By: hamtastic, Erik Friborg
Nov 10 2009 10:31am
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Newer players may not know the name Lee Sharpe, however, older players will recognize his name immediately as a former 'beeber' from the WotC message boards and the /join bbs room.  He was a judge, a rules guru, and much more and was hired on by WotC to work on the rules engine a little over two years ago.  It was awesome to have a chance to interview Lee and I thank him very much for his time and all his efforts on MTGO.  Lee was able to hang out with the players a lot during the week and he was extremely cool throughout all the events. 

Erik Friborg: You were previously a Rules Engine programmed and now a data spelunker, what does that entail?
Lee Sharpe: I do all sorts of data analysis MOCS, MOPR,  Really great data driven information as well as other things to help us figure out how things are going.  What tournaments are firing what's being played.

EF: How long have you been playing?
LS: Revised to Ice Age, due to lifestyle changes, picked up in college when Invasion came out.

EF: Just MTGO, or even paper magic, etc?
LS: Somewhat yes, but mostly just Magic Online.

EF: Is that because of more data online?
LS: There actually is a lot of paper data.  I can't get into specifics of course, but there is lots of data about Paper Magic.  But online there's a lot more stuff out there for formats we can't track in paper.

EF: Like what's winning in certain in the casual decks room:
LS: Yeah we can't tell what people are playing at their casual games or at the kitchen but we can see all of this in the MTGO Casual room.  It's really our only real view into the Casual Player's world.  You'll see Aaron Forsythe and Ken Nagle talk about them.  Like decks with Hoof Skulkin win 11% of the games.

EF: How did you wind up doing this data analysis from where you were?
LS: We got to a point where the rules team didn't really need me as we've really stabilized the code.  Then I basically started running these types of reports and people didn't hate them and I began to transition into the new job.

EF: Speaking of the game Server, after Future Sight things have been pretty stable.
LS: My very first day was the day the External Beta started for Future Sight, that was my very first day.  I had to quickly get up to speed while dealing with Future Sight.  Ever since then people have been very worried about card interactions.  Even through Lorwyn, people were worried about card releases, but ever since FS things have been much better.  The team there has been doing a really great job lately.

EF: Beta has gotten pretty boring since then, actually.
LS: Yeah, Alexis and company is doing a great job.  And it's the only time I can draft!  I love the beta-beta-beta drafts.. they're insane.

EF: Popular Play formats?
LS: One of the big things, 100 Card Singleton, for example, was only created for Commander but people were playing 100CS in the casual format.  And if you look at what we've been doing for the specialty formats, some of the most popular were Pauper and 100 Card Singleton... and those have been doing pretty well.  We wouldn't have promoted that format if there weren't people playing that format.  Those decisions are being based on hard numbers from real play data.

EF: What's a typical day?:
LS: Some of it is initiative taking, some of it is finding new ways to use our data to improve what we're doing, some of it is just known reports that are great and we use all the time.  Like on www.mtgonline.com's new tournament data.  This is updated much faster than in the past, but the Weekly Decklists will still be there.  I work closely with Mike, Worth and Chris a lot about MTGO, and help out where ever I can.

EF: More frequent data updates, MOPRs?
LS: As has been said on the forums, we'd love to get it to the point where you can just right click your name and see your stuff.  But that's going to take development work, like many other features we'd love to offer, which takes a while and has to go through prioritization.

EF: The newsletter, how's that going?
LS: People are posting in the forums "why am I not getting the newsletter?" instead of "stop spamming me!", which is pretty amazing as they usually post to get us doing less stuff.  I think it's been really well received.

EF: Current projects:
LS: I've been spending a lot of time getting this decklist for the new www.mtgonline.com site's breakdown, and I've been working on that for a long time.  If I don't get deck lists out I hear about out it really fast.

EF: What value do you see for the decklists:
LS: Even if you're an anti-netdeck player - it's good to know what's out there.  For the new player it allows an easy way to see what's doing well and gives them context for the format they're interested in.

