Why You Should Not Play MTGO’s Draft Leagues

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You’ve probably seen the latest big news in MTGO’s limited offerings, but in case you haven’t, here’s a link! As tends to happen when WotC makes big announcements, there was a lot of commentary on this decision. To sum it up, on September 7th, both the pack-per-win and 6222 Swiss draft queues will be removed. They will then turn into a pack-per-win and 6222 draft league. Those leagues are drafted simultaneously within a single pod, but the games are then played asynchronously across a pool of players that includes everyone in the league. Some people love this new step, and a lot of pro players seemed to come down on the side of this change, but other people (myself included) were very upset at the removal of Swiss draft queues that maintain the integrity of a single draft pod. As this argument was taking place on Twitter, it became obvious very quickly that this was not the kind of disagreement that translated well into a 140-character medium. The discussion also blew up on Reddit, but again, the up/down vote medium makes it difficult to pull out the most important points of this discussion. Some people asked for me to address my specific concerns regarding cross-pods, or when you play people that drafted with a different set of 8 drafters than you did, but I knew that Twitter would suck for the conversation, so I kind of blew them off, and planned to write a more detailed explanation. It’s a nuanced conversation, and I’m going to try to address as much as I can, while also detailing arguments from both sides.

I’m not going to tell you to delete your MTGO account. I am going to ask you to join in a solidarity movement to not draft MTGO leagues for the week of September 7-September 14th. People that know me also know that I tend to have very favorable opinions of the folks over at WotC. I believe that they are people who work honestly to address the concerns of as many people as possible, but their job is difficult, and they often don’t get enough resources or support to meet the needs of the MTGO community. I do disagree with them strongly on this issue, and I think they’re giving in to incentives that are pushing them in a direction that is harmful for the MTGO community at-large, but many of them are my friends, and I truly believe that we can express the strongest cases for our arguments. For the WotC folks that are reading this, thank you, and all I really ask is that you take another look at this.

I’m going to break this up into three sections. First, I want to talk about draft leagues themselves. Second, I’m going to talk about cross-pod pairings. Third, I’m going to talk where we go from here. In that last section, I’m going to make the argument that WotC should compromise by leaving the option for one in-pod Swiss queue. If that compromise cannot be reached, then I’m going to ask readers to deliberately refrain from joining MTGO draft leagues for the first week that they are online in a demonstration of solidarity with those that are negatively affected by these changes. I am perfectly aware that there isn’t enough purchasing power behind this to cause more than a blip on MTGO’s revenue during that week, but the hope is that this will raise awareness for what I believe is an inequitable and disingenuous move from WotC. Again, I have many friends at the company, and I want to make it clear that I understand that you have different perspectives and incentives; I’m not trying to say that you personally are in the wrong, but that the system in which you are a part is flawed in a way that is causing serious problems for an important part of your player base. I hate to have to speak so frankly to people that I consider friends, but I also believe that standing up to your friends is the most important thing you can do when you see something that is wrong.

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Draft Leagues

The basic idea here is that you draft your decks in a simultaneous pod, just like any other draft, and then you compete asynchronously against people from a pool of many players. I want to make it absolutely clear that I think this is an awesome and tremendous step forward in MTGO’s play offerings. This is a great step for many players who find it hard to set aside a full three hours for a draft. I’m 100% in support of developing and implementing these draft leagues, because I think that they will be a boon for the community. As I engaged in this conversation, many people jumped in to tell me that I was insane for not liking draft leagues. That is what we call a Straw Man argument; when you set up a weak but imaginary argument from your opponent, and then congratulate yourself when you defeat that argument. As far as I know, no reasonable person is suggesting that draft leagues are bad, or that they shouldn’t be implemented.

There are two main things that I love about these draft leagues; the first is that you are able to break apart your draft into different sections. You can play one round now, and one round next week. For myself, I could play a round before dinner, and then I could come back and finish a round after dinner. Magic players are getting older and taking on more personal responsibilities, and this is the kind of change that respects and values that change in MTGO’s demographic base. For myself, I have a family, two kids, and a career, and being able to break up my drafts into smaller chunks is a big deal. Secondly, having draft leagues decreases the amount of wasted time in between draft rounds. This was a major inefficiency, and there just wasn’t a good way to fill in those blocks of time. It often leads to double-queuing, which is bad for the community as a whole when it is widespread among players that aren’t as talented as they assume. It’s also a good change for WotC because they can have more drafts fire, which brings in more money, which makes the game more successful, and ends up benefiting people who play Magic.

