UTV #76: Open Letter to Mike Turian Regarding the State of Vintage on MTGO

Dear Mr. Turian,

Vintage Masters was an immediate hit. The entire team responsible for making Vintage Masters such a great limited experience, and finally bringing constructed Vintage to MTGO, should be commended. The hype around Vintage was sky high and people were happy to finally get to experience Vintage for the first time, either due to there not being a Vintage scene in their hometown, or because the cost of a paper Vintage deck made it unattainable. Early on, every single Vintage Daily Event was firing, and few fired with only the minimum 16 players.

Over time, however, the hype started to die down and the number of players in the DEs started to fall. Eventually, they pretty much stopped firing altogether. Prices of Vintage Masters cards have dropped considerably, which is the opposite of what one should expect when a set goes “out of print”. Clearly, people are selling their cards. The lack of events is certainly a major factor.

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what caused this to happen. Some have speculated that the change over from V3 to V4 caused a lot of players to leave MTGO as a whole. Others, including myself, were unhappy with the prize structure and the subsequent elimination of Premier Events. There were also several format breaking bugs that took weeks to resolve, which turned people off of the online format. Perhaps it’s mostly just a natural effect from the “Vintage Honeymoon”, if you will, coming to an end and people simply find other formats more appealing. Regardless, I’m not here to dissect the past. What I’m interested in is moving forward and trying to find solutions to get people to start playing Vintage again on MTGO, which is something I know you would like to see as well.

The Vintage player base is vastly different than that of any other format on MTGO. My anecdotal evidence supports the fact that Vintage players are people in their mid-late 20’s (and older) with full time “9-5” jobs and most have families contending for their free time. Regardless, you probably have the actual demographic data to support that anyway. Nonetheless, that data is necessary to evaluate in order to determine the best time to offer events for such a narrow community.

When Classic was struggling to get events to fire, one of the solutions was to limit the number of events offered such that players had to focus on one time to play. Right now, it seems that the Vintage community is being fractured by the sheer number of event time slots right now. I think we should probably limit the number of Daily Events to 2 per day during both weekdays and weekends. If at some point in the future Vintage is thriving, we can look to add additional start times, but for now, limiting them should be the best course of action.

Each weekday event should target a specific audience (i.e., Europe or North America). Right now, the 5:30am PST event is not suitable for anyone, by my estimation. Europeans are still working, and people in North America are just getting up and/or starting work. I propose that the 5:30am PST event should be moved to a more European friendly time slot of 11:30am PST, which would be 7:30pm for Western Europeans and 8:30pm for Eastern Europeans.

Capturing a timeslot for North America during the workweek, however, is a lot trickier. Due to the time zone differences it is hard to pin down a time that works for both East Coast and West Coast players. Right now, the 3:30pm PST event is only suitable for East Coast players, but it starts right when most people eat dinner and/or are getting home from work. The 6:30pm PST event starts at a reasonable time for people on the East Coast, but the event typically ends between 12:00 and 12:30am EST, which for many “9-5”ers may be too late. West Coast players also find that 6:30pm PST is difficult for them for the same reasons that East Coast people have with the 3:30pm PST event. For the time being, I think we should ditch the 3:30pm PST event and keep the 6:30pm PST event, as that is probably the best compromise between getting the most possible East and West Coast players.

The new weekend timeslot that was added when Premier Events were cancelled offers too many options for Vintage players. Right now, there are events Friday/Saturday/Sunday starting at 5:30am, 11:30am, 3:30pm, and 6:30pm (all PST). Again, I think we should focus on 2 events, even during the weekend. This past weekend, with the help of myself and others to get the word out, we were able to fire both 11:30am PST events on Saturday and Sunday. While not the most ideal time for myself, it seems that there is a critical number of players available at this time slot to get the event to fire (we also fired one 11:30am PST event a couple weeks back) on a regular basis. This timeslot is perhaps the most suitable time for both European and North American players. Similarly to the weekday events, I believe that the 6:30pm PST timeslot is the best option during the weekends as well. Thus, I would recommend that there be 2 events on the weekend which start at 11:30am PST and 6:30pm PST.

