MTG Arena and the CCG Shakedown

Wizards recently announced they are working on a new digital client for Magic the Gathering called MTG Arena. While a lot is up in the air about a lot of the details surrounding MTG Arena, what they have shown to start looks promising – especially for anything with an “alpha” status. That being said – the devil is in the details as the saying goes – and as The Professor recently pointed out there is plenty of room for Wizards to get those details wrong.

People have been asking me for my thoughts on Arena since it spoiled so today I would like to share my thoughts about the most important thing a lot of the digital card games today mess up for me: How I can acquire cards to play.

Almost every digital card game coming out in the last couple of years has been copying the Hearthstone model verbatim. For those unfamiliar this means there is no trading. The only way you can get cards is by buying booster packs or by “crafting” the specific cards you want.

The frustrating aspect of this system for someone like myself who just wants to play competitive cards games is that you can’t actually give me a specific price on how much it costs to build a deck at any given point. The cost is going to vary based on how many of the cards I actually need, I am lucky enough to open from packs.

Not only does this make the system you have to go through to acquire the cards you want convoluted, it also often makes it expensive. While it is true that paper Magic and MTGO are also expensive to acquire cards, in reality these games only have a high up front cost. The cards in games that offer trading hold value. This means if I spend $100 on tradable cards that I know I can get at least $70 back for later, I have ultimately spent less money than if I put $50 into building a deck in a CCG. Even though it was a cheaper upfront cost for the CCG, it cost me more in the long term. So not only did I have to jump through hoops to get the cards I wanted to play with, but it ends up costing me more money as well.

Past all of this – what if I do not like the deck I’ve crafted in a CCG? What if I built it early in a new format and it is no longer viable as the metagame becomes established? Many who have played CCGs in the past know the “dusting” conversion rate is generally not kind. Often it is a 1/4th ratio – meaning that if I want to change to a different deck I either have to invest more money or lose 75% of the investment I have in the cards for my current deck.

The biggest thing I have heard over and over again from some Magic players when saying I dislike the Hearthstone system is that they dislike how MTGO handles things. There is no free to play option on MTGO so many take this to mean that no middle ground can exist. They think that trading and free to play have to be mutually exclusive things. They are not mutually exclusive though.

You can have a system that allows free to play players to grind the game for endless hours as they enjoy, while also allowing trading to exist for someone like myself. We have two working examples of how a digital card game can implement systems that involve free to play and trading in Pokemon TCGO and Hex TCG.

So please WOTC – if you are out there reading this – give us trading in Arena. Not only would this make the digital game feel more like a paper game, but it would allow more people such as myself to justify investing time and resources into it. It will show us that you are invested in giving us a full Magic experience with Arena and it is not just another digital offering that you are going to use to suck money out of consumers and then ditch down the line.

Returning to Magic Online

A little over a year ago I wrote a short post on this same blog talking about how I was taking a hiatus from streaming / playing Magic Online. Those of you who follow my Twitch.tv page know that I picked the application up again in May of this year and I have had more than a few people ask why – today I am going to answer that question.

First – while Magic Online is far from a perfect piece of software – there is no doubting that it currently offers the best competitive experience out of any digital card game. People often talk about games like Hearthstone, Eternal, and others being “competitive”, but when you look for actual events to play in you find none. Sure, they have competitive ladders where you earn in-game rewards, but a “normal” person can never pay an entry and win something that they turn into something tangible.

On Magic Online you can. In addition to playing in on-demand leagues for prizes Magic Online has five challenge events in five different constructed formats you can play every weekend. The entry fee is $25 and the prizes break down as follows:

Place Prizes
1st 500 Play Points, 100 Treasure Chests, and 1 non-foil set of the most recent Standard-legal set
2nd 500 Play Points and 75 Treasure Chests
3rd-4th 400 Play Points and 50 Treasure Chests
5th-8th 400 Play Points and 25 Treasure Chests
9th-16th 300 Play Points and 10 Treasure Chests
17th-32nd 250 Play Points

For those who are unfamiliar with MTGO prizing:

  • “Play Points” are essentially MTGO event credit. They are worth about 10 cents each, so the 250 Play Points you get for 17th-32nd represent 25 USD worth of new event entries.
  • “Treasure Chests” are tradable items that you can also open. They contain random cards, play points, and event booster packs. The average sale price of a Treasure Chest generally ranges somewhere between just over 2 USD and 2.5 USD.
  • A 1x copy of the latest set of MTGO is generally worth at least 40 USD.

For those who would like a rough estimate – low balling chests at 2 USD each of these challenge events pays out 900~ USD in items you can resell for cash to a vendor such as MTGO Traders and another 1000~ USD in prizes you can use to enter more events (even other challenge events).

