Reflections on the Mythic Invitational

Link post

Pre­vi­ously /​ Com­pare and Con­trast To: Reflec­tions on the 2017 Magic On­line Championship

Pre­vi­ously: Spec­u­la­tions on Duo Standard

Com­pare To (Frank Karsten at Chan­nel Fire­ball): The Mythic In­vi­ta­tional Wasn’t Perfect—And It Was Still a Smash­ing Success

And Re­mem­ber, Guys, You Asked For It: The “And” of MTG Arena

Two years ago we were treated to a vir­tu­oso perfor­mance on all fronts at the 2017 Magic On­line Cham­pi­onship. All the play­ers on the Sun­day stage played the best Magic we’ve ever seen. The com­men­tary drew us into ex­actly that which made the games, and the game of Magic in gen­eral, great. I called upon the game to bot­tle that light­ning, and build upon it to cre­ate our fu­ture.

At the In­vi­ta­tional we ex­pe­rienced a very differ­ent digi­tal tour­na­ment.

Some stuff was great. We made gi­ant leaps for­ward in some ar­eas.

In­clud­ing view­ers. We’re play­ing in a differ­ent league now.

We turned our­selves into a real e-sport! Woo-hoo!

Other ar­eas, not so much. We mustn’t let the good dis­tract from fix­ing the bad.

I won’t speak of the minor tech­ni­cal difficul­ties, as this is already far too long and they are doubtless be­ing ad­dressed. Frank Karsten men­tions them in his ar­ti­cle, along with good sug­ges­tions for the Arena client.

This is a case of ‘I should get this out there one way or an­other’ so I’m do­ing that. I hope it helps.

The Great

You can’t ar­gue with a mil­lion dol­lars in prizes. Com­pet­i­tive Magic’s biggest flaw has always been the size of its prize pools. There’s still room to im­prove, but I think it is safe to say: Prob­lem solved. This is no longer the low­est hang­ing fruit.

Phys­i­cal pro­duc­tion val­ues were off the charts. Game play on Arena is much eas­ier to fol­low even for in­vested vet­er­ans like me. For new and ca­sual play­ers, it’s a trans­for­ma­tion. The game looks and feels ex­cit­ing and fast paced.

No doubt the stage looked like we wanted it to look, and we had the com­men­tary teams we wanted to have, no mat­ter the ex­pense.

Things felt in­stinc­tively like they were sup­posed to feel. High stakes, high ten­sion, high drama. The money and stage did their jobs quite well.

Becca Scott, Brian Kibler and the other com­men­ta­tors were (some­one please cre­ate the su­per­cut so I can link to it here, and also watch it mul­ti­ple times) very ex­cited. That lat­est draw (again, su­per­cut please) was huge. If Richard Hagon had been on site, I would have wor­ried if he could have sur­vived.

View­er­ship fol­lowed. Be­fore the fi­nal day we were already break­ing 100,000 view­ers. Arena stream viewer num­bers are a differ­ent or­der of mag­ni­tude.

Magic is still su­per awe­some. Magic re­li­ably cre­ates great mo­ments, gi­ant swings, com­plex key de­ci­sions, heroes and sto­ries. There were some truly epic games on cam­era. We have great po­ten­tial as a true spec­ta­tor sport.

If we can keep im­prov­ing the product, the sky is the limit.

We’re go­ing to need to do that. A lot of things were less than op­ti­mal this week­end. We can’t let top line suc­cess dis­tract us from that.

Let us start with the biggest en­emy: Dead air.

Dead Air and Repetition

Dead air is the cen­tral villain of any Magic broad­cast.

While Magic con­tent is on screen, Esper tor­ture ses­sions we’ll talk about later not with­stand­ing, your floor is high. The floor is even higher when both hands are visi­ble. You’re watch­ing Magic. That’s why we all tuned in.

The ideal broad­cast con­tains other things. Deck fea­tures are great. Pre­views of match-ups give cru­cial con­text. In­ter­views can add a lot when done well. The story of the tour­na­ment and its play­ers is worth tel­ling. A few pre­view cards and promo cards add spice.

Magic is still where it is at. When in doubt, show more Magic.

More im­por­tantly, don’t give us dead air.

An in­ter­view is al­most always good the first time it is shown. Each time it is re­peated, it gets worse.

A cheesy player in­tro­duc­tion is good fun the first time it is shown. Each time it is re­peated, it gets worse.

Other fea­tures are similar. I want to see that deck anal­y­sis once. I definitely don’t want to see it five times. I don’t want to con­stantly be go­ing over the same brack­ets and same match re­sults.

