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one million words's picture
By: one million words, Pete Jahn
Dec 26 2014 1:00pm
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State of the Program 2014 Review

It’s the end of 2014. It has been a momentous year. Let’s look at what happened.

2014 started out pretty well for Magic in general. We were drafting Theros and generally enjoying it. Constructed was doing well across the formats. Modern Masters had been huge in 2013, and paper Magic was continuing a multi-year growth trend. 
The year, so far Magic Online was concerned, was not a lot rougher. The MOCS and online PTQs were all in hiatus as the year began, following a series of unfortunate crashes. MTGO v4 was in beta and had been for several years. Progress was slow, and Wizards had devoted all its effort to “stability and performance.” As a result, a lot of people were unhappy that the bugs they had reported and the features they had requested, over a year ago in some cases, were still not even scheduled for deployment. The one big plus was that Wizards had hired an outside team to work on optimizing the code to improve “stability and performance.”


In my first article of 2014, I reported on a lot of things that were repeated in last week’s article. Wizards was asking for more Beta testers   Wizards was offering an R&D Challenge on Friday. Spoilers (for Born of the Gods then, Fate Reforged now) were starting. I ranted about changes, for the worse, in the Wizards forums. (Note: I drafted an opinion section on the death of the forums last week, but since they are pretty much dead, I cut it.) The flashback format, at the start of the year, was Urza’s Saga.  The value of the cards was a bit different, though. At first, I thought I would just show the “value of old formats” tables side by side, but it is probably more interesting to show the Good Stuff table from January, modified to add prices for the same cards now.  Some of the more interesting Saga cards are here as well.

 Price Jan 2014
 Price Dec 2014
 $ 166.31
 $ 12.51
 $ 113.94
 $ 30.70
 $ 82.74
 $ 140.77
 $ 73.60
 $ 71.67
 $ 70.85
 $ 101.61
 $ 67.50
 $ 47.51
 $ 66.09
 $ 104.59
 $ 59.98
 $ 29.89
 $ 58.62
 $ 64.95
 $ 48.82
 $ 52.61
 $ 44.96
 $ 16.86
 $ 42.71
 $ 11.38
 $ 40.95
 $ 15.54
 $ 40.18
 $ 23.82
 $ 38.34
 $  1.03
 $ 38.03
 $ 22.48
 $ 36.69
 $ 38.42
 $ 36.14
 $  8.73
 $ 35.93
 $ 40.37
 $ 34.81
 $ 25.34
 $ 34.78
 $  5.51
 $ 33.22
 $  5.65
 $ 32.23
 $  9.58
 $ 28.64
 $  5.06
 $ 27.72
 $ 46.92

Amazing what Vintage Masters, plus a couple rounds of flashback drafts, can do to the prices of some of these cards. For a few, like Sphinx’s Revelation, the change was due to set rotations, but VMA had the largest impact across the board.
January also began with a lot of discussion of bullying in Magic. Rada Rudyak wrote an excellent article on the problem and solutions. I wrote a long commentary. The TL:DR – bullying can kill Magic. If too many people get turned off by the toxic environment it creates, they leave. Bullying: don’t do it and don’t tolerate it.
By mid-January, Wizards had announced the return of the MOCS events, plus make-up events for the missed MOS qualifiers and seasonal championships. PTQs were scheduled to return in mid March. 


The month began with an update to the Banned and Restricted list. Modern got the biggest changes, with Deathrite Shaman getting the axe while Bitterblossom and (Wild Nacatal) came back. Wizards also restricted Lodestone Golem in Classic and Sylvan Primordial in Commander.
In early February Wizards retired 22 old formats; formats which were generally not being played and were, presumably, a pain to program into the Wide Beta client. Only a few of these had any serious adherents. The exception was Legacy Tribal Wars. LTW players cried foul, loudly. Within a couple days Wizards reverse itself and let LTW continue. (Getting the filters fixed took a lot longer.) I wrote about this extensively, here.
In mid-February Wizards announced that, for online play, PTQs would have preliminary qualifier tournaments. (This foreshadowed the changes to paper PTQs, which happened later.)   Also in February, Wizards announced the Conspiracy set. Since I love Conspiracy, I will mention it. Since Conspiracy is not a MTGO thing, just this once. Finally, towards the end of the month, Wizards banned and terminated the accounts of some of the more obnoxious online jerks. (Yay!)


Early in the month, the MOCS and PTQs returned. The new and returned MOCS crashed again, hard. MOCS and PTQs were cancelled once again. It was worse than that: all scheduled events went down for a few hours on Saturday, March 8th. Wizards took several actions to try to prevent the problems, including disabling replays. Those of us who remembered the slow and ugly death of v2 shuddered to think we were reliving those times. A week later, replays came back, but a WotC-wide Internet issue took MTGO down again, together with the website, forums and pretty much everything else. Not one of MTGO’s best months.