As someone who has spent many weekends in the last few years driving two or more hours to play in events that paid out a 1000 USD to the top 8 only while charging a 30 USD entry fee – playing from my home, with optional pants, in an event with a lower entry fee and higher prize pool is fantastic.

Because I have managed to win two different challenge events in the last month – I am probably a little bit biased when I say this – but these events are great. They allow me to play a competitive card event from my home, without giving up my entire weekend or even entire day to do so.

This past weekend I played seven rounds of swiss, plus three more rounds in the top 8 and was done by 6pm so I could take my kids to the park. On the days where I have a less than stellar performance I am not stuck rotting in a convention center or LGS waiting for the rest of my car to be done playing so I can move on with my day. I can simply go hang out with family and friends at home or just jump in some on demand events if I want to game some more.

Now that my kids are a bit older I do not really want to travel 30+ weekends a year to play in a bunch of large Magic events like I have in years past. While I still encounter some bugs on occasion, the convenience MTGO provides while still allowing Magic to be a competitive outlet is one I am grateful for.

Modernizing the Grind, Digital is the Future

You could say I’ve played a lot of Magic the Gathering in the last few years. Just by the numbers I’ve played 1350~ sanctioned matches at competitive REL, across 102 weekends between the start of 2014 and the end of 2016. This year has been a bit different though. 2017 is a quarter over as I write this and so far I’ve played around 30 sanctioned matches of Magic this year.

So what changed this year to make me go from playing major Magic events every other weekend to barely playing at all? Well, if you have followed me for awhile you know I have been enjoying HexTCG a good deal for the last year. Their constructed formats have been consistently well designed – they have the diversity of Magic’s modern format, without ever having to worry about dying on turn 2 or 3.

Good game play and diverse formats are not enough for me as a competitive player, though. Even though I had been enjoying Hex’s constructed more than Magic for the better part of the last year, my competitive drive kept sending me back to Magic events for the chance to compete in large events.

At the end of last year though Hex started amping up their organized play by adding a $5000 cash event that happens every other month. While that total number pales in comparison to current Magic events, when you factor in the cost of travel and entries fees playing a $5000 cash event from my home is easily higher expected profit. Then this weekend Hex is rolling out the next big expansion to their competitive events I can play from home – weekly, open entry sealed events that pay out $1000 cash plus valuable in game items that are tradable.

I find it much easier to enjoy an event when I am not starting out the weekend down anywhere between $100-$500 due to travel costs. Flying across the country to 2-3 drop an event feels awful while going 2-3 drop from my home allows me to spend the rest of my day with my family or working on other things. TCGs have variance by design, so even though I have a fairly reasonable 65%~ win rate across those 1000+ matches of Magic, I can never expect a return on a given trip.

While I still plan to play local Magic events here and there (in fact, last weekend I won a team constructed event with some friends) I will not be traveling nearly as much this year with all Hex has to offer now. Personally I am excited for what the future of Hex can hold. While other digital card games have high prize events for their top 1% of players, no others that I have played offer consistent regular events that just anyone can play for cash prizes from home.

If you are a TCG player looking for something to scratch that competitive itch for you without the risk / cost associated with traveling for paper TCG events then I would highly recommend giving Hex a try. If you want to read a bit more about Hex and all the events they currently offer check out my post on Hex Primal here.

Five Things Hex does better than Magic

Ban / Watch List Transparency

Something that I would love to have in Magic is the level of transparency Hex has provided in their non-rotating format “Immortal”. Not only do they provide a reason for the things that they ban, but they let the players know which items are on a “Watch List” for potential bannings in the future. This way when new players are looking to invest in a non-rotating deck they have the knowledge up front if they should be worried about their purchase being banned in the near future.

Better Opening Hands

Hex leverages the fact that it is a digital game to allow everyone to mulligan less. Using a probability distribution Hex takes all of the possible opening hands a given deck can produce and eliminates the 10% most resource light hands and 5% most resource dense hands from being possibilities.

This means a large portion of your hands that would be automatic mulligans simply do not exist. Everyone mulligans less and more actual games are played.

 

Flooding Out Hurts Less

In Hex each player selects a champion when building their deck. Each champion has a power that you can activate after collecting enough “charges”. Each resource you play in Hex provides one of these charges in addition to providing a normal resource / color identity. These powers do everything from drawing cards to impacting the board directly:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Digital Design Space

Because Hex is a digital only card game it is not bound to using game mechanics that are easy to implement in paper / are necessary to ensure people are not cheating. Both of these cards would be difficult to resolve “honestly” in a competitive paper card game:


 

 

 

 

 

Because the computer is tracking things instead of people, cards that get modified can be tracked across zones in Hex. Cards you take control of from your opponent’s board can be put into your discard pile or even shuffled back into your deck. Cards that would create tokens in Magic create actual cards instead. These created cards can be discarded or returned to your hand – instead of just ceasing to exist like a token.


