The Sad State of MTGO

I recently moved most of my written content to my Patreon in the hopes of maybe making full-time content creation a reality, but it feels like it’s probably time to write a bit of an open letter talking about some of the issues with Legacy, Vintage, and Magic Online more generally right now.

I write this as someone who is DEEPLY entrenched in Magic and cares about these formats greatly, not as someone looking to rant and complain. For those of you who don’t know me, my name is Phil Gallagher. I create daily gameplay videos for Youtube under the handle ThrabenU, I am one of the cohosts of The Eternal Glory Podcast, and I’ve been involved in a number of major projects such as The Legacy Premier League.

Let’s start with Vintage. Vintage has a pretty big “win trading” problem right now. For those of you unfamiliar with the concept, someone creates multiple fake accounts and intentionally only accepts matches from their alternative accounts. The goal is to quickly generate 5-0 finishes, farming for treasure chests. In the process, they repeatedly deny matches to actual players, causing them to become discouraged and less likely to continue trying to queue. This seems a little scummy at a glance, but this is potentially format-killing. I don’t say this hyperbolically either. Vintage queues are normally long. It’s not uncommon to have 5-10 minutes queue times. If you wait 5 minutes to queue, get matched against a win trader, and then they do not accept your match, you are returned to the queue to wait again. How many times is the average player going to accept this before they just stop playing the format? If this was an occasional thing, it’s not a big deal. This is not the case.

Justin Gennari (aka IamActuallyLvL1) has been trying to get the word out about this issue for quite some time. In this Tweet, he claims the format has become unplayable between 2:00 AM and 10:00 AM Eastern due to the prevalence of win trading during that time. Online card vendor Goatboats can confirm the creation of 6 win trading accounts with identical, somewhat nonsensical decklists. Here’s a Tweet from Andrea Mengucci expressing his frustration with the prevalence of win trading. If you check out replies to these Tweets, you’ll see content creators and players dropping the format on MTGO due to this problem. Word on the street is that Vintage is unplayable on MTGO; this is going to make things easier for the win traders and harder for real players to get actual matches. Vintage is prohibitively expensive to play in paper for most players. This isn’t an article on “The Reserved List,” so we won’t go there today… MTGO is the home for Vintage for most people given that fact. If these problems persist and Vintage “dies” on MTGO, that doesn’t bode well for a format that already has a tiny playerbase.

Let’s move on to supplemental product releases on MTGO. I’ll be referencing this article from yesterday talking about the release of Commander Legends: Battle for Balder’s Gate. Since the cards in these products are legal in Legacy and Vintage, it is extremely important that these cards are available on MTGO. Online Magic and paper Magic will never truly be the same (e.g. combo decks that involve a huge amount of clicking are very tedious to play online since you cannot demonstrate a loop and easily repeat it; hence players shy away from these decks online). That said, if online Legacy and paper Legacy are playing with different card pools, then there is no longer a single Legacy format- there are two. Unfortunately, most of the time, the release of cards to MTGO is often delayed, and sometimes the cards never make it online. Mind Bomb (originally released in The Dark and reprinted multiple times), for example, never made it to MTGO.

When the cards do make it to MTGO, it is frequently in the form of treasure chest only cards. I’m not going to give a whole lesson on supply and demand here, but let’s just say that this historically has been a disaster. Here’s the price graph for Kappa Cannoneer, a card released only via treasure chests from the NEO Commander set. Kappa Cannoneer was in a tier 1 Legacy deck. Its price was north of 100 tix for about two months, players who wanted the card physically couldn’t find it to play in competitive events, and Legacy on MTGO was dubbed “pay to win” for a prolonged period of time. After two months of this issue, its drop rate in chests was greatly increased; this solved the availability issue, but was definitely a “feel bad” situation for those who bought in at 100 tix now that Kappa Cannoneer is only worth 5 tix.

Again, if this was an issue that just happened from time to time, it would be bearable. As many have noticed, uh, there are frequent releases of product to say the least. There’s been a good deal of discussion regarding Sailors’ Bane. If that card ends up being good in Legacy, will we end up with a $100 uncommon? If that card is good in Legacy but isn’t available on MTGO… see the issues here? This release model isn’t working. Also, let me tell you, as a content creator getting a donation to play a deck with a sick new card and then having to tell the donor, “Sorry, that card isn’t on MTGO. I can’t do that.” is one of the worst feelings ever. I have had to do this many times, unfortunately.

The next thing I want to touch on today is the banned list in Legacy specifically, and I think it’s appropriate to just quote the January 25th banned announcement from when Ragavan was banned (emphasis mine):

“We’ll be keeping an eye on how the Legacy format continues to evolve in the coming weeks and are willing to make further adjustments soon, if needed. However, we feel this is a large change and would like to see how the metagame adapts before considering if other changes are necessary.”

UR Delver was a dominant force in the Legacy metagame prior to Ragavan’s ban and has continued to be after its ban. If you’re interested in some hard numbers over time, feel free to check out Joseph Dyer’s work on the Legacy Data Collection project or his weekly articles. More generally, Delver has been the premier strategy in Legacy for the vast majority of the time I’ve been playing Legacy. Many players feel like the format is stale, solved, or just not particularly enjoyable. In addition, Delver will just absorb the best printed cards as new sets come out, as it has done with Murktide Regent, Expressive Iteration, and Ragavan recently or cards like Deathrite Shaman and Wren and Six further in the past. This means that the problem is not going to solve itself. It’s been four months since we were told we would get more bans “if needed.” At this point I’m just left in the metaphorical ban waiting room….again. Seeing as I’ve done multiple podcast episodes about bans and UR Delver at this point, I think I’ll just leave it at that.

More generally beyond just this situation, ban list management with Legacy has been glacially slow. The decisions that are made are ultimately pretty good, but players usually have to take actions into their own hands to get anything done for Legacy. The famous “ban Top” sign is probably the best known example of that, but more generally folks like Anuraag Das or myself usually have to start throwing metaphorical elbows to get the ball rolling. So many players quit Legacy during the “Oko era” of Magic, and I really don’t want this UR Delver era to result in another wave of losses.

All of these things are rough, but perhaps worst of all is the mass collection theft that is happening on MTGO. Here’s a series of Tweets from Cardhoarder details what’s going on. I wish I could say these were the only instances of this happening, but it’s not. Two factor authentication seems like a really good idea for a platform where users have hundreds or thousands of dollars worth of digital assets. If you are currently not using a unique password for MTGO, I highly recommend that you do so.

It’s hard for me to hype up Magic right now. I say that as someone who rejected a summer job offer to work on Magic content full time. My Twitter timeline is full reports of win trading, folks losing their account, or just general malaise associated with Legacy or oversaturation of product. It’s hard to be excited about a new set when it won’t even be fully available online. I write this article in the hopes that Daybreak Games can address some of these issues as they take control of MTGO or perhaps that some of the folks at WotC can get the ball rolling themselves on some of this. Because let me tell you, every time I see a press release about WotC raking in record profits alongside issues like the ones I’m describing here, it just leaves me a little disappointed. I love this game. I want to share my love of this game with thousands of people every day. It’s just been a little harder to do that lately.

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Phil Gallagher

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