Draft leagues don’t come without their problems. One is that they can only exist without cross-pod pairings, which I’m going to address later. A second is that they require a high density of players to form the pool from which to draw matches. A normal draft queue only needs 8 people to work, but a sealed league is going to need at least hundreds, but probably more than 1000 people to be successful. Of note, by replacing two draft queues, I anticipate that the turnout for these leagues will be very high, but it’s worth keeping in mind that those numbers will be artificially inflated due to the lack of competing queues. A third significant problem is that these queues are punished harder for people dropping; if people join a draft, lose their first round, and then decide they just don’t like their deck and drop, it pushes the format to have a higher density of higher power level decks clustered at the x-1 slots, which makes the game much less enjoyable for people that are unwilling to give up and will fight through to go 2-1 after a round 1 loss. Some people may argue that this difference is negligible, but I suspect that they haven’t played enough sealed leagues to see this effect over and over again. We can already observe this happening in the sealed leagues we currently play, and that problem will only become exacerbated with these queues.

But, even with these problems, draft leagues are a significant good, and I can only applaud the MTGO team for developing and implementing them. Making Magic available for more people is a good thing, and I’m glad that the team didn’t just sit back on what was already the most successful part of the MTGO formula. When it comes down to it, MTGO is a draft machine more than anything else, so it would have been so easy to just let that part be and take no risks to disrupt that important but sensitive part of the system. The rest of this is going to be more critical of the team’s decisions, but I do want to make sure that my honest and positive feedback doesn’t get lost.

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Cross-Pod Drafting

One important thing to understand about cross-pod drafting is that it is not an unknown quantity. Many stores have weekly cross-pod drafts, including my own local game store. (Shout out to Action Comics in Las Vegas, which is an amazing store and one of my homes away from home). At my store, we run four round drafts. A lot of stores are forced to run cross-pod drafts by necessity; it allows them to run one event in Wizard Event Reporter, and allows them to open up the event to many more players. Cross-pod drafts definitely have their proponents; some people really enjoy those drafts, and don’t have any major problems with them. However, many players also have strong aversions to cross-pod drafts. I’ll outline some of those, but this is not some kind of small scale aversion; there are many people that will just not draft at stores that have cross-pod events. For myself, I have driven 30 minutes out of my way, paid extra, and gotten less prize support just so that I can avoid cross-pod drafting. I’m far from the only person that does this. Just as an anecdote, I often see players from my own LGS making the same trips to do drafts that aren’t cross-pod. Our LGS specifically holds drafts on other days in the week so that there is an in-pod draft option. On top of that, Grand Prix and Pro Tours go through tremendous hoops and remarkable inefficiencies to maintain the integrity of in-pod drafts even on that high of a level. Everyone is going to have a different reaction to these kind of events; some people don’t mind the downsides and are just glad to play Magic. Others find the experience to be too frustrating and off-putting to even go to those kinds of events. I find myself much more on the frustrated end of the spectrum, and it meaningfully impacts my ability to enjoy the event.

I said I’d get into some of the specific problems. I’ll note that I’m drawing from some comments on both the LRCast Subreddit and the MagicTCG subreddit because there has been a lot of discussion on the topic, and a lot of great points, and I don’t want to claim that these thoughts and opinions have sprung fully formed from my head. Instead, they stem from conversations with a lot of different people about their experiences with cross-pod drafts. My goal is to outline those problems. You may think that they just aren’t that big of a deal, and I’m not going to convince you that you should feel that they are deal-breakers, but I merely intend to highlight the problems that people see with the event.