Streams are about get­ting view­ers who stick around all day. That means new con­tent.

I lost track of how many times I saw the same short clips of pure fluff. I lost track of how long Kibler and the oth­ers sat around spec­u­lat­ing about War of the Spark cards they’d never seen be­fore, try­ing to get con­structed hype up for well-de­signed limited cards. Pre­sum­ably be­cause they were on the screen with a high amount of zoom. And be­cause the awe­some pre­view video with all the feels.

We had quick re­caps of a few matches, where we could have had time-shifted matches.

The first two days were not as bad on these fronts. Satur­day made it very easy for the mind to wan­der. On Sun­day, most of the time there was noth­ing on the stream to see. Even­tu­ally we switched over to bas­ket­ball and kept an eye in case a match started.

Then there were the con­stant ads, all in heavy ro­ta­tion. It was a bit much.

At our would-be watch party, at best we were sort of watch­ing.

More and Bet­ter Magic Games

There was zero need for things to be that way!

We could have eas­ily filled all that time with qual­ity Magic con­tent.

Play­ing all games on Magic Arena means hav­ing full record­ings, with hands, of ev­ery game of ev­ery match of the tour­na­ment.

Why not show them to us?

I re­al­ize things are marginally bet­ter when the play­ers are in the fea­ture match area in the big chairs. I don’t care. At all. This is a crazy, very not im­por­tant, not-worth-wor­ry­ing-about con­cern. It’s fine to start with the match of your choice. It’s not fine to be tied only to two matches that are se­lected in ad­vance.

Once those two matches are done, if not sooner, we should choose the games and matches that are right for view­ers. Then show them.

Be­fore the first round, dur­ing breaks, dur­ing down time late in the day with­out al­ter­nate rounds, show matches from other rounds.

There are lots of good ways to choose matches. Here are some ideas.

Pick decks, match-ups and play­ers we haven’t seen.

Pick games and matches that were ex­cit­ing, or offer in­ter­est­ing de­ci­sions or what­ever else you pre­fer, as sug­gested by the play­ers or by a vol­un­teer group watch­ing the sec­ondary matches. Or post all the matches on differ­ent streams, and then judge via feed­back which ones were the best, and show those.

Pick games and matches of the right length. Next round starts in 23 min­utes, so find a game or match that lasts 15-23 min­utes and show that one.

Pick games and matches by play­ers who did well. On Sun­day morn­ing we might show se­lect games by the top 4 com­peti­tors from pre­vi­ous days.

Pick the match-up we’re about to see, and show pre­vi­ous games won by both sides, to illus­trate how it might work.

Pick via the Twitch chat or a Twit­ter poll, if you’d like.

The im­por­tant thing is, pick.

In other tour­na­ments we’ve evolved the tech­nol­ogy of the time-shifted match. A match is recorded, then played back, of­ten at ac­cel­er­ated speed, and com­men­tary re­acts in real time. This is awe­some. With Arena, we can su­per­charge this.

We also could have cho­sen bet­ter fea­ture matches.

There were a num­ber of cool decks (and play­ers) that were never on cam­era. Many of the early round matches we saw were echoed many times in later rounds. We should have spent the early rounds ac­tively avoid­ing Esper play­ers, and seek­ing out play­ers with some spice.

More Other Content

That is not to say that we should uniquely rely upon Magic matches. Other con­tent is also both wel­come and abun­dantly available. Ad­van­tage should be taken.

As usual, be­fore we in­no­vate, we should take ad­van­tage of ex­ist­ing ex­cel­lent tech­nol­ogy. Look at what we’ve done in the past that worked. Then do that.

With a field full of stream­ers, both MPL play­ers and other pro­fes­sion­als, we have ac­cess to a wide va­ri­ety of con­tent cre­ators who love Magic and want to in­crease their pro­file. We can use that.

Deck Anal­y­sis and Matchup Previews

I have loved it when play­ers pre­view their own matchups and side­board­ing, es­pe­cially on Sun­day stage. Ask for vol­un­teers from the field. Put their deck up on screen, give them a micro­phone and a prompt, and let them talk.

It should be easy to get deck ex­pla­na­tions from enough play­ers to have one from each ma­jor archetype.

It should also be easy to get a top per­spec­tive on both sides of ev­ery matchup be­tween pop­u­lar decks, and ev­ery po­ten­tial Sun­day matchup.

Not ev­ery player will give a great pre­view. Some will, some won’t. Tape in ad­vance. Take the ones that are good. Lose the ones that are bad.