While limiting the Daily Event offerings will help focus the player base to target more specific start times, Vintage is not really a format suitable to short 4-round Swiss events. WotC’s policy has always been a “one size fits all” approach to MTGO. This may have worked in the past, but Vintage changes that dramatically. While Standard, Modern, and even Legacy have lower thresholds of variance, Vintage, for better or worse, offers a much higher level of variance than any other format. While Turn 1 and 2 kills are not all that common, they do happen enough that it’s really difficult to balance that out over a short 4-round event, and I’ve heard from several players that it is quite off-putting. As such, Vintage is better suited for longer events that have a Top 8… exactly the structure of the Premier Events that were cancelled. The reason the Vintage Premier Events didn’t fire was not due to a lack of interest, but rather the schedule was right smack in the middle of the two evening North American Daily Events times. People gravitated to the easier-to-fire Daily Events and ignored the Premier Event altogether due to the fact that everyone assumed it would never fire. If the event started at a more reasonable time (specifically earlier in the day), I imagine there would have been a lot more interest in them.

I contend that if Vintage is really going to take off on MTGO, there needs to be an outlet other than 4-round Daily Events. Unfortunately, that would require WotC to change their one size fits all approach, which is probably a lot to ask for. I know you have your reasons to do this, but I strongly urge you and your team to consider abandoning that approach for the sake of Vintage’s future. Perhaps Leagues will offer something similar, but as of right now we (the community) have absolutely no idea what Leagues are going to look like, or if they are actually going to arrive in 2014 as promised. Assuming that Leagues are only 4-round events just broken up to allow players to play at their leisure (instead of the rigid event schedule), then there will still be a large event void for Vintage on MTGO.

Standard, Modern, and even Legacy get at least one MOCS season each calendar year where players can play a high level constructed event that is not a 4-round Daily Event. The odds of WotC offering a Vintage MOCS season is probably the smallest non-zero number possible. Perhaps instead, there can be a Vintage Online Championship Series (VOCS, for short). Players can qualify through Vintage-only Daily Events, and once a month (or once every other month), a large 5-7 round Top 8 event can be arranged at a time suitable for both European and North American players, such as 9:00am PST. Players that manage to go 3-1 or 4-0 in any Daily Event during the qualification “season” can earn a berth in the season’s championship. This is the basic outline of how a VOCS could work, but I’m sure your team has much more experience setting up event structures like this. Alternatively, it could be set up as an “Eternal Online Championship Series” where Vintage and Legacy alternate seasons…

There are other opportunities to promote Vintage in meaningful ways. A couple years back, the Winter Celebration helped Classic get back on its feet and one of the redeeming aspects of how the Winter Celebration was handled was that players received a promo card just for participating in an event. Anyone that managed to place in the money of the event, received a foil version of that promo as well. Ponder was the card given out at the time, and you don’t have to hand out Power to get people excited. I believe that Vintage players would appreciate promos of Preordain, Unglued basic lands, Hurkyl’s Recall, Steel Sabotage, Birds of Paradise with the original Alpha art, ingot Chewer, etc. basically, any Vintage-playable card that isn’t extremely valuable would be welcomed. I mentioned Hurkyl’s Recall which is currently obscenely expensive on MTGO. It needs a reprint or a promo desperately. This would be an excellent avenue to get more into the system; it is a $5 card in paper.

There are a lot of things that can be done to get people to play Vintage again on MTGO. Subtle improvements to the client will also go a long way such as improving the appearance of foils and improving the appearance of the pre-8th Edition card frames to “look” more like their paper equivalents. These fixes have been promised in V4 for a while now, but few, if any, changes have been actually implemented. Card appearance is not as important to everyone, but there are a significant number of players that have voiced their displeasure about how the cards look and has actually affected their decision to not play MTGO as a result.

Not all of the ideas that I’ve presented within this letter can be implemented at once, nor are these ideas exhaustive of what can be done to fix the current situation. The fact of the matter is that the status quo is simply not going to work. I would love to have the opportunity to discuss these options if you have any questions. I can be reached via Twitter, or through my personal email address.

Best regards,
Scott
Enderfall on MTGO

P.S. – If anyone reading this letter would like to add their own ideas to help support Vintage on MTGO please use the comment section below to address them to Mr. Turian. All I ask is that you keep it civil and on point. Any posts which are inflammatory or accusatory in nature will be removed. Thank you in advance.

