale.  I think it would probably be easier on WotC supply line if they just replaced redemption with a Prize Wall type of deal where players could redeem Play Points for products that WotC naturally produces.  If they wanted to create custom Magic Online products such as exclusive playmats, life counters, tokens, alternate art cards, that's gravy, but mostly just offer the same kinds of products that are offered at large tournaments. I would suggest still offering a way for players to redeem complete sets for a specific amount of Play Points, but then allow the players to decide if they want to get a physical prize with those Play Points or use them to keep on playing online. 

Conclusions:

This seems to be a difficult time for the community as WotC seems to be shutting down the ways in which we've communicated with them in the past, but I think there are ways we can still help them to make Magic Online bigger, better, and more rewarding for everyone.

Thank you for reading, and let me know what you think.

Sincerely,

Marcus Rehnberg

NemesisParadigm on Magic Online