One could ar­gue, as play­ers have in the past, that such fea­tures put the player at strate­gic dis­ad­van­tage. This is a con­cern, but we’ve already told MPL play­ers they must pre­pare for Mythic Cham­pi­onships in the open on their streams. That’s the same con­cern, but writ large, and ev­ery­one has ac­cepted it.

Strate­gic Analysis

One of the best ways to get bet­ter at Magic is to go over games and do a post­mortem. Why did the game play out that way? What could ei­ther player have done differ­ently? Can we do a deep dive into de­ci­sion points, and ask about all the fac­tors go­ing into what the right call is? With the benefit of not only hind­sight but fo­cus and time, one can go much deeper af­ter the game than even the best player can go dur­ing the game.

I find such anal­y­sis fas­ci­nat­ing.

Get­ting one or both play­ers of a match into the booth, and hav­ing them watch a re­play with the abil­ity to pause and ac­cel­er­ate, and dis­cuss and de­bate their de­ci­sions, seems su­per high value to me. So does sim­ply watch­ing a match on re­play with one of the play­ers as a com­men­ta­tor. Con­sider what is prob­a­bly the best Grand Prix cov­er­age of all time, which fol­lowed Reid Duke each round. Copy a lot of what was good about that, both in the pre­views dis­cussed above and in anal­y­sis af­ter the matches.

Go­ing deep is ad­mit­tedly difficult to square with the av­er­age ex­pe­rience level of the au­di­ence. We need to aim at view­ers who are try­ing to learn what the rules are and what the cards do, or sim­ply ad­mire the pretty an­i­ma­tions, in ad­di­tion to those who would love go­ing deep.

But you know what? That’s what makes Magic in­ter­est­ing to watch. I’ll quote di­rectly from my older re­flec­tions:

I didn’t think of it at the time, but what Sun­day re­minded me of most was sit­ting back for a Mets game and listen­ing to our world-class broad­cast booth for a well-played, close game. Ron, Gary, and Keith aren’t afraid to share their opinions about any­thing, or to geek out or rant about lit­tle de­tails, or to re­lax and tell you sto­ries. Like Magic, base­ball can be slow at times, paus­ing quite a bit be­tween ac­tions, and it suffers when it gets too slow. Also like Magic, if you are not in­ter­ested in the de­tails, strat­egy, and at­mo­sphere of the game, it is bor­ing. Those who go out to the bal­l­park and do not watch the game are skip­ping the game be­cause it’s bor­ing, but it’s bor­ing be­cause they are skip­ping it by not giv­ing it the at­ten­tion it de­serves.

Thus, we need to strike a bal­ance the same way pro­fes­sional sports broad­casts do.

If you’re look­ing for how to do that, watch a New York Mets base­ball broad­cast. It is chock full of es­o­teric knowl­edge and opinion, the tiny de­tails of games that new fans will have zero idea about. Yet it is also ac­cessible out of the box even if you know noth­ing about the game. It can be done.

Another ex­am­ple is to look at what ESPN does in the biggest col­lege foot­ball games with its Me­ga­cast. On six differ­ent chan­nels, the same game is pre­sented six differ­ent ways. The coaches film room breaks down the game as its most cen­tral char­ac­ters break it down when plan­ning for their next match. The fan casts are highly par­ti­san. The reg­u­lar broad­cast is there for those who want it. On differ­ent nights, I choose differ­ent op­tions. It’s awe in­spiring.

In Magic it will be harder. Some of the ex­pert con­tent will need to be gated and made dis­tinct from the main broad­cast, a la the film room of the mega­cast. We also likely could benefit from a ‘be­gin­ner’ broad­cast. On the main broad­cast, we’ll need to work hard to ex­plain deep strate­gic think­ing in ways new play­ers can also fol­low.

What strate­gic anal­y­sis we did get seemed to be one line ex­pla­na­tions for why matchups were lop­sided in ways that they were not. But the play­ers also made similar mis­takes in many places, mak­ing it hard to find too much fault here.

Hu­man Interest

It was cool to see in­ter­views ask­ing about play­ers’ fa­vorite ex­pe­riences of the week­end, or how they were feel­ing go­ing into a day’s ac­tion. Once.

Often it seemed like the pro­cess was to in­struct the on-air tal­ent to ask a one-line ques­tion, get a ten sec­ond an­swer, give a re­ac­tion that in­di­cated how great that an­swer was, then move on. There was no ty­ing to the broader pic­ture, no fol­low­ing up, no re­la­tion to the game of Magic. Play­ers were re­duced to a sin­gle anec­dote re­peated over and over, clearly not re­hearsed or se­lected.