Journey into Nyx spoilers began, and the kill v3 / no kill v4 debate heated up. That debate continued as MTGO experienced major crashes several times in April.  
Wizards tried to entice people to try the new client by offering a “Wide Beta Spotlight.” During the Spotlight the old client was disabled while early prereleases were held on the beta.  Wizards also continued to tweak the prize payouts in April.   In late 2013, and throughout early 2014, Wizards kept changing prize payouts, player minimums and times to try to get PEs and DEs to fire more consistently. This was an ongoing theme throughout the year.


Wizards offered free sealed events, to stress test the servers and their new tools for managing online events. The free events filled within minutes of MTGO coming back from the downtime.  The events did help test the servers and the new tools Wizards was developing to fix troubled events, but a lot of players were miffed they could not enter.
The big news in May was that v3 was going dark in July. We had known that it was coming, but the actual announcement was huge. It ignited another firestorm of debate on the forums, twitter and across social media. 
MTGO crashed again May 2nd, wiping out a bunch of events and staying down for a few hours. MTGO also experienced an unannounced downtime extension shortly thereafter.   To add to the misery, Wizards announced that MOCS and PTQs would not return before fall. They provided “MOCS Appreciation Events” as a form of compensation.
May also brought us the beginning of VMA spoilers. It rapidly became clear that this set was a lot more stacked than we had initially thought. I had written a speculation piece on VMA, but reality showed that I was overly-pessimistic. VMA was going to be great.


Wizards announced that they were hiring “Digital Event Coordinators” to help solve issues with online events. June also brought us VMA limited, followed shortly by Vintage constructed events. Vintage and Legacy events began paying out in VMA packs, but the prize for going 3-1 in a Daily was sharply reduced. This caused some ill will, but the Daily events continued to fire.
Wizards also announced the date for shutting down the v3 client.   Many reasons for the rapid shutdown were floated, but the most likely was probably the space alien kill switch conspiracy theory. I explain that here,   
Also in June, Wizards revamped their website. The initial roll-out was a mess. I wrote about it in the opinion section in this article.


V3 went dark. A fair number of players sold their collections, but MTGO did not die. It is still going, and card prices have recovered.
A bit late, Wizards announced MTGO 12th anniversary events. These were mainly flashback drafts, but included real, keep-the-cards Modern Masters drafts. Wizards also gave everyone free entry into the M15 prerelease events. In another change, the M15 prereleases were offered with both “competitive” and “friendly” prize structures.  This was one of the first benefits of a having a single client.
In mid-July, Wizards announced the imminent end of limited VMA. That caught a lot of people by surprise, because we had read the initial announcement as saying that VMA would continue until Khans came out. I talked with Worth about this later, and he said that Wizards had learned that they “had to be more precise when being vague.” Their initial announcement was poorly worded, and once Wizards realized that it could be – and was – misread to imply that VMA drafts would continue, they rescinded the early end date.


August began with a big announcement: changes to organized play in the paper world. PTQs were going to be split into store level PPTQs, which qualified players to play in the regional PTQs, in which the entire Top 8 would qualify. Wizards also announced increases in the numbers and payout of GPs. A momentous, and needed, change,
Also in August, Wizards announced the return of MOCS and online PTQs. The PTQs began at the end of the month. Wizards also released the Large Event Guidelines which explained how problems in MOCS and PTQs would be handled.
From the Vault: Annihilation, originally scheduled to appear online in August, was delayed a couple months.
In mid-August, Wizards officially retired PEs. Despite repeated tweaks to timing and payout, they were not firing. I had often written about the problems with large online events, so this was not unexpected.   
August also ended with another big announcement: the end of core sets, and the change to two set blocks and an 18 month Standard rotation. The announcement is here. I gave my opinions on it here. The TL:DR: I really like this change. One more core set to go, then we can look forward to better Standard and better draft environments. 


I began the month with a rant about the collection screen in the new client, and the problems I had with it. At that time, I had no serious problems with most of the new client, but I think the collection screen stinks.  That’s still basically where I’m at. 
The Community Cup went the way it is supposed to: the Community Team won. The Vintage Super League also began in August. Look for the VSL to resume in January.


