Unlocking the Vault #79: What We Have Here is a Failure to Communicate!

Ever get that feeling that you’re all alone? That’s how I feel most of the time when logging into MTGO. As the “Please wait while Magic Online loads your files” splash appears I feel as if I’m being jacked into the Matrix except that the only “people” inside the Matrix are the Agents. There is the unequivocal sense of “me against the world” as MTGO finally loads and the front page appears on my screen.

The front page is where all the problems begin, in my opinion. You are greeted with some announcements, which are actually helpful compared to V3, but the rest of the screen is pretty useless in terms of connecting with other players. The gigantic waste of space and resources that is the “Buddy List” shows a bunch of faceless avatars of people that I’ve interacted with in some shape or form. Many are bots that I used to keep track of where I have fractional tickets. As someone who has been playing MTGO for over 4 years, there is a long list of players that haven’t even signed into the client in ages; many may never return. I can’t even count how many names I have no idea how I ever met before. Did I trade with them at one point? Maybe I played a match in the Tournament Practice room and wanted to see we they could play again in the future? Who knows, though, since there is no way to set a reminder as to how you met them?

However, the problem isn’t that there are fewer faces in V4 than there were in V3. No, the problem is that communicating with players in V4 is actually a step backwards, which says quite a bit because V3 was far from the gold standard with regard to communicating with other players. Basically all of the ways that people would communicate with others in V3 has been stripped away, or at least made impossibly difficult to gain access to without being “in the know”. There are no public chat rooms for each of the practice rooms and joining any chat room is not exactly obvious to a new user, or even experienced users if they’ve never done it before.

The classifieds used to be teeming with human players looking to sell their draft wares. Now, I’d wager 90% of the classifieds are populated with bots and it seems fewer and fewer players even look at the classifieds section to find lower priced cards. Over the summer I started the process of selling many of my cards (for a variety of reasons, but mostly because I’m still looking for a job 13 months after losing it). Frequently, I would post a card under bot sell prices, only to find that those bots would sell the (expensive) card before I would. Now, bots offer a convenience, but when you spend as much on those cards as they were worth at the time, I would think people would check the classifieds before they buy. I guess it’s a sign of the times and the state of V4.

Nonetheless, the entire way that we communicate with players in V4 is pre-AOL Instant Messenger (AIM, for those uninitiated in 1990’s chat technology) levels of archaic. To make matters worse, only a certain amount of lines/text is actually stored for future reference. There was a conversation I was having with Chris Kuehl (ChrisKool online) a few weeks back in the client about building a 100 Card Singleton deck. He suggested something to me which I immediately dismissed. After closing the client for the night and thinking about it a little more, I wanted to go back and see what he wrote… despite being less than 12 hours after the conversation, that part of our conversation had been truncated.

I’m no UI developer, but there has to be a better way, right? Thanks to the non-zero number of jerks online, it’d be impossible to implement video chat into MTGO, but what about voice chat? Sure, there’d be obstacles in that endeavor too, but with a few user-implemented controls (such as muting, reporting, or allowing only “buddies”, etc.) it would seem as if it could be done safely and would greatly increase the effectiveness of communicating in V4. Voice chat would go a long way towards ditching the empty feeling that the client currently wreaks of.

Even if voice and/or video chat is unavailable, there are still many ways to instill a sense of community into MTGO. Anyone familiar with PS4 and/or Xbox One knows about their social features, especially their integration with Twitch and social media. Can anyone possibly imagine how nice MTGO would be if there was similar ways to both conveniently broadcast games or find people playing MTGO on Twitch? This is such a critical feature of modern video game platforms that I hope the MTGO digital team is working on ways to get this to work, but considering all of the other issues on V4, even if V4 can handle that type of functionality, it’s several years off. Overall stability, Leagues, and performance upgrades certainly take priority over implementing Twitch integration. Maybe it’s on the wish list for V5…

If Twitch is off the table for the foreseeable future, what ways can we improve the current chat system that don’t require such ground breaking change? Perhaps we could enter in our own “user profiles” to identify like-minded players? Would it be so difficult to have a “Facebook”-like profile that states what format(s) we prefer to play in, what times we are available to play, and maybe even some other demographic characterizations (i.e. age)? Why isn’t there a “Vintage Community” or “KTK Draft Discussion” chat room that is easily accessible? These seem like such basic features that can be added to the current system that could revitalize the way we interact with other players in the client. While WotC would need to bring back the ORCs, it’s a small price to pay if it means making MTGO feel less isolated.

Another feature I thought of (maybe I’m not the first?) is trading decklists with other players in chat. Now that all decks are saved server-side, sending someone a decklist through the client should be straight forward. If the chat rooms above are ever implemented, consider this exchange between two players in the “Standard Chat” room:

Player A: “Man, how do you beat the Jeskai Combo deck?”

Player B: “I’ve had some success with a UB Control Deck?”

Player A: “Really? I love Control decks! Mind shipping me the list”?

Player B: “Sure thing!”

The exchange could be facilitated through a trade-like function. This could even go so far as to integrate the WotC website and the daily decklists therein. Instead of having to use an Internet browser to save a local copy of the deck and go through the import deck process, you could browse the decks inside MTGO and click one button to open up a prompt using a similar process to importing a deck currently.