If we’re go­ing to in­ten­tion­ally sum up play­ers with fif­teen sec­ond clips of them say­ing what a great day it is for Magic, and show them lots of times, at least then they should know that this is their job, write up what they want to say, be coached on de­liv­ery, and de­liver the goods. Do mul­ti­ple takes if needed. This stuff does not come nat­u­rally. Then play­ers can de­cide what per­sona to pre­sent, and will pre­sent bet­ter ones. This can still be com­bined with raw post-match re­ac­tions.

Bet­ter would be to do longer and more of them, so they could each be used more spar­ingly, and/​or ed­ited for the best parts, and they can go into more depth. If a Magic player wants to tell a long story – and they of­ten do – there’s a good chance it’s a good story and I want to listen to it.

Mark Rose­wa­ter’s pod­cast on my good friend Brian David-Mar­shall high­lighted how the sto­ries of the play­ers and the Pro Tour drive player en­gage­ment, and how im­por­tant his pi­o­neer­ing of this an­gle was to cov­er­age’s suc­cess. I agree com­pletely. But what mat­ters are deep sto­ries. We want to know play­ers over the course of many events, hear about the lit­tle things and the big arcs. A ten sec­ond set of stereo­types and tropes, or a catch­phrase that wasn’t even well cho­sen, is not good char­ac­ter­i­za­tion.

Re­sult Re­port­ing and Highlights

The weak­est part of cur­rent tra­di­tional tour­na­ment cov­er­age is when we are be­ing up­dated on match re­sults and how play­ers are do­ing. We are read a list of how a bunch of play­ers are do­ing, who won and who lost to who. Some­times I want to know, but it’s pure score­board watch­ing.

With no matches left to cover, it makes sense to use this to fill re­main­ing round time, but if one wants to know how things are go­ing for more than a small num­ber of matches, a broad­cast is a ter­rible method of trans­mit­ting that in­for­ma­tion.

If any­thing, re­port­ing lots of re­sults di­rectly onto the stream is to me a detri­ment, be­cause it is a spoiler. This pre­vents watch­ing rounds out of or­der. Which would mat­ter even more if we had bet­ter re­broad­casts.

Web­site Ho!

You know what’s great at re­port­ing re­sults? A web page that one can click on. Wizards used to be good at this. Can we bring this back? Please? We should have all the pub­lic in­for­ma­tion available in easy to ac­cess form on the web. All deck­lists, all re­sults, should be easy to find. Some­how we have fallen so far away from this ideal that the stream be­comes the en­tirety of the cov­er­age, but that makes no sense.

It es­pe­cially makes no sense for re­sults and things like deck­lists and deck anal­y­sis, but it also makes no sense for the games them­selves. Why can’t we watch any In­vi­ta­tional game we want, right now, on de­mand? Se­ri­ously. Why not?

Want to watch your fa­vorite player’s rounds in or­der? We got you.

Want to view your own matches and maybe cre­ate a com­men­tary track or com­pan­ion ar­ti­cle for them, or just an­a­lyze them in de­tail? All of which I would to­tally do all the time? We got you.

Want to watch all the copies of your fa­vorite deck or match up? We got you.

Want to go around clip­ping high­lights for an awe­some YouTube video? We got you, too.

Want to cre­ate a full ma­trix of how any el­e­ment im­pacted win per­centage, from num­ber of lands in the open­ing hand to dead cards in the matchup to which spells are worth coun­ter­ing? A true deep dive? We’re all over that.

And so on. The pos­si­bil­ities are end­less.

The other thing one might want to do is ex­pe­rience the tour­na­ment with­out spoilers.

SFSN: The Spoiler-Free Sports Network

This is one of those startup ideas I am way too busy for and I know ideas are worth noth­ing, but I do hope some­one cre­ates it some­day. I plan a full pro­posal write-up at some point.

In the mean­time, we can start with Magic. We should have a place where one can view matches with a bar that de­ter­mines when ‘now’ is and what par­allel things of which we want or don’t want to be made aware. Then we can jour­ney through what hap­pened at our own pace, with­out wor­ry­ing that we will be spoiled.

Another con­crete sug­ges­tion is that there needs to be dead time at the end of all match/​round/​day videos, enough so that we can’t in­fer from the length of the video what hap­pened in the match. Thus, if a round goes less than an hour, the video is the same length as if it went to time. If show­ing an non-timed round, go up to the rea­son­able max­i­mum one could have ex­pected. When I say ‘dead’ time it can liter­ally be static or a fixed screen say­ing ‘thanks for watch­ing!’ if we’d like. Alter­na­tively, we can use that time for post-match anal­y­sis or in­for­ma­tion, or to show an­other match of the ap­pro­pri­ate length, as we pre­fer.