Software

When you hear Magic compared to other digital card games you often hear the defense “Magic is more complicated than other games” for why MTGO is poor software. Hex is easily as complex as Magic is in terms of game play, and while Hex is not perfect, it looks and feels like a modern piece of software.

In addition to having a free to play ladder with competitive match making based on MMR, Hex has regular events that pay out cash prizes that you play from home.

If you want to learn more about how Hex works and the events they have you can check out my intro piece here. If you want to start playing Hex yourself for free you can go download it on Steam now.

Bad Modern Bracket Showdown

For my live paper Magic streams for the last two weeks of the year we are going to be trying out something a bit different. We are going to take 16 “tier 4” modern decks, throw them in a bracket, and then battle them out on camera to see which unknown deck comes out on top.

We are going to make this a bit interactive though! Once we know which 16 decks are being played, we are going to publish a bracket. People can then submit their own copies of the bracket predicting which decks will win where. At the end of the 2 nights of streaming, we will select the correct (and possibly most correct) brackets to send some Magic related goodies to.

So what is the point of this post you ask? Well – we need your help selecting which 16 deck are going to do battle! Please vote in this poll for the decks you would most like to see. Whichever 16 decks have the most votes come Monday December 12th will be slotted into the bracket.

Streaming Schedule and Content Updates

Just wanted to write a short post with my updated streaming schedule:

  • Monday       12pm-3pm CST – HexTCG
  • Monday       7pm-11pm CST – Paper Magic
  • Tuesday       12pm-3pm CST – HexTCG
  • Wednesday 12pm-3pm CST – Eternal
  • Thursday     12pm-3pm CST – HexTCG

Previous I was doing Tuesday / Thursday 12pm-4pm, so while this is less time on those specific days it is more stream time overall. I am also adding at least one day a week of Eternal Card Game which I have been enjoying playing both on my laptop and smart phone since it went into open beta.

Keep in mind these are minimum streaming goals, so there will still be impromptu streams as time allows. Be sure to follow me on Twitch / Twitter for notifications when extra streams happen.
As always if you ever miss a stream, you will be able to find the archives on my YouTube channel. I am also occasionally putting out non-archived content on my YouTube channel as well such as deck building tutorials and play testing sessions.

While I am taking this week and next week off of paper Magic content for the sake of secrecy before the Player’s Championship, I am recording a good deal of my play testing for the event. I will have both paper magic and Cockactrice videos posted for standard / modern prep after day one of the PC is over on December 17th.

You can help support my content with a donation, a subscription on twitch, or by checking out my sponsors.

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Thoughts on SCG Tour 2017

Late last month SCG President Pete Hoefling outlined changes to the SCG Tour for 2017. As someone who has played in a lot of SCG events over the last few years, I have had a number of people ask me what I think of these changes. After having some time to stew on them I wanted to share my thoughts in a short post.

I would like to start by highlighting the things I think make sense about these changes:

Classics are the same format as the Open and there is always Modern

Having a classic that is the same format as the main event just makes sense. It allows people who only play a particular format to bring a single deck with for the weekend and know they can play a full two days of Magic with that deck regardless of their main event performance.

Still, having a second choice is fine. Making that choice Modern makes sense as, according to the latest data, modern classics are typically the largest.

 

IQ’s have relevance, but not too much

In 2015, the leader board had a pile of people towards the top who got there without playing in major events. In 2016, IQs did not give you anything at all towards the leader board.

The 2017 changes are a nice balance of the two. The smallest IQ option is now a 1k, so they will (likely) not be run on week nights. This removes people in particular geographic locations to farming them for points. They also only award 3 SCG points to first which is less than you get for top 64 at an open – this seems like a fair amount to me.

 

More East Coast and Less Midwest Events

While this one is not great for myself personally – I understand that it has to be more cost effective for SCG to host events closer to them. Only three midwest opens in the first half of 2017 though will leave room for others to hopefully fill the gap like with the Nerd Rage Championship Series.

 

There are two changes I do not understand fully / care for though:

All the 2016 Points just Vanish

Hopefully I am going to spike the last invitational of this year or win the player’s championship so this will not effect me directly – but one thing that does not feel good as a grinder is that all of our 2016 points are getting wiped away at the end of the year. When the points got reset after 2015 it almost felt like it made sense – clearing out points people had farmed from IQs seemed reasonable.