For those competitive types, imagine if there was a way for MTGO to prompt you when an event of your preferences is either about to start or an 8-man queue is nearing filling up? For Standard players, this might not be a very useful feature, but for Legacy and Vintage players, it would go a long way to getting more tournaments to fire. V3 used text prompts in the Tournament Play chat room of which events that were about to begin and those that needed X number of players to fire. This was mildly effective since you needed to be in that room to see the automated text prompts, but what if you were prompted while in other areas of the client such as deckbuilding? Not everyone likes pop-up boxes in V4, but if you can selectively turn them on/off for certain things, it might help formats without the established active player bases like Standard grow.

Currently, Clans have no purpose whatsoever in V4. There is no clan chat room that loads up when you start MTGO and there isn’t even a way to track how a Clan is performing like there was in V3. It goes without saying that there is much room for improvement. A private forum within the client, or at least on the WotC forums should be the first step towards integrating Clans. It would also be nice if the Clan leaders were provided with certain privileges or abilities to organize the Clan. This is just the tip of the iceberg. I’ve never been one to play MMOs and online shooters so I can’t really draw many parallels from the Clan functionality in those types of games, but I know for a fact that they have much more purpose than what MTGO currently offers.

Some of my readers may have even better suggestions, which I’d love to hear about in the comment section below! I know I’m not the most creative person in the world, so my ideas may seem simple or basic. Don’t be shy; let me know your thoughts and maybe someone at WotC reading this article will see them!

Helping Vintage Grow

All of the fixes above are probably a long way off from being implemented, if ever. In light of that and how empty the client feels, what can we do to help a format like Vintage grow? I’ve long held that Vintage isn’t plagued by a lack of players. No, I firmly believe Vintage is plagued by a lack of motivated players. I often see new names and faces in the Tournament Practice room each day. Nearly all of them are playing fully Powered decks that should be viable to compete in an actual tournament if they aren’t already nearly card for card copies of existing tournament decks.

When I say “motivated”, there are a couple of meanings to the word. Some are unmotivated because they don’t know when or if tournaments will fire. Part of the problem is that MTGO doesn’t actively help you find anything, especially for new players. However, even veterans might not know the ideal time to get a tournament to fire. Is the 11:30am PST event or the 6:30pm PST event more likely to fire? For someone new, this is not obvious. (Note: Perhaps each scheduled event could have a “fire %”, much like an airlines on-time departure rates, but that is more of a suggestion for the discussion above, I suppose…)

Some aren’t motivated because they can’t play on weekends and are thus limited to either 2-man queues (with all of the pitfalls associated therein) or the Tournament Practice room. It was probably frustrating for those players to learn that the weekday events were cancelled. While I was an advocate for limiting the number of tournaments each day, I was not in favor of axing all of the weekday events. Nonetheless, we have to work with what is given to us.

With those points laid out, there are a couple ways that we can help implement growth in Vintage in spite of the lack of effective communication on MTGO. First, is to direct people to one of the 2 main public forums of Vintage discussion: www.themanadrain.com (TMD) and www.classicquarter.com (CQ). TMD has long been the gathering place for paper Vintage players to discuss tournament announcements, decks, and Vintage “issues”. CQ was the home of the now defunct online-only Classic format, the pre-Vintage Masters version of online “Vintage”. Each forum has an active community (though CQ has trailed off since V4 was pushed out of beta and Classic was eliminated) where players can discuss aspects of Vintage pertaining to the online world, including organizing tournaments.

I have no idea how many Vintage players on MTGO that are aware of TMD’s and CQ’s existence. For that matter, I’m not sure how many online Vintage players even know who I am or that MTGO Academy has Vintage content on it. Nonetheless, we (myself included) can always chat up new players that we find in the Tournament Practice room and inform them of the two forums of Vintage discussion. Worst case is they say they are already aware of them or, I suppose, fail to say anything at all. Getting the word out, despite the difficulty of chatting in client, can go a long way. We have to remember, some of these players may have never thought about playing Vintage prior to VMA and might not have any idea that TMD or CQ exist.

Weekday 8-man Queue Vintage Rush

To fill the void of losing the weekday DE’s, I’m proposing that we establish an evening during the week in which players can expect to find other players participating in the 8-man queues. I have no idea what night would work best for everyone. Personally, Tuesdays or Wednesdays would work best for me, but I’m open to whatever the majority seems to find suitable.

I’ll be posting a discussion on the 8-man Queue weekday rush on TMD. If you have any interest in participating or letting your voice be heard to decide which day we should aim for, please share your thoughts in the discussion thread. If you also have any ideas other ideas, please share them below!

Clan Magic Eternal
Follow me on Twitter @enderfall

  1. An option to make list public by right click would nice. If someone looked at your profile they would see your public lists.

    8-man Swiss queues would be nice.

    Start page should have Twitter feed, articles from mtgo.com and community integration instead as of now.

  2. I agree completely. Playing V4 is a ghost town. V3 drove me crazy because people could be so rude and unsportsmanlike, but at least it felt alive. Now it’s just a lot of silence and waiting.

    I’m guessing that the chat rooms were hidden so WotC could save money on ORCs. And the very presence of ORCs is rooted in their history of overzealous legal teams. Most online communications are regulated by the people and judicious “Report This” links. WotC is proactive in order to protect themselves.

    I like your idea for an 8-Man Vintage Blitz. Could you post a link to your TMD discussion once it’s up?

  3. Re: Vintage – I’d be more inclined to play competitively in a constructed league / ladder system. Something like the Blizzard CCG where I can play at my own pace and squeeze a match in here and there.

  4. Hi Maondas,

    It seems that Leagues will support your needs (so long as they support both limited and constructed offerings). We’ll get a glimpse in the closed beta in December. My fingers are crossed!!