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By: KaraZorEl, Winter Trabex
Feb 07 2013 11:44am
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It's been no secret that I have been highly critical of the online client used to play magic: the gathering. Twice before I have sworn off the program only to come back to it later. The version 3 client's issues prevented me from having an enjoyable experience; indeed, the client crashed so often and with such regularity that I wondered whether playing would be worth it at all. I decided not, and cashed out my collection. With the version 4 client in progress, I thought I would give it another shot. With that in mind, it seemed now would be a good time to evaluate the version 4 client. How does the client work exactly? Is the program better, worse or the same as the last one?

Getting Started

To begin with, the splash screen is a little different. The program loads a lot faster than it did previously because it doesn't have to check for updates every time it starts. One of the nagging issues I had with the version 3 client was this: I would go to open the program, but it wouldn't open all the way. I got a message saying I had to run another program (I can't recall what it was called at the time) to get it work. Then, in comparing the two clients, I found the old one to be very slow. It would freeze up in the store. I couldn't buy products I wanted. The process of loading took half an hour, and once it would load, the program was susceptible to a crash. These issues appear to be gone from the version 4 client. The program doesn't take long to load, and though it still has its share of issues on my system, this is not one of them.

Buddy List/Trading

The biggest problem for both the version 3 and 4 clients is that there's no guidebook (in pdf form or otherwise) on how to use the client. Since magic is constantly getting an influx of new players starting out with the latest set, this is something that would greatly reduce the workload of the Online Response Crew (ORCs) if players could simply download a form that tells them everything they need to know. Thus far, I have tried a few trades with bots. The name displayed usually reads something like "MTGOTrade..." It's impossible to tell which bot is which just from this description. Nor is there an option to change the friendlist view from icons to a list, as there is with card display. Trading will then revolve around knowing which bot takes approximately which place in my list and memorizing the places.

Trading itself is another matter. As is usually the case, I have to hunt around to find someone who is available. This means looking at little windows that say the bot is busy. However, the focus changes from "Home" to "Trade" every time. This is not really a bug, just a small oversight that causes a bit of annoyance since I have to hit the home button to look at my friend list again. While some windows are free-floating, there's no way to detach the friendlist. It turns out there's a cancel button that's hidden easily by the "friend logged in notice." It appears on the bottom-right of the screen. A quick chat with the ORCs revealed how to cancel a trade and how to turn off the notifications.

The first image displays the cancel button (for those of you who might not see it at first) while the second image displays the settings on how to turn the notifications off. 

Here, I have turned all the notifications off. The client does not require a restart for the new settings to take effect.

Each card is tradable or not depending on if it is in a binder marked "for trade." In icon view, these cards appear in rows. To remove multiple rows at once from your trade binder, simply hold down ctrl + a while clicking on each new row. Then drag the row up to the area above. For me, the program paused for a moment while it thought about it. Then, it completed the operation. Players with large collections may have to do this more than once. To put an individual card in your "for trade" binder simply drag-and-drop it in there.

Your Collection/Building Decks

The collection is viewable through list view or card view. Neither one seems big enough for me. My collection is big enough for me at 1475 cards. I can only imagine how it might be for someone with ten thousand cards. You have to have some idea of which cards you want to put in a deck. I prefer to look through what I have. Sometimes, I remember an interaction or just want to try out something I haven't done in a while. As a result, if I'm building a five-color commander deck, I have to look through each card individually. The good news here is that there are several collapsible menus you can use for an advanced search.

For me, the biggest improvement lies in Power and Toughness. You have two bars. One sets the minimum, the other sets the maximum. As a player who uses Wild Pair quite frequently, I have found this to be very helpful. Previously, I would have to sort my creatures' power and toughness then look from among the choices I saw. This didn't always work with Wild Pair. A 4/7 like Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite will match with a 6/5 like Avatar of Woe. While the program doesn't have a function that lets you find anything that matches the total power and toughness, it has made a significant stride from where it was before. Now, all the 5/5 creatures and 6/6 creatures are right there, waiting to be put in a deck.

Deckbuilding was a little hard at first. The program struggles in two ways. First, I can select promo versions of cards that appear in my collection but which have zero quantity. These cards show up in the game and can be played. However, later on, the program will say that I do not have the cards in my deck in my collection (even though I just used them). Pre-constructed deck printings of cards like Mangara of Corondor often give me trouble like this. The problem is solved by putting the card out of the deck and putting it back in. The program automatically saves the deck for you (even if you don't do anything with it).