The first and most important problem with cross-pod pairing is that they do not maintain the integrity and natural internal balance of a closed system draft pod. It is clear that packs of Magic cards can have wildly different power levels. This is true not only at the rare level, but also at the common level. It’s a very typical experience to be in a draft where the packs were weak, and it’s also typical to be in a draft where the packs were strong. You would expect this to fall along a normal distribution, with a fat middle where most packs fall, but there’s going to be some percentage of drafts that end up on either end of the distribution. When these packs are in a closed system, it does a lot of work to mitigate the effects of this natural unbalance, since everyone is going to have to make choices relative to their pool of cards. This is something that happens naturally and subconsciously; I’ve seen several people argue that you shouldn’t be actively trying to figure out all of this stuff in a draft, but the problem is that your brain is taking in the information about your packs and helping inform your decisions relative to pack strength, regardless of whether you thought of this consciously or not.

What tends to happen at an LGS level cross pod is that you’ll have both pods usually be of roughly equal power level, though there’s enough variance in Magic packs that you’ll expect the strength of the packs to fluctuate within a standard deviation most of the time. However, sometimes one or both pods will end up in the tails of the distribution, and one pod is just going to have a noticeable and meaningful advantage over the other pod. This doesn’t make it a sure thing that Pod Strong will beat Pod Weak, but it does have an effect. One factor that helps mitigate this at the store level is that you are only pairing across 2 to 4 pods (most of the time), and the average player quality at the store level tends to be lower. Many players will be unable to meaningfully leverage the differences in quality, and this means that the kind of typically strong drafter that populates MTG social media will be less likely to encounter meaningfully negative experiences in this environment, and so they’ll continue blissfully unaware of the disparity, and the negative emotional experience is also going to be mitigated by positive social pressure from drafting in person. As soon as you extrapolate this out into hundreds of pods with a higher average player quality, the problem becomes exacerbated. Now you’re more likely to have pods coming from both tails in the pool, the players are going to have a higher average skill level, and therefore be better able to leverage this into stronger decks.

In addition to variance in deck strength, there is also variance of the types of drafters in any given pod. The quality of the players in your pool has perhaps an even stronger effect on your overall deck strength than most other factors. If you end up in a pool with a handful of inexperienced drafters that don’t cooperate well with their neighbors or that don’t understand the nuances of the format, then your deck will be weaker compared to the overall pool of decks drafted, but it will also be meaningfully stronger than the decks of players around you. If you end up in a pool with players that just don’t understand the value of cards, you’ll end up with a deck that is significantly stronger than the average pool of decks, because you got passed five [insert best common here]. If you end up in a pool with a lot of strong and cooperative players, then the average deck quality coming out of your pool is going to be very strong relative to the pool of drafters. At the store level, the variance of player skill is going to tend to be more right-skewed; there will be more FNM level players than there are PT regulars. These players are less likely to have the necessary drafting skills to leverage cooperation and signaling into strong decks, and so every pod is going to be messed up to something close to the same degree. Online, the talent pool tends to be more left-skewed, especially in draft queues. This is a natural consequence of having the major factor limiting your number of drafts be your ability to pay for more drafts. For example, I’ll draft hundreds of time in a given year on MTGO, but players that have worse bankroll management are only going to be able to draft maybe once a month. Players at the positive end of the talent pool can do more drafts, and so you end up with a naturally left-skewed talent pool. This means that you are more likely to end up with players who cooperate and read signals relatively well, and with deck strength, the mode will end up higher than the median. The problem here is that when you end up with a handful of players in the long tail to the left, it’s going to have a more meaningful negative impact on your draft deck. The signals will be hard to read, you’ll end up fighting with other drafts, and you’ll have five green decks in the same pool. When pairings are seeded across pods, it’ll be perfectly common to have decks from the strong end paired against the weak end.