Keep Your Nerve

This one will come with time. There were a lot of first time jit­ters. That makes sense. We had new an­nounc­ers and an­nounc­ing teams, high-stakes Arena games, a gi­ant stage and an epic prize pool all for the first time. Both play­ers and the cov­er­age team were in awe of the mo­ment.

Next time, that will be a lot bet­ter. A few years from now, challengers will have the is­sue, but most com­peti­tors and the whole cov­er­age team will be old vet­er­ans of this new level.

Know Your Game

There’s no nice way to say this. I won’t name any names, but we need to not pre­tend that what hap­pened here didn’t hap­pen.

A huge por­tion of the cov­er­age team, in­clud­ing some of those do­ing com­men­tary, had no idea, or not much of an idea, what was go­ing on in the games.

They were all su­per ex­cited. Which is great. It’s not enough. The team needs to be on the ball.

If you’re go­ing to do in­ter­views or man the re­port­ing desk, you don’t need to know as much as the color com­men­ta­tor. The color com­men­ta­tor doesn’t need to know as much as the play by play. The play by play com­men­ta­tors need not study enough to com­pete. There still re­mains a min­i­mum level that one has to meet to do a good job. More than that is great, and it will show, but you need to know the game, know the play­ers, know the for­mat and its ma­jor cards, decks and match-ups. And know what your role is, and how to ex­e­cute on it. Be a pro­fes­sional.

If you do find your­self be­hind the cam­era, and you have no idea what is hap­pen­ing in the game, or what the right play is, just ad­mit that. Ask the play by play an­nouncer with more ex­pe­rience. If you’re the play by play, point out that the situ­a­tion is com­pli­cated and hard and how cool that is. You can’t wait to see what the play­ers do with this tough de­ci­sion. Noth­ing wrong with that.

I hate it when defini­tive strate­gic state­ments are made, over and over again, crit­i­ciz­ing the play­ers, that I know to be wrong, as the claimant dou­bles and triples down. When they could be think­ing more about what was ac­tu­ally go­ing on.

We also saw tons of ex­cite­ment-based com­men­tary dur­ing games, talk­ing about how huge swings and mo­ments were (that of­ten were quite the op­po­site), but not ex­plain­ing the in­ter­est­ing things about the game at all. Hope­fully this was not on pur­pose, but only a side effect of not be­ing fully pre­pared with knowl­edge or for the faster pace of play that comes with Arena.

This is to­tally, to­tally not about go­ing af­ter any par­tic­u­lar per­son. This is not, re­peat not, any­one on the team’s fault (al­though if they come back still not ready, that would be differ­ent, and if it was bad enough I’d start nam­ing names).

It is the fault of the peo­ple who put to­gether the teams for not check­ing, not mak­ing the right prepa­ra­tions.

If that was grow­ing pains and try­ing peo­ple out, to­tally fine. But it can’t hap­pen again. Not like this.

Life To­tal Tie­break and Dou­ble Elimination

Every­one knows this is a hor­rible, no good, very bad solu­tion to matches go­ing to time. It always has been. When Gerry Thomp­son was forced to con­cede to Wy­att Darby in a won po­si­tion in game three, it stung. Later, when I Googled for ‘Mythic In­vi­ta­tional’ the two high­lighted re­sults were some­thing non-flat­ter­ing that we won’t dis­cuss here, and an ar­ti­cle crit­i­ciz­ing de­cid­ing games on the ba­sis of life to­tals.

This was far from the worst case sce­nario. Fast Arena games kept most matches from go­ing to time even with Esper mir­rors. There was no visi­ble stal­ling or foul play any­where. The match we saw that fea­tured a life to­tal tiebreak gave both play­ers the chance to play the game with the tiebreak in mind, and Gerry could have con­ceded a pre­vi­ous game much faster to save the time needed to win.

So all in all, we got off very light. Next time we might not be so lucky.

The ob­vi­ous offen­der is dou­ble elimi­na­tion. In ad­di­tion to its hy­per ran­dom­ness, dou­ble elimi­na­tion forces the elimi­na­tion of draws. Without draws, we need some sort of tiebreaker.

In ex­change, we get ex­cite­ment and easy to un­der­stand brack­ets. I don’t love it, but I un­der­stand and ac­cept the need for it. If we could do longer and more skill in­ten­sive matches it would be far less painful.