 
  1. Dear Mr Turian,
    There’s not much to add to Scott’s letter. I would just like to point of the fact that every single card in MTG (apart from Unglued/Unhinged) can be played in an official format and official tournaments. That’s the reality and that has always been since the beginning of the game. Importantly, and besides the collection aspect that is almost negligible on MTGO, that’s the main reason why cards have a market value.
    By introducing vintage cards and vintage tournaments, you generated value out of nothing. People paid for vintage masters boosters and tournament entries, hoping to win more boosters by participating. They accumulated cards and some of them then built a vintage constructed deck, sometimes paying extremely high prices for the cards they were missing.
    By removing vintage tournaments and giving no information about a possible come back, not only did you disappoint players who love this format, but you also introduced a significant bias in the card market, leaving some people with a big gap in their binder. As an example, black lotus already lost 25% of its value with more than 50$ decrease.
    Consequently, I would like to know if you concretely plan to re-introduce vintage at some point, in which case it might still be worth to keep the vintage cards we have; or if you don’t, in which case we should just sell everything and thank MTGO for the money we lost.

    Yours sincerely,

    Quentin

  2. Hi Quentin,

    Thanks for your note. Are you referring to the cancellation of the Premier Events? There are a host of Vintage Daily Events to participate in, so it is currently possible to play constructed Vintage on MTGO. I’d like to clarify your comments such that Mike Turian can understand as well. Thanks.

  3. I like most of the ideas that Enderfall presents. I’m not a big fan of PE’s but “VOCS” is something that I really find interesting.
    I am one of those who are disappointed with the cards look to V4 and have been quite vocal about it even if I have run out of air lately. At first I had high hopes that when we switched from v3 to v4 we would see cards look even more like their paper counterparts. Instead, we now have cards that are not at all similar to magic cards. Orange text boxes, black text box borders on all lands, pre 8ed cards have wrong text boxes every single one and the list continues.

    This, together with the exclusion of any social aspects of the client.
    It feels empty everytime I log on. In early stages of beta there was a connection or an idea of having the card or the deck of the day on the home page or articles from the web page… Something to make the client more alive.

    On v3 I could at least see numbers of players logged on and a chat area docked to every tournament room I went into.

    Winter Celebration and VOCs is something I vote for and I really hope you bring good news for us Vintage players on leagues.

  4. I would love to see a Vintage MOCS.
    The Vintage Champs was also a great idea, which probably didn’t live upto WOTC hopes but could attract people to play Vintage.
    As much as I would love to see PE’s return, they have zero chance of firing as we can barely get a DE to fire.
    Please fix foils to at least look as good as V3 (I have spent a fortune of foil cards and can barely look at them which is a deterrent to play).

  5. Hi Anonymous,

    Premier Events aren’t going to return in any shape or form. I believe they were eliminated to make way for whatever plans they have for Leagues, but I believe that Vintage players would prefer to play in a larger event than 4-round swiss Daily’s, no? Yes, a DE is “easier” to fire, which is why they end up firing, but if given a choice, would Vintage players not overwhelmingly vote for a 5-6-round Top 8 event (all things considered)?

  6. Really thoughtful post. You’re spot-on about the scheduling stuff. It’s been a major issue for me (just turned 30, have a job, social obligations), and carving out several hours to an entire Saturday just doesn’t work. The last time I played in anything longer than a draft was probably 4 years ago.

    I would love to see some more innovative tournament concepts. We don’t have to stay shackled to formats that have to work in person. Why not use the biggest strength of MODO (someone is always there to play against) as an actual strength? I’m thinking of something like arena mode in Hearthstone. You pay your entry fee, then try to win as many games as possible before you rack up three losses. It’s asynchronous, so you can hop on and play a few rounds, then exit and come back another day.

    I dunno, it just seems like you could have these long-running streaks that span multiple days, and then get a big payout when you finally rack up that third loss. I for one would get more into Constructed if I didn’t have to work a huge time block into my busy schedule.