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I’ve seen basically no arguments from reasonable people about the existence of this natural variance; instead, the argument tends to be that 1. while the variances exist, their impact on the draft is over-exaggerated, and 2. that the overall EV effect of this variance is not negative, and therefore it will balance itself out over time. Regarding the first point, it’s important to remember that Magic drafts are dynamic systems that are vulnerable to small changes. Each choice that a player makes affects the choices of every other player at the table. Claiming that the overall effect is negligibly small is especially poor form considering that you are merely reporting your small sample of experiences with something that is more complex and varied than the human brain is equipped to easily understand. Lots of people that end up drafting in cross-pod environments report negative experiences, and it seems lame to just erase that because you haven’t personally seen those. Furthermore, if you’re the kind of player that is better able to take advantage of the field, you’re going to see those problems less often in an in-store cross-pod than an online cross-pod. It’s the kind of problem that many players are simply not in a position to recognize. But most importantly, it’s not that critics are saying that these factors have a tremendous impact, they’re saying that they have a recognizable and meaningful impact. Regarding the second point, the issue that players have with cross-pod drafts is not regarding the EV effect on their bottom line. I expect my win rate to have basically no variation between these different events. The problem is that a strong negative emotional experience makes me unwilling to draft that often.

Imagine if you will a movie theater with fifteen seats. This theater has instituted a policy that makes it easier for you get in and get to your seats, and it has made the seats a little bit more comfortable. On top of that, one random person in each showing gets free popcorn. Unfortunately, to offset this, one random person will also be placed behind a giant garbage can where they cannot watch the film. The argument seems to be that the overall EV impact on people’s wallets will be fine, so it’s nothing to complain about. But if I’m popcorn guy, I’m going to hate the experience in ways that the monetary cost doesn’t accurately capture. Perhaps even more importantly, if I’m popcorn guy, I’m also going to hate the experience, because I realize that the price of my popcorn was someone else having a miserable trash can experience. Obviously this metaphor isn’t perfect, but it describes the feelings that many people have about cross-pod play. If you end up with bad variance, it sucks because you end up in games where you feel frustrated and powerless because of circumstances beyond your control. But if you end up with the good variance, it also sucks because you feel like your experience was cheapened by factors beyond your control.

A third clear difference in the balance of cross-pod drafting has to do with color imbalanced sets. It’s very normal for the Magic community to stratify their evaluations of colors in a draft format, and in some sets, that stratification becomes a little bit more extreme. A couple of great examples would be formats like Zendikar or Gatecrash, where one of the guilds/colors was deemed mostly unplayable by a wide portion of the player base. The nice thing about in-pod drafting is that it is inherently self-correcting. In Zendikar, green was pretty bad while black was very strong, but if you had four players trying to force black and only one trying to draft green, then the player with the green deck could often take down the draft. It’s easy to say that you can still just read the draft to see what is open in a cross-pod draft, but that is only telling half the story. This self-correction has two major factors; one is that you can get an exceptionally strong version of the underdrafted deck, but the other is that the overdrafted decks will be particularly weak versions of those decks. The only reason why a good green deck could compete late in the Zendikar season was because the black decks you faced were also weakened. Sure, this can still happen in cross-pod draft, but only if you get lucky enough to get into a draft where a color is being severely overdrafted and then get lucky enough to get paired against someone from a pod where that same color was being severely overdrafted. I would not want to play even a very good green deck from Zendikar against a decent to strong black deck from Zendikar. Likewise, I was a big proponent of drafting Dimir in Gatecrash, but a lot of that strength came from players overdrafting Boros by a lot and underdrafting Dimir by a lot. As soon as you cross-pods, you take a lot of this strategy away, which changes the fundamental nature of the draft. Again, it’s not that cross-pods shouldn’t exist, but they are a subpar product when compared to in-pod drafts.

Those are the more serious strategic implications, but there are definitely other, smaller things. Cross-pod drafts take away your ability to notice cards you passed in the draft and try to play around those cards. This is an important strategic wrinkle to any draft format, but that goes away completely, and now you just have to play against the odds of the format. You lose any impact of defensive drafting where you take a card to prevent it from being played against you. In general that isn’t a strong strategy, but it is an important thing to keep in mind when you have enough playables in your deck and you are reaching the end of a pack. It means that you have the ability to make relevant choices late into a pack even if you’ve drafted well enough to build up a strong maindeck with a powerful sideboard. For example, I tend not to take bombs defensively, but late in a pack I’ll often take a swingy aura or combat trick so that I can reduce the number of cards that can drastically swing the variance of a match in my opponent’s favor.