EF: Do you get to do much drafting for fun at WotC?
LS: Mostly just future sets, but usually just help with rules and card templating.  I try to keep in touch with R&D.  I hope I never have to stop talking about templating.  I'd be really sad if I had to stop doing that.

EF: You've been here a little over two years, what do you miss:
LS: Tournaments and the judge community, Lots of friends from the Midwest, around St. Louis, Chicago and Indianapolis.  The judge community is a great community and miss that a lot.
I'm always looking for other ways to release small pieces of data, like the top 10 most traded cards.  One way I've done that is through the newsletter.  Recently I ran a report find the card that if it's in the deck, would lead to the fastest win.

EF: Does the structure of the database hinder your queries?
LS: Not really, it's not that difficult.  I think that I'm able to get all the data that I need.

EF: Details like mulligans->winning percentage, or the impacts of play first?:
LS: I would not expect to see any game decisions based details any time soon.  Mostly just card choices, but not in game decision data.  A lot of the fun of the game is in figuring out the best decisions for the format you're in.  The data is much more likely to be card related, like what's in a deck, or what's being traded.  But any actual in game 'decisions' are highly unlikely.
Fun fact: I looked at Classic Tournaments.  The fastest card, if it's in the deck, that would lead to the fastest win in minutes: the top card is Gemstone Caverns, which is right along with Protean Hulk and Flash of course.  The slowest card is Fact or Fiction because it takes long time to build the piles, and it goes into slow decks.

EF: So no Shaharazad online?
LS: I would not expect to see it on MTGO anytime soon, since it's banned in Vintage.
But you did Chains of Mephistopheles?
Ugh.  That card is a nightmare to code, I've been one of the many people who have worked on that card.  It just gets crazy there's a lot of nested draw checking with multiples in play.  But it's totally worth the efforts as it's a beloved old card with very powerful effects.

EF: It must be difficult to know what you know and not let things slip:
LS: Oh yeah, for example, with the M10 rules changes it was hard to not say anything with the wrong terms.  Like saying 'battlefield' or 'exiled' when talking about a card publicly.  I would have one head of "battlefield", "cast", "Exiled" and publicly say "in play", "play", "RFG".  Especially as it was being tested for a long time internally we had to keep a lot of terms straight between the two rule sets.


Thanks again, LeeSharpe2k!

7 Comments

It was great to see and chat by LeeSharpe (not verified) at Tue, 11/10/2009 - 16:06
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It was great to see and chat with you, Hamtastic!

And thank you again Lee for by hamtastic at Tue, 11/10/2009 - 19:17
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And thank you again Lee for the interview. Probably a good thing I interviewed you before the matches... :p

Nice interview. Were you by Empty_One (not verified) at Wed, 11/11/2009 - 09:00
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Nice interview. Were you able to ask anyone about adding more Pauper formats?

Is Lee responsible at all for by Amar at Wed, 11/11/2009 - 09:37
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Is Lee responsible at all for getting the standings posted with the Decks of the Week lists? That's a nice touch, I've heard numerous people appreciating it.

I was able to get this by SpikeBoyM at Wed, 11/11/2009 - 10:25
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I was able to get this information from members of Wizards. The short story is that there are no plans ton institute other Pauper formats, like Standard, in the near future.

-Alex

Both myself and Alex asked by hamtastic at Wed, 11/11/2009 - 15:17
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Both myself and Alex asked Mike Gills about alternate formats for Pauper (like Standard).

Alex will probably write more about it, but essentially the answer is "no", There are a few reasons, but the largest is that the format is so small and shallow that it would be solved too fast to be viable in the long term. Think KScope, but faster, and less balanced.

And this is next part is just a guess; but I imagine that many things have to get approved, and to do that, it has to make sense and have a purpose in a business sense. Looking at std pauper, it's hard to come up with business explanations that really make sense. But like I said, that's just a guess...

We didn't ask about extended though. ;(

Yes, the standings are from by hamtastic at Wed, 11/11/2009 - 15:19
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Yes, the standings are from Lee's work! Very awesome!