What else can we do if we’re com­mit­ted to elimi­na­tion brack­ets?

Our choices are to elimi­nate time limits, have both play­ers lose, or to choose a bet­ter tiebreaker.

Both play­ers los­ing isn’t vi­able in con­text.

Elimi­nat­ing time limits in­terferes with the tour­na­ment sched­ule. So do other things, and there were lots of fast-finish­ing rounds that re­sulted in lots of dead air, so one could plan to make up the time el­se­where. It would al­most cer­tainly be fine, and you could re­serve the right to call the match if needed. But alas, that is al­most cer­tainly not good enough.

So we need a bet­ter tiebreaker. It isn’t ob­vi­ous one is available, or even pos­si­ble. Life to­tals at least have the ad­van­tage of be­ing law. There’s a num­ber, make yours higher, ev­ery­one knows the rule and can choose plays and decks ac­cord­ingly. Ugly some­times, but gets the job done.

What I to­tally don’t want is a sub­jec­tive judg­ment call. Even if it is used spar­ingly, judges and staff need to not be put into that po­si­tion. It’s not fair to them, it’s not fair to the play­ers or to the tour­na­ment. Even­tu­ally they’re go­ing to get one wrong, or there’s go­ing to be one so mud­dled it’s a gi­ant train wreck, and once you have the op­tion to in­ter­vene, it’s your call and no amount of punt­ing will change that.

Chess clocks are also an op­tion. Magic On­line matches won’t go to life to­tals, be­cause one player will lose to time. We could in the­ory add those clocks into Magic Arena for matches with­out a turn time limit, and choose a limit such that the round must end on time.

In the­ory, we could have the clocks count up, and say that who­ever’s to­tal time used was lower wins the match if it goes to time. But that runs into the prob­lem of ‘player ahead on time now knows they should stall be­cause they have a big enough time lead’ and I don’t see a solu­tion to that. All the solu­tions I can think of rein­tro­duce all the dis­ad­van­tages of count­ing down, so you might as well count down.

Un­less we go the chess clock route, I think we’re mostly stuck. We should use 60 minute rounds when­ever pos­si­ble and be ruth­less about slow play and es­pe­cially stal­ling.

One par­tial solu­tion is to pre­sent the sud­den death rule up front, and treat it as a good, ex­cit­ing thing. Sud­den death! Fans hate sud­den death over­time in sports for its ran­dom­ness, but they also love sud­den death over­time. It’s ex­cit­ing and ac­tion packed.

Another solu­tion of course is to not have so many damn Esper decks, which com­bined with Arena’s speed should solve the prob­lem al­most all the time any­way.

Player Skill

Player skill on dis­play at the Mythic In­vi­ta­tional was far lower than at the Mythic Cham­pi­onship or similar past events, let alone the above-refer­enced Magic On­line Cham­pi­onship. What hap­pened?

Sev­eral things.

First, the for­mat forced play­ers to bring a di­ver­sity of decks, forc­ing them to play styles they were un­com­fortable with. There are cer­tainly ad­van­tages to forc­ing play­ers to be well–rounded, but this is a price you pay.

Se­cond, we in­vited com­peti­tors in ways that didn’t test for the skills they would use to com­pete.

The grind into the Mythic Top 8 was a kil­ler on the com­mu­nity’s stamina and is gladly not be­ing re­peated. Another as­pect was that it re­warded play­ers who knew one deck in­side and out and could grind out wins con­sis­tently and quickly ver­sus non-top op­po­si­tion. That’s a very differ­ent skill.

Then we in­vited a lot of stream­ers. Stream­ers are spe­cial­iz­ing in a differ­ent skill, which wasn’t on dis­play. I wish it had been on dis­play. If you’re go­ing to in­vite stream­ers, use them also for what they do best! Tac­tics with mul­ti­ple decks was not their forte, and of­ten it showed.

Third, Arena seems like it in­stinc­tively rushes play­ers. Even with noth­ing me­chan­i­cally forc­ing quick moves, ev­ery­thing is geared to­wards goad­ing play­ers into play­ing faster. It worked, but this caused a de­crease in qual­ity of play. All the play­ers who did well played a ton on Arena and were deeply com­fortable with the pro­gram, but also likely didn’t prop­erly ad­just to a reg­u­lar form of time con­trol.

Fourth, there was no good test­ing ground for Duo Stan­dard. Thus, when play­ers tried to do things that didn’t make sense in reg­u­lar best of one, they were out on limbs. When they wanted to test the matchups they would ac­tu­ally face, in­stead they faced best of one fields that had very differ­ent deck dis­tri­bu­tions.