Another important difference is that cross-pod drafts meaningfully change player’s incentives. For in-pod drafts, you know that you are in a competition with the other people at your table. Cooperation is useful up to a point because you’ll only face three of the seven opponents, but there’s still value in the amount that you’re about to affect other people’s decks on account of the dynamic nature of draft. However, in cross-pod leagues, the incentives are meaningfully different because every player is not in competition; in fact, your highest EV play is for each player to sacrifice their own picks in order to make the entire pool of decks at the table stronger. After this announcement went live, I quickly thought of an extreme example of this phenomenon; suppose that you got together with 8 of your friends and you all decided to storm a draft queue at the same time. For in-pod drafts, that’s fine because you’re all competing against each other, but in a cross-pod draft, the highest EV play is for each person to lay claim to a particular color or color combination and for every other player to help each other out. Basically, one person says “I’m going to draft red!” and everyone around them gets out of red. Suddenly this becomes more like a 24-pack sealed exercise. The MTGO team suggests that this would be classified as fraudulent activity, so I wouldn’t suggest doing this, but about 10% of the people commenting on this article came up with this same scenario, so it would be silly to think that people aren’t going to try it. On top of that, I think it’s fair to question the ethics of the MTGO team for pursuing that kind of activity as fraud, when you could do all of this without setting up any kind of communication during a draft, and just developing a strategy that works with the incentives as they are lined up. I find this threat from WotC to be a little bit dishonest myself. But in any case, draft-storming isn’t the point; the point is that the incentives are enough different to show that cross-pod drafts are a meaningfully different product; they are a subpar version of in-pod drafts, but make up for some differences by giving players flexibility in when they play their matches.

I’m certain that there are other strategic implications, but these are just some of the ways in which cross-pod drafts are meaningfully different. For many players, they are willing to pay a premium and endure inconvenience in order to have an authentic draft experience. In this case, MTGO is asking us to pay the same price for a subpar product that many of us don’t really want. Even worse, the messaging by the team has essentially been that it’s silly to make a big deal out of the differences because they have a marginal effect on a player’s EV. Again, this is completely beside the point; EV is not the argument. Those of us that are upset are upset because we are losing a substantial amount of our enjoyment for the draft so that WotC can artificially limit their queues in order to make draft leagues look better for stakeholders. But the worst part of all is that those who oppose this move really just want the smallest of compromises in just leaving up one Swiss option for in-pod drafting.

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Where We Are Going

This brings me to my final section, which is to discuss where we go from here. I would specifically ask for readers to join with me and others in a show of solidarity by not joining draft leagues from September 7th through September 14th. You may not feel personally affected by these changes, but please consider just making it clear that you are willing to help use your own platform to stick up for people that don’t have the loudest microphones. Specifically, I’d like to ask professional players to consider their platform and their ability to help propel change; you are probably someone that doesn’t draft Swiss very often, but instead stick to 84s, so this change looks like an entirely upside move to you. But consider that there are many players that are unlikely to have your platform that are going to have a meaningfully worse experience on MTGO because of this change. I wouldn’t ask you to boycott draft leagues forever, because they are awesome for what they do, but just join us in solidarity and do what you can to raise the issue. If the community eventually decides that these values and ideas have no merit, then so be it, but please remember the times when the MTG community has rallied around small groups of players, especially professionals, even when the group as a whole didn’t benefit directly. I would also call out to players of other marginalized formats to join us in solidarity; as a community, we can work together to make all of our voices stronger, and this kind of coalition will make us better able to call attention to problems with MTGO in the future.

As for myself, I’m not going to say that I will never participate in a draft league, and I’m not going to say that I’ll quit Magic for good, because that just wouldn’t be true. But I can say with full certainty that I will dramatically reduce the amount that I play Magic. I enjoy an authentic limited experience, and that is the reason why I sit down to draft. I deliberately choose to draft on MTGO instead of at my LGS on many nights, even though I love the in-person elements of Magic, because I significantly prefer the experience of in-pod drafts. I have traveled out of my way and paid premiums to join events with bad prize support at stores I don’t particularly like, simply because it was the only place for an in-pod draft. There are many players that do the same thing. When I no longer have a Swiss option for in-pod drafts, I simply know that I will make the choice to invest my time and money in activities that give me more enjoyment. Drafting Magic is the greatest game in the world, but that is no excuse for the long string of anti-player decisions that have come out of MTGO in the past few years. At some point WotC needs to realize that they should not just coast on the quality of the paper game to drive digital involvement, and this is just one more problematic step on behalf of MTGO to make the game worse for many sections of its playerbase.