October began with an announcement that Wizards was cutting the minimum number of players for MOCS and PTQ prelims. Similar cuts were announced for Format Championships.
In early October the Top 8 draft in a PTQ was bugged. At least a couple players got the “cannot submit, reboot” bug and timed out of deck construction. Wizards does have Digital Event Coordinators that are supposed to be able to fix that sort of problem, but apparently no one knew how to contact them. (The DECs hang out in a special channel. Details on accessing the channel are here.) 
In October Wizards also brought back the ability to review your ELO rating. This had been removed from general view due to bullying, and the ability to see your own rating was not part of the Wide Beta. After a lot of community displeasure, Wizards brought it back. The returned rating includes all matches played while it was gone. 
MTGO had an unplanned outage in October, but it was a Wizards-wide Internet issue, not a MTGO problem. Everything Wizards was down. Wizards did not provide a lot of details, but some speculated that it might have been a DoS attack. 
October also brought us the travesty and tragedy of “Gamergate.” I wrote about it here. As a longtime listener to Counterspin and supporter of FAIR.org, I know a lot about media problems, but that’s not what Gamergate was about.  Gamergate was about thugs. In keeping with the theme of depressing things happening in October, we also had some big time cheating scandals. The cheaters were caught. That’s what happens, but sometime it takes longer than we would like.
October ended on an up note, though: Wizards revised its reimbursement policy. In the past, Wizards provided reimbursement, less the value of packs won. That changed: now, if you have a problem that interferes with an event, you get a full refund, even if you win prize packs. Nice change.


Wizards rolled out their new WIZARDS ACCOUNT SYSTEM This was an attempt to merge all of the various accounts and logins Wizards customers had. The roll-out was problematic, to say the least. When I used it, I lost my DCI number, match history, forum name, history with Wizards customer support, etc. Details here, in the first paragraph and the opinion section.   Now, almost two months later, I have my DCI number and match history back, but most of the rest of this stuff is still bugged or MIA.
Wizards also rebuilt the non-powered Cube and announced that, going forward, they would alternate between the non-powered Legacy Cube and the fully powered Holiday Cube. Randy Buehler was hired to rework the Legacy Cube, and eventually the Holiday Cube.  He did a good job: I love the Legacy cube. 
November brought us two announcement. First, Wizards confirmed that Leagues, once promised for Q4 2014, would not arrive until Q2 2015. At the same time, Wizards brought us the Bug Blog and Known Issues List. Not quite an even trade, but the bug blog is useful.
November was a bit slow on the news side, so I included a head judge report from a couple PTQs I ran. Interesting, but the most interesting thing to happen in the virtual Magic realm was that chickens played Magic in South Park.


First big December announcement: Modern Masters will return next spring. It will be called MM 2015, which might mean that we can expect a Modern Masters set every year, or at least occasionally. Maybe – all Wizards would say is that they will evaluate it. The GPs are announced: the GP in Las Vegas is capped at 10,000 players. Sounds insane, but they hit the 4,500 player cap last time. Modern Masters 2015 will be coming to MTGO, priced at $6.99. Details here.
We had an actual development related to Leagues in December: Leagues were added to the closed beta.   After many, many years of promises, for the first time actual players are getting to try Leagues. Very promising. 

Wrap Up:

It’s been a momentous year. MTGO moved to version 4. It was not a smooth transition and the client still needs more work, but this transition went far smoother than any of the previous ones. Large events had bugs, but they have got better. The draft screen works – most of the time. (I just received a refund for a crashed draft – although that crash might be partly due to my system: I’m playing on my old laptop.) The buddies list needs fixing, and trade is improved but not great. Collections and multiplayer need a lot of work – or possibly a full replacement. 
On the plus side, the coverage of the Pro Tours was amazing this year.   StarCity Games has shown Wizards what is possible. In response, Wizards has really upped its game. Their coverage is really worth watching.
In a similar vein, Randy Buehler has produced some highly watchable content this year. The Vintage Super League pushed the boundaries of streaming technology. His Standard Battle of the Century (or whatever it is called) is also worth watching. Hopefully we will see more of this sort of thing from other producers.
Finally, props to Wizards for some great design work.   The limited formats have been really good – and that includes VMA. The constructed formats have also been diverse and interesting. People panicked over Jeskai Ascendancy, and we may see Treasure Cruise banned in Legacy, but overall constructed is in a good place.  
I have to finish here. I smell pie – it’s time to eat. 
To all of you, Happy Holidays and a prosperous and successful New Year!


It was a crazy year. I by Joe Fiorini at Fri, 12/26/2014 - 18:26
Joe Fiorini's picture

It was a crazy year.

I started my current account just under a year ago, and I've looked forward to reading this article each week. It was one of the first things I read when I started playing online again.

Nice work :)

Great year! Thanks for doing by Wikki at Sat, 12/27/2014 - 16:18
Wikki's picture

Great year! Thanks for doing this week after week. Something I always look forward to each Friday.

Great Stuff. Happy New Year's by Rerepete at Sun, 12/28/2014 - 00:55
Rerepete's picture

Great Stuff.

Happy New Year's

Best Series on puremtgo.com by CalmLittleBuddy at Tue, 12/30/2014 - 10:18
CalmLittleBuddy's picture

Thanks for all the hard work you put in every week. It's so helpful to players like me!

Thanks for the Summary by Dwarven_Pony at Wed, 12/31/2014 - 12:40
Dwarven_Pony's picture

What a wonderful summary of 2014! I loved reading every word.