Fifth, the dou­ble elimi­na­tion for­mat and the Duo Stan­dard for­mat did not give enough room for those play­ing bet­ter to triumph over those play­ing worse. A lot of Magic’s best were out early.

Sixth, play­ers lost their nerve due to the stakes and set­ting, as men­tioned above. This showed es­pe­cially in the choice of decks for game three. No one dared be bold. It felt like a lot of play­ers planned to make bold choices for game three, then couldn’t pull the trig­ger.

We Tried Duo Stan­dard, Now Try Some­thing Else

A lot of the prob­lems were due to Duo Stan­dard.

Think­ing about Duo Stan­dard is a fas­ci­nat­ing ex­er­cise in game the­ory. My spec­u­la­tions were a lot of hit and also a bunch of miss; in an­other ar­ti­cle I’ll go over what hap­pened, and what I think ex­plains the differ­ences, and what we’ve now learned.

Also what I think the play­ers did wrong.

Without step­ping too much on that much deeper ar­ti­cle’s toes, I think it is safe to say that we tried Duo Stan­dard and found it want­ing.

Duo Stan­dard re­sulted in less deck di­ver­sity in terms of gen­eral archetypes. Where we did see a new deck, it was be­cause of Master­mind’s Ac­qui­si­tion.

Duo Stan­dard re­sulted in less di­ver­sity within each deck, even within the main deck build. Without the abil­ity to side­board out poor cards, or fix prob­lems, play­ers uni­ver­sally opted for ‘safe’ con­figu­ra­tions.

Duo Stan­dard took away side­board­ing, which has the most strate­gic depth of any por­tion of the game, and also cre­ates a lot of the di­ver­sity of ex­pe­rience since differ­ent play­ers pur­sue differ­ent strate­gies even with iden­ti­cal deck­lists and side­boards to work with.

Stop try­ing to kill side­board­ing. Se­ri­ously. Stop try­ing to kill side­board­ing. The game is a shadow of it­self with­out side­board­ing. It turns into an end­less grind if one isn’t care­ful. Side­boards make us think about ev­ery de­tail of our op­po­nents’ deck, how they think, what they an­ti­ci­pated, how they think about us, what they ex­pect, how they might plan for a later game. It makes the game rich.

That doesn’t mean no best of one queue. Play­ers need to start some­where. Some­times we want to try out a new thing or get in a quick game.

But se­ri­ously. Stop It.

Duo Stan­dard also of­ten re­sults in situ­a­tions where if the flip on which deck plays which goes one way, one player gets two great matchups, and if the flip goes the other way, the other player gets two great matchups.

Then for game three, you have a pure guess­ing think­ing game. Not what we had in mind.

Coin flip­ping was the or­der of the day for many dis­tinct rea­sons.

Com­bine that with dou­ble elimi­na­tion and an es­tab­lished for­mat full of ag­gres­sive decks, and it’s no sur­prise that skill test­ing was at an all-time low.

Please. Let’s keep ex­per­i­ment­ing.

Good news! Wizards has already an­nounced that they have rec­og­nized that Duo Stan­dard did not do what they needed it to, and will con­tinue to ex­per­i­ment­ing.

The prob­lem is that the phrase ‘closely re­sem­ble your at-home play ex­pe­rience’ seems to be code for ‘no side­boards.’

This mis­guided goal may doom us all.

To be blunt, it’s a stupid goal. Pro­fes­sional and ad­vanced play of games of­ten in­volves ad­di­tional twists that don’t make sense at home. Peo­ple un­der­stand.

Does your lit­tle league game use a bul­lpen? Should MLB stop us­ing one be­cause you don’t? Does your touch foot­ball game not use dis­tinct offen­sive and defen­sive play­ers? Should the NFL fix this?

Of course not. That would be in­sane.

Rule of Law

This is an­other point on my list of things to write about ex­ten­sively and care­fully, and ties into my re­cent posts on Pri­vacy and Black­mail. It is al­most im­pos­si­ble to un­der­es­ti­mate the value of true rule of law.

Rule of law op­poses rule of man. It says that we choose rules, then we fol­low those rules. It says that the record re­flects what hap­pened, that re­wards and pun­ish­ments are not cho­sen based on poli­tics and al­li­ances, or who pla­cated or served the pow­er­ful.