My attempt to make a Commander deck looked like this:

The two views of the deck (icon and list) both are hard to deal with. It's difficult to get an idea of the deck's synergy just by looking at this. Teneb is usually a hard general to play because he's slow and doesn't always find useful creatures in graveyards. As a result, the supporting cast around him is very important. When I pull the deck list all the way to the top in icon view, I finally get a look at all the creatures (though not all the lands) in the deck. It looks like this:

Departing from the version 3 client, the new program puts multi-colored cards in different rows according to their colors. If at any point, you find yourself wanting to take a card out of the deck, you need only click on it twice to remove it. Here, the program is convinced I don't have several cards that I've put in the deck, despite me having played this deck in its entirety before. The foils aren't really foily, but neither were they foily in the version 3 client from my observations. For me personally, I only like to collect foils if they are of cards no one plays, such as Soratami Rainshaper. Otherwise, the functionality of the card matters more than whether it's foil or not.

A final note: the program will tell you what's wrong with your deck. This is done by clicking on the yellow caution symbol next to your deck. A tooltip will appear telling what issue needs to be addressed. For my Teneb deck, I had it in the "Commander" category. Were I to place it in the "standard category," several cards would be marked as illegal. Moreover, the program will not let you play with a deck if it thinks you don't own the cards you have selected for the deck.

For the format of Commander, the color identity filter isn't quite there yet. Here I have selected white/black/green as my color filters, just (Azor's Elecutors) appears a card choice, despite having blue in its mana cost. This card would make my Teneb deck illegal if I put it in. While the filter works perfectly for standard, modern, legacy, etc where color identity doesn't matter, players have to avoid using multi-colored cards such as this one that wouldn't be legal in their decks.

Playing It Out

To play a game, click on the "Play" button along the top row of the program. This will bring up a few options of the games you can play. Limited queues always come up first. Clicking on constructed play brings up a screen where games are being opened and joined at a very fast rate. Once you select a deck, the program will automatically set a filter for the format you want to play. Standard Pauper and Standard Tribal Wars have been added since I last played. Previously, people who wanted to play Standard Pauper had to make of a note of this in their description. People wouldn't always read the description, so you'd sometimes get Kor Skyfisher on the same field as Muscle Sliver. A definite improvement has taken place there.

However, the program remains principally designed for the game's most popular format, standard. A multiplayer game might look like this:

In order to see each opponent's field, you have to expand it by hitting the +/- button at the bottom right of their area. Even having the program in full-screen mode, I couldn't read the toughness for Niv-Mizzet there. It happened to be four, but I forgot what Leyline of Vitality did, so while I tried to kill Niv-Mizzet with a Banefire, I failed because I couldn't read the numbers. The program does provide a preview window. However, there is nowhere to put it that won't obstruct my view of anything else. If I had, for instance, Evacuation in hand, I would want to see how many creatures are in play and how powerful they are. Five extra points to anyone who is able to recognize the middle player's general as being Olivia Voldaren.

One-on-one games don't have this problem. Multiplayer, especially with a lot of permanents in play, can be troublesome. Furthermore, during combat, a red bar opens up between you as the player and all your opponents. This reduces the size of your opponent's cards even further. The likely result will be that players will be looking at the preview window quite often, which may slow games down. I personally don't mind it, but there are some players out there who prefer their games to be fast.

Chatting

A quick note about chatting. Players have to hit the chat button at the top right of the screen to open up a chat window. Chat windows can be split off from one another (as shown above when I am talking to the ORCs). Chatting in games is a bit harder because you have to make a point of looking at the chat window to see if anyone said anything. I personally try to be polite and not ignore anyone, yet it seems that there's a lot less conversation going on. This is both good and bad. It's good because, historically, there have been a lot of folks who made inappropriate comments through the program. It's bad because players have one less avenue to talk to each other. The game becomes isolating in this way. There are only players, not friends.

The Store

The store is the same as it's always been. Wizards of the Coast focuses on selling standard product both because standard is their most popular format and because a constant influx of older cards would decrease the value of Modern and Legacy staples. Players can still buy the Counterpunch set, as shown below, which contains Scavenging Ooze. Everything here is done in one screen, so that you don't have to enter your information after you've decided what you want to buy. For pre-constructed decks, the store doesn't tell you what's in it. You have to do a google search to find out.