  7. As a Sydney based player, I’d like to throw in a voice for the Asia-Pacific region. I understand that you’re focusing on larger populations than Australia, but Tokyo is only two hours behind me so I have to imagine there’s enough people if time can be made available to them. The thing is, there isn’t really any time that’s suitable in the current schedule either. I don’t know if there’s enough of us to justify an extra event, but I thought it would be valuable to keep in mind more distant time zones.

  8. I applaud your well written letter and think it would help. But to be honest, I do not believe changing times, offering a Top 8 event or your other suggestions (MOCS, promotions) is our golden ticket to a vibrant ON-GOING vintage scene. Sure it will help, but it is not a long term answer in my humble opinion. I do not want to write a book on why I do not think these suggestions will not work long term, suffice it to say I think these solutions are bandades and do not address the core point that you mention which I 100% agree with which is Vintage players are DIFFERENT. Many are older, have played Magic longer and are collectors, many have families, many work 9-5, we have limited time and more income to spend on other games, etc… To me that means we need a more flexible tourney option where we are not stuck having to carve out 4 hours or 8 hours in a day to play. It also means they have to market to a different player base and get the collectible aspects of MTGO right, it also takes more effort and resources to obtain a vintage player so they need to lay out the path for a new player to become a vintage player and why the player should.

    The unfortunate sobering fact is WOTC doesn’t see us as a cash cow so the first step (if it hasn’t been done yet) is for them to understand the business case and financial dynamics in what is to gain in a vibrant Vintage scene and is it worth trying to grow the player base and tourney play rather than focusing on standard.

  9. Hi Dryhad,

    Thanks for comment from the land down under! What time does the 5:30am PST DE start in Australia (or at least Sydney as there are probably more than 1 time zones across the continent)? I had believed that time slot was pretty much exclusive to the Asia-Pacific region, and it hasn’t fired in ~3 months. I think if there is going to be some sort of consistency to firing Vintage events for Asia/Australia friendly time zones, it’s going to have to be coordinated by someone out there who can “rally the troops”. I don’t want to leave you guys out, but I only know of a couple people from China that used to play Classic and (presumably) have moved on to Vintage. Maybe there is enough people in Japan, China, Korea, and Australia, etc. to fire events with some regularity, but I just don’t have a grasp of how many Vintage MTGO players there are out there.

  10. Hi woof,

    I wish there was a way for me (or anyone) to articulate the profit potential of WotC for having a “vibrant” Vintage community on MTGO. Unfortunately, we really have no basis of the cost to operate MTGO, and even worse, what that cost is in relation to offering Vintage events. Only WotC has those figures, and they’ll never be forthright in telling us what they are.

    In the end, I think the bottom line is that whatever the profit potential for an active Vintage community is, it’s going to be a non-zero number. The question is how large of a non-zero number does it has to be to be allocated resources. When you think about it, what resources are being spent on Vintage right now, now that VMA is done? I guess it’s bug fixes for cards that are not part of other formats. Beyond that, what is being spent on Vintage? The occasional “new” card to MTGO that needs to be programmed (but would’ve been programmed anyway in a product like Commander or FTV, etc.)? The occasional customer service response to bugs? I’m not sure what else I’m missing, really. How could it not be an automatic money machine is beyond me. Maybe it only contributes $10,000 to WotC total profit on MTGO, but for the little work needed to get that number it seems like a no-brainer to me, but I don’t have an MBA, so I could be way off base.

  11. Right Enderfall WOTC is not putting many resources into Vintage but this is part of the problem, we are a different user base and in order to make a vibrant environment they do need to put in some resources in my opinion. We won’t get there by WOTC only looking at Vintage the same way as Standard or just changing DE times, doing bug fixes and occasional customer support route. They have to do things that will keep and attract new Vintage players such as marketing to an older demographics, do what Chris states above with innovative tournament concepts or offer unique prizes outside of the standard boosters.

    This is where they need to look at the Vintage business case and the overall potential Vintage market (differs from their standard market), which I hope is large enough to warrant the additional resources and the opportunity cost in having some vintage focus. Our demographic could be very profitable and a perfect fit for a strategy game like MTGO if they did it right is my guess…

  12. 5:30am PST is 11:30pm in Sydney. Not really a good time to be starting a DE, which is why I said there isn’t really a time for us at the moment. I don’t have a very good idea of how many potential players there would be either, but I don’t think they’d be reflected in the current DE schedule anyhow. Might be a chicken/egg thing, are there no events in friendly times because there’s not enough interest, or is there a lack of interest because there’s no events in friendly times?