The only real argument that WotC has put forward about this is that having a swiss queue would fracture the playerbase to the point that it would significantly harm the MTGO community and have a significant impact on fire times. I’m going to be frank and say that I think this is a disingenuous argument that’s not based in reality, but I’m willing to admit that I don’t have all the data that they are supposedly holding onto. With that said, they’re unwilling to share any of it, and I’m not going to simply trust an organization that has a lot of incentives not to be fully candid about this. I suspect that many of the incentives for the team line up in a way that makes them want to maximize the fire rate for these particular queues because it looks better to stakeholders. It’s looks better to say “look at how popular this new thing is that we invested a lot of resource into” than to say “we put a lot of work into this and it’s proving to be about as popular as the offerings we had previously.” However, I think that we’re best off going forward by dissecting this argument, and pointing out compromises that generally work for everyone involved.

The major flaw in the “fire-rate” argument is that the real competitor with a draft league is going to come from other draft leagues. All we have to do is imagine real life play patterns to start to figure this out; you hop on MTGO and you have some tickets and packs to join in a draft. You don’t have a ton of time, so you hop into a draft league and just get your deck built. You come back later on to finish off your draft games, and get your prizes back. When you do this, you’ll choose either the PPW swiss league or the 6222 swiss league, but there’s zero incentive to join both of those leagues. However, let’s say that you join a league, and then you find yourself with enough free time to finish an entire in-pod draft. Now you just leave that league open, you hop into a Swiss in-pod draft, finish your rounds, and then go back to your league. The major limiting factors on the number of drafts you do is going to depend mainly on your bankroll and your time, just like it is currently. The Swiss in-pod drafts would almost assuredly see a drop in their fire rate, but they currently fire quickly enough that there is essentially no wait for an in-season draft format, so even doubling that time is unlikely to cause someone not to draft. There are just so few chain-drafters in the world to be able to fill in the gaps in the fire rate for draft leagues. Having these two queues be available actually deals with a lot of the inefficiencies of draft fire rate by allowing you to find something that fits your own schedule the best.

On the other side, having multiple leagues puts them all in direct competition. If the argument really is that WotC wants to maximize the overall fire rate for MTGO as a whole, the worst possible thing they could do is introduce two draft leagues simultaneously. This creates a dramatic fracture in their player base that will hurt the fire rates for both of those queues. On top of being a disingenuous argument, it’s one that is very likely to just be wrong. This change will obviously pad the rates of draft-leagues, and opening up options for people with limited time will almost certainly lead to an overall increase in fire rate for MTGO as a whole, but it will likely lead to lower potential fire rates for the program as a whole compared to if they launched one draft league and left up a Swiss option.

The other serious flaw in the “fractured playerbase” argument is that it fundamentally misunderstands why and how playerbases get fractured. This is the key point; the MTG player base is inherently fractured. People have different desires, they have different schedules, they have different situations, and they have different budgets. Launching similar queues definitely helps widen those differences, but they don’t create those differences in the first place. On this particular issue, the playerbase is already fractured into those that don’t mind cross-pod drafts and those that will go out of their way to avoid them. Essentially, the MTGO team has just divided the playerbase into the draft league queue and the “would draft but don’t like my options” queue. I’ll personally be in the second one, and a person that just avoids drafting in general is a much more significant loss to overall MTGO fire rate than a person that spends a couple of minutes decided which queue to join on MTGO.