For instance, a page like this tells you a lot. The Exiler pre-con has 4x Aether Vials and 3x Karakas. Whether the deck actually holds value in the same way Counterpunch does remains to be seen. The Boltslinger deck is probably the more complete pre-con of the two. With 4x of almost everything, this deck is tournament ready, minus Wasteland and Rishadan Port, both of which likely won't be reprinted.

The Marketplace

The trade button by itself leads you to what was called the marketplace in the version 3 client. This is a place where users have to sift through (at present) 2000 posts to find what they want. Buying, selling, trading? There's too much of a flood there, and the only accounts available 24/7 are bots. Otherwise, a user might put in their own post but be offline when someone is interested. It's still a flawed system, and from what I can tell, there doesn't seem to be a lot of support for user-to-user trades, one of the big enablers of collectors.

Of significant note are two added features here: previous trading partners and a buddy list (as shown below). Expanding the buddies tab will bring up all the classified posts from accounts in that list. A green circle means the user is online. A red hyphen means the user is offline. Only accounts with which completed trades have been made will show up in the previous trading partners tab. This is very useful if you patronize one particular company over another (as I do with MTGO Traders).

You can also create a wishlist to help you out in future trades. I tried adding a card to my wishlist and it turned out as shown in the image below. Here, I'm trying to add Avacyn, Angel of Hope to my wishlist. While in the version 3 client there was a checkbox to select "my cards," there is nothing equivalent in the version 4 client that I can see. Thus (for now), the wishlist serves to help you remember which cards you'd like to have more of, as opposed to cards you don't have already but would like to acquire.

Your Account Settings

If players told Wizards of the Coast they wanted their program more customizable than the few scant options the version 3 client provided, Wizards listened. The default theme is set to Nicol Bolas. The program looks all golden. However, when I changed it to Liliana of the Dark Realms, the program became black with purple lettering as follows:

The image displays a foil Ajani's Sunstriker. The swirling animation around the card signifies its summoning sickness. You can customize how individual cards appears though, unfortunately, they are still too small in multiplayer matches. The foil animation goes on a rotating loop that doesn't seem to make the card more impressive, at least for me. But if you like it, the option is there to change it. 

Players can assign phase stops by clicking on the "In-Duel Settings" text. Games can be replayed by clicking on "Game History." A "details" button will come up for a highlighted game. Clicking on that reveals a button where replay is possible. Avatars can be changed through "account settings."

There's also a help button- something version 3 never had. It's not *exactly* a user guide, but there is a lot of information there people might find helpful. This is what it displays:

Performance of the Program

The following evaluation is entirely subjective to my own personal experiences. The program performs well and works quickly. However, on my laptop, it is a memory hog. Sometimes, the version 4 client freezes and I have to use task manager to close it. This doesn't bother me as much as it did with the version 3 client since start up goes through much faster. In my particular case, I no longer have to worry about timing out of a match because I had to restart the program. The specs for version 4 are as follows:

Right-clicking on the "My Computer" icon on my desktop gave me a few specs about my laptop. I run Windows 7, which is copyrighted 2009. So my machine is 3 to 4 years old. It has an Intel Pentium Processor with 3 GB of active memory in a 64-bit operating system. My laptop appears to run closer to the minimum requirements than the recommended ones. As a result, streaming video online is greatly impaired when the version 4 client is running (for example). I often find that when I'm doing nothing with it, I have to close it so my other programs don't lag. People who use older systems may be unable to run the version 4 client effectively.

Conclusions

From a programming standpoint, there are still a few flaws to work out in the beta release of the version 4 client. However, after an extensive use of the program, it seems that a lot of thought and effort has been put into it. Programming has always been one of Wizards of the Coasts' challenges, so I found myself happy to see that they are moving in a positive direction.

The problem remains for Wizards to effectively communicate what the client has to offer. Communication has long been the bug-a-boo for Wizards of the Coast. The client solves that in part by populating a list of upcoming events on the home page of the client. While it's still not the same as, say, reading a forum post about an event or getting a facebook invite to a local store's tournament, this is big step forward. Perhaps the problem with events firing hasn't been that people weren't interested in them. Perhaps they simply didn't know when the events were going to take place. The version 4 client solves this problem.

Overall, the playing experience proves to be a fun one. Players who are willing to invest a little bit more time tinkering with all the settings will find themselves rewarded by a greater degree of customization. It appears that, while the version 3 client operated from disaster to disaster, the version 4 client operates a more smoothly. It performs better on my system despite needing more active memory to operate.