  13. I agree with you. There are only 2 points I don’t 100% agree is the PE part. I think we need another type of big event once in a while but PEs, at least like they used to be, were simply terrible. They required 33 players to start which not all formats were able to get, and the prizes didn’t increase with the number of players. So you either had a ev- tournament in some formats, specially Standard, or they didn’t fire at all. But some other kind of bigger vintage tournament is certainly needed.

    The 2nd point I don’t agree is that a 4 rounds vintage event is bad because of variance. I don’t think that’s the reason people want bigger tournaments. The reason is that we build 1000+ tix decks and play for a few standard packs. Not very exciting compared to irl vintage tournaments.

    Also I don’t think vintage has more variance than other formats. I actually think it rewards skill way more than Standard or Modern. Yes, sometimes people win on turn 1 or 2 but even those draws can be disrupted and they are the exception, not the rule. Standard games can also be won or lost in 3 or 4 turns. Sometimes you are dead but you still don’t know it and it just takes longer, so that doesn’t leave you feeling as bad as losing on turn1 because you think you had a chance when you didn’t. I’ve won games that seemed really hopeless and I also lost games I was sure I was gonna win in vintage. It can happen in other formats but it’s not as common. I don’t have the numbers but most of my matches go to 3 games, more often than in other formats.

    4 rounds tournaments will always have a huge variance and while you can 0-2 losing twice to turn1 kills, you can also die on turn4 to monored twice in Standard. To me, that’s not any different.

  14. Hi woof,

    What resources need to be allocated to Vintage that aren’t already done? That is my question more or less. Mike Turian’s job is to oversee all OP on MTGO, which includes niche formats like Momir and, yes, Vintage. If he truly doesn’t have the time to spend a couple minutes during his day to think of ways to improve Vintage, then it’s a time management issue at WotC (and not necessarily Mike’s fault). It’s not like he has to schedule day-long meetings to figure things out. Heck, they could do it during a coffee break, at dinner, or after work (WotC employees hang out together after work, right?). Assigning specific people to manage Vintage is not necessary. Things don’t change as rapidly in Vintage as other formats. They just need to keep Vintage on their minds, which is the difficulty, I suppose. Setting up a tournament, like the one I outlined, might require a short meeting one time to organize an action plan/delegate tasks, and another meeting to confirm that things are completed before implementing. It’s not a huge time requirement, as I see it. Maybe WotC’s internal processes won’t allow for something that simple, but perhaps that is the problem more than anything else; things simply take much more time and effort than they really need.

    Hi Guilhao,

    Thanks for your feedback. Regarding the 4-round events paying out in standard packs, there will never be anything more offered to Vintage players for playing in a 4-round event with a 6 tix entry fee. In addition, there is no chance that Vintage would get a higher entry fee for a 4-round event as WotC employs a “one size fits all” approach to OP.

    The only way to get around that is to create a “new” event. I’m not advocating for strictly the same structure as PE’s in regards to entry fee and prizes, what I’m proposing is a new structure where the 4-round DE’s feed into an end of season Championship, just like MOCS. There, Vintage specific promos could be awarded in addition to various prize packs (could be VMA, or any other older set like Masques block or Tempest, for instance).

    With regards to variance, I don’t really want to get into too much of a discussion, but I’m not trying to say that other formats don’t have variance. They all do because this is a card game. Sometimes you have the cards and sometimes you don’t. But what happens in Vintage is vastly different than Standard/Modern, etc. All the playskill in the world won’t help you win the coin flip against Workshop decks, draw into all of your Dredge hate cards (in excess/opposition to the Dredge players anti-hate card measures), or ensure that you have a Force of Will and another blue card in your opening hand to avoid getting Tinker’ed on Turn 1. Yes, these things don’t happen too often; I’ve played enough Vintage to know that all too well, but the feeling of hopelessness is far higher in Vintage when those things do happen.