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To me, the obvious solution is to replace one of the current Swiss queues with a draft league. It is entirely understandable that you want to limit competition for that draft league in the first week that it launches, so it would make sense not to have a competing Swiss queue with the same prize structure. Launching a 6222 league seems like the absolute best option; it puts out the draft league with the best prize structure, and probably outperforms every other queue on the program while it is up. Meanwhile, the team could leave up the Pack-per-win Swiss queue as an option for those that don’t really want to jump into a cross-pod league. There would almost certainly be large reduction in fire rate for the first couple of weeks for that queue, but it would regain some ground over time as people get more comfortable with their draft choices. If this proves stable, the team could add in other leagues as it is convenient to do so against stakeholder pressure. Most people who are critical of the way leagues are being implemented would significantly prefer to have the 6222 Swiss queue stay around, but we are also reasonable enough to understand that we’re asking for a compromise that gives us the smallest benefit in comparison to everyone else on the program. That’s fine, we can accept that, and we might grumble a little bit, but we’ll be happy that at least we got some compromise. Meanwhile, MTGO is very likely to have its highest potential fire rates, bringing in more money for the program and giving everyone the best experience that they can get.

There is another alternative solution that is worse for the player’s like me, but would also be something most of us would accept. We understand that there are all kinds of internal politics going on in WotC, and that it’s important to have high fire rates for draft leagues in the first couple of weeks that they are live. Perhaps putting up only draft leagues would go a long way towards boosting those numbers for stakeholders, but it would be a tremendous show of good faith to then phase the PPW Swiss queue back into the program after a few weeks.

I doubt either of these options is going to happen. The MTGO team has clearly signaled that they aren’t interested in these options, and that they also aren’t particularly in hearing arguments for potential solutions. They have a plan to which they’ve dedicated a lot of resources, and they aren’t going to put forward the effort to rethink this in the next week or probably month. They’ve given the standard “we’ll look at the data and rethink things eventually” that MTGO players recognize as the MO that almost always leads to bad policies staying in place for years. If they get enough community pressure, they might rethink that position, but people like me are not stupid enough to think we have enough sway in the community to effect that kind of publicity.

However, I think that the MTGO team might be deluding themselves into thinking this is an issue that will just “go away” once people are able to “experience” their vision of draft leagues. That’s is a naïve position. I personally plan to maintain pressure on this issue for a long time going forward. This is the kind of problem that will be difficult to just sweep under the rug and pretend doesn’t exist. It’s a compounding of the public relations disasters that MTGO has had over the past few years. Of note, many of the people that support these Swiss queues are also the people that have been most supportive of MTGO during its worst points over the past few years, and disenfranchising those players seems nonsensical.

There’s so much more to say about this, and I expect that I’ll be coming back to address the issue again on Twitter, Reddit, and even on this blog from time to time. With that said, this post is now excessively long, so I’m going to go ahead and stop here. I would again urge you to join in a show of solidarity with those that prefer in-pod Swiss queues by avoiding MTGO Draft Leagues during the week of September 7th through September 14th. Play 84 drafts, play sealed leagues, play constructed, just avoid the Draft Leagues for a few days. You might not be affected personally by this change, but those of us who are would be extremely happy and thankful for your support. If you have any other thoughts on ways to bring attention to this problem and keep up pressure on WotC to be willing to compromise, I’d be happy to discuss this in further detail. If you’re at WotC and you want to reach out to discuss this more, I’m sure that there are plenty of discussions to have about this issue.

Post Script

To my friends who are employees at Wizards of the Coast, specifically those that work on the MTGO team. I want to make it clear that when I am critical of your organization, I by no means talking about your value as a person. I mean that there are problems with the systems, incentives, and communication that comes from the structure of your organization. Even more specifically, I think that it is an organization that is programmed to place dramatically higher value on the most competitive end of the community, and tends to ignore those who find themselves farther down on this ladder. I also believe that an organization can promote and encourage policies that are problematic and unethical without ascribing those same traits to the specific members of those organizations. Please keep this in mind as you are reading, because I do value your friendship, but be aware that I feel like no one has any kind of moral authority if they are not willing to speak the truth to their friends.

lostinthewoods1

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6 comments

  1. David Latimore · August 31, 2016

    Hey Matt, great article! As always, I learned a lot, and got to see views I didn’t consider before. There were a couple of typos I noticed:

    Typo 1 – “One is that they can only exist without cross-pod pairings, which I’m going to address later.” I think ‘without’ should be ‘with’

    Typo 2 – “if I’m popcorn guy’ should be “if I’m trash can guy”

    I also have some content feedback:
    “A third significant problem is that these queues are punished harder for people dropping; ”
    – I see getting to play more matches instead of getting byes as a plus instead of a negative. More time playing Magic, less time sitting around or double queuing. I’d much rather play a more difficult match than not play at all.