Without rule of law, power, wealth and sur­vival come from poli­tics. One’s prime di­rec­tive is to make al­li­ances, sell one’s self and serve pow­er­ful in­ter­ests in hopes of re­ward. Such sys­tems make com­mu­ni­ca­tion im­pos­si­ble, in­vok­ing the Snafu prin­ci­ple.

What is unique and great about games? Games are the avatars of rule of law. You have a closed sys­tem with fixed rules. The rules can­not be bro­ken. Those who nav­i­gate those rules best, win. Even as Magic’s rules and cards change, the win­ners are those who play the best. We give the power to the play­ers.

I was play­ing games to get away from power and poli­tics long be­fore I knew that was what I was do­ing. I be­lieve the same is true of many oth­ers.

When Wizards fails to com­mu­ni­cate their plans and set clear rules, this causes two huge prob­lems.

The first is that play­ers can­not plan their lives. They don’t know what is be­ing asked of them, or what is be­ing offered to them, or what they must ac­com­plish.

The sec­ond is that we weaken rule of law. When de­ci­sions are made with­out prior for­mu­las, it is im­pos­si­ble to not worry that the fingers on the scale are (at least in part) choos­ing in or­der to get the re­sults that they want. To in­vite the play­ers they want, and not the ones they don’t. To give ad­van­tage where it would help them.

Thus, in­stead of fo­cus­ing on win­ning at Magic, we are forced to fo­cus on do­ing what we think will please the Pow­ers That Be. Feed­back be­comes un­re­li­able. Play­ers prais­ing Wizards and the game, whether or not #Spon­sored, are hard to trust. Play­ers must con­stantly think about what would look good, what would be pop­u­lar, what would get their stream­ing num­bers up or con­vince key de­ci­sion mak­ers.

This hap­pens even if the de­ci­sions are in fact be­ing made with­out con­sid­er­ing these things.

The key thing about power is avoid­ing it. That is hard. Power cre­ates more power by de­fault. Poor is the man whose plea­sures de­pend on the per­mis­sion of an­other.

It is great when Wizards says well in ad­vance, we will take play­ers from Arena ac­cord­ing to this for­mula (the new for­mula of an event among the top 1000 is far su­pe­rior to an ex­haust­ing lad­der grind, so ku­dos for fix­ing that right away), or the win­ners of these qual­ifiers, or those who score highly on these point sys­tems. Some sys­tems are bet­ter than oth­ers, but hav­ing a sys­tem at all is the most im­por­tant thing!

I would im­plore Wizards to en­shrine as much rule of law as they pos­si­bly can, while still get­ting the things they need. I’m to­tally fine with set­ting aside slots (in In­vi­ta­tion­als, or even in the MPL) for big stream­ers or other game am­bas­sadors. Things other than play skill mat­ter. It’s true.

But (in ad­di­tion to be­ing in­her­ently poli­ti­cal them­selves) suc­cess in such tasks is very hard to quan­tify and the temp­ta­tion is not to. We should be as quan­tified and ob­jec­tive as pos­si­ble in choos­ing which stream­ers, in a way that stream­ers can know in ad­vance. Even more im­por­tantly we should draw a dis­tinct line be­tween where be­ing a good player ver­sus be­ing a good am­bas­sador (ver­sus a com­bi­na­tion of both) is what we are judg­ing.

Same with other choices.

I’m even to­tally fine with re­serv­ing a few slots (again, even in the MPL) for ‘Wizards’ choice’ and mak­ing it ex­plicit that those slots are based on poli­tics. There are big benefits, and this is big busi­ness. But let us iso­late that, lest we lose that which is most pre­cious.


Lets boil down and sum­ma­rize what needs to hap­pen to make events like this great.

  1. Min­i­mize dead air. Min­i­mize rep­e­ti­tion. Let us watch as much Magic as pos­si­ble.

  2. Make all games available both dur­ing stream and at the web­site.

  3. Web­site needs to provide the in­for­ma­tion we want, and also al­low watch­ing of matches with­out ex­pos­ing us to spoilers.

  4. En­sure com­men­ta­tors know the game, play­ers, cards and for­mat.

  5. Keep fo­cus on deep sto­ries and deep strat­egy when­ever pos­si­ble.

  6. Do longer and deeper in­ter­views and round anal­y­sis with play­ers.

  7. Keep fo­cus off of coin flip­ping and re­peat­ing how huge and ex­cit­ing things are.

  8. Choose matches with more deck di­ver­sity.

  9. Keep ex­per­i­ment­ing with for­mats, but ac­cept that Duo Stan­dard is a failure. Stop try­ing to kill off side­boards.

  10. Main­tain rule of law.

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