  15. I know that vintage DEs will have to offer the same prizes as other formats. The thing is, having a vintage deck to only be able to play for standard packs, that’s probably one of the problems.

    For me it’s not a big deal, I never played vintage irl but for those who are used to playing for a mox or something like that, it might feel that paying 6 tix to try to get 6 ou 11 Standard packs is almost playing in tournament practice.

    I do agree that a big tournament that has other tournaments feeding it, is a good idea.

    On the variance, I understand your point but being on the wrong side of those things also happens in other formats. On the draw, facing Champion of the Parish turn1 and turn2 Burning-Tree Emissary + Lightning Mauler, that’s 3 creatures attacking you for 7. Even on the play, if you didn’t have a removal spell, you’d be in a pretty bad situation. Those kinds of draws are present in every format. Thoughtseize into Pack Rat was also pretty good. Delver into flipping Mana Leak left you in a pretty bad spot. These things simply don’t kill you as fast but they are as opressive as turn1/2 kills in Vintage. The power level of the whole format is much lower but many times they win the game right away, only the confirmation of the win comes later.

    “but the feeling of hopelessness is far higher in Vintage when those things do happen.”

    I get that. But that’s just how the human mind works. Some of those Standard situations don’t feel as bad because you at least got to play some magic, but in reality you didn’t, you just think you did. You can’t concede because they have have several lands in hand or they might even mess up or you might have an out but some of those games, if you saw their hand, you’d know you were dead on turn 1 or 2. I think this is something some people need to understand so they give vintage a chance. But most vintage players understand this, I think.

    On a side note, to me, it feels much better to lose on turn1 than to play a long game while my opponent is bouncing all my permanents every turn (like in pauper before they banned the cloudpost temporal fissure deck) or some other decks lihe that. I know I can’t concede because there is a chance they mess up, or that they don’t have/find a card they really need or maybe even timeout on MTGO. But you end up losing most of those games anyway and it’s much more frustrating. But not everyone is like that I guess.

  16. I mentioned what else they need to do in my opinion but let me be clear.

    1) Market/Advertise to a different demographic – they need to spend money to attract and retain Vintage customers. This has to be more targeted marketing than the current focus because Vintage players are different than Standard ones.
    2) Develop/Implement innovative tournaments that have greater appeal to the Vintage player. This means dedicating resources to understand what the Vintage player wants and code Vintage specific solutions for us.
    3) Prize support desires differ from other players, understand what those needs are and address them.

    To your point on Vintage being part of Mike’s job, sure but I do not want Mike to think about Vintage an hour a week during coffee breaks. I want someone at WOTC who is responsible for ensuring a vibrant Vintage scene. Someone who right now is under a lot of scrutiny because of our current state of affairs. Someone who’s bonus relies on attracting, retaining and driving the Vintage format. Or do you think this is Mike and he just hasn’t been able to get results?

  17. Hi woof,

    I’m pretty sure I understand what you are trying to say. It is my opinion that asking for WotC to invest money and resources into Vintage is a lot less productive than offering solutions that they can easily implement immediately. We have absolutely no understanding of how WotC allocates budget and spend for any facet of MTGO. I would be willing to bet that Mike would love to have 1-2 people per format on his staff whose only responsibility is dedicated to thinking of ways to improve their specialty format. Is that ever going to happen though?

  18. I think the only real problem here is V4. I used to play 3-4 hours a day in V3 hoping to vintage to come, but with this crap of software i cant even look at my collection and feel pride of it… i feel sick. Now i only enter once or twice a month and only to see the (nearly zero) improvements of the client. I really feel betrayed by WOTC after all these years playing, having fun and spending money into a game that now is totally unplayable for me. I will never understand the switching off the V3 when V4 is far from been stable, there is no collection, the old cards look like crap…
    And im not alone, in the several spanish forums i read there are lots like me, nearly 90% of the MTGO community i know is leaving or not playing.

  19. Fair enough, I hope they implement your suggestions and we see if it makes Vintage a viable format, I have my doubts is all.

    FWIW If I were Mike and Vintage was my responsibility, I would create a business case on making Vintage vibrant and hopefully it shows a strong ROI which could persuade Hasbro management to allocate the necessary budget.

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