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.
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.