I was not able to find where I read it, but I thought when they announced the 2016 season they said people would fall off one season at a time moving forward as opposed to a hard reset like this. Having your top players suddenly become unranked at the end of the year if they do not spike one of the first two events feels bad and does not make a ton of sense to me.

 

No 2017 POTY or Player’s Championship

It feels odd for the first time in three years that there is no “end goal” for playing a ton of SCG events aside from getting some free Magic cards. As someone who does not need more cardboard in my life – there really is just no incentive to play a bunch of SCG events.

Myself and a number of others flew / drove long distances to get to a lot of opens this year. People formed teams with the goal of competing in all the events with the goal of putting people into a special year end event.

Without a Player’s Championship in 2017 I will not be surprised when we see all of this dissolve or see these teams redirect their focus onto WOTC events. I know I have taken a look at the Grand Prix schedule for the first time in a long time.

Even if I am player of the year for 2016, I do not see myself going to almost every open in 2017 like I did this year and years previous. I will likely just show up to play some modern and skip the rest.

 

Wrapping Up

I would like to close this: I am glad the SCG events exist and will continue into 2017, even if all the changes do not make sense to me personally. Whenever I see people post comments on changes SCG makes, it feels like many think SCG is a charity organization and not a for profit business. They do not owe anything to us as players.

Magic the Savaging

Talking about the recent Kentroversy got me thinking about all the various times I watched someone “get got” at a competitive REL event because their opponent was clever / scummy / whatever you want to call it. Where would you rate each of the following on a scale of 1 to Kent in Peace?

 

The Pillar Punk Fake


Player A is dead on board regardless of how he blocks the following turn. If Player A attacks with everything, Player B will go to two life with optimal blocks. Player A attacks with everything, Player B makes optimal blocks and goes to two life. Player A verbally confirms life totals. After Player B confirms he is at two life, Player A reveals his hand and says “I have a Pillar of Flame”. Player B concedes.

Player A couldn’t produce red mana.

 

A less than Surgical Extraction

Player A casts Surgical Extraction targeting Life from the Loam in Player B’s graveyard. Player B reveals his hand and gives his deck to his opponent to search. Player A finishes resolving his Surgical Extraction and hands Player B his deck back to shuffle. After the deck is cut Player B confirms Player A is done resolving his Surgical Extraction. Player A passes the turn.

Player B starts his turn and dredges the Life from the Loam still in his graveyard that had been targeted by surgical, but not removed.

 

A Seven Mana Titan

Player A casts a Primeval Titan tapping a pile of lands all at once, leaving only two lands untapped. Player B casts Mana Leak targeting Primeval Titan. Player A counts out his lands, sees he has tapped one land too many and uses his two untapped lands to pay for the Mana Leak.

 

Force of Fake Out

Player A is playing Legacy Storm and is dead on board. He shrugs his shoulders and goes for a combo kill. Player A casts Infernal Tutor, cracks his Lion’s Eye Diamond, and asks “Do you have the Force of Will?” Player B immediately flips over one of the two cards in his hand which is Force of Will. Player A concedes.

Player B did not have a blue card to go along with the Force.

 

Not so humble Thalia

Player A has a Thalia, Guardian of Thraben in play. Player B casts Show and Tell and Player A flips over a copy of Humility. Player B continues to pay 1 extra mana for his spells, so player A does the same. On a pivotal turn Player A needs all of his mana, so he does not pay extra mana for his spell.

Player B taps the Thalia, Player A taps the Humility.

 

Underworld Disconnections 

Player A picks up and reads his opponent’s Underworld Connections. Player A casts Pithing Needle and names Underworld Connections. Player B confirms he is naming Underworld Connections. Player A agrees.

Player B then activates his Swamp to draw a card and lose one life.

 

Angry Elementals

Player A has two Voice of Resurgence Elemental tokens that he attacks with. Player B examines the board and asks: “The voice tokens are 4/4s?” Player A responds with “They have power and toughness equal to the number of creatures I control”. Player B looks over the board again and declares no blocks. Player A confirms they are moving to damage and Player B agrees.

Player B was at 9 life and the tokens were 5/5s.

 

More Pithing Problems

Player A casts Pithing Needle and names “Borborygmos”. Player B confirms what he is naming and writes it down. Player B puts a Borborygmos Enraged into play and kills Player A with it’s activated ability.

 

Clique Myself

Player A casts Vendilion Clique. Player B immediately throws their hand on the table. Player A glances it over and says: “Clique trigger targeting myself”

 

Wrapping Up

An important thing to note is that situations 3 and 5 are against the current rules because you are required to announce floating mana. This means if you do either of these intentionally you are cheating.

Do you know of any interesting “gotcha” stories? Let me know in a comment below.