The version 4 client is enough to bring me back to the world of player run events where Cloudgoat Ranger is a strong play. That, to me, is a definite win.

11 Comments

Thank You by Adam_the_Mentat at Thu, 02/07/2013 - 13:45
Adam_the_Mentat's picture
5

The new client terrifies me. When they axe the old, despite its problems, I fear the change. This is one time in my life I've felt conservative. Your article is in-depth and helps me navigate the beta better.

Yeah, I'm not looking forward by Leviathan at Thu, 02/07/2013 - 14:17
Leviathan's picture

Yeah, I'm not looking forward to this change, even though it is inevitable. You're little run down of Commander stuff just makes deck building and game play look awful. I gotta be honest, I'm fine with Version 3 right now, but that's probably just because it's familiar. Oh well.

It does take a LOT longer to by KaraZorEl at Thu, 02/07/2013 - 14:23
KaraZorEl's picture

It does take a LOT longer to build a deck, and the rewards aren't necessarily what you might come to expect.

Here's one of the ways around it. If you have a big collection and come across a card that you want to use later, but don't want to use right now, you can put it in one of your wish lists (and rename the wish list whatever you like). Then, instead of scrolling through ten thousand cards/images, you'll have what you want right there.

Conversely, though...the days of people building 1300 card decks will probably be over with version 4. I'm not sure if they can do an overhaul on the decklist building, if one is even practicable. In general, the client is built for standard and tends to function marginally less well in multiplayer formats.

I gave up on using the new by Cownose at Thu, 02/07/2013 - 19:32
Cownose's picture

I gave up on using the new client after trying to look through my collection and build a deck. I have over 15,000 cards and it was a complete disaster. My real-life collection is better organized and easier to navigate than my online one now...and that is saying quite a bit.

Yeah, it really makes you use by KaraZorEl at Thu, 02/07/2013 - 19:56
KaraZorEl's picture

Yeah, it really makes you use the filters quite a bit, instead of scrolling down and putting stuff in like before. I'm not sure which is better.

And the fact is: with the by Kumagoro42 at Fri, 02/08/2013 - 04:52
Kumagoro42's picture

And the fact is: with the current client you do NOT have to scroll down at all. There's the INCREMENTAL SEARCH in the list view of the editor: if your mouse cursor is hovering on the list, you can start typing the first letter/s of the card you want and the list will automatically go there instantaneously. In my experience, most players don't even know that. If I already know which cards to use, I can build a deck from scratch in about 60 seconds with the current client. It becomes at least 10 times that with the beta. That's unacceptable, you aren't really upgrading something if this is the performance result of a basic feature.

I feel like I should do a video article explaining the hidden deckbuilding features of the current client, so that people will know what we're going to lose, and start asking for those things to be transfered into the beta.

Thank you! by dave78pdx at Thu, 02/07/2013 - 14:49
dave78pdx's picture
5

I've been in the closed beta since about a year ago this time. It has improved leaps and bounds since then, but is still lacking in so many areas. They are putting so much emphasis on developing the game play, but they seem to be forgetting that half the game is collecting and deck building. As a result, the majority of the performance issues are in the collection, deck building, and trading scenes. The darn thing is so buggy, too, that it will randomly crash on you without fail approximately every hour. I keep having to remind myself, "it's still in beta... it's still in beta... it's still in beta... "

EDIT: Question for the poster... What size and resolution is your monitor? Thanks. :)

I have a 17 inch screen. My by KaraZorEl at Thu, 02/07/2013 - 14:57
KaraZorEl's picture

I have a 17 inch screen. My resolution is set to 1600 x 900.

Also, I played for three hours straight last night, no crash. I haven't yet had to close other programs to free up virtual memory on my laptop.

Trading by Rerepete at Thu, 02/07/2013 - 21:08
Rerepete's picture

@Kara: if you click on the TRADE tab, there is a drop down buddy list that has the complete name of your buddied friends/bots, not the cut off name in the opening screen.

I have been doing that, but by KaraZorEl at Fri, 02/08/2013 - 00:19
KaraZorEl's picture

I have been doing that, but it freezes that way sometimes. Trading from the buddy list doesn't really do that. Not sure why.

Kara great effort and thanks by Paul Leicht at Thu, 02/07/2013 - 21:37
Paul Leicht's picture
5

Kara great effort and thanks for stealing my thunder! I kid, but I was considering doing an article like this. I am not entirely sure the beta is where I think it should be but this was a pretty clear guide for those who haven't played around with it yet.