    And a question, how can variance increase without bringing win-rates closer to 50%? Even if it’s marginal?

    In any case, you’ve done a great job illustrating some meaningful and significant differences between in-pod vs. out-of-pod drafting. They are more different than I at first thought. I prefer in-pod. I don’t feel very strongly about it, but I can see why you do. So I’ll join you in not playing leagues for the first week they are out (even though I had planned to, after a long MTGO absence).

    Sorry about the terrible organization of this comment.

    @alpha_squid

    Like

  2. Kyle A Simonsen (@KyleSimonsen) · August 31, 2016

    Thanks for writing a longform on the issue–as someone who doesn’t play terribly often (mostly because, like you, I have a career and kids and a wife and other hobbies) I was trying to get caught up on the topic and this is timely and detailed, just what I wanted.

    I too prefer in-pod drafts, and have avoided cross-pod drafts at LGSs, for all of the reasons you mentioned here.

    I do wish you foregrounded your real argument more–the one for keeping swiss drafts. I pretty much only play phantom Holiday Cube swiss on MTGO, but when I do draft I generally draft swiss. I don’t play often enough to be consistently competitive in 8-4. This is the part of the argument I was most interested in, and the part you are ostensibly most interested in, but I felt like I had to fight through your argument against cross-pod drafts, which I already agreed with you about, for a long time to get to your main claim and the reasons for it.

    I probably wouldn’t have played a draft league next week anyway, but I will stick to sealed league or just stay off MTGO for now for certain.

    Like

  3. Ed Berro · August 31, 2016

    Good article and I agree with pretty much all of it.

    Completely removing both of the types of Magic I play (swiss pack-per-win and swiss 6-2-2-2 drafts) and replacing them with something similar but non-negligibly different is very disrupting to say the least.

    Hopefully they will quickly re-instate — or not remove in the first place on Sep 7 — at least one of the swiss in-pod draft events.

    Like

  4. Anonymous · September 8, 2016

    Hi – casual drafter here. Just finished a 6222 league, where I started with a pretty crappy draft. Also meant I ended up in the 0-2 bracket, where my third opponent just scooped right away (no prizes in the 0-2 bracket). I was not happy with my deck, but still like trying my best to see if I can maybe scrape out a win.

    Anyway, what I mean to say is that the 6222 league did not get me my 3 games… Admittedly, the PPW league might have, but the number of active players is quite low there, meaning there’s bound to be quite some waiting time? So if we would only do one swiss draft in a league, and the other in a regular in-pod queue, maybe the PPW is the prize structure of choice for the league?

    Like

    • oraymw · September 9, 2016

      I’m not sure. I think that 6222 drafts are by far the more popular draft option, and I think that draft leagues are the best fit for the largest number of people, so I think it makes sense to pair those up. PPW probably gets a better draft experience, but it’s important to line up with what people want.

      Like

  5. real unreal · November 2

    having now played these for a while, with the new set Kaldesh that I like a lot, I have noticed some empirical confirmation of what you are saying, which is why i was googling for “draft league problems” and found this. The problem that I see is this, and I don’t really know what the solution is. Decks that would be very good and competitive, but not absolute bombs–that is, decks that require a fair amount of skill to draft and play–are significantly weaker in this environment. That is because there is a flood of super-bomb decks floating around. These decks stick around in the real hopes of winning 2 or even 3 matches, and many of the weaker decks leave after 1 or at most 2 games. I have never played so many games in a row against decks with planeswalkers, multiple rares and mythics, and perfect combos in my life. it’s just not fun, and so unless I really have a perfect deck myself, or a good-enough one and win my first or second match against one of these, there is very little incentive to stay and play the 2nd or 3rd match. In short: the format is far more bomb-heavy than are regular drafts, to the degree that I find it significantly less fun. I don’t know what the solution is, but I don’t think this is sustainable. It’s too often like bringing a casual deck to the tournament prep table. there just isn’t any